There is a question that I’m always expecting the BOOM (Board of Ordained Ministry) to ask, and when they do, always am thoroughly annoyed they asked it.
Majority of my experience in ministry has been in youth ministry. Naturally, the BOOM is concerned that my experience may be… limited. So they ask something along the lines of how I may fare, once engaged in “real” ministry. (Someone actually said that once… and I asked, “Do you think that might be a problem why there’s not that many young people in our churches, because since the ministry I am engaging is not a ‘real’ one?”)
The last time I was asked a question like that, I asked in response, “Would it be a different story if my entire ministry experience was only in the retired community of senior citizens? That my primary ministry was to a specific age group, but this time, the other end of the spectrum, the elderly?” “Well… Obviously you are offended that I asked that question…” “Not offended. Just annoyed. So, would you still think that my experiences would be limited if I just worked with the elderly?”
Here’s what I’ve been experiencing in the past couple of years, where my ministerial duties involved cleaning up the mess of messy teenagers (btw, messiness in teenagers transcends all boundaries and borders; social class and ethnicity… all teenagers at youth seemed to forget to clean up after themselves….) and hearing the stories of people in assisted living homes: They are incredibly similar.
Teenagers want to belong. They want to fit in. They want to be heard. They want to be loved and appreciated for who they are, not who we want them to be. They fear abandonment. They want people like me to be real and to care for them, and to hear them, without judging, to accept them and to love them.
While this is a universal feeling for people of all generations, I felt that this was a big thing with the people who have a lifetime’s worth of stories and experiences.
They want to belong. They want to fit in. They want to be heard. They want to be loved and appreciated for who they are, not what they’ve done or what they can leave behind. They fear abandonment. They want people in my position to be real and care for them, to hear their stories and experiences without judgment or reservation. They want to be loved.
This weekend, I’ve come to another realization. I know that this statement is a generalization and a stereotype. There’s the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” We think that the older a church is, the harder it will be to bring about change, or even talk about change.
But what’s funny is how teenagers often object change. Try changing around a youth activity that you’ve done for years. I’m pretty sure your kids will balk and wonder why things are changing, and ask why you may be ruining their lives and the ministry. Maybe it’s because there’s so much change going on in their lives (puberty, socially, etc) that the church was one of the few things that they could rely on to be the same.
We just came back from Spirit Quest, a jr. high weekend camp in the Cal-Pac Conference (kudos to all the people who put it together) but one of my kids, on the first day, when they received their schedules and name tags kept saying, “This isn’t like camp. This is nothing like camp. This isn’t like camp. This is so different from camp.” It was similar to a conversation with a long-time member of a church years ago, when things were changing, “This isn’t how church is. This is nothing like church. This isn’t the way my church should be. Why are we doing this? This isn’t the church I love.”
Change is always going to happen. As pastors, we need to do our best to have people be involved in the process, instead of just shoving it down people’s throat. Something I learned was that when we are talking about change, we need to let people know what is NOT changing, and HOW things are going to be changing, not just the why. And not all change is bad…
And. Maybe one of these days, the BOOM won’t be SO caught up in one aspect of a candidate’s journey.
… I’m just saying…