October 30, 2016

My Problem with Airline Travel

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I don’t like to wait. It’s one of the reasons I find airline travel to be a challenge. To me, few things are more frustrating than checking in, going through security, arriving at the gate only to sit around and wait for an extended period of time. I’m frustrated because I’m ready to go but I have to wait on someone else’s timeline to start my journey.

My work as the coordinator for Next Generation Engagement has allowed me to travel around the denomination and has given me the opportunity to meet a number of young adults in the RCA. I have found that these young people love God and the church, are longing to contribute their gifts to their congregation and the denomination but like me at the airport, they find themselves waiting. In their case, they find themselves being asked to wait for any number of reasons: wait until you’re older, have more experience, have a family or are settled into a career. Whatever the reason, they’re ready for the journey but find themselves in a situation where they’re dependent on someone else’s timeline before being asked to begin.

By now many of us have heard the statistics telling us that young people are walking away from the church and leaving their faith in alarming numbers.  It’s not uncommon to hear older individuals inside and out of the church describing young people as self-absorbed, unable to commit or lacking in motivation. This description however, does not apply to the majority of young adults I’ve met across our denomination. The young individuals I have encountered love God, are eager to share their gifts and are excited to provide leadership to their church. The problem is, they’re being told to wait.

There may be several reasons why young people perceive this to be the dominant message they receive from the church but let me suggest just one. In many of our churches, our current leaders started serving in their roles years after completing traditional life tasks such as getting married, starting a family and settling on a career path. As a result, many young adults in our congregations aren’t considered for leadership roles until they’ve cleared these hurdles even though the context for completing these tasks may have changed dramatically.

The reality of young people leaving our churches should cause us to re-examine how we decide when someone is ready to lead.  Current leaders may have to begin by trying to understand young people’s context rather than starting with criticism or comparing accomplishments when they were the same age. It may mean we give young adults the opportunity to direct us, even though they haven’t completed all the tasks we’ve traditionally tied to leadership. One thing however is clear: we need to rethink how we view the leadership capacity of our young adults because they’re telling us they’re tired of waiting.

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