When you think about the leaders in your church, what comes to mind? Who are they? What are the requirements to be in those positions? What are their responsibilities? I have seen more times than not, churches being led by mainly men, particularly white and mostly those over the age of 50. Now, I don’t have anything against older men being in leadership positions; however, what message do we send to the generations from the post-civil rights movement if they are not represented at the table where decisions are made? That’s exactly right…your opinion does not matter to us.
In the sixth chapter, the authors of Not Safe for Church get right to the heart of why I believe many young people are walking away from our churches. Powe and Smothers hit on the lack of younger leadership in the church. Think about it this way, imagine walking up to a group of acquaintances at a party. These people are in the middle of a conversation about something you are passionate about, it could even be a topic you deal with in your place of employment. Throughout their conversation you try to interject your opinion or thoughts, but they only politely smile and go about their discussion, never really listening, responding or including you in the discourse. What would you do? I know the action I would take, I would eventually walk away and find another group where I felt welcomed. Church, do you understand that this is exactly what you are doing to young leaders?
In the United Methodist Church, we actually do invite young people to sit at the table of committees and boards, because that is what our discipline dictates. However, more times than not, they are “token” members. They are there, but are never actually a part of the conversation. Or, as Not Safe for Church points out, the meetings are set at times that are impossible for young people to attend. Again, not very welcoming. Naturally, we ask ourselves why? Why are young people not invited or included? The book states fear as being a probable cause. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure. We like things to be the way they have always been, it is easier that way. Young people may bring a different perspective, a new way of thinking; they may bring change. Things the church fears most. Fear is one reason young people are excluded from our conversations, but also, I challenge it could also be lack of awareness. Maybe young people are not invited because leaders never stopped to thing about the fact that they are missing or have great ideas. After all, we all get comfortable in our settings. We like the people that are around us, those that are on our committees. They are the ones that do everything anyway, so it is just easier to ask our friends. Young people are also seen as irresponsible, and non-comital. But is that really true? I think not. I see young people committing to causes all the time. But, they have a vested interest in these organizations. These are opportunities where decisions are being made, lives are being impacted and change is happening.
When the church doesn’t engage young people in leadership positions, they will inevitably find other places to use their gifts. They will commit their time and energies into systems that are open to their way of leadership, their innovative ideas, and their way of thinking. God is still going to use these individuals to further His mission. As Powe and Smothers states, “God’s vision is larger than any of us can imagine and will come to fruition even when we attempt to thwart it.” (p. 81) I do not believe anyone would deny, the research that shows, Christianity in American today is in decline. Our churches are slowly sinking. No one sitting at the table currently seems to have an answer. Has anyone taken the time to think, maybe we have ignored the very generation who holds the answers to multiplying God’s kingdom here on earth? Are we too afraid, too self-absorbed to listen? “If we are focused on God’s mission and not the throne, then we are opening ourselves to bringing it to fruition.” (p. 82)
Church, let’s realign ourselves to seek God’s mission for our churches, and don’t leave anyone out of the discussion. Seek to find young people who are willing and very able to be mentored into leadership positions. Give them an opportunity to have a voice at the table. Allow God to use them in new and exciting ways. Revivals in the Church have always started with young people, maybe it’s time to allow them the chance in the church to show us what they are made of, what gifts God has given them. Maybe it’s time for us to listen, and for young people to do the talking.