Baptists Together and Young Adults
How are we working strategically to release young adults into missional ministry within the Baptist family? Carl Smethurst, author of last year’s Baptists Together Young Adults report, shares progress so far
Hearing the voice of young adults is something that would be almost universally deemed desirable, if not essential, amongst our family of churches. There are some inspirational examples of this happening within Baptists Together on a local level but all too often the voices that are heard on a national level have rarely included those of younger generations until recently.
In 2018 the Baptist Union Council identified a focus on this generation as a key priority area. The national Baptists Together Mission Forum also recognised the importance of hearing the voices of young adults as they discussed how we might engage with and release this generation in to missional ministry within the Baptist family. They commissioned a piece of research which would seek to engage with younger adults and those who have experience in releasing 18-35 year olds in missional ministry across the UK and beyond. Practitioners from all 13 Baptist Associations plus representatives from BMS World Mission and the Evangelical Alliance gathered in December 2018 for 24 hours with the following objectives:
To hear stories about how each practitioner has engaged with young adults and supported/trained/released them in to missional ministry.
To record these stories noting any particular elements/themes that might be common to all.
To consider what, if anything, God might be saying about how we should develop this area of our lives together as a national family of churches.
All of the above to be conducted with an openness to the Spirit of God speaking and leading the conversations.
This was an excellent gathering! There was both a desire to learn from each other’s experiences and to hear the voice of God speaking and leading the conversations. Whilst it was apparent that those gathered worked across a range of settings from the local church to mission agencies to specific charitable projects, there were a number of discernible themes that were present in many of the stories shared. Further discussion as a group identified the following common themes as present in the majority of examples of engaging with, empowering and releasing younger adults for mission:
Creating Authentic Community
Appointing Young Adults to Leadership Roles
Encouraging Creativity and Self-Expression
Creating Leadership Pathways
More on each of these can be found in the full version of the report which can be read and downloaded at www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/550265/Young_adults_and.aspx
The group then spent time prayerfully considering what God might be wanting to communicate to our national Baptist family of churches, Associations, Specialist Teams and Colleges. The outcome was a number of recommendations that the group felt God was challenging us to consider and implement across Baptists Together. The following three recommendations were prioritised as those which received greatest consensus, but all are recorded in the full version of the report.
Since the Young Adults Report was published in June 2019, it is encouraging to hear that the following recommendations are beginning to be considered across the Baptist family. There are some promising initial signs of how they are being implemented in churches, Associations, National Specialist Teams and Colleges, some examples of which are given in the following.
RECOMMENDATION ONE : Create leadership pathways for Young Adults within our family of churches.
Of significant note was the number of instances where practitioners have successfully accessed Internship or Apprenticeship programmes to empower and release young adults in God’s mission. There was a broad consensus that as a Baptist family we should be able to offer opportunities for short-medium term immersive experiences for young adults in missional contexts. Some practitioners pointed to successful programmes run by other denominations that young adults in Baptist churches were being encouraged to enrol on and which inevitably led them into leadership positions outside of the Baptist family. There was broad agreement amongst practitioners that a Kingdom viewpoint rejoices that these younger adults are continuing to grow in faith, no matter what family of churches they become leaders in. However, some regret was expressed that there are very few options open to this generation in Baptist churches of Internship programmes that might lead to them exercising their leadership gifts within our family of churches in the longer term, especially when other networks of churches appear to provide more open and obvious leadership pathways to follow.
There are already some internship programmes aimed at young adults available within the Baptist family, most notably the North West Baptist Association’s Disciple programme and BMS World Mission’s Action Teams which have begun to operate in a UK context as well as overseas in recent years. In the last 12 months the London Baptist Association has launched an internship scheme and the South West Baptist Association is now receiving applications for its new year-long INVEST trainee programme. There are a number of larger Baptist churches who are able to run their own programmes but these regional schemes mean young adults can also learn in excellent but smaller missional contexts. Costs vary but all attempt to make their programmes accessible to all, normally with bursaries given by regional Associations or other Trust funds.
Moving forwards, further work is being undertaken to discover what internship schemes are being used across Baptists Together and consideration is being given as to whether we might be able to bring those enrolled on these programmes together for networking and learning which would be recognised by our national Ministries Team. A work group commissioned by the BU Council is currently considering how we might fund training in the future and this may also include support for those entering internship schemes recognised by Baptists Together.
Leadership mentoring from local church, regional and national leaders
It was noted that although some Baptist churches are extremely strong in this area, it is not the norm for mentoring to be modelled within our family of churches. The group felt this needed to be addressed urgently if we were to encourage young adults in authentic discipleship and release leadership gifting in them. Examples were given of successful mentoring of young adults at local church but also regional and national levels. This gave opportunity and visible profile to young adults in all these spheres which encouraged greater engagement of others of the same generation in a movement where leadership for young adults wasn’t just spoken about but actively modelled and promoted. Desired culture change in this area would lead to it becoming abnormal practice for a local church Minister, Pioneer, Youth Specialist, Regional Minister, National Specialist Team Leader, General Secretary, President to not be mentoring someone.
We have some way to go on this recommendation but a number of those serving in our national and regional ministry teams are now actively mentoring younger adults and there are some excellent, while not yet widespread, examples of this happening in local church settings.
Recognise and commend those who have been through these pathways to our family of churches.
Recognition of those who have completed internship schemes by Baptists Together also creates a strong sense of belonging within our national family. It is hoped that some of those completing these programmes may choose to go through our established ministerial recognition, formation and academic training programmes. There are, however, already examples of young adults serving our churches in a wide variety of ministries who may not have engaged with these processes. In a climate where there are insufficient numbers of ministers available for our national family of churches and the traditional model of pastor/teacher ministry is being expanded, creating a nationally recognised, accessible leadership pathway for young adults would not only release a new generation to multiple leadership roles (i.e. evangelists, children's team leaders, administrators, worship leaders, small group disciple-makers, social action pioneers, missionaries - overseas and UK) but also greater enable the resourcing of our churches with those prepared for ministry in its broadest sense.
RECOMMENDATION TWO : Create a national culture/identity for Young Adults within Baptists Together.
Some of the practitioners highlighted how other Christian organisations and denominations have worked hard to create a culture and identity for young adults but that this was not obviously the case for Baptists Together. The Church of England’s resource churches were mentioned as an example; BMS World Mission as another which actively seeks to employ younger adults in leadership roles; while the Evangelical Alliance’s Head of Mission to Young Adults, Phil Knox, was among the practitioners’ group present. Various suggestions were made which may help to create a greater culture and identity for young adults within Baptists Together which included the intentional recruitment of Young Adults to regional and national roles, the greater inclusion of young adults in national events, appointing a national Young Adults ‘Champion’ and creating young adults networks that would help to lead us forwards as a national family.
While recognising that we have a significant way to go to create a greater and more visible national culture for Young Adults within Baptists Together, there are some encouraging signs of initial progress in this area.
In March 2020, the first gathering of a national Young Adults Forum was scheduled to have taken place before being curtailed by the Coronavirus restrictions. This was to have drawn together 18-35 year olds from across the country to be a prophetic voice to our national family and encourage us in ways we might engage more successfully with what is often referred to as this ‘missing generation’ in our churches. Those attending last year’s Baptist Assembly will recall not just an excellent programme in place for children and young people but also parts of the programme led by and for 18-35 year olds. Although the average age of our Regional Ministers remains mid to late 50s, we do now have the first of this younger generation represented among those who are inspiring, supporting and resourcing our churches in missional ministry as part of Regional Ministry teams. If the old adage that ‘like attracts like’ has any truth, we are at the very beginning of a shift in culture which sees a higher profile for Young Adults within our national family.
RECOMMENDATION THREE : Create a church planting programme within areas where a high proportion of 18-35s live and identify strategic Baptist churches who can be trained and resourced for mission to Young Adults.
Reflecting on the ways other denominations have sought to engage with and release young adults in missional leadership by targeting specific locations where a high percentage of young adults are represented in the local population, the group made a two-fold recommendation to the Baptist family:
Identify existing Baptist churches in areas with a high percentage of young adults in the local population. Offer training and resources as required to enable those churches to engage with and release young adults for missional leadership. Training and ongoing support might be offered by Baptist leaders who have experience in this area. Resourcing might be from multiple streams including the local congregation, regional mission grants and possibility national mission grants given specifically for this purpose.
Create a church planting programme within areas where a high proportion of 18-35s live but where there are no existing Baptist churches (i.e. a new housing area designed with a high proportion of accommodation for younger first-time buyers and/or lower income renters), or in areas where the local Baptist church may choose not to engage with the offer of training and resourcing. The suggestion was made that it might prove helpful to provide a focused target of, say, 10 new church plants in areas with a high young adult population in the next five years.
There are some exceptional examples of Baptist churches across the country which have successfully engaged with this generation and are actively training and releasing young adults in to missional ministry. Some were represented within the group of practitioners who made these recommendations. As a national family we are not lacking in expertise but we do need to get better at sharing this strategically, particularly in areas were young adults are highly representing in the local population.
We find ourselves at a point of genuine opportunity. There is a real desire within many of our churches as well as our Associations, national Specialist Teams and Colleges to find ways to engage with this younger generation and see them released in to missional leadership amongst us. We have some exceptionally gifted young adults who are part of our Baptist family and who are keen to serve in this way.
I believe this is a time when we must have the courage to embrace the changes required in order to see these opportunities realised. Some of our inherited structures and systems are not aiding young adults to feel a sense of belonging to our family, and new ways of recognising and releasing their gifts need to be developed without delay. The present opportunity we have will not remain for much longer. I strongly believe that God has not finished with our Baptist family yet(!) but pouring new wine in to old wineskins simply will not do. Let’s have the courage not just to embrace this younger generation, but free them to lead us in to the next season of our lives together. Now is not the time for delay… lets crack on!
Top image | Prostock-studio | shutterstock.com
Carl Smethurst is the South West Baptist Association Regional Minister for Mission and author of the Baptists Together Young Adults Report
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article opens the Summer 2020 edition of Baptists Together magazine
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