Being difference-makers

May 16, 2016
Young people participate in a vigil for environmental justice at General Conference on Monday. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS

Three million-plus difference-makers by 2020. That is the stated goal around the focus area of developing principled leaders. I am not sure how they are defining difference-maker, and there is probably more to this goal than I am aware of, but why 3 million-plus? Shouldn’t every United Methodist, and indeed every Christian, be a difference maker? But even more, what is the difference we are called to make?

Here is something I am chewing on: Over lunch, I was in conversation with my director of connectional ministries counterpart in Oregon, who is a native resident of Portland. I was asking him about the demographic makeup of the city. My stats may be off, but he said that something like 47 percent of the city of Portland is under the age of 50. This is a very young city! And he said it is a city full of people who are civically engaged, concerned about the environment, and activists in a variety of causes. It is a city full of difference-makers. It is also a physically active and social city, so he said that much of the meaning and social needs of its residents are being met, and therefore the question they wrestle with is: What does the church uniquely add that will reach and engage the citizens of this city?

The Millennial generation was raised in an ethic of community service. Doing good is part of how they have been educated and shaped. I meet them all the time in my engagement at Hamline University. They are bright, passionate young adults who are giving themselves to working for a better world. I often say they are United Methodists in practice and action even if they don’t name themselves as such! These actively engaged Millennials will have nothing to do with a church that is not seriously involved in making a difference, that is only concerned with its own survival. But here is the conundrum: They don’t need the church to make a difference. So if our invitation is: Want to make a difference? Come join us...the likely response will be, "Thanks…keep up the good work, but I am already making a difference!"

So again, what is the unique difference we are called to make? I come back to Jesus' words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life." I do meet people all the time who are seeking to find a way, who are looking for life, and who want to know what is really true and real. Is the difference we are called to make something about helping people to live a whole life, and to be a part of a community that helps them live that out and be that for the world? What do you think?

I am really curious about this because while I love that I am part of a church that is doing good in the world, I know I personally seek out a church to be more than an outlet to make a difference. I am trying to live a different life: full of gratitude and generosity, being my best at all times, and finding a way of life that is strong enough, and true enough, and deep enough to sustain me throughout all the vicissitudes of life. I want to be part of a community that is seeking to make that kind of difference in my life, and yes, empowering and equipping me to make that kind of difference in the lives of others. If that is the kind of difference-maker we are talking about, I am in. But then, I have been in, having been a part of the church all of my life.  

Will it speak to the next generation? To the bright, passionate, gifted young adults of places like Portland and Minneapolis, who are already difference-makers? And if not, what will?

Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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