I spent most of last week in Sydney at the National Young Adult Leaders Conference. The delegates were a really impressive group of people – passionate about the church and mission, engaged in innovative forms of witness and service in their own communities and networks, inter-culturally confident. The week left me wondering what the church will be like by the time they get to lead it. (They ‘re leaders already, of course, but I mean when their parents’ generation is no longer dominant – and they’re sharing their own vision and their own decades of experience with a new generation of young adults that might include their own children.)
The thing is, the week at NYALC 2013 reinforced for me the reality that the church that my generation is getting to lead is very different from the one we grew up in. It’s better in a lot of ways (if that’s the right word) even though we’re facing capacity challenges that were hard to imagine then. Or, at least, it suits my generation better than the church of our parents – not perfectly, but better. Bit by bit our particular passions and vision have shaped the habits and forms of the UCA as we’ve gradually gained opportunities to lead.
I’ve tried to think of some of the ways in which the church today is different from the one I knew in the late seventies and eighties. Here are a few observations off the top of my head.
• I think the UCA is generally more flexible – e.g. about regulations, ministry, worship, forms of church life.
• I think there’s less differentiation between clergy and laity, especially in leadership opportunities.
• The visibility and sense of partnership with the Indigenous members of the UCA is much stronger than I remember.
• While there’s a lot of lost ground to be made up, the partnership between women and men is more obvious (which is why the dominance of men in key leadership positions is so striking and problematic).
• We’ve begun to be transformed by the contribution and leadership of members and communities from Asia, the Pacific, Africa and other non-European cultures – a foretaste of the vision of Revelation 7:9.
• I think the mainstreaming of the charismatic renewal has eventually led to a church that is more open to the Spirit and more inclined to actively seek the Spirit’s guidance and strength.
That’s enough. Just some personal observations. Others may see it differently. It doesn’t really matter. I’ve only been thinking about it as an exercise to try to imagine how the church might be different – better, in a lot of ways – by the time those young adults get to lead it.
It’ll be a church that suits them better than the one that suits me pretty well now. And I’m thinking about it now because there will be things that we should be doing now to help the UCA move in that direction – even if it costs us a little of this long awaited “suitability”.
So this is my question: What will the church be like when today’s young adults get to lead it?