Letting the Children Lead Us
Isaiah spoke of this moment: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
Do you agree with me that it’s high time we turn the 21st century church over to our youth? The Holy Spirit has shown me a way to do it. Consider joining me.
The Pittsburgh Presbytery has elected me to serve as a Commissioner to the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this June in Detroit, Michigan. I accepted nomination to this office when, through prayer and reflection, God’s will became crystal clear to me on how I am to do the job of leading the church through the office of Commissioner to GA. What I saw was God’s desire that I root myself in a spiritual discipline of watching how the Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs) vote, then voting with them.
There’s a good chance this will not be easy for me but it will be good, very good, to do. Like many, I can stubbornly insist on my way, and I can dismiss young people as inexperienced “children,” too. This is why I see voting with the YAADs as a serious spiritual discipline requiring preparation, community and sacrifice. Otherwise, I am not sure I can do it.
I expect many diligent Presbyterians’ reaction will echo my friend, a wonderful Ruling Elder in a vibrant local church. She was appalled. “But you are supposed to listen for the Holy Spirit in your own soul and then vote,” she said. When I shared this concern with a pastor friend, he paused for a moment then asked, “If you preach from a prepared manuscript, are you any less inspired by the Holy Spirit?” My sense of call to this discipline to vote with the YAADs feels to me as deep and strong as any of the central, pivotal calls of my life. I simply cannot resist this approach to GA.
Certainly, our children will make mistakes—can they be any worse than ours? Of this I am sure: it is past time for us to let our children lead us.
Given that the present median age of Presbyterians is 61, is it as clear to you as it is to me that it is time for us over 60—and even 50—to let go? Sure, we have energy, intelligence, imagination and love to give in serving the church. Never before in all of human history have elders had the health and longevity we have. Yes, churches with a median age of 65 can be robust Christian communities for a good while yet.
But the world we have known and even know right now is not the world of the future. The church of the 20th century which we hold dear is not the church of the here and now, let alone of the future. Look at what we have made of the PCUSA with our continued strife over interpretation of Scripture that began long ago, proceeded through the Biblical treatment of slavery, the Modernist Controversy, the conflicts over Angela Davis and the Vietnam War to our long, divisive tension over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion. It’s time to admit some of our ways have missed the mark.
Peace in the church lies with the inspiration and faithfulness of our youth. Am I aware that our youth are overwhelmingly in favor of the freedom of LGBT people to marry, an important topic coming before us in June? I am (surveys show that even evangelical young people favor same-gender marriage). For me, this means our children can lead this era to a blessed close if we turn the church over to them. Of course, our children face their own temptations toward strife, just not that one.
Voting with the YAADs is what I intend to do as Commissioner in Detroit; here’s how it will work. Every presbytery elects one young person as a YAAD, resulting in 173 ranging in age from late high school students to recent college grads. As Advisory Delegates, they are assigned to a committee where they have voice and vote. However, while they have voice, they only have an advisory vote on the floor of the whole assembly.
Voting is done electronically. Advisors vote first. This includes the YAADs along with other kinds of advisors (theological students, missionaries and ecumenical partners). The count and percentage of the vote for Yea, Nay and Abstain are flashed on the big screen with bar graphs, giving the Commissioners a sense of the advisors’ mind on the motion. After that, the GA Commissioners vote. Discernment in prayer and conversation led to my strong conviction that I am to watch for how the YAADs vote and vote as their majority does.
If you are also a Commissioner, I encourage you to join me from the first vote to the last. If you are not going to GA, you could share this idea with your presbytery Commissioners, asking them to prayerfully consider it. You could also work to turn your session and presbytery over to the youth. Let them lead us.
I ask you to join me in committing to two things starting now. Pray and study about how the young have led the church in the past and what delights can arise from their leadership. If you cannot fully hand over your commissioner vote to following the YAAD majority, then consider voting with them on the measures you feel less passionate about and plan to seek out YAADs for conversation about the choices that are crucial to you. Commit to making an effort to find out what YAADs think. Can you do that?
And share this idea with others serving at GA. I will continue to share my ideas.
We can do it! We can let the children lead us.