Discipleship in an Active Age

Presbyterian Pastor John Vest wonders if we need to rethink what it means to be active in a faith community:

As a downtown church that draws on individuals and families from all around the Chicagoland area, our youth ministry has always faced some interesting challenges. Our youth come from a variety of schools, so creating a sense of community in this context is different from a situation in which all or most of the youth go to the same school. We also focus the majority of our energy on a short window of time on Sunday morning, which we’ve found is our best chance to gather a critical mass of young people. Busy schedules and the difficulties of traveling to and parking near our church make midweek activities almost impossible.

Historically, we have also lost a lot of youth between confirmation in eighth grade and high school. As they move through high school and their lives become more and more complicated, retaining them as “active” members becomes increasingly difficult. We’re getting much better at this, but a quick comparison of our “active” participants against the number of youth in our database reminds us that we have a lot of work yet to do.

But, perhaps we need to think differently about what it means to be an “active” member of a faith community in today’s world, especially for young people.

Recently, I discovered that a student who I pretty much never saw after confirmation faithfully volunteered at our tutoring program every Wednesday night for all four years of high school. He was not an “active” member of our youth ministry, but he was clearly actively involved in the mission and ministry of our church. How many more students like this are there? Or, how many more could there be if we helped youth find alternative ways of engaging?

It’s not just youth, even adults are far too busy these days to be involved in the life a congregation in the ways that people used to be a generation ago.

But then how do you do things like discipleship in such a busy world? Faith formation is something that takes time, even in this crazy age.

People are busy with a lot of things. Where does God and the faith community fit in?


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