A member of our Seminary Relations Committee expressed gratitude for our intern and the opportunity to, in her words, “Be a tiny help to carry Methodism on.” It was a refreshing counterpoint to the now familiar lament about the lack of youth and young adults in The United Methodist Church and in the clergy ranks.
We are a calling congregation. A number of youth have entered ministry after growing up in our church. The congregation places great emphasis on spiritual development for all ages, a strong confirmation program, giving youth opportunities to be in leadership and presenting ministry as an esteemed vocation. Ninety youth just attended our annual week-long choir camp, where they not only sang but learned how to be leaders.
In addition to our seminary intern, two other seminary students from our congregation spoke in worship during the past week. We make it a priority to affirm and support them financially, relationally and spiritually. These future pastors are committed and capable and credit the congregation with affirming and supporting them and helping clarify their call.
There are, in fact, thousands of bright, committed young adults across the United Methodist connection who feel called to make a difference in the world. At stake, of course, is not the future of The United Methodist Church as much as the building of the kingdom of God on this earth. We are often hesitant, however, to accept our responsibility to be “a tiny help to carry Methodism on” by encouraging and nurturing the youth of our congregations. When was the last time you said to a youth, “Have you ever thought about ministry in The United Methodist Church?”
The conversation of our local church Seminary Relations Committee with Emily, our intern, focused on ways in which we have helped Emily get her feet wet in ministry, at the same time thanking her for the ways in which she has taught us. In the process we found ourselves discussing essential qualities that pastors need in order to be effective in their call.
Energy does not correlate with age. It’s the way we relate to others, carry ourselves and imagine the future. Pastoral energy begets congregational energy. Emily has an energy, enthusiasm and optimism about her that is contagious.
• Healthy boundaries and a balanced life
Emily came to us with no idea how the next ten weeks would play out. However, she was careful to carve out Sabbath and time to pursue recreational opportunities that balance her pastoral responsibilities. We even swam together in a local lake!
• Emotional intelligence and ability to manage the demands of high stress situations
Emily has a wisdom beyond her years. She thinks before she speaks, is quick on her feet, and is always open to suggestions. One Sunday she covered for herself quite nicely after forgetting to return the offering plates to the ushers after the prayer of dedication. And when Emily started the call to worship and then realized that another pastor was supposed to do it, she wisely kept on rather than stop to let the other pastor do it.
• Flexibility in the midst of uncertainty and always-changing circumstances
Emily was willing to do anything, from digging post holes at Cass Community Social Services in Detroit, to accompanying the youth on their summer mission trip to Cincinnati, to visiting shut-ins, to staying in the church apartment even when the power was out because of a storm, to cheering on the Detroit Tigers, to learning how to pray extemporaneously.
• Openness to grow in skills, theological understanding and grace
Emily made it a priority to meet with every senior staff member to find out exactly what they do and how it fits in with the overall mission and vision of the church. We opened all of our meetings to Emily so that she could experience our successes, failures, joys and conflicts. She has been especially eager to learn how we wrestle with difficult issues.
• Understanding of the theology of context
Emily was called upon to preach in different worship settings, including traditional, contemporary, early morning outdoor and inner city evening services. She displayed an intuitive sense of how to speak to various audiences.
• Communication skills in diverse and challenging situations
Emily is eminently approachable, open to new ideas and is not constrained by a “This won’t work” attitude. She communicates joy, hope and creativity.
• Recognition of the need for spiritual formation
Emily taught a six week class called “Soil and Sacrament,” where she emphasized the importance of seeing all life as sacred. Emily already recognizes that she must continually foster her own spiritual growth in order to be rooted and grounded in Christ’s love.
• A deep sense of call and desire to be an agent of transformation
Calling churches produce young adults who are aware of God’s movement in their life, no matter what vocation they choose. Emily was raised in The United Methodist Church and has been given many opportunities not only to claim her own faith but to hear God’s call in her life affirmed by others.
I was deeply moved by comments from members of the Seminary Relations Committee, who make a commitment each summer to nurture, teach and learn from our seminary students. “I thank God for young people like you who have such a deep desire to change the world.” “I am grateful that we can be a tiny help to carry Methodism on.” “The future of The United Methodist Church is in good hands.” “Every year our seminary students are a blessing and help us to grow as a congregation.”
Emily responded to our dialogue by saying that her experience with us has awakened the deepest desires of her heart. She said, “I used to think that Christians can do what everyone else is doing. Now I know that we are called to do and be more than we ever dreamed. I want to hold myself to a higher standard than before.” “I have a stronger desire to live more fully into who God has called me to be.” “I now have a greater awareness of the questions to ask, most important among them, ‘Who is the fullest and most alive version of Emily?’”
Not every church can have a seminary intern in the summer or during the school year. But every church can be a calling church. We can all learn the names of our youth and encourage them. We can speak to those we feel would make a good pastor and affirm them. We can all provide opportunities for youth to be in leadership. We can all try to find summer jobs for youth in some kind of ministry-related organization. We can all have a youth Sunday during the course of the year.
Every United Methodist can be a tiny help to carry Methodism on, for the call to ministry is both personal and corporate. If a personal call is not confirmed by a congregation’s affirmation, the call may lie dormant forever. I am thrilled with the quality of our United Methodist seminary students and young pastors and am even more pleased with the variety of coaching and mentoring experiences that are now available to new clergy.
What’s at stake if we neglect spiritual formation for our youth and young adults? At stake is the loss of one of our greatest resources. When we forget to value their contributions, our youth and young adults lose interest in the church. When we refuse to let go of our stranglehold on leadership and downplay the importance of creativity and “doing a new thing,” we remain stuck in the status quo. When we don’t tap into the synergy of young and old, freshness and experience and innovation and wisdom, we disconnect ourselves from the future of hope to which God calls us.
Who is the next youth headed for pastoral ministry in your church? When was the last time you asked him or her, “Have you ever thought about ministry as a vocation?” How can you be a tiny help to carry Methodism on?