Mississippi Youth Lead the Way to Serve
By Carl Stagner
Ministry could have come to a screeching halt at the onset of the pandemic earlier this year. No one would have blamed them if they had chosen to take a break and reconvene when restrictions were lifted. After all, pastors and ministry leaders—like anyone else in society—had never navigated through a season quite like this. But the youth ministry at Eighth Avenue Church of God in Meridian, Mississippi, would have none of that. Just because businesses and schools were closing their doors didn’t mean that the physical, social, and spiritual needs of the youth, as well as the adults, had vanished. Led by Stacey Miller, these Mississippi youth not only found a way to stay connected to the local church, but also invest their time and energy into serving their congregation and community through the coronavirus crisis.
Connectivity and discipleship options were immediate considerations. Monthly, the youth group met via Zoom, while Google Classroom proved a useful tool to continue Bible lessons and help students keep up their scripture memorization. One special event even utilized Zoom for a movie night. But spiritual growth isn’t limited to fellowship and Bible knowledge; it’s also about application of God’s Word, something Stacey Miller knows well. In service and outreach, the truths of the Bible translate into easily interpretable acts of love.
“We have done and still do the typical youth activities,” she explains. “I feel they have their place in drawing youth to the church and making connections with them. But when I officially accepted the position, several things influenced a more concentrated focus on allowing our youth to serve.”
The Youth Ministry Council of Eighth Avenue Church of God would ensure that the mission of these students wouldn’t be all about the stereotypical fun, and fundraisers, alone. They know the value of students serving, and they know that these young men and women do not have to, and should not have to, wait until they’re older to be active, contributing members of the body of Christ. Encouraged by the church’s senior pastor James Hopson, as well as the church’s mission statement to “evangelize, educate, and encourage individuals for the glory of God and for positive change in the community,” Stacey would lead the effort to draft a mission statement especially for the youth department.
Our mission is to plan activities centered around leading youth to develop a personal relationship with God, guiding them to grow in their faith, and preparing them to lead and serve in the body of Christ and the community.”
This mission guided the youth group’s plans for the 2020 year. While COVID-19 certainly forced flexibility into the picture, it also increased the importance of a service-oriented ministry. In June, the youth prepared and mailed “miss-you” cards to the church’s seniors. In July, the youth held a drive-by “senior citizen’s parade” during which cars, decorated by the youth themselves, became the delivery means for gift bags to each of the seniors shut-in due to the pandemic. Then, in August, the youth held a back-to-school, drive-through supply giveaway; personalized backpacks, stuffed with school supplies and snacks, were distributed to the community. Families that participated were also encouraged to take an additional bag to share with someone they knew who could benefit.
“Our mission involves serving, and we believe it is key to establish the principle of serving along with a foundation in the Word of God,” Stacey reflects. She adds, “My personal belief is that it is part of our Christian and civic duty to serve others.”
Eighth Avenue Church of God is not willing to overlook any segment of the congregation’s population. Of course, this includes the youth, who not only represent the leaders of tomorrow, but among them the leaders of today.
“Youth would do more if they are led and encouraged to do so,” Stacey reflects. “It is my desire that people understand that [all] Christians are relevant and vital members of the community; that we care about not only about spiritual needs, but physical and social needs, as well.”
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.