Review: Greenhouses of Hope

July 20th, 2011

Greenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World is a book about young adults and their vocational journeys. It’s a book about what awakens a call, about how a congregation nourishes faith, about how gifts are named and lived. This is a book, as the editor states in the Preface (p.xiii), about finding the place where God’s dream for the world dances with young adults’ dreams for the world, and as a result, young people, church, and world are transformed.

Funding from the Lilly Endowment enabled this group of authors—pastors, scholars, and educators from the Fund for Theological Education (FTE)—to collaborate on this project. The result is a rich mosaic of multicultural, multi-denominational, and interdisciplinary perspectives on the spiritual journeys and the faith formation of youth and young adults. Where are those congregations, the authors wonder, of which youth and young adults might say: “If this is church, bring it on!”? Where are these congregational “greenhouses of hope” that are calling, nurturing, forming and sending the next generations of Christians? What are they doing? How are they doing it? What are the best practices of these vibrant, life-giving congregations that genuinely embrace the gifts of youth and young adults?

While focusing on youth and young adults who hear a call to ordained ministry, the authors also lift up practices that address the vocation of all Christians to live out their baptismal identity. Using the framework of ethnography, the authors put forth descriptions of—rather than prescriptions for—this work with youth and young adults. Ethnography consists of a kind of deep listening based on care and empathy, rather than assuming a detached, unbiased point of view. As a result, specific congregational practices will be determined by a congregation’s history, context, people, resources, and lived crises. As a result, no one template for young adult ministry is offered. Instead, all congregations are prodded to discern what in particular is being called forth from them in their time and place so as to nurture young adults along the journey of faith and calling.

The basics of any design include fostering intergenerational relationships with people of all ages and outside one’s own family, including youth and young adults in authentic roles in the lie of the congregation, and offering a place to grow spiritually in a culture where that is lacking or even negative.

Designed for pastors and lay congregational leaders, youth ministers, youth workers, Christian educators, the rich and honest stories recounted here are faithful to the complexity of the greenhouse metaphor. They tell of growth and innovation; they are inspiring and messy; they are organic and oft-times unpredictable. They are real—and as such offer example, reality, and inspiration to all who would dare and dream to venture into this realm of ministry.

Each chapter concludes with two sets of very helpful discussion questions. The first explores “vocation care practices” within the life of the congregation described in the chapter. These questions are designed to tease out and describe the various practices that are operative in that particular congregation. The second set of questions uses the authors’ ethnographic technique to turn the reader’s focus to one’s own congregation, unpacking the context, dynamics and possibilities inherent there.

In a time when mainline denominations focus obsessively on numerical decline and aging congregations, and when young adults are faced with too many choice but not enough good choices, as the authors assert, Greenhouses of Hope turns the conversation to examples of real life congregations that are taking seriously the nurture and cultivation of youth and young adults, with an eye to the future, empowered with the energy of hope.

comments powered by Disqus