Commentary: Seeing youth as seeds of new possibilities
May 4, 2006
The Rev. Tonya Burton
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Tonya Burton*
In their very first year of the Perkins Youth School of Theology, I asked the
students what messages they had received as youth about what they wanted to do
and be when they became adults.
One male student with spiked hair, wearing an earring and a really
cool-looking T-shirt, said that when he was younger he always wanted to be a WWF
wrestler because it looked fun, exciting and dangerous. He continued to hold
this belief until he got into high school and started having some meaningful
experiences in his church youth group.
During the course of those experiences, along with watching political talk
shows, e-mailing senators about his position on different issues and reading
articles about various social matters, he decided that he wanted to be a
When asked why he would like to go into ministry as a vocation instead of
wrestling, he noted that of the two professions, ministry was a much more
I recall this story because initially I was struck by this thought of
ministry as a “dangerous” profession and how could a 16-year-old possibly come
to this conclusion? As our relationship developed, I appreciated his comments
even more. We talked about the theological concerns of youth and whether they
felt the church doesn’t take their voices seriously.
What do these types of conversations with youth mean for institutions like
churches and seminaries that are charged with the task of theological education?
My work with high school youth in the Perkins Youth School of Theology at United
Methodist-related Perkins School of Theology in Dallas has not only challenged
my own beliefs and perceptions about youth, but it has challenged my profession
as a clergyperson and a theological educator.
|A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
Young people sing during the opening worship at Youth 2003 on the campus of the University of Tennessee.
It is imperative for us to start seeing our youth as seeds from which new
possibilities can grow and flourish. Young people have much to offer to those of
us who also struggle with our muted voices of theological and doctrinal
The arena of ministry and vocational discernment is not just one for adults
but also for everyone willing to respond to the call of the deep passions and
hungers within them.
One African proverb says, “Youth is a like stream. If it is not directed to
its course, it meanders and swallows its tail.” In what ways have you been
challenged by the streams of living water present in our youth? Is the church
willing to walk alongside these streams, even as they meander along rocks,
hills, valleys and mountains of their own faith journeys and enjoy the
refreshment they bring to the Body of Christ and the world?
Maybe it is through their eyes of faith that we can focus more clearly on the
oceans of possibilities God has in store for us all.
*Burton is director of the Perkins Youth School of Theology. This commentary
first appeared in the March 2006 edition of the Perkins E-Newsletter,
published by Perkins School of Theology.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or
Major efforts get under way to recruit young clergy
Program seeks to call young people into clergy
Congregations need new ways to reach young people
United Methodist elders under the age of 35 declining
Young person or group sought for General Conference address
Youth School of Theology
Perkins School of Theology
Division on Ministries withYoung People