Saw this tweet (on Twitter) the other day:
For the UMC to take seriously raising up young leaders, we who are 45+ will have to be willing to get out of the way.
In the past few years the United Methodist Church has taken seriously the reality that our church is not getting any younger. I don’t mean just that we’re aging as an organized denomination, nor do I mean we’re getting particularly frail or feeble. I just mean that on average the age of our members and the age of our clergy has gotten older not younger. Last I heard the average age of clergy and laity in the UMC was 57. That’s the average. What it means for the future is that if we keep going this direction we will become a church of the past in the eyes of those who have the most future. (What does a young couple of 33 with two young children find in a church where very few are their age? Do they find anyone who can see life the way they do?)
I do realize older members have much wisdom and experience to share, and as you will see, I don’t agree with the letter of the above tweet (though I do agree with the spirit of it). For now, we simply have to understand that the world today is not what it was 20 or 30 years ago. The rate of change, the political environment, the issues facing public schools – all very different from the world of 24 years ago (when a 57-year-old was 33). Now, before anyone jumps on this topic because I sound like I am trying to push aside the older members and take control of things, reread the tweet at the beginning of this piece – I will be 45 by year’s end. I’m one of the ones being called to move out of the way!
What I believe to be true and right is that churches – individual congregations – as well as the Annual Conferences, must call more young leaders to serve and help guide the life of the church. There is a need for those persons to work together with older persons as mentors and friends. And there is a need for the older ones to listen to new ideas and support them with vigor. We are being called to hear both the wisdom of past failures and successes, as well as to hear the challenge of things never tried. There is a need for the body to be fully the body – all parts working together (and no seniority or control issues allowed!).
Sounds like a great plan, right? Only one flaw. We have very few young leaders in our churches. What this means is we have, at a minimum, a two-pronged agenda. One, we must ask fairly new young members, who may not have been involved in church very long, to be a part of a leadership team. Team is the key term here. Young leaders must be asked to contribute to the team, to be a part of a dedicated covenantal group of believers who are called to guide the spiritual and practical aspects of the church’s journey.
The second prong would call us to be more diligent and purposeful about mentoring and discipling younger Christians. The older generation must reach out with greater intentionality if there is any chance for young leadership to grow. It means those who are serving already must be called to live by faith and not by tradition. Younger leaders must feel free to speak what they hear God calling the church to do and to be without the fear of being overruled by inflexible perspectives.
I guess the answer is found in the word “intentional”. If we desire to be a church that engages and speaks to the world around us we must be intentional in our efforts to raise up young leaders. We must be intentional in our own efforts to walk together in faith by seeking God’s vision for the church and not our own. We must be intentional not in letting others drive the car while we sit and watch, but by sharing the responsibilities and duties of driving this vehicle known as the United Methodist Church.
There are many challenges – from young Christians who are young and inexperienced, to stunted Christians who are not so young; from asking people to take on a serious responsibility when they already struggle with a busy calendar, to asking those who have time to use it in new ways.
Who will lead our churches? It had first better be Jesus because it is his church. But after that, it needs be those who are called by God and those who can bring a spiritual strength and a renewed vigor to the task. Age is not the litmus test, but it is the pop quiz of our time.
Are you a young follower of Jesus? Please step forward and let others know you are willing to serve. Are you an older follower of Jesus? Please step forward and let others know you are willing to serve alongside the youngest of leaders as a brother or sister in Christ, and then bring your wisdom to compliment their vitality.
Holy high five to you, Mike