View from the dock, looking toward the college
I'm here with about fifty pastors, seminarians, and church professionals as part of the Metro Chicago Synod's Professional Leader's conference. For the past few days, the topic of the conference has been on ministry to youth and young adults, with the majority of the discussions and keynotes being presented by Dr. Nathan Frambach of Wartburg Seminary. The information he's given is in fabulous juxtaposition with the serene and joyful atmosphere around us. What I mean is, what we've learned has been rather jarring, to say the least. We have learned through research that churches are on the decline; the age bracket that used to disappear after high school and return to be married and have their children baptized is seeing fewer and fewer people make the return trip; and youth and young adults around the country are saying that they find the Jesus story compelling, but they can't find any need for the church.
With all of these deep, systemic issues in my mind, I went for a run with a few other LSTC students and recent alumni. I've only recently started a regular exercise routine, and as I puffed up and down the hills surrounding the bay, my sides began to cramp, my legs began to go numb, and my will began to falter. When I stated that I wanted to walk for a bit, a friend running alongside me said, between breaths, "When I'm running, I like to paraphrase Ecclesiastes. 'There is a time to run, and there is a time to stop.' This is a time to run." We continued winding through the hills until we returned to the college, it was time to stop. My legs could barely hold me up, my heart was pounding, and I felt great. After running my furthest distance in ten years, I stopped, confident and satisfied.
Around half of the people at this conference are, like myself, young adults. We are a generation compelled by the Jesus story and how it is at work today. The church may be suffering from a cramp in its side, and it may be tired and short of breath, but those of us who are working to bring the Gospel to the world know that this is not a time to stop. This is a time to run, to work together, to build relationships, and to share the Gospel. That is the curriculum we have learned at this conference. As Dr. Frambach said today, "Practicing faith communities are the best curriculum we have." Let's keep running.