Last Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, gave the commencement address at Harvard University. In case you didn’t know, Zuckerberg was accepted at Harvard and enrolled in 2002. By his sophomore year, he was known for his software developing skill and created Facebook out of his dorm room. After dropping out of Harvard in 2004, Zuckerberg moved to California and had a million Facebook users by the end of the year. Today his net worth is $56 billion.
In his commencement speech, Zuckerberg said, “Today I want to talk about three ways to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose: by taking on big meaningful projects together, by redefining equality so everyone has the freedom to pursue purpose, and by building community across the world.” As I read the transcript of Zuckerberg’s speech, it dawned on me that most of what Zuckerberg shared with the Harvard graduates could apply equally well to the women and men who will be ordained as elders in The United Methodist Church as annual conferences meet at this time of year.
Creating a sense of purpose by taking on big, meaningful projects together
Zuckerberg said, “Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness. You’re graduating at a time when this is especially important… Membership in communities is declining. Many people feel disconnected and depressed, and are trying to fill a void.
“As I’ve traveled around, I’ve sat with children in juvenile detention and opioid addicts, who told me their lives could have turned out differently if they just had something to do, an after-school program or somewhere to go. I’ve met factory workers who know their old jobs aren’t coming back and are trying to find their place. To keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge – to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose.”
Aren’t we as people of faith also in the business of helping others find purpose and community? A few weeks ago, I met with the clergy who will be ordained as elders in the Iowa Annual Conference in mid-June. One of the questions I asked was, “What gives you joy and purpose in ministry?” Their answers included:
- People beginning to trust you and let you into their lives
- Helping people find their purpose and spiritual gifts through Bible study, compassionate caring, and mentoring
- Watching churches grow, develop, and reach out into their communities with hope
- Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ; saying, “Here I am, send me!” and then encouraging others to consider God’s call as well
- The privilege of leading and walking alongside all kinds of people in community and witnessing transformed lives
- The joy of participating in the most important times in people’s lives through baptism, confirmation, graduations, weddings, and funerals
What I heard from those about to be ordained is that their call to ministry has been intertwined with others who saw potential in them, encouraged them to name their call, and provided prayer and moral support. Their ministries continue to gain purpose as they shepherd others to find purpose by claiming faith in Jesus Christ, discovering their gifts, and making a positive difference in the world.
Redefining equality so everyone has the freedom to pursue purpose
Last week Zuckerberg said to the Harvard graduates, “Anyone taking initiative will get criticized for moving too fast, because there’s always someone who wants to slow you down. In our society, we often don’t do big things because we’re so afraid of making mistakes that we ignore all the things wrong today if we do nothing. The reality is, anything we do will have issues in the future. But that can’t keep us from starting.”
“Every generation expands its definition of equality. Previous generations fought for the vote and civil rights. They had the New Deal and Great Society. Now it’s our time to define a new social contract for our generation.”
When I met with the ordinands, we talked about the importance of taking risks in ministry, the necessity of failure, and the lessons we learn about leadership in the process. What are the risks that clergy must have the courage to take in order for their congregations to pursue their purpose to build community, make connections, and change the world?
- The risk of being transparent and vulnerable
- The risk of witnessing to the unconditional grace of Jesus Christ and challenging others to a deeper walk with God
- The risk of sharing power with laity
- The risk of failing
- The risk of talking openly about stewardship and advocating for the importance of our United Methodist connectional ministries
- The risk of valuing diversity and welcoming differences
- The risk of practicing sabbath and opening ourselves to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit
- The risk of dialoguing about the needs of our world from a biblical and spiritual perspective
- The risk of moving ministry outside the church building through adaptive change and necessary endings
- The risk of saying “I’m sorry.”
Creating purpose by building community across the world
Toward the end of his address, Zuckerberg said, “In a survey asking millennials around the world what defines our identity, the most popular answer wasn’t nationality, religion, or ethnicity, it was ‘citizen of the world’. That’s a big deal. Every generation expands the circle of people we consider ‘one of us’. For us, it now encompasses the entire world…
“We get that our greatest opportunities are now global – we can be the generation that ends poverty, that ends disease… This isn’t going to be decided at the UN either. It’s going to happen at the local level, when enough of us feel a sense of purpose and stability in our own lives that we can open up and start caring about everyone. The best way to do that is to start building local communities right now… Whether our communities are houses or sports teams, churches, or music groups, they give us that sense we are part of something bigger, that we are not alone; they give us the strength to expand our horizons.”
One of our young clergy ordinands, Nick Grove, is the pastor of a church that is intentionally building that kind of community. The St. Charles Parish, which is a yoked United Methodist and Disciples of Christ congregation, is participating in the Healthy Church Initiative process and did something new this year. They decided to give all of their Easter offering away!
On Easter Sunday, they took in the largest offering anyone can ever remember for a single Sunday. It was over $5,000, which was twice as much as the last two Easters! Half of the offering went to help a family in the area whose house burned down and the other half went to the I-35 School District to be used at their discretion. Creating purpose. Taking on big, meaningful projects together. Making connections. Building community. What a blessing!
Zuckerberg closed with these words, “Before you walk out those gates one last time, as we sit in front of Memorial Church, I am reminded of a prayer, Mi Shebeirach, that I say whenever I face a challenge, that I sing to my daughter thinking about her future when I tuck her into bed. It goes: “May the source of strength, who blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.”
On this Memorial Day, when we remember the courage of those who sacrificed their lives while serving in the armed forces; and at this time of year, when young people graduate and candidates for ministry are ordained, may you, too, find the courage to make your life a blessing!