Ministry Leaders Urge Church to Support Urban Youth

According to a group of emerging national leaders, urban youths today are suffering crises and need the attention and care of church fathers and mothers.

MT BETHEL, Penn. – Urban youths today are suffering crises and need the attention and care of church fathers and mothers, according to a group of emerging national leaders.

“Jesus tells us that [children] are the most ripe for harvest. He said unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Who's more like a child than a child?” asked urban youth ministry leader Jeremy Del Rio, who led pastors to pray for urban youth at the recent Pastors’ Prayer Summit. “We [ministers] need to be intentional about nurturing the fruit and harvesting when it's ready.”

Sponsored by Concerts of Prayer Greater New York, the Jan. 23-25 conference, held at Tuscarora Inn in Mt. Bethel, Penn., was the region’s largest annual gathering of pastors in the New York metropolitan area and gave senior pastors the chance to pray in concert and work together with greater vision.

“I represent a generation of leaders who are desperate that the hearts of the fathers would turn back to their sons and their sons to their fathers,” said Del Rio, who serves with New York-based Generation Xcel.

Del Rio, together with urban church planter Dimas Salaberrios of Bronx's "Infinity," led “The Coalition” of New York youth ministry workers for the past several years. They were invited to talk to the group of senior pastors and lead them in prayer and a concerted effort for the urban youth.

During the prayer meeting, they addressed a gamut of topics – lack of relationships, sexual identity crisis, HIV/AIDS, broken homes and gangs, and the suppression of younger congregants' desire to minister.

Salaberrios introduced the last issue as “very serious” and asked the senior pastors to pray that they support the younger leaders who want to preach or pastor a church.

“This is a real issue,” said Salaberrios. “We need to embrace and support one another. You feel a call to preach? Let me get behind you on this process … I even pray that you will have a bigger ministry than I ever had, that you will go further than I've ever gone.”

Two million people, or 25 percent of New York City, are under age 18, yet they are unnoticed and trapped in education and economic systems that have failed.

Within that group are 1.1 million public schools students – which includes the 60 percent of elementary schools kids that can’t read at grade level and the almost 65 percent that can't perform math at grade level.

“This means they can't conduct a Bible study, balance a checkbook – the basic tools for how to live a life. They're graduating ill-equipped to live, and that's an injustice when 12 billion dollars are spent educating them,” said Del Rio. “There's something wrong with those kinds of systems that produce those kinds of results.”

The youth minister believes that the Church should not just criticize and take Christians out of the school system, but empower the youth – the “Josephs,” “Esthers,” or “Davids” – to engage and restore the structure from within.

Jesus lived and worked in the ghettos, Del Rio noted, and was able to identify with at-risk kids. Ministers should do the same and become a family for the youth who are often confused about their identity and come from poor, broken homes.

“Jesus was able to identify with at-risk youth,” he continued. “I'm going to ask you to identify with three at-risk kids.”

Del Rio asked the pastors and ministry leaders to picture the child who is “incorrigible – the problem child, the kid who sort of blends into the background, and also the kid who is the weakest among them and is constantly being abused.”

The meeting then moved into some of the personal struggles that kids are dealing with, such as sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and family breakdown.

“When kids don't have support and people really coming behind them and encouraging them, they become easy targets for gangs in schools,” said Salaberrios. “A gang offers protection, a strong sense of support, even though there's a lot of pain and violence that comes along with it. The Church has to do a much better job of thinking how to really become a family for our young people.”

Ministry should not be limited to professional youth workers, but should also be open to the teacher, the paraprofessional, the social worker, the coach, and the business manager. And kids themselves can also minister, Del Rio added.

“It's the students that populate the schools,” he stated. “There’s a lot of Christians among them so how do we empower them and equip them to be laborers in the harvest field.”

Del Rio later said that the entire prayer meeting was an answer to prayer, but also said that it’s just one step of many.

“My peers and I are committed to that journey whatever it looks like and it's nice to be able to take a step on that journey with 300 senior pastors that stood with us and prayed with us last night and are going to be part of this change.”

In opening the meeting, Del Rio urged senior pastors to action: “God is alive and moving in a generation that needs our love and affection today.”