I am just going to say it--I believe that many of our churches are still at a place where we can turn the tide on the youth and young adult exodus--even though these still feel like anxious times. For those of us who love and minister to youth and their families one of the challenges is to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of parental and congregational worry. One way to be this type of presence is to learn from the findings in longitudinal studies like Sticky Faith (Powell), Hemorrhaging Faith (Penner), and Almost Christian (Creasy-Dean) and translate them into forward thinking ministry practices.
Creasy-Dean’s book reminds us to be discerning about the biblical and doctrinal content that we teach our youth and making sure that our youth see a connection between what we teach and preach and how it affects our daily lives, so that our programs aren’t producing “almost” Christians who follow a watered down “gospel-lite” that looks more like moralistic, therapeutic deism.--none of which is soul satisfying nor life-giving like the Gospel of Christ. Creasy-Dean also reminds us that youth and young adults need to see themselves as the church of NOW not just the church of the future. This means that they need to recognize themselves as contributing to the life of the church today and be given opportunities to shape the direction of the church. They need a voice and they need to lead. They need to recognize peers in the youth and young adult cohort who are contributing in ministry from the moment they are greeted at the door to those who are leading worship.
I belong to a classis that is taking the cohort theme very seriously by investing in intentional leadership training for high school students and young adults. In partnership with the Leadership Studio at Muskoka Woods, for the past 4 years this classis has been encouraging young people to explore their leadership calling while helping mentor/coaches learn how to support these budding leaders. This initiative has produced young leaders who have stepped into positions in their youth groups, churches and at the classical level. For instance, the team that oversees the classis’ annual Youth Fall Retreat is made up of 95% folks in their 20’s-30’s and they are being advised by grade 12’s. At least half of the group attended the Leadership Studio.
It can be challenging to incorporate new leaders. It is important that the invitation comes with significance and support. Significance means that we are not asking youth to “just show up for meetings,” but that they are given real opportunities to contribute and take responsibility for those contributions. Support means that we coach them and give them resources to be successful in these roles. Making room for a new generation of leaders will sometimes require sacrificial leadership on the part of older leaders. The question we will need to ask ourselves might sound something like this-- “I am able to continue leading this ministry initiative, but ought I continue?” We will need to be able to first walk alongside in support as well as graciously step aside and bless this new leadership. As I re-read this, it sounds like I am not a proponent of inter-generational ministry, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. My feeling is that this passing on of leadership can only happen in healthy intergenerational churches.
What are you doing in your church or classis to encourage and support young leaders that others of us might learn from?