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Holding fast, moving forward

by Matthew Schramm

Embracing new leaders requires a willingness to follow.

Matthew Schramm picMatthew Schramm is the chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bay City, Michigan.

I have a confession to make: I am a “young adult.” I use quotation marks because it seems that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) might be the only one who’d use that term to describe me. I have three children, dental bills, and reading glasses. When I finish a workout, my aching bones tell the truth. Yet, for official Presbyterian purposes, we qualify and elect folks to positions as young adults until they are 35 years old. I’m 34, so by this definition, I’m a young adult.

I hear all the time about how we wish there were more young adults in the church. At the last General Assembly, a commissioner over 50 asked—I’m not kidding—why she wasn’t considered a young adult, since she was younger than the median age of Presbyterians (63). When we faced a similar question in our congregation, we decided that if you have kids who are young adults, it means you aren’t. But even if we called everyone a young adult, our reality would not change, because real ministry with young adults is about more than deciding who is in and who is out.

Our efforts aren’t perfect. But we are making real connections with this generation of young adults, however defined. Though I don’t consider myself young anymore, as the first “young adult” elected to serve as the chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, I can testify that there is no grand conspiracy in the PC(USA) to stifle young adults and emerging leadership. Instead, the church—acting upon the mission agency’s directional goal to “engage and join with young adults in reforming the church for Christ’s mission”—is looking for voices it can follow into God’s future. Exciting ministries of peace and justice, world mission and evangelism, and education and development are drawing in new leaders and expanding our horizons.

Matt playing guitar at mass

Matthew Schramm leads a song at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bay City, Michigan, where he serves as the congregation’s pastor.

During a recent officer training for our congregation, our ruling elders and deacons came to a simple conclusion: leaders are qualified by the fact that others embrace their leadership. We were chosen as leaders because someone, somewhere, thought we might help them hear what the Spirit is saying. So, as we yearn for a new generation of leaders in and for the church, we remember that new leadership is not simply new people to do what we’ve always done.

Embracing new leaders requires that we be willing to follow and embrace new ideas—holding fast to who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ but willing to go, and willing to let go, where God is “doing a new thing” (Isa. 43:19). We remember, too, that leading voices need listening ears. There is little doubt that those ears—and those voices—will come from all ages and backgrounds, from places tried and true and from where we least expect.

The prophet Joel tells of the day of the Lord, when God’s Spirit would be poured on all people so that all flesh would see God’s vision for humanity. New visions are not limited to the young or the old. We all are called to find our place in the Holy Spirit’s transformation of this world. If we can do that, and do it together, the church will be poised for ministry in the 21st century, for “we all are one in mission, / we all are one in call, / our varied gifts united / by Christ the Lord of all.”

Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the author of One in Mission (a monthly column in Presbyterians Today) invited Matthew Schramm to write in her stead for the May young adult special edition.

May 2014 cover

order the special issue Guide to Young adult ministry and read more articles like this one






  • No Steve. But if our church does not look ahead and listen to the voices of the young families, then there will be no young voices and our pews will be empty in just a few short years. The numbers coming from Louisville are startling for our denomination. A median age of 63 does not mean we care less about the voices of our 80-year-old members, it means we have fewer 30-year-old voices standing next to us. by Lisa on 05/13/2014 at 3:06 p.m.

  • Young adults,pcusa,new leaders,singles. It seems in some PC USA churches that all they care about is young couples with children and the younger singles in their 20s and early 30s Did Jesus say go and preach the word to the whole world especially young couples and children and young singles but forget the older singles. What do you think?? by Steve on 05/09/2014 at 10:13 p.m.

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