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Commentary: Help young adults bring passion

A UMNS Commentary
By Joe Kim*
July 17, 2007

Joe Kim

The pastor of a church was standing at the entrance after Sunday worship to shake the hands of his congregation. Pulling aside one young man, the pastor said, "Son, you need to join the army of the Lord!"

The young man replied, "Pastor, I'm already in the army of the Lord!"

"Then how come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?" the pastor questioned.
The young man leaned in real close and whispered: "I'm in the Secret Service."

When Mrs. Ray contacted me about speaking to annual conference from the young adult's viewpoint, this story came to my mind first. While it is a cute and funny story, I wonder if it actually holds some serious implications. Really, why are there so few young adults filling our pews?

Two years ago, I traveled to Washington D.C., to participate in the United Methodist Board of Church and Society's Ethnic Young Adult Internship Program. I remember feeling a sense of awe as I stepped off the Metro into the humid D.C. morning. On my right, I passed the Library of Congress and then the Supreme Court while the sun reflected off of the magnificent dome of the U.S. Capitol to my left. And then there it was in front of me: the United Methodist Building.

Walking into the air-conditioned rotunda, I literally gasped at the sight: beautiful marble floors and walls, pictures of current projects, a plaque of the Social Creed. And then I looked up and saw the words of Micah 6:8 circling the rotunda: "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

On that first day, I was a little scared. The heat and humidity didn't help calm my nerves as I was introduced to Jim Winkler, the board's chief executive.

It was all very intimidating. Prior to that summer, I had no experience with the concepts of social justice or giving voice to the unheard, and I wasn't sure how it all worked. I think Jim and the others sensed that hesitancy and I will never forget what they said to me: "Joe, we need someone with passion. We can teach you the knowledge and the skills; all we ask is for you to work with passion."

Living out our faith

Today, I stand before you with some of the same sentiments as I did two summers ago. Like then, it is hot, sticky, and I am sweating nervously. Like then, I am honored to be in the presence of people who are impacting others and applying their faith to their daily lives. And I thank you for this opportunity.

So this is my story! Luckily for me, my parents instilled in me a strong foundation of faith since I was young. I have carried that with me, even as I am now studying at the University of Michigan. (Go Blue!)

“Really, why are there so few young adults filling our pews?”

Being taught to serve rather than being served, to remember that love is an action verb, and to keep those words from Micah 6:8 close to my heart, I was able to lead praise and teach Sunday school for the youth group at the Korean United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor. Luckily for me, I was surrounded by mentors who put their faith in me and allowed me to participate in church, not simply be an observant. Luckily for me, someone said to bring the passion.

But this is only my story. Our theme for this year's conference is "This is Our Story." I emphasize our story.  What about the other stories that collectively make up our story? Many young adults fill our pews as youth and leave upon entering college. They feel like I did at the Board of Church and Society, asking, "Now what?"

Many in our congregations are waiting for someone to say, "Don't worry about the knowledge but bring the passion. We can and will teach you." I know that these people exist because I've met them and I know you've met them. They are my colleagues who have sat in the same classrooms; they are the people behind the registers working their part-time jobs; they are my friends, my brothers and my sisters; they are your sons and your daughters and their stories become our story.

Trusting us enough to share

Allow me to close by telling you of a tightrope walker named Victor, the most famous tightrope walker to ever live. He traveled far and wide to face any challenge thrown at him and he never, ever fell. Ever. What made Victor unique was that instead of using a long pole for balance, he filled a wheelbarrow with bricks and used that to guide his steps.

One day, he decided that he was going to retire and, to mark this milestone, he planned one last tightrope walk - across Niagara Falls. Well, the day of the walk came and reporters from all over the world gathered to document Victor's last walk. The crowd watched as Victor walked from one side of the Falls to the other, and the applause was enormous! One reporter rushed up to Victor and asked, "Mr. Victor! Mr. Victor! Did you think you could do it? Did you know that you could do it?"

“Many in our congregations are waiting for someone to say, 'Don't worry about the knowledge but bring the passion. We can and will teach you.'”

Victor thought about it for a while and said, "Mr. Reporter, let me ask you a question. Did you think that I could do it? Did you know that I could do it?" The reporter was flustered and muttered a quiet yes. Then with more confidence, "Yes, definitely, Mr. Victor. I was sure you could do it."

Victor slowly bent down to his wheelbarrow and removed his bricks one by one. Then he turned to the reporter and said to him, "Mr. Reporter, YOU get in the wheel-barrow. We're going back to the other side."

Friends, mentors, teachers, leaders, laity and clergy: Will you get into the wheelbarrow of your young adults? Will you empower us and guide us? Will you teach us and put your trust in us so that we may share in your ministry?

More simply, will you allow us to participate in worship? Will you teach us the knowledge as long as we bring the passion? We are ready and we are waiting. I hope and I pray that we will continue to write our story together and continue to work for the glory of His Kingdom together!

*Kim is a former ethnic young adult summer intern for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. He delivered this in June as an address to the East Ohio Annual Conference.

News media contact: Kathy Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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