Saturday, May 29, 2010

Church of tomorrow?

From when I was young I remember at youth events, and especially in the context of young people taking showing leadership in congregational settings, hearing that high schoolers are the church of the future. I understood what they meant, and to a large degree believed that what they said was the complete truth. However, when I worked at church camp while I was in college, I started to recognize that while young people are the church of the future, they certainly are also the church of today.

We in the Lutheran church join other groups of Christians in recognizing Baptism as a free gift of G-d's Holy Spirit, that a free gift cannot be earned, and that this gift is appropriately given to anyone of any age who would like to receive it. Further recognizing the primacy of the household (or family) in faith formation, we joyfully baptize infants, knowing that G-d does not discriminate.

I fully believe that John, who's like nine months old and at whose baptism I had the privilege of officiating last October, is no less the church today than his sister or his parents are, or than I am. Sure, young people could learn a thing or two. But that's why we are church together, so that the faith can be passed from generation to generation.

I hear a great deal fewer people actually saying that youth in the church are the church of the future these days than I did over 20 years ago when I was a youth. Still, though, I don't think attitudes have changed much. It still seems like adults in the church are not interested in listening to the leadership of young people. Or, adults in the church might listen, but they certainly do not seem willing to give up any of the power that they hold. And listening without sharing power is like a condescending ecclesiological pat on the head. "That's nice ... now run along."

There's the idea that young people are the church of tomorrow, and when older folks (the church of today?) are ready to give up power, then young people can simply step into that vacuum. Part of the trouble, though, is that passing on the faith involves passing on responsibility, passing on real leadership roles, and passing on power in the institution now ~ otherwise, the church of tomorrow will be pretty empty.

And it's not just youth. In my (albeit limited) experience, the baby boomer generation (those who are in church) does not seem willing to give up power to the X or millenial generations. Some people wonder why the church is aging, and why we don't have many young adults in our congregations. I don't. If I'm a young person, and I'm constantly told (whether subtly or overtly) that my leadership and skills are not needed anywhere at church other than to be fit into the ministry structures already established, then I'm going to go somewhere where my skill set and passions are valued and utilized.

Scripture tells us that old people will dream dreams ~ these are important and valuable, and we need to listen to them. But at the same time, scripture tells us that young people will see visions ~ these, too, are valuable and important, but I wonder whether we take the time to listen deeply and intentionally? If we are not willing to actively give up the idea that young people are the church of tomorrow, then I'm tempted to start talking about older people as the church of yesterday.

No comments:

Post a Comment