by Christine Matthias

Along the roadside, a crowd gathered.

Jesus, leading his disciples and those who wanted a piece of the action, heard someone crying out over the din of those closest to him. ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!’ This was Bartimaeus, a man who couldn’t see, asking for the opportunity – begging for the chance – to see and be seen.

Some wanted Bartimaeus to be quiet, but Jesus stopped and brought silence. All the clamouring voices paused while he called Bartimaeus to him. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’, Jesus asked. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see’. ‘Go’, said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately, he received his sight and followed Jesus along the way.

This story from Jesus’ ministry as recorded in Mark 10:46–52 has parallels today. For decades, the church has been crying out for young people to take part in the journey of Jesus towards discipleship and hope. Often, we hear the refrain, ‘Where have our young people gone?’. And yet we forget that we were those same young people once. ‘Jesus, have mercy on us! We want to see you! We want to be seen by others!’

Now with God’s great timing, the church, which may have become blind to some amazing young people in this current generation, can see them again. And hear them. Because it is their faith, their hope, their love that will lead us into the future.

Not so surprisingly, there are young people in our midst who are longing to follow Jesus and lead the church. Perhaps if we, the clamouring crowds, would gently step aside, the faith of those calling out will heal us all.

Last September’s LCANZ Young Adult Forum is still reaping benefits for participants. The forum gave young adults an opportunity to spend a weekend together learning about the church. Churchwide leaders gave presentations on topics such as public theology, the work of Jesus through the Lutheran church today, the purpose of General Synod and the topics to be discussed at this month’s in-person sessions in Melbourne.

It was an extraordinary, uplifting weekend – and not just for the 24 participants. The LCANZ leaders involved unanimously say they were inspired by the passion, interest, support and dedication of these young adults.

LCANZ Church Worker Support Manager Dr Chris Materne found it ‘truly heartening’ to meet a committed group of young people ‘who truly care about their church’.

‘Their passionate faith and the commitment they showed to live it out in their lives was inspiring’, she says.

‘They wanted solid answers to deep questions and, clearly, they are thinking deeply about the role in society of our church and Christianity more broadly. We need to hear their voices and work to support them to continue to build the church – not forgetting the past but building on it to enable them to share the eternal gospel message in a changing world.’

Dr Tania Nelson, the LCANZ’s Executive Officer for Local Mission, agrees, saying she was encouraged by the vision and leadership skills shown by the participants. ‘The calibre, thoughtfulness and conscientiousness of the young adults give me added assurance and hope that God’s mission will prevail as the next generations reach out in new and creative ways with the good news of Jesus’ love to our largely secular society’, she says.

This hope resonated beyond the forum weekend as participants from Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria were able to make connections and find ways for future networking.

After the forum, participants were encouraged to arrange a meeting with their LCA district leaders. In early November, the Queensland participants met their district leaders and then were invited to present to Queensland’s District Assembly. At the assembly, they shared their experiences which instigated an excellent time of discussion and questions from the more than 30 leaders in attendance. The buzz in the room was palpable – as was the sense of hope for our church.

LCA Queensland District Bishop Mark Vainikka said he was ‘delighted’ to meet with the young adult representatives who attended the Churchwide Young Adult Forum from his state.

‘The passion, insight and love for the church that the young adults embodied was a joy to observe’, he says. ‘I wasn’t surprised, however, since all the young adults I have met in our district have been insightful and inspirational. I have realised that I have a lot to learn from our young adults.

‘As we were about to have our District Assembly, which is a meeting of the district’s senior executives and members of our governing councils, we invited the young adults to share about the forum there as well. They interacted with the assembly participants with insight, good humour and confidence, sharing their observations about the church, our challenges and joys.

‘As I listened to them speak so confidently about their faith and their church, it became obvious to me that these young adults are not our future; they are our present. But if we don’t empower them to engage with the church in a way that is meaningful for them today, they will not be with us tomorrow.’

Young people are indeed the ‘present’ of the church, even though, as Bishop Mark points out, sometimes they are referred to as simply its future. We must not underestimate the passion and leadership skills with which God has already gifted them. If we encourage them to use their gifts for God’s glory and the spread of his kingdom, we will have many reasons to remain full of hope for the future of our church.

Christine Matthias is the Grow Ministries resource coordinator and was one of the organisers of the LCANZ’s Young Adult Forum.

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