I have spent some of my time this summer with the next generation. Three Mondays in a row I traveled to Epworth Forest to greet the senior high youth involved in the “That Thing” camp (formerly known as Senior High Institute) and to serve them communion. This past week I was involved on three different evenings with the “Youth 2011” event at Purdue where nearly 3,700 United Methodist youth from around the world gathered, and I also served communion to that group.
In both cases and in all of these events, I learned a lot about the next generation of United Methodist Christians:
+ They are very enthusiastic about their faith, about Jesus, and even about the future of The United Methodist Church.
+ They are very serious about the Christian faith being fun, by which I mean they love to have serious conversations about faith issues, but they believe that being a Christian is fun, joyful, and exciting – not dull and boring.
+ They take diversity and acceptance of everyone for granted, and they don’t understand why the rest of us “old-timers” still struggle so much with issues that divide us.
+ They long to make a difference in the world, and they will be a part of any Christian group or congregation which is making a difference. Of course the contrary is also true: they don’t want to play church and just do “church stuff” which is not making a difference. So things like hands-on mission trips and personal sharing are attractive to them.
+ They are very respectful with competent leadership (no matter how young or old those leaders might be), but they are not very patient with incompetent leaders who try to be their “buddies.”
+ They are very Jesus-centered, are eager to learn more about Jesus, and delight in singing about Jesus. This is not to say that they fail to grasp the Trinitarian aspects of our faith, but the Jesus stories and teachings make the most sense to them.
+ They wonder if the church leaders (especially the Baby Boomer leaders of the church) are really ready to accept them, to allow them to lead, and to share power and authority with them. They have seen how selfish many of us Baby Boomers are, even while we talk about “empowerment” and sharing. In fact, many of the youth are more positive about the elderly members of the church, because they sense an integrity and acceptance from those faithful veterans which is attractive.
Those are my reflections about the next generation. I do not pretend to be an expert about that generation, but I do find myself feeling very hopeful about them and about the future of The UMC and of Christianity in general.
Now it is up to the rest of us – the older ones – to make room for these new leaders to emerge, to grow, and to lead us into a new future.