Andy Langdon knows that children and youth have been through a lot over the last two and a half years. He sees his new role as the Director of NextGen Ministries at Living Word United Methodist Church as an encourager, administering programs that help young people reconnect, understand who they were meant to be, know their worth and learn to serve others.
“With COVID, and the trauma response our kids have had, they have lost a lot. The question is how can we be a better community, be better families for our young people? How can we really reach out and love our young people best right now,” he said.
Too many people see youth in negative terms, when they have so much potential for good, Langdon said.
“The beauty of the church or the beauty of a community is that we can identify the positive. I have a lot of positive adjectives that I can use to describe them. We look at young people as alive. We look at young people as useful, and we look at young people as people who can teach us to live life differently,” he said.
“Kids have had a lot heaped on them and a lot of expectations have changed,” he said.
“We need to say to young people ‘you are enough, you’re valuable and you’re still a priority and a focus,’” Langdon said.
The priorities of NextGen Ministries are to help young people “find valuable places to serve and be known – two big components that I think a church can do pretty well.”
“It seems like our young people have been trained through technology, social media, and the brokenness of the fractured world we live in. We practice a lot of putting on a face for other people. We practice a lot of imaging and projecting of ourselves as we want other people to see us. And being known means dropping that facade and letting other people see me for who I am and learning to speak powerful words of love and affection. It’s something God does all the time... but we are not always in the right place to hear it. We create space so they can be known and practice the art of knowing someone else.”
Youth learn each other’s names and share their stories in nonjudgemental ways. Leaders ask questions and youth are encouraged to give honest answers and learn to listen to others reflect on what their story means to them, Langdon said.
“It’s a special time when a kid gets to internalize that this is who God made me to be and this is how I can be in the world,” he said.
As for serving, Langdon said serving other people helps kids feel valuable “because they are. They are useful. They are gifted in all kinds of crazy good ways. Having kids serve one another and others not only opens their eyes to who they are meant to be but also shows the needs that are in the world that are outside of themselves.”
“Most young people love to serve. They love to feel like that they can contribute, and they are willing in a much deeper way than we give them credit for,” he said.
Recent projects included packing boxes for Circle of Concern, collecting items for HavenHouse and soon will include caroling at nursing homes and a trip to serve in another community next summer.
In the meantime, kids and youth are learning they have a special calling as children of God.
“We have sayings that we teach them. For children it’s ‘I’m a beloved and cherished child of God. The light of God grows inside of me. Help me to live this week so others can see my light,’” Langdon said.
Youth say to each other “You are a child of God, wholly and dearly loved. Jesus loves you and so do I.”
“God still loves us. God calls us to love other people. It’s countercultural to our world and in teens’ experience,” he said.
Currently, there are about 60 children in the LW Kids program and 40-50 in the LW Youth program. Children meet Sunday morning during services and on Wednesday night for activities and children’s choir. Youth meet for Bible study and small groups Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon for youth activities and worship. Call Langdon for more information.