Nurse Log -- a decaying tree that provides nutrients for new trees
I recently had the opportunity to be part of the Oregon Synod Lutheran Youth Organization (OLYO) Assembly. Their theme was Living Into the Future Together. Being on a churchwide task force with the same name gave me cause to join them for the weekend. For their part, the OLYO board set aside three 90-minute sessions for us to consider what God is calling us to do and to be in the future.
The first session, Living, gave us a chance to talk about church in the 21st century and the ways that young people can join in the conversation. We explored the metaphor of church as an eco-system of interdependent organisms. Young people shared candid responses to the question, “Why are you a part of the church?” There was a time of dwelling in the Word from Acts 2 and some conversation about the aspects of life among the believers in the early Christian church.
Our next session focused on the Future. Young people were asked to consider how they might use their spiritual gifts to breathe new life into the church. The assembly broke up into student-led small groups and used our “evangelical, missional imagination” to wrestle with these three questions:
· What elements are essential for a 21st century church?
· What elements are helpful, but not essential?
· What elements are neither essential nor helpful?
Each group made three lists and posted them around the room for all to see. There was spirited conversation as the young people shared their dreams for what Christ’s church looks like in the days ahead.
The third and final session, Together, was so exuberant that our discussions spilled late into the evening. We used a re:form (sparkhouse) video “Why Are There So Many Different Christian Churches?” to set the tone. The group lamented the ways in which the body of Christ has become fractured and severed. From there we thought of ways to embrace our differences to enhance our witness to the world. We realized that being together in Christ doesn’t mean losing our identity, but instead calls us to embrace each other’s uniqueness and giftedness. Small groups worked to draw a blueprint of what a church building might look like, considering the essential and helpful elements from the previous activity.
Attempting to summarize the depth and breadth of what happened at the OLYO Assembly is difficult. A few themes did emerge as we talked, listened, prayed, sang, and danced together:
1. Young people care so deeply about the future of the church that they want to be part of shaping its present.
2. The church of tomorrow needs to look more like the church of 2,000 years ago.
3. Youth place a high value on the messiness of relationships and living in community together.
4. Though church buildings can be helpful, they aren’t required in order for God’s people to be the church.
The weekend I spent with the OLYO group will go a long way in shaping my own understanding of what God is calling the church to be and do in the future. I pray it will inform and inspire groups across our church eco-system (especially the LIFT task force) as we navigate these uncertain waters together.
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Here are a couple of pictures I took during my time in Oregon...
the traditional goofy group picture of the OLYO crew
breathtaking Multnomah Falls
sun setting behind the Pacific Ocean