I was asked in a workshop I led recently on young adult spirituality about what kind of program this woman’s church should start up to meet these needs of the coveted young adult group. My answer was not to start any more programs. The problem isn’t a lack of programs; it’s a lack of trust and relationship.
I asked her how many young adults they had asked in person about what they really needed, and not just the handful that might already be in their church. The answer, as I expected was zero. They just assumed to know what the younger people in there are needed. But without spending a dime, they could walk around their local campus, coffee shops or bars and find out.
Would the college students benefit from having free washers and dryers made available to clean their clothes while they enjoyed coffee or some pizza?
Would young families appreciate a night out while volunteers entertained their children?
Are there young people struggling with addiction, body image issues or depression who need someone to listen to them?
Would the land behind the church be better used as a free community garden where the local renters could grow and share their own fresh produce?
Do they need help finding work? Do they have questions about God they’ve struggled with for a long time but have been afraid to ask? Are they wondering where they can meet other singles other than in the bars?
The reason I couldn’t tell her is because I don’t live there. But going beyond our comfort zones, seeking people own in their own environments, asking thoughtful questions about who they are and what they need are only the first steps.
Church, we need to learn to shut up more; we talk too much. Second, we need to be willing to take on whatever burden the person we’re talking to offers up.
I did another talk to a group of church leaders recently about faith and sexuality, and after the event, a young clergyman confessed to me that he was a recovering sex addict. What’s more, his research on the topic had revealed that one in five clergy are either practicing or recovering sex addicts, and that the ministry has the second highest incidence of sexual addiction of any profession, after airline pilots.
“Now you know why there are so many topless bars by the airports,” he smiled. But behind the smile was a deep vulnerability and pain that he dared to overcome in sharing with me. Now the responsibility was mine to honor his openness with compassion, attention and perhaps even action.
After all, how can I leave my work at a simple talk on sexuality when twenty percent of the ministers in America are sex addicts?
My day would have been easier and more pleasant if I hadn’t had to contend with such hard-hitting stuff. But if we people of faith are seeking relevant ministry, we have to go where the pain is.
We’re surrounded by suffering, everywhere we look. Sure, we can drop money in the mission fund plate on Sunday or serve sandwiches at the mission and feel like we’re making some difference, but would Jesus agree that these offerings are enough? Are we called to more, even if we might see, hear and experience things we’d rather not?
Who in their right mind, after all, would choose to hang out with junkies, prostitutes and beggars? Who would voluntarily take on the suffering of the world as their own pain, not content to stop until the world knew – in both word and deed – that there is indeed a grace and a love that hold the world together?
Sounds like dangerous stuff. Maybe we should just start up another program and hope some folks come.
Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.