December 15 marked my six month anniversary as Director of Youth Discipleship at FUMC Hurst. I’ve had the most amazing time getting to know you and your students. My family felt welcome immediately by clergy, staff, congregation and even the students. Over these months, I’ve discovered that I am privileged to hold this role … in this church … in this time. We find ourselves in a strange time. Nothing is as it should be. That is true in the church as a whole and especially true in youth ministry.
As people get more comfortable with me, I’m often asked when youth will return to normal. The quick answer to that is never. People wonder where our youth are and why the program isn’t larger. While it is easy to point to the pandemic, that is not the case. The pandemic only accelerated the changes that were already happening across a new generation of church-goers. The church has been slow to respond to the needs of this new generation. I am not talking specifically about FUMC Hurst, or even the United Methodist Church. I’m talking about an entire generation of would-be church-goers who haven’t yet found their normal.
I need to preface this with the fact that I am not asking you to give up on your dream of the “glory days” here at FUMC Hurst where you had youth busting out of the seams. I’m simply asking you to acknowledge that this is a new time and a new people who face new challenges and need a new normal.
What I love about that statement is all the “new” things. I’m all about new things. I LOVE new things. I acknowledge that our God is about new things. Isaiah’s prophecy is the most quoted Old Testament prophecy in the New Testament. It’s about new things. Take a look at the Christmas story: a baby born to a virgin – a new thing. Elizabeth becoming pregnant in old age – a new thing. John the Baptist preparing the way – a new thing. Angels, wise men, prophecies – all new things. There’s many more examples to be mentioned. The whole season of Advent is about looking towards a new thing.
I embrace the challenge of new things and I don’t believe the comfort we feel from normalness models God’s intention for us. I’ve always felt that we as Christians have to be a little uncomfortable. We need to be taking steps towards new things – things that bring momentary discomfort to us but glory to the Kingdom of God.
Being new here, I can only bring new things. In our six months together, we’ve been really busy. I arrived in the season of VBS, where I was really impressed with our pandemic approach to VBS – it was a new thing! I was privileged to meet most of my students and parents at VBS, where there is a strong tradition of youth showing up to serve.
Over the summer we took a trip to Arlington to see the Texas Rangers play. This event brought out more new students. We also transitioned to small groups as our model of discipleship and this too brought new students. Our students quickly picked up the concept with so much joy! Sunday school classes grew and became strong in early autumn. In fact, Sunday school often brings more students than Sunday evenings, which is unique to FUMC Hurst and also is a new thing and should be celebrated.
Our youth helped serve hotdogs to essentially the entire community at our Halloween drive through, which was a new thing that also brought new students. We brought back praise and worship around that time – also a new thing that brought new students. Our worship person, Levi was brought in to pick up praise band and lead us to an eventual youth choir – new things! There was a lot of apprehension to the new approach to praise band from some students and parents and there still is. The praise band did not go back to “normal” as many people had hoped but it was never my intention to return to that normal. I am about new things and the new approach brought new students, some of which did not feel they had a place before but have since found their new normal.
Our new approach to praise band lead us to leading worship for the Defiantly Joyful Christmas program. Leading worship was a huge step in the right direction and was a new thing for many of the students involved. Defiantly Joyful was also a step towards intergenerational partnerships in the church – a new thing! Shortly thereafter we completed our annual youth shopping spree mission where we served 53 children across three schools.
I have also been hard at work to partner with churches in our district. I’m proud to have joined the newly formed East District Council on Youth Ministries this fall and was joined by our youth delegate, Chloe. Together, we are helping East DCYM in their mission to improve and equip youth ministries in our district. We are writing curriculum for summer mission trips, planning district-wide events and creating partnerships with our UMC neighbors. In fact, we have secured a district-wide event right here at FUMC Hurst in March 2022.
I hope this update on youth ministry might serve as an encouragement to embrace the new things that are happening in our church. Our God has proven to be about new things and even though it is sometimes uncomfortable or nontraditional, I think we should be too. I pray that Christmas and the New Year bring new things to you and your family and I hope that you might join me in 2022 in embracing change and progress.