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Young adults explore their work in context of ministry

Young adults explore their work in context of ministry

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Young adults explore their work in context of ministry

By Mary Lee Downey | April 8, 2009 {0998}

ORLANDO, Fla. — With a 105-foot tall rollercoaster called the Hulk as part of the backdrop, more than 100 young adults and college students met earlier this year at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Orlando for a weekend seminar to explore where God is leading them in ministry.

SCREAM participants “loosen up” during the call to worship. Photo by Mary Downey. Photo #09-1140.

The conferencewide event, called “SCREAM: Get Ready for the Ride,” was coordinated by the Florida Conference Center for Clergy Excellence with a $6,000 grant from The United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The gathering, which was geared toward 18- to 25-year-olds, was held, in part, to address the steady decline of young adult leadership in the church, according to the Rev. David Dodge, executive director of the clergy center.

About 5.21 percent of all clergy in The United Methodist Church are young adults, says Meg Lassiat, director of student ministry, vocation and enlistment for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Given that low figure, The United Methodist Church as a denomination has been working to cultivate young leaders and help them discern their call to ordained or vocational ministry outside the church.

Lassiat believes having young clergy is important for both people today and future generations.

“One (reason) is because they can be leaders in the church today and can reach out to young adults in the next generation in ways that other people may not be able to,” she said. “And … as we begin to train denominational leaders in the next 20 to 30 years we need young adults to be clergy so they get a lot of experience by the time they are (serving as) bishop and district superintendent.”

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, who spoke to the group, acknowledged the downward trend and said it must change.

SCREAM participants write their hopes and fears about ministry on a special door. Photo by the Rev. Melissa Pisco. Photo #09-1141.

“The church has stopped paying attention to people’s call to the ministry when they are young,” he said. “As a result, people were not responding to that call, and we have gone through a whole generation where there have been relatively few young people coming into the ministry when they are young.”

Dodge agrees. “ ‘Are younger clergy better? No, they are just younger,’ ” he said, quoting Lovett Weems, distinguished professor of church leadership and director of the G. Douglass Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary. “We really believe that God hasn’t stopped calling young people. We, just as a church, haven’t helped them with that call.”

Reversing that trend also extends to helping people explore ministry in a variety of vocational settings.

“We have said from the very beginning that we didn’t want this event to be exclusively for people who are understanding a call to ordained ministry, but to help understand that there is some kind of call of ministry in their lives,” Dodge said. “They may be a great Christian leader as a teacher or a doctor or a sales clerk … so our emphasis is on hearing God’s call to Christian leadership.”

Accepting, recommitting to the challenge

The students and young adults heard about the event through conference pastors and youth and campus ministers. Organizers were expecting about 75 people to attend and were surprised at the turnout, according to the Rev. Scott Smith, pastor at Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport, Fla., and a member of the conference’s young adult task force.

Young adults worship during SCREAM. Photo by Mary Downey. Photo #09-1142.

Smith said the team focused on thinking “outside the box” and developing an idea that would attract young adults. The venue, he said, would give them a chance to see the church reaching out to them in a new, fun way.

“I really think that being called by God in any form of ministry is like the Hulk ride — especially in the back seat.” Smith said. “You don’t know what’s coming up. There are twist and turns, and that’s what your relationship with God is like. It’s twists and turns … but what an awesome ride if you just trust God.”

University of Florida freshman Kim Devitt said she’s ready for that ride. “This weekend has been really amazing, and I really feel like I have the focus I need to discern my call into ministry,” she said. “I learned what it means to be a Christian leader in society, and it’s less about you and more about the people you serve.

Several theological schools — Asbury, Candler, Duke and Garrett-Evangelical — offered Devitt and the other attendees information about their programs. The young adults also participated in a number of workshops throughout the weekend, including “Nurturing your Passions” and “Spiritual Leaders in Society.”

Kyle Aycock has already been working part time in his local church in neighborhood, children’s and youth ministry. He says he used the weekend to reconnect with his calling.

“It was really good to learn from experts, and the small groups were really good,” he said. “And coming here definitely helped me.”

Hope for the future

The Rev. J.D. Walt, vice president of community life and dean of the chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., led the retreat’s worship. He said the number of students attending the event and the fact the Florida Conference is taking a lead on cultivating younger leaders are encouraging.

Worship services offered messages of encouragement and vision casting. Photo by the Rev. Melissa Pisco. Photo #09-1143.

“I think it’s really a great move by the conference,” he said. “It’s great vision on their part, and it’s such a critical investment to try to create a culture of calling.”

Walt said he tried to focus his messages on encouragement and “casting a vision.” He also encouraged older leaders to get behind young adults, especially through campus ministry.

“There is such an opportunity to harness initiative and creativity and just empower an entire generation,” he said. “The church needs to get behind this kind of work, big time, because these are the people who can reignite the movement.”

Smith agrees. “These young men and women give me hope — their enthusiasm, their passion for Christ,” he said. “These are the guys that are going to change the world; they can be part of the movement to bring heaven to Earth.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Downey is a freelance writer based in St. Cloud, Fla.