As someone who has been working with young adults in ministry for a bit, I keep my eye out for pieces that deal with millenials and twenty-somethings more broadly. So I thought I would take a look at this piece on “20 Tips to Make the Most of Your Twenties” on huffingtonpost.com. Now that I have read it though, it seems to have some advice not only for those in their twenties but for those of all ages. More than that though – I think it has some lessons for churches too. The first ten are below with the next ten to follow in a subsequent post.
Here are the lessons and some ways they might apply to churches:
- Don’t be afraid to jump at an opportunity: I firmly believe that more churches have failed because they have failed to innovate and imagine than have failed because they took one risk too many. Would you rather have Our Lady asking you about the risks you took to share the Good News of her Son or the times you thought, “Well, that’s just too risky.”? Fear is crippling our churches as we try to insulate ourselves against cultural currents and trends – now is not the time for false security – it is the time for holy boldness.
- Don’t waste time on a job you hate: Churches are called to difficult work not damaging work. If the task isn’t life giving to the community then consider giving it up for a time. No volunteers for coffee hour? Go to a diner with parishioners. Do you feel like you are offering an appendectomy when you recruit acolytes? Simplify the liturgy and grow the garden guild. Hate meetings? Have fewer. We are not called to kill ourselves in ministry – we are to be living sacrifices. Find things that give your community life and lean into them – make them the heart of your sacrificial work and stop trying to force the issue where it is life-draining.
- Stop Complaining: The priests I had when I was a kid had a point – Jesus had it worse. Our parishioners have it worse than we do too. They work full time and then throw themselves into ministries all around the parish. It is easy (not to mention tempting and emotionally gratifying) to complain and yet we are called to something else – a people shaped by the cross are called to carry it like Simon of Cyrene – with a sense of purposeful servanthood. We all have our burdens to carry and barriers to jump over, save them for your best friends, therapists, and maybe spouses.
- Pick up the phone and make a cold call: Where are we being called to fresh evangelism? All of us are being called to some new place to share the Good News. If we can make room for the still small voice to reach us, we can hear where it is that we are being called to new forms of ministry. Perhaps it is the local nursing home, pub, gym – maybe it is further afield to a country we visited or a city we know is in need – we are being called to cold call for God and surprise others with Good News. This doesn’t mean badgering unsuspecting passersby – it means offering word of God’s love in new ways that open the doubting or hurting to hear the comfortable words of our Savior.
- Write down your non-negotiables: Where are your lines as a community – not the lines that proscribe others from being part of your community but those lines that give shape and dimension to your community? This can be a broad statement of belief or a more narrowed statement of mission and doctrine that offers direction and vision. Each true community must have clear claims that it makes on the conscience and core values of its members. This doesn’t mean that we adjudicate belief or dictate values but that we offer a clear framework for our members to understand their Christian journey. We have Scripture, Tradition, and Reason to start with – they give us a way to begin to shape our members’ search for patterns and meaning. What does it mean to belong? This has to be more than simple affirmation – identity requires sacrifice and true communities are clear about their non-negotiables.
- Follow through: Set goals and meet them. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by email, calendars, or more that distract you from the core of Christian ministry – the care and tending of the flock. It is easy to think that there are more pressing concerns – there aren’t. People won’t remember your best sermons, your wittiest riposte, or your longest day in the office – they will remember if you said you would follow up and you don’t. This applies to churches more broadly – when we commit to something we need to provide for it to be carried through.
- Be revolutionary: Churches are inherently conservative – they hold on to elements of our tradition. This is a noble and worthwhile vocation. Yet that impulse must be paired with holy boldness. Once you have your non-negotiables set you can then figure out how to carry them out in a revolutionary way. Across our history, there are churches that used revolutionary means to share the Gospel – and then there are those churches that fail. There aren’t many in between – look at your church’s history – I’ll bet that at some point it was part of a revolutionary movement, an experiment, a risk worth taking. Hold onto that tradition of progress.
- Do the thing you are afraid of: No apostle, martyr, or saint got there by not facing their fears. The definition of sainthood is, perhaps, to face down one’s fears on behalf of Christ. We are constantly called to new forms of service by Christ across the Gospels. But, perhaps, the greatest fear we face is that we can actually do it – Jesus asks the lame man at the pool, “Do you wish to be healed?” So many of us are afraid to be healed because we know what lame looks like – healed looks too new and too frightening. Give the answer, face the fear, be healed.
- Be willing to embarrass yourself: Part of the work of Christian ministry is to be a little foolish, a little rude, a little over the top. The greatest tool the Devil has is comfort. It is for the sake of comfort that we do not risk sharing the Good News, opening ourselves, or confronting injustice. How many times have we not done what is right for the sake of not causing or risking embarrassment? This might be the heart of sin – we are afraid to look weak, stupid, poor, or out-of-the-mainstream so we sit on our hands and smile pleasantly as we hope that others will embarrass themselves. Where do we see Christ not risk embarrassment?
- Accept failure: There are churches across Christendom, over the centuries, that have failed. Is yours about to fail – then seek the new life being offered. Is your ministry seeming to totter? Know that the apostles died in the service of Christ – their ministries failed as it were. Failure is not the mark of a dying community or minister but of one that is risking. Balance, equilibrium, and stasis are the marks of impending death not life – risk failure so that you can know true life. Those organizations that are the healthiest are those that risk failure, repeatedly, and embrace its lessons so that they can grow, adapt, and thrive.to be continued with the next ten… Robert