The youth of the Mennonite church are often on my mind, and over the years, they have secured a place in my heart. It has been total joy and privilege to share time and space with them at national gatherings, regularly in my ministry within Mennonite Church Manitoba, and through the sharing of stories in Canadian Mennonite.
Youth were again in the forefront of my thoughts as I read Andrew Root’s book: Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness. I’m a fan of Andrew Root, but this time around I found his writing agitating. Before me was the nature of the cultural waters we are in and how, in an attempt to navigate those waters, we (the church) have focused our faith formation efforts on how to get youth to affiliate with the church.
“Faith need not be defined any further than this willingness to affiliate through participation and claimed belief . . . faith has been stripped of transcendence and has little to nothing to do with mystery, transformation, and ontological encounter,” Root writes.
What was agitating me was the truth I was seeing in this analysis, and how it was shedding light upon some of my own best efforts. I put the book down, processed my restless heart with some highly skilled mental Ping-Pong. Then with courage only the Spirit can provide, I picked the book up again.
By the time I arrived at the index, Root had convinced me to reclaim an understanding of faith formation that, at its core, holds that “to have faith is to have an experience of the person of Jesus Christ coming to your own person.”
It’s not as if I didn’t know this—my own faith journey serves to remind me—but I had lost focus. Amid all my work on the evolving forms of youth ministry, the heart of the matter got buried. Root’s words went from agitating to resonating.
So much more than me assimilating as a member of the church, or even participating in congregational life, faith is trusting that Jesus is near me, moving in me and through me. This is the lively faith life I long for our youth to experience: intimate, interactive and infusing.
Youth will need this kind of Jesus-right-here-right-now faith as they give themselves to the holy movements of reconciliation, climate action and compassion. I feel my responsibility to show the way, to tell our community’s stories of being engaged by the Holy Spirit and of how we have wrestled with Jesus’s words, ways and will.
Our kids are dealing with ancient questions and incredible challenges. They are showing up with their gifts of energy and idealism. It is my deepest hope that they know and feel that Jesus is right there with them, in their frustration, in their longing, in their despair and in their hope. I want to say to them, “Faith in Jesus is so much more than we may have told you.”
Kathy Giesbrecht serves with Mennonite Church Manitoba as associate director of leadership ministries.