8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on the Way
8.5. Policy Document on Youth Participation in the WCC

1. The Common Understanding and Vision process has challenged the Council to relook at its programmatic structure and its relationships to the churches and other ecumenical networks. The new structure calls for an integration of all programmes and for new styles of work. In this context, this paper looks at the future of the work with youth in the new programme structure.

2. The challenge of representing the whole body of Christ has long been at the core of the WCC's ecumenical vision and work. The Council has sought to embody the diversity found within the member churches by setting goals for participation of various constituencies, in all aspects of its life. Commitments to meeting goals and attaining greater integration have therefore been made by the Council's governing bodies. The introduction of Council-wide mandated working groups was also intended to achieve this.

3. But despite the good faith of these commitments the goals have not been reached. The level of youth participation in many aspects of the Council's life stands in glaring contrast to the firm commitment made by WCC's central committee in 1988 for 20 percent involvement of young people. The seventh assembly echoed this:

"We expect that the participation goals for women and youth will be maintained in all events and in membership of committees. The central committee should assure funding only for those activities which reflect approved goals for inclusiveness" (Signs of the Spirit: Official Report of the Seventh Assembly, p.189)
In the restructuring of the WCC after Canberra attempts to internalise the commitment to youth participation in program planning and the whole life of the Council were not fully accomplished. At times the Council has returned to the mistaken notion that youth work can be accomplished by one programme unit or team. In fact, the fifth assembly in Nairobi (1975) had already called for a different style of work:

"Youth work must have a somewhat autonomous character, structurally located in one particular programme unit, but relating to all units so as to bring the presence of youth fully into the life of the ecumenical movement" (Breaking Barriers - Nairobi 1975, London, SPCK, 1976, p.316)
4. At the heart of the CUV process is the search for renewal. This search carries the challenge for inclusivity and empowerment. Neglecting to use and develop the gifts offered by God through young people, or any group, is detrimental to the renewal we seek. It also weakens the testimony of the churches. Youth who are committed to the ecumenical movement are valuable communicators for the churches. Youth are witnesses to other young people and nurture the faith given to the whole people of God. The Bible is full of examples where young people were called to witness and even lead at a surprisingly early age (1 Sam. 3; 1 Sam. 17; Jer. 1; 1 Tim. 4,11).

The eighth assembly convenes at a time when, in many countries, young people are leaving the historical churches because they feel excluded and ignored; an increasing number of youth feel the church is irrelevant to their lives and their society; many churches do not fully use the human resources which young people are in their witness to the world.

5. In the work of renewal, there is a new vision for work with young people. This vision is one which calls for young people to be integrated into the ecumenical movement for the mutual benefit of all generations. By calling for integration we do not seek to take away the focus of youth work. We seek both continued leadership development of young people through specific youth programmes and inclusion of the specific experiences of young people in all programs. Examples of integrated youth work in the last seven-year period include the stewards and internships programme and programmatic cooperation on issues such as Gospel and Culture. The internship programme has helped WCC to benefit from the resources that young people bring to its work, but has also trained them to be ecumenical catalysts at their local/national level.

Integrating young people into ecumenical service requires programme staff to facilitate equitable participation of youth in the WCC itself, in member churches and in national and regional ecumenical organizations alike. It is encouraging to see the active participation of young people in the search for unity and in social action in certain countries and regions and the number of churches who include youth, enabling them to give a stronger testimony.

To reach the goals and commitments the WCC has set for itself regarding youth participation, it is recommended:

  1. that the WCC ensure the equitable participation of young people in all aspects of its life by (a) maintaining the requirement of 20 percent youth membership in assemblies, committees and meetings; (b) mandating the equitable participation of young people in its programmes by: assigning one person in each staff team to monitor youth participation within the programmes of that staff team: these staff could form the new staff coordinating group on youth; assuring resources only for those activities which reflect approved goals for inclusiveness; maintaining an affirmative action policy in the employment of young people in all areas of work; (c) maintaining the position of youth president;

  2. that the WCC retain programme staff for youth work, the staff coordinating group on youth and mandated working group on youth, to facilitate the achievement of goals set for equitable youth participation across the Council;

  3. that the WCC provide opportunities for ecumenical formation at all levels; the stewards and internship programmes should be further developed and serve as models for future work in the WCC;

  4. that the WCC maintain programmes which respond to particular concerns of youth as well as affirming their participation in addressing wider issues; this is best done through pre-meetings for the youth participants prior to all WCC consultations and events.

Go to 8.6. Indigenous Peoples
Return to Together on the Way contents page
Return to Assembly Archive index

© 1999 world council of churches | remarks to webeditor