First Third Conversations

Rally Sunday

Pew ParadeA blog post by Terri Elton

This weekend I sat behind a grandpa and his preschool granddaughter in worship. It was sweet to watch him guide her and explain the various parts of worship. At one point in worship small group leaders of children, youth, and adult ministry were invited up front, and we prayed for and commissioned them as they, like the grandpa, talk about what it means to be a person of faith today. Sitting with me in my row was a woman, another mom, whom I'd co-led small groups with for almost ten years. Just prior to worship we'd been "catching up" on where our young women, now in their 20s, are today. It was an ordinary September worship.

And I'm guessing my experience was not all that unusual. I know this weekend thousands of congregations around the country of various denominations engaged in a similar ritual, had similar conversations, and witnessed similar encounters between children and adults. So why mention it? Why take note of these ordinary moments? Because they matter. They matter in the short-term, and they matter in the long-term. Let me explain.

What I didn't mention were the days previous. This week one of "my girls," a girl who'd been in my small group from preschool through confirmation, had a baby. I'd had the privilege of being a constant adult in her life all those years, and now today I was wondering about her little boy. Living in another state, far from this congregation, would this little one have a community of faith in which to grow up?

Of all those years leading small groups, "my kids" or the young people I'd journeyed with, were few in number. Each year as they moved up a grade, so did I. And, in the midst of hundreds of kids in the program, these young people became mine. And they will always have a place in my heart. I hope and pray that the journey we shared mattered, not only relationally but also regarding their faith in God. Perhaps somewhere along the way the seeds of the Christian faith took root.

But this week I also spent a day with other children, youth, and family ministry leaders. The day was filled with stories about the joys and challenges of accompanying children and youth in their faith journey. In their stories I was reminded again of what we all know -- this ministry with children and youth is hard, but it is also sacred and meaningful.

I'm not sure where you are today. Maybe you are struggling to find School School teachers. Maybe you are lamenting because confirmation student numbers are down. Maybe you are fired up for the new year ahead, or maybe you are tired and overwhelmed. No matter where you are, what your ministry with children, youth, and their families looks like, and/or how you are feeling about the coming year, this work, this ministry, matters.

And yes, we hope students and adults will learn something about God's story this year. And yes, we hope parents and families will join the congregation in practices of faith. And yes, we hope adults and young people of all generations will surround these young people. But more than all this, I hope your year will be ordinary -- filled with all kinds of ordinary moments where God's people simply share life together, show up regularly in the same space, and engage in basic Christian practices. Because ordinary goes a long way in ministry.

This year we, those of us who work with Children, Youth, and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, want to be with you in these ordinary moments. So each week our staff, faculty, students, and alumni are going to share about the challenges they are facing, ideas capturing their imagination, and experiments they are trying. Not because we have it all figured out, but because we believe God's up to something in our midst. Won't you join us? Won't you believe with us? Because ministry with young people matters, and each week little babies are born and we are called to share the faith with them.

Terri EltonAuthor Bio:
Terri is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really!  She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change. She also serves as Director of the Center for First Third Ministry and hopes to help ministry leaders create environments that cultivate a faith that matters. Growing up in southern California, Terri discovered her love for the city, cultural diversity and the beach. You can usually find Terri running or biking the streets of Minneapolis/St. Paul, or wherever she happens to be. When not moving, she's watching a movie with her husband or traveling with her two young adult daughters.

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