On November 11 I attended Exploration 2011 as a representative for Candler. The conference, sponsored by The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, is designed to help 18-26 year olds discern their call into ministry, specifically ordained ministry. Over 600 people responded to this opportunity as participants in the event (not counting seminary and General Agency reps and the event planning team). It was an amazing experience to see so many people actively searching out God and the call God has placed on their life. It was also wonderful to learn more about the state of young clergy in the church. One of the speakers shared the statistic that The United Methodist Church, and other denominations, desperately need young clergy; the UMC only has 950 clergy under the age of 35 out of 30,000 total clergy. The church desperately needs young adults who are actively seeking out God in their lives and who are able to help people discern God in their life.

Jon at Exploration 2011.

However, what I saw was a lot of young adults who were looking exclusively into missionary work, chaplaincy, or youth/ children ministries. I spent the first 7 years living into my call to be a Military Chaplain, so this observation did not surprise me. It did scare me. We need clergy who will be in ministry to people who are sick, in prison, young, old, citizens who are foreign and domestic. While there is nothing wrong, and great value, with the specialized ministry of Chaplains, Missionaries, Youth/Children’s directors, etc. we need people to lead the local church. The church is the center that brings all of these people into community and dialogue. It is the organization that sends missionaries and chaplains forth, where the space is made for the young and old, and the one place people should be able to go and feel completely accepted.

The church does not always live up to this, and many pastors have become burned out trying to make the church the open, accepting, and welcoming ministry it should be. Young adults see this and turn away from the church, looking to minister in one area, to one population, free of the structures of the church. We as young people of Christ, need to take a hold of the promise that is given in Baptism and Confirmation. A promise that states we are full members of the church, with a full voice. We cannot abandon the church. It is the place where differences are reconciled, and different backgrounds are brought together. If the church is broken we must not run away, we must stand and fix it. We must claim the authority God has given us and lead.

Often I have heard clergy or lay members of the congregation tell young adults and youth that they are the “Future of the church.” At Exploration I saw people who were living that out; I wish they wouldn’t. We are the Present of the church! Along with the people who are leading the Church now we must insert ourselves into leadership. Be the present of the church; if you hear God’s call in your life don’t hold yourself back from finding the strength to acknowledge that call! Don’t run away from the church because of its human faults, plunge in, change what needs to be changed and lift up what is being done right. In order to have missionaries, youth/children’s directors, and chaplains there must be a church to send them. Do not be afraid to take your place, as a Local Pastor, Elder, Priest, or Preacher! Find a place to cultivate those gifts, dive in, be strong, and remember that God has called you and will be faithful.