A teenager called us to worship yesterday. Pentecost Sunday was also youth Sunday at the church we’ve been attending. The youth decorated the sanctuary, designed the bulletin cover, picked the music, participated in the liturgy, collaborated with the pastor for the sermon, served communion, and at the closing of the service all the middle school, high schoolers, and their Sunday school teachers joined voices with the pastor to give us our benediction.
As I’m writing this, I can already see the faces of my Reformed friends flinching at the holy ordinances of worship being handled by “unqualified” teen boys and girls. The irony isn’t lost on how many spiritually immature seminary-trained men, with an obsession with power and hierarchy, and a license to treat people as less than people are supposedly “qualified” in these churches. And yet having a woman read Scripture or serve communion, much less a child, would be like any rando Israelite stepping into the Holy of Holies. Or steading the arc bare-handed. The “I told you Aimee is on a slippery slope” crowd can feel very vindicated.
It’s the slope of Pentecost.
And it is beautiful. Imagine it. The children weren’t bored, they were participating in the creative and spiritual life in the church. Serving in roles that identify with the knowledge of God’s word. Vital to the important task of passing on the heritage of the tradition to future generations. Contributing literary expression and spiritual creativity. Part of the heart of the existence of the church.
Imagine it. The children were collaborating with the adults in leading us to worship. To pray. To read the word of God to us. They were thinking about how the pastor’s sermon affects the lives of the congregation. Before preaching, the pastor credited them with their collaboration, mentioning that all the good parts were theirs and that she takes the responsibility for any parts that weren’t good. There were applications in it that school students and teenagers could relate to. Imagine that. The preaching helped the adult listeners to think about how our younger worshippers receive the word.
Imagine the pastor equipping and including the people in corporate worship. Imagine the children are included as people.
All this during Pentecost Sunday. There we were, the week before encouraged to wear reds, oranges, and yellows as a symbol of the fire of the Spirit at Pentecost, beholding the very outworking of the Spirit’s work for two millennia. It brought tears to my eyes to receive communion from a growing young woman and young man, telling me This is Christ’s body given for you, This is Christ’s blood given for you. And I believed it. I thanked God for it.
How does this inclusion affect this church’s public image? Does it mean we don’t make the cut of the cream of the elite? That God will strike us for the wonders he displays? That we must be drinking at 9AM? Sadly, in much of our church culture today, we don’t expect the Holy Spirit to pour out on all people, only on important men.
How does this inclusion affect our public image? It embodies our faith. We believe. We believe that our sons and daughters will prophecy. We believe that not only will God pour out his Spirit on all ages, sexes, and nationalities, but that his Spirit isn’t dormant in the pews. The Spirit is fire! The Spirit “gave them the ability for speech” (Acts 2:4). Even the words of a child, spoken by the Spirit, can pierce us to the heart and lead us to repentance. Maybe especially so. “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord God will call” (Acts 2:39). As many as the Lord God will call. Let them speak.
That benediction, with the youth and their teachers and pastor in unison sending the congregation full of the elderly back into the world with a blessing of God was pure beauty in its truest sense: a glimpse of what’s real. And an invitation into that reality.
I walked away thinking how about how terribly uptight the churches I’ve worshipped so long in are. Quenching the Spirit. Managing Pentecost. Promoting an image that God speaks through the few. The special. The men. The “qualified.” Missing these wonders in the heaven above and the signs on the earth below.
Maybe Pentecost Sunday speaks as a call to repentance for the churches today in this way. We are missing the wonders and signs before our very eyes.