by Brit and Aaron Bolerjack
We have ministered in the Church of the Nazarene for a decade, both overseas and in the United States. We have worked primarily with high school and college students, young adults, and young Nazarene pastors. There is no shortage of passionate, young, Nazarene leaders, yet in our experience the church’s readiness to equip, empower, and encourage them sometimes falls short. The article “Revitalizing Our 100-Year-Old Denomination” helpfully articulates key areas of renewal that can help usher the church into a healthier and more holistic future. We submit, however, that the study overlooks one crucial factor—the importance of nurturing and empowering young ministers and lay leaders, an objective that is essential to sustaining our denomination’s viability and vitality.
MAINTAINING FOCUS WHILE PROVIDING FLEXIBILITY
Jones, et al., rightly emphasize the importance of maintaining the church’s theological focus whileproviding clergy and laity with flexibility of practice and vision for the future. Such goals as upholding our Wesleyan-Holiness message, renewing our ministry to the marginalized, fostering cultural diversity within the denomination, affirming the ordination of women, and retaining liberty in nonessentials represent someof the core concerns of many young leaders in the denomination.
The authors correctly point out that, “like other social organizations, religious groups pick up accretions over time.” Happily, many young Nazarene leaders desire to avoid blind allegiance to political parties, to favor Wesleyan-Holiness theological foundationsW over fundamentalism, and to address gender and racial disparities in order to return to the heart of why our denomination was founded—to spreadthe transformational word and works of scriptural holiness. The young Nazarene leaders we encounter in our work are deeply committed to Wesleyan essentials like personal spiritual formation, ministry to the disadvantaged, and love for God and others.
ATTRACTING THE MARGINALIZED MASSES
Jones, et al., observe that socially and economically disadvantaged people are perhaps bestsituated to understand their need for the gospel.
Indeed, works among the poor and marginalized members of society were hallmarks of the ministries
of John Wesley and Phineas Bresee. Their efforts illustrate a difficult truth, however: When the lives of marginalized people are trans formed by their experience of the gospel, they sometimes enjoy the socioeconomic uplift that uproots them from the communities that most need the gospel message lived out by Christians in their midst!
For this reason, the Church of the Nazarene must continue to equip and empower young leaders
from all classes, ethnicities, and backgrounds to extend our works of charity and communitydevelopment in disadvantaged areas, in the United States and overseas. We can learn much from the generations of young Nazarenes who have pioneered innovative, non-traditional ministries in schools, clinics, house churches, skate parks, and prisons. In doing so, we honor the early Nazarene commitment to preach holiness to the poor.
RETAINING YOUNG PEOPLE
Many ideas have been proposed to stem the flowof young people away from their families’ churches and faith traditions, including Nazarene higher education, Nazarene Youth Conference, and participation in district and regional events. Yet it is also fair to state that access to these typically high-cost initiatives limit youth who have logistical or socioeconomic constraints.
Nazarenes can combine the goals of retaining of young people via formative, corporate experiences and reaching new people through evangelism by encouraging more Nazarene teenagers and young adults to participate in missional service, both in the U.S. and overseas. Programs like Youth in Mission, Mission Corps, 365 M, and the Justice Movement demonstrate that empowering and encouraging the next generation of Nazarene clergy and lay leaders can aid the denomination. Such programs retain young people and have an evangelistic ripple effect as young leaders utilize their generation’s cultural language to reach peers.
Nazarenes have work to do as we move into our second century of sharing the gospel of Christ with the
world. And as Wesleyan-holiness people, we have much to contribute to that mission! What also seems clear,
however, is that we are at our best when we equip, empower, and encourage young clergy and lay leaders to help us fulfill our calling.
The Church of the Nazarene has done an incredible job nurturing leaders around the world through Nazarene Youth International—especially outside the United States. However, young leaders must feel empowered to lead not only their peers but also the wider church. We can nominate and elect more young leaders as church board members,
district officers, and general assembly delegates. We can make space for young clergy on our boards of
ministry and district advisory boards. Rather than fearing or dismissing young people, we can affirm their contributions as we equip and empower them for leadership as the church moves into its future.
Young clergy and lay leaders must be encouraged to speak up. When they see a need, they must know they are never too young to change
the world. They need to know that their voices matter and that local, district, and denominational leaders are listening. Perhaps only then can we realize our goals for the Church of the Nazarene of maintaining theological focus while providing practical flexibility, attracting the marginalized and
disadvantaged masses, and retaining young people. May God grant that it be so!
BRIT and AARON BOLERJACK are co-pastors for college and community at Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene and adjunct instructors of theology and ministry (Brit) and history (Aaron) at Southern Nazarene University. Brit also produces the This Nazarene Life podcast, which tells the stories of young Nazarene clergy and their role models at thisnazlife.com.