I see a major shift in how my students see church and it isn’t in musical styles or starting little anti-church gatherings in homes. Those kind of “revolutions” might be the talk of aging and burned out boomers like George Barna but not my students. The revolution they seek has more to do with Bono than Barna. It is to make a serving church.
Let me tell what got me writing about this. This week I finished up the “administration” unit in my church leadership course. Teaching church administration to 22-year-olds can be difficult. Many hope to “just minister” to people by “hanging around and relating to them” as they practice an “incarnational lifestyle.” They see little value in paper work or budgeting, planning, organizing or checking out things like zoning codes. To help these students see the value of administration I require them to conceive and write up a complete Church Planting Proposal to be presented to a district. My theory is they’ll come to see that even the wonderfully romantic idea of church planting takes more than “hanging around with people” but also requires hard planning and administration. It has been an excellent project to illustrate the importance of lining up the administrative ducks before “doing my dream.”
This weekend I am reading seven church planting proposals from seven different groups, each of whom worked independently. They are exciting! One thing I’ll say about ministerial students these days—they are anything but lazy. In the last two weeks they’ve toured the city with realtors, got rental rates for movie theaters, met with zoning officials, checked out food handling regulations among a hundred other things like developing mission statements, strategic planning documents and producing comprehensive three-year budgets. They did all this with no guidance whatsoever from me—it is pure “Problem Based Learning.” They had to find out from real people what a “church planting proposal” might include.
The reason I mention this is because of what happened this week. All seven proposals are identical in the kind of church they want to plant—a serving church. These seven groups working independently all came up with similar plans for a “unique” church—one built on serving the people in their town. They had special spins, of course: one focused on single mothers, another on the hungry, or unemployed or on mobilizing Christian young adults for service, but they all claimed their church plant would be different from other churches because they would focus on serving others outside the church, not on serving each other inside the church.
They were even willing to match their budget to their rhetoric—one even designated 30% of all church income as “pass through” money for the needy. Not one group budgeted for a full-time salary for the minister, assuming they’d serve as bi-vocational ministers for several years while they funneled money to needy people rather than into their own pockets. In the ideal situation (which is what a church planting plan often reveals) all of these students saw the church primarily focused on serving others outside the church more than serving those inside it.
Is this a sign? Sure, this is anecdotal research, but I’ve seen a similar thing every semester for about four years. But it was unanimous this semester. These students want to pastor a “Church for others”—a church that is a conduit to the world. Their ideal church had less to do with guitars and drums and snappy worship styles as with food pantries, pregnancy centers and job training. It was as if they all wanted to plant a Salvation Army Corps.
So, that is my question: Is this an indicator of anything for our future? How will this generation affect the church? They graduate in about six months. Some will go to seminary, but many will be working beside you next year. What will they face when they take these values into the church? Will they change the church or will the church change them?
copyright, Keith Drury (www.drurywriting.com/keith)
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.