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Speaker lends insights into compassion, young people

Steeped in faith on the academic level, Roger Nishioka shared in his 2010 Annual Meeting sermon a missed opportunity for compassion in a supermarket.  In his lecture and workshop, he offered insights on why young people are or are not involved in churches.

odger Nishioka
Rodger Nishioka

The associate professor of Christian education at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta stopped at a supermarket on his way home from the airport.  He was in a hurry to prepare a class.

He encountered a long line at the counter for 10 items. 

“A woman in front of me, with more than 10 items and not enough money or food stamps, scanned the items to decide what she could buy,” Rodger said.  “Realizing she couldn’t afford it and as a Christian and lover of the Lord, I asked the clerk how much she needed.  She was short $10. I gave the clerk $10.

“The older, African-American woman looked at me and said, ‘You didn’t talk to me or ask if you could pay for my groceries.’  She kept eye contact, saying,  ‘You should have talked to me.’  She took the bags and walked away.”

Saying she was right, Nishioka connected it to the Scripture about widows grieving the death of Tabitha, the only woman called a disciple.  She gave  them clothing and community.

“Women are the majority of the world’s poor, and widows are the poorest,” he said.  “Tabitha saw them as people created in God’s image.  We are called to see people as created in God’s image.”

Peter, who was healing nearby, came and prayed. Tabitha opened her eyes and sat up. 

“Jesus’ death is not the last word,” he said.  “Every nation, family, community and congregation should be structured so people belong.”

Nishioka said that “we often fulfill our expectations, assuming that youth are to be bored in worship; young adults will leave; immigrants will be excluded, and little churches are to die. 

“Death is not the last word.In the community of Jesus, God comes to us, bends down and says rise from paralysis, fear, inadequacy and dying,” Nishioka said.
“You are the light of the world infused with God’s image.  Rise!  Get up! People shattered by injustice and sorrow need reconciliation and need to celebrate joy.”

Speaking on “21st Century Reformation:  Eight Trends to Change and Challenge the Church,” he summarized research on why few youth and young adults stay in churches.

“Most are spiritual but not religious,” he said. “In the Northwest, 70 percent of people in UCC churches are “immigrants” and 15 percent are from no church tradition.”

He urges churches to move:
1) from tribal understandings to immigrant education programs for new people;

2) from mission out there to mission right here—concern about life across the street;

3) from reasoned spirituality to mystery filled spirituality about awe and wonder;
4) from official leadership to gifted leadership of people who know how to do ministry, preach, comfort the dying and show God living in their lives;

6) from long-term to short-term planning so they see what is going on around them;

7) from tradition to being “epic”—authentically experiential, participatory, image-driven and communal, and

8) from shaping disciples to being apostles sent out to change the world. 
“We are in the season of change.  We need to grow, die and bring new life,” Nishioka said.  “How agile are we in change? 

In his workshop, he reviewed a 2003 national study on youth and religion, sharing trends to help people understand new avenues and perspectives for youth ministry.

“Youth ministry is a matter of critical mass.  I didn’t go for theology but for fun,” he said.

“Authenticity is huge,” he added.  “They don’t care if a pastor wears a robe, but if the pastor is real and reaches out.”

While megachurches draw young adults seeking certainty, when the formula doesn’t work, they leave, Nishioka said.  Megachurches have a one-third turnover rate every year. 

“People are drawn by glitz, but churches that are not participatory are not sustainable,” he said, noting that many next go to mainline churches.

“Young adults want belonging and community.  They are tech connected, but lonely,” Rodger said.  “They are looking for a place to share their gifts.”

Because young adults look for churches online, it’s better to have no website than an outdated one.  They are looking for photos of people interacting and serving, not buildings.

He suggests that it be simple and easy to navigate.

Many reject a moralistic or  therapeutic deity, seeking a God involved in life.  They need a God who says, “I want you to be loved and to love others.” 

“That’s how one finds meaning in life, a purpose worthy of life’s adventure.  Young people are looking for God with us—Emmanuel,” he said. 

Nishioka said people need nearness and directness, without coersion:  “For youth to make a faith statement, adults need to make and model their faith statement.”


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © June 2010


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