Two of the three churches I have served elected and ordained teenagers to leadership offices, Deacon and Elder. The teens are typically older, high school juniors or seniors, and their terms are shorter, one year instead of the standard three. It’s a good practice for youth and the church.
But it is not without difficulty, again, for the youth and for the church. The teenagers elected to these offices tend to be outgoing and accomplished, traits that correlate with lots of commitments and very full schedules; a Wednesday night session meeting competes with theater rehearsal or band practice or studying for Thursday’s A.P. Biology test. The church can feel like the least important of these commitments.
To be elected to one of these offices requires, prominently, participation in a meeting, one with a financial report and motions and seconds. It’s confusing to most new members, and committees are often unaware of the need to interpret both procedure and content to the uninitiated, especially teenagers, whose repertoire of activities is light on these kinds of meetings.
Boards need help to welcome the contributions of teenagers. And youth officers need help to participate fully in the responsibilities of their office. But the office shouldn’t change or adapt to a teenager holder of it; the office is Elder or Deacon, not “Youth Elder” or “Youth Deacon.” The two best reasons to elect teenagers to church offices are to welcome young people into mature church participation alongside adults who are not their family and not “youth staff” and to employ adolescents’ considerable gifts for the benefit of the church. Simplifying the office doesn’t help with either of those aims.