A lesson in perspectives

It’s been a few weeks since a trip to Exploration 2011, and I still find myself with an unusual sense of excitement.

The energy of more than 600 young people gathered in St. Louis at the event designed to help them discern their calls to ministry was contagious, even for a terminal cynic like me.

Maybe it was the rousing worship services. Maybe it was interviewing person after person who was ready to get out there and “knock holes in the darkness.” (I’m pretty sure that was the most re-tweeted phrase of the weekend … and seemed like a good name for a blog!)

Yet, in the midst of the buzz was the acknowledgment that all is not rainbows and cotton candy for The United Methodist Church. Many mysterious and scary things lurk on the horizon.

Where I sit in General Agency Land, the morbid parlor game of church restructure is a constant. It’s not only the 800-pound gorilla in the office, it carpools home with us and even steals the covers at night. But talking to this group – those considering seminary, those already there, and those fresh out – they aren’t concerned about the uncertainties of what may happen to their church.

Bring it on, they say. Blow it up and start over.

Brian West, a student at Methodist Theological School in Ohio and months away from his elder commissioning, put it best: “The United Methodist Church is not essential to Christianity; the people of The United Methodist Church are essential to Christianity.”

You want to rate my effectiveness? Why wouldn’t I want to make sure I’m the best pastor I can be?

You want to do away with guaranteed appointments? Do you think I’m going into ministry for job security???

My nagging thought is how many young people have left similar events on fire about their ministry, only to have The Way We’ve Always Done Things extinguish that flame. In case you haven’t noticed, The Way We’ve Always Done Things has been chasing away members every year for quite some time.

These young folks do things differently. Sure, you may go to their church and hear “A Mighty Fortress,” but don’t be surprised if it’s set to a hip-hop beat. And, they take those two dirty words – “social justice” – pretty seriously. It’s not about politics; it’s about what they truly feel the gospel calls them to do.

But they are fiercely Wesleyan, and they embrace their Methodist heritage. They don’t want to bail in favor of the trendy nondenominational that meets in the basketball arena across town. These are people who are quite aware that they are part of a denomination that may be dying, but they are devoted United Methodists. They are running into a burning building armed with a garden hose, and they don’t care.

Keynote speaker Adam Hamilton asked us to imagine that 20 or 30 years from now, the church could look back and say, “It all changed in St. Louis with these young people.”

I like that idea.

Images from Exploration 2011

Attendees Urged to Take God’s Word to Their Generation

Technology and Social Media Add Layers to Exploration 2011

Florida Conference Focuses On Young Peoples’ Call

About youngadult1

Joey Butler is a writer, editor, guitarist and cook. He does the first two for The United Methodist Church, as the editor of young adult content at UM Communications.

Posted on November 23, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. when i was a senior in high school we had a new soccer coach who replaced me with a more talented freshman. The old coach had a tradition of never starting freshman, so I was assured my spot with him, but this was new leadership who were more concerned with the best team on the field. This kid was better than me, so I had to get over it and put my energies else ware, which was skiing and golf (with a little hockey), while cheering on my schools teams that semester.

    I wish our folks in leadership would get over the guaranteed nature of our jobs and allow those who are better at leading us in to a new field of ministry to do just that. I don’t count myself as one of those who are going to be leading into new fields, but hopefully one of those who beats down the doors for them.

  2. This sounds great…if you are a white male. When white women are making 13% less than men and women and men of color even less, guaranteed appointments are a necessity.
    I remember the days when churches rejected women, no matter now qualified they were. Its still going on, just under the reasonsing that “she was not a good fit for us.” Most of us did not go into ministry for job security or money. We did hope the church would do it better.
    Opinions are still out on that one.

  3. Unfortunately, Beverly, guaranteed appointments don’t fix the problems you cite (income inequality, etc.). But what they do is encourage those whose gifts lie elsewhere to remain in their ministry positions, to the detriment of the church’s health and mission. Itinerancy has become a bureaucracy that protects the mediocre, and younger gifted potential leaders find fruitful ministry in nondenominational churches that don’t require years of hoops to jump through because of the guaranteed job awaiting those with the patience. Guaranteed appointments actually attract, as well as sustain, mediocrity.

  4. Brian West is absolutely right that the people of the UMC are essential to Christianity, but the institution is not. That’s another way of reaffirming Jesus’ teaching about losing our life in order to find it. Too often we’ll do anything to avoid following those words of Jesus where they lead us. My prayer is that like-minded UM’s will encourage and support leaders and decision-makers who are ready to embrace and live out this “losing-to-find” lifestyle–wherever it takes our institution.

  5. Yes. And I see where Beverly is coming from! For the record — I meet a lot of US-2s and Mission Interns (missionaries between 20 to 30 years old) at Global Ministries. They blow me away — living simply and loving unconditionally! So, yes, bring it on. I am a fan of change!

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