young adults

Ministry in the Conversation...

By Rev. Mindi

In most congregations I know, if a ministry event or program got down to being just two or three people (and one of them was the pastor), they would probably look to end it soon. And until a year ago, I would probably have done the same thing.

We began our Pub Theology ministry just over two years ago, when I began at my current congregation. More accurately, we joined another congregation’s Young Adults group in the city and met with them at least once a month. Then we received a grant between the two congregations, and decided to start a new location closer to us. The idea was to grow and expand and have new folks join in and start new pub theology ministries. For a while it worked, we had other locations and folks joining us from Meetup and other online sites. Fast forward two years, and the other church group doesn’t meet anymore, and the other locations have faded out, but we still meet. Although we have had as many as fifteen, we are most often down to five or less, and sometimes just two or three. And there have been a couple of times I have been the only one.

I mentioned to my Pastoral Relations Committee once that it might be time to pull the plug on this ministry. “Oh please don’t,” a member told me. “Even if it is just you that are there, you are there on behalf of the rest of us.” Me, having a beer—or more likely, a Diet Coke—and waiting for people who will not show up that evening. No, I disagreed with her. But she continued.

“You see, I know someone who doesn’t go to church and thinks the church is just a hypocritical place. But when I told her about our Pub Theology, she listened. She said she could go to a church like that someday. And I keep inviting her and one day she will come with me. But until then—you never know who you might meet.”

It’s true, I don’t. And if I stop going, there is no opportunity.

However, I’ve stopped thinking of our Pub Theology ministry as an outreach opportunity—except for the fact that twice a month, we tip our server generously and are a witness that there are still good, kind people in the world who happen to be from a church.

Instead, I’ve seen it as a place where ministry happens in the conversation, and these kind of conversations just don’t happen in the church that we are used to. 

One of our attendees brought a friend one day who remarked that we got off-topic really quickly. Every week I bring a question or a thought to begin the conversation, and we stick with it maybe five minutes. We try to get back to it but inevitably are sidetracked. Sometimes those attending feel bad that we got sidetracked. I don’t. Unless it is someone railroading the conversation, I welcome those side trails to the discourse. That’s where I learn about relationships, work, values, goals in life, dreams that have been delayed or died, broken relationships, sorrow, joy—you name it. That’s where the real ministry is taking place, in these conversations about the lives we lead. We’ve gotten to know each other on a much deeper level than we have on Sunday morning during worship and coffee hour, or during Bible study, or any other traditional church ministry activity.

In some ways I wish we’d stop calling it Pub Theology or whatever phrase we are using, because the theological discourse—while interesting (our topic last night was hell, whether there is one or not) rarely scratches the surface. What does dig deeper is talking about our lives. And it’s there that we find the harder questions to ask and answer.

We’ve had as many as five in recent weeks, or as few as two, but they still come. And I love these meetings so much and I’m so glad that my congregation understands that they are not full of people all the time, but they are leading to fuller life.  And as one attendee said a few weeks ago: “This is Church. Right here, right now. And it’s church on Sunday morning, too. But this is no less church for me here than there.”

Grow up, Grownups!

By Rev. Mindi

I went to hear a prominent Christian speaker today and she was excellent.  She spoke about our current cultural dynamics, broken down by generation and religious affiliation, and that the future of the church is now. 

The speaker mentioned how those in the 18-29 age range are adults.

Then an older woman made the comment, “Legally.”

SERIOUSLY?

And we wonder why millennials are not in the church?

Right after the woman made that comment, several people shouted back, “NO” to the woman, and “They are adults!” The speaker confirmed gently that yes, they are adults and we need to reframe our thinking.

But this comment by one woman is a symptom of a much greater problem in the church. The fact is, we treat young adults like they are children and what used to be middle-age like they are adolescents.

Look at your church board. Is there anyone under 40 on it? Anyone under 30?

I have seen this happen in the churches I have served. As a young pastor, I’ve been called “kid” many times. Ironically, when my hairdresser recently asked me about coloring my hair I said no. I need my grays that are streaking in. However, the larger issue is that regularly, people in their 30’s and 40’s in the churches I have served and known are referred to as kids (because everyone probably remembers when they were kids and their parents probably still attend that church), but what’s worse, they are often treated like kids.  I have seen adults in their 70’s and 80's scold the 40-year-olds in the church over various things—their attire, their tattoos, the way they teach Sunday School—and we wonder why even younger adults are not there.

We have to stop this symptom. We have to change our attitudes. We have to treat millennials and Gen-Xers as adults. Gen-Xers are middle-aged. Millennials vote and work.  We are adults. We have a vested interest—perhaps even more than others—in the future of the church and if we are not included right now, treated with equal value and respect—then why in the world would we want to stay in an institution that doesn’t treat us this way?

This symptom, of course, is a symptom of a greater issue—power and control. I remember in a previous church a group of young 30-somethings complaining about some of the decision-making in the church and how they were excluded from it. Even though they served on the board, their ideas were dismissed and opinions ignored. They often joked, “When we get to be their age, then we can be ornery and stubborn and make the church the way we want it!” That was said tongue-in-cheek, but it reflected the behavior of the boomers and the seniors in the church leadership at that time.

We shouldn’t divide on generational lines, and as was shared by another participant in this conversation, the church is one of the last institutions that can be truly intergenerational and was intended to be that way. There is value of all people of all generations being together, and we know the value of diversity within those generations. But all too often, we are dismissing “younger” adults as not being an adult, not capable of participating or making decisions or being trustworthy or having the right skills. News flash: if your church is in decline and all your leadership is above fifty, you might want to consider that you may not have the right skills for leadership today.

We cannot change all of the reasons why younger adults are leaving the church, or why they haven’t come in the first place (that would take another article, plus we would need to address the assumption that we still need to get people in to the church, and that perhaps we need to rethink our models of church, but I digress). But we can do better. The first step is changing our attitudes about younger adults. The second is to be intentionally intergernational and to break down our stereotypes of all generations.  It’s going to take all of us, together, to nip this in the bud.

Cultivating Call

By Rev. Mindi

When I was thirteen, I felt the call to ministry. I was sitting in my grandfather’s church, listening to him preach, and I felt something in me say “This will be you someday.” And I never looked back.

When I told my pastor about my call a few months later, my pastor made sure to include me in worship leadership.  At first it was simply reading Scripture, but by the time I was fifteen I was preaching a sermon at least once or twice a year. I helped with Communion, I led liturgy and prayers.  After I was baptized, I was made a member of our Deacon Board (this happens when you are in a small church startup with about twenty members!) When I was in college, the pastor of the church I attended invited me to preach. The first time he was present; after that, he invited me as pulpit supply on occasion.

These experiences helped build me up and prepare me for ministry long before I attended seminary. And when I was serving in my first church as an associate minister, we established our first Youth Sunday in a long, long time. But I knew that Youth Sunday wasn’t going to cut it. Only once a year? Only one time for the youth to share their gifts for ministry? So I began to establish, with the help of the senior minister, a training program for youth starting in middle school to help in the worship service. And we began by reading Scripture to the congregation, and worked our way into other areas of the service. 

At my second church, where I served as Senior Pastor, I did the same—but I also invited youth to preach and not just on Youth Sunday. And when she turned sixteen, I invited her to come on pastoral visits with me (but I always received permission first from the homebound member). She also eventually was invited to serve on the church board.

In both churches, there was one youth who began to feel a call to ministry and felt uplifted, supported and encouraged in that call, just as I had felt many years ago.

What are we doing in our churches to support young people in the call to ministry? What are we doing to help laity of all ages feel supported in their call to ministry?

All too often, worship is led by the pastor, and even if laity are involved, it is simply for things such as taking the offering or serving Communion, or maybe reading Scripture. The number one complaint I hear from pastors when I ask them how laity participate in worship is that the laity are not trained to read Scripture or to lead in worship. But that is our job. If we are not involving the laity in our worship services (and of course I am speaking from a Free Church congregation with no set liturgy other than what was created by tradition within this particular congregation), we are failing to raise up the next generation of leaders.

In my current congregation, no one has come forward to me to express an interest in professional ministry—yet. But that does not mean I do not provide those opportunities, as much as possible, by inviting others to participate and serve. I also provide training, once a year, on reading Scripture out loud, what the Prayer of Invocation is and what it means to call people into worship. An 85-year-old woman in my church, who attended the training but had no interest in actually leading it, said to me “I never knew what the word Invocation really meant until now. Now I know what it is we are doing.” Sometimes, in the Free Church tradition, we have done a poor job of educating within our communities on what it is worship means, what is liturgy, and what it is we are doing.

We need to do better. Think of ways you can involve others in leadership, and ways we can educate our congregations on what worship is, but we also need to find ways of encouraging and lifting up those within our congregations who may be gifted for ministry. It is not enough to bless them and send them on their way to seminary; we must begin cultivating that call now.