By Taylor Burton-Edwards
On a blog I read fairly regularly (Dan Dick's outstanding United Methodeviations), one person spoke of the importance of actually “using” youth and younger adults “in church leadership,” as opposed to doing confirmation and them telling them to wait several years before they can serve in such roles.
I wasn't sure what the writer meant, and admitted that. But if it was what I thought he was saying, I had this to say...
If this refers to the usual committee structures of a typical congregation, my guess is that sort of thing is about as appealing to most youth and young adults as memorizing the periodic table alphabetically, numerically, and backwards– in short, tedium tremendum, non fascinans.
Here’s the core problem, as I see it. Congregations by and large aren’t directly about discipleship, and their leadership structures almost never are. Those leadership structures about monitoring the financial life of the congregation, or learning what the pastor’s up to, or making sure the Sunday School literature is getting to the folks who need it, or getting a mission trip to Nicaragua together or any number of other things, all of which are fine things in themselves for Christians to do, and that we should do, but all of which are also at least one step removed from actually living as disciples of Jesus and as his representatives in the world in our daily lives.
Confirmation isn’t supposed to be preparing youth to serve on committees. It’s supposed to be preparing them to live as missionaries in Christ’s name, wherever they go. There are leadership skills needed for that task, but we don’t typically create structures to support and sustain either that task (at least not seriously) or the kind of environment that helps folks learn to lead well in these direct daily missional environments.
(emergingumc2 folk-- you know some who clearly do!)
So… if confirmation leads up to people now being able to serve on committees where they’re not necessarily going to get listened to much, and which, frankly, are a waste of their time, is it any wonder we see such a high “graduation” rate from the worshiping community after confirmation? I mean, really, isn’t there a kind of bait and switch going on here (and a sad and often transparent kind at that)?
I go back to the image of the energy and vitality and commitment Dan Dick described seeing at a youth event in Wisconsin. And then I ask, honestly, “Where in the life of our congregations is there room for THAT level and kind of energy?” That energy isn’t enthusiasm to be part of the committees. It’s enthusiasm to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
So… how are we, instead of “using them in leadership,” launching them into discipleship in the world, trusting them to be disciples, and so to fail, learn from failure, and keep plugging away at things OUT THERE for Jesus?
Confirmation shouldn’t be about sealing the deal that they’re now “in here”– it should be about sealing the deal that the Spirit is driving them, as the Spirit drove Jesus, into the wilderness to get going on his mission.