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Stewardship and Young Adults: Finding Space for Conversation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Grace Duddy Pomroy

While working on a stewardship research project a few years ago, I realized that congregation leaders were willing to talk with me about any topic except stewardship with young adults. In fact, they were very eager to vent their frustrations to my fellow researcher, who was in his sixties, while conveniently avoiding eye contact with the only young adult at the table: me. They were looking for a counselor, not a conversation partner.

Out of this experience grew a second research project. I went on a quest to talk to young adults about stewardship with the goal of sharing my findings with congregation leaders. There are many stereotypes about young adults and stewardship floating around the church today. I wanted to challenge these stereotypes by bringing the voices of young adults – their stories and their struggles – to the table. I spoke with 65 young adults across the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. While my research lacked scale and diversity, I accomplished what I set out to do.

One of my greatest learnings from this project had nothing to do with the questions that I asked but rather with the conversation that unfolded. I came in expecting that participants might find it uncomfortable to talk openly about money, stewardship, and giving. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The young adults that I met were yearning for an authentic space to discuss these issues with their peers without fear of a hidden agenda. They were grateful for the opportunity to ask questions like, “How do you decide what to give? How much is enough?” At the end of the conversations, many of the participants thanked me. They had never had a conversation about giving where there weren’t also asked for money.

For the most part, the word “stewardship” did not resonate with the participants. It was seen as a very “churchy” word that referred to “asking for money.” The only positive association that they had involved environmental stewardship or “caring for people or places.” The three words that they most associated with stewardship were community, faith, and mission.

More than half of the young adults I talked to said that their congregation had not helped them integrate their faith with the way they use their money. Those who said their congregation did pointed to the way it helped them consider their giving. They were eager to discuss how faith affects all of the ways we use money – not just how we give.

The participants gave their money because they believed in the mission of the church, trusted that the money would be spent well, and felt that their gift – no matter how small – would make a difference. Participants gave their time to their congregation because they were asked and because they wanted to form new relationships.

The major question that came up was “How much is appropriate to give?” They weren’t sure what normal looked like. Our conversation gave participants the opportunity to ask this question and hear honest answers from their peers about how much they gave and why. Each participant was free to share openly – there wasn’t an assumed right answer. The participants told me they were fearful of pledging. They were concerned about not meeting the commitment so they underestimated their giving.

Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege to share these learnings (and more) with church leaders across the country. In this way, I feel that I’m beginning to make the voices of young adults more audible to the church at large. I’ve seen church leaders come into the room rooted in assumptions and anger towards young adults and leave equipped with empathy, new ideas, and a desire to ask better questions.

If I can encourage you to do anything to better connect with the young adults in your congregation, it would be to start conversations of your own. Ask young adults why they give and what stewardship looks like to them. Invite them to share their perspective, rather than just being the subject of the conversation. Together, we have a lot to learn from one another.


Grace Duddy Pomroy is a millennial stewardship ministry leader. She is the co-author of the recently published stewardship book, Embracing Stewardship: How to Put Stewardship at the Heart of Your Congregation’s Life, as well as author of the stewardship resource, “Stewards of God’s Love.” She lives in Apple Valley with her husband, Tyler. She is currently the Financial Education Specialist at Portico Benefit Services. To learn more about Grace, visit her website at https://embracingstewardship.com/.

2017 National Gathering Keynote: Linda Mercadante

Rev. Dr. Linda Mercadante, Professor of Theology at The Methodist Theological School in Ohio, gives a keynote address about those who identify as spiritual but not religious at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.


Linda Mercadante is Professor of Theology at The Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She was once a “spiritual but not religious” person, but through an intensive spiritual journey has become a seminary professor, theologian, and ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). You can read about this in her memoir, Bloomfield Avenue: A Jewish-Catholic Jersey Girl’s Spiritual Journey. A former journalist, she has won many awards for her research in such areas as the theology of culture, film and theology, addiction recovery spirituality, conversion narratives, and the SBNR movement. She has published five books, nearly 100 articles, and speaks internationally on a variety of topics.

Dr. Mercadante received her Ph.D. from Princeton and has been serving at The Methodist Theological School for more than 25 years. She is married to Joseph Mas, a native Cuban, an attorney, a leader in the Ohio Hispanic community and a political commentator on the TV show Columbus on the Record (WOSU). They have three children, Sarah, Emily and David.

Are the Spiritual but Not Religious Turning East?

This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post blog. Linda Mercadante is our Monday evening keynote speaker at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering. She is professor of theology at The Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She was once a “spiritual but not religious” person, but through an intensive spiritual journey has become a seminary professor, theologian, and ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Here’s a sneak peek of what Linda will bring to the National Gathering.

by Linda Mercadante

Are we all Hindu now? That’s what a Newsweek magazine claimed in 2009 when it observed the burgeoning world of the “nones.” “Nones” are those not affiliated with any part of the American religious heritage. Surveys seem to indicate they prefer not to identify with any religion at all. But the Newsweek article suggested instead that we are not seeing so much a lack of religious affiliation as conversion to some other world of beliefs, in particular Eastern.

Are we seeing a “turn to the East” among those people unaffiliated with any particular organized religion, especially those who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious?” I don’t think so. Of course, the influence of America’s increasing religious diversity is evident in the burgeoning world of alternative spiritualities. And there is, in fact, a particular attraction to certain ideas borrowed from such Eastern religions as Buddhism and Hinduism, such as “monism.”

But after spending the last five years speaking with hundreds of SBNRs, attending their diverse gatherings and learning as much as I could about and from them, I don’t think we are truly seeing a conversion to Eastern religions or religious ideas. Instead, I contend that many SBNRs are creating a particularly American spiritual mix, borrowing, adapting and adjusting from many sources. The key ingredients of this mix, however, are distinctly American. Here are some of them.

First, it is individualistic. Americans have always valued freedom of religion, but until recently were still fairly committed “joiners.” Now, joining with like-minded religious others does not seem to be as compelling for many. While most religions promote some form of community to a greater or lesser degree, this new spirituality does not give this top priority.

Second, it is “detraditioning.” Given that most of our ancestors came here from somewhere else, America has always held tradition a bit more lightly than other places. And much of American Protestantism did stress “the priesthood of all believers.” But this new American spirituality takes that impulse further. Now, the source of spiritual authority” has shifted from “out there” to “in here.” In other words, many feel they must rely primarily on their own spiritual judgment rather than looking to an authoritative figure or tradition as many religions advocate.

Third, it is therapeutic. Many Americans are focused on becoming whole and healthy, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Whereas many religions see greater goals beyond personal well-being, this new American spirituality often promotes this as primary.

And, fourth, this American mixture takes the freedom to pick and choose ideas, adapting them to the American context. There seems little felt obligation to take the whole religious package of any particular tradition. As a case in point, many of my interviewees believe in reincarnation. However, their version is often unlike an Eastern form, which allows that one might regress, rather than inevitably progress, in the next life. My interviewees Americanized this. Our belief in “second chances,” late-bloomers, and the rewards of perseverance, made them insist that endless lives of self-improvement were the trajectory of the afterlife.

There are many implications, both positive and negative, of this new American spirituality. But whether we applaud or lament it, it is impressive to see American resourcefulness at work. In the end, I don’t see a literal “turn to the East,” much less a rush to convert to Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, among my hundreds of conversation partners, all SBNRs, I saw very few who actually “converted” to a different religion. Instead, they borrowed, adapted, and adjusted what they found attractive or compelling in the culturally and religiously diverse world increasingly around us. My interviewees often believe that, rather than joining any particular religious group, they must keep their options open on the journey of spiritual growth.

Reluctant Companions—Part I

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Cynthia Bailey Manns

Faith, Race, and Politics…. Each word alone can cause one to hesitate to enter into conversation with another. Yet, we are all accompanying each other on this journey we call life. How do we live “The Golden Rule” of treating others as we wish to be treated as we engage in sacred, non-polarizing conversations that must to be had to continue to evolve as a society?

About a month ago, I felt myself becoming discouraged with the continual negative, antagonistic discourse, from all sides, regarding these topics. I know my responses are viewed through the lenses of my life experiences and theology. I am an African American woman with a Caucasian great-great-great grandfather. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s when societal change was creating excitement and fear simultaneously. Since my father was in the Army, I lived throughout the United States and Germany. I was frequently the only little black girl in my classes at school on the Army bases, yet, when I visited my grandparents in Alabama, things were quite different. We couldn’t try on clothes at certain stores, couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, had to drink from the “colored” water fountains and go up the back stairs of the movie theatre to sit in the balcony with the other “colored” people. Living in both realms of reality, segregation and integration, I knew discrimination was unjust because I had experienced freedom. Grounding my intense discontent with inequality was my unwavering knowing that God did not mean for some people to be treated so badly and others not.

Today we are still struggling with the intersection of these concepts–Faith, Race, and Politics. The U.S. continues to grow more ethnically, racially, and spiritually diverse. The Pew Research Center estimates that the Millennial Generation (18-33) is unattached to organized politics and religion, and is America’s most racially diverse generation. In T.D. Jake’s Huffington Post blog, he reminds us that, in the coming decade, one third of the 73 million people on the planet will identify as Christians, and due to this explosive growth occurring predominately in Africa and Europe, the next millennium Christian will be increasing non-white. By 2050, our racial categories will continue to dismantle as racial intermarriage increases, and by 2060, the changing face of America will be 43 percent white, 13 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian, and 6 percent other. Finally, the Pew Research Center informs us that partisan animosity continues to increase with political parties viewing the others as a “threat to the nation’s well-being.”

So, how do we encourage dialogue and action around these topics? Might I suggest we begin with self? I recognize I need to be more contemplative about my response to the turbulent discourse. In her book Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill describes the work of contemplation as “the gradual development of an extraordinary faculty of concentration, a power of spiritual attention.” How do I engage “spiritual attention” to ensure God is present in me in my words and actions with others? How do I engage “special attention” so I can encounter the Christ who is present in the other, in me, and all our surroundings?

Until Reluctant Companions—Part II, ponder these words….

“Everything we think, say, and do is prayer.”  (Neale Donald Walsh)

“I think when push comes to shove people need to remember that, underneath all the pain, hurt, anger, pride, and lies, we are all the same. Human.” (Aimee)

“I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.” (Anthony Bourdain)


 

Cynthia Bailey MannsCynthia Bailey Manns, M.A., currently serves as a spiritual director and educator. Her ministry also includes workshop and retreat facilitation. Cynthia is currently completing her Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Direction.

 

 

Seeing Jesus in the Stranger

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During April, as we continue to process the 2015 National Gathering, Joe Clifford is curating a month of blog posts exploring multiculturalism in the NEXT Church. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Joe Clifford

As we enter the season of Eastertide and consider the ways the risen Christ is working among the church, I am reminded of Luke’s story about the road to Emmaus.  You’ll remember that Cleopas and his companion are making their way home from Jerusalem following the crucifixion when they are met by a stranger on the road who asks them what they’re talking about. “Don’t you know what’s happened?” they respond.  And they proceed to tell the stranger about the crucifixion and the death of their hopes and dreams.  They mention rumors of resurrection, but they’re not buying it.

Like Cleopas and his companion, we talk a lot about the bad news these days, about the death of the church and the decline of Mainline Protestantism.  We know the statistics.  Mark Chaves of Duke Divinity School points out that no indicator of traditional belief and practice is on the rise.   Only 25% of Americans regularly attend worship services, and regularly now means once or twice a month.  In the past 20 years, the number of people saying they adhere to no religion at all– the “nones”–increased from 2 or 3 percent in 1990 to close to 17 percent in 2010, with the number of “nones” increasing most dramatically among young adults, with over 25% of Millennials reporting no church affiliation.  Only 15% of Millennials say that living a “very religious” life is important to them.  Institutional religion as we have known it is dying.  We would likely say to the stranger, “Are you the only person who doesn’t know what’s happening in the Jerusalem that is the institutional church?”

The stranger does not respond with much compassion.  In fact, he calls them “fools.” He proceeds to open the scriptures to them, to show that you can’t have resurrection without death.  In the midst of the decline of the white mainline Protestant church, another part of the body of Christ is rising in powerful ways.  According to an article published back in May 2014 on the Daily Digest of the PCUSA website   “American Christianity still has plenty of Millennials — they’re just not necessarily in white churches.”  Rev. Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church, a multiethnic congregation in South Carolina reports,  “What I see among Millennials are African Americans and Asian Americans and Latinos who are vibrantly growing in faith and leading the future of what the church will become.”  According to data from the Public Religion Research Institute he’s absolutely right.  The majority of younger Christians in this country are people of color.  White Christians only make up 26% of Americans age 18-29.  Only 12% are white mainline Protestants.  On the other hand 28% of that age group are Christians who are people of color.   This is part of a huge shift underway in American Christianity. For Americans over 65 years old, about 70% of their generation are white Christians.  For my generation, it’s 54%.  For my children’s generation, it’s less than 25%.

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Rev. Gray believes the future will belong to churches that are multicultural, not because it is politically correct, but “because that’s what God wants.” He cites Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  He concludes, “The reason that we should have multiethnic churches is not that the demographics of America [are] changing — but because it is at the heart of the gospel.”

The rise of multicultural Christianity is connected to the expansion of Pentecostal churches.  The Pentecostal movement is often traced to the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 in Los Angeles.  Today it is estimated that by 2025, over 40% of the global Christian community will be Pentecostal.  That’s a shift the likes of the Protestant reformation.

Back on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion invite the stranger into their home.  There the guest becomes the host, taking the bread, blessing it and breaking it, and their eyes are opened to see the risen Christ. This month we invite into the NEXT Blog, Joel and Rachel Triska from Life in Deep Ellum.  They are ordained ministers in the Assembly of God Church running a fascinating ministry in urban Dallas. We also hear from Rev. Shane Webb and Pastor Antonio Pichardo who are partnering in rural Texas on new worshipping communities.


Joe CliffordJoe Clifford serves as Pastor, Head of Staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas.  In 2006 he came to Dallas from the Alpharetta Presbyterian Church in the Atlanta area.  Joe is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and has his Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from McCormick Theological Seminary.  

 

Post Christendom or A Dying Church

By the Revitalization Team at Community Presbyterian Church in Southern California

 

From John Vest’s video, “What is Post-Christendom” we learned about Post-Christendom and now a message from a Millennial “To the Dying Church…”.

A Millennial is commonly defined as someone who has come into young adulthood around the year 2000.  Wikipedia states, “There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.”

Christendom is often referred to as a time when the Christian Church or the Christian world represented a geopolitical power.  Or we might look at it as where and when the Christian Church is the dominant power.  Times have changed!

Here are some thoughts from a Millennial – Brandon Robertson from his article on the Sojourners blog.

“…what we have been witnessing in the West is not, in fact, the death of the church at all. Instead, we are experiencing the death of Christendom.”

“For centuries, Christianity has dominated the Western world. … With this kind of position and privilege, we have seen great masses of people flocking to our communities — not necessarily because they sought to commit their lives to the way of Jesus, but rather because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do.”

“So the good news is that you are not dying. While the studies indicate that organized communities of faith are in decline, the amount of men and women who are seeking and finding a radical faith in Jesus is increasing. God is still at work in our world and is still bringing people into this rag-tag family called the church. My generation, the millennials, are also not walking away from their faith in Jesus, but are walking away from the modernized, politicized, sterilized, Europeanized version of Christian faith. Organic, grassroots communities of faith are forming all across our nation without buildings, without marketing, without ordained clergy, without 501(c)(3) exemptions, and without the privilege that most institutionalized churches have enjoyed for so many decades. These communities are simple: spiritual seekers, followers of Jesus, coming to express their true questions, thoughts, and experiences, seeking to be encouraged and empowered to live out the radical way of Jesus in their communities, cultures, and world. These communities aren’t recognized as a church, but as a way of life, a tribe of friends who are working and walking with one another to change the world and establish the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.”

“God is re-revealing to us the radical message of our Lord — a message of transformation through service, sacrifice, and selfless love for our neighbors, enemies, and selves. A message of humiliation and simplicity as the way of abundance and eternal life… a Christianity that is given worldly power is not Christianity at all. Christianity is the religion that proclaims a God who humbled himself and entered into creation, taking the form of a servant —who touched the untouchables and spoke sharp truth that exposed those in power. Christianity is a religion centered the subversive power of love and sacrifice, not power and wealth.”

Now that we are beginning to understand ourselves in a post-Christian era and away of a generation of millennials, the question before us is how to do choose to respond and engage?

 

Here Come the Plurals

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By Michelle Thomas-Bush

I like to plan ahead, so this week I ordered the class t-shirts for the fall. Every year, our 6th graders receive a visit from an older middle school mentor who delivers their class t-shirt, welcoming them to the next step in their faith journey. That next step is Youth Ministry. What will youth ministry look like for these 6th graders? That is the question we all are boldly asking with each other for the church of Jesus Christ.

Youth ministry is at a crossroads. Those t-shirts look exactly the same every year, with the exception of their graduation year. The Class of 2021. This 6th grade class marks the last class of the millennial generation. We are at a generational crossroads.

Millennials are beginning to graduate, and we are preparing to walk alongside a brand new generation of youth who are ready to embark on a spiritual journey of their own. Leaders will need to shift their concern away from why millennials are leaving the church and towards trying to understand the generation born after 2004. Our excited, energetic, and eager 6th graders belong to a new generation that has been officially named the “Plurals”—a peer group that has experienced their entire life in a truly pluralistic society.

Diversity shapes this generation’s worldview, and they will compete to have their voice heard. Our young people are already asking for help articulating their faith. They crave a spiritual language that they might not have heard from their families and for ways of understanding the mystery of God that are not in their vocabulary as they are experiencing that mystery themselves. Youth ministry may begin to be more about faith conversations than ever before.

Does this mean lock-ins, mission trips, and Sunday School are of the past? I think it will depend upon each individual congregation. As youth professionals, we may need to shift from sharing the perfect program to sharing big ideas instead. (Follow #BigIdeas on Twitter for a conference on big ideas in youth ministry currently happening at Columbia Theological Seminary.)

Our ministry as youth professionals will need to shift from just being chaperones to also being spiritual directors. Whether in a formal spiritual direction relationship or simply as a guide that aids a young person’s life with God, it will be critical for this generation to have someone who knows him or her in a real way and can help them pay attention to God’s activity in their life.

The good news is that it does not matter what size church you are. Spiritual direction can happen with one or one hundred. Whether your church has hundreds of youth on the roles or a core group of six, our youth leaders and adult volunteers will need to be trained to help young people, along with their families, and join them as they move beyond the “stuck” areas in their soul and challenge them to articulate faith as they maneuver through their faith journey.

Imagine if each young person had a few adults in their life who help them identify God’s movement in their life, to laugh, and create sacred space, reminding them that the Kingdom of God is all around them. This next generation will need adults who are willing to meet them where they are with compassion, encouragement, blessing and intentionality in all areas of their life—not just at church.

Let’s not wait to move to what is “next.” Let’s begin engaging this new generation where they are now and inviting them to join us in the mystery of faith.


michelle-thomas-bushMichelle Thomas-Bush is the Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Michelle and her husband Dave have a son in his first year of middle school ministry and a daughter who would love to join them. She cannot wait to see what comes next and is grateful for the community of youth leaders who support one another through these changing days of ministry.

Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, John Vest has been curating a conversation around youth ministry. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

photo credit: Christiaan Triebert via photopin cc

Tearing Down the Walls

Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a conversation around theological education. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

by Ellie Roscher

wall copyA former student of mine works for an e-commerce start up company whose office is in an old church in Minneapolis. He shares the church office space with his co-workers – a priest who got into real estate to make ends meet and a man who started a grain-based veggie burger business. The church started renting its space out during the week to small businesses for the financial benefit of everyone. This worship space/business office collaboration makes sense. Being some of the biggest community spaces in the neighborhood, churches can engage in a ministry of shared space. Sharing becomes not only a creative, mutually symbiotic idea, but in some cases a financial necessity. Boundaries that used to separate church and life are blurring.

Seminaries are following suit by thinking of ways to get creative with space.

  • Can seminaries require our students to move their families to our campus for three years?
  • Can they afford to own all of these buildings?
  • How do seminaries get students out into the world?
  • Seminaries are exploring online classes and regional campuses.
  • They are experimenting with seminary intensives followed up with life-long continuing education.
  • They are considering inter-campus and inter-denominational collaboration, wider definitions of call and on-going internships during coursework.

This shift honors the financial need and a generational shift in thoughts about faith. Theological education is moving to the context of the entire world, not just within seminary buildings.

When walls come down, some people get scared. We get attached to the boundaries we build. Redefining space with fewer walls can, however, build community, enhance academic rigor and promote God’s love in the world.

A few decades ago, many people went to work from 9-5 Monday through Friday. Family time happened at night while church happened on Sunday mornings. The walls that used to separate worship time from the rest of our lives are dissolving. More people are working from home, telecommuting, or working multiple jobs and taking odd hours. Millennials, loosely people born between 1980 and 1996, are driving the change. They don’t want church boxed into Sundays, limited to a building, quarantined from our daily lives. They don’t want to see God’s call for our lives as only what we get paid to do, but our entire life’s work. They want to make a difference in their communities, and they see that as church. They want their church to be relevant in the world first.

In her Human Resource Magazine article “Mixing It Up,” Adrienne Fox reminds us that Millennials are optimistic. They love collaboration and consensus building. Some believe Millennials view power as organic – it grows when shared. Churches and seminaries are finding it challenging to connect with Millennials with their existing models. Millennials grew up watching religious extremism lead to 9-11. They watched sexual scandals covered up in multiple faiths and denominations, the co-opting of the religious right by republican politicians and infighting in mainline protestant denominations. Young people are skeptical of a church that stays locked up away from the world. Diana Butler Bass in Christianity After Religion tells us that young people want the old church order of believing, behaving, belonging to shift to the ancient approach of belonging, behaving, believing. They want churches to be counter-cultural prophetic voices relevant to the world. They want societal transformation. The networks are interconnected and dependent on each other. The walls are coming down.

I see this shift as more than just a choice to see opportunity instead of crisis. I see the shift as a reclaiming of the Gospel. Jesus’ ministry happened wherever and whenever it needed to happen. He did not only teach in the synagogue. He did not heal people just on Sabbath. Walls could not contain his ministry, his love. The early church that started worshipping Jesus met in homes, in small groups, and we are seeing a swing back to that model in our context. What’s coming in our seminaries is training our leaders to celebrate the dissolving of walls – training leaders to think collaboratively, share power to grow it, and get out into the communities and be part of the revolution.


Roscher Ellie pic2 copyEllie Roscher is the author of How Coffee Saved My Life, and Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace and has appeared multiple times in The Thoughtful Christian, Spirit Magazine, Alive Magazine and DAPS Zine. She also edited Keeping the Faith in Seminary and Keeping the Faith in Education for Avenida Books. Ellie holds a master’s degree in Theology from Luther Seminary and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Find her writing at ellieroscher.com and  Keeping the Faith Today. Follow her @ellieroscher.  

Image: shutterstock.com/monbibi

Faithful Millennials, Children, and the Steps In Between

Beginning today, we’re changing up the NEXT Church blog a bit. We’ll continue to post good content, but each month will have a different theme or lens for what’s NEXT. We’ve asked leaders across the PC(USA) to curate a month of blog content based on their own passion in ministry. This does two things:

  1. Allows us to delve more deeply into specific topics, and
  2. Increases the number and variety of voices from whom we’re hearing as we practice ministry in the church that is becoming.

Thanks to Steve Lindsley and Lynn Turnage for curating this first month as we talk about what’s now and what’s next in faith formation of children.

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It’s time to talk children!

Over the next weeks, you will hear from various folks who are pastors, theologians, advocates, educators, parents, elders – or some combination of these – all who are passionate about children in church, children in worship, and children’s faith formation.

Who are the primary shapers of children’s faith? The church, the pastors, the officers, the teachers, and we know parents are the primary educators.

This series of blog posts brings together all of these voices as we think about forming the faith of children in the church, and most importantly in worship.

We know we are blessed to have children in our churches (what church doesn’t want more of them?!), and still we encounter people who could care less or “don’t know what to do with them” or are weary (or scared?) of children’s energy.

So now’s the time to think about the issues, attitudes and perspectives we juggle, what parents are thinking, what children have to say, and WHY we care. Enjoy these gifts of God!


Faithful Millennials, Children, and the Steps In Between

By Adam J. Copeland

parent child smallWatchers of religion online in recent months will likely have seen Rachel Held Evan’s CNN Belief Blog piece flying around the internet, “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” (Most classify millennials as those born between 1980 and 2000.) After Rachel’s post was shared thousands of times via social media, other bloggers penned responses to Rachel’s piece.

Brian McCracken wrote in the Washington Post that the way to keep millennials in the church is to keep church “uncool.”

A Lutheran bishop, James Hazelwood asked, “Is Rachel Held Evans Right?” and Rachel linked to the post on her blog. Christopher Smith called for a “Slow Church” way forward, emphasizing dialogue with one and all.

Though the hubbub about millennials has died down for now, I’ve continued to ponder faith development and children.

I teach at a church-related college and am working on a book in which 20-somethings share essays about wrestling with faith and college. As I read through dozens of submissions for the book, a theme surfaced.

Too many millennials have reflected on their faith saying, in part….“I just went through the church motions until college. I mean, my parents took me to church growing up, but it didn’t mean anything. My parents didn’t seem to care. Not until college did I being to wonder, ‘What is this faith stuff anyway?’”

The millennial writers share deep, meaningful, diverse, beautiful stories. Certainly there is much more to the essays than this thread. And yes, certainly, there are some developmental issues at play here.

But, with all the millennial-related blog posts swirling around the Internet, what might parents to do to prepare their children for the transition to college or a workplace? How, today, do we raise a child in the faith?

If the essays that have come across my desk are any indication, a good start is a simple one: talk about faith.

Faith communities are essential, of course, but for many of us a solid faith foundation is first built at home. So parents, do your best to connect all of living to faith. Talking about God’s blessing—and God’s call— at home, in the car, over meals, even online.

One simple way to support the faith of our children is to teach prayer practices. And, as is true with much of the faith, sometimes it’s best to learn by doing. Praying at meals and before bedtime can begin a lifelong practice of prayer. Silence or sabbath, too, can be prayerful if approached in a meditative, thoughtful way focused on God. (See MaryAnn McKibben-Dana’s new book, “Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time.”)

In my family growing up, discussing the sermon after worship was a sort of Olympic sport. Most young children won’t be up for debating the finer points of the sermon each Sunday, but they will gain a lot if parents model engaged, thoughtful reflection on worship and Christian education. Inviting children into a conversation about the Bible stories encountered on Sunday shows that faith matters beyond Sunday at noon.

One of the recurring themes of the essays I’m working through is millennials’ faith struggles when met with pain, suffering, or loss. After all, what does God have to do with disease or natural disaster?

When parents are honest about their faith lives—the joys, sorrows, and struggles—they can model for their children a resilient, thoughtful faith that embraces the ups and downs of live.

Faith is a head thing, after all, but it’s also a direction of the heart.

At the risk of being flippant, if parents believe it’s worth the trouble to take their children to church in the first place then it behooves them not to stop there. Veggie Tales, though fun, don’t substitute for a committed life of discipleship.

Christianity, after all, is a holistic faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ matters not just for an hour on Sunday, but for the whole of life, for the whole of the world.

Why are millennials leaving the church? Who knows and, let’s be real, many of the reasons are probably beyond our immediate control. What we can control, though, is our commitment to living out the faith we teach our children, the faith in which we baptize.


Adam Copeland CCAdam J. Copeland is Faculty Director for Faith and Leadership at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota where he teaches in the department of religion. He blogs at A Wee Blether (http://adamjcopeland.com) and tweets @ajc123.

Image Credits: steeple: Anita Patterson Peppers/shutterstock; parent and child: kuma/shutterstock