Being open and honest about the state of youth ministry at The Gathering Live

Youth leaders from across MC USA gather in Kansas City, Missouri to engage in sessions for The Gathering Live. Photo provided by John Stoltzfus.


(Mennonite Church USA) — “What kind of faith are we passing on to the next generation? How are we doing as a church in modeling a vibrant faith centered in Jesus Christ? Where are the intergenerational and relational gaps in our congregations?”

A group of 32 pastors, sponsors, educators and mission agency representatives met to address these questions and more at The Gathering Live 2018 in Kansas City, May 4-6. The meeting included time for worship, connection, discussion and sharing around the theme “Encountering God: Faith that Matters.”

“I appreciate the conversations around faith formation from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective,” said John Murray, who attended The Gathering Live and works as the recruitment coordinator for Mennonite Mission Network. “It continues to be for me a place of networking, sharing of resources, and most of all encouragement in ministry — and a place to encourage others.”

The weekend sessions were organized around three practices (arts) suggested by author Kenda Creasy Dean in the book “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” She identifies the art of translation (modeling faith through our lives), the art of testimony (the ability to tell about and witness to the faith we profess), and the art of detachment (practices of decentering that serve to take the focus off us and make us more aware of God’s call and action in the world).

Through the sessions, one discussion thread that arose was the need to be open and honest about the state of youth ministry and faith formation in the broader Mennonite church, including taking time to evaluate what is not working.

“Our hope comes not from redoubling our efforts in what we are already doing, but in listening to and trusting more fully in the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us forward,” said John Stoltzfus, youth minister of Franconia Conference.

The Gathering Live included worship at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City. Photo provided by John Stoltzfus.

“As we discussed radical hope and our great need for hope, we youth pastors stopped and lamented,” said Michele Hershberger, who works as a Bible and Ministry professor at Hesston College and was a speaker at The Gathering Live. “We’ve become self-reliant and we think if we just keep redoubling our efforts, we can save ourselves. But we can’t. We’re at the bottom of a big hole looking up. We need Jesus.”

There were also discussions on how youth leaders can assist in the formation and resourcing of parents and mentors in the church by supporting parents in their own faith and by helping parents model and communicate faith to their own teenagers.

The weekend included worship and fellowship with Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kansas. It concluded with a time of prayer and blessing for Shana Peachey Boshart as she prepares to moves into her new position of MC USA denominational minister of Faith Formation on August 1.

Videos of the sessions can be viewed on The Gathering Place Facebook page. Additional youth ministry resources can be found at Anabaptist Faith Formation website.