Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Being a Young United Methodist

Over at United Methodeviations, Dan Dick has an interesting blog post: "Wanted: Young People (Some Restrictions Apply." He is interested in young people's involvement in the church. In his post, he spends a lot of time analyzing young adults (like me!) and concludes,

"We can’t change young people into cookie cutter clones of our ideal young Christian church-goers." 
 Instead, he says, our churches should prepare to be more open to young people in five ways:
  1. make it okay to ask questions, even in worship
  2. put as much attention and focus on spiritual formation and Christian service as on worship
  3. share power — let new comers have ideas, responsibility and authority (this does NOT mean put them on a committee!!!)
  4. understand that the “radical hospitality” that 35 and olders enjoy is not the same as the under 35 crowd; be friendly, authentic, and respect boundaries — most under 30s are not coming to church to make friends (yet); they are scoping out the lay of the land to see what the church believes, what it teaches, what it expects, and what it can do to help the individual grow.  Impress newcomers with your integrity and impact, not smiles and cookies.
  5. Young adults are very interested in what the congregations knows and believes.  Anything that sounds canned or rehearsed will be viewed with suspicion.  Any question that can’t be answered will cause raised eyebrows.  
I agree that young adults are who we are, and can't be expected to fit some kind of United Methodist mold. As I said in my earlier post on being a United Methodist, there is no one United Methodist identity. There are many ways to be United Methodist, and older adults need to do all they can to accept young people's spirituality and ways of being (and vice versa).

I think that Dan's tips above address the cultural age gap between younger and older adults (especially 1, 4, and 5). These tips also identify problem areas in our churches (2, 3, and to some extent 4). Having young people as part of the local church can point out when our concept of hospitality is too narrow, neglected areas in worship, and our structure of operations is not inclusive of all age groups. These are all very important things that need to be improved in the UMC.

It is true that the aging Boomer generation holds the vast majority of power in the UMC, and that needs to be rectified- young people can contribute fresh ideas and new voices to decades-old conversations. Our perspective can help the UMC become more balanced in our outlook. And our passion for articulating our theology and purpose can help the UMC become more focused in the decade to come.

Our age group is focused on service and impact, so we can make a positive contribution to the UMC in our emphasis on mission. Hospitality immediately comes to mind as an area in which we can help expand the UMC's mission and many of us have a heart for the poor and those who have been affected by devastating circumstances. I think that improvement and expansion of mission is probably the area in which our generation will have the most impact in the UMC.

So what can young people do to contribute to the church? Show  up! And participate. If someone discourages you from joining a committee or starting a ministry, don't give up! Jump in and start contributing in the ways in which your heart leads you- now.

What can you do if you are an older adult? Welcome young people into the ministries of the church! Find out more about what our church believes so you can talk to them about it (I suggest you begin with our Social Principles). When you start to feel defensive or protective of your ministries, stop and ask yourself if the young person you're with might have a valid point. Realize that this is her/ his church too. Think about how you can make room for young people in your church.

Because young adults are not the future of the Church- we are the Church.

If you are a young adult, how do you feel about getting involved with a local church? If you are an older adult, how do you feel about the young adults in your midst? Do you talk to one another?

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