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Brian Ellison
Teaching elder, pastor of Parkville (Mo.) Presbyterian Church, host/contributor at Kansas City's NPR station, freelance writer, adjunct preaching professor, and eschewer of sleep.
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Peggy, you make some great points here about the benefits and potential drawbacks of having "youth elders." In the church I serve as pastor, we have been ordaining high school students as both deacons and elders for about eight years. We've made it a point not to always have exactly one spot, as this tends to reinforce the idea that they are the youth representative. Rather, we talk each year with the nominating committee about the value of having a full representation of the congregation's membership in leadership, including people of all ages. We have had as many as four (out of 15) deacons be youth at one time, though we have never had more than one elder on at a time. We make it a point NOT to call them "youth elders" but rather "elders" (who happen to be youth). We list them alphabetically with the others. There is no asterisk. We do, however, generally elect them to one-year terms rather than three-year terms (as the old Form of Government expressly permitted, and the new FOG implicitly does). But it has not been unusual to have them be re-elected to second and third one-year terms. For us, it has been an almost always positive experience. Occasionally, the pressures of leadership (both time and responsibility) have been tough on a young person. Having reasonable expectations of the role they will play on the Session--just as we would of various adults who might be elected to serve in any given year--is important. But on the whole, participation is overwhelmingly positive, and besides the particular contributions of any individual teenager, the fact that it occurs speaks volumes about the church's commitment to listening for God's Spirit in the voices of our youngest members. I would be concerned that the "commissioning" idea you suggest might result in a marginalization that it would be better to avoid. Better, I think, to risk the occasional bad fit than to miss the opportunity to offer the full experience to the many young people with the necessary gifts and to the Church that so badly needs them.
Toggle Commented May 27, 2012 on Youth Elders? at The Presbyterian Leader
I think this is a great insight. One person's "flip flopping" is another's "progress" or "maturity." I do wonder, though... Doesn't the motivation for the change matter? Repentance is only truly repentance when it has some grounding in a desire to turn toward doing the right thing. (That is, deciding not to steal any more because you realize you're about to get caught isn't exactly repentance.) The politician or thinker who changes their mind purely for political gain is not necessarily equally to be commended as someone who, after a crisis of conscience, comes out in a different place, right?
Toggle Commented May 15, 2012 on The Power of Flip Flops at The Presbyterian Leader
Thanks for the comment, David. A convicting and powerful observation, and I think you are right to lift this up as a distinctively Presbyterian area of self-examination.
It was only a passing reference in Jack's original post, but I'm surprised it hasn't received more comment: The idea that providing health insurance could be the key (or at least a key) to making something like this work. I'm aware, as a member of the Board of Pensions board of directors, that the staff there is very aware of the changing nature of the church and the fluid nature of vocational ministry at the moment. The problem, of course, will be cost. But if we are talking mainly about younger "kids" (to use Jack's term), it would probably be in the BOP's interest to get dues-paying but younger and healthier people into the church's system. (And if by some miracle PPACA is not struck down by the Supreme Court, then it may be all the better as much cheaper options will likely be available through the exchanges.) In any case, I think we should be welcoming this among the many alternative models for allowing younger (qualified, creative, competent) people to exercise their gifts in an ordained context.
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Apr 10, 2012