Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Young Adults: Belonging comes before believing

Intentionally building a culture of encounter is a key element in bringing Christ to young adults in our society. Bringing people to faith is not only about giving them the right facts, but about creating an atmosphere where they feel safe to open up and be vulnerable about their entire lives. Toward this end, we need to conceive of the church as a place where people can learn how to create real community -- the core of the Church's life.

Young adults, in particular, deeply yearn not just to learn facts about faith, but to experience the power of that faith in the community. So, for many people belonging comes before believing. And while everyone yearns for community, true community -- really being family, brothers and sisters -- is only fully realized when we have a personal encounter with Christ. That is the power of the Gospel - to break down “the dividing wall” between people and creates bonds stronger even than one’s biological family (see what St. Paul says in Ephesians 2:14).

On a practical level this means that we don’t just have a "welcoming" person at the door -- someone who greets people warmly -- but that we all help everyone who comes to understand the importance of real hospitality. This also means respecting the differences that exist between men and women. This might mean that sometimes we need to address matters in gender-specific small groups This in turn can build strong ties among the men and the women in their respective groups.

"Laughing Jesus" by Hooks
Being truly human also means having fun. It isn't' often that we imagine Jesus laughing or joking with his disciples but we can be sure that it happened. Jesus was, after all, truly human. Forming true community must then also include activities that address this important side of our personalities. Perhaps we can organize fun things like a rafting trip or going to a professional or semi-pro sports game. We can also encourage people to organize fun events themselves.

Authentic Christian community is intimately tied to evangelization. First, the way we live together gives witness to a world torn apart by division and broken relationships. Jesus tells us, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Second, evangelizing and serving together further builds up the community, as one young adult has shared:

"Going deeper into community isn't just showing up to a bible study though.  It is also carrying out service together much like what St. Luke's does with H.O.P.E.S. or Power Packs.  When I am with others doing these things, I can see the people grow closer together as they work together."

Challenging young adults to go outside of themselves and put their faith into action is key to building that community and is an essential part of leading young adults to a deeper commitment to Christ and his Church.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Presume nothing

We need to get to the point where we “presume nothing” when it comes to how well Episcopalians are evangelized or catechized regardless of whether they are old or young. Yet, once engaged by the church, young adults have often said that they began as a Christian “on the outside,” and were little more than an atheist “on the inside.” That shows us that our challenge is to present a compelling message that allows young adults to experience the church as a community of believers who are followers of Christ both on the inside and outside.

Our church is no longer a church of “cradle Episcopalians.” The Episcopal Church is increasingly a church of diversity. WE must dispose of many presumptions about the make-up and character of our church. Over the last few decades, we have become a community with members that come from many different religious experiences, socioeconomic backgrounds, career paths, vocational journeys, and ethnicities. Most, but not all, grew up in one or another Christian denomination, not a Episcopalians. Some have been very well “formed” (i.e. with a solid religious education background) but lack a personal relationship with the Lord, others are simply culturally Christians, and still others come from non-Christian experiences.

Because of this increasingly diverse environment, our first aim must be not simply to start an Episco-centered young adult group (which is usually the answer to the question: How do we get more young people in our parish?). Our fundamental aim must be broader: to evangelize young adults leading them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and into a life of discipleship within a faith community. For those of us who were schooled in a traditional theology of evangelism, we are talking about the fundamental role of the "first announcement" of the Good News. Often called the “kerygma,” this effort needs to be the center of all our evangelizing activity and all efforts at renewing our parish life.

This leads to lesson number one: we need to place first things first when it comes to reaching young adults. How do we do this? By constantly trying to create an evangelizing environment where the aim is a conversion of heart. This conversion is something that every single person -- from cradle Episcopalians to non-Christians -- needs. It is a reorientation of life to place Jesus Christ at the absolute center, to invite Him to truly be Lord of our lives. We need to have regular opportunities for people to hear this “first proclamation” of the Good News and to respond by surrendering their lives to the Lord.

Moreover, we must understand fully the importance of evangelizing the whole person by touching people’s minds and hearts, stir their consciences and engage their energies. This is the model we are experiencing in our Inquirers’ Classes. For seven consecutive weeks we have promised to welcome everyone warmly and begin with a meal. (Sharing a meal touches not only our bodies but also our hearts.) Then we move to a brief time of singing and prayer. (Singing together and worshipping touches our hearts and engages our energies.) After worship we move into a presentation that aims to touch and form people’s minds and invites them to learn something new. Finally, a small group discussion -- whether formally with a group or just turning to the person seated next to you -- helps people to personally relate to the content of the teaching. Throughout the meeting, we engage one another in fellowship, which fosters the growth of community: a key dimension in the lives of all people, especially youth and young adults. I am hoping that this is the beginning of a model we can use ever more effectively in announcing the Good News that Christ bids us to share as we live into our future vision!