Keeping it Real

19 Dec

This past summer I went to a campus ministry conference where I had an interesting encounter with a campus pastor on an elevator that left me frustrated to say the least. While I am someone who has the potential to stew over things that bug me I decided to let it go and move on. However yesterday I had an occasion to be reminded of why I was upset by that previous encounter.

Every Tuesday we have a luncheon we call This I Believe based upon the NPR program This I Believe.  We invite campus staff and local community members to come answer the question this I believe. They can talk about their faith, religion or spiritual beliefs or they can talk about their passions such as education, social reform etc. We don’t ask the guests what their subject will be ahead of time and we’ve never had a problem. This week however our guest, who is a local pastor, didn’t come with a subject in mind but with a list of questions.

I should clarify here that many, if not most, of the students who attend our programs would fall into the unchurched or dechurched categories.  Anyhow this laundry list of questions centered on why they did not attend church and what they would be looking for in a church if they did attend church.  Most took it good-naturedly but some, I could tell, were uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable, and while I understand this persons desire to gather information directly from the source this was not the appropriate venue to do so.

My encounter this summer with that guy on the elevator centered around my children who, at this point, are young adults who would most likely fall into the “none” category or the de-churched category. Our conversation ended up in one of his sermons and this upset me for several reasons, one being that the conversation was very distorted in his sermon and two he made it all about him.

Both events left me frustrated because students and young adults particularly those who do not attend “church” were used as sermon fodder and as means to an end, “how do I get more people your age in my pews ?”.

Perhaps I’m just venting but I have some sincere questions about these dealings. First, one of the reasons I never sent or posted a response to the sermon was that I believe the infighting, criticizing etc. we churched people do drives young adults and others away. So my first question why can’t we engage in honest conversations without hurting one another, being offensive to each other or ending up as a sermon example? Two, when are we going to stop using children, youth and young adults?  We trot them out when we need to show them off or we engage them when we want something from them but we don’t fund their programs. Perhaps that’s harsh but I think it’s real. I’d love to hear what you think.


Yvonne Wilken I has been the campus minister at the University of WI River Falls for eight school years. She holds a BA in Youth and Family Ministry from Augsburg College and an MA in Congregational and Missional Leadership from Luther Seminary. Yvonne loves to knit, sew, read, cook and spend time with my family and friends.


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