Suzzanne Lacey, founder of Museum Without Walls, gives a testimony presentation on her work in experiential learning with young people at the 2019 NEXT Church National Gathering in Seattle.
Suzzanne Lacey, founder of Museum Without Walls, gives a testimony presentation on her work in experiential learning with young people at the 2019 NEXT Church National Gathering in Seattle.
Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Laura Cheifetz is curating a series on leadership development. These blog posts are by people who have been developed as leaders and who, in turn, develop leaders. They are insightful and focused. They offer lessons. What does leadership development look like in your own context? What could it be? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Richard Williams
In reflecting on how we church folk often think about leadership, it seems we take a pretty singular approach. Considering movie analogies, we seem to think more “The Right Stuff”, and less “Hidden Figures.” We are captivated by the myth of the single, solitary, decisive leader. Our imaginations are much less developed when we try to picture leadership not as a single crown, but rather as a community’s effort — mutual and shared at its foundation.
The Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program lists leadership development as a core tenet. We encourage participants and staff alike to imagine a wider view of the concept in their year of service. Central in the program’s thinking is a reliance on the Reformed tradition’s insistence that every person is called to serve Christ in world. In this one-year opportunity for young adults to serve alongside local organizations, both in the US and around the world, we aim to meet every young adult where they are in their capacity to be a faithful leader, but to leave none of them in the same place by year’s end. We work to see all of them move, grow, and develop, knowing that process will be different for each volunteer; as different as each of their calls.
Our goals for leadership development results in an intentional shift from focusing solely on the “typical” candidate that meet our society’s unexamined personality markers of stature, outspokenness, and confidence, as well as the identity biases of race, class, and gender and sexuality. Our program’s internal shorthand is that we aren’t only about making the sharpest pencils in the box sharper, but about finding a way for all the pencils in the box to be sharpened into their full potential. While we have all been shaped by images of leadership that are mainly white male dominant, as people of faith we must recognize and embrace different forms of leadership, and then work to change our systems to nurture, develop, call, and support them.
This type of leadership development results in inviting and preparing for a broad section of people to consider engaging in faithful service and leadership development. This makes our work both exciting and timely.
Leadership development is not a quick fix, with results you can see in a few hours or a few months’ time. This is very different than what we are used to seeing, particularly in today’s (insert like, star, crying emoji here) social media culture. Leadership development is on a generational timescale, not the ‘what’s trending’ timescale. A colleague of mine in another faith-based service program shares that they really only look to measure the ‘outcomes’ of their program five years after a participant ended their service. As programs and institutions that are involved in shaping leadership for our church and world (committees on preparation for ministry, seminaries, local congregations, and programs like YAV) we all must be intentional in looking for the long term impact of our work, because these leaders will be responsible for following God’s call and leading our church after most of us reading this blog post are long gone.
I find no greater satisfaction than working with young adults as they continue to seek faithful ways to grow in leadership for our church and our world. As a disillusioned GenXer, I am constantly surprised by how much my work with rising leaders in the YAV program gives me hope and confidence in God’s future. It will be different than where we are right now — thanks be to God. And it will be richer in God’s possibilities — thanks be to God.
Richard Williams is the coordinator of the PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer Program, a faith-based year-long service experience. He served as a YAV in the Philippines and in Nashville, TN. Richard has served in congregational ministry, campus ministry, and most recently as a Mission coworker in Colombia, South America. Richard is married to Mamie Broadhurst (also a YAV alum!) and lives in Louisville, KY, with their daughter. An aspiring biker, he is always looking to find more ways to make trips on two wheels instead of four.
Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series that will reflect experiences of living in diverse community. Over the course of the month, we’ll notice practices that enable diverse communities to thrive and we’ll reflect on the promise of Christ in whom there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free and what that promise means for our lives today. We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter!
by Jason Brian Santos
For as long as I can remember, the topic of diversity within community has never been a serious point of conversation in my home. Coming from a bi-racial family, navigating the challenges of diversity was a fact of life. Growing up, our holiday dinners and birthday celebrations were always an interesting blend of Filipino culture and Pennsylvania Dutch-influenced Americana. While the food was amazing, our feasts were always accompanied by a myriad of obvious cultural differences and unspoken customs. Inevitably, at times tensions arose; sometimes we figured it out and sometimes we didn’t. Consequently, for most of my life, I just assumed real diversity always came with challenges.
Though I would still maintain that viewpoint today, I had an experience in 2005 that changed my thinking about what happens when a bunch of diverse people come together in Christian community. I was working on an independent study course for my M.Div on the topic of young adult spirituality and the Taizé community. My project included a research trip to Taizé, the small village located in the Burgundy region of France, which is home to over 110 brothers – not to mention over 100,000 spiritual seekers who make pilgrimages to the community every year.
For this vastly diverse group of pilgrims, Taizé has become their “spiritual home.” It doesn’t matter where they are from, what language they speak, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, how much money they make or what religious tradition they’re from – in Taizé, everyone is welcomed and accepted for who they are. Each pilgrim is shown genuine hospitality, a 1,500 year-old hallmark of western monasticism.
In Taizé, all pilgrims pray together three times a day in the Church of Reconciliation using sung prayers written in dozens of languages. They study Scripture in diverse groups, which guarantees an assortment of different perspectives on the passage. They work alongside one another preparing food, distributing meals, and cleaning up. They clean bathrooms together and pick up trash alongside one another. Every pilgrim is expected to participate in the communal practices established by the community: the brothers understand that it is in their very participation that these young adults experience genuine acceptance, which in time opens a path towards reconciliation with one another.
These pilgrims aren’t just tolerating diversity in Taizé for the sake of political correctness; they authentically celebrate it as part of what makes the community feel like a living example of God’s Kingdom on earth. In fact, in my research on why young adults make pilgrimages to Taizé, one of the key themes that surfaced was the “feeling of acceptance.” At the core of this feeling, pilgrims experience a tangible sense of reconciliation. This should come as no surprise, considering that reconciliation has been the doctrine undergirding the Taizé Community since its humble beginnings in 1940.
For the late Brother Roger, the founder and first prior of Taizé, reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel. Whether it was offering Jewish refugees sanctuary or caring for German prisoners after the war, the brothers have always sought to be a sign of reconciliation. Even more, as more young Europeans began making pilgrimages to Taizé in the 50s and 60s, the brothers realized they needed to adapt their sacred French liturgies in order to truly welcome the pilgrims into their daily prayers. Latin soon became the primary language used in their sung chants, because it functioned as a universal language belonging to no particular country, nation, or people. Over the course of the next decade, chants in other languages were integrated into Taizé’s prayer book, and the prayers as we now know them gradually emerged. Still today, the sung prayers of the community function as a sign of acceptance and reconciliation.
Come to think of it, it’s rather ironic that these pilgrims find such acceptance in one of the most diverse environments they will likely experience in their lives. Maybe the central reason why is because they are never asked to put aside who they are, as if diversity is a hindrance to reconciliation; instead, through the rhythm of Taizé’s communal practices, the pilgrims are invited to take their gaze off of their own particularities and focus it on what draws them together and unites them – their identity in Christ Jesus. It’s through Christ that we bear witness to the magnitude of God’s reconciliation with all of creation and in Christ, that we are accepted and claimed as children of God.
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/.
By Rocky Supinger
Thanks to Rocky Supinger for allowing us to cross-post his thoughts on the upcoming National Gathering. You can view the original post at his blog YoRocko!
This week I’m sharing four questions I’m bringing with me to my favorite annual gathering of Presbyterians [full disclosure: I helped plan this one].
Here’s my first question:
Here’s my second question:
Now my third question: what will be the impact of young adults?
The Mainline Protestant landscape is largely absent people in their 20’s, a fact that has been analyzed by multiple studies. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is not exempt from this reality, but it boasts a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program that each year commissions young adults to a year of service in a couple dozen sites in the U.S. and across the world. The PC(USA) is crawling with recent college graduates eager to impact the world, then. They’re just not in congregations.
NEXT Church national gatherings have featured young voices from the beginning, and I wonder if this one won’t do that to a greater extent than before. A Young Adult Volunteer is on the planning team and has already shaped much of what will happen. McCormick Theological Seminary’s innovative Center for Faith And Service will be on hand in the person of the incomparable Wayne Miesel, who has done more than anyone to shape the church’s thinking about ministry with young adults. One of the seven Ignite presentations will feature a trio of YAVs (see their pitch below).
Young adults–including those in seminary–will have lots of opportunity next week to connect, share, and even organize around their vision for the next embodiment of the Presbyterian Church.
There’s a YAV from my congregation coming next week at my insistence, so I’ve obviously got high hopes that NEXT Church 2015 will provide her and her peers with both an imaginative environment for discerning their place in the PC(USA) and a platform to constructively shape its future.
Rocky Supinger is associate pastor of Claremont Presbyterian Church in Claremont, CA and co-director of this year’s NEXT Church National Gathering. Connect with him at his website, YoRocko!.
By John Rogers
As I type this, students are sitting in our campus ministry center studying away for finals. Some are seasoned veterans who know just where to find the exam blue books, free snacks, and know who has swipes left on their meal plan cards. But many are just starting, and the stress levels are through the roof. Most of our students have rarely seen anything other than an A, and most of them are coming in to college with over a semester’s worth of credits from their high school AP courses.
So, the pressure of doing well (mostly assumed on their own) creates a level anxiety—even among those who are involved in one of our campus ministries. Hope, Joy, Love, Peace… Yes, anticipation is in the air, but not always one wrapped up in an eschatological hope. Rather, it is anticipation of the grade they will learn of sometime over break.
Granted, some are pretty laid back, doing well, and surviving the trauma of a changed major or two. But within all of this — all of them — we need to remember are young adults who are maturing into a theological approach to their life. They are all facing challenges and are beginning to newly understand what it means to discern what they are “called” to do in life. They do so within the context of choosing a major or a career path in this new day in which most adults go through at least one if not two career changes in their professional life.
What many of them need to hear from their pastors and church members at home is more than, “how is college life?” They need someone to ask them, “how are you hearing God’s voice in your midst?” Far too often, we fall into the easy misperception that the undergraduate years are little more than a hoop to jump through. When we do this, we miss out on the wonderful opportunities during these years to encourage and spiritual development and maturation. Using language of “gift” rather than “privilege” goes a long way in assuring that the conversation will go beneath the surface. Asking your college student about their understanding of call and vocation is a wonderful way to start.
Yes, most will be catching up on their sleep that they forwent during the exam period (and it is not because they were cramming and did not study throughout the semester — most of them did. When you set high expectations for yourself, the work is never done.) But, amidst the busyness of this season with all the responsibilities and opportunities of Advent and Christmas, reaching out to your students is one thing not to miss. This is a big time in their lives. A lot is going on. New things they are learning along with an abundance of new people and new ideas. Take them to lunch or coffee, and ask them about it. The college years won’t last forever, and if you don’t seize the opportunity now, it will be gone before you know it, and you will have missed the chance to engage with them at a critical time in their lives. Now is when and where they are laying claim on the land of who they are and want to be. From my desk in the campus ministry center and my interactions, I can tell you that if you think their time of confirmation was important, multiply that by a factor of 10. The world is opening up to them in new ways — what a difference it can make for them to hear that their church, their pastors, are interested in hearing about it. I’ll be praying for them while they are on break — and for you, too.
I’d also invite you to keep in your prayers the 1000+ who will be gathering at Montreat for their annual college conference January 2-5. It is a powerful time for conversation, worship, and engagement with students from all over the country. These students are expressing a collective thanks for the freedom of a break where tests and exams are in the rearview mirror and new classes and spring break mission experiences are on the horizon for the spring. AND if you find that they are hungering for something that is missing in their college experience where they have not connected to a campus ministry — get them plugged in. Call or email someone on their campus and help them identify a ministry that will minister to them as they discern how God will use them.
John Rogers it the Associate Pastor for Campus Ministry at University Presbyterian Church, Chapel Hill. As the campus minister John works with a congregation of students that ranges from about 70 – 90 students each year. Students at PCM come by for Thursday night dinner, fellowship, and program, and throughout the week for other activities and worship at UPC. Also John staffs the outreach committees at UPC. He’s husband to Trina and dad to Liza and Cate. Before all of that he coached golf and was a scratch golfer.
By Wayne Meisel
This coming Sunday, many churches across the country dust off “Homecoming Sunday” signs and banners. Though not part of the official church calendar, its subtext might as well be: “Summer is over, time to get back to your church!” (And get current with your pledge).
Even with all the hoopla, it isn’t likely that this upcoming event will draw many young adults. Anyone reading the religion section or blogs and posts knows that there has been a lot written about why Millennials don’t go to church.
Rather than ask for an explanation (church is boring, irrelevant, judgmental and at a bad time of day), my question is: why isn’t the church reaching out, and supporting, and loving on the Millennials?
No, this is not a covert operation to try and get converts for Jesus and to fill up our pews and collection plates in the process. I know it is hard for some to believe that there are Christian leaders and Christian communities that seek to love by showing love, but there are.
We should not just withhold our love, coffee, juice and cookies for those who come through our church doors. The pope was pretty clear about that earlier this summer.
“We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities when so many people are waiting for the Gospel!” Pope Francis said. “It’s not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people.”
We are called to welcome, invite, include and build together. When that welcome is not very inviting, it is time to change how we live. Let’s go look, listen and follow through.
Where are they? How do you find them? That is the question I get all the time when I remind church people that there are young adults everywhere, many of whom are serving in our communities. What bugs me about this question is that if they want to find an accountant, they go find one. Yet, when we are looking for the young adult community, we shut off our brains. Why do we lose our initiative? Why is it so hard? Perhaps it’s because many of us feel awkward.
Where are they? They are our own kids and our kids’ friends. They work in the schools our children attend, they work out at the Y where we exercise, they shop in the stores where we shop, and they serve at the agencies that we support through the United Way, and yes, even through our congregations.
We don’t see them because we only seek them when we are looking for someone to fill the empty seat in the pew or lead the youth group. Yet, if we are looking for children of God who are living out the call to serve, they are everywhere that you are. And if they are not there, they are not hard to find.
When opening our doors isn’t enough, we have to look, listen, and follow through.
One of the prophetic voices of our time, Rachel Held Evans, writes: “Millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.” She goes on to say, “I would encourage church leaders eager to win Millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.”
So let’s talk: But…
Don’t assume you know what they want to talk about or what they need.
Don’t think about what you want out of it; think about they want and need from you.
Instead … Ask about:
The service that they do and the joys and challenge that come with it
What inspired them to serve?
Have they ever been a part of a faith community? Were their parents? Grandparents? Did they grow up in a church? What has been their experience (good and bad)? What are their impressions (good and bad)? If you don’t get defensive about their critique, they may just talk to you again.
Ask them what they need … it may be as simple as where is the best coffee shop and as big as struggling with mental health issues and the need for a therapist.
Ask them what social issues they care about. Offer to connect them with individuals and local organizations and people that are involved in these issues.
Ask them what they like to read and what they like to watch. What do they do in their free time?
Ask about their future plans. Where do they hope to be next? What kind of help do they need to get there?
Tell them that they are loved, that you are grateful for their interests, and talents and gifts, and let them know that you are there for them, regardless of what they believe or what they do with themselves on a
Sunday morning or any other time for that matter.
Invite them for dinner and ask them to bring their friends.
Bring cookies to their work sites.
Offer them tickets to concerts, plays, ballgames and other events that they might not be able to attend because of the cost.
Offer your buildings as meeting spaces for their trainings and social events and don’t bother charging them.
And if offering them your space can be received as an in-kind donation, have it recorded as a contribution, thus showing that the church was involved and supportive.
Support their service organizations with your mission dollars.
Invite them to present a moment for mission, teach an adult education class, or even to preach a sermon.
Organize a service trip with members of the church, including but not limited to the youth group, and work side by side.
Host a film series that features documentary films that highlight the social justice issues young adults care about. Create space to have conversation where ideas and beliefs are exchanged, not where they are being preached at, or judged. Look at the Faith and Justice Film Series that was created by Macky Alston of Auburn Media.
Hold a weekly meal just for community and conversation and allow them to be both light and lingering.
Invite them to live with you in your home if you have extra room, or in the church manse if you have an empty one. Or you could do what Earl Koopercamp did at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem and just turn the church attic into bedrooms.
And if they do come to church for worship, here is a little advice about coffee hour conversation.
Don’t ask “How old are you?” Ask “What did you think of the service today?”
Don’t ask “Are you new here?” Say, “I don’t think we’ve met, my name is …”
Don’t say, “We need more young people.” Say, “Great to meet you.”
Wayne Meisel founded the Bonner Foundation and currently serves as the Director of Faith and Service at the C.F. Foundation in Atlanta, Ga. He is the unofficial chaplain to young adults in service through programs like AmeriCorps and Teach for America.
At the 2012 NEXT National Gathering in Dallas, Wayne Meisel made a compelling case for offering hospitality to the young adults in our midst. Join the webinar to keep the conversation going.
Hospitality is a central theme of the Christian tradition. Our approach is to extend that hospitality to a generation of young people who find themselves in times of transition — times when they may feel particularly vulnerable or isolated. In your community there are likely a number of young adults in need of food, affordable housing, fellowship, and community — young adults serving agencies like AmeriCorps and Teach for America. Their presence provides us a unique opportunity to live out our call to hospitality.
Join Faith3 and The Presbyterian Mission Agency for an informational webinar about Houses of Hospitality. You’ll hear from leaders of existing Houses and from visionaries such as Wayne Meisel and learn about how you can transform your church and community into a space of welcome.
Join the webinar on January 16, 3-4pm EST.
Space is limited–click here to reserve your spot.