World Youth Division Heralds New Beginnings

( [email protected] ) Oct 08, 2004 05:29 PM EDT

UMC’s newly formed Division on Ministries with Young People had its first official meeting last week, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, and the leaders gathered have a lot of hope that the ministry will guide the youth back to church.

The Rev. Lillian Smith, who will lead the new department starting Oct. 18 said that this division for the young is sorely needed because the youth are missing from the pews. Smith said, “in many instances, young people are not present, and if they are not present, their gifts are not being used.” She emphatically states, “Their leadership is absent.” Indeed, this is a trend seen in churches throughout the world. “Young and old alike should praise the name of the Lord,” she said, concluding with, “and we have to ensure that the young are there also."

The problem results from the perception that the church is not relevant to them, Smith indicated. This coupled with the fact that there are limited opportunities to get involved effectively makes the church youth-repellent. Though the denomination on a whole offers opportunities to the youth, the ministries are disconnected from each other as well as local churches.

In May 2004, the Methodist General Conference approved the creation of this division on May 1, in a vote won by a landslide, 780 in favor and only 109 opposing, revealing the enormous support within the denomination for this type of attention to the youth.

A proposal from the General Council on Finance and Administration marked the budget of the new ministry at $1.6 million, with $4.73 million coming through other channels, reports UMNS. That makes the total a whopping $6.33 million.

The goals of the division are to empower young people to become disciples of Christ, to change the world, to nurture faith in each other, and to train youth leaders for ministry.

At the heart of this creation is a deep-rooted "desire to transform young people’s lives and empower them to be a living gospel, agents of change and transformation in their families, their communities and their world," said Smith. The division is after all a part of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, which may also explain the overwhelming support for its creation. Who better to evangelize than the future of our species?

So often stigmatized as rebellious or self-absorbed, the youth are instead now being welcomed into ministry. The denomination has taken a great step in reaching out to the youth, whose passion and creativity can be tapped as resources to create God’s Kingdom on earth.

The division will guide Methodist churches to implement strategies to attract youth around the world, who will thus “build up the body of Christ,” Smith said to UMNS.

Currently, 59 members ranging between the ages of 12 and 30 make up the new division, which was deemed global in nature. Several young members from the denomination’s regional units in Europe, Africa and Asia were invited to attend the first meeting.

Malte Wolman of Stuttgart, Germany was interested in learning the different challenges to youth ministry in America and Europe and hoped to gain some wisdom for improving work back home. "I’m here for the opportunity to gather with people from across the world and from the United Methodist Church in America to talk about what is youth work over the world."

The first meeting already concluded the business of selecting co-workers and drafting overall priorities. Vanessa Trejo from San Antonio and Dawson Taylor from Richardson, Texas became co-chairpersons. Afterwards, advocacy, leadership and resource development, communications/marketing, and faith formation were pinpointed as the four major items that required attention.

The youthful leaders had a promising wide vision for the ministry. Co-chair Dawson Taylor said, "Youth and young adults are not only the leaders of tomorrow’s church; we are the leader’s of today’s church as well, so we have to make sure that we are empowering and training that leadership.”

The needs of young people in their many communities, such as school and church are something that the division seeks to address and in fact, were discussed at great lengths during their first meeting.