May theme–“Durable Faith: Creating a Faith that Lasts…Graduation”


It’s May.  Time for budding spring flowers, afternoon rain showers, prom, open houses, and graduation!

We prepare diligently for this day with great care.  We encourage our children and students to study hard.  We help them proofread their college essays.  We drive them to countless prospective student weekends looking to find the right fit for college.

And then that marvelous day comes when they walk across the stage, receive their diploma, and throw their cardboard hat into the air.

They did it.  Congratulations, graduate!

As we consider faith formation, there is no ‘graduation’ date.  As disciples of Jesus, we don’t receive a piece of paper that states our credentials to frame and hang on a wall.  Our faith is an ever dynamic, ever growing (hopefully), evolving, and deepening relationship with the One who loves us more than we can ever imagine.

However, research is clear–we are living in the age of the ‘nones.’  More and more of our young people are not claiming any religions affiliation.  The National Study on Youth and Religion state many reasons for this, and about once a week I’ll come across an “open letter to my church” from a Millennial on why they are done with it on social media.  Sadly it seems that graduation from high school (and youth group) also means a graduation from faith altogether.

So, what are we to do? Because I don’t think this is how the story needs to end.

This month on The Gathering Place, we are going to delve into the topic of “Durable Faith: Creating a Faith that Lasts…graduation.”

Join the conversation this month through:

Webinar: Sarah Bixler, Ph.D student at Princeton presents a webinar, ” Youth Attachment to God and the Church: Should the Church Act Like Fly Paper?” Sarah will share her research on attachment theory and connect it to how it can inform our faith formation efforts.  Wednesday, May 17, 1pm EDT/12pm CDT. Sign up now!

Study Circle: Shana Peachy Boshart will lead this month’s study circle on Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids by Kara Powell and Chap Clark. This is a top youth ministry (and parent!) read–so join the discussion today!

tGP Podcast:  An Interview with Brad Griffin. In this podcast, episode 19, Rachel interviews Brad Griffin, Associate Director of Fuller Youth Institute and co-author of the book, Growing Young, the newest book to come out of FYI’s research about qualities exemplary churches have that have the ability to retain young people. Listen to the interview now by clicking the title above.

As denominational minister for Christian Formation for Mennonite Church USA, I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about this quandary. How do we create spaces for authentic faith development to occur?  What does it mean to nurture spirituality in our children as they grow?

I look to hearing from you via our webinar and study circle, and you are in for a treat from our bloggers this month–seasoned youth workers–as they offer their own perspectives (new blog posts each Friday). Because I can’t help myself, I’m going to share a few of my own formation musings…

For starters, what do we mean when we use the term “faith formation”?  It seems to be a current buzz word–so I think it’s important to agree on what we are talking about!

My working definition is this: “Faith formation concerns the process of growth towards God.  It is a continual journey of being transformed by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Christ.”  For authentic faith formation cannot occur without being connected to the whole, and it needs to happen in both information and formal ways–not just in Sunday school or at church. All too often when we think ‘faith formation’ we immediately equate it to ‘Christian education.’

But it’s so much bigger than that.

I think we can all agree that this is a pretty decent working definition of faith formation—one that could transcend throughout history. But how this plays out, how this looks from one generation to the next, is interpreted differently.

This generation views church much differently than those of the “builder” generation mid-century that fully embraced the church as an institution with most of the cultural life centered around church and faith.

Not quite so much anymore.

The National Study on Youth and Religion (10 year study which followed youth to young adults and explored what attributed to lasting durable faith. They surveyed and interviewed thousands of folks from a wide variety of denominations) discovered the following as it relates to the current trend of youth perspective and religion:

  • Youth are by and large not hostile towards religion—study found they are actually benignly positive towards it, “it tries to make you nice.” This general sense of vagueness is because they simply don’t care all that much about it. They aren’t going to be passionate about something that doesn’t matter much to them.
  • Teens mirror by and large their parent’s faith. Yikes!
  • Articulating faith is very difficult—easier to talk about God in general terms than Jesus.
  • Religion is inconsequential. Despite our best effort, we have seemingly turned Christianity into a moralistc-theraputic deism. We’ve represented Christianity as being good and feeling good, than the gospel.

If these findings are accurate and true, then it is paramount that faith formation for this new generation will need to look much different than it has in the past, because something is not working.

So, what do we do?  How do we reclaim authentic faith formation for this generation, connecting it in ways that make sense to them?

I think it begins by listening and taking an honest look into our own congregations and home-life to see what messages we are sending (both overtly and covertly). Our youth are stressed out and tired.  They need spaces to be themselves and loved and accepted unconditionally.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…they don’t need more pizza or crazy game nights (not to say that youth ministry can’t be fun–but we can’t simply stay in the programming/game mode).

Mark Yaconelli, illustrates the difference between ministry rooted in anxiety and ministry rooted in love. Or in other words, how are we busy doing things FOR Jesus, as opposed to creating space in order to be present TO him? I find his juxtapositions to be a helpful tool to use as you reflect and discern, structure and form ministries in congregational life:


Ministry rooted in ANXIETY Ministry rooted in LOVE
seeks control (How do I make Christians?) seeks contemplation (How can I be present to others and God?)
seeks professionals (Who is the expert that can solve this problem?) seeks process (What can we do together to uncover Jesus’ way of life?)
wants products (What book, video, curriculum will teach faith?) desires presence (Who will bear the life of God to one another?)
lifts up gurus (Who has the charisma to draw people in?) relies on guides (Who has the gifts for living alongside?)
rests in results (How many have committed to the faith?) rests in relationships (Who have we befriended?)
seeks conformity (Do the new people coming meet our expectations?) brings out creativity (What’s the fresh way in which God is challenging us through our new attenders?)
wants activity (What will keep the schedule busy?) brings awareness (What are the real needs?)
seeks answers (Here’s what we think.  Here’s who God is.) seeks questions (What do you think?  Or as Jesus said, “Who do you say that I am?)

Mark Yaconelli, Contemplative Youth Ministry (London:  Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2006), 51.

Where are you anxious in your formation?  Where are you rooted in love?  What might holistic faith formation look like here? You might consider sharing this with another leader in your church and consider the implications together.

Before you begin to sketch out a new master plan, or panic (!), I have a few words of hope for you:

  • Don’t despair—it only take 3% of salt to make salt water, and Christianity only started with 11 disciples.
  • Often times, we just want to change things.  We begin to believe the woo of the world that claims to know the ‘secret sauce’:
    • We believe the croon, “We just need more young people,” thinking that young people will attract more young people to attend.  That young people will save the church—but only Jesus saves. Kenda Creasy Dean says that when we think like this we have “vampire theology” (young blood). We turn our ministries into programming.  When we frame faith in terms of numbers we reduce it to entertainment rather than equipping.  We become more focused on roping people IN rather than sending them OUT.
    • Another myth—in order to appeal to young people, it means acting like them. Churches are turning into coffee houses, sanctuaries are looking like living rooms…all of this is fine and good, but to what ends? If you are using these things as a gimmick, you fail to see those who come as individuals who are seeking transformation, and instead see them as a demographic to be marketed to.  But do you know what the largest growing denomination is?  Greek Orthodox.  It appears that significant number of millennials are drawn towards the mystery and the ritual, of ancient-future worship. (I wonder if it has something to do with the rhythm, quiet, and spaciousness that this tradition offers to our harried young people.)

As much as we want to keep our children and youth ministries siloed, like we did since the advent of big youth ministry programming (hello 1980’s-1990’s), I’m not sure that we can afford to continue with this trajectory given our current state. Families are more scattered and fragmented than ever before. “Regular attenders” come to our congregations once a month at best (Barna Research Group, 2015). Parents are feeling less and less confident in their own abilities to attend to the spiritual lives of their children, and bring their kids to church to get it (but due to the harried family schedule, can be difficult to attend)—and the cycle continues.

So, how do we break the cycle?  How do we think creatively and out of the box to meet our own unique congregations and families where they need to be met?  Guilt and shame have no place here.  Wishing for “the days of old” isn’t going to change a thing.  We have to be brave to look deep and honestly and trust that Jehovah-jireh will provide for us all that we need. Authentic faith formation is always connected to the whole. It’s about nurturing our children and youth to see that they belong to this faith community in real ways.  That they matter.  That they are seen. And then showing up for them, embodying Love as a verb (and I do hope that you are planning on coming to Orlando ’17–sly plug).

Are you still feeling a bit lost on where to begin?

Here are a few practical ways to take the first step to be intentional in creating a holistic approach to faith formation especially with this generation that craves belonging, authenticity, and something to believe in:

1) Say hello! Making an effort towards hospitality says far more than just a greeting—it says—you are seen, you are appreciated, you matter.

2) Invite in authentic ways.  Don’t see young people as a project, for they are real participants in the life of the church with gifts and skills to offer.  Young adults are a bit skirmish on commitment, but inviting to short assignments is often helpful (just this one Sunday…or for this month…). The more connected they feel, the more they tend to find their place within.

3) Create ways to engage intergenerational mingling—we need one another. Allow opportunities to talk with one another and share stories from life. Curt Weaver, long time faith formation minister (currently at Portland Mennonite) has older adults invite the youth group into their home for an evening of conversation and fellowship where the hosts share “Your Life in 10 minutes”.

4) Be authentic—Being real and authentic about life and faith, naming fears and questions and doubts, is just as important as talking about what you believe in.

The future of the Church, by the statisticians point of view might appear to be grim or so-so at best. But the future of the Church depends on Christ, not us.  Christian formation is not simply for growing churches, but for growing people into the likeness of Christ.  The shape of the church is changing and young people simply don’t care about sustaining an institution.  They want a real community that believes and acts and has a fire in its belly for loving God and the world around them.

As we posture ourselves and seek to be rooted and grounded in this way of being, there truly is nothing to fear—for this is God’s church.

And God hasn’t failed us yet.

I look forward to talking more with you this month about this topic, as a parent, as a pastor, and as a lover of the Church.






Rachel S. Gerber, Denominational minister of Christian formation and the editor of this fine website

April–A Look Into Convention: Love is a Verb




As you plan summer schedule, we hope that the week of July 4-8th is reserved for the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando, FL!  This month The Gathering Place will be featuring perspectives from some of the planners of this year’s theme, “Love is a Verb”! We hope that the perspectives provided will offer you a brief glance into what to expect the week of convention–an amazing faith formation event that is not one to miss!


“The Inside Scoop on Orlando ’17” with Convention Planning Staff, Glen Guyton, Sarah Chase, and Scott Hartman on Friday, April 21 at 1pm EDT.

Join this informational webinar where the convention staff will answer all of your questions about Orlando ’17, and you get the insider track on what to expect, where to go, and tips to prepare! Sign up today!

“Meet the Youth Worship Team Leaders!”

Listen now as Rachel interviews the youth worship team leaders for Orlando ’17:  Jon Heinly, Seth Crissman, and Jeremy Ours.  In this podcast, become acquainted with the personalities who will be leading on (and off) stage, and discover the flow for the week of worship.

Study Circle

“Preparing for Orlando ’17: Love is a Verb”

Shana Peachey Boshart will be hosting this month’s study circle with Leo Hartshorn’s Love is a Verb Spiritual Practices Resource that will provide a solid framework for your group to prepare for this important faith formation event. Sign up today to join this conversation on Tuesday, April 18th at 3:30pm EDT.


New Theme! Short-Term Missions Done Right!

Ready or not, summer is just around the bend.

In our congregations, summertime often ushers in a new pace of life together, complete with new ways of relating to one another, and engagement of our faith.  Especially for youth groups, this generally means taking some type of “trip” together, whether that be going to camp, convention, or doing a service trip.

This summer is a convention summer (yeah!), and we hope that all of you will be bringing your youth and congregations to this especially insightful and important gathering happening at Orlando 2017  through the innovative think-tank discussions, “Future Church Summit”.  [Side note: Sign your youth up to participate in Step Up, a leadership development program to engage youth in broader church discussions.]

However, no matter if a “mission-trip” is in the works this summer or not, at some point in the future you might consider it for your youth or plan an intergenerational service experience.  How does one even go about getting started?  How do we create an experience that empowers both those who engage in service and receives it? What are pitfalls to avoid? How do we continue the conversation and formation after we return home from these life-altering experiences?

As Christians, as Mennonites, living out our faith in tangible ways is an important expression of our faith in Jesus Christ.  It makes a difference in what we profess with our lips and how we engage our bodies in service. But how do we engage with others in a mutual experience where true hospitality flows as we learn and are changed just as much (or more!) than what little we have to offer another?

This month The Gathering Place provides a very practical theme that guides you through embarking in short-term missions in responsible ways.  Each Friday, a new blog will be posted highlighting reflections from pastors and leaders from recent service experiences.  Other ways of engaging this theme are listed below!  We hope to see you around The Gathering Place this month!


Webinar: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.” Drawing from Lilla Watson’s charging words, Justin Chambers, former director of DOOR Atlanta, will explore the idea of missions rooted in mutuality. How do we prepare congregations to intentionally serve in communities unlike their own? Who are we called to serve? How do we continue conversations with our service group around new ideas discovered during their short term mission experience? Sign up to join The Gathering Place in this free webinar on Friday, March 10 at 1pm EST!


Podcast: In this tGP podcast, Rachel interviews Marty Troyer, affectionately known as the “Peace Pastor” where he serves at Houston Mennonite Church, Texas.  Marty recently wrote The Gospel Next Door: Following Jesus Right Where You Are and talks with The Gathering Place about how to enliven youth’s spiritual imagination to live out the gospel in your own communities. Maybe you don’t have to go to another country to do ‘missions.’ Maybe it is a lot closer than you think…


Study CircleThis month, we will discuss the incredibly accessible book, Merge: A Guidebook for Youth Service Trips. It will be hosted by Krista Dutt (author!) and Kathy Neufeld Dunn, conference minister for Western District. Join this practical discussion, Tuesday, March 21, 2pm EST.


Looking forward to gathering together this month!




~Rachel S. Gerber, denominational minister for Christian formation and editor of TGP


February–Empowering and Equipping Volunteers

As ministering people, it doesn’t take too long to figure out that we can’t do it all ourselves.  Volunteers are absolutely vital to our work and ministry!  Apostle Paul knew this, too.  In his letter to Ephesians, he writes that the work of, “…pastors and teachers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

We are not in the do-it-all-yourself business, but as leaders, we are called to empower and build up the Church, naming gifts and encouraging others to use these gifts for the sake of Christ. This sounds amazing, assuming we can actually find people willing to volunteer and use their gifts!

One of the most common questions I receive is, “I am having a hard time finding people to fill in our Christian education positions! HELP!”

What does it look like, as a leader, to motivate and empower others in our congregation to serve?  How can we help others ‘catch the vision’ for investing their time, energy, and talent? What does it mean to equip volunteers, how do you nurture a healthy team, and what are best practices for saying “thanks”?

This month, we will explore a variety of ways to empower and equip volunteers in the Church.

  • Webinar: Dalene White, volunteer coordinator and motivator extraordinaire from Bethel College will offer best practices and tips on how to call, train, and lead volunteer teams.
  • Podcast: Mark DeVries, author of “Sustainable Youth Ministry” talks with Rachel in tGP podcast about how to get 100% of the volunteers you need, without guilting, shaming, or going nuts.
  • Study Circle: Randy Keeler, Professor of Religion at Bluffton University will lead a discussion on Chapter 10 of Mark DeVries book, Sustainable Youth Ministry.

This month is a very practical theme with lots of hands-on takeaways.  Can’t wait to gather together!




~Rachel S. Gerber, editor of The Gathering Place and Denominational Minister for Christian Formation for Mennonite Church USA

Race(ism) and the Church

This month on The Gathering Place, we will be diving headfirst into conversations that might feel a bit uncomfortable–Race(ism) and the Church.  But as the Body of Christ, as followers of Jesus, we acknowledge that the intersection of life and faith is sometimes messy. Just because it feels messy doesn’t give us license to ignore exploring the reality of what actually is.

Messy stories are all around us. The 2016 election enabled white-supremacists to feel empowered, with racial divisiveness and tension on the rise. So what is the response of the Church these days? How are we speaking out words of Truth and Love, welcoming all as neighbors and as brothers and sisters?

But perhaps deeper still–these hard realities force us to look within. The Church has its own fair share of inconsistencies.  How do address our own issues of power? Why do we have such a difficult time stopping the “Mennonite Game,” when it is so obviously painful and a hurtful litmus test of who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’?

This month, hard questions are being asked, and there are no easy answers.  But there are stories to share. Transformation always begins with building relationships.  And building relationships begins with listening and sharing together.

Well-known author and pastor Eugene Peterson writes, “Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.” Sharing our stories of life and experience is an authentic way of building bridges, forging relationships and creating community.  What would happen if we could sit down with one another—and talk together?  How might sharing our own story and honoring another’s story change us, and possibly awaken us to seeing how God is moving in the world around us, inviting us to take part in new ways of embodying a witness of love, reconciliation, access, and justice for all?

The Gathering Place this month will seek to share stories together and learn with and from one another:

  • Join webinar with Drew G.I. Hart, “Racialized Society and the Way of Jesus.” Hart will help to expand the church’s thin understanding of race and racism into a thicker framework that has a better handle on our societal realities. Though the church ought to be a space to speak truthfully and openly about suffering and oppression we have often remained silent. With a thick framework for race/racism in view, Drew will redirect the conversation with a robust Jesus-shaped theology that gestures us towards a more faithful way of life as disciples of the Messiah. Drew tells everyday stories that help make the anti-racism frameworks and theological ethics accessible and practical. Join us if you want to renew your mind and transform the patterns of your life in our racialized society. Tuesday, January 24 at 7:30pm. Sign up today.


  • Listen to tGP Podcast interview series.  This month Rachel continues tGP interview series talking with Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA  about our need for intercultural compentency. In a second interview podcast, Rachel connects with Sue Park-Hur about peace and racial reconciliation with her life’s work, ReconciliAsian.



  • Blog posts are new each Friday!  This month our blogger perspectives come from: Shannon Dycus, First Mennonite of Reedly, Alma Ovalle, and Ben Walter.

December Theme


Current research shows that 25% of women and up to 16% of men have experienced sexual abuse and/or sexual assault. One is too many, but 1:4 women in our churches is an epidemic. The difficult part however, is that many times abuse occurs from people we know. In places we deem “safe.” Sadly, these safe people and places are sometimes found in our congregations.

Hiding or shying away from this is not an option, no matter how uncomfortable this makes you feel. Abuse, assault, and misuse of power is real. And our congregations are not immune. What does it take to make our children and youth safe? What does it mean to truly create spaces that are safe from harm, to those most vulnerable in our life?

It begins with waking up. To face the facts. And then to take a step in the right direction to safeguard our churches. It means we take our policies seriously.  But policies are not enough. We also need to identify cultures of sexualized violence that we have grown accustomed to. We must name what power looks like–who holds it, and how it gets used. And we must surround ourselves with leaders who have training in abuse prevention and allow these wise guides to lead us into greater self-awareness. But we must also be open to hearing from those who have been violated and with deep compassion listen well and learn from them.  It is only in combination of these can we create a place of safety and healing.

This month on The Gathering Place, we will learn from these guides as they share about how to create spaces of shalom in our congregations. This month could be especially helpful for your teaching teams/leadership groups in  raising awareness and introductory training. In December, The Gathering Place will provide:

  1. Webinar with Anna Groff, Executive Director of Dove’s Nest on Friday, December 9th, 1pm EST
  2. Podcast interview with Barbra Graber, editor of Our Stories UnTold
  3. Podcast interview with Nancy Kauffmann, denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA and writer/contributor to the newly revised Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure document
  4. Study circle will host author, Janette Harder of Let the Children Come, on Tuesday, December 13, 3:30pm EST
  5. Each Friday new blog posts will be posted on the themes of: safeguarding in a texting age, identifying abuse, empowered parenting, resisting sexual violence, and child protection.

Please join in the conversation this month. For the sake of us all. Let us face this together.




Rachel Gerber is the denominational minister for Christian formation for Mennonite Church USA and editor of The Gathering Place.

November Theme–Overplayed: The Busy Lives of Youth (and families)

busy-calendarI get it. Totally.

As a parent of three boys, life often feels full.   Between multiple soccer practices during the week, games on the weekend, piano lessons, swim team, school activities, friend meet-ups, and homework, there is usually little time left over.

Except to shower. As a parent, I always make sure that there is time for my sweaty, smelly tween to hose down. For the love of us all.

I know that my family is not unique. And actually (as my kids are still a bit young, we have much more control over their schedules and activities, goings and comings), I’m guessing that as each get older and take on more diverse activities, things will ramp up to an even greater degree when we have three teens in the house.

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More times than not, families in our congregations are also maxed out. And it’s generally with really good things. But more and more, we are seeing Sundays filling up with soccer tournaments, marching band competitions, and other activities, including Saturday friend-sleepovers. This puts parents in a precarious position of choice. What gets top priority? How do we navigate these decisions of how to spend our time and what do our choices say about our values?

Before I  get too far, I want to show my own hand. I do highly value the Sunday morning church experience and want  my own children see, understand, and participate in their community of faith. But I also don’t think that it’s always that easy to decide; that it’s always that cut and dry. Because it goes deeper than just a technical change of schedule. I believe that we all lose if we simply pit Church against extra-Curricula.

What is really going on?  What is the deeper issue in this concept of ‘overplayed?’

As church leaders how are we able to walk with our families to name and identify, and perhaps even navigate this rat race? Are our schedules full because we have the FOMO disease (fear omissing out)?  What might it mean to encourage our families to flip the board entirely–and begin with identifying their own family mission/values, evaluating potential activities in light of this lens?  Maybe less is more. But maybe not. It depends on how God has called each family to engage and what feels right to them–and it isn’t going to be the same for everyone. But giving families tools to consider for reflection is important. The book this month, Overplayed is one of these tools to use, which has the potential to begin good conversation.

Regarding faith formation for busy families–I want to pose something to consider.  Our congregations are also often highly activity based.  We have activities for girls/boys club, jr. youth, youth group, softball league, basketball league, choir, handbells, drama team, etc…Often times when we get to church, our families are split again into age-segmented programming.

Let’s consider Sunday evening, when youth groups generally gather. Maybe Sunday evening is the only time that our families actually have to be together in any given week (do you see the delicate balance between it’s not always so cut and dry)? Our families are stretched, hurried, stressed, and tired. What is it that they really need?

What might it mean to, as formation leaders, create spaces for our families to re-create together?

What space do their spirits need in order to be present to God, and one another? There are no easy answers or magic formulas.  But I do believe that open, honest conversations along with our families deeply knowing that they are loved and supported and cared for will carry us further. Maybe our faith formation practices will need to change or become more adaptable for families on the go. But this I do know, shaming or guilting our busy families won’t get us anywhere.  There has to be another way.

So let’s gather together this month and talk about it!

This month on The Gathering Place, we will engage in the theme of Overplayed: The Busy Lives of Youth (and families). Our webinar will be presented by the authors of the book by the same title, Dave King and Margot Starbuck, as they help us navigate these questions and ponder this dilemma, Friday, November 11, 1pm EST. Sign up now!


Shana Peachey Boshart will be facilitating a study circle on the book on the same title on Tuesday, November 15, 3:30pm EST. Join our Facebook page to enter to win this FREE book by writing why this topic matter to you! 5 winners will be announced on November 1st. Sign up here to participate in the study circle.



As tGP continues with its interview series this year, this month Rachel talks with Femi Hollinger-Jantzen, of the New England Revolution (MLS), about his journey with soccer, balancing life, and wisdom for parents and youth who struggle with finding balance.




In the All About YOUth podcast vlog this month, Lesley and Caleb talk about how they adjusted their youth group Bible study to work with their youth group’s busy schedule.  Sometimes you have to work with what you have. You can’t change the commitment levels of people, but you can make the most of the various touch points that you do have.




Don’t forget to check out this month’s playlist curated by Ashley Litwiller, “Stressed Out.” This list is just what you need to remind yourself of Whose really in control.



May peace, wisdom, and and joy guide you on this journey this month. I look forward to seeing you!

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Rachel Gerber, Denominational Minister of Christian Formation for Mennonite Church USA and editor of The Gathering Place.

Faith & Politics



The podium still stands empty.  At least for another month. The United States is currently experiencing an unprecedented national election cycle.  It seems that the nation is being pulled apart and chasms are widening, between classes, races, ideologies, and perspectives.

As Anabaptist Christians, who have historically always had a tenuous relationship with the government, what do we do? How do we respond when our conscious pulls on either side of the political lines with no ideal candidate, but the liability of not entering into the political realm has dire consequences as well?

How do we reconcile our faith with our current political climate?

This month on The Gathering Place we will be wrestling with this dynamic, including how to engage with our youth in these important dynamic discussions.

Highlights from this month include:


An interview with Ron Sider, “Reconciling Faith & Politics”

Ron Sider is known worldwide for providing leadership to the movement of evangelicals who recognize not just the spiritual, but also the social and political implications of a high view of Scripture. His book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger was lauded by Christianity Today as being among the top 100 books in religion in the 20th century and the seventh most influential book in the evangelical world in the last 50 years. An ordained minister in the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Churches, Ron has lectured at numerous educational institutions, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Oxford.





Webinar with Dr. John D. Roth, “Faith & Politics:Uncovering Practices to Navigate the Deep Divide”, Friday, October 14, 1pm EDT/12pm CDT

John D. Roth is professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College, where he also serves as the editor of The Mennonite Quarterly Review, and the director of the Mennonite Historical Library. He is the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen College, secretary of the MWC Faith and Life Commission, and is currently focusing on several projects related to the global Anabaptist fellowship.  He and his wife, Ruth, are the parents of 4 adult children (including 2 granddaughters) and are active members at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen, Ind.


Shana 2014

Study Circle with Shana Peachey Boshart of Anabaptist Faith Formation Network

Faith Reminds Us of the Limits of Politics” (article, see link)

Tuesday, October 25 at 3:30pm EDT/2:30pm CDT

How much hope can be placed in government? How does our faith in Jesus inform our political advocacy? What are the limits of that advocacy? For me, advocating to government leaders on behalf of Pastor Max Villatoro has provided lessons on where I put my hope.



Ashley Litwiller, pastor of worship and youth at Arthur Mennonite (IL) created another great Tune My Heart playlist this month.  Check it out!





Caleb and Lesley bring another great message about how to create the ‘biggest impact’ with your youth on their vlog, “All About Youth.”






And we have a slew of amazing perspectives in our blog this month–check back each Friday to read! 



After you’ve taken your fair share into the political dive this month, gather with me to debrief on Friday, October 28th, 1pm EDT to talk about what we’ve learned/been challenged with in our learning circle.



As always, I find it such a privilege to amplify the resources and amazing gifts of our denomination.  Looking forward to gathering together this month, on this ever-important topic.






~Rachel S. Gerber, Denominational Minister for Youth and Young Adults for Mennonite Church USA and editor of The Gathering place

Welcome Back!

With the launch of The Gathering Place 2.0 season (we run September-May), I feel like it is the first day back to school! Here’s a sweet picture of sending my little one to preschool on his first day…

There is just something about September.  The start of a new adventure.  The launching of new vision.  In our churches, we often have Sunday school kick offs.  We initiate incoming ninth graders into our youth groups.  We begin new sermon series.  We welcome new families to our community.

Likewise, The Gathering Place has some wonderful new additions and initiatives starting this year. We are closing down our current “Mennonite Church USA Youth Workers Facebook Group” to a *new* Facebook page called,”The Gathering Place.” Follow us on Twitter (@TheGathering777) and Instagram (@thegathering777).  And don’t forget to subscribe to get our monthly newsletter that gives you all the information at a glance. I digress…

I can think of no better way to begin a new year of resourcing, equipping, and connecting Anabaptist youth leaders together than by going back to our A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s.  Because sometimes we need a refresher.  Sometimes we need to go back to the beginning and remind ourselves why we do what we do.  As Anabaptists, we approach our faith and work in the world through a different lens. But the outlying question remains–how does this look different in our approach to youth group?  Is our youth group distinctly Anabaptist?

What makes how we approach faith formation unique from the mega-youth group down the road?

And why does this matter?   We want you to engage this month and emerge at the end feeling more confident in Anabaptist theology and rooted in your role.

Like Maria from the Sound of Music said, “…the beginning is a very good place to start!” so too, will we launch The Gathering Place 2.0 series with a monthly focus on Anabaptist Youth Ministry: Why It Matters.

Here’s what coming down the pike in September:

  • Each week, new blog posts will be posted.
  • We will have an extremely practical and informative webinar presented by Michele Hershberger.
  • Shana Peachey Boshart of the Anabaptist Faith Formation Network will be hosting our study circle along with Randy Keeler (professor of youth ministry at Bluffton University) on his article, “Anabaptist Youth Ministry.”
  • Sarah Ann Bixler, Ph.D. student at Princeton Seminar and former Virginia conference youth minister interviews Kenda Creasy Dean (leading scholar and professor of youth, culture and mission at Princeton) about the gift Anabaptism brings to youth ministry in tGP podcast.

Plus a whole lot more:

  • Kick-off playlist, “Tune My Heart” by Ashley Litwiller to energize and inspire you as you plan for your year ahead
  • “Life of the Menno,”a new podcast from Marito Dominguez, youth pastor in Miami, the show that’s bringing the urban ear closer to Christ. Real life stories lived to change lives.
  • “Word on the Street” initiative that gets your youth group in on the action
  • Connection circles–intentional small groups of network and connection
  • Encouraging word from Lesley and Caleb Francisco McClendon on their vlog, “All About YOUth”
  • Opportunity to deepen and expand your own personal (and congregation’s) spiritual formation with the Visual Faith Project

Told you. Lots of new stuff.

So, make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss out.  The gifts out there in the Church are just incredible. It’s such an honor for me to be able to amplify the amazing stuff going on.

After you have taken in your fill, I want you to join back together the last week of the month and join our “flipped classroom” learning circle.  flipped-classroom

We’ve received feedback that people want to talk, they want to reflect and debrief the month together.

So after you have the chance to watch/listen/read on your own time, sign-up to join the learning circle where we take an “Open Space” approach, asking what connected with you this month, what still gives you questions, share joys and challenges of how this translates into your youth group.

Ready to begin?

Let’s gather together!







Rachel Gerber, denominational minister for youth and young adults Mennonite Church USA & editor of The Gathering Place

May Theme: Special Needs Ministry


As a first-year youth pastor, I remember one evening being with the Jr. Youth group who were eagerly talking about and planning to attend a popular Christian rock band concert playing at a local congregation.  Included in this conversation was also one 8th grader (“Jay”) who was wheel-chair bound since birth due to spina bifida.  As the excitement grew, logistical questions also gained traction.  How would we transport Jay to the event? What accessibility did the concert location have?  What about seating in pews? Handicapped parking?  With the help of J’s family and calling the congregation of the event, we eventually figured out all of these details and had an amazing time singing our hearts out, and deepening our friendships with each other at the event. But it made me, as a new youth pastor pause and consider how am I creating space for equal access and inclusion for everyone in our congregation?