by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister
Over 25 years ago, I interned through Mennonite Church USA’s Ministry Inquiry Program at my home church in Somerset County, PA. I loved the experience of working alongside a congregation that had shaped my own decision to follow Jesus and working creatively with a pastor who gave me space to learn, to experiment and to honestly engage life in the church. At the end of the summer, I declared that I loved the experience, but that I didn’t want to be a pastor because I realized the vastness of the task at hand. My home church then, four years later, called me as an associate pastor. It still surprises me that they invited and that I said yes.
This summer, through Souderton Mennonite Church’s Vocation as Mission Program, Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service Worker Program, the ongoing Ministry Inquiry Program and a variety of independent initiatives, about a dozen young adults (all under age 30) are finishing up a summer of serving and learning alongside our congregations. These initiatives are likely some of the best investments of our time and resources into the life and future of the church.
Not all of them will be called as pastors, but through the mutual time together, the opportunity for shaping and learning continues to prepare leaders who will engage the church and the world wholeheartedly through the Good News of Christ’s peace. I am grateful for pastors who make space for those who are learning alongside. Walking alongside learning leaders takes time, intention and openness. It’s also being confident and humble enough in your own leadership to realize that other leaders will lead differently, fail differently and that working with next generation leaders can be a constant invitation to learn, for those of us who are more established leaders as well.
Back in my intern days, my pastor – Marvin Kaufman – gave me space to explore cultivating a sister church relationship with an African American congregation in our area. That exploratory space culminated in Sunday night worship experiences at each of our meetinghouses. This experience and our congregation’s willingness to participate and follow me into this relationship-building likely shaped forever the kind of ministering and leading person that I have become and am becoming, on working with the Spirit to cross cultural and ethnic boundaries to express the heart of the Gospel of reconciliation and transformation.
I’m so grateful for each of our next generation leaders who said yes this summer, and for the communities that hosted them and walked alongside them. Working with Jerrell , who is serving alongside our Conference and The Mennonite this summer, has reminded me of the worthy investment of time and fruitfulness of relational possibilities. Abigail and Tiffany serving together at Philadelphia Praise has made me smile, as they helped host our Interfaith leaders gathering last month with gracious hospitality. My interactions with the Vocation as Mission interns, as we talked about intercultural challenges and possibilities, inspired me by their sincerity and questions when we met at Bike and Sol. I loved hearing how much Rebecca and Ezther are valued at their places of service in Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley.
These experiences are some of the best investments that we make together with our Conference resources. I’m grateful that we continue to share in this process of calling and shaping next generation leaders together for the sake of the church and the world. This is our work together, a recognition that calling and shaping next generation leaders is the work of “our village.” And for me, and hopefully for all of us, this is the kind of work that brings us great joy and hope, a recognition that the Good News goes on, continues to transform and will continue to transform us.