Young People's Society
A Bit to Read
A Successful YPS
For many years, Young People’s Society has been part and parcel of our congregational life, and it’s been a blessing. One of the youth of our congregation, in conversation with others, has cast his mind around the needs of today’s Young People’s Societies, and then put pen to paper to share his thoughts and concerns. I take the liberty in this Bit to Read to give us all opportunity to think along with these youth, and help tomorrow’s parents prepare today for tomorrow’s challenges.
Every other Sunday evening, young people of the Canadian Reformed Churches in the Fraser Valley gather to their respective church buildings or to someone’s home, as the case may be. They meet together in an official capacity, as ‘Young People’s Society’ (YPS), and at 7:30 or 8:00 the majority of the youth are present. Some come for Bible study, some for socializing, and some for both. Most are well-prepared to socialize, but ill-prepared for Bible study – they only discover what they will be studying upon their arrival. Generally, however, the atmosphere is cheerful, the young people get along, and the meeting is a success. Yet we need to pause here for a moment and reconsider this last statement. Was the meeting really a success? Was its purpose accomplished? What actually is the purpose of a YPS meeting on Sunday evening?
A Specific Purpose
A YPS is, quite simply, a society of young people. The YPS of Yarrow, for instance, is a society of young people who belong to the church in Yarrow. A ‘society’, in turn, is, “an association of persons for some purpose,” as we read in Webster’s Dictionary. In other words, a society is a group of people who come together for a specific purpose. What, then, is the specific purpose of a YPS? The answer to this question is straightforward: the purpose of YPS is to strengthen young people, specifically within the local church that they belong to. In 1 Corinthians 12:27 the apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” The believers in Corinth depended on each other just as the parts of ones body depend on each other – “if the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?” Obviously, Canadian Reformed churches are no different. Each member of a congregation stands in need of the support of others, and for this reason it is important that we actively seek to be close-knit congregations. It is also for this reason that we have YPS. Young people need to know one another, to teach and to learn from each other, and as a result, to grow in faith together.
There are two specific ways in which YPS works to achieve this purpose of strengthening the body of Christ. The first is, quite simply, to get the young people of the church to ‘hang out’ with one another. They are members of one and the same body and need to function as such, including in social activities. YPS serves to get young people together, however that may work itself out in real life (bowling, barbecues, etc.), and requires them to interact with each other. Perhaps we need to encourage more of this kind of activity in our respective YPS. The second way in which YPS works to the strengthening of the church is through spending time together with God’s word. This, incidentally, is the purpose of the Sunday evening meetings. The young people aren’t simply attending a YPS ‘meeting’, but a YPS Bible study. It is opened with prayer, a Bible passage is read, and the young people split into groups to study, usually with the aid of outlines or question sheets. There are, then, two aspects of YPS: the social (various activities) and the formal (Bible study). Yet the two are often not properly separated, specifically at Sunday evening YPS Bible studies. What is often seen is a mixture more heavily loaded to socializing; often, not a lot of studying gets done. Of course, Bible study plays a significant role in ‘getting to know’ one another, but this is not the point of Sunday evenings. The point, rather, is to be instructed, and to instruct, using God’s word.
Why Bible Study?
Someone might ask, “why have YPS Bible study in the first place? Do young people really need it? They go to church twice a Sunday, after all.” Here we do well to examine Psalm 119:9, where we read, “how can a youth keep his way pure? By living according to your word.” It is not easy to ‘keep ones way pure.’ The young people of the church, as do all people, live in a broken world. When they are confronted during the week with the various challenges they must face, how will they know how to react? Psalm 119:9 provides us with the answer, namely, “by living according to your word.” Bible study is a wonderful opportunity for young people to discuss what it means to live according to God’s word. They face many similar challenges and experiences. It is a beautiful thing that by discussing God’s word together, the youth of the church are able to learn more and more how to deal with these challenges. Together they grow closer and stronger in faith, and so become better equipped in their roles as prophets, priests, and kings. Bible study truly serves to strengthen young people. Thus it is an important, even the most important, aspect of YPS.
The realization that YPS meetings on Sunday evenings are for the specific purpose of Bible study has a number of consequences. We think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20: “for where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” YPS Bible study clearly comes together in Christ’s name. The president/leader opens with prayer and asks for God’s blessing on the study that is done. Young people need to take this seriously – they are studying God’s word in His name and in His presence. No, this is not a church service, but it is a Bible study and the atmosphere should reflect this. Similarly, we read in 1 Cor. 14:33 that, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” If we take a step back and look honestly at what goes on during the course of Sunday evening, we can admit that much ‘disorder’ is present. People continually talk over one another and there is little respect for the chairman – often just a brief pause will see the meeting descend into a cacophony of voices. The atmosphere is not that of an official Bible study in the presence of a ‘God of peace’, but rather of an unofficial social gathering, with the purpose of talking as much as possible to various friends, even if they happen to be on the other side of the room. This problem is compounded by the fact that most young people have not spent any time preparing for the evening. It is evident that young people do not take YPS Bible study very seriously.
Raising the Bar
If certain standards are seen to be lacking at YPS Bible study, then how do we go about raising the bar? It is important, first of all, to stress the specific purpose of Sunday evening meetings. Specifying a purpose gives each of us something definite to reach for, as well as something to direct the attention of others towards. If we have it in our minds that we are gathered together for Bible study, we will be less than happy when very little Bible study occurs. We will also be more inclined to doing some preparation before we arrive. Stimulating discussion at Bible study is often difficult, mostly because very few young people have brought anything to the table. Up to the moment that groups are formed and the first question is asked, most of us haven’t given the passage at hand a second thought. How do we counter this? We need to put more pressure on each other. We need to encourage each other to put Bible study first, and hold each other accountable to the true purpose of YPS. Most of all, however, we simply have to get down to the work and do it. We are first of all responsible for our own actions, for our own attitude, and for our own preparation. Let’s, every one of us, strive to put more effort into YPS Bible study.
A Few More Years
There is one more thing that needs to be said. When discussing higher standards, there is much room for improvement with respect to ‘older’ young people. It seems that the age of 21 or 22 is when many people cease to be a part of YPS. Perhaps it gets boring, or one starts feeling too old, or the discussion is not at very advanced level. A person simply doesn’t “get anything out of it” anymore. Yet are these really reasons to abandon YPS? Shouldn’t the attitude instead be, “what can I bring to YPS?” Indeed, older young people have a lot to offer: maturity, intelligence, and increased wisdom. They have the ability to set the tone at Bible study. That’s just the way it is; the younger look up to the older. If the general attitude of the older youth is one of ‘getting out’ as fast as possible, this attitude will in turn negatively affect the atmosphere of the entire group. Conversely, when these older young people are present, realizing the responsibilities they have, the tone will almost certainly improve. So, as an ‘older’ young person, instead of leaving for a different Bible study such as ‘College and Careers’ or ‘Young Couples’, why don’t you continue to attend YPS Bible study for a few years? Be a leader. YPS could use you and the atmosphere you bring along.