I had a blast one month ago attending Exploration ’09, an event designed for young adults thinking and praying about going into full-time ministry in the United Methodist Church. While filled with times of worship, it is hard to get around the fact that the church did pull out all the stops in accommodations, food, and freebies; it felt like a really large company trying to win your loyalty. Lots of money spent there. One student asked me: would Jesus really approve of this? It also felt like a pep rally at times, which is okay, but there were distinct moments I felt like we were selling them on a church and a system that doesn’t exist.
During the first worship gathering, the speaker said “we need young adults to lead innovation” and “we need change agents and strong leaders.” A number of questions popped into my mind: do our seminaries train up change agents or chaplains and funeral directors instead? Do our churches want change agents? Or are they satisfied with chaplains and funeral directors? In my experience, pastors who try to be change agents get eaten alive by the UM system (congregation members, other pastors, leaders, etc.) that wants to stay the same. Unless these pastors are extremely resilient, they will transform into funeral directors as the system desires. We need resilient young adult change agents to innovate.
I believe some of the seminaries are beginning to see the need for change agents, but they as well are large systems that will take some time to turn around. Are our seminaries teaching our young adults to innovate, to think and dream of ministry in this new world that continues to change and to evolve? As someone who graduated seminary just 5 years ago, I think we spend too much time on our history in class and not enough on what it means to be a change agent in a denomination that needed some serious innovation yesterday.
It would have been interesting to start the event like a journalism class that I recently heard about. In this class, the professor told the students, on the first day, they were entering the dying business of newspapers and that if they wanted a more secure, brighter, easier future, they should probably look somewhere else. Yet after hearing this, if you were still passionate about the news, passionate about reporting, passionate about journalism then you should stay because the road will be long and only the passionate could survive.
It is the same with the UMC. The stats don’t lie; we are a graying and, yes, dying denomination. We need passionate, change agent folks to turn this ship around, to get on-board for the long haul. We have the Good News of Jesus to spread with the whole word! The center, the core, the theology from John Wesley is good; it is time we update our practices and our communication to reach a new world and a new people that need to hear about Christ.
Might you be one of those passionate, change agent people we are looking for?