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National Guard major returns home to mentor young adults

National Guard major returns home to mentor young adults

Church Vitality

When he returned from serving a year-long deployment in Africa last summer for the Florida Army National Guard, Maj. Lance Sellon, CrossRoad Church UMC's director of Go ministries, sought to change his career focus.

At the same time, the Jacksonville church's Forward ministry, a self-led young adult group, was somewhat rudderless. Church officials believed Forward members needed guidance from a strong Christian leader like Sellon, 44.

The thought was “we needed someone who was going to invest their life,” Sellon said. “These young adults, they need someone who is going to come in and be a mentor. God was nudging me in that direction to take on that role.”

Lance Sellon, director of Go ministries at CrossRoad Church UMC, is reaching out to young adult professionals in Jacksonsville through weekly dinners held at popular local restaurants. It's called the Forward ministry.

Sellon met with members of Forward, a group of people ages 23-early 40s, and they rebooted Forward in January. But this time, it was to be a little different.

“We're going to make it a conversation,” he said. “We're not going to make it a mini-church service” like it used to be. Meetings are held Monday nights, off-site, at places where people can have dinner together.

The goal is to create an environment where young adults can become friends, but also have “big conversations” about life. Sellon says participants should not be afraid of any topic of conversation.

Sellon is gaining inspiration from the Q Conferences and Gabe Lyons, where no topic is off limits and everyone has a voice. The group decides topics for discussion.

“Hopefully there is enough lead time that we can bring in the biblical perspective and the Wesleyan perspective of faith and theology so that people are equipped that way,” he said.

Sellon says the book on young adults is that they migrate often from city to city, church to church. Relationships are not that important. Sellon wants to buck that trend.

Young adults may attend CrossRoad for 18 to 24 months, but the church will invest in each one as though they are lifetime members. Forward leaders will build relationships because they want the young members' time at CrossRoad to matter, but also they want them to seek out healthy communities wherever they migrate to next.

Early on, about 20 people joined Forward. Patience is the key to their game plan.

“We knew we'd have to approach this from the long-game perspective,” Sellon said. “We want to do more than draw a crowd. We want to build disciples.”

Forward also bucks another trend that ministries should be age-based. “That's just not an accurate reflection of the church,” he said. “The young adults who are coming to our group…don't want to just do worship or small group with people in the same age group with the same life experiences. One of the things that add to the richness of Forward is the diversity of life experiences.” Some members are in their first jobs. Others have more work experience.

“There is a lot of sharing. There is a lot of learning and grooming.”

Sellon began working at CrossRoad five years ago. He says church leaders were very flexible in accommodating his need for time off to deploy for the National Guard. Meanwhile, his experiences in Kenya and Djibouti provided a lot of discernment and a different perspective.

“That year as a chaplain helped me move toward that mentoring calling,” he said. Program directors play important roles, but he needed to do more.

“I think my time in Africa as a chaplain helped lean into me that perspective to be willing to fulfill that role when I came back here to CrossRoad.”

--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.