Finding and Fostering the Next Generation of Spiritual Leaders

Arnie OndisTwo years ago I had the privilege of being the Master of Ceremonies at the annual conference of the Florida Students of The Urantia Book. By the end of the first day, I was aware of an uneasy feeling. I had been speaking to a sea of grey-haired, white-faced, late-to middle-aged people. I told them that we looked like a Sunday School class. I wondered about the lack of diversity and why young people were absent.

So began my journey of finding a way to pass the torch, to find and foster the next generation of spiritual leaders. Because this article comes to you from my heart, I would ask that you receive it not only with your mind but also with your heart.

We are taught that:

Who are these new teachers and where will they come from? Will they simply be mutations of the evolutionary process, however slow or sudden, or are we called to play a part in this unfolding of God’s plan? I submit to you the latter. I believe that we are called to this.

The urgency is apparent. We need only to look around us to know that our world is changing. Paradigm shifts are occurring in all of our institutions: political, social, financial, and religious. These changes are happening at an ever-increasing rate. We must raise new leaders who will carry on after us, who are equipped to meet the challenges and opportunities that this new era presents. If not now, then when?

The Urantia Book was given to me when I was 20 years old, during my second year of college. That was the most important, seminal event of my life. It was given to me by my spiritual mentor shortly after she found the book. That I can deliver this message is a tribute to that wonderful teacher who turned my life around at a tender age and set my course Godward. She primed me to embrace the truth of this revelation, and this has subsequently informed and shaped my entire life. I am a living testimony to the critical importance of quality mentorship.

My experience is typical of the developmental stage of early adulthood. Young adults are searching for the structure and relationships that will define and give purpose to their existence. They are at once in the present and of the future. They are the future. The next generation of spiritual leaders is among this population, and a great number of earnest truth seekers are congregated at college campuses.

Consider the opportunity that is illustrated by the following statistic: 72% of people aged 18-29 [in the US] are unaffiliated with any religious group and consider themselves to be “more spiritual than religious.” [Pew Research Center, May 2010]

Some of these young souls are searching for God among the “isms and cults of a frustrated philosophic era” and are unwittingly at the altar of an Unknown God. Some are wandering the hallowed halls of secular humanism and need to be led from the kingdom of good to the Kingdom of God. Others are looking for love in all the wrong places. However, all of these young people are searching for meaning, and we must help them to find their greater purpose.

It has been said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. That is to say that the traditional outreach approach is not enough. If we are to raise new leaders and teachers, we must build the means to sustain them in their development until they reach spiritual maturity, when they find their voices and are equipped to transform the world. If we intend to raise a generation of leaders, then we must build a cooperative structure to do so.

It is time to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders and to establish a pattern of sustainability for continual regeneration. The intent of this article is to propose an innovative approach to finding and fostering these young leaders and to spark the process that will bring life to this vision.

My vision is:

  • To provide an integrated network of mentors and study groups that continually strives to meet the spiritual needs of the next generation by bringing the Urantia Revelation to them, by sustaining them in their spiritual development, and by developing their leadership potential.
  • The multi-faceted vision is one in which each person involved benefits:
  • Guided by the divine, core values of Truth, Beauty and Goodness, we are a bearer of Light to the next generation. Having a special focus on young, college-age people, we develop and implement innovative approaches that gain access to their physical and virtual environments, and that appeal to them in the most personal, meaningful and relevant ways.
  • Once introduced to the Urantia Revelation, these new, young readers are sustained in their spiritual development through the nurturing of dedicated mentors and study groups.
  • We raise new leaders of the Urantia movement as we provide these young persons with opportunities to develop their leadership potential so that they may, in turn, become the standard bearers to the generation that follows them, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the Urantia movement.
  • Our study group members benefit and grow spiritually by expressing their personal uniqueness through participating in the generative service activities of their choice, through the quality of relationships experienced by serving in concert with others, and through the sublime satisfaction of achieving these meaningful objectives.
  • In the spirit of true fellowship, this innovative service model, along with our outreach developments and experiences, are shared with the entire Urantia community.

How do we get there from here? The answer is two-fold, the first of which is to build a cooperative structure. A Design Team will form, whose purpose will be to develop and facilitate the services provided through this mission by focusing on:

  • Best Practice development for outreach approaches, communication, tools, and resource pooling;
  • Developing innovative communications, using electronic and social networking;
  • Establishing sustainable funds for student book subsidies and special outreach events;
  • Mentorship development;
  • Venue development; and
  • Study group development.

Considering venue development, let us be mindful that Jesus said, and then will you go forth to become fishers of men. [Paper 138:7, page 1544:5] I know a little about fishing. I live on the beautiful central Gulf coast; I see shrimp boats every day and I know many deep sea charter boat captains. The commercial fishing industry is vital to the local economy and I have learned the secret of their success. Their secret, simply, is this: They go where the fish are!

When I researched my home state of Florida, which has a significant number of universities and colleges, I was able to identify over 200 possible venues, including their satellite campuses. That’s a lot of fish!

The idea of taking the revelation to college campuses may seem daunting, but it’s really not that difficult. Some ideas for campus venue development that you may consider are:

  • Enroll in a course and start a study group;
  • If you are a college employee, or know a college employee who can, help them start a study group;
  • Guest lecture in the philosophy or religious studies department;
  • Find a campus club looking for program speakers;
  • Sponsor a booth during student orientation; and
  • Become a regular at campus hang-outs, where students gather and share ideas.

Forgive me for using myself as an example, but I think this illustrates a point. I contacted the nearest university that has my professional department, occupational therapy, and offered to be a guest lecturer in areas related to my fields of expertise. They jumped at the chance to add an element of practical experience to their program. I will start this fall by lecturing on management, professional ethics, and leadership. This is not The Urantia Book, but it is teaching truth and spiritual values, and it will deliver me to these young people. I am also completing the process to become an adjunct faculty member, and that will bring me into a closer association with students and allow me to start a study group on campus.

Regarding study group development, if study groups are to become places of sustenance and nurturing for these young people, then we must elevate the groups’ quality from that of self-serving pursuit to the higher value of service. We will do this by providing leadership formation and by helping individual members who are not comfortable with speaking or going to campuses to find purpose in performing supportive functions. If they don’t want to fish, they can cut bait!

The second part of the question—how to get there—involves you. Each of us has a unique role to play. If you feel a call to this mission, your starting point is to go within. You don’t have to wait for the announcement of the grand opening to obtain direction or permission to act. Go within and spend time with our Father. Ask to know your part in this mission. Then listen with expectancy. You will be given the answer and your path will unfold before you.

We hold in our hands a 2,000-page call to service. It is up to us to be the voice and the heart and the hands of the Supreme in this world. Do you remember the movie, Field of Dreams? A farmer built a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop because he was spirit-led to do so, and he acted without regard for personal consequences. What an example of living faith!

If we build it, they will come.