Faithful, Reliable Participation for Mission

Young adults are all about mission, right?
In Vision Project visits with young adults all over the church I heard a big theme resounding in nearly every location: “Take Action!” We are looking for a faith community that’s busy doing Christ’s business of peacemaking outside our church walls.  Serving the poor and impoverished.  Visiting the lonely and neglected.  Feeding the hungry.  Speaking out for the marginalized and vulnerable.  Again and again I’ve heard young adults connected to Community of Christ declare that they are weary of congregational life that revolves around insular worship on Sunday morning. “If the church were more active in the world (instead of condemning it, many say) then we would be more active in church!”

And so, this theme is one of the most important points we share with church leaders. “Churches should take bold action in mission and peace-building efforts. Then young adults would get more involved.”  A few months ago, I made this point in a small group discussion with some leaders of the church and its related organizations. It seemed simple enough. But then I heard an abrupt challenge, “Do you have any empirical evidence for that claim!?” I turn toward a man seated to my left.

After a moment or two of confusion I understood what he was getting at. This was a person who works in a university setting (which explains the need for “empirical evidence”) and is in daily contact with young adults. He and his colleagues in the local campus ministry had also heard students’ call for the church to take world-changing action. So they worked with a few young adults to arrange plenty of missional activities for students. Many of these fell under the Community of Christ Mission Initiatives “Abolish Poverty, End Suffering” and “Pursue Peace on Earth”. The problems was…very few students showed up. No matter what they tried or how easy they made it to attend, young adults still didn’t make it a priority to join in the efforts. The man became frustrated and discouraged. And he doubted my claim about young adults’ passion for mission.

And, to be honest, what this man experienced is not uncommon.  Young adults are notorious for being unpredictable (or some would say unreliable) about showing up for things – even activities we ask for. We rarely respond to RSVP requests, I assume because we don’t like to commit ourselves. I wasn’t sure what to say to my disillusioned colleague. He was challenging my honesty about young adults’ passion for mission. And he had a fair complaint.  The same thing has happened to me.  And every local young adult minister I know could probably say they’ve been discouraged by it too.

I don’t plan to change the message I have for Community of Christ. Young adults everywhere say they want to be in congregations that are taking action. But what happens if our congregation and church leaders take that to heart and we don’t follow-up and show up?

So here is my challenge to all of us under 35(ish): Be true to your own call for missional action and respond. When you see that your congregation or young adult leader is planning a food drive, or home visiting, or a neighborhood clean-up, or a fundraiser for World Accord  – show up! Be faithful. Be the example of sacrificial servanthood that our generation has been calling for!

Faithful, reliable participation. Poverty and suffering in the world won’t end – until WE begin!

Okay, I’ve been honest and open here. And I understand it’s a touchy, complex issue.
How can you explain the disconnect between our words and our actions?
Let me know what you think….

4 thoughts on “Faithful, Reliable Participation for Mission

  1. I realize I come to this conversation very late in the game but this post bothered something in me. (this is a good thing) I wrestled with this throughout the night, while I was brushing my teeth and during the drive to work.

    Young adults do struggle with commitment. We are often loaded down with college courses, papers and deadlines all the while trying to be involved in extra curricular activities, social life, getting married and having babies. Not to mention that we are wrestling with life callings, careers while living off ramen noodles and peanut butter. In the midst of it all we feel convicted to action, at least I do.

    And so comes the disconnect of the generations. I witnessed and struggled with this in my own congregation. I watched the youth yawn during the sermons and fidget during the hymns. Glassy eyed they went through the motions because they were either forced to come along with their parents or they felt some type of obligation to be there. So, I advocated for them. I spoke with truth and honesty about our church’s direction. They listened openly (for the most part) and what did they do? They asked the youth to help in a puppet skit. Good intentions, pure hearts but not looking beyond trying to involve the youth. When the youth didn’t respond as they expected, bitterness set in. The youth wanted and needed more than involvement and taking up the collection and puppets wasn’t cutting it. They needed to feel like they could provide meaningful ministry in the ways they felt called.

    The same is true with young adults. Events can be planned and awaited for us to show up ( and we need to do our part and attend) but we also need the outlet of being the planners. Being the ones who initiate the ministry, being able to let go of traditions and fear and allowing us to provide ministry. That can be a very scary thing for the generations ahead of us to do but if the church really wants YA’s to be in active mission it means letting go of the control a bit. It also means we have to step up and out when the opportunity is in front of us. We have to decide whether we are really committed. We have to be very intentional with our time and schedule and we have to be willing to put in the hard work.

    So, let’s get to work!

  2. karlijo says:

    This is a tough one. Erica, thanks for your thoughts on this – I appreciate your honesty and your frustrations.

    I think some of this comes down to the “build it and they will come” mentality that I see in some areas of the church. Build a program and people will attend, plan a project and people will show up, take action and people will follow. It doesn’t quite work like that does it.
    Especially for those of us ‘on the fringe’. Whilst one of the things that has kept me somewhat detached is the lack of boldness overall, I completely admit that if something were planned that was right up my justice-loving alley, I wouldn’t neccessary ‘show up’. There’s a lot of water under the bridge. People I haven’t seen for a really long time, that I don’t connect with anymore. It’s hard to start going to church/activities when you haven’t been for such a long time. That’s been made harder for me by the lack of relationship maintenence (from my side as well), and the fact that when I do show up to something, people seem more interested in what my family are doing (my mum was a Minister and my brother is a current one) than what I have been up to, how my life is etc. When I ‘handed in’ my Priesthood (for various reasons) a year or two ago, I was only contacted by 1 of the co-pastors in my congregation to chat about it. That has left a bit of a scar for me. ‘Relationship Management’ is important!

    So maybe something to explore is WHY aren’t people showing up?

    Bob – I relate to a lot of what you say too. Definitely the conflict outworked between policy and practice is a real show-stopper for me. Even more show stopping has been the missed opportunities, discreet or otherwise, many in world church leadership positions have had to confront this.

    Abmagoo – you take the words out of my mouth with regard to minister’s self care and balance. 15 years ago I would have loved to work for the church. Now, you couldn’t pay me the big bucks to even consider it. What we do to and expect of our ministers is just insane to me – not just on a formal level, but informally at the local congregation level. The culture of missed placed expectations (whether too much or too little) could really use some airtime.

    Erica, your challenge is a good one. And maybe even the missing key. Not everyone is gifted with the same gifts to do the same things or desire to be at the same activities. As much as I would LOVE to see all these P&J things “happening”, I know that my passion is not your passion. But at the same time, all our passion is needed to really live in community. Live YOUR call to missional activity – not the one others say is most important. I might be terrible at home visiting and worship planning but awesome at talking to homeless people in the street. Live YOUR gifts. But be involved, be interested, be open to new things.

    I don’t know what the answer is. But would really love to see other thoughts too.

  3. Bob says:

    The more I come to understand (I hope it’s understanding) this “disconnect” b/w young adults and the Community of Christ, the more I appreciate the multiple (triple underline below multipe) challenges that are part of this disconnect. I’m one of those young adults who feels very outed by the CofC and there are a multitude of reasons for my lack of involvement. Erica, I think you are on the right track in addressing young adults’ need to be part of congregations that embody the Church’s mission, but this is one issue among many. Without speaking as a young adult, let me just speak for myself in saying that other issues that irk me are:
    1) I am turned off by my sense of entitlement, false authority, and bureacratic aggrendizement from many within the church politic. The structure of church seems to get in the way of people building honest egalitarian relationships with each other and in keeping with focused mssional and pastoral objectives. Too often, I’ve seen and experienced how “older” folks call the shots and expect young adults to “hear and obey” because they are older and more experienced. Furthermore, money, or rather those with money, seem to drive decisions, when it should be driven by good ideas and respectful debate.
    2) Our theology is perceived as deeply hypocritical, with specific regards to the Church’s actions towards persons who identify as LGBT. The church declares the worth of all persons and congregations as sanctuaries for the broken and downtrodden, while simultaneously enforcing the Standing High Council judgment that it is sinful for LGBT persons to be involved in same sex relationships. These conflicting viewpoints need to be resolved and apologies for the Church’s shameful reaction towards LGBTs should be given.
    Also with regards to the way church theology is practiced, I am continually inundated with images of a uniquely male-god, while not being presented (in words, readings, prayers, etc.) of any other expressions/manifestations of the divine. When I say to people that these images are wholly one sided, I’m often told, “This is how I see God,” which is fine, but in public worship, we no longer pray for ourselves, but speak/pray for others — who might not feel incapable of connection to a male-god after horrific experiences with, say male family members… but I digress.
    3) Congregations meet Sunday morning at 10 or 11am, which is one of the only days I have to sleep in…no thank you.
    4) Group worship/fellowship does not focus on relationship building but instead seems intent to provide various molds of the same 1 hour worship formula (sermon, hymns, prayers, goodbye). There is limited time for fellowship and what time there may be is an after thought. Why can’t fellowship and building relationships be the focus of our time together or at least carry greater emphasis?
    5) Identity: The Church has chosen to emphasize the former of “peace and justice” mantra. We want to bring peace (and justice) to the world while proclaiming God’s love for all the world, which is great. However, given the injustice that we have within in our own bureacratic system, there is little peace nor justice within our own denomination. Proclaiming peace AND justice means that dysfunctional and aberrant power structures are cast into ruin. Justice stands against those who use their power to coerce others with ill intent. Where is justice at work within the Community of Christ?
    6) The Community of Christ is not very relevant to my needs. I’m tired of hearing sermons about how God loves everybody, but desperately want to hear something that makes me want to feel twisted and inspired. I want to be challenged, not sedated.

    To recap, there are fundamental theological and structural problems (and I do mean problems) that the Church needs to work on, or at least show some interest in, before I’m willing to get interested again. Unfortunately for now, I’m sitting this one out because I feel so far removed. I’m waiting for Community of Christ to work into something I can believe in again.
    Until then, I pray that the Church has compassion for itself and sufficient courage and strength to meet its challenges.

  4. abmagoo says:

    Hey Erica,
    I wouldn’t agree more with what is being said in this post. Yes, I would love to be a part of congregations that are actively involved in mission. It would be wonderful. But I wonder if there is a trend that I will call the “like” button. We tend to “like” things on facebook or other social media. We create persception that we are active and passionate towards things, but then can secretly, or not so secretly, go back to our every day lives.
    Commitment is terrifying. I have been a part of a ton of things that I had to take leadership in and that first step is terrifying. Even just to volunteer to help is terrifying. There is so much happening in the world today that to do one more thing is exhausting, or at least we feel it is.
    I personally have always been shy and won’t do something unless someone else is willing to do it with me. It has taken a ton of guts to not just “Like” that there is injustice or pain in the world somewhere and instead decide what kind of difference can I truly make. It all comes from being affirmed as my ministry being of value and worth.
    To live for Christ in the world today is tough. Living in community with one another in authentic relationships that are real (not just via internet) is tough. I see people beaten and killed on HDTV screens and it looks real enough. But to step into the homes of those who are truly broken hearted I feel at a complete loss of what to do. It’s overwhelming. But I have been blessed with mentors (many of many) who continue to believe in me and lift me up. They make me feel capable and give me the confidence to stand up and not be afraid.

    On a note back to adults above the young adult age and even within it, I see ministers running around, overwhelmed and I feel exhausted just watching them. They need to be our examples of how to balance life and ministry. Our lives should be ministry to others. But we need to also learn how to allow it to be ministry to ourselves. The idea of being involved with ministry scares me if all I see are my mentors and other ministers being super busy. I, since I can’t say we, I feel we need more honesty about what it takes to minister and people willing to share in vulnerable relationships with me.

    Just some thoughts…

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