Emanuel Lutheran Church is moving in a new direction with the hiring of Eric Griffith as a pastor to focus on youth and family activities.
"Right now, we don't have a lot for kids," said Griffith, the church's new pastor of Christian education, youth and family ministry. "We are not complete unless young people are part of the congregation and part of our common life together."
An eight-member "call committee" decided last year to increase its emphasis on youth ministry at the Lodi Avenue church, said Janie Siess, a call committee member.
So instead of seeking an associate pastor to fill the vacancy, the call committee looked for someone to be completely in charge of youth and families, said Pastor Bill Crabtree. "In essence, we're co-pastors here," said Crabtree, whose new title is pastor of worship and pastoral care, which includes visiting shut-ins, hospitals in addition to the weekly sermons.
The change is intended to show the congregation that Griffith is completely in charge of Christian education, youth and family ministry.
"He has great experience and skills in these areas - helping parents, giving them resources," Crabtree said. "Another thing Eric brings is his passion."
Griffith wants to make children and teens a more integral part of Emanuel Lutheran.
Griffith wants to avoid the philosophy some churches share.
"We have a big-people church doing big-people things and we have the children's ministry over there - as an addendum," Griffith said. "I don't think that serves any of us."
Griffith, 31, doesn't look or talk like your Bible-toting evangelist. He wears a goatee and has shoulder-length hair reminiscent of the 1960s, although he considers it more of a "1980s rocker" look. And Griffith's vocabulary is like a down-to-earth man who likes to have fun.
"I think kids can be more effective about teaching us some things about faith than we can teach them," he said. "Faith can be risky. We're not working on proof, the five senses. We're not working on a scientific reality."
Griffith comes to Lodi from Nativity Lutheran Church in Bend, Ore., where he was youth and family pastor for three years. Previously, he was youth director at Calvary Lutheran Church in Rio Linda and served an internship in Golden Valley, Minn. He received a master of divinity degree and a special certification in youth and family ministry at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.
Griffith has been at Emanuel Lutheran since December, but he's still looking for volunteers he thinks would be a good fit in youth and family ministry. He wants volunteers from age groups ranging from teens to senior citizens.
But primarily, he's still getting his feet wet.
"I'm still learning what makes this place tick," Griffith said.
Griffith and Crabtree have discussed the idea of changing Emanuel's tradition of having a formal service to one with more modern music that may be more attractive to teens and younger adults.
"This congregation has a deep root of tradition that needs a traditional service," Griffith said.
However, with a traditional service, it can be difficult understanding what the pastor is talking about, he said.
Another change to the traditional service, Griffith said, may be for people to ask questions and comment on something the pastor just said during the sermon.
The need to consider changing the style of worship service, Griffith said, stems from the varying perspectives of God that different generations have.
"For Generation X and Generation Y, they need a God who is a mentor," Griffith said. "They're not looking to the stern parent of God. They're looking for a God who is somewhat of a peer, although someone who is more powerful and more knowledgeable."
On the other hand, senior citizens are more quiet and respectful of God, Griffith said.
"Their idea of God is more hinged on sovereignty," he said. "There is more of a power structure with God."
Griffith said he can see it both ways.
"Personally, I think they're both true," he said. "They're not mutually exclusive."
Griffith says he has a more difficult time analyzing Baby Boomers. They seem to seek a God who makes them content and fulfilled, Griffith said.
Most contemporary Christian music comes from the Baby Boom era, and Griffith has noticed a great emphasis in the "me and Jesus" theme.
The last two or three years, music has changed its emphasis to "God and me" to "God and us," which Griffith embraces.
Griffith and his wife, Jana, adopted a baby, Abigail, 5 months ago. Abigail's crib is part of his office furniture.
A fixture in Lodi since 1920, Emanuel Lutheran has about 600 members, with Sunday attendance averaging about 250, Crabtree said. The church has grown by about 40 to 50 members over the last two years.
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