We’re currently in the second week of our series about the next generation, called “Lost Investment” (Frankly, I have absolutely no idea why we’re calling it that, since the whole point is to make an investment in the next generation; nobody else seems to remember the thinking behind that decision either. Anyway, if you don’t like the title, I hear you.)
These reflections have been taking shape this past week as our Pastoral Staff gathered for our annual staff planning retreat. Each year, we try to meet together before Memorial Day to look ahead to the coming year and share our goals and plans. Since our staff has grown in the past few years, we now organize ourselves in departments (we call them “ovals”): strategic, administrative, message, adult, family and creative (it sounds bigger than it is, some people serve in more than one oval). This year each oval met before the retreat for their own planning process and then reported on their meetings at our general retreat. We looked at their particular goals for the coming year as well as the process and procedures they’ll be taking to make their goals happen. By the way, 2011-2012 looks like its going to be an amazing year.
Anyway, I was reflecting during our retreat on the obvious fact that most of our staff, besides me and Tom and a few others, are Millennials or nearly so. Our parish is led by a youth group. This did not happen by accident. Why did it happen? Well, it eventually became clear to me that the transition to a different kind of church culture would be easier to make with younger people who didn’t have any investment in the status quo and don’t have big assumptions about how church “should” be done. Besides this indispensable asset for what we are trying to do here, young people are going to bring others too, like flexibility and creativity and a willing sense of adventure and ambition (that life sometimes eventually knocks out of older folks).
Young people will bring challenges too: they’re not always sure what exactly they want to do in life, they’re still discovering things about themselves; a lack of previous work experience can bring unrealistic expectations to the workplace, or a sense of entitlement about the value of what they do have. These are not terribly consequential points though and are eventually overcome and outgrown.
If you think about it, “Youth Group Leadership” is the whole pattern for the life of the Church. Its was Jesus’ approach when he called the apostles (who were most probably in their late teens or early twenties) and, in turn, it is exactly what the apostles themselves did. Peter, Paul and others, gathered young men to follow them and become leaders in their own time. Later, Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola did the same thing, like so many other founders of religious communities.
The way I look at our very gifted and generous parish staff, they are all young leaders, who are honing their leadership skills among us as well as for us. They have caught a vision of what God is doing here, and they very much are impatient to see it happen. Perhaps that’s not a paradox after all.