Monday, June 25, 2007

The Fuss about Young People

For awhile now the UMC has been worrying about the lack of young presence in the church. More recently still, the concern over the lack of clergy has also arisen. There is much talk about the need to find and support young folks who have a call to ministry. The emphasis often being "they are the future of the church." Then at our District meeting, an older, second-career clergy woman stood up and voiced her frustration at the constant concern for young people in the ministry. In a sense she was claiming "reverse ageism" (which seems to resemble notions of "reverse racism"). She felt excluded and ignored because of the focus on young ministers, of whom she is not feel a part.

In thinking through these issues for myself, while I am concerned at the lack of young clergy in our conference (and others), I don't believe it is for exactly the same reasons. (Though you may find my musings to be a mere matter of semantics). The two major concerns that I have heard are: 1) without young pastors, there is no future leadership for the church. 2) without young pastors to put into retirement plans, health care and the like, our church will go bankrupt trying to pay for the pensions and healthcare of all the "old and retired" clergy. I do not believe that either of these things should be the focus or main concern of our church regarding young people.

Regarding #1--if God wants future leadership for the church, God will continue to provide future leadership for the church--from whomever is around. If we were on a secluded island of only "old people" and God wanted there to be leadership, I believe God would provide said leadership--even out of the "old people". For me, age is not the determining factor in whom God chooses to fulfill the call to ministry. The future leadership of the church lies with all those whom God has called and equipped, regardless of age--retired ministers, second career pastors, and yes, youth and young adults as well.

Regarding #2--this reasoning is purely based in fear and scarcity, which makes it devoid of hope. And the concern for money, while understandable, is not where the focus of the church should be in the first place. As soon as we become consumed with the "lack of _________" and convinced of shortages, we have exchanged hope and faith, for fear and unbelief--neither of which are trademarks of the gospel we proclaim.

What I believe: the need for young people should not be based on either of the above reasons. The need to pursue and find young people with a call is because God does call us, at a variety of ages and the lack of their presence means either 1) we have failed to raise/train/teach our children, youth, and young adults in Christian discipleship--thus failing to produce "the pool of candidates" from which we might garner additional young leadership or 2) we are not hearing the calls placed on people's lives that they might respond to God in a faithful way and be encouraged by their brothers and sisters in the faith to pursue God's call. Either way, the crux of my concern is not for the future "lack of" but for the present where we are missing out on an opportunity to foster young leadership--leadership that has ALREADY heard God's call on their lives. To be really simplistic about this, if we boil things down to a matter of probability and statistics (yes, I know, not exactly the most profound or spiritual way of doing things)--I believe that God is probably calling, or has called, an equal number of folks from EACH generation. Yes, I did say it was simplistic, but if we go on that assumption alone, then we should find numbers proportionate to the demographics of our cities/states/etc. I would argue something similar to gender or race issues--I do not believe that more men are called than women, or more blacks than Latinos--rather that God shares the bounty of God's gifts and call across borders of age, race, gender, nationality, language, and yes, sexuality. Thus, when we see disproportionate numbers, we should attend to those areas not out of fear and scarcity but out of gratefulness and bounty (recognizing that God has probably ALREADY been at work in the lives of those folks and it our responsibility to gather around them and help them hear the call, clarify the call, and follow the call) for God is calling a whole host of people into the ministry to share the Good News in tangible and effective ways through ministries of compassion, justice, engagement, honesty, and faithfulness.

1 comment:

David said...

well amen sister....I think you really get it