Like other young seminarians, I was often asked: "So, do you want to be a youth pastor?" Many well-meaning people assume that pastors in their 20s hope to work with youth. I did not. But for various serendipitous reasons, I found myself leading a ministry I had never considered.
"The Project F-M" ("F-M" for neighboring Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn.) focuses on emerging adults not currently connected to any faith community. Though I thrived in my call as mission developer in this ministry for folks in their 20s and 30s, I also found the learning curve enormous. We faced dozens of issues I hadn't seriously considered in seminary or in my previous call as pastor of a rural congregation. We wondered: how do we build a governing structure from scratch; how do we nurture community while not owning or renting a building; how do we fundraise without any members? And those were the easy questions.
After several tough months of fits and starts, we eventually found our stride and could claim more successes than failures. When I accepted a new call, I knew the ministry was in a good place for a smooth transition.
It will take me years to reflect on my time with the young adults, but here are 10 lessons fresh from the mission field.
• Authenticity. It's almost cliché these days, but it's true nevertheless: young adults can spot a poser quicker than it takes to download a song from iTunes. For successful ministry with young adults one must, simply, be oneself. Don't pretend to be anyone else.
My efforts in leadership always went the furthest when I embraced who God made me to be: inquisitive, personable and slightly awkward.
• Conversation is authority, not dogma. I heard it first from emergent church author Brian McLaren, but it was true before I had words to claim it. In our ministry, twenty- to thirty-somethings were searching for a place for conversation, a place to try out their truth claims and discover others through dialogue.
If they wanted to know what Lutherans officially believed, they were capable of Googling ELCA policy. If they sought a dogmatic community, they could easily find a congregation that would list what they should believe. The Project F-M provides young adults a space for conversation, a community in which to dialogue, debate and, eventually, to join.
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