What are these young leaders telling us? Signs of hope and warning

James M. Lapp, jmlapp@franconiaconference.org
Senior Ministry Consultant

Reading these highly personal articles from a group of younger leaders all connected to Franconia Conference has been deeply moving. There’s only one writer with roots in our conference and there is evidence of intercultural perspectives represented among them. Is this a sign of things to come?

I hear in their words deep interest and commitment to God and the church, which should hearten those of us from other older generations and with historic ties to FMC.

I hear an invitation for older or more traditional leaders to give time to cultivating relationships with young adults and youthful leaders. Only with this “incarnation” of our love and care will younger people really know how much we value them. I hear this might create unfamiliar (maybe even uncomfortable)
challenges but the rewards will be great for those willing to risk it. Can we make room in our lives and congregations for those who do not “seem perfect and successful” with idealistic morality?

I hear walking across the bridge to meet a new generation of leaders will involve a new type of communication, overcoming certain stubbornness and pride. Are we ready to make this journey between the past/present as we know it and the present/future they represent?

I hear voices of youthful idealism, easily swayed by doubt and suspicion (not unlike many of us experienced in our younger years) but a readiness to trust and believe when they see credible evidence that the Gospel we claim to espouse is indeed reality for us.

I hear considerable stress for younger leaders in this transition toward a postmodern era, along with a readiness to embrace questions, mysteries, and ambiguities that are not always given space and time in our churches. Frankly this worries me – that the environment younger leaders face and the status quo in congregations might create too huge of a hurdle for prospective 21st century young leaders to cross. We are duly warned that relating to these young leaders is not for the “faint-hearted, easily winded, or precariously perfect.”

I hear honest struggle with the narcissistic societal forces around us and other quagmires in our culture that younger leaders encounter among their peers.

I hear a call for the church to be more honestly self-reflective about who we are and our priorities in ministry. We can speak passionately about the need for younger leadership in our churches, but will we incarnate our talk in actions (especially time) and relationships that authentically connect with younger people and leaders? Why is it that we have few credentialed leaders under 30 in our conference?

What I do not hear is a desire to disconnect, a readiness to walk away from the church, or even a pessimism about what God is doing in our world today. I also don’t hear a call for lots of programs to be planned for young people and younger leaders. Rather relationships and space to navigate the stages of life seem to be the gifts most desired. These younger leaders offer a window into the challenges this presents to those interested enough to hear and respond.

I realize that these writers are hardly a cross section of younger leaders. These four (Landis, Walter, Kriss and Siahaan) are an exceptionally gifted and motivated group of leaders. More than likely they do not speak for all young leaders. But we ignore their voices at our own peril as a church. I am grateful they wrote and for the vulnerability with which they shared their perspectives. My greatest hope is that pastors, church leaders, boards and all persons who claim to be interested in young people and enlarging the circle of young leaders will pay prayerful attention to what they have shared. The test of interest might be if this issue of Growing Leaders shows up on the agenda of church boards and elders in the next few months.