Friday, September 5, 2014

"We need more young people in the Church"

I hate hearing that. But nonetheless, I hear it more often than I would like. And it's worth noting that it's not always those words which are used. Sometimes it's an off-handed statement and the intentions behind it are totally benign. But when I hear "I'm so glad that you're here. Because, you know, we older folks won't live forever and we'll need someone to carry on this important ministry when we're gone," all I feel is shame and guilt if I'm not every bit invested in the ministry as they are.

The disclaimer here is that this issue is definitely the loose thread that, if pulled, will unravel the entire sweater. And underneath the sweater is a really pissed off young man who just lost his favorite sweater. So if you're taken aback, dear reader, or if you notice that this post is relatively disjointed among my glaringly disjointed posts, please understand that it's because these are interrelated issues that I'm in the midst of working through.

"You have been warned!"

Two weeks ago I wrote a post entitled "Why the Church?" which was, in turn, my response to a prompt from the Acts 8 Moment BLOGFORCE Challenge. I wrote my response there are succinctly as possible, but it was a fairly easy post to make because it's something I've been thinking about for a long time. And I end up talking about it a fair amount, too (which I'm sure my family is pretty well fed up with by this point).

At any rate, I was talking about the issue before I posted my response and my mother and my grandmother gave me their responses in fairly direct ways. My mother said, "At its best, the Church helps us make sense of this life. And at its worst it gets in the way of making sense." My grandmother simply said "We go to church because that's what we've always done!" To which my mother began singing "TRADITIOOOON!"

Oh, how I love using this .gif...

As for me, I think that Church tradition has a lot of value. I totally agree that, at its best, it is a catalyst for radical transformation; at its best, the Church is something that empowers us to show Christ's love in every way that we can.

However, I look at the Church tradition as a double edged sword; I mean, it is an organization that talks about membership a lot. But if membership is all we're ever concerned about, then it seems like the Episcopals and the Catholics and the Lutherans and the Presbyterians are all just clubs with more rules for membership in amongst the other clubs: the Lions, Rotary, the VFW, the Boys Club, the YMCA... all of these organizations do good things, but if all it amounts to is a numbers game (the question of "who can get the most members/money?") then it feels like the heart goes out of it for me.

This is where the thread loops back to where I started: when someone at my church tells me that they're glad I'm there, that they're glad to know young people are coming and the church may not be dying, it feels like there is no room for passion or individuality. When someone is glad that they have the right demographic present, it makes me feel like they don't care about me; they just care about what I represent for them.

I read a great blog recently that was comparing the attitudes and habits of the older generations in church with the attitudes and habits of the Millennial Generation. It was written by Pastor Erik Parker (who is the Millennial Pastor on his blog) and I thought his article was awesome and I highly recommend that you bounce over to his blog to read it. However, if you're strapped for time, the gist is that he's encouraging a church predominantly made up of retirees that in order to attract and welcome Millennials into the church, the church needs to be open to authentically listening to the Millennials who show up and allowing them to be involved with worship and parish life they same way that they, the current members of the church, want to be involved. This means allowing Millennials to influence and potentially change what happens in the community. I have heard this said another way; that if a particular individual has no influence in a community, they do not actually have a welcome.

This idea of influence is what I mean when I talk about Millennial leadership in the Church. But I think saying "Millennial leadership" can become a loaded term, too. I think that there is a lot more attributed to that phrase than what I mean when I use it. Case in point is that recently, I was talking with a friend at my church (a friend older than me), and I was saying that Millennials want to be a part of the Church leadership. To which she cautioned me not to be too hasty; you have to put in some time before you are put in charge of something. And I realized that we had miscommunicated by using the same phrase. What I attributed to "Millennial leadership in the Church" was not the same as what she attributed to it.

So it circles back to influence and the way that influencing a group can make you feel welcome. This isn't influencing the group in any kind of malignant way; it just means that, as a Millennial, I want to feel comfortable being a part of a intergenerational discussion, confident in the knowledge that I can articulate my opinion and that my voice will actually be heard in the group. One of the things that hurt the most is when I get brushed aside because I'm "too young to understand."

To underscore this again, Millennial leadership is not an attitude of "we need to control every vestry [translate Episco-talk to "parish council] and make sure that every bishop, priest and deacon is under 30 years of age." That's a hostile takeover. That is not the kind of influence I'm interested in. Think collaboration when I talk about being able to influence the Church as a Millennial.

I think here would also be a great transition into describing how I see diaconal ministry intersecting with the ministry of current generation of Young Adults. It's the logical transition as things interconnect in my mind. However, taking a step back and looking at it from your point of view, dear reader, I think I should perhaps keep that topic for another time. So stay tuned!

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What's been your experience of being a young adult or interacting with young adults in the Church? Please leave a comment here, or jump into the conversation on Twitter or Facebook! Also, subscribe to my blog by email (in the right hand menu), or follow me on Twitter or send me a friend request on Facebook to make that social connection and participate in a deeper dialogue.