As I taught Sunday school at church a couple of years ago, our curriculum asked us to teach about God’s covenant with Israel. As I studied Exodus 17-19, I read the following verses, which struck me as really significant. I read these verses, as I believe they were meant to be understood, in the context of community.
In Exodus 19:5-6, God is speaking to Moses on Mt. Sinai, telling him what he should share with the Israelites. Here is what God says, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
In these verses, God is saying to Israel that He will set them apart as a holy nation…together. This is important because in the coming chapters, Moses lays out the laws that Israel must follow, which seem impossible to uphold…as an individual. Then it dawned on me, the law wasnt’ meant to be followed as an individual alone, but collectively as His people.
When Antioch gathers together as a group, both leaders and youth alike agree to meet the expectations that we’ve laid out before us. We have 6 expectations that we’ve agreed to meet together, to help us create an environment that is fun and safe for everyone. It’s our covenant to one another that we are in this together.
We as adults and youth can either contribute to our envioronment, or oppose our environment. When youth…or adults aren’t contributing, it is upon the group to hold each person accountable and to correct them.
Here’s a great example of when I failed to keep this covenant:
At A.P.P.L.Y. one Saturday, the kids were gathered together for our character development lesson in between our table tennis skill lessons. While one of the other volunteers was leading the lesson, I decided to stick near the back of the group. I pulled out my phone and saw that I had a text and decided to respond to it. As I did this, one of our 11 year olds who also attends Antioch at the Fremont house spoke up, and said to me, “Scott, you need to put your phone away.”
At this moment, I could have responded by letting her know that what I was doing was important and needed to continue, or I could have just continued on with my text and kept my phone out. Instead, I said, “You’re right”, and I put my phone away. If I would’ve chosen the former option, I would have been telling her that we weren’t in this together. I would have been telling her that the rules didn’t apply to me, but only to her.
This is why it’s so crucial for people in positions of authority to realize that their actions often speak louder than their words. In these actions, I communicated to this 11 year old that she was a valuable part of our community. In addition, she contributed to our environment by correcting me, so that I was being respectful of everyone in the room by putting my phone away. She not only felt valuable, but she held me accountable and helped me contribute to the environment instead of opposing it.
This is what it means to be in this together, and it is crucial to creating a youth-honoring environment!