Published at Youthworker Online (A part of Youthworker Journal)
Read the online article here
An Afternoon with David Wraight
In December, David Wraight the President for Youth for Christ International came to speak to our Colorado Springs area youth workers group. What he shared was passionate and helpful, especially as I reflect on his visit both as a youth worker and a younger pastor. The Link is a group of youth workers who have been meeting for the past year and a half in the Colorado Springs area. I have the privilege of serving on the leadership team for The Link, and it has been a very life giving experience for me both as a Christ follower and a youth worker. The group includes youth workers from various denominations and traditions, para-church and youth focused non-profit ministries, part-time, full-time and volunteer youth workers. There are youth workers from small churches, medium churches, and mega churches that participate. The group represents a wide range of experience, theological perspectives and ministry philosophies. The Link consists of three pieces: a large group gathering with speakers every other month, regional small groups that meet for lunch or coffee and one-on-one connections and relationships. In a city that has many churches and religious organizations, unity is much harder than one might suspect. The Holy Spirit has been in the midst of this endeavor as we seek to focus on building up youth workers through these various aspects while setting program and competition aside.
What David shared with us that December day was powerful. The main focus of his message was the power of young people. It would seem like this message would be lost on a group like this (we call it preaching to the choir), yet it was something I believe we all needed to hear. As David spoke of ‘young people’ it was clear that he was not only speaking of students, but also to youth workers. I don’t think he was just speaking to those youth workers in their twenties, either. If we questioned the potential of youth, we would probably not be youth workers, at least not for long anyway. We are dealing with dramatic and rapid change in our world and this generation is very different than the proceeding generations. Having served in youth ministry only 14 years, I can see a dramatic difference both in youth and youth workers (myself included) between my early years and today.
While we cannot expect our students to be adults, we also must be aware of their potential. It is our young people who will lead the church back to its core mission. As David shared some of the struggles of YFC and his own journey as a leader, I could not help but notice that the struggles he shared mirrored the struggles of the church. The church has lost its identity, its evangelical heart. We have lost sight of prayer as our foundation and the sharing of the ministry amongst all generations. David believes God is speaking most clearly to our young people, as they are bold and willing to live out the vision. Before this gathering, I realized that I too had lost sight of vision. I had become comfortable as a professional pastor. I had lost my boldness as I feared conflict and enjoyed comfort. If I have learned anything in the past month, it is that both the world and the church are headed in the wrong direction and we are all responsible. It is this new generation that will change the church and the world. They are not competing with other generations; rather they want to be in relationship with people from each and every generation. Not only do we need to invest in the ‘young people’ in our churches and community, we need to re-engage in relationships with them, not only for their sake, but for ours as well. In our desire to lead vision and mission, we have fought for control rather than sought discernment. It will be the current generation of youth and those after them that will need to lead us in mission and vision. This was the core message of David’s talk that day. While I would not agree with everything he said, it has become clear to me that we expect students to lead in the wrong way (be mini-adults) and have not allowed them to use their passion and vision to lead in the right ways. Our students are broken. Our churches are broken. Our communities are broken. Only Jesus can heal, and he wants to heal the world through his church, the whole church.
One of the practical pieces from this session was what David called the four responses to this generation.
4 responses to this emerging generation:
Institutional response-it is a list of things they have to do and be. We seek to recreate them in our image.
Organizational response-our program defines what we want them to be and who we are.
Abandonment response-give ministry over to them to do (because we are tired). This rejects an intergenerational response and connection (it also contributes to the abandonment of our children and youth in general).
Empowerment response-we believe in you and we think you are valid to lead us now.
We are in this together. We need each other, and we need to let each other lead. The very nature of discipleship is trust. Trust and control are like oil and water. We must come alongside our children, youth and young leaders and hear their vision. We must walk together as they give us more than a needed perspective. If we are to build leaders both for the present and the future, we must walk together.
Rev. Marcus J Carlson has worked with children and youth for over 14 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as Associate Pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. (marcusjcarlson.com).