Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Congregational Level Response To Carol Howard Merritt's "How Decisions Choke The Young"

Two important documents arrived on my electronic devices in the past 12 hours.

The first was Carol Howard Merritt's important piece on institutional decisions of the church and how those decisions affect younger generations.

The second was a new logo design for my congregation from a student at Pacific Lutheran University.

Howard Merritt offers several caveats for leaders to consider regarding the structures which in theory are intended to carve a legacy of passing on the faith. Yet, these decisions and structures may be cutting against the grain of that purpose.

A response to Howard Merritt's challenge will take some creative thinking and action, because many congregations and church structures have explored this medium over the past few decades. In both denominations and congregations, there is a common plea to "get youth involved."

The oft-marketed solution? Have people of younger generations sit at the table of church board rooms. In most circumstances, unless the young person is a serious bureaucracy geek, this action will only do more to alienate young people from the life of faith and the church, in addition the fissures in the church that Howard Merritt names. Though God may be able to redeem our atrophied bureaucracies, a few young bodies at a table will not. This is not to say that creative representation should not occur, but redemption costs more than a token.

Here's what the congregation I serve, St. John's Lutheran Church, is doing at a local level. I don't know if it works. But I do know the token approach does not work. I'm not merely going to hope that things change, but take action to change them.

St. John's is limited in traditional offerings for young people and young families. We don't have a Sunday School. We don't have a youth group. We don't have a young adult group. It's hard to learn that these realities are not deficits to lament, but openings to imagine. St. John's Lutheran Church can offer opportunities. We can offer encouragement. The approach is give local students opportunities to use their gifts in a public setting where they can be encouraged in their craft and loved for who they are (some of this approach was inspired by Carol's book and the work of colleague Bruce Reyes-Chow).

There are many paths to take to design a logo. I looked at different design companies and websites and learned about the design process. In the end, I met a graphic arts student from PLU, and through our conversations I could see that gift usage is paramount to changing the culture that Howard Merritt profiles. The student is designing our new logo, not merely in closed door meetings with me, but in conversation with the congregation. The vision is to offer "create your own internship" opportunities at St. John's where students can be valued for who they are, made in God's image, and given a platform to share their gifts with the world, with a foundation of relationships.

Carol Howard Merritt asks the church some excellent questions. My call to action? "How can we utilize our institutions’ resources in real ways for the support and innovation of the young?" Though the conversation must happen at all levels of the church, at St. John's we are addressing this question with a local approach.

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