Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a step to the side and get out of the way.
I’m a Uniting Church kid. Born in 1973, baptised as an infant, and dragged up on the front pew of Dubbo UC, through Dalby UC as a kid, and then Kawana Waters UC as a teenager and young adult until I took on the world myself and was a part of myriad different congregations across NSW and Queensland, serving the Laidley/Hatton Vale UC congregations in my first taste of ministry.
Since moving back to New South Wales, my family and I have found our worshipping home at Terrigal UC on the Central Coast. It’s a real joy to be a part of that community of faith, where especially my two teenagers are being loved, nurtured, and encouraged to grow as disciples of Jesus.
I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the generous love, grace, and support of the congregations I was a part of growing up, as well as the wider church.
I was given opportunities to extend myself, to have my faith challenged and pushed, and welcomed into spaces that there would otherwise have not been a hole for me had a wise adult not stepped sideways to welcome me in.
Especially as we have less young people involved in our congregations it can be difficult to open up these spaces. Based on sheer numbers there’s not enough of them to fill all the gaps. We can also get really precious about how we do things (because, after all, we’ve always done it like this) and it can make us nervous to allow someone else to do those things because they will do them differently…and may even do them wrong.
It’s pretty likely that we were welcomed into leadership opportunities or participate in serving at church because someone saw we had potential and needed a chance. Or they could tell we were champing at the bit to get involved and unless they stepped aside we’d have been left waiting.
I wonder if this is our moment to stop talking about it and start stepping out of the way and welcoming young people into positions of leadership, and then having the courage and faith to follow them as they lead us?
In talking to friends my age who have left the Uniting Church to serve elsewhere, a common thread in their stories is they got sick of waiting for ‘their turn’, and even more sick of the hollow promises that they’d get an opportunity ‘once they had a bit more experience’.
In no way am I suggesting we should drop anyone unprepared into a service or leadership opportunity. If we did, that’s very clearly on us. We should mentor and encourage everyone as they prepare to engage in the broader life of the church…and what a great way for older people to get to know younger people! Teach them the ropes, and walk beside them as they dip their toes into ministry and leadership.
Yes, young people bring with them an energy and enthusiasm that is infectious. We’re drawn to it because it reminds us of our time as a young person; full of hopes, plans and dreams. The stuff that brings new ideas and fresh insight to our lot that can excite us (or threaten to drag us along with them).
At some point we need to acknowledge that we need to step aside, to make a place for young people at the table, and that might mean we need to get out of the way.
Don’t just cut and run, though. Leaving young people without your experience and wisdom would a massive fail. Here’s your chance to help them on your way out. Mentor them into the gap you’re making by leaving. They’ll have big boots to fill, and with your and God’s help they’ll do it.
We might even need to do some scouting, and tap a young person on the shoulder. Ask them if they’d be interested in learning more about this council or that missional opportunity and that you’d be willing to stand beside them and nurture them.
Trust me: it will make a world of difference to that young person’s life. Also to yours.
Molk is the Senior Field Officer (North) and Young Adult ministry lead as a part of the PULSE team.