Monday, June 8, 2015

Young People as the Church

I've read a lot of posts over the past few weeks about reaching millennials and whether we focus too much on millennials in thinking about growing the church (probably prompted by responses to the Pew Report). But something that has come up in several places around me recently is how we treat the young people - children, youth, and young adults - in the church.

First of all, a reminder: children, youth, and young adults are not simply the future of the church. They are the present. They are part of the church today and have something to contribute today.

Stephen Rankin wrote about starting in ministry when he was 19, giving sermons weekly and leading the youth group. He comments that this level of responsibility is rarely given to young people now.

Youth should not just be leaders within the youth program but within the church as a whole; they shouldn't be cut off. College students shouldn't just be leading those younger than they are. All confirmed members of United Methodist congregations have pledged to support their congregations with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness. In being part of a community of faith, we take on responsibility to that community. Our confirmed young people (if not younger members as well) need to be on our committees, influencing matters within the church along with other members because they are part of the church. Children, youth, and young adults should be included in all aspects of church life. They should be at -- and be encouraged to participate in -- worship, studies, visioning meetings, church conferences, and mission activities.

The Oklahoma Conference is great in that it has a really active group of youth members at Annual Conference, but very few young lay delegates were elected to General or Jurisdictional Conference. (It was much better on the clergy side of things.) That's partially because people are less likely to know delegates who have been coming to AC for a couple of years compared to someone who has been coming for many years. Jeremy Steele touches on this and makes an argument for electing young people and gives a few suggestions for qualifications for young delegates. Robert E. Haynes responded with a suggested set of qualifications for any delegate and argues against focusing too much on age.

I think both suggested sets of qualifications are good ones, but I do think there is value in specifically considering electing young people. If we do not do it intentionally, then because they do not have all the same connections, they are far less likely to elected even if they have the qualities we look for in delegates. Are those connections relevant and beneficial? Yes, of course, and so is experience, yet there is value in new voices, too. Youth in and of itself is not a reason to vote for someone, but if young people are truly part of the church, then we must give them the opportunity to be active at all levels of the church, and that means not looking to only the familiar, experienced people to continue to lead. (And really, this applies to all new voices, regardless of age.)


  1. Because Annual Conference occurs during the work week (and lasts several days -- Oklahoma Annual Conference begins on Memorial Day and lasts through Thursday, so most people employeed outside the home need to use 3 days vacation to attend), there's already a bias to have lay delegates be retirees. Those retirees then become the potential candidates for Jurisdictional and General Conference.

    My guess is that voters generally consider some sort of ethnic diversity and are aware of the gender of people selected, but really don't think about age.

    I'm of two opinions on the age thing:
    In one way, in order for voters to start considering young lay delegates for election, they're going to have to stop considering certain people "youth delegates" or "college delegates" or some other mascot category. They're going to have to consider everyone as equal delegates.

    On the other hand, without being conscious of age, then the conference is likely to select people who have done it before and have a lot of experience. They'll be the ones people know because the more times you've been a delegate at annual conference the more likely it is that people know you (even if it is just from the election four years prior). One way to get around that would be a quota system, but then that would tend to limit the young candidates to the quota position(s). Another way would be to work at giving young people more prominence and leadership within Annual Conference (and of things other than just "young", "youth", or "college" things), which would make them more likely to come to voters' minds.

    1. And even someone who can take off for 3 days for AC might not be able to take off 9+ days for GC and then more days for JC, so that part of the problem just gets worse.

      Some people on the DreamUMC Twitter chat last night also pointed out that the clergy delegations often lack diversity in position (not as many deacons, people in extension ministries, etc.).

      I heard that at one of the past two GCs there was a proposal to require one YA per delegation that was not approved. I can't find the proposed legislation, though. It would be a little weird in smaller delegations, and in larger ones I think you're right that it would limit young candidates to those quota positions.