Interview with James Clarence

In this interview we ask James, who is leading Tehillah Young Adults at First Assembly Calgary, what has changed in young adult ministry in the last five years, what do we need to be doing in our preaching and how can we best engage this very important demographic of leaders.

Tell us a little about yourself, where you work, and what you lead. 

Hi, my name is James. I grew up in a small town outside of Edmonton called Devon, where my parents were church planters. They grew a healthy church of disciples, and I was one of them, who took up the call that God had on my life to pastor. I first realized that my grade 12 year, when Pastor Steve Osmond prophesied my calling over my life. Following that year, I enrolled at Portland Bible College where I got my BTH. After that, I moved home and went travelling for 4 months. Then I was offered a job at the church I had always dreamed of being at, which is where I still am today, First Assembly. I started as the part time Jr. High pastor and over time began to oversee both youth and young adults at our church. I help oversee our Sunday serving teams, Tehillah & Tehillah Ministry School, as well as the 403 Network. 

What’s made Tehillah so successful for so long? 

A few things… but if I could narrow it down to one, the reason why Tehillah has been running every single Monday for 28 years, (minus 3 that landed on Christmas) is because of the sustained hunger for God in the leadership of First Assembly. For those who don’t know what it is, it is a weekly city-wide worship night where, on any given night, there are 30-40 different churches represented. Its purpose has been to be a well where people can come and drink, get filled up and go back to their local churches and communities stronger in their walk with God. 

What adjustments have you had to make to keep the interdenominational relationships healthy?

Good question! First, never making it about First Assembly, but keeping it about advancing the kingdom. Often times when these types of initiatives birth, it becomes about one person’s voice, a band/worship leader, or a recruitment center for the hippest church in town. That is not Tehillah. Tehillah is an arm of First Assembly, reaching out apostolically to serve and resource our city, asking for nothing in return. It has built strong rapport and trust with pastors in the city, to the point where many pastors attend, send their young adults, and change the night their young adults meet to work around Tehillah. We’ve even had colleges switch their worship night so their students can attend Tehillah. The reason being, the environment and encounters with the Holy Spirit sends them back more on fire for Jesus. 

What do you think young adults are looking for in preaching?

1. Authenticity/Real Talk. We don’t want to be entertained or hear pretty messages. If you haven’t noticed, there is a war going on for our world, and dancing around issues that are coming at us every day doesn’t help us win the battle. Let’s be honest in our communication.

2. Sound theological teaching. Shoot, we don’t know what to believe half the time, so help us by giving us the tools to learn, the environments to hash through things, and a real resolve that works. We want to learn the Bible and the life of Jesus, because we see something different in Him. Help us through teaching to learn the practices of Jesus so we can become more like Him. 

3. Power. Paul said, “I didn’t come to you with wise or persuasive speech but with power.” I think we’d like to see more of that in our own lives! 

What has changed or is changing in ministry to millennials that is different from even 5 years ago?

The rise of liberalism, individualism and narcissism. In some senses, pastor have got a lot going against them; teaching from a book that the liberals want to destroy, and our culture thinks is irrelevant. The challenge for ministry to millennials is that many church models are shaped around an Acts 2 setting: the church in Jerusalem, primed and ready for a revival, having people already know about Jesus in a mono-theistic culture that was the religious epicenter of the world. Today, we are living in an Acts 17, 18, 19 World: Paul had to go into Thessalonica, Corinth and Ephesus and identify the current culture, study it, learn how to speak to it, reason with it and then reach it. We are there today, so when we aim to reach millennials, we must learn about them first and not just use old ministry techniques to do so. 

What advice would you give to churches trying to reach millennials?

Be patient. Play the long game. Find the need and meet it. Most millennials are struggling to find purpose and meaning as they live in a grey world. So, give them a place to voice their thoughts. Give them a seat at the table and an opportunity to serve and to discover their purpose. 

What do we need to do as a movement to make room for millennials to step up and lead in an even greater way?

Don’t ignore them. Don’t down play them. Don’t push them to the side or the back hall of the church. Be a floor to them, not a celling. Make it a bit easier for them to join the family. Let their energy and passion fuel the movement forward, as in history God always used the young to be the driving force of his movements. Don’t make them work 40 years to gain influence. Father them, mother them, and help them grow in wisdom and character to be able to steward the influence God has placed on their life. Really, just do what the question stated: make room. Great leaders work themselves out of a job, and those who do, always have job because a leader that can multiply themselves will always be needed. In Kevin Shepherd’s words: prioritize the DEF’s over the ABC’s. Focus on D-iscipleship, E-vanglisim, F-aithfulness over A-ttendance, B-uildings, C-ash. That will keep millennials in the game. We are passionate about equipping the saints for the work of the ministry and building THE kingdom, not our kingdom.