Since transitioning from a full-time ministry role in the local church to seminary teaching, I’ve found myself attending an average of about eight conferences a year. Many are geared more toward the church and professional ministry, which is a nice break from academic guilds that consist primarily of small groups of specialists (read: nerds) talking to each other about their relatively obscure interests. Young Clergy Conference was something quite different. Somehow it managed to be theologically-engaging, spiritually-enriching, professionally-equipping, and relationally-nurturing, all at the same time. It was a disarmingly charitable environment. The leadership of Brit Bolerjack and Jason Smith (and behind them, their pastor, Jon Middendorf) models one of the key words we received from keynote speaker Fr. Richard Rohr—vulnerability—and is shaping a culture, an ethos, throughout the blossoming Young Clergy Network that gives me great hope for the future of the Church of the Nazarene.
Today’s young clergy, in spite of a church that often doesn’t feel “all in” for them, are all in for the church.
About 110 truly kindred spirits came together primarily for worship, prayer, and listening to God and one another. No big “agendas” were present, at least as far as I could tell—just whatever God wanted to do among us and through us. Each of our times of worship began with Matt Redman’s song, “Here For You,” in which we declared, “To You our hearts are open / nothing here is hidden / You are our one desire / We are here for You”—a fitting anthem for this gathering.
Two sessions of prompted table discussions considered four questions:
1. What can the Church of the Nazarene do for young clergy?
2. What can young clergy do for the Church of the Nazarene?
3. What are your concerns for the future of the Church of the Nazarene?
4. What are your hopes for the future of the Church of the Nazarene?
As responses were voiced, much consensus emerged—the desire not for uniformity but for unity in diversity. Love for the church. The desire to lead well and to be mentored by those who have gone ahead of us in ministry. To listen and to be heard. To have authority and empowerment willingly and joyfully handed down. There is some concern—valid, in my opinion—that there may not be a Church of the Nazarene for us to lead in the future if we don’t embrace our name, Nazarene, which Reverend Megan Pardue reminded us (quoting J.P. Widney) connects us to “the toiling, lowly mission of Christ.”
It is clearer to me than ever that Nazarenes are a committed, fiercely loyal tribe. I currently teach among Wesleyans, and they comment on this, often derisively. And of course, this can be both a blessing and a curse. But somehow we manage to truly form (warp?) our Nazarene young people into those who either go all in or, tragically, in some cases, those who have to get out. But today’s young clergy, in spite of a church that often doesn’t feel “all in” for them, are all in for the church. At the same time, they’re not “drinking the Kool-Aid.” They are not content to maintain the status quo in a rapidly changing world.
I leave the first annual Young Clergy Conference with the two words I prayed over the event before it started: hope(ful) and (en)courage(d).
Today’s young clergy want revival. But they’re not interested in a return to 1958. They want the revival of 1908 (or 1895)—the revival of a church of and for the poor. The church from the wrong side of the tracks. (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) A church that believes the good news of the cleansing found in Jesus, and proclaims it directly to the least of these, the downtrodden, those whose lives are in the gutter. It is clear to me that is the revival this generation of Nazarene ministers coming up behind me desires. And they make me want it even more. This is a good thing for one born (barely) prior to 1980, who most days shares more of Generation X’s angst and pessimism and slacker aesthetic than the Millennial “make-it-happen” ethic. These men and women are hopeful, optimistic, and they paid attention in their Nazarene History and Polity class (and their Wesleyan/Holiness theology classes, too). They are excited about who we are, down to our bones, in our DNA, and they want us to live up to it.
So I leave the first annual Young Clergy Conference with the two words I prayed over the event before it started: hope(ful) and (en)courage(d). I believe those of us who participated received a double portion of both hope and courage, and leave newly committed to the charge we received from host pastor Jon Middendorf: to stay and fight—not as the world fights, but in the cruciform style of Jesus, our always-being-slaughtered Lamb.