The young adult emergent ministry I lead takes a different sort of approach to event planning than the approach of most congregations. From our inception, the bias of our leadership was not to jump to planning activities and events because, well, there’s plenty of churches in Fargo-Moorhead that lack young adults. “Why guess what young adults might want and guess wrong again?” our ministry's board members figured.
So instead, using a community organizing approach, the ministry is committed to meeting with young adults and asking them what their values, needs, questions, and hopes are. Then, only when we know real live 20-30 somethings who aren’t currently connected to a faith community, we plan events.
Out of these conversations with young adults has come a consistent refrain: they want places where young adults can ask real questions about faith, forums that are open, supportive, open-minded, and don’t immediately jump to the “official” answer as if that solves all.
Out of these yearnings, we’ve developed Theology Pub, a bi-weekly discussion at a bar. In a society where sex, politics, and religion are still difficult to talk about (not just snicker about, but really disect) in diverse public settings, at Theology Pub we make a space for open discussions of faith and religion. With the help of a small group, I come up with the topic for the night and publicize it beforehand. I bring to the evening a discussion sheet for everyone with some quotations on the topic, as well as some questions, and then whoever shows up goes to it. It’s heavenly to see.
I consistently get two comments from young adults about the events, one explicit and one implicit.
Explicitly, they really like the diversity of opinions of the folks who show up. This week, for example, we had several devout Roman Catholics, an Atheist, several Unitarian Universalists, a few Lutherans (including pastors), a Pentecostal, and several whose faith resisted any labels. The diversity of the group assures that there will be plenty of questions and disagreement. And we love it.
Implicitly, in my conversations with folks before and after Theology Pub, I find that they assume (and I’m going to say “rightly so” in most cases) that the institutional church down the block is not a place where they can go to find a forum to ask their questions. Few churches provide open spaces for theological dialogue. Events like Sunday School tend to be about teaching a specific lesson to a group of insiders rather than providing a space for outsiders to consider what they might believe.
Of course, this brings up the important question I ask myself daily: how do I balance providing an open space for questioning with teaching what the Lutheran Church (ELCA) believes?
I continue to wrestle with this one, in more ways than I can account for in a blog post. But I keep coming back to the point that having opportunities for faith-filled conversation, for places to ask tough questions, is a vital ministry in and of itself. Surely there’s room for more, but starting with the questions isn’t a bad place to start. After all, it’s where we meet many young adults.
A pastor friend passed along this powerful poem last week that beautifully describes our approach. May it bless you as it did me.
Never kill a question;
it is a fragile thing.
A good question deserves to live.
One doesn't so much answer it as converse with it,
Or, better yet, one lives with it.
Great questions are the permanent
and blessed guests of the mind.
But the greatest questions of all are those which build bridges to the heart,
addressing the whole person.
No answer should be designed to kill the question.
When one is too dogmatic or too sure,
one shows disrespect for truth and the question that points toward it.
Beyond my answer there is always more,
more light waiting to break in,
and waves of inexhaustible meaning
ready to break against wisdom's widening shore.
Wherever there is a question, LET IT LIVE!
-a poem by Gerhard Frost found in his book, “Bless My Growing”