Last summer during our church staff meeting, we were interrupted by a gorilla. This gorilla ran past the glass windows of the conference room, growled at us and got just close enough for us to realize it was not a real gorilla but someone in a gorilla suit. But still, when is the last time someone interrupted your church staff meeting in a gorilla suit?
Once the gorilla had our total attention, he fled through the administrative offices. We all jumped out of our meeting to follow him, but he was gone. We decided to divide ourselves up to catch him, all running in different directions in the building, through classrooms, by the nursery school, and even checking the bell tower, laughing and breathless.
Finally we caught sight of him again, jumping into his car in the parking lot. Thank goodness, he was removing his head before driving away. We saw it was Nick, a high school junior, playing a prank on all of us, but specifically the four members of our summer staff, our high school and college interns.
I tell this story to warn you that what I am proposing here may disrupt your life as usual as a church. Staff meetings are not the same with all that young adult energy. They bring Panini makers to church and set off the smoke alarm. They may forget to say, "Let us pray," in worship or they may forget to pray all together. They may write sermons that shock the congregation. Their friends may show up in gorilla costumes. Which is part of what we love about this ministry of being "a calling congregation." Put simply, not only is it important, it's also a lot of fun.
From teaching to calling
Years ago our congregation made a commitment to being a Teaching Church. We brought in seminarians to work during the academic year, learning to lead worship as well as do the church's behind-the-scenes work. The program has grown so that in recent years, we have three seminarians at once adding to our life, challenging us with new thinking. We are proud to launch them into ministries around the country, from a church in Seattle to a hospital chaplaincy down the road. The congregation loves this work and considers shaping these leaders our gift to the wider church. But after a while, I began to think, Why couldn't we do this for our own kids? Our seminarians come to us already knowing they want to do this work. What about the young people who do not yet know, but are wondering? In declaring ourself a Teaching Church, had we skipped the most obvious step? We needed to also be a Calling Church.
I approached our lay leaders about funding a summer internship for the youth of our own church, the ones we thought had the gifts for Christian ministry and leadership. The average lawyer thinks about becoming a lawyer in her teens, but so many people who end up in the ministry don't start thinking about it until their late twenties or thirties. By then they have already followed other paths. Many second-career pastors tell me that they might have gone to seminary earlier, but no one suggested it, while the pull to other secular careers was more obvious. The church needs to make the claim of ministry equally obvious.
Often we in the church, not wanting to be too pushy, simply allow the culture to make career claims on our youth before we do. Who is asking them to consider serving Jesus by leading a congregation? Mostly, we in the church wait for them to come to us, which is of course, not what Jesus would do. Jesus went out and invited.
How it works
So in our first year trying to be a Calling Church, we asked four high school or college students from our congregation to work a Tuesday and a Sunday for eight weeks during the summer.