This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that must die so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
Recently I’ve been thinking about this question a bunch. I think the “practice” that Christianity needs to divest itself of is the way it doesn’t allow young people to have any sort of significant voice within the church.
To unpack that a bit I’ll simply say that as I get older (now just over 40) I am more and more aware that most people in power positions in the Christian world are around my age.
This is especially pronounced in my denomination the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A) where most pastors and elders tend to be older and there are major barriers towards anyone younger achieving any significant role where their voice actually matters. Don’t believe me? Just look to this last year when within the PCUSA there was a major call from the conservative side of the church for change. A letter was written and made public about things they felt needed to change. Who were all the people who signed the letter? They were all old white guys. Sadly what I saw in those signatures were the people who helped cause the problem in the first place feeling like it was their place (and role) to be the ones to step in and fix it. And they wondered why people were frustrated when they saw the signatures on the letter. Maybe they are exactly the wrong people to solve any sort of problem. Maybe it’s all the old people who have been in leadership for the last 20 years that have caused the problem Maybe it’s time to do a full factory reset in our Christian world and give all the leadership and power to younger people.
Nothing gets me more fired up and frustrated then when I go to conferences and see all the older folks who are in power just hanging out together. It drives me nuts to constantly see the twitter streams of the events and conferences these people get invited too where they share wisdom about “youth culture” and how to “talk to teenagers” when they haven’t been one for 30+ years.
But, as I mentioned before I am getting older. So how do I ensure that I am part of the solutions and not continuing the problem? I believe that there are five things that I/We can do that will kill off this belief that age = wisdom and that only people with age should be in power positions.
- Surround yourself with younger leaders: I try to model this whenever I go at conferences, in my church and how I live. I have had the blessing of having worked on large church staffs where I have been able to do a lot of hiring of younger leaders. I benefit as much as they do. I think we all have a lot to offer each other but in my world I just feel that younger leaders have so much to offer.
- Be a Connector: One thing I love to do is to use my position and the people I know to make connections. Just today I was reading a book by a pretty well known theologian who thanked one of my staff in the foreword. fully am stoked knowing that was a connection that I helped to make happen. My staff before has told me that they think I know everyone. While that is not true I will admit to being a networker. But even more than that I’m a connector and love to use that gifts to bring people together. I love nothing more than helping make connections and seeing what happens.
- Use your power and leverage to put them in places to lead: Those of us who have been in churches for a while know how the system generally works. We have relational and institutional equity/power that comes from doing it for a while. I’m 100% against any sort of belief that young people need to learn the “hard way” or go through the same things I did. If I can free them up to not have to fail in all the ways I did I want too. I think in the church we have got to give away power and responsibility to younger people.
- Realize they have so much to offer: Younger people often bring new ideas and energy which our churches desperately need. They come with new and different experiences that we need to listen too. They are often reading new books, hearing new speakers and thinking about things in a way that shows they probably have a better grasp of the world than we do. That needs to be recognized and our churches need to benefit from their giftedness.
- Create an even playing field: One thing I’ve done in 20 years of working in the church is made sure that when I hire a staff they recognize that my goal is that we would have a level field. What that means is that they have full ownership and responsibilities in all that we do. It means their voice matters to me and that I listen. It means that we don’t treat them as a “junior member” in our churches. I am against having the token “under 30” or depending on the age of your congregation “under 40” elder. We have to stop patronizing them and treating them as if they will have something to offer when they grow up. The leadership world of the church needs to be flattened now if we want to survive.
So that’s what I think needs to die. By the way I fully realize that within this article I didn’t define what I meant by “young person.” The unfortunate reality now is that means a lot of different things in different contexts. In my own church we call a young adult anyone through the age of 36. Instead of defining any age I’m simply saying that we need to look to those younger than us and realize that they have much to offer to the Christian world and church. If we can’t get all the old people in power to recognize the importance of that then we will just continue to see our current churches in decline while all the young people leave to go start their own churches where what they think matters.
Lars K. Rood: Lars is a long time youth ministry guy. He’s worked in a number of churches and has been lucky to meet some amazing people on the way. He definitely doesn’t thing he has anything really figured out but through a reliance on the Holy Spirit he manages to not muck it up too badly. Lars is the Associate Pastor of Children and Family Ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue in Washington State. He can be interacted with at www.larsrood.com or on Twitter at @larsrood.