Tag Archives: formational

We Need Each Other

By Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation at Salford Mennonite

“The extent to which we are surprised by the results of the election demonstrates the poverty of our relationships. The extent to which we don’t understand the need for immigration reform demonstrates the poverty of our relationships.” As I listened to Dr. Christena Cleveland at Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s School for Leadership Training (SLT), I was struck yet again by a consistent theme: we need each other, in all our differences, to glimpse the power of God and join in the work of God in the world.

One of the things I love about SLT is that it turns people of authority into students for a few days. The ones I’m used to seeing up front at conference and denominational events are sitting and listening, taking notes and asking questions. At SLT, we participants — the majority of us white church leaders with a significant amount of agency in our daily lives  — learned from keynote speakers Dr. Cleveland and Drew Hart about race in society. We were called to take our turn “at the foot of the table,” as Dr. Cleveland said.  That’s how we really live into Jesus’ upside-down kingdom.

Using illustrations from scripture and their lives, the speakers explored the depth of race’s impact on our society. They explored how our racialized society maintains itself and why it’s so hard for white people to see and confront racism — why we need people with a “view from the underside,” in Hart’s words, to recognize it. They called the largely white audience to recognize how we’ve been socialized into racial bias, and that Jesus never called us to shame but to repentance and new life together.  Dr. Cleveland showed us by example how to notice privilege in our own lives.  We were being tutored in how to reach beyond ourselves as a demonstration of respect and also of our need.

But it’s not just that we need each other’s perspective, or that we need to learn from one another to understand Jesus’ message.  No, we each have a role to play in dismantling racism, wherever we are.  When we’re uncomfortable we can benefit by staying at the table and continuing the conversation.  In fact, that’s what we were doing at the conference: listening, learning, checking our assumptions and discerning our next steps. One conference attendee asked Drew Hart, “What can I do about racism in my predominantly white community?” and Hart responded, “You’re right at the center of the action!”  Throughout the conference I heard calls to learn and act right where we are, building relationships with our literal neighbors.  I attended a workshop where we practiced listening to people we disagreed with.  In another workshop we discussed what it means to “seek the peace of the city” where you are (Jer. 29:7) and spent some time brainstorming for our own contexts.

I left SLT with a clear sense of my need for others’ perspectives, and also of my ability to make a difference where I am.  And I came home with new questions: Who might I need to listen to better in order to gain a fuller understanding of Jesus?  Where might my privilege be causing me to miss an important lesson?  And how can I stay true to what I’ve learned about power and justice right here in my daily life?

For more of this year’s School for Leadership Training check out Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s article: “School for Leadership Training addresses pastoral responses to a racialized and divided America”

Faith and Life Gatherings Commence

pastors meeting 1At the 2015 Conference Assembly the delegate body affirmed the Faith and Life Church Together Statement that calls for “the conference to reestablish the Faith and Life Commission for the purpose of providing at least quarterly gatherings for pastors to discern and study scripture together.” The first of these Faith and Life gatherings were held this month.

The Faith and Life commission was established the first quarter of 2016 and includes Rose Bender (Whitehall) as chair, Josh Meyer (Franconia) as vice chair, Nathan Good (Swamp), Kris Wint (Finland), Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Penny Naugle (Plains), and the staff liaison is the conference executive minister. The commission has been meeting since May of this year reviewing the Church Together Statement, ministry description, and preparing for the quarterly gatherings.

This month they held their first quarterly gatherings at Plains, Salem, Indonesian Light, and one by Zoom teleconference. 60% of the conference’s credentialed leaders participated. The theme being going to the margins.

A recurring question that came up from the feedback of these gatherings was how do we think together theologically about the issues we are facing?

In September, the conference was reminded about the importance of spiritual practices when living in covenant with one another at the conference-wide gathering with MCUSA moderator-elect, David Boshart. The commission sees learning to hear God together as a spiritual practice and looks forward to the coming faith and life gatherings as a way of engaging this spiritual practice together with other credentialed leaders.

Steve Kriss, Franconia Director or Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing stated, “The gatherings offered an important time to reflect, to breathe, to share, and to pray together. These times whether face to face or virtual provide important opportunities to strengthen our relationships together and compel our calls to witness of the faith, hope and love that we know through Jesus.”

Future topics will be announced as the dates of the gatherings are announced. Currently, the commission is working on dates for gatherings in February, May, and August of 2017. Stay tuned for more specifics.

 

Visible and Invisible Realms

By Noel Santiago

Colossians 1:16 (NIV), “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

noel-photoWhile Colossians 1:16 clearly states that God created the “visible and invisible,” could we say that we in the west rely more on what we see than what we don’t see? Is it fair to say that we don’t always believe nor live as if the spirit world is real? I wonder if this is because we have grown up under the influence of the enlightenment movement, that swept Europe around 300 year ago, claiming if you can’t prove it scientifically, it doesn’t exist.

I appreciate and value much of what science has helped bring forth. Indeed, many of the early scientist themselves where Christians. However, there seems to be many challenges for us in the west when it comes to believing and living as if the spirit is real.

First, the challenge with the scientific method is: how do you prove the existence of say, angels, demons or God for that matter — especially, when they don’t hang around long enough for us to conduct reproducible scientific experiments that yield the same results, which is one of the fundamental requirements of the scientific method.

Another challenge is that while we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we forget that it is also a Middle Eastern book whose worldview is quite different than the western worldview. In this worldview, the spirit realm is very real and evident in our lives. So as westerners, with a culture where anything not scientifically proven is superstitious or folk tradition, we have a greater challenge to see the spirit realm.

There is also the notion of the “God gap” that exists within in our society. The God gap says that science will eventually be able to answer all questions we don’t have answers to now and consequently we won’t need God or the spirit world to help us understand and explain what we don’t know.

The Bible talks about binding and loosing (Mt 16:19); whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven, etc. This is the interplay between these two realms, the realm of what you can see and touch and the realm of what you cannot see and touch.

The Colossian text tells us that the spirit world is real! It’s as real as the world in which we live, for out of it came all things that exist, into existence! Might we take some time to consider the possibility that the spirit world is just as real as the physical world? What, if any, difference might this make in our lives, our communities of faith and in the world?

Conferring and Expecting the Spirit to Show Up

by Stephen Kriss

This fall is a season of conversation for Franconia Conference.  As the summer winds down and the autumn is upon us, Conference staff are busy with meetings that come before our annual assembly.   The Conference’s two task forces and the Faith and Life Commission that have flowed out of our Church Together Statements continue to be accompanied by staff.  Aldo Siahaan is walking with the Faith and Life Commission while Ertell Whigham is on sabbatical.  Jenifer Erickson-Morales is working with the Addressing Abuse Task Force and John Stotlzfus with the Israel/Palestine Task Force.

In addition, as we prepare for Assembly, we’re coordinating efforts for the upcoming meeting with Mennonite Church USA moderator elect David Boshart on September 10th, open to all members of Franconia and Eastern District congregations and strongly encouraged for all Franconia pastors and delegates.  This meeting will aid in preparing us for items related to assembly and discernment.   This upcoming conversation and others that staff will be engaging with will include more information on our relationship with each other, with Eastern District Conference and Mennonite Church USA.   These all are important conversations, conferring around healthy relationships that both give and receive counsel.

Board and staff are also fielding requests from congregations that may wish to join our Conference and will need consideration at this fall’s Conference Assembly.  Some are new groups, others are migrations from other Mennonite Church USA conferences and some from other denominational affiliations.  This is careful conversation and conferring work for sure.  We’ll know more about the outcomes this fall.

Staff are also beginning to do some work as the board has requested, including analyzing the percentages of the budget used toward our goals of equipping (around 60%).  We’re also taking a look at our staff salaries as the board looks toward the upcoming executive minister transition.   It’s a time of evaluating and calibrating.

IMG_5367We’ve also spent some important time together as pastors and credentialed leaders.  It wasn’t a formal conferring time, but nonetheless a time of gathering together in Princeton for rest and rejuvenation paid for through a grant given to Everence from the Lilly Foundation toward pastoral excellence.  50 of us gathered at the Erdman Center at Princeton Theological Seminary for a day away.  We spent a night out on the town for dinner, heard jazz from the gifted Ruth Naomi Floyd, listened to the input from Calenthia Dowdy, a professor at Eastern University and Jon Heinly, a student at Yale Divinity School.  Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) and Jeff Godshall (Franconia congregation) offered input and guidance toward healthy finances for pastors/credentialed leaders for the long haul.   It was a good 24 hours together.

IMG_5385There is much happening in this space in between.   While we prepare for our gatherings later this fall, we’re conferring and discerning.  These conversations guide our patterns for life together as we seek to strengthen the life and work of congregations, ministries and leaders.   After 300 years, we are still challenged and enlivened by the possibilities around us.  We still gather to talk together, believing the Spirit shows up in our conversations, in our work, in our conferring together.

In other Christian traditions, liturgy is called “the work of the people.”  In our tradition, where community is almost sacrament, these patterns of conferring are the work of us as a people together.   May the Spirit continue to stir as we gather.

Kingdom Transformation: Partnership between Church and Marketplace

By Noel Santiago

“Picture in your mind a world where: the transforming power of Jesus Christ is significantly impacting every individual family, church, workplace, school, government, city and nation. Imagine a Christian church where: every local congregation is acting in unity and partnership with other believers to see their city and nation transformed! Contemplate the future of society if: every Christian understood who they are in Christ and embraced their calling to be “salt and light” to a dark and hurting world?”

Dr. Gregory M. Pagh, Pastor at Christ Church, Elk River, Minnesota

Noel article photo 1 - 6-23-16Ed Silvoso, of the Transform Our World ministry, in his book Transformation, shares some perspectives and understandings to kingdom transformation that seeks to help churches partner with what he calls marketplace ministers. This approach has resulted in the kind of picture noted by Pastor Pagh. Here are some highlights about what is needed for kingdom transformation in terms of marketplace partnerships.

We begin with identifying some characteristics of the congregation: Matthew 16:18-19, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

When Jesus talked about “upon this rock I will build my church” he was referring to ‘ekklesia’ which is a Greek word meaning ‘ruling assembly.’ Understanding the authority and function of the assembly is fundamental to properly implement what Jesus initiated in Matthew 16:18. This assembly is not limited to a church building. It operates wherever two or three are gathered and it’s ruling foundation is love!

Imagine then a river with two banks. One bank is prayer evangelism having to do with transformed living; the other bank is comprised of five biblical paradigms having to do with transformed thinking. Let’s briefly outline what this could look like.

Prayer Evangelism: Transformed Living

Luke 10:5-9 state, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.  Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;  cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

The first step in prayer evangelism is blessing! As seen in verse five, “When you enter a house, first say, `Peace to this house.'” Peace speaks of blessing. So you start by blessing people — people in businesses, government, education and neighborhoods. Keep in mind that we are blessing people who are all created in the image of God, not unwholesome activities or behaviors.

Step two is fellowship! “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide” speaks in verse seven of fellowship. Fellowship with those who God brings through divine opportunities as you connect and relate to those around you.

Third step is to meet felt needs! We read in verse nine, “cure the sick” speaking to meeting felt needs. Minister God’s Love as you listen to others stories and pray with them allowing the love of Christ to touch their hearts as well as yours.

Finally we need to share the good news!  Verse nine instructs us to “say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you’,” we must proclaim the kingdom by sharing the good news of hope in Jesus Christ.

Five Biblical Paradigms: Transformed Thinking

  1. The great commission is about discipling nations (cities, towns, and neighborhoods), not just individuals. The expression ‘discipling nations’ is at first hard to grasp, but basically it means: “teaching a nation what Jesus taught us for the purpose of causing it to embrace the goodness of God and to reflect the character of Christ” (Transformation p. 123).
  2. The marketplace (the heart of the nation) has already been redeemed by Jesus and now must be tended to by God’s followers through the ministry of reconciliation. The marketplace is most concisely defined as encompassing business, education and government. However, it includes everywhere that you live, work and play.
  3. Every Christian is a minister, and labor is worship. In the beginning, God told Adam to ‘tend the garden’ (work). This would be a core activity that formed part of his relationship with God. The most dynamic word in the great commission is the word, “Go!” When many of us “go,” we “go to work.” The workplace is one of our primary circles of influence.
  4. Our primary call is to take the Kingdom of God to where the kingdom of darkness is entrenched in order for Jesus to build the Church. An expression from a pastor that seems to sum this up is: “What a relief when I finally understood that Jesus builds the church, not me.”
  5. The premier social indicator that transformation has taken place is the elimination of systemic poverty. “The WORD became flesh and moved into our neighborhood” (John 1:14 as stated in the Message).

Partnering for Transformation

The call is for Jesus’ disciples to look around our work places and neighborhoods and to pray blessing for those around us, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our living; to be present in ways that allow the gospel message of Jesus to be shared personally with each and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Tuning Fork

by Mike Clemmer

tuning fork - 4-28-16As a young boy, I enjoyed going to my grandparent’s house to explore the many knick-knacks that were displayed around their home. Of all the fun items to see, the one that intrigued me more than any other was my great grandfather’s tuning fork. I would spend countless hours repeatedly striking it against the heel of my shoe and then holding it to my ear to listen to the sound of the vibrations – a concert A – over and over again. I would then attempt to match the pitch that I heard in my ear with my own voice while imagining myself as a chorister leading a hymn. The inscription pressed into the metal on one of the tuning fork’s tines stated “A = 440 vibrations guaranteed,” meaning that the sound in my ear would always be the same – guaranteed! But although I always heard the same pitch in my ear, somehow my ability to match that pitch with the sound of my voice was less than a perfect match.

Years later and still having the tuning fork in my possession, listening for the perfect pitch has become both a labor of love as well as a conduit for lessons of faith. As an Anabaptist   follower of Jesus, I hold Jesus at the center of my faith – he is the “perfect pitch” on which all of my life is centered. Indeed, as Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  Yet, just as I often struggle to match the musical pitch perfectly with my tuning fork, so I too often fail to match the way that Jesus set forth as the center of my faith. Maybe I am simply not listening close enough? It also gets tricky at times – both in life and music, that is – because all songs do not start in the key of A. Some are written in a minor key and some in a major key. Some songs even use the same words but have a different melody. In those cases, I need to begin with the perfect pitch and work at deriving the correct starting note from that center place. This takes work and practice. In fact, I find that often times, I need to go back and strike the tuning fork again and again just to hear the Concert A clear enough to find the correct pitch needed to start the song that I am leading or living. In both music and life, I believe I would be further ahead if I would take time to listen to the guaranteed vibrations of Jesus and allow his perfect pitch to resonate within my heart, mind, and soul.

Mike Clemmer is Lead Pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church, and a LEADership Minister for Franconia Conference.

Letting Go With Love

By John Stoltzfus, conference youth minister

“When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18

This may not be the first verse that comes to mind when considering the Easter season we just celebrated. Yet, this speaks to my current experience with my father who has two debilitating terminal illnesses. As I sat with him this past Easter Sunday I couldn’t help but think that this may be our last Easter together. He delivered many inspiring Easter sermons while pastor for over forty years at Conestoga Mennonite Church in Morgantown, PA. Now he is limited mostly to nods of his head and a few slurred words.

Grant Stoltzfus (John's brother) shaving their dad. Photo credit: Zachary Stoltzfus
Grant Stoltzfus (John’s brother) shaving their dad. Photo credit: Zachary Stoltzfus

He communicates in a different way now–through a posture of grace and vulnerability. As his movements become more restricted, more intensive care is needed. Now the most basic and intimate tasks–to shave, to dress, to bathe–require help from others. He accepts this all with a quiet grace I can only hope to possess when my time comes.

My father and I did not always agree on matters of theology and church. At the same time, I learned much from him and received from him a deep love for the church. Recently, he pointed to an article in the Mennonite World Review telling the story of Lancaster Mennonite Conference cutting ties with MCUSA and simply said, “We’ll never agree on everything.” I know he has seen a fair share of church fights and splits in his lifetime. I wonder if a perspective and knowledge of our own ending can help us hold more lightly and with more grace the tensions of our current time. Might we be more willing to extend a hand of mercy and freedom knowing that we cannot control and hold tightly for all time?

I see some of the same dynamics in my work with youth and my role as a parent. Parenting is a journey of learning to give and let go. Passing on the faith and work of the church to the next generation is also a journey of giving and letting go. We trust that the same Spirit that is at work in our lives will continue to live and move in our children and the next generation of the gathered body of Christ. Our attempts to control what happens today are often an expression of fear that does not trust the ongoing move of the Spirit. Love does not demand its own way. Christ gave all in his journey to the cross and trusted the future into God’s hands. Christ chose to love freely to the end.

In the end and in our end, this Christ-like love is what remains and points most profoundly to the resurrection. A month ago my extended family gathered with my parents for a time of sharing memories of the past and making plans for letting go and the coming death. It was a love feast of laughter and tears. As we got ready to go, my father, who was engaged in the conversation but not able to say much the whole time, quickly got up and stood at the door to give each a loving hug as we left. I thought of Jesus’ most repeated words to his disciples following the resurrection, “Peace be with you.”

Havin’ A Blast!

By John Stoltzfus

youthevent6What do you get when you bring together 130 junior high youth from 15 different churches in Franconia and Eastern District Mennonite Conferences? A picture of both the present and future reality of the church and kingdom of God.

Our junior high youth are image bearers of God. They have the ability to both feel and express the love and acceptance of God, giving expression to this through worship, energetic games and relationship building at the annual Junior High Late Night Blast on Friday, March 11.

Christopher Dock Mennonite High School provided the backdrop for five hours of fun and fellowship. Junior High youth and their brave sponsors from as far north as Whitehall Mennonite Church and as far south as Philadelphia Praise Center and Centro de Alabanza came together to give witness to the life of our larger church community. What a wonderful testimony of the fullness and diversity of God’s presence among us!

youthevent4Part of the purpose of this annual event is to give our youth a positive and memorable experience of worshipping together, playing hard, and catching a glimpse of the larger body of Christ. This event also gives opportunity for youth sponsors to engage with their youth and to partner together with other churches in ministry. One of the keys to developing an enduring faith in our youth is intergenerational relationships. Our youth need to know that they are valued and loved by all in the church.
youthevent7The evening included large group games and a host of other activities led by a group of great staff and volunteers from Spruce Lake Retreat Center. Bobby Wibowo led a band from Philadelphia Praise Center in a time of energetic worship through song. And, of course, it would not be a youth event without some sponsors getting a face full of whipped cream.

Thank you to everyone that helped to plan and carry out all the activities and a special thank you to all the youth leaders that commit themselves to serving with their youth. The Middle School years can be a series of highs and lows. There will be times of frustration and angst as they seek to form identity and explore independence but also times of great joy as they begin to discover their calling to be a child of God and follower of Christ in this world.

John Stoltzfus is the Conference Minister for Franconia and Eastern District Conferences. 

Epiphanies: A Call to Worship

By Michael Clemmer

Many of our churches have just finished their celebration of Epiphany – a day that seems to have taken a back seat to our more culturally-relevant Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Epiphany is literally defined as a “Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ.” Yet, as I reflected on the story of how the Magi saw something new in the sky and were compelled to leave behind all of their responsibilities and travel to see this new king, I couldn’t help but wonder if epiphanies have the same effect on people today. Is it even possible that we, who live in our practical or intellectual worlds of thought, would even be open to see or understand something in a new way through God’s divine enlightening?

threewisemenPerhaps we spend so much time trying to figure out what God is doing and saying through our epiphanies that we miss the real purpose of them – to draw us to worship. The sight of the star set the Magi into motion. They saw the star and they freed themselves to make the trip to worship the newborn savior king. Maybe we all need some sort of epiphany to point us to the place or posture of worship.

Over the Christmas holiday, my nearly 3-year-old grandson helped enlighten me about my own need to make worship a priority. One night before he fell asleep, he was lying in bed when he burst out in singing “Gloria, Gloria, Gloria,” the refrain of the Christmas song he heard earlier in the week. And then there was silence. A few moments later, he repeated his praises to God –this time adding “In excelsis Deo.” He had heard this chorus for the first time of his life earlier in the week, and now, he couldn’t help but continue to sing it as a way of praising God. It burst forth from his heart and broke the silence. The song was a part of him – and he sang God’s praises freely and joyfully over and over again.   In that moment as I stood in the hallway outside of his room, the light became clear to me.  It was an epiphany. My heart was filled with joy as I whispered – Gloria in excelsis deo, indeed!! Every day that we live should be guided by the Epiphany that opens our eyes to new understandings of the fact that a Savior has been born. And that leads us to worship. Come all, come everyone and worship!

Michael Clemmer is pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church and a LEADership minister in Franconia Conference.

Acting Smaller, Going Deeper, Thinking Wider: A Vision for Youth Ministry

by John Stoltzfus

John Stoltzfus picThere are many challenges that face our youth ministers and workers, yet we have a vision to overcome these challenges. A few stories I have heard from some Mennonite churches in our conference include:

  • A family with young children moves into the area. They are advised by many friends to choose a larger church with more programming for children and youth.
  • A youth pastor plans a weekend activity for the youth group. One youth shows up.
  • A youth pastor asks another youth pastor from a large church for recommended curriculum. He suggests a full package yearlong curriculum that costs $799. The pastor from the smaller church immediately knows this is out of the question because of limited church funds.
  • A family decides to leave a church citing the small number of youth and children as a contributing factor. The parents are concerned that their children will not choose to become baptized with so few peers.
  • A youth pastor confesses that it can be hard on the ego to look at the diminishing size of the youth group. He feels that the church is putting some blame on him.
  • With a smaller group, a youth pastor admits that he now has more time to spend with each youth.

From what I see, most Mennonite churches in the conference are not experiencing sustained or significant growth among the number of youth and young adults in their congregations. Of course there are always exceptions but the majority of conversations I have with youth workers include talking about the challenges of learning to work with smaller youth groups.

This is not just a youth problem. This is an adult, multi-generational challenge contributing to the decline of church attendance and affiliation. Articles and research studies abound in pointing to the reasons why this may be so.

Asking the why question can be a good and necessary exercise. However, I want to focus on the opportunities. Is there a compelling vision for the future of youth ministry in this changing context? The following reflections are a collection of ideas from area Mennonite youth pastors.

Acting Smaller

youth photo 1 12-3-15We need to act our size. We can’t pretend to act like the churches we used to be or like the mega church down the road. The smaller youth group can be a good place to grow disciples, deepen learning and widen our sense of mission. The sentiment of “we can’t do this because we are a small-sized group” turns to “we get to do things differently because we are a smaller size”. Think intimate, spontaneous, moveable, accessible, and other adjectives.

A youth group of 10 persons and fewer cannot act the same as a youth group of 50. It impacts budget, staffing, curriculum, programming and much more. While a small church may not offer all the bells and whistles of a larger church, it may offer more individualized care and discipleship. A church may be less tempted to hire a “rock star” youth pastor to relate to their youth and instead work to build up a congregation-wide culture of intergenerational relationship and discipleship making. I am not advocating for the devaluing of youth pastors and those who specialize in youth ministry; however, youth pastors at their best enable and empower other adults in the congregation to relate to and disciple youth.

Research indicates that the most common factor for youth who stick with faith and church into adulthood is that they had at least 5 significant relationships with adults as a youth. Might the future of youth ministry be less programmatic and become more embedded into the fabric of the overall mission and life of the church?

Going Deeper

youth photo 2 12-3-15When I taught the Sunday school class at a previous church, I used to despair when the majority of the group would not show up on any given Sunday. But then I started to see an opportunity. With a smaller group I was able to adapt the lesson to the specific interests and concerns of each youth. I began to make the kids count rather than count the kids. I was better able to connect individually with the youth and be more practical in application rather than creating studies and lessons that needed to connect with everyone in a larger group. Might the future of youth ministry more like the relationship between Jesus, the rabbi, and his small band of disciples?

Thinking Wider  

What if we were to consider our youth as not just those who show up on a Sunday morning with their parents, but also the youth who live in the communities surrounding our church? Consider what is happening with Project Haven in East Greenville operating out of the former Peace Mennonite Church building. A robotics club, bicycle recycling shop, weekend hangout spot are just some of the initiates that are engaging youth in the community and local schools. Might the future of youth ministry be more entrepreneurial, happening out in the community and making young people agents of ministry, not just objects of it?

Thinking wider might also include more collaboration with other community organizations and other churches. Mennonite youth groups in the area are already doing this — from doing winter retreats together to fundraising together to go to conventions. These relationships have the possibility of moving us across lines of culture, race, economic status and theology. Might the future of youth ministry be less about keeping youth in our church and more about helping them engage and build the kingdom of God in the wider world?

While we face many challenges in keeping youth engaged in the church and reaching out to draw in more youth, if we act smaller, go deeper and think wider, we might see that change.

John Stoltzfus is the Conference Youth Minister for Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Conference.