|Commentary: Strong youth ministry aids ‘the call’|
A UMNS Commentary
By Bishop Robert Schnase*
August 15, 2008
Driving down the interstate the other day, I pulled into a roadside rest
stop. As I stepped from my car, a long bus pulled up with a sign that
ran nearly the length of the vehicle. It identified the group as a
United Methodist church from North Carolina.
A herd of youth poured out and headed for the restrooms as exhausted,
sunburned sponsors joked and bantered with the young people. They were
returning from a mission trip and still had many miles ahead of them.
Bishop Robert Schnase
I’m always deeply gratified to see the commitment, hard work and love
that so many adult sponsors pour into the lives of young people to
teach them the faith and model how to serve, pray, give and treat one
another in the name of Jesus Christ. Sponsors and youth pastors like
those I saw on the road that day helped form me and shape me. Without
them, I might not now be a Christian, and certainly would never have
discerned God's call to the ministry.
A direct connection lies between strong local congregational youth
ministries and the call to ministry. Obviously, there are tons of other
benefits that result from strong youth ministries—lives changed, faith
taught, young people supported through hard times, ethical shaping,
community bonding in Christ, etc. Still, if your church wants to impact
the number and quality of future pastoral leadership, begin by having an
effective youth ministry, even if it’s small.
Recently, our Board of Ordained Ministry and Cabinet studied the
ministry supply patterns for the Missouri Annual (regional) Conference.
We analyzed who is coming into ministry, by what channels and means,
into what status and order, at what age and for how long, of what gender
and ethnicity, and how they leave (transfer, withdraw, retire or die).
We learned much about the "streams" that flow into the river of
pastors—elders, deacons, local pastors, associate members and lay
ministers—who serve our conference. It was fascinating. There were some
hopeful signs, like the increasing number of younger pastors entering
ministry, and some cause for concern, like the huge number of pastors
eligible to retire in the next few years.
"… If your church wants to impact the
number and quality of future pastoral leadership, begin by having an
effective youth ministry, even if it’s small."
As we talked about the streams that feed ministry and the channels by
which people discern the call, what do you suppose is the greatest
source and setting for people exploring the call at an early age?
Camping? Campus ministries? Parental influence? Conference youth
weekends? Mission experiences? While
all are important, we identified two major predictors of young people
entering the ministry. The greatest predictor is participation during
the high school years in a high-quality youth ministry in a local
congregation. The second is having a pastor/mentor during the high
school years who encourages, supports and interprets the call for the
young person. Being part of an active, positive youth ministry likely
involves mission experiences, camping, conference youth programs and may
lead to campus ministries. But the most significant common element is
the local congregation’s youth ministry.
Want to assure that your church has positive, high-quality,
committed, effective clergy leadership during the years to come? The
first and best thing your church can do is have a great youth program—a
ministry that teaches young people how to worship and pray, grow in
faith and feel comfortable with Scripture, serve others and make a
positive difference in the lives of people, and give generously. A
positive youth ministry and an encouraging pastoral mentor make all the
As I got back in the car at the roadside rest stop, I wondered about
all those youth. Some will return from this summer mission trip and move
on to their next adventure with little gained or nothing learned. Some
are being formed by the spirit of God through this experience into
people of faith who will lead our churches as laypeople, community
leaders, service professionals and people of integrity and
prayer. For a few, this summer may mark a turning point in their
lives, a moment graced by the spirit of God for special change and
growth. And for a very few, this summer may be the season when God tugs
on their hearts toward the high calling of full-time Christian ministry.
How is your youth ministry doing? How are you doing at preparing the
soil for the seeds of the spirit to raise up a new generation of
*Schnase is resident bishop of the Missouri Area of The United Methodist Church. His blog can be found at www.FivePractices.org. This commentary was adapted from an article in "Leading ideas," the online newsletter of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, available free at www.churchleadership.com.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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