The Capacity of Young People
Throughout our State Class season, godly men from around the country join our staff teams in every state to serve the families who come through our program. Their role is to provide spiritual leadership, wisdom, and on-site support during the week. Over the next several months, we wanted you to hear from some of these Class Directors in a series that discusses each of TeenPact’s ministry distinctives. To start us off in the series is Scott Wylie. Mr. Wylie lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons. He is a Pastor of Family Ministry, the host of a daily radio program and serves on multiple TeenPact classes each year. Here he shares about the capacity of young people – one of the foundational principles that guide our ministry structure. We hope that you will be inspired by his words.
James Farragut was born in Tennessee to George and Elizabeth in July, 1801. The family had a close friend named David Porter who was a naval officer. When James was 7 years old, Captain Porter offered to take him aboard his ship and train him to be a naval officer. This was a common practice at the time. Families would place their sons in situations where the boys would be trained for a career. James Farragut came under the care and command of David Porter and changed his name to David Farragut. David went to sea at age 8, became a midshipman at age 9 and saw his first combat at age 11.
During the War of 1812, Porter’s ship, the USS Essex, came under heavy fire when British warships surrounded it. The bloody battle lasted over two hours and 58 of Porter’s crew were killed. Porter was impressed by David’s bravery and ability to perform under pressure. When the Essex later captured an enemy ship, the HMS Barclay, Porter put Farragut, then age 12, in charge of the Barclay and its crew. The defeated captain, a man named Randall, threatened to shoot the young Farragut. Farragut replied, “If you come onto this deck with pistols, I’ll have you thrown overboard!” Randall backed down. Farragut successfully got the ship to port, and went on to have an illustrious career in the US Navy.
Times have changed. I don’t foresee a situation anytime soon when a Captain in the US Navy will turn a ship over to a 12-year-old. I don’t advocate for that. I’m not in favor of having 9-year-old Navy Midshipmen and 11-year-old combat veterans. But what does concern me is how far we’ve come in squandering the capacity of modern teens to do great things.
“What’s disturbing is the fact that our culture is fine with having low expectations and underestimating the capacity of youth.”
The TeenPact mission statements says “Our mission is to train youth to understand the political process, value their liberty, defend their Christian faith and engage the culture at a time in their lives when, typically, they do not care about such things.” I love everything about that statement except the last phrase. Don’t misunderstand me – I agree that youth “typically do not care about such things.” While that statement is true, it’s also sad and unfortunate. What’s equally disturbing is the fact that our culture is fine with having low expectations for youth and underestimating the capacity of youth.
There’s nothing innately different about David Farragut and the youth living today. He didn’t have super powers. He didn’t eat any special foods or have a secret potion that made him especially capable and brave. Youth today have all of the same capacity. What’s different is opportunity and expectation. Most activities, programs, and ministries that target youth are based on the premise that the adults provide the planning, teaching, and opportunities. The youth are expected to show up and enjoy the fruit of the adult labor as participants. We’re squandering the capacity of today’s youth.
TeenPact stands in contrast to this and is seeking to reverse the trend. Of course TeenPact has adult involvement. Of course there are decisions adults must make and work that adults must do. But all of that is seen as a means to a greater end. The concept of student leadership is not just a catch phrase with TeenPact. It’s real. It’s happening. And to the surprise of many, it works. It works because the capacity of youth is astounding.
“The concept of student leadership is not just a catch phrase with TeenPact. It’s real. It’s happening. And to the surprise of many, it works.”
Why is it that the staff revealing their age at graduation has such a big impact? Because it shatters conventional expectations. But while it shatters cultural expectations, it fits perfectly with biblical expectations. God’s Word certainly takes into account the need for people to grow spiritually from being immature to becoming mature. But what the Bible doesn’t recognize is the modern day stage of life called the teenage years where expectations are suspended and capacity is squandered. There’s no period of time when Christians are allowed to be spectators but not engaged. The Bible doesn’t allow for a period of time when you are fed and encouraged but not involved in feeding and encouraging others. Paul never taught that “God gives gifts and abilities to His people…except for youth…” TeenPact gets this.
“The Bible doesn’t allow for a period of time when you are fed and encouraged but not involved in feeding and encouraging others.”
There’s a long list of reasons why I love TeenPact. At the top of that list is the fact that TeenPact understands the tremendous capacity of youth, places youth in situations where the expectations are high, embraces the important value of true student leadership, and provides the necessary support and mentoring to help those student leaders succeed.
During the Civil War, Admiral Farragut led the Federal navy in taking the last major Confederate port in Mobile, Alabama. He ordered his fleet into the bay, but when one ship hit a mine, the other ships began to pull back. Farragut called out, asking “What’s the trouble?” When the reply was “torpedoes,” Farragut shouted with great confidence, “Full speed ahead!”
Is there some risk in expecting great things from students and helping them achieve their full capacity? Of course. Are their potential pitfalls in having students (as opposed to adults) lead a field experience, share a devotional and escort other students through a capital? Sure there are. And you know what? Sometimes, the risk is work taking.