By: Alan Combs
July 03, 2013
In many ecclesial communities the concern for developing young leaders emerges primarily out of institutional anxiety about survival. The weakness in asking and answering questions about young leaders from such a perspective is that it leaves out the most important person in the conversation: the young person! When we think this way, we forget that young folks are constitutive members of our communities right this very moment. We make the mistake of assuming that we have ownership of our communities of faith, and we develop young leaders as people who will eventually inherit our possession.
“What if instead we considered our young folks from the perspective that God is moving in their lives at this very moment?”
What if instead we considered our young folks from the perspective that God is moving in their lives at this very moment? What if young leadership emerged out of the reality that God is calling out to them, trying to help them to connect their God-given passions with the needs of the world? To do this, the process has to take a different shape. It requires direct engagement with young folks, in order to help them to hear God’s voice and discern how God is calling them to share their gifts with the world. Essentially, we need more Elis and Naomis.
In relationships like Eli and Samuel and Naomi and Ruth we find in Scripture a model of who we are called to be as a community of faith. We promise to be a community where older disciples help younger disciples pay attention to and hear God’s call in their lives. No matter our age, we can attest to the importance of having older disciples mentor us, and we can even tell stories where younger disciples actually provide mentoring to older disciples. It is Eli who helps Samuel recognize God’s call and to respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:8-9). It is their depth of relationship that moves Ruth to declare to Naomi, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:15).
Relationships like these birth holy conversations, means of grace that help younger disciples to discern their gifts and calling, including a call to leadership. These communities become the holy laboratories where young leaders have the opportunity to try, grow, and even to make mistakes as they develop as disciples and as leaders. This seems to be the power of VocationCARE, a set practices developed by the Fund for Theological Education and available at www.fteleaders.org. They are one of many contextually specific ways that congregations can create the important space necessary to allow Eli/Samuel and Ruth/Naomi kinds of conversations to unfold.
In that space, participants are able to immerse themselves in story. They are encouraged to hear and author their story, and then reflect on how that story connects the story of what God is doing in their lives to God’s activity in the world. It helps them to hear God’s voice calling out to them to share their passions and gifts with a world that is in deep need of Good News. As they enter into this discern they can be accompanied by Elis and Naomis who are also continuing to discern in their own lives how their stories are connected to God’s story!