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Connection and Call

Below are my reflections on the past year serving as the Iowa Conference UCC associate conference minister for youth and young adult ministries. It was originally distributed at our Annual Meeting, held June 11 & 12, 2010 at Grinnell College. I’d love to hear your comments.

It’s hard to believe that another year has passed since we last gathered as the Iowa Conference United Church of Christ. It’s hard to believe that I have now been serving as your associate conference minister of youth and young adult ministries for a year and a half. Though that seems like a short period of time (and it is) a lot has happened.

The thing that occupies most of the space in my memory is the people that I’ve met. They include the adults who love young people enough to give up their time, energy and sleep, pastors and other lay leaders who are committed to passing along a vibrant faith and the young people themselves, who may be relatively small in number, but who are large in energy and passion for living their faith in the world.

These people are the most valuable resource in the Iowa Conference and they carry out a vital ministry. This ministry, I believe, will not only make a difference in the lives of young people, but will be God’s new thing that transforms our church. That is why I, and the rest of the conference staff, do everything we can to support it. Let me tell you about a few of the ways in which I personally support those ministries.

Since we last gathered, I have done leadership development and discernment workshops with at least a dozen churches. My workshops vary in topic, but a couple key premises form their foundation: Leadership is to be shared through the generations. I always insist that these groups include both adults and young people. These leadership teams are almost always surprised at how dynamic conversation and activities with people of different ages can be. Discernment is a key component of planning and development ministries. When I facilitate a retreat or workshop, I do not believe it is my place to tell you the best ways to do ministry. You will always know your church and your community better than I could. I just help create the space for you to discern that call.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had the privilege to meet many adults who are passionate about passing along a vibrant church to future generations. These diverse people are hungry to grow stronger in their own faith and leadership skills. In an attempt to meet that deep hunger, I piloted this year a Southwest Association group I named, “Called to Lead.” Similar to our SAG (Support, Accountability and Growth) groups for clergy, this group is designed for youth leaders to tap into their sense of call to ministry and share resources and connect with colleagues who support and challenge them. This group has grown in deeper relationship with each other and with God in the past year. It will continue into next year and I will be starting at least one more group in the Central Association this coming fall.

I also have been excited to meet the many young people who have made their faith life a priority by participating in their local churches. They already do the work of the church through worship leadership and by occupying positions of leadership. My goal, through events like the one we have had in conjunction with this Annual Meeting, is to help them recognize that they are already using their gifts for ministry and that God is calling them to the larger task of transforming the church and the world.

If I were to name overarching themes for the past year, they would be connection and call. We connected together during events, through Facebook, videoconferencing and blogging. By making those connections with each other, we become more deeply rooted in the call God has on our lives.

I’ll conclude by telling you what I always tell church groups that are new to working with me: I’m making this up as I go along, so I’m sure I’ll make mistakes. Why don’t we make some mistakes together? I know I’ve never learned much of anything by getting it right the first time. By making those mistakes, I am sure that we will continue in this coming year to find better and better ways to stay connected and called; and, ultimately, better and better ways to pass along the Good News of Jesus Christ.

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