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BOOK REVIEW: Book provides models for empowering young adults Marcia Dunbar, Aug 8, 2011
By Marcia Dunbar Special Contributor
Greenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World Dori Grinenko Baker, editor The Alban Institute, 2010 Paperback, 231 pages
As a United Methodist, I know we are called to give our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. I fondly remember a former pastor ending each sermon with the same empowering statement, “We aren’t leaving the church, we go out to be the church.”
Ours is a wonderful message of inspiration and hope, but as I look around at friends and younger generations, I have to wonder, what are we doing to inspire this kind of responsibility in the youth of the church?
Dori Grinenko Baker, editor of Greenhouses of Hope, explores this question. Along with seven other contributors, she frames the need to develop our young adults in various ways. The authors became a part of their respective congregational case studies and were transformed in the process.
Each of us has a responsibility to nurture those we guide on their spiritual path. Hopefully, we are challenged and the relationship becomes symbiotic. But it can only occur when we give of ourselves and open our hearts and minds to embrace change.
A clamoring of voices cries out from weariness, “When will the young people of the church step up?” Yet when they do, the young people are not given room to breathe life into something that is theirs. We don’t allow or inspire our youth to grow in their faith; instead, we deprive them of the water and nutrients they need to grow and develop.
The book defines a Greenhouse of Hope as “a Christian congregation freeing itself to experiment with both newly imagined and time-honored ways of following the path of Jesus. Its members respond to God’s love through practices that genuinely embrace the gifts of the youth and young adults.” These greenhouses are messy, organic, creative, inventive and sometimes chaotic.
The case studies are diverse, from a small, remote island church empowering youth to a Korean American Presbyterian congregation that practices “mozying,” a mentor-like practice that embraces guidance based on Korean traditions. The root of the success in all of the congregations is that time was taken to cultivate, nurture and encourage young adults to find their spiritual gifts and use them to glorify God.
Creating such a greenhouse, according to Dr. Baker, can begin by VocationCARE. The acronym means: “C- Create a hospitable space to explore Christian vocation; A- Ask self-awakening questions; R- Reflect theologically on self and community; and E- Explore, enact and establish ministry opportunities.”
VocationCARE looks different depending on the context of the congregation, but it provides a basic beginning to discovering the untapped talents and gifts of young adults in a congregation.
The book is a testimony to success in developing the faith of young adults, and the Questions for Reflection at the end of each chapter serve as a way to introspectively assess your own congregation and whether you are cultivating the young adults of the church in a meaningful way.
We cannot expect more from our faith than what we put into it. If we truly want a new surge of activity from our young adults, we must first trust them enough to let them become active participants. In essence, we need to get out of our own way and take the chance to learn from those younger than us.
If we can do it, we will be surprised in the growth of our ministries and the blessings that come from seeing something wonderful grow to fruition.
Ms. Dunbar is director of evangelism for St. James UMC in Little Rock, Ark.