After Middle School Youth group one evening this past school year (2010-2011) I was watching the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Many thoughts flooded in to my mind at the conclusion of this show and I pulled out my computer and typed them in.
Let me be honest. I really hesitated posting this, mainly because it started out as some innocuous observations and turned in to thoughts that reflected some internal struggles I’m having as a children and youth pastor at Hayward Wesleyan Church. I’m hesitant because I don’t want to air dirty laundry. But I’m often reminded that one’s dirty laundry might be help and influence and impact another. Just so you know, my intent in sharing this is not to complain, but to implore (you’ll read what I mean in a second). These words sparked some conversations and generated some thoughts in our faith community. I hope it does the same for you:
Last night, Jon Stewart had an author (Diane Sanger) as a guest on his show. They were discussing how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have become known as “The Contractor’s War.” Sanger quipped that during the war in Vietnam, contractors working for the US numbered about 14% in comparison to men (and women) in uniform. Quite a lot has changed since Vietnam. The current two theatres of war has seen contractor to uniform presence in the 50-50 range. Sanger commented that the money we pay these contractors is about 3-4 times the amount we pay a uniformed soldier doing the same job. Stewart reacted to that statement by asking what motivation a US military soldier when they realize a civilian contractor working along side of them is making 3-4 times the amount. Stewart also mused if we would still be at war if we didn’t have these civilian contractors. He wondered if the country would care more, and perhaps, currently NOT be at war, if we didn’t have these “stand-ins.” What would have to happen if we didn’t have as many contractors as we do in our two current wars, would be a draft. Which, commented Sanger, would predicate an entirely different political situation and conversation about these two expensive and time-consuming wars.
I am not a political commentator, but I found this conversation fascinating, particularly thinking through the lens of my job as a pastor. I often find myself overwhelmed by the needs of our youth and children and families in the area I minister in. There are more children and youth than there are adults who want to step in and matter. And because I am the professional, we will keep these things alive (meaning ministries) regardless of how many uniformed people there are. They pay me the big bucks as a “contractor” of sorts and we have a handful of uniformed people.
What I wonder is: do we as a congregation, staff, leadership team, parents, board, elders, etc… do we care, or want to be involved, in stepping in to the lives of these teenagers and minister to them? Live and challenge the Gospel with them? Encourage them? Mentor them?
We have way more teenagers and children coming to our various programs, than we do adults who care to step in and minister. It seems, at least to this young pastor, that we let this go and trust that the few who do volunteer, the uniformed few, will do a good job, at least to get by.
This should not be!
I’m not just advocating for more volunteers. I don’t need (and the students definitely don’t need) people to be guilted in to hanging out with them each week. No, we need a fundamental reshaping of what is important to us as a faith community. It seems to me that we really need to work on our jobs as parents and elders of this faith community to challenge people to pass on faith to the next generation… and the very passing of the faith actually solidifies faith in the leaders/adults that are involved.
This issue is bigger than me searching for volunteers. I don’t need tips on how to better recruit or manage. No. I recognize that our faith community doesn’t FEEL that this is a problem: that only a few people serve and minister to these children (many of whom are fatherless) each week.
I wonder, as Jon Stewart wondered: “If people in our faith community saw the need and understood the need and were prodded into really caring for the need of the youth and children and families of our community, and that one ‘professional’ contractor cannot possibly handle this task alone, would more than just this ‘one professional’ care? Would such a cry come from the community that would demand we change our ethos? Would such a cry even be thought of because we focus more on our own personal betterment rather than the mission of God’s people in our world… and how desperate it is and how if we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.”
Maybe Jon Stewart’s sarcastic contempt about the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and if we would still be in them if we had a draft and didn’t rely just on overpaying contractors to do the work for us so we can go on about our everyday American lives here in the US…
I wonder if that sarcastic contempt could be pointed at our faith community and the lack of engagement with passing on faith to the next generation. Perhaps, though, it is not the faith communities fault. Perhaps the fault lies with its teachers and pastors. Perhaps we need to do a drastically better job at teaching and modeling the core essence of the transforming power of the Gospel and the embodiment of the Holy Spirit.
My question… as should it should be for all of us: Are we fighting the right war in this community?