Illustrations by Kimberlie Wong
editor's letter
From Me to You

Growing up in the church is a hard thing to do. I should know, because I am the daughter of a pastor. Whether it was joining youth group or participating in Bible study, you name it and I was there. I grew up with and continue to attend Epic, a progressive American Baptist church that is predominantly Asian-American. 

At Epic, the community pulls you in. From a young age, I established relationships not only with the other youth, but also with the adults. The younger kids at church are like my siblings and the adults are my loving aunts and uncles. The congregation is my family and Epic is my second home.

Like all families though, the church and I don’t always get along. During my middle school years, I felt conflicted about the church. I started to get involved in other communities and interests such as sports, school, and friends. In middle school, many of my friends who didn’t attend church liked to plan hangouts on Sundays, which often put me in a dilemma. Should I go see the new Star Wars movie with my friends, or go to church? Should I grab lunch with my friends, or go to church? Should I stay home and rest, or go to church? 

Like all families though, the church and I don’t always get along.

At that point in my life, I had difficulty balancing time between my friends while also maintaining my relationships with my church community. And I felt I didn’t have a choice. I had to attend church. So I started to question my faith, which left me feeling angry at the church but also at God. Who could I turn to and explain my dilemma? I felt I couldn’t turn to my parents because I was afraid of what I was going to be told, and I felt I couldn’t turn to other church members because being angry at the church wasn’t something I had heard discussed at church before. This inner conflict not only strained my relationship with the church, but also with God because I didn’t know what to do.

I started to question my faith, which left me feeling angry at the church but also at God.

In church today, I see the younger kids getting older and also facing a similar dilemma. Many kids are presented with the option between various commitments and attending church on Sunday. It is a problem if attending church becomes merely another choice and God becomes another acquaintance. But my biggest fear is that kids grow up believing that God exists only on Sundays, just like I did. I hope that some insights I’ve learned from my experience can help other youth feel less alone than I had felt when struggling with choosing church or other relationships. 

From Me to You

Youth need a more multi-dimensional understanding of God. As young kids, we get looped into attending church school. Parents hope that enrolling their kids in Sunday school will make their children better Christians, but going to Sunday school alone will not guarantee a stronger faith. My concern is that children learn moralistic teaching rather than growing in a relationship with God. We learn different Bible stories such as Noah and his ark and Daniel in the lion’s den, and we sing songs like “Jesus Loves Me”. The curriculum and songs become repetitive as we sing or hear about them until they are engraved in our brains. As youth we are taught to see God as the “mighty and powerful One”, but not always as a friend who is present in our everyday lives. 

My concern is that children learn moralistic teaching rather than growing in a relationship with God. 

Kids need to hear the message that God is working within and among us in our current circumstances rather than about God in the abstract. Sunday school is great for teaching younger kids the basics of the faith, but I believe new lessons need to be introduced in order to be relevant to the daily lives of children and teens.

A controversial topic pertinent in my church is about the LGBTQ+ community. A couple of years ago, we were blessed to hear from one of our members, Grace Lee, and her experience as a queer woman. To this day, it is my favorite time of sharing that I have heard in church. Grace spoke of her struggles with finding a sense of belonging as a Christian, and even though I don’t identify as a queer person, I could relate to similar hardships regarding belonging to a church. 

When the congregation had a discussion about people’s opinions on LGBTQ+ inclusion, I was surprised to learn how different my perspective was from the some of the adults in my group. Many were still unsure about how they felt about LGBTQ+ inclusion, even though I do not believe being queer is a sin. I realized how my generation’s perspective on the LGTBQ+ community in church today can be very different, often more open, than that of the older congregants who hold more conservative perspectives. 

My generation’s perspective on the LGTBQ+ community in church today can be very different, often more open, than that of the older congregants who hold more conservative perspectives. 

The main lesson I was taught in Sunday school is that God loves us for who we are. We don’t need to build up walls or shield ourselves from God or one another. God loves us wholly. I believe youth need more stories like Grace’s that will prepare us for questions and concerns that may come our way. We need to know that God is with us, able and willing to hear our questions and uncertainties. Without the church being a safe place to confide in others and struggle and question, how can our relationship with God grow and flourish?

Kids need the help of everyone in the church, not just Sunday school teachers or pastors. Our relationships with diverse people in the congregation play a major role in developing our relationship with God. When I was younger, our youth group worshipped together with the adults during the first part of Sunday service, went to a separate Sunday school session during the adults’ sermon time, and then returned to worship with the adults after our respective teachings. I loved seeing God in action through a shared time of worship and communion each week. But as I got older, a change in our kids’ ministry policies resulted in the youth not joining the adults before the end of service, thus missing the final worship set. 

I missed listening to people of different ages sing their hearts out. I no longer felt like I was part of the broader congregation. My idea of the congregation shifted from the church as an intergenerational family to an adults-only fellowship. I learned that when youth are segregated from adults, a chasm forms in our relationships, spaces, and spiritualities. For instance, some of the younger kids in my church currently don’t partake in communion, don’t hear the messages that the adults hear, and don’t get the chance to witness faith during worship time. Moreover, it’s not just the youth that need interactions with adults, but the adults also miss out by not being with the youth. 

Separation from one another not only weakens the fabric of our communal identity, but it also weakens our participation and witness to God’s movement across life stages and experiences.

Separation from one another not only weakens the fabric of our communal identity, but it also weakens our participation and witness to God’s movement across life stages and experiences.

I’ve realized that youth need more representation in the church, too. When Epic first started, the majority of our members were adults and the youth group comprised of only seven kids of different ages. During that time, I didn’t see junior high and high schoolers leading worship or teaching Sunday school classes or sharing about their own experiences of God with the whole church. The only visible representation of youth was in church musical productions, which I didn’t enjoy very much. I felt like I had no voice to speak up and no peers to look up to within the church community. 

In recent years though, the tides have turned as more kids are a part of Epic and have become more visible. A few years ago, I formed a high school-led worship team in order to facilitate opportunities for youth to lead. Now, some of the elementary kids have expressed interest in joining our worship team someday! Today, our youth feel like they can play a more active role in our community, and serve as teachers, greeters, and peer mentors. High schoolers like me, because we live inbetween the stages of child and adulthood, are perfectly situated to be a connective bridge across generations.

In our world of increasing uncertainty and isolation, the voices of our youth need to be heard. It’s not an option for the church. Youth not only provide the church community with new ideas, but they embody fresh perspectives for our changing world. Youth offer open minds and hearts that help the whole church engage in discussions such as LGTBQ+ inclusion, women’s rights, anti-racism, and immigration that encourage the church’s community to grow and deepen. This needs to start with the youth. Why? Because we are not only the future of the church, but we are the church today. 

Youth not only provide the church community with new ideas, but they embody fresh perspectives for our changing world.

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