One of the difficulties of rural ministry is that so often the youth you have been pouring into leave the church when they get older. Is it possible to celebrate those who are leaving rather than bemoaning the fact that they are deserting you?
Youth leave a rural church for a couple of main reasons. Often, probably the biggest reason youth leave, is they are heading off for school. Some head off for a trade school that will enable them to come back and work on a local farm or at one of the local oil companies. Many go off to school and find that their education has prepared them for a career that is not available in their hometown. Others get married and then head off to live near the spouse's parents.
When youth leave, we are often sad, even frustrated that we are losing them just as they are developing into great volunteers in the church. Jane is leaving and we could really have used her in children's ministry this next year. Joe is leaving and we could really use him on our worship team. It is frustrating to see them leave and take their skills and willing heart to serve in another church.
But what if we saw them as missionaries. Francis Chan has said he wants to disciple people in his church so that any of them could be dropped in any city of the world and they would be able to start a church there. Can we see that goal being realized, at least to some extent, in our young people?
What if we worked hard in our little rural church to disciple our children and youth. If they leave, then they are prepared to serve God elsewhere. And...if they stay, then we have prepared them to serve well. It may not always feel like a win for us, but it is always a win for the Kingdom of God!! One author surveyed a large church in Toronto and discovered that more than 50% of the volunteers had begun serving and learned their skills in a small country church. Just think, if those county churches could see the role they played in sending these missionaries into the city, could that be encouraging to them?
So do everything you can to pour into your children and youth. Give them many opportunities to serve and learn. Help them discover how God has gifted the and then equip them to use those gifts well. And when they head off to school, or to live in the city, commission them as missionaries serving in the city through the church they end up in!
Commission the youth who are leaving and celebrate that God will use them in another place. And trust that God will rest up the next person to fill the empty spots.