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.