Speakers challenge Church's witness to young people

4/17/2009

Bishop William Willimon, second from left, discusses young-adult ministry with, from left, Chris Green of Jenks, Matt Caldwell of Tonkawa, Amy Starr of Claremore, and Charles Shelton of Oklahoma City.
Photo by Phil Jones
Bishop William Willimon, second from left, discusses young-adult ministry with, from left, Chris Green of Jenks, Matt Caldwell of Tonkawa, Amy Starr of Claremore, and Charles Shelton of Oklahoma City.

"Christianity is a young person’s sport," declared Bishop William H. Willimon of the North Alabama Conference.

Jesus related extensively with young people, he reminded an audience of 40 Oklahoma clergy and laity at a recent program in Stillwater.

Churches today must do likewise, he emphasized.

Bishop Willimon was one of three denomination leaders at "A Roundtable Symposium on Older Youth and Young Adult Ministry," sponsored by the Wesley Foundation at Oklahoma State University on April 3-4.

Willimon taught how much Christ aligned his ministry with young people:

Jesus had difficult family relationships. Friendship was a singularly important relationship. Jesus called young men away from their family businesses. Everything happened, according to the Gospel of Mark, immediately. Jesus offered his adventurous audience daring change, which today’s young adults eagerly seek.

Willimon challenged, "Do our churches align so well with the young? If we went around the room and told our stories of how we got here, I guarantee many of those stories would be about that time frame (between ages 14 and 25).

"Are our worship services oriented to a single generation, to the neglect of other generations, generations we claim we want to serve?"

Young adults have valuable critique to offer churches and are eager for hands-on, sacrificial service, the bishop said.

"The Church needs what God is doing among young adults. Invite the under-35s to lead. This generation won’t push in. They need to be invited."

The symposium was developed by Michael Bartley, director of the campus ministry at OSU. Joining Willimon as presenters were Fred Edie, assistant professor for the Practice of Christian Ministry and Founder of Duke Youth Academy, and G. Kevin Baker, founding pastor of Reconciliation UMC, Durham, N.C. Oklahoma Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. officially opened the conference.

Dr. Edie discussed the theology of worship, as a zone of formation and transformation in a Christian’s character. He defined liturgy as, literally, the work of the people.

Dr. Baker led the group twice in worship, helping cement the other speakers’ material in ways the participants could use in their churches. Baker serves a multi-lingual congregation in a gang-infested neighborhood. He used the symbol of a raised serpent, based on John 3:14-21, as a vehicle to recognize and name sin. Worship included opportunity for confession and anointment with oil.

(Contributed by Sharon B. Capron, associate pastor at Prague UMC)


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