It was related to me the other day by a "young adult" pastor in our denomination, a meeting held to "hear" from the young adult generation ways the church can attract and keep more young adults within the ranks. The young adults attending, several of them already pastors, commented, shared observations and made suggestions, many of which were met with offense by the older people attending the meeting. The point the older members wanted to make was, as they put it, "there is a place for you in the church." The reality exposed in this meeting and generally with most of these conversations was more along the lines of a Soviet election. "You can vote for whoever you like as long as it is who we tell you to vote for."
This is increasingly frustrating for me and equally so for the young adults who currently are active in the church. It is frustrating for me because it really isn't that difficult. What is more concerning is this is simply a symptom of a greater issue within our denomination for sure, and most other churches as well, I would guess.
The answer to this apparently perplexing issue can be summed up in one statement and expounded upon in two points.
First, the statement: As pastors, church boards, and leaders, we have ceased to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit.
This sad reality expresses itself in two ways when it comes to making a "place" for young adults in the church.
First, we do not trust the Holy Spirit to bring us the people we need to make His ministry work in the church. When there is a ministry need in the church we often sit together and make lists of all the people we think would be a good fit for this ministry. Then we send out letters, emails or make phone calls, doing our best to coerce someone on that list to feel "the call" to that ministry. How often do we simply ask the Holy Spirit to speak to the person HE wants for that ministry? And then wait? Obviously, I am not against letting people know the need is there, although the Holy Spirit doesn't need an announcement on Sunday morning to find the person He wants.
So then the Holy Spirit, despite our best efforts to circumvent Him, brings forward a young adult, or worse yet, a teenager, to fill this ministry need. Do we pray about it? Do we trust the Holy Spirit as He leads us? No, usually we either dismiss the person without discussion or we begin to make excuses about experience, the massive responsibility or the offense some people will take with this person leading a ministry. We think of whatever we can come up with to rationalize away the person the Holy Spirit may have chosen to lead this ministry the way He wanted it lead. And when it is all done we pat ourselves on the back for being such good stewards of God's church. In the meantime, we have quashed a young person's passion to be involved in his or her church and have brought doubt of the Holy Spirit's leading in their life. Oh, and we still don't have anyone to lead the ministry.
We fail to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, we do not trust the Holy Spirit's leading in the life of the person He brought to the ministry.
So, somehow we overcome our doubts about who the Holy Spirit chose to bring us for the ministry need we have, but we still fail to fully trust Him. We accept the young adult or teenager into the position but on the condition that every decision they make and every action they take must be passed through the pastor or worse, the church board. We all know the results of those types of meetings. Without fail, we will see that ministry lead exactly how WE think it should be done, with only OUR ideas implemented. So the person the Holy Spirit chose to lead this ministry is left impotent and the Holy Spirit is vexed once again. In this case, we trust Him just enough to accept the person He provides but not quite enough to think that this person will actually fulfill the Spirit's purpose in this position. And again, we have ripped away a young person's opportunity to serve and cast doubt on the Holy Spirit's leading in his or her life.
It is like the bumper sticker I remember seeing which stated the simple question; "Is it good for the children?" If I have to ask such a question, then it is painfully obvious, I do not have the good of the children at heart. The same goes with this statement from our church leadership. If I need to state that there is a place for young adults in our church, then obviously there isn't. If there really were a place for them, they would be there, actively and passionately serving God in our church.
The sad reality is that there isn't a place for young adults in many of our churches because WE, the pastors, church boards, and leaders, won't allow it. Or we only allow it if we orchestrate every iota of it, leaving no place for the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the young adult or the ministry of which we have placed them in charge.
The only way for this to change (if we are really serious about it) is for all of us, from our General Superintendents to our District Superintendents, our pastors, church boards and right down to our church leadership, is to earnestly seek the Holy Spirit and re-discover Entire Sanctification in our lives A life where we walk daily in step with the Spirit. A life where we actually trust Him with our lives and our churches. Then and only then will we see young adults passionately serving God within our churches and leading us into the next 100 years of our denomination.
It needs to start long before a person is a young adult as well. It needs to start when they are in 4th and 5th and 6th grades. It needs to continue as they become 7th and 8th graders. It needs to blossom into full positions in the church, not just youth group, as they enter high school. And it needs to be encouraged as they graduate and enter the college life. Then maybe, just maybe, when they reach adulthood they will still be in our churches and they will be leading our worship, serving in our nurseries, teaching our Sunday school classes and small groups, running our food pantries and soup kitchens and serving as our pastors.
Until then, please stop with the inane meetings and asking vapid questions that no one seriously wants an answer to. It is a horrible waste of time.