Recently I attended an excellent youth ministry intensive at the Liberal Religious Educators’ Fall Conference in Portland, Oregon. In it we reflected on the old model of youth leadership development often getting confused with youth abandonment. We (adults) sought to foster our youth’s development by waiting for them to come to us when they had troubles; or to allow them to plan events and programs without adult inclusion or guidance. This sometimes resulted in incredibly powerful youth groups. This often resulted in youth leaving our denomination as adults. And sometimes, there was great pain or harm present without the guidance of adult mentoring.
I’m reminded of the old adage, “the youth shall lead the way.” It was certainly true with our merger of Unitarians and Universalists 50 years ago. What if this cultural system around youth abandonment is true for our adult leadership circles as well? What if our system of congregational polity reflects all to well the failures of the old youth development model? I think the similarities are striking.
Do our District Executives, Program Consultants, and the UUA Headquarters (or Ministers, Educators for the old youth model) lack authority to intervene in our congregations when there are real crises without first being invited in? Check.
Do most of our congregations invite in district, regional and continental leadership on an infrequent basis to help steer the future? Check.
When congregational leadership begins to “age out” (in youth terms) or die/move away/become home bound (in adult terms) do they fail to change their systems of governance/conversation/process to adjust to the new generation (Freshman Class)? Check.
Personally, I’m all for congregational polity. I wouldn’t want to throw it out. But we have to find a middle ground to integrate the expertise of our regional and continental leadership into at least the quarterly-to-quarterly leadership of our fellowships, churches and congregations. Otherwise, we’re closing our youth group doors to experience and wisdom we desperately need as our denomination shrinks.