Most of what you read about the ELCA right now is dismal at best – decreasing membership, congregations withholding their usual benevolence to the ELCA, congregations leaving the ELCA, massive budget cuts, job cuts and serious restructuring. There are some glimpses of hope but the resulting anxiety was still very real at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network’s Extravaganza this weekend in Kansas City, MO.
Any gathering of 500 youth ministers will have a great deal of humor and wackiness, but the anxiety was evident. Many people spoke about shrinking ministries, shrinking budgets and shrinking jobs due to “the vote” and the economy. Many folks talked of witnessing the wheels coming off of their ministries, not to mention their personal lives and careers. The fear is real, yet I also came away from this event with a lot of hope. Those who know me know how miraculous it is for me to experience this sensation. This is where I saw hope . . .
- In the grass-roots, organic, emerging (insert other trendy word) spirit of the Network itself. I saw this as people walked together, prayed together, ate BBQ together, drank beer together, walked along un-shoveled sidewalks together and supported one another through the questions, challenges and celebrations that happened over the weekend. Our ministry is truly relational and there was beauty in the relational ministry I saw at the Extravaganza.
- In Todd Buegler. The man seems to have 5 full-time jobs and does them all extremely well and with a great sense of humor and gracious humility. We all owe Todd a huge thank you and round of applause.
- In the SYMBOL (Synod Youth Ministry Band of Leaders) Network – another organic network of hard-working people who care deeply about kids and ministry. They work long and hard to resource the folks who are doing ministry on the front lines in congregations and other settings. This network emerged from among those already doing the work and, while it receives some funds from the ELCA churchwide office, it functions independently for the sake of good ministry on the ground.
- In LECNA (Lutheran Educational Conference of North America) – another network that is thriving (mostly) independently from the ELCA. This group is finding new, innovative, meaningful and relational ways to connect young people with Lutheran colleges. They believe wholeheartedly in the significance of a Lutheran education – and they have data to back it up. If we are serious about ministry in the First Third of life, then we need to take our colleges and campus ministries seriously. LECNA takes it seriously, and the rest of the church (and world!) benefits from it.
- The Peer Review – is a new approach to training/ consulting/ coaching that Lyle Griner has dreamed up. It is an emerging process of discernment more than consultation that will empower many people in many different phases of ministry. If you’ve been doing youth ministry forever, this process looks like it will reinvigorate you. If you are brand new, this will help lay a foundation of intentional ministry practices that (I think) will sustain you through years of ministry.
- Bloggers – like Jake Bouma, Erik Ullestad and other young, witty, thoughtful voices (let me know who you are) who take ministry with youth very seriously and see it primarily as a theological endeavor.
- In our undergraduate students who are studying youth and family ministry. Many colleges brought students – Augsburg College, California Lutheran, Texas Lutheran, Trinity Lutheran, and Concordia College. On the last day of the gathering immediately following the closing session, a group of these students from multiple colleges gathered together and committed to staying connected and supporting one another in their emerging ministries. It was out of this same spirit that the ELCA Youth Ministry Network was first born and it is so good to see that it is still alive and kicking 15 years later – among a new generation!
So, the polished white stones of the ELCA might be crumbling but the church is far from dying. I saw hope in so many places this weekend. There are so many people deeply committed to this ministry and working extremely hard to see to it that those who are working on the front lines in youth ministry continue to receive the support and the resources they need to be successful. I’ve never been more proud to be a member of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network than I am after this event – even (maybe especially) in the midst of the fear and anxiety we each experience in our own way. Well done good and faithful servants!!! Where did you see hope?