First Third Conversations

A Faithful Future: A Conversation about the Missional Church and the First Third of Life

by Dr. Terri Elton, Associate Professor Children, Youth and Family Ministry and Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary

Ministry with those in the First Third of Life and thinking about church missionally…two big, complex ideas which have captured the attention of many church leaders these days.  Two days in November gathered such leaders, initiated a particular conversation and revealed possibilities of what an extended dialogue might entail.

What surfaced?

- Thinking about God relationally – what language do we use about God? Does it reflect the God in the biblical story? Do we, humans, have a part in the relationship? What does that mean?

- Inviting people into the God Story – what does this mean for children and youth? What does this mean for congregations? What does this mean for Christians in a pluralistic world?

- Accompaniment and mission questions – how do we authentically come alongside our neighbor – personally and congregationally? Is our mission open or closed? Can we allow our mission to challenge our practices?

- Wondering about how living in a networked world changes things – What’s changed and what stays the same? What openings are there for ministry? What if church isn’t a building, but a way of life in a networked world?

- Being rooted, and engaging in pilgrimages – Are we willing to root ourselves in a community? Are we willing to purposefully expand our view of the world? Can we see the gifts in our midst?

- Discovering Christian identity in a consumer world – have we, Christians, forgotten our God-given identity? What does this mean for young people? What’s God’s economy? How does that compare with society’s economy?

- Faith Formation from the inside out – What might that look like? For young people? For adults? What is a holistic discipleship ministry look like?

These are just some of the ideas that surfaced during the event. As you might imagine, there are more questions to these big ideas than answers. It is my hope that the questions that will not be answered too quickly, for I believe they are worth pondering for awhile. But I hope that, because there are not easy to answer that the questions will not disappear too quickly from our attention either.

And I am hopeful. I am hopeful that this conversation is not over. I am hopeful because:

- One participant used two of the short videos to stir conversation at a recent council retreat.

- Another congregation is bringing these wonderings into various ministry groups within their congregation and inviting further conversation.

- One pastor is thinking about a confirmation retreat on identity.

- Some congregational leaders are reimagining “mission trips” as pilgrimages that come out of a particular community in which they are known and loved.

- This is not the only group talking about these things. The Journal of Lutheran Ethics took up the topic of consumerism and teens in their January issue and is also wondering about identity issues (see

- One participant is still wrestling with his language about God and what that means for ministry in his context.

As you can see, these conversations were not new, but we believe they tapped into stirring that congregational leaders are wrestling with. Yet they were “new” in that some different intersections were created which allowed for people to think about them in new and different ways.

It is our hope that THIS web presence has allowed us to extend the conversation and share what we have heard, while also giving you the opportunity to share what you are hearing and learning.

So, engage these ideas, these questions, these videos – digest them, push back at them, invite others to offer ideas – but more importantly, join us in thinking about how we are called to engage in ministry with those in the first third of life in this missional age!


Terri Elton


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