Guest commentary by Tanner Pickett
I have felt God’s presence in many places at General Assembly this week: in a historic moderator election, throughout great worship, in conversations with friends both new and old, at the Pride parade, and in the great food. There are clearly signs of God all around.
But for me, the most glaring run-in with God was in a plain room filled with young adults who had gathered to discuss their roles in the church. This gathering was led by Larissa Kwong Abazia, Wilson Kennedy, Angela Williams, Amaury Tañón-Santos and Jerrod Lowry.
They asked two simple questions:
- What are challenges that you face as young adults that inhibit or prevent your from having more of a significant leadership role in the life of the church?
- What opportunities or individuals have helped you to pursue leadership roles in the church?
As soon as the questions were asked, hands shot into the air, waving to be called upon. The church often has stock answers to what it think keeps young adults from our church: we aren’t hip enough; we don’t entertain them enough; or, we aren’t allowing them to participate in communion by Twitter.
None of that was present here. No one bemoaned a lack of trendy praise music in the church, ranted about a desire to wear jeans on Sunday or wished that they had a hipster pastor. Instead, many responses mentioned frustration with not being allowed to take on more leadership roles in their congregations. “There is a challenge of recognizing young adults as leaders. People assume we are too young or don’t have anything to contribute,” one said. They talked also about a lack of education in both the structure of the church and why we believe as we do. Many of them talked about how little they knew about GA prior to this trip.
So in this little room, across from a reception for our newly elected co-moderators, I found the Spirit doing what it does so often: meddling, stirring conversation, inspiring us to question the status quo and inviting us to re-think our assumptions. God is engaging these young adults, meeting them as they sit gathered in circles on the floor or tweeting their favorite responses. Our young adults are ready to get involved, to help shape the future, to use their talents and their energy to make change. They want to be involved, trusted, asked, heard. They want more involvement; in fact, they are nearly begging for it. It seems that the body of the church spends a lot of time guessing what might attract young adults, so much so that it sometimes forgets to actually ask them.
What if the church isn’t dying? What if it is evolving and our young adults are leading the way? Do we have the faith to let them?
Let’s meet them where they are – God does.
TANNER PICKETT serves as the vice president of sales, marketing and communication at the Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. He has just realized that he is no longer considered a young adult according to the Presbyterian Church.