Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
All this week, I have been co-teaching a seminary class at Brite Divinity School as part of the January term. It is not your usual class. This class is called “Transitions in Life and Ministry” and is for students who are completing their last semester in seminary. The goal of the class is to help students make a smooth transition from their seminary experience into their first ministry job. Dr. Tim Robinson and I have had the opportunity to meet with 14 students and explore their hopes, dreams and excitement for the ministry to which they are called, as they also face the ending their time at Brite and the losses, grief and challenges that accompany this major shift in their lives. It has been an amazing week.
Included in the discussion of their changing lives we have also discussed the shifting waters of religious life in America. I’m sure you are aware, as our students are, that the population of people who regularly attend worship and are part of a faith community is dramatically shrinking, and has been shrinking for the last few decades. This means that opportunities for church positions are shrinking as well. Now, you might think that given those realities that these students would be discouraged and worried about their future. I think it is safe to say that all of them have some trepidation about the future and some of them are not at all sure where they are headed and what they will be doing. Yet their hope for their ministries and for the future is contagious.
I know that there are many people, including religious scholars, preachers, theologians and the average person on the street who are deeply concerned about the future of the church. You may be among them. But I want you to know that you don’t have to worry. I have spent this week with 14 incredible people who are passionate about their faith, committed to making the world a better place for all people and I believe that the church of the future is in good hands. In one exercise, we asked them to tell us what their “Why” is. In other words, what is the deep, passionate reason that they want to be in ministry. Here is what one student said, and is reflective of what they all said, “I am passionate about my faith and ministry because I believe that people live fuller and more abundant lives by encountering the Divine that calls them beloved.”
In another exercise, we asked them to share, in a TED Talk format, their Big Idea for ministry. One young man told us about his desire to help churches learn about Asset Based Community Development and how it can change neighborhoods into productive, healthy communities. Then a young woman told us about her passion for creating Women’s Health Initiatives in churches because Texas has a rising infant mortality rate, and if we can impact the health of women we can reduce that rate. Another student told us about how to change the lives of millennials by creating small communities, as he and his wife do in their home on a weekly basis, with what they call “Dinner Parties.” These students may be young in age or in ministry, but the words of the Apostle Paul writing to Timothy ring true in them as they will certainly, “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
So, I invite you to set aside your worries about the future of the church. The generation that is emerging from our seminaries has enough vision and hope for all of us. Oh, and if you are hungering to encounter the Divine that calls you beloved, then I hope you will worship in a faith community this Sunday and perhaps encounter this kind of vision and hope. It will change your life or maybe you will be the change that church most needs.
Holy One, remind me once again that you are ever present and ready to meet me in life and in community and call me your beloved. Amen.