Courageously Being a Mission Oriented Community

During the 2016 LCMS Youth Symposium, Dr. David Rueter was recorded as saying, “The single biggest predictor for a student’s connection to the church following confirmation is their connection prior to confirmation” (Reporter, February 2016). The article goes on to affirm the importance of parents in children’s lives. I would like to take this concept one step further and write about the importance of secondary faith influencers (other Christian adults) who all have one mission based outcome.

Mentoring all faithful adults to be secondary faith influencers in the lives of children and youth is the obligation of church leadership. If each church’s leadership does not take seriously the role of every faithful adult as a secondary faith influencer, the odds will be stacked against its having young adults with faith in the next decades.  That church will essentially proclaim death to its existence as a church. However, they could do something about it now while there is still time.

What if churches would think in terms of being a light to the world by changing how they frame their congregations? Would they explode? Explode in a good way? Grow in unanticipated ways? My argument is that the light to the world missional philosophy simplifies the way a congregation thinks and acts. This reframing ups the odds that when our children become young adults, they will have an active faith that engages the world for the sake of Jesus Christ no matter what their occupation.

In 2011, I began informally polling Christian parents of young children. I asked them this: “When your children become young adults, would you like them to look back at Sunday school and Youth Group and say, ’That sure was fun!’ …or… would you like them to look back and say, ’I am now prepared to change the world for the sake of Jesus Christ – and, I had fun getting to this point.’ Every parent l have questioned to date has replied they would prefer the latter. These parents understood that the faith placed in their children during baptism and nurtured through the Word, equipped their kids for good works that would point the world to the crucified and risen Jesus. And…if this is true, and important, what would be a possible snapshot of a church successfully implementing an outcome based missional strategy?

Over the last decade, research has shown that instead of responding in apathy or with fear toward the current cultural trends, many congregations have chosen to give up their “rights” to behaving properly and have taken on a posture of doing what is effective.

What I have coined the Concept of 23, reflects one way a congregation can reframe its thinking and become more effective. Within this construct, much of what is known as church now, does not need to go away, instead it gets transformed into an effective and, quite frankly, missional congregational strategy. The congregation rethinks church and becomes a mission outpost with ONE outcome. Here is how it works.

In the Concept of 23, the number 23 stands for an age. The age a young adult graduates from college ready to “face” the world. The age (according to studies) that a majority of young adults have already exited the church and labeled it irrelevant. But also the age young adults reach where the church can begin to see them as agents of change in the world and prepare them for that role. Everything the church does prior to this age and much of what supportive adults do after this age, prepares the 23 year old for this moment.

In the Concept of 23 philosophy, each church committee, ministry, etc.* chooses to strategically focus on supporting ONE outcome: Every young adult will have an engaging active faith and the skills to act on that faith in the world for the sake of Jesus Christ no matter their occupation.

How might preparing young adults in this strategy look in various sample ministries within the congregation?

Pastor Bob’s congregation gets it. ** They established a prerequisite for their Concept of 23 strategy and selected a country to support in mission. With some research and an outside facilitator, they decided to be a church in mission to Peru. That is, to be hands and feet in partnering with the Word and Sacrament ministry of active missionaries.

The outcome they established was to send as many young adults as possible, trained and equipped, to live in Peru for several years after they graduated from college. The training they established began in the Preschool Sunday School room and around the family devotion table with Pastor Joe, the family minister. Many songs were taught and sung in Spanish. The story of Jesus was shared from a perspective of how often He sent his disciples out. Curriculum was built to encourage families and teachers to explore the Peruvian history, including why the Quechua people distrusted the established church.

Pastor Bob and his staff worked out many formats for training, including very specific training during the youth ministry years. Josie, the youth minister, led servant events into Spanish speaking cultures as an annual experience – creating an ongoing partnership with another community. Her overseas experiences for families with adolescents allowed parents to connect with the larger vision of the mission of Jesus in Peru.  This meant creating additional opportunities for parents to learn about living in another culture – enough to prepare them to release their children when they become young adults. Pastor Bob, thankfully, was happy to help with this training in his messages from the pulpit.

The congregation’s quilting group specifically quilted with a young person in mind. Maria and Tessa hand delivered 4 quilts to a family in Peru this past summer. They took “selfies” and sent them to the quilters so they could see their part in equipping Maria and Tessa for mission.

The various Men’s Groups, from softball to Bible study, became trainers for young people to learn skills from construction to car repair, so when they arrived in Peru they were equipped to make a difference for Jesus sake. This means these men have become key advocates (or fans) of specific youth – cheering them on at concerts or at their sporting events. Each man is rooting for “his” youth and friendly competition between the men is alive (not just rooting for his youth to win one game or one season but to win in running the race of faith).

Edith, one of the home bound mature adults was not forgotten. She was paired up as a vital prayer warrior, praying specifically for Madeline. From early adolescence, as Madeline grew into a young adult, she visited Edith each week and they were able to swap life stories. The work of the church leadership has become that of making intact relationships so each child or youth is constantly covered in prayer.

Pastor Bob regularly speaks about this mission from the pulpit because he knows that his words are necessary for the reshaping of the entire congregational community.  You see, this reframing will require strong courageous leadership.

So, YES! The single biggest predictor for a student’s connection to the church following confirmation is their connection prior to confirmation. AND…the single biggest predictor of a young adult being equipped to be in mission, to have an active faith that does not fear engaging the world for the sake of Jesus Christ, IS the intentional and focused efforts from the leadership of the church toward successfully implementing this ONE outcome strategy.

 Another Conclusion: I am a camp director because I believe groups of children or youth from a congregation, coming to camp together, will return to that congregation more united and open to talking about their faith with secondary adult faith influencers (and parents). I know that families, who sit around a campfire, roast a marshmallow and sing with other families about Jesus, are more likely to have young adult children with faith. My goal in leading Camp Concordia (CC) into the future is for CC to be a strong healthy children’s ministry that supports the work of parents within the Michigan District and the church in raising up the next generation, so that when they are 23 they are more likely to have a faith that engages the world for the sake of Jesus Christ.

*Let’s not get into what the leadership groups are called or should be called, just apply this to what exists.

**Pastor Bob, Pastor Joe, Josie, etc. are all fictitious and used for the purposes of narrative and understanding the Concept of 23, and should not be matched up with one particular congregation. This article represents a combination of church theory, real people and practical examples from across the United States.