From the Bishop
Dedicating our future
Bishop Young Jin Cho
This month we United Methodists of the Virginia Annual Conference will gather at the Convention Center in Hampton for our annual time of holy conferencing. We will hear reports and make important decisions for next year and the coming years. We will worship our God and celebrate what the Lord has done through us this conference year.
Our theme for this year’s Annual Conference is “Lord, Teach Us to Pray.” We will learn about prayer and pray together. I invite you to join me in praying for the upcoming Annual Conference; and I pray our gathering will be more than a business meeting. My prayer is that all of us will experience anew the presence of our risen Christ in us and among us and are encouraged and uplifted by the Holy Spirit.
One of the most serious challenges facing us today is that we are becoming an aging denomination. According to the statistical data, the average age of a United Methodist is 57. We have not been effective in reaching out to the young generation for many years. As a result, we are now in danger of losing an entire generation. This is a very serious challenge we have to wrestle with. But an even more serious challenge is that there is no quick fix to turning around this challenging situation.
Another difficult challenge for us is that today’s younger generation is living in a different culture from those of us who are older. The fast-paced development of technology has been giving them a different style of life and, in some cases, even different values. As an aging denomination, The United Methodist Church has been losing relevance with this generation. This is a huge challenge for us.
But I believe that these challenges also provide us with great opportunities in Christ. The situation we face is much more than a lack of skills or programs. We are asked to think about the true meaning of being Christ’s church in today’s world. We feel a strong need to seek God’s wisdom and guidance as we seek to respond to this challenge. If we do not return to the Lord and humbly honor and obey the Lord’s leadership, I do not think we can effectively meet the challenges we face.
One of the ways we can begin to reach the younger generation, especially young couples, is by setting as a priority the strengthening of our children and youth ministries. I know a church which intentionally focused their efforts here. The pastor set as his priority the development of an effective children’s ministry. “Let the children come unto me” was the motto of his ministry. When some older members of his church raised concerns about this direction, he answered that this was what Jesus had said. As time passed, this church began to reach out more effectively to young couples through this intentional shift in the priority of ministry.
Another important way to respond to this challenge is to raise up and nurture young clergy. As I mentioned, there is a huge cultural and generational gap between the younger and older generations. To reach out effectively to those who are younger, we need pastors who can effectively minister to and with those of this generation; and this demands of us younger clergy. The statistics of our church indicate that in the 1970s the percentage of young elders among the total number of United Methodist clergy was over 20 percent. By 2011 that percentage had dropped to only 5.6%. We in the Virginia Conference are doing better than this denominational average, but we still have a long way to go.
Reaching out to the next generation is an urgent mission Christ has given us. I remember a story which I read many years ago. When the Israelites were liberated from Egypt and reached Mt. Sinai, their leaders got together to discuss how they would express their gratitude to God. They considered collecting gold and dedicating it to God. But the Lord was not pleased with this plan. They thought of dedicating precious jewels to God. But God was not happy with this thought either. After much further reflection, they reached their conclusion. They decided they would dedicate their future to God by teaching God’s salvation story to generation after generation. The Lord was very pleased with their decision.
If we have experienced God’s amazing grace, the best way to express our gratitude to God is by dedicating our future to God. And the best way to dedicate our future to God is by reaching out to those of the rising generation and passing on the story of God’s love in Christ to them. Our Lord will be very pleased with this plan. This is a very important mission we cannot ignore. This mission is not an option. Lord, have mercy on us and help us to be faithful and fruitful in this mission.
In our Lord,
Young Jin Cho