Young Adults on Council!?

One phenomenon that Pivot NW has been watching closely across the last few years is 20-somethings joining the church council.

Out of the 20 or so churches that we've worked with, the number of 20-somethings in the highest leadership positions of the church could probably be counted on one hand. Does your church have anyone in their 20's on the council giving shape to your policies and ministry priorities?

If not, why do you think that is? Is there a reason? Here are some answers that are not beyond the realm of imagination:
  • Young adults are too busy starting their lives and don't have time for council, unlike us older people and folks with young families.
  • Young adults are too transient and don't stay at one church long enough to see through the commitments they make.
  • Young adults don't yet have the wisdom, maturity, or leadership experience to serve on a council governing the whole church.
  • If young adults were here and a more significant part of the population, they would nominate and vote in folks from their age cohort to help run the church.

What statements have you heard during your church experience? Or, what unspoken expectations do you understand to be part of the cultural narrative in your place of worship?

In the Fall of 2020, we invited Leroy Barber to come speak at the Fall Summit we host for our churches. He challenged us to ditch a theology of young adult "leadership formation" for a theology of "leadership identification." Simply put, instead of assuming that young adults need to be tamed, conformed, and wrangled into leadership (a common view among church leaders), allow them to come as their full, contextualized selves. Barber gave examples of recruiting leaders from the church's neighborhood who are trying to serve outside the church. The idea is this, who better to know what young adults need than young adults? And who better to see where culture is going and how it may be resisted or assimilated than young adults? Also, to refute a few of the points above:
  • Older adults with their children and careers don't have the time or passion to lead churches effectively. It is best left to young adults.
  • Because young adults are often moving, changing jobs and churches, working in the service industry or front office capacities, who better to know where the church is needed to create more shalom?
  • Young adults are no more prone to heresy, financial mismanagement, or exhibiting un-Christlike behavior than older adults.
  • There may be a correlation behind young adults not having a voice in the church and not wanting to be at the church. A conservative criticism is that this a chicken and egg issue. A harsher criticism might be that young adults have a hard time feeling connected to a church that can't include young adults in decision making or allow them real influence.

Scripture is full of called and anointed young people who become paragons of faithfulness. Ironically, many churches may point to these examples in their education as models to which young people should aspire, but they don't necessarily give young adults a chance to become them. We've observed that when young adults are called into ministry, they take their roles very seriously and see their calling as shepherding the entire church, not just the young adult portion. In a sense, this seems to resist the modern church's problems with silo-ing, while also allowing young adults to see themselves as more fully membered to the church.

*For one of our churches, "membered" is an intentional word used to describe someone who is in a membership relationship with their church. We borrow that term with gratitude for the fantastic imagery it calls forth.

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