By: Stephen Lewis
April 04, 2013
FTE President Stephen Lewis at an FTE Listening Tour stop in Chicago last Fall
When was the last time you turned on your mobile device and saw that all is well and good in the world? Were you satisfied with what you saw? Were you like me and asked how is the church, with other partners, addressing big issues we face as a community, nation and world? Or have you resigned the church to the margins of insignificance when it comes to real challenges or opportunities (depending on how you look at them) in the world?
Millennial Christians are asking hard questions concerning the church’s role in the world. They are interested in discovering ways to connect their faith with the world’s problems as they seek to live a faithful life of service. They are also asking questions about whether or not they have a role in the church and academy, and whether or not Christian communities are places where they can make a real difference in the world.
FTE has always believed that there is a leadership role for young adults in the church. We recognize that leaders of healthy institutions and communities have always invested in, taken seriously and provided leadership opportunities to the next generation. This is why we have sought to acknowledge young adults’ leadership potential when the church has not always done so. We affirm their diverse gifts when others might not. Millennial Christians are the ones who can and will lead the church into its future, teach future Christians, pastors and theological educators and carry on the rich traditions we have inherited. Instead of decline, they will see opportunities. Instead of irrelevance, they will see a church and academy more socially engaged. Instead of death, they will see new possibilities of resurrection and will work collaboratively with others toward a vision of a new heaven and earth within their communities.
Significant shifts over the last two decades within the theological landscape and the broader church impede FTE and other church leaders’ effort to cultivate a new generation. Communities of color and immigrant communities are the fastest growing populations among a shrinking North American church. The church and academy’s leadership is increasingly aging, its membership and enrollment is steadily declining and young adults are not a growing population within aging faith communities.
As FTE prepares to enter into its sixth decade of service on behalf of the church’s mission, we are discerning how best to be responsive to these emerging shifts and trends. We recognize that a faithful response requires that we operate differently than we have in the past. The compelling future that God and young adult Christians call and inspire FTE to work on behalf of shaped its renewed mission and evolving vision to become an innovator in cultivating leaders who foster thriving Christian communities that join God’s work in the world. If FTE is going to live fully into the role as an innovator, it must develop and deepen its practice in five skills:¹
FTE must think and act differently if it seeks to capture the imagination of a new generation of Christian leaders and invite the church and the theological field to experiment with new possibilities and solutions regarding their future leadership needs. This year, we are spending a significant amount of time building relationships and listening to diverse partners. We want to learn what these leaders are doing to cultivate a new generation of leaders for an increasingly diverse church, what their challenges and needs are and how FTE might support and help strengthen their efforts.
Last month, we spent time listening to leaders in Asian-American and Latino/a church communities discuss what they are doing and need to cultivate a new generation of leaders. This month, we will co-host a doctoral consultation in collaboration with the Association of Theological Schools, The Louisville Institute and the Hispanic Theological Initiative for key leaders in theological education committed to developing a new generation of diverse theological educators who will teach and lead future Christian leaders, pastors and educators. We will also spend time listening to national partners of faith-based volunteer programs reflect on their work and what they need to continue accompanying young adults participating in a year of service in vocation discernment. Learnings from these conversations will inform our experimentation and design of a new set of events and programs we will develop this year and launch in 2014.
The world, and the church’s pivotal role in it, has changed. FTE must adapt with the changing times if its vision and mission are to be relevant in today’s cultural landscape and in decades to come. The question now is what story of the church’s future will we work toward and will the next generation have a central role in authoring that story? I hope so. Join us and a growing network of diverse partners committed to inspiring a new generation to consider the call to make a difference in the world through the church and academy and who creates a different story of the church’s future for generations to come.