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Youth speakers challenge adults to ‘fill the gap’

Youth speakers challenge adults to ‘fill the gap’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Youth speakers challenge adults to ‘fill the gap’

June 24, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0692}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Some things may ebb and flow in today’s society, but one thing remains constant — the desire of youth to be heard, understood and valued.

Conference leaders acknowledged that need and gave it voice at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event earlier this June.

It was a breakout year for youth and young adults. More than 100 members between the ages of 15 and 30 attended the conference as part of a first-ever youth/young adult delegation. It was also one of the first times in recent history that youth had a chance to publicly add their voices to the mix of those being heard. Three youth were chosen to share their thoughts as part of a special youth address during the business session June 9.

Nathan Beam, a youth member from First United Methodist Church, Melbourne, told members during his address at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event that existing church ministries like United Methodist Men and Women should be adapted so youth have “a place to go” once they outgrow the youth group. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0614.

Delegates to the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event passed a resolution mandating that youth have time on the agenda this year to address the conference. Conference clergy were charged with encouraging their youth to write an essay on passing the Christian faith from generation to generation to be submitted for consideration as the basis for choosing the youth to give the address.

The first to speak that morning was Nathan Beam, a member of First United Methodist Church, Melbourne. He began by recounting his experience during a board of lay ministry meeting last fall.

While he was received with open arms, Beam said he felt a distinct disconnection between the older and younger generations.

“I got a warm handshake and genuine smile, but I know when I look in your eyes that something else is going on,” he said. “I know that you’re hurting like I’m hurting. We need to be a family.”

By family he meant one that shares its heartaches, as well as happy times. Beam said what today’s young people crave more than anything else is for adults to be authentic and genuine “in their hearts” so that can be seen and felt by younger people.

Beam said he noticed ministries like United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women have meant a great deal to people in the church, but there are no such groups for youth and young adults once they outgrow the church youth group. Beam encouraged church leaders to adapt church ministries so they are accessible and applicable to younger generations.

“For youth beyond the youth group, we really don’t have anywhere else to go,” Beam said. “A lot of times the support we seek from our families is not there. And youth pastors, God bless them, they can’t do everything.”

Beam said his generation, the post-modern generation, has a deep hunger for spiritual truth.

“For a long time we’ve been told it’s up to what we think … don’t care what people think. We care what God thinks,” he said.

While it may seem a daunting task to grapple with how to minister to youth and young adults, Beam said anything is possible “with God on our side.”

Samuel Mwenda challenged members attending the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event to cut through the media clutter of today’s society and be the voice of truth for youth and young adults. Mwenda, a member at Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange, presented the second youth address at the conference event. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #07-0615.

Samuel Mwenda, a member at Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange, spoke next.
Drawing from Deuteronomy 6:1-9, he said every generation is called to be a witness to the next generation. He said youth today are bombarded with so many images the church can fill a needed gap in their lives.

“In today’s world, more than ever, the church is required to pass the witness of Christ by actions, more than just words,” he said. “The media has replaced parents, grandparents, church and schools as the primary influence on young people. Where is the church’s voice?

Mwenda said his generation is confused about what’s considered real truth because of contradictions between what Christians say and what they do.

“Are Christians today talking the talk and walking the walk?” he asked.

“Church and parents, we, the youth, are your present,” he said. “We stand at the gap between your generation and the generations to come. We’re the link between you and the generation yet to be born.”

The last to speak was Kyle Pendergrass, a member of First United Methodist Church, Ormond Beach.

He acknowledged the task of reaching people isn’t an easy one.

“Youth have changed drastically since the days when the church offered Sunday school class every Sunday morning and provided Sunday school answers to simple questions,” he said. “In this generation young people’s expectations of what it means to be fulfilled have changed. Youth no longer want to be spoon-fed the same stuff year after year. Instead, we want to be challenged a bit.”

Pendergrass said young people want to ask the hard questions, which sometimes have complicated answers or none at all.

To the question of why youth aren’t interested in traditional worship services, Pendergrass said it’s because they yearn for exciting, vibrant worship experiences with skilled musicians and singers. While that may be hard to achieve for some churches, he said the alternative is a church that is void of its young people — youth can always think of more exciting places to be on a Sunday morning than church.

Kyle Pendergrass (left) said reaching youth and young adults is not a question of survival for the church, but rather the possibility of the church “losing its foothold on the next generation,” which isn’t just the church of the future, but the “church of today.” Pendergrass was the third youth to speak during the June 9 business session of the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event. He is a member of First United Methodist Church, Ormond Beach. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0616.

Pendergrass said the church will survive if the needs of youth are not met, but it will have lost its foothold on the next generation.

“The fact is, young people are the church of tomorrow, and if they do not enjoy being in the church environment now they may not decide to find their place in the church of the future,” he said.

Youth staying active and relative to the church is contingent upon churches searching to find the right person to lead youth ministry, Pendergrass added.

He said youth would be excited to have a leader who is honest and open to hard questions, someone who would even admit he or she didn’t have the right answer. He said this type of leader is “10 times more likely” to have success in reaching the new generation than a leader “who only scratches at the surface of topics and doesn’t get into the deep, juicy thought-provoking ideas that we want to understand.”

Pendergrass said youth welcome challenges from leadership that encourage them to express their Christian values in their everyday lives.

In return, youth can offer their energy and ideas to bolster the church.

“This generation is not only the church of tomorrow, but also the church of today,” he said.

Elizabeth Stager said the youth address accurately expressed her feelings. The 18-year-old has attended a United Methodist church all her life and became a member of Palm Coast United Methodist Church after her family relocated to the area four years ago. She said her first annual conference event was “a very good learning experience.”

“It’s good to see that we’re progressing in terms of youth and young adult participation,” she said. “The different generations have different viewpoints, and it’s good for us to get together as one group.”

Cindy Harris, a young adult from Conway United Methodist Church in Orlando, said it was great to see so many youth and young adults participating in the annual conference event. The first-time member said she understands the importance of the church’s struggle to adapt to the needs of younger generations.

She said she hopes leadership on all levels — conference, district and local church — will reach out to all generations. She said her church has had an active young adult ministry for two years.

“Everyone wants young people, but they do very little to make the church youth- and young adult-friendly,” she said. “I think the church needs to connect with youth and young adults. They have to have a heart to reach out to meet the needs of everyone to discover what the needs are.

“Just because we’re all young doesn’t mean we have the same needs.”

Videos, photos, summaries and additional information about the conference event are available on the Florida Conference Web site at


This article relates to 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.