The following is part six (and final) in a series about Engaging Young Adults in Ministry. At the 2014 Susquehanna Annual Conference, we began a dialogue about the absence of young adults in the church and about how we can re-establish our relationships and ministry with them. This series is an edited transcript of that dialogue. The video of this presentation, and the full transcript, can be found at tinyurl.com/susumcAC2014.
Pastor Luke Harbaugh
Associate Pastor at First UMC, Hershey
My story is actually the opposite of most millennials.
I’m going to engage with this idea of shallowness that Kinnaman talked about in his book “You Lost Me.” It allowed me to reflect upon a period in my life where shallowness was the essence — the heart — of my faith.
As I was growing up I was given the seed of an evangelical faith by my Mom, who told me at a very young age that you’ve got to get right with Jesus, confess your sin, and make sure that you’re not going to hell when you die! In retrospect, that was a great place to start. It gave me a great foundation.
The problem was that that seed went un-nurtered, unwatered, for almost eighteen years of my life. So what I ended up with was a faith that was very shallow, one that was not engaged in any kind of community, one that never really grew. When I graduated high school I could not have defined discipleship if I tried.
Ultimately what it led me to (from Kinnaman’s work) was this idea of a moral, therapeutic, deism. I don’t know if any of you have heard that term before or not, but basically there’s this idea that the way God is talked about in a lot of our churches, and the way that I certainly grew up thinking about God, is that He is part psychotherapist, part motivational coach, that He is there to help you and maybe make you a little bit of a better person and when you have trouble, that’s when you pray to God and He’s there to help you out and get you out of whatever bind that you’re in. When I graduated high school, that was the faith that I possessed.
What was interesting was, that through some of my friends in high school I saw a different kind of faith take place, and really grow in their lives. When I graduated high school I’d say ‘I’m a Christian’ but I didn’t know what that meant. So, I began to seek out more answers.
The reason I say my story is the opposite of most millennials is that in my post-high school seeking, I went to church. I did not go to church growing up. I had been maybe three or four times in the first eighteen years of my life and all of a sudden I said, ‘You know what? I think I am going to start going. I want to know more about Jesus, and that’s where they talk about Jesus, so that’s where I’m gonna go.”
I started attending a Nazarene church and found that my faith really grew, for a couple of reasons; Kinnaman talks about “apprenticeships,” about the idea of mentoring and really strong relationships with older people in the church, or the pastor. And it was through those relationships that I became grounded in that particular community of faith.
So for me, I look at that shallowness that, unfortunately, we get a lot of the time as Christians, and I think that the way that we overcome that for millennials, and overcome that for the church as a whole, is to really focus on building relationships with people, especially those that aren’t in the church.
I think about millennials in our church, and engaging them with one another in Bible studies and small groups, and engaging them with children, and those things happen a good bit. But one thing I feel that is really lacking oftentimes, is millennial young adults engaging with older people in our congregations.
There is so much wisdom in our churches, so much life experience. There are so many people that have lived decades and decades of Christian faith, walking with the Lord, and all that experience, all that wisdom and knowledge, never gets passed along to the young people that are in our churches.
Relationships were so important, and so vital, for me to connect to the church. Something that I really hope to see are those relationships take place, and have the people that are in our congregations, that are in their forties, fifties, sixties and beyond, go out into the community and start engaging young adults where they are, and showing them what a life lived with Jesus Christ can truly give you in terms of wisdom, in terms of knowledge, and in terms of a faith to really live on as you go through, and grow through, life.
The discussion continues at tinyurl.com/authenticspace6.