Finding Forward

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When you were growing up who invested in you? I can think of many adults — coaches, teachers, neighbors — but, the strongest folks who come to mind had some connection with the church. In today’s article, Nancy Lee Gauche considers what these sorts of investments mean for children and youth. And, given their impact, Nancy Lee wonders how we adults might take up the call anew.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders

Finding Forward

Pastor Nancy Lee Gauche

In January, I gathered together with 900 ministry people who attended the Extravaganza in Houston, Texas. The Extravaganza is an event sponsored by the ELCA Youth Ministry Network which seeks to provide opportunities for spiritual renewal, continuing education, and networking for adults who work with children, youth, and families in congregations.

There was a lot of energy in that gathering around the theme “Finding Forward.” Many of the young people attending the conference are serving in ministry today because someone, somewhere, sometime invested in them around their own faith formation. Investment and stewardship seem to go together. 

I read this intriguing Op-Ed in the New York Times last June, “Giving Away Your Billion,” that challenges one to think about the question: “What would I do if I had a billion bucks to use for good?” 

This challenge pushes us to think about what we truly believe is worth our investment. Whether it is around disease, despair, misfortune, faith, privilege or lack of agency, or young people…wherever our passions lie, what would we invest or steward to change this world for the good? 

David Brooks, the author, describes his vision around that question. As I read it, ironically it resembled the work I’ve done in youth ministry as a pastor. How Brooks would spend his billions is to create/seed 25-person collectives around the country in order to reweave the social fabric. He writes: “People in disorganized neighborhoods need to grow up enmeshed in the loving relationships that will help them rise. The elites need to be reintegrated with the less elite. Only loving relationships transform lives, and such relationships can be formed only in small groups.”

Brooks describes a collective as “a group of people who met once a week to share and discuss life. Members of these chosen families would go on retreats and celebrate life events together. There would be ‘clearness committees’ for members facing key decisions.”

He went on to describe that one of his collectives would invest in poor kids between 16-22 years old helping them transition from high school to college. Another collective would be for adults 23-26. The idea would be to bring people across social lines together with hosts and mentors, so that they could find a purpose and a path.

The collectives would be marked by deep relationships; practicing the habit of performing small tasks of service and self-control for one another; reflective readings to help members come up with their own life philosophies and to help them master the intellectual virtues required for public debate; and discussion around fundamental issues of life’s purpose.

All of this sounded pretty familiar to me. Hopefully to you as well. What happens most weeks in myriads of faith communities around our country in churches invested with young people? Basically, ministry leaders are facilitating the building of deep relationships; practicing spiritual disciplines that support and require loving one’s neighbor; studying the Scriptures; and discussion around life’s purpose for being on this earth. I had that experience as a young person. I had a congregation of investors. I hope you do too. 

Yes, Children, Youth & Family is my field, my bias, and my passion. But it is also the way we can “find forward.” If you haven’t had an opportunity to lead a collective of young people yet in your lifetime…now is the time. Make that investment. In Life Reimagined, Barbara Bradley Hagerty mentions that the best role models for people over forty are people under eighteen. Now that’s a thought!

Back to the Extravaganza. Every faith community represented at the Extravaganza by a pastor/youth director/faith formation person or children’s ministry director is majorly investing in collectives of young people across this country. They need us to back their investments more than ever before. Pouring our hearts, hands, heads, and souls into young people will never go without a payoff whether through our churches, schools, non-profits, or communities. Let’s “find forward” by making an investment in a young person’s life today. Best adventure ever!

For More Information

Nancy Lee Gauche is a pastor, leader, and teacher/learner who gets a kick out of developing leaders and equipping people for public Christian ministry. The Children, Youth & Family niche at Luther Seminary in St Paul, MN creates connective synergy for Nancy Lee  to invest in the “first third” of life as she spills  into her “last third.” Nancy Lee is also working with Dr. Andy Root as project admin for the John Templeton Grant Science for Youth Ministry

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. Click here for more information.

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