The Nebraska Synod’s Operation IDEA, begun in 2002, is planting, growing, and cultivating a sense of call among our young people to consider service both in the church and our communities.
In the 1980s a television commercial for Malt-O-Meal® cereal featured a young boy named Edgar. A booming voice startled Edgar, saying, “Edgar ... Edgar ... this is your tummy, Edgar.” Edgar talked back to the voice and found out that his stomach — of course — wanted some Malt-O-Meal cereal.
The days are past when people hear voices telling them what cereal to eat, it seems, and some might say that the days are past when people hear God’s voice in a startling way, calling them to what God wants them to do. The idea of God speaking out of a cloud or a burning bush is not a normal part of people’s existence today. Or is it?
The idea of God speaking out of a cloud or a burning bush are not a normal part of people’s existence today. Or are they?
The Nebraska Synod’s Operation IDEA strives to reach out to people from elementary-school to college age and beyond, asking them to consider how God is calling them to serve. And people are listening and answering God’s call.
“Operation IDEA was created in order to identify and recruit leaders for the church by Inviting potential candidates, helping them Discern their call, filling them with Excitement, and helping them Act upon their call to enter occupations within the church and its many ministries.” So states the original program description.
According to Roger Sasse, Operation IDEA began as an intentional partnership created by the Nebraska Synod ELCA, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries, and Immanuel Health Systems. Besides Sasse, who served as the executive director of Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries when Operation IDEA was conceived, representatives of those partnering entities included Bishop David deFreese of the Nebraska Synod and Lowell Nelson, then president and CEO of Immanuel Health Systems. They came together in response to the clergy shortage that had resulted in more than 40 vacancies within the synod in 2002. In addition, more than 60 clergy retirements were anticipated by 2007. They clearly knew that the synod needed to take some steps toward addressing this issue.
Within the initial phase of Operation IDEA, gatherings of rostered and lay leaders were held that focused on the theme “Planting the Seed.” Participants discussed questions including:
- What kind of crop is needed? In other words, what are the gifts necessary and desirable for those positions we seek individuals to fill?
- What kind of seed is needed, or into what positions are we inviting people?
- Where should we plant?
- How should we plant, or how direct and how personal should the invitation be?
As a result of these discussions, young people were invited to one of several “Bishop’s Initiative” retreats. These retreats still take place today — one for middle school-age youth, another for high schoolers, and a third for college students. Although facilitators differ for these three retreats, Bishop deFreese takes an active role as a leader within each one. Each age group experiences a different gathering, but all are led through conversation, reflection, Bible study, worship, and other learning experiences that center on the topic of vocation.
Trying on Hats
Additional components of Operation IDEA have included an experience for third through fifth graders called “The HeadFirst Hat Company.” According to Sunni Richardson, a developer of this component, the premise is that the HeadFirst Hat Company has moved into the area of vocation and has invited children to look over the variety of hats (areas of service) they offer. People within the congregation wear these hats, so there are hats for ushers, musicians, lectors, coffee makers, teachers, and so on. Participants are invited to try on one or more hats and have the opportunity to make their own hat based on their gifts and interests.
Although much Operation IDEA programming is focused on children, youth, and young adults, those older than college age have also been invited to discern calls to ministry.
Adults who accompany children to this workshop are given a letter outlining steps the adults may take to support these young people as they begin to discover how God may be calling them. An example includes helping the home congregations of the participants identify ways they can utilize the children’s gifts within the life of their congregation. Another suggestion calls for connecting the young person with an adult leader within the congregation in their area of interest. The adult will then follow up with the child after he or she has assisted in some way to find out about their common experience and to encourage the child to continue to use his or her gifts to serve.
Another component of Operation IDEA, called “The 24/7 Challenge,” was designed for middle school youth in confirmation programs as a way to explore the promises made during the affirmation of baptism and to reflect on how God is calling them to live out those promises 24/7.
Although much Operation IDEA programming is focused on children, youth, and young adults, those older than college age have also been invited to discern calls to ministry through a series called, “Get Out of the Boat.” Through this series, adults interested in rostered ministry read various books that focus on God’s call and come together to discuss these books while developing a supportive community with others also in the discernment process.
|For Further Information
- For more information about Operation IDEA, go to www.operationidea.org. Additional resources include www.imagineyourself.ning.com.
- The Centered Life: Awakened, Called, Set Free, Nurtured by Jack Fortin (Augsburg Fortress, 2006).
- The Fisherman by Larry Huntsperger (Revell, 2003).
- If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg (Zondervan, 2001).
- In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen (Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992).
- Living Your Strengths: Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community by Albert L. Winseman, Donald O. Clifton, and Curt Liesveld (Gallup Press, 2004).
- A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion by Trevor Hudson (Upper Room Books, 2005).
- Your Call Is Waiting: How to Recognize God’s Purpose for Your Life by Terry-Anne Preston (Augsburg Fortress, 2001).
Culture of Call
This year marks the seventh anniversary of the inception of Operation IDEA, and growth has been noted. In 2002, there were 17 people in the candidacy process within the Nebraska Synod. In March 2009, there were 61 people in that process. This year also marks the graduation from seminary of the first Operation IDEA alumni.
Although existing programming has been successful, there are opportunities for change that Operation IDEA developers will pursue. For example, due to the geographic size of the Nebraska Synod, distance can keep people from taking part in programming. In addition, there is a desire to more intentionally empower people on the local level to reach out to those with gifts for ministry. As a way to address these needs, plans are being made to foster a culture of call within the greater Nebraska Synod, encouraging those within congregations, Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministry settings, and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries to intentionally reach out to those with gifts for ministry. The curricula for the HeadFirst Hat Company and the 24/7 Challenge were shared with interested congregational leaders at a March 2009 event. Future plans also include inviting the Fund for Theological Education to present their program called “Notice, Name, and Nurture” within the synod.
As Operation IDEA looks back on its initial impact on the church, not all those who attended programming are answering a call to the rostered ministry.
Stephen Dawson of St. Andrew’s in Lincoln, Nebraska, attended an Operation IDEA retreat for college-age students. This psychology major attending Northwest Missouri State University said that the retreat was helpful to him because he could meet with other college students who were all on common ground at a time when “their minds are expanding, their beliefs are being shaped, and they’re figuring out who they are.”
Dawson stated that he does not currently experience a call to rostered ministry, but he does want to enter the Peace Corps following graduation and then go into counseling people who are addicted to drugs.
He said of his sense of call, “Even at a young age, I watched programs on television about psychology and about drug use. It was like I had the light bulb, but I just needed a nudge to hit the switch.” Operation IDEA helped Dawson feel that nudge.
Lisa Kramme is director for faith formation, Nebraska Synod, Omaha, Nebraska.