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Youth, young adults are church of today, not tomorrow


Christopher Dorr plays the drum during a Sept. 25 worship service at the joint gathering of the Division on Ministries with Young People and the United Methodist Board of Discipleship meeting in Nashville, Tenn. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.

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By Linda Green*
Oct. 7, 2008 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Young people want to send a message to United Methodists: They are not the church of tomorrow but are the church today.

Youth and young adults decry the “youth are the church of tomorrow” mantra because they say that it gives adults permission to discount their voices.

 
Christopher Dorr

Christopher Dorr, a 20-year-old member of the denomination’s Division on Ministries with Young People, said that while youth and young people are helping to lead the future of the church, they often get only token roles on decision-making boards and committees. “They are there for representation,” he explained. “Young people should be able to say, ‘this is what we are doing and this is what you are doing,’ and ask how we can make it work together.”

Dorr, the worship leader at Faith United Methodist Church, Clay, Ala., has struggled with having a place in the denomination “where I could plug in.” His biggest issue with the denomination is the “gap” he sees between children, youth and adults. People are big on children, but sometimes youth are excluded or forgotten, and ministries for young adults are often limited.

“Youth and young adults are in church and working in church today,” he said. “We are not going to be quiet anymore.”

He is thankful that the church created the Division on Ministries with Young People four years ago to allow the voices and passion of youth and young people to be heard. The division’s governing directors consist of 50 youth and young adults, ages 12-20, from around the world.

“We are not to be forgotten. We have just as strong a voice as anyone else, and we have nothing to stop us from going after everything we want,” Dorr said.

‘Not just the U.S. way’

Violet Mango, 21, a native Zimbabwean, was a member of the division’s inaugural leadership. “Young people are active and bring new ideas to the church. It is not just about the U.S. way of doing things,” she said.

 
Violet Mango

Mango, a freshman at United Methodist-related Rust College, Holly Springs, Miss., said the division spent time laying its groundwork, learning about the church and the role of youth and young adults in it.

The Division on Ministries with Young People is moving into an operational mode after spending the last four years finding its footing, said the Rev. Mike Ratliff, the division’s director. Traditionally, staff and board members are two separate entities within church bodies. In the new division, “we, staff and board members are partners in ministry together,” he said.

The division is the only entity focusing on youth and young adult ministry throughout the connection and calling the church into accountability “The division enables us to call the worldwide church to action,” Dorr said. “We are a bunch of loud, passionate people who are on fire for Christ.”

Ratliff noted the church often looks to youth and young people as “saviors” of the future church. “Sometimes the church looks to young people to perpetuate the church,” he said. The reality is that the church will continue to emerge as long as all hear God’s call to transformation, he said.

“Young people are passionate about their faith, and I believe that there are young people who are leaders among us today who are prophets among us today,” he said. “Young people will grow into the leaders they are created to be.”

The United Methodist Church is focusing its direction on leadership development, church growth, global health and poverty, and Ratliff said the division is collaborating with others to help youth respond to God’s call on their lives in relation to the church’s direction.

Focus on leadership

Leadership development among youth and young adults has been a primary focus for the division in 2008. The organization launched the “Source,” a gathering resourcing adult workers with youths to help empower youth and young adults to be leaders in their immediate contexts. The leadership resource for adult workers is at the heart of youth ministry.

The quadrennial gathering focusing on faith and leadership typically draws more than 6,000 young people. It will occur in two locations in 2011: July 13-17 at Purdue University, Lafayette, Ind., and July 27-31 at the convention center in Sacramento, Calif.

Accessibility is the reason for two events rather than one. Each location is now a day’s drive for anyone in the country and, with the U.S. economic woes and high gas prices, “it makes sense that we are helping people not spend as much to get there,” Ratliff explained.

Another development activity called “pilgrimages” will occur over the next four years. The pilgrimages will bring together youth, young adults and adult workers from different parts of the globe to experience another part of the world and relate the experience to what it means to be both a disciple of Christ and in ministry in their local settings. “It builds relationships and also develops leadership,” he said.

 
Mike Ratliff

The division will conduct its second global young people’s convocation July 21-26, 2010 in Berlin. The gathering celebrates the vitality of young people in the church and provides opportunities for the creation of legislation that will help the denomination face the global realities of youth and young adults.

Importance of collaboration

The importance of collaboration will be emphasized as the division works with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry to recruit three people for the division who will focus on leadership development in youth, college students and young adults, specifically with minorities and women. “This project will identify young adult leaders in the church today and continue to develop them as they grow into the future,” Ratliff said.

The division also plans to help alleviate poverty locally and globally by establishing a microenterprise or similar program in the next four years. The division will work with United Methodist businesspeople to develop opportunities for young people to be in sustainable business for themselves and to move out of poverty.

Through its grants, the division already assists youth involvement in social justice projects. It granted $100,000 to 13 global projects that benefit youth and young adults for 2009. The division also awarded $98,500 from the youth service fund to 18 global ministries with youth.

In an effort to advance the voices of youth and young adults outside the United States, Ratliff envisions creating staff positions in the denomination’s central conferences.

Mango said that while technology is important in advancing communications, the division must not let go of print media to inform and hear from those outside the United States. “Communication is very important because a lot of people in my central conference do not have access to the Internet,” she explained. “I want to see us inform others by print, too.”

Like her U.S. counterparts who attend jurisdictional youth gatherings and events, Mango said she would like to have similar events organized in the Africa Central Conference where youth and young people can come together for leadership development.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

Division on Ministries with Young People

United Methodist Board of Discipleship


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