By Amy Hurd
Todd Cox, a student at Tennessee Wesleyan University and candidate for ministry in the Tennessee Conference, gave the Youth/Young Adult address at the 2016 SEJ Conference on Thursday morning.
Cox shared that his initial joy and excitement about his calling to ministry had turned to fear and anxiety as he watched the mistrust and anger at General Conference. And that he was disappointed when he heard about the skyrocketing divorce rates among couples in ministry.
“I began asking myself: Why would I want to do this?”
He spoke about current expectations of youth in the United Methodist Church. Far too often, youth are invited to “set up the banquet, but not to sit at the table.” He expressed young people’s desire to be involved, to be heard, and to be leaders in today’s church.
He made an appeal to delegates to recognize that youth can invest time and talents right now, instead of having to bide their time for a future day. “We are today’s church now and if given a seat at the table we will partner with you to create the way for tomorrow’s church.”
Cox shared two stories about how young people in Southeast Jurisdiction churches are taking the message of love and hope to others. He spoke about a young girl who asked her parents not to give her presents for her 4th birthday, but instead to donate items to the local animal shelter for the homeless animals housed there.
The second story was about youth at Charlotte-Fagan UMC who organized a special event for an 8th grader in their community who was recovering from surgery for a brain tumor. The group threw a “prom” for Lia, who had missed this important school tradition and send-off to high school because she was recovering in the hospital.
“These stories are possible because churches saw potential in young people, and invested in them to go out and be disciples of Christ in the world.”
Cox stressed that, “investing in young people doesn’t just mean the occasional donation to the youth fund, or showing up once a year to the youth car wash or bake sale. Investing in young people can take the look of mentorship and guidance, specifically regarding call to ministry.”
“There are many young people I have known who have felt the call to vocational ministry, shared this within their churches, and then been left to fight for themselves (as one would say) to formulate, develop, and discern this call,” said Cox. “Eventually, they become lost and tired, and eventually give up on the call. We as a church must not let this happen! Investing in young people can look like simple conversation with young people who feel called but are confused, and allowing them to just vent and share how their feeling and give feedback and act as a listener for them.”
He stressed that we also need to invest in youth at the jurisdictional and the general level — to serve on conference committees and teams and delegations — and allow them to serve with you, not under you, on all levels of the church. He added that “Youth today are pleading for involvement in the conversation on how to move forward in the United Methodist Church.”
“We as young people are striving to be world changers. We want to transform the world in the name of Christ,” said Cox. “We have felt a divine call in our life and we have God sized dreams, and we as young people know that they will never be impossible and we can reach them. But to do it, we need your help. Let us continue to grow together in covenant with each other and with God this upcoming quadrennium.”
Then, Cox added, “We look forward to sitting with you at the table.”
Cox is a junior at Tennessee Wesleyan University majoring in religion and psychology. He works as a production director and ministry intern in the Next Gen Discipleship Ministries of the Tennessee Conference.