Confessions of a Young Youth Minister (4) History making worship events

I had already gone through ‘the pain’ of worship events even before I turned up on my Oasis Frontline gap year.

My home church had a band, it had a ‘cool’ youth pastor with ‘cool’ ish hair who did ‘cool’ assemblies, the thought arose to have a ‘Friday night’ worship event service thingy, we’ll call it something edgy like ‘Powerhouse’ , we’ll put posters up everywhere, ill tell friends in school, it’ll be the loudest, best, edgiest, worship service in town and hundreds of people will turn up.

It was great. It was fun, It was well put together, it was a lot of work, the music was amazing, and as a teenager I loved it. As did the 25 others who regularly came along to this ‘thing’.

And boy did they do some great songs, at the time, I mean, mostly ‘cutting edge’ (pre Delirious days) and Kevin Prosch stuff.. (look him up on you tube..)

‘Powerhouse’ lasted about 18 months, if that.

And I event went to ‘events’ in other church halls in villages around Leicestershire that were billed as ‘for young people’ and all the lights – and we were the only youth group that turned up, as visitors, alot of work for 8 ‘already going to a different youth group’ young people.

Yet I confess.

I confess to forgetting all of this, and thinking that If I did something similar in a different town as ‘An OASIS person’ – and with the very well known Steve Chalke, things would be very different.

By then even Delirious had popularised better songs, and I could play Capo 5 Em Chord and kick it all off with ‘History Maker’ , and we could all go deeper…

We were well advanced at trying to make the mountains tremble, oh no.. we were being history makers. That Capo on the 5th fret was going to make all the difference, especially on my nice sounded Takamine Guitar in a big venue with the band, a band that had at least one future member of YFRIDAY in it (not that we knew it then)

What venue will hold all the possible people in all the churches in the town – yes lets book that one

What amount of kit shall we take – and lets include pushing a sofa half way through the town as a publicity stunt so that ‘WE CAN INTERVIEW STEVE CHALK SITTING DOWN’ – because thats what will …will do something, and include having to carry a sofa up two flights of stairs, and this would take all afternoon to do, and then take it back that evening if I remember rightly… oh man.. why..

And lets make sure all the churches know about it

And Steve, yes Steve Chalke is off the telly and he’s a big name and people will want to hear him

And we were the Oasis team (s) and we have enthusiasm and passion and big smiles and people love us and we can play that Capo 5 Em chord from which the whole of history in the small town of Hartlepool will be so different as we do this thing and make things happen and it will be glorious and there’ll be revival and we need to train a prayer ministry team just in case and and and and…….

That first chord was amazing. Lights amazing. It was probably one of my most comfortable times on a stage, with a guitar.

And not just any guitar, it was my lovely Takamine Guitar, sounded amazing, and we did a great interview with Steve and it was a night which was a well put together event that was good experience for us all.

But it was what it was, and… we had to turn everything down, because that big hall (the FE college assembly room) for 400 people, had just about 40 in it at best.

It had alot of good things about it, but history making inducing it probably wasnt….

And I soon forgot this, only to try something again less than a year later, and that one was much much more painful. That one ended up being my last ever ‘on stage’ event thing, as a kind of ‘worship night’ style thing.

That second one was poorly organised, rehearsed and a shambles really, biting off far more than I could chew on my own, and included getting the fire brigade out as the cardboard that covered the stainless windows to make the church look even darker fell down in the night before , thus setting off the burglar alarm. There was no order, programme or practice. And I stood on the stage making things up as we went along, and people had ‘actually travelled’ and it bombed.

So, this confession is something about how I had got taken up by a false sense of possibility, a false sense of what a ‘trendy/contemporary/edgy even ‘ worship event could actually do, and the part I had in them, a part that kept trying to make them bigger, louder and more complicated. Yet I also see now how the push from many corners to be ‘the revival generation’ and use worship songs as mission was all around, it was part of the 1990’s evangelical subculture that I identified with, I mean why not have Soul Survivor in the north…. and there was one, it was called Harvest, and it ran for 20 odd years.

Confessions of a young youth minister number 4 is about not just those worship events, my attachment to them at the time, and also how I must have been a nightmare to be around in the preceding weeks. I know these things aren’t about ‘numbers’ – but I think I’d wrapped up a chuck of my identity in this way of doing things, and so maybe, actually, having that bubble burst early wasn’t a bad thing, but it was painful.

They were good for a number of things, but revival inducing? nah.

Were we history makers…. probably… but did we need a song sung loud with a capo on the fifth fret to know it… probably not. We ended up more like kinds of fools to be honest. But it was the 1990’s….

Confessions of a young youth minister (3) The Funky chicken assembly.

Have you ever heard the song ‘The Funky Chicken’?

Whats that you say?

I mean – Have you heard the song the funky chicken?

Well let me hear your funky chicken..

It may still be sung now, or variants of it, but back in 1996, this was one of the ‘songs’ that was part of the collective spirit of my Oasis Frontline gap year. It wasn’t an anthem, we didn’t take it that far, but, it was one of those fun songs that we all learned in the training and developed in a number of ways.

It goes like this… best sung in a circle in a group of about 20

Let me see your funky chicken, whats that you say?

Let me see your funky chicken, whats that you say?

I said let me see your funky chicken…

And cue a mass of bodies flapping pretend wings around, making appropriate chicken noises and until someone shouts

‘Let me see your_______’

And then other verses were added as created by participants – like ‘praying nun’ ‘jumping kangaroo’ ‘slow moving snail’ ‘energetic windmills’ – and the rest…

So, that was the funky chicken, and all would have been fine… All that is except that we as a team had the ONE opportunity to do a High school assembly in the entire year, to promote our upcoming christian union, and what did we decide to do, to try and be ‘cool’ and ‘fun’?

Yes, you guessed it.

In front of a group of 150 year 8-9’s.

We decided to go full weird and ‘do’ the funky chicken.

Getting them on their feet, singing it in front of them, trying to teach them the song, and pray they might join in, then find us funny, and cool..

I think it was only us doing funky chicken moves in the first verse… not going well

Throwing sweets at them in the third verse helped ‘let me see your boiled sweets’ – but we may have injured a few people as the boiled sweets landed

We could tell it was going badly half way through the second verse, but like good seasoned performers, weren’t giving up, we were committed, and trying desperately to get some audience participation and contributions by then.

There was a few shocked looks on the faces of the teachers.

And pupils in the back rows some falling over each other trying to take part and yes, it was carnage. For others it was met with stoic non moving and pupils who didnt know whether they had permission to even move.

Thankfully my memory protects me from remembering all the different verses we used. But we thought we were amazing. We thought that by making such an impression we could get loads of the pupils to the christian union the following lunchtime. By hoping that they thought we were cool, and that by default ‘God’ was cool, they would be interested in coming to a group like this.

How many people turned up? guess…

6.

And all of then were the kids we saw at church already. We’d managed to scare off a few of them too, as word of the crazy assembly spread.

We had the opportunity to ask some good questions, to try and give the impression to the pupils that we had something of value, and that it was a place where they could find out more about faith- instead we pranced around, and yes im gentle with myself about something that happened over 25 years ago, and Ive have done a few assemblies since,

but my first high school assembly was definitely one that fits in this confessions series… I dont think I could do the funky chicken ever again…..

Confessions of a young youth minister (2) – The Calamitous ‘Residential’

When we were young, a residential was just the thing to help us all bond together

Taking them out of their normal environment will do them and you good

Oh those words.

The more pertinent words are, however, from when I turned up early at church, having had no sleep and , even in the days before easy communication, the kindly members of the congregation said

So they ran you a bit ragged last night did they?

This is the second of my ‘Confessions of a young youth minister’ pieces, and it is about a calamitous residential.

On paper it was a great idea. No it wasnt.

On paper it was a terrible idea. It was an idea based upon ‘previous experience’ – and with no actual sensible thinking at all. One even beyond considering it a ‘learning experience’.

For about 4 months, my team and I, after arriving in Hartlepool (see part 1) had begun an open drop in type youth club, which included about 8-9 12-14 year old girls who were on the fringe of the church and their friends, and 8-10, maybe more, 12-15 year old boys from ‘the estate’. Not just ‘the estate’ either, but somewhat notorious on the estate.

We tried. To the best of an ability and experience that was sorely lacking at the time, silly games and icebreakers and ‘god-slot’ moral talks were all opportunities for continued disruption, attention and..after 2-3 months we were exasperated.

So – why not do a residential? – Was the suggestion put to us…this was the kind of thing we used to do in the 1970’s , take the kids on a minibus to somewhere away.

But this wasnt a minibus, or a trip.

This was to the house of one of the church elders, who had been ‘that youthworker’ in the 1970’s, 60’s and 50’s.

We received the consent forms, probably fraudulent, and probably grateful – a 3 line slip on the bottom of an A4 sheet.

We didnt know where we were going, aside from the address.

It wasnt a ‘fun’ place – just a house on another estate in the town – an equally notorious estate.

So we took 8 13-14 year olds, very aggressive, cunning, clever, manipulative, ‘already on the police radar’ boys on a walk from their estate, to a house we’d never been to, 2 miles through town, and getting there realised that any bit of planning was going straight out of the window.

And we did plan, because though I dont remember the journey to the house, I remember that we carried items for games and food, I think.

And it was predictable chaos.

For 4 hours the boys just run around the house.

And through windows, and breaking back in through windows, and down the street, and back again.

Unless the food was being served.

Then they’d lock themselves in rooms, in spaces and hide away.

For 7 hours solid, from around 8pm to 4am, this was the pattern.

It was a residential where it was like being in a prison. In someone else house, with young criminals tearing it apart.

Give them credit, they were enjoying themselves. Give them even more credit they knew how to work in a team far better than the three of us leaders. Team work where two would play up, distract and then others would join in. Where three would run around the house, whilst others stole items, or where they would open windows and doors for each other.

And ill not mention all the activities that went on in the toilets.

Far far too clever for us.

It was pointless trying to get any sleep. Utterly pointless.

So we cut our losses and rationalised, at 5am..

So in the end, I, on my own, walked maybe 4 of the most notorious ones back to their estate, not far from the team house, at around 5.30am, through the streets of hartlepool. Not before they’d ran off completely I think. Not before id considered my life choices at that time.

Not before id already began to realise that ‘what was good for me, or worked for other young people in days gone by, may not work right now’ – though im not sure many residential occur in other peoples houses, with this level of naivety.

I got back to the house at around 6am, slept a few hours then turned up for church.

So, in hindsight , what am I confessing here?

Partly its something about being able to not say ‘no’ at the time, when the ‘great idea’ of a residential was put forward. It really wasnt. Partly its a confession about not knowing what to do, but wanting to do something, and this was so off the mark. Yes, we did get to know the lads even more, but only really in ways that revealed their more destructive sides. Maybe its a confession too about still trying to have plans and programmes and try and entertain out educate young people, even try and have control in an environment, be a leader – when a different approach was required. But I really didn’t know that at the time.

Confessions of a Youth minister part 2, is about the time of the Calamitous residential. I know im not alone in this…

Confessions of a young youth minister (1) Community prayer walking

So , there I was, armed with 5 years of lived in youth ministry from a middle class, midlands based evangelical church, and a weeks worth of ‘training’ , with a group of three other gap year students, landed in a ‘tough’ estate in the north east of England for a year, the year 1996. A year to ‘do mission’ a year to ‘do youth ministry’ a year to ‘redeem Hartlepool’ , a year to support the local church.

Or so I thought.

So what did we do? What did I do as the ‘team leader’ ?

There are probably many more confessions of a young youth minister that could be just ‘confessions of an Oasis Frontliner’ but most of them created the rule changes internally, rather than cause too much angst and shame. There probably are other stories to tell, but this one is the first, and involves something known as prayer walking..

The first month, of an 8 month gap year that I was on, was shaped as being a time to ‘get to know’ the neighbourhood – it would be what I would suggest takes a year to do in a 3-5 year plan, but we had a month in a gap year of 8 months, and if I remember rightly we did have some kind of community profile task to do, which meant in the days before the internet, a trip to the library and looking at local history, and trying to talk to a few people.

One of the ways we thought we would do this was to do some ‘prayer walking’ around the community. So, as team, we figured out routes, maps and pairs, and armed with 4 versions of evangelical faith (from prophetic, to charismatic to anglican) we set out on a prayer walk, not just ‘a’ walk – but a prayer walk.

Our aims for it were complex and ambitious, they were either to get to know the estate/ remove the estate of demons/ pray for those who looked like they needed it/ lay hands on difficult areas/ and to publicly pray out loud in places so that people might just ‘see the love of God’ in action.

Yes we were going for all of these.

At least, those where all the rhetoric in the prayers before all the walking starting, as we energised ourselves by praying louder and more enthusiastic before we left the house. Not only that but probably add a small dose of revival, blessing and long term generational change by our obedient walking actions, were all reverently called down to the Lord above for.

So we walked.

And oh my, do I cringe now.

I confess to standing and laying hands on the graffiti on a toilet block in the recreation ground, and feeling a ‘spirit’ of oppression in the parks and football pitches and going full jugular, crying before the Lord in angst at the lack of Godliness in the place. As we walked, in mournful prayerful attitude I remember how we would look for all the signs of where God wasnt in the place, where there was so obvious needs, like half naked 6 yr old boys on bike with no shoes on, like the graffiti, and any item that we could interpret as being not godly. The tattoo shop was one, as was the betting shop, we made assertions about some houses, that were probably not merited.

Strange that the middle class, privately owned houses seemed to have less demons around them.

Then we discovered the loose cassette tape.

We started to find cassette tape around the estate, and equated this, after much careful research and ‘amateur demonic prayer insight’ that the cassette tape was laid down by local witches who were marking their evilness around by use of loose cassette tape. From then on, for the next 7 months , any walking around the estate involved picking up cassette tape, that we ‘knew’ had demonic music on it (it wasnt video tape), and then the more we picked up, the more that got left. We saw it everywhere.

We became cassette tape warriors for the estate.

As I look back, over 20 years, with a mixture of shame and embarrassment at being the first month into a voluntary gap year with a large evangelical organisation in the mid 1990’s, I confess that it wasnt the organisation that encouraged us to do this specific thing, it wasnt its values, it was us, it was me.

Saving others and fixing others was what I thought I had to do, and part of the prayer walking, I realise, was to identify all the areas in the community where I, we, or God could fix, solve or redeem. Also, that I, and our team were the called people to help God identify the right areas to start this.

I imagine God laughing at us going, ‘it was just a play park’ whilst I was praying the demons out of an abandoned slide or swings that had been broken. At the time, I thought I was seeing like God was seeing, brokenness, hurt and evil – what I ignored was how things could be seen as good, hopeful and already a place where God was at work. I was only seeing the community in a way that gave me more work to do to fix it.

Also I was, and as a team we were, doing our best to justify our existence in a place, and my word we must have looked so odd, so out of place, and despite a few young people we did get to know, because none of our high aims were met, it was easy to go about judging the estate as a hard one, a tough one, and one in which the witches with the cassette tape had claimed as their own. Better to do that than think that we might have been wrong.

So yeah, confessions of a very young ‘Oasis Frontliner’ or volunteer youth minister, a tale from the mid nineties, a tale of ‘community profiling’ that was all sorts of weird, coupled with a mess of mid nineties post ‘toronto blessing, midst of vineyard power evangelism’ state in the UK, and one fresh faced me, wanting to save the world.

There might be more to follow….actually…I think its fairly likely….

Growing, Sowing, Planting- But what we know about soil?

Planting, Sowing, Growing, Re-wilding, Seeds, Growth, Pruning, Fruit,

Doesnt it feel that many of the churches strategies have a farming metaphor complex about them at times, and yet, aside from the farmer, and the weather, all of them require something that is rarely talked about.

So let me ask you a question.

What do you know about soil?

Its essential for pretty, id say all of the growing of anything. So what do you know about it?

I dont know much. The tiny bit I knew I gleaned from you tube videos as I was building and creating a home allotment bed a few years ago

You mean to say that I shouldn’t be digging over my allotment every year?

Said a friend to me recently when he shared the back breaking work of maintaining a small raised bed.

So what do you know about soil?

The good soil is the one in which the seed when planted delves deep , its roots form and fruit is produced, good soil is also a place in which both wheat and weeds inhabit. It is required for growth, regardless of what is grown. (Matthew 15)

Over the past month I have been reading James Rebanks book ‘The English Pastoral’ which is all about farming in Cumbria. 3-4 generations of farming in Cumbria, and the 1000’s of years prior too. They stand on the stiles of stone walls.

You would think that a farmer, and a history of farming in a land, would know about soil, but, actually what surprised me was that they didnt.

Well, actually.. thats not quite true. They knew intuitively about soil. They just didnt know it as a technology.

Soil was the lifeblood of the farm. It was a part of the farm. A character.

It had been tended to, on rotation for centuries. Never allowed to be exhausted by one crop, or concentrated by the manure of animals for too long, or left barren and empty for too long either. It was given rest, recuperation, growth periods, nutrients in, space to breathe, and had crops rotated on it so that it didnt get drained.

And it was hard work. The Farmer didnt know about the soil, but knew the importance and value of the soil.

Farmers learned the hard way through endless experiments, trial and error, discovering that if we over exploited our soil, ecosystems would collapse, and our ability to live and prosper with it. Fields could not produce the same crops over and over again without becoming exhausted. This was because each crop took nutrients from the soil, emptying its bank of fertility eventually, and then crop diseases would build up in the tired ground and they become devastating. Nature would punish the farmer for his arrogance.

Whole civilisations disappeared because their farming methods degraded their soils, the solution was rotational farming…

James Rebanks, 2020, p 102

However, as James says..

It seemed kind of amazing to that I could have grown up on a farm and had eleven years of schooling and never once had anyone tell me why these things were done (talking of rotational farming)

What he noticed from his grandfather was that there was an ongoing cycle, and that barely a thing was wasted from the farm. So much was returned back to the soil eventually.

Intuitively a farmer had known about the soil. Intuitively, after years and decades of trial and error.

But as James explains, in detail. The need for cheaper food, the pull of the market, and the expanded use of chemicals, both to fertilise and to reduce pests, changed farming, and changed the soil.

Farms became machines in themselves. Just a means to an end.

Farmers were enslaved by economists.

It became a new normal but it wasnt normal at all.

The way animals were now housed meant that they got more disease which meant more drugs and then solutions to alleviate the pests that were caused by a situation that was deemed progress, and as a result,

Farmers trying to persue intensive methods of animal production were prone to suffer catastrophic losses

Rebanks 2020, p130

Traditional pastoral systems tended to mimic what worked in the wild; grazing cattle or sheep were healthiest when they were herded around a range of habitats or by a shepherd or a cowherd, or left to their own devices across landscapes. new intensive farming placed animals in surroundings that made them distressed, diseased, dirty and stressed. The more of progress we saw, the less we liked it.

Revelation arrived about the damage of progress, was beginning. By sight the once varied landscape was now a monotonous colour of artificially fertilised evergreen crop, the same every year. Old buildings torn down and replaced by metallic monochrome structures, Tractors got bigger and bigger, fences knocked down and hedgerows destroyed to make their access and productivity increase. Rather than admire these, the traditional farmer saw these as ghastly.

But some of those bigger farms went bankrupt. There was no pleasure in seeing friends lose farms.

Revelation also happened in the soil.

As James Rebooks dad had began to discover, the truth was discovered in the soil.

There were no birds chasing the tractor in a factory farm. The soil was dead. No worms for the birds, no food for the nesting birds to find. The high volume grass for the cows created a toxic slurry, that when excreted didnt furnish the land with nutrients it had before. The Cycles of life had been broken. New farming had taken two mutually beneficial things, grazing animals and fertilising fields and separated them to create two massive industrial scale problems in two places. Farms with muck had too much, and farms with crop had not enough, and then had to rely on chemicals. Livestock bred on chemical feed was producing toxins, everywhere life was being killed off… for the sake of progress.

Outcomes – cheap food

Technology – to make life easier, bigger and more effective

Nothing was valued, and machines and technology was worshipped. (p186)

We didnt think it was our job to to know, or care, we were too busy doing other things, if large corporations gave us things we wanted, we let them. But it was an illusion, an industrial arrogance, a future that didnt work, a dystopia. What we do know in our hearts – even the most optimistic of us- is that finding our way back will take time and faith, and a radical structural changes in our relationship with food and farming

Rabanks p187

Had a devastating effect, though very gradual at the time on the soil. It was a change that took only 40 years to do, to affect the 1000’s of years before it.

One effect of the many changes in that soil and the landscape was that it was so uniformed and straightened, that when water hit it in tumultuous amount, Carlisle and much of the Lake District was flooded.

Farmers realised that they had been listening to economists for too long.

In the last chapter of the book James describes the future, not nostalgia or progress but the future.

One in which the reversal of uncritiqued progress had started to take place.

One in which the soil is treated as it should be. One in which the land is seen, as the ecosystem of vibrancy and beauty, and not just a technology, a means to an end.

Our land is like a poem, in a patchwork, landscape of other poems, written by hundreds of people, both these here and now and many hundreds that came before us, with each generation adding new layers of meaning and experience. And the poem, if you can read it, tells a complex truth. It has both moments of great beauty and of heartbreak. It tells of human triumph and failing, of what is good in people and what is flawed and what we need, and how in greed we can destroy precious things. It tells of what stays the same and what changes; and of honest hard working folk, clinging on over countless generations, to avoid being swept away by the giant waves of a storm as the world changes. It is also the story of this who lost their grip and were swept away from the land, but who still care, and are now trying to find their way home

Rebanks, p 197

So I wonder, and ask, What might I learn about soil, from one mans experience of three generations of farming, and maybe also, what do I notice about the changes in one industry that resonate with me, as I work in a faith based context. How are we as youth workers, ministers, churches creating the possibility of good, long lasting soil, in which beauty is returning and people can make their way back home? What resistance might there be to ‘soil destruction’ for the sake of outcomes?

Has the church listened to economists too long already and their view of the world seen as default?

So- what do you know about soil? I know a little bit more, just a bit, and ive been awoken to the challenges and experiences of how devaluing the soil has been disastrous for it. Soil itself is so complex that we dont technically know all about it even now, a weave of nutrients, bacteria, organisms that provide an environment for growth.

What is stopped being noticed and a sign that the soil is starting to die, what might be deliberately destroying it?

Maybe the soil isn’t ‘the church’ its also ‘you and me’ (and we are the church) – so what do I do? How do I become, or be healthy soil? What is rotational balance, and what doing I need to do to be the kind of person in which growth occurs without destroying my nature?

I have come that you may have life, life in all its fullness….

After 40 years of absence, James’ farm reverberates with the sounds of the curlews, the colour of the wild flowers, the noise of sheep and cattle in small numbers, the trickle of the winding becks and irregular ponds that scatter the farm. Life has returned. It will not make a profit, but it will live, and be a legacy of life and beauty for his children.

James Rebanks, The English Pastoral. I highly recommend it.

Is it time for churches to stop chasing cars and rebuild creative healthy villages?

As a youth worker, or should I say, at the time, volunteer youth minister back in the mid nineties, and then fresh faced trainee youth minister a decade later, playing, and chasing cars was never too far away. I dont mean the Snow Patrol song. I mean the movie.

You see from , actually since 1981, there has been ‘that’ statistic.

Whether true, completely or not, but ‘that’ statistic that between 1971 and 1981, over 300 young people left the church every week in the UK.

And that statistic was shared with me in youth ministry training both in mid 1996 and also 2004. Was this the mantle I took responsibility for – was I now charged with solving and fixing this problem, was I the ‘enthusiastic’ one to get the lost young people back into church, to do the ‘great reverse’ inspired by being a ‘new generation’ a ‘chosen’ generation…

What I, and the church, was in was a game of ‘Cars’.

You see in the ‘Cars’ film, there is a town, a village and it is thriving.

And it is full of life, vibrancy, there is community, there is trade, there are tourists, there is colour, there is the smell of coffee, diesel oil and farming, of new, local and prosperity. There is happiness. There is promise. There are cars, there are races and there is rhythm.

And it is all disturbed by the building of the freeway (for the purposes of this piece I will return to the UK descriptor)

At first the town celebrated the building of the motorway (UK) . This new invention, it will mean great connection, new tourist, new trade and the ability to to access places far away, only that the problem was, the motorway didn’t.

The town was bypassed. People stopped going to the town for their diesel, and when they stoped doing that they stopped going to the cafe too, and its hotel, and its souvenir shop. The town didnt realise that it was more dependant on tourism than it realised. And gradually life got tough, as the visible signs of the people reduced dramatically.

To give you a real glimpse, there are over 3,800 ghost towns in the USA, 10 of them are described here, and not all of them closed due to the building of a bypass. Some closed due to closure of mines and industry.

For quite a number of years, churches and youth ministry have been playing cars.

Drones of young people leaving the church, and churches reducing in numbers, like a proverbial ghost town, so..

Firstly there has been inquests about what the causes of the bypass are.

Some choose to blame the road – (culture) – Post modernism, consumerism, Sunday trading, Football and leisure, Generation X/Y

Some choose to blame the cars and the drivers – ‘They’re sinful for not driving their car to us’

Yet most people dont leave the church because of faith, its more likely that they have been harmed, or strategised out of it. A closure of a Sunday school, a decision about a marriage (cant they get over that it was years ago?), sexual abuse, being not chosen for leadership, not being a favourite, growing out of it –

For a number of people they ‘used to’ drive their car to the town, but, when they did, the car got beaten up, bruised, they didnt get great service at the cafe, the prices went up and they felt they could drive away and not be noticed.

Then the out of town service station and mega complex shopping centre got built on the highway. The Ghost town was doomed, as was the church in it, waiting to die, but just hoping beyond hope for one new idea, one new thing to save it.

As a youth worker, the game of cars turned from understand the reasons for the ‘bypass’ and its causes… to trying to ‘attract’ people back

But its a forlorn competition. Trying to make music in the old chapel sound a little better with a drum kit, when there’s an iPhone shop in the shopping complex. Looking to ‘whats happening at the complex’ and giving it a go. The pattern started to set the scene.

Look at thats happening on the freeway and give it a copy – try and be relevant – be a victim to the changing trends of culture on the fast moving freeway. Coffee and doughnuts, music, t shirts and identity. Make Church cool. Somehow. Might stop a few kids ever driving on the bypass. And tell them that the bypass is full of potholes and dangerous. Dont go on it…youll never come back…and that was the problem, they didnt…. (and if they did they couldn’t tell anyone that they did)

Still with me?

Were still playing cars.

Those in the town went from blaming the road, to copying the road.

The cars were manipulated into moving ‘with the times’ and somehow preferred the mass produced coffee, sold to them, rather than Rosies coffee from next door to the mechanics. Megastore church sold a vision of progress.

In my version of the movie the town did something else. They tried to look for answers from the creators of the bypass.

The manipulative management companies that sold lies about the prosperity that the bypass would make (who didnt actually care) – were then sought to enquire about solutions to the current problem of the town. The town looked to the very thing that destroyed them, to find answers.

How to get the people back? They asked, – can you build a junction and a new road?

Yes, but it’ll cost..

And sign posts, and can you encourage people not to go to the service station and supermarket?

No, we cant do that, there are competition laws, set up the supermarket, so no, that isn’t going to work, tell you what though, if you can write a really good bid, we might help you fund the junction and new road

So the town put all its funding raising efforts into gear and successfully managed to fund a new junction and road off the free way. Managed to give people an opportunity to see their town. But, they were exhausted, and though one of two did, most people still bypassed it. And now the town has lost its resources.

They went the management companies for more money, none came. They were shamed for failing and blamed for having poor leadership. The management company as a concession suggested a mini megastore on the High street. Rosies coffee closed in days. Mega brand coffee express in the supermarket helped get rid of that.

The few visitors that did arrive found a tired town and one angry that it now had no money, when new people arrived they were reluctantly thanked for being there, with an ‘about time’ greeting. They could only spend money at the mini megastore.

But the town so bypassed, went looking for answers in the very thing that destroyed it. It was angry, and bitter as it had bought a solution and lost itself.

But what happened in the movie? the one that Pixar and Disney actually made?

The Town then began to look within.

The Town saw itself

as a community.

The Town stopped looking outside for answers, and blame, and looked to themselves.

They realised they could do something. They also realised they had hidden gems within.

They realised they had something no mega store could ever have.

They had charm, they had history, they had longevity, they had character, they had personality.

The shopping centre sold a soulless universe. So the town began to show off its character. Show off what it had.

Worked together on being something more than it was when it was trying to compete, and in sharing, and being community began to form depth, and truth. They focussed on what they had, without trying to compete or make money…and within this there was gold dust sparkling. History was revealed. They ignored the propaganda distributed by the developers, and realised that they were backwards as a town, but had gifts, they had more than what was designated as progress could ever offer.

People started to choose to drive off the motorway, because the town was a place that realised its own soul.

It smiled, greeted, welcomed, it didnt try so hard, it forgave its faults, and worked together. It didnt lose its soul, completely, and won it back.

What if you gain the whole world – but lose your very soul?

Im glad I stopped playing cars a long time ago.

What is the soul of your church? Young people? Community?

Its defiantly (and definitely) time to stop looking for blame or answers whilst driving along the motorway. Its time to look a lot closer.

A new idea might get presented out the back of a car driven from the motorway, often a sports car on the quick sell. If its too good or quick to be true… its likely to be. It takes a village to raise a child, a whole village.

What if small is good? What if there is enough people in every village to sustain a church? – in most cases this is true ..especially churches with 10,000 in a parish….Who is most likely to know what is good, soulful, real, characterful about a local community? Who is going to empower it and support in its flourishing? Who might create? Provoke and stimulate creativity, and that spark? Probably someone in the town, in the village, able to connect people up, able to share food, able to reconcile hurts, grievances and care?

Does that need a strategy from the outside? or careful, care and new looking from within?

Maybe its time, as churches and youth workers, to stop playing the first two parts of the cars movie.

References

Rekindling Democracy – Cormac Russell- 2020

What happens when the ‘free gifts’ (during the pandemic) disappear?

Imagine if you will the distant tropical island, remote, isolated, some might say disengaging with society, think of its green trees, natural resources, and the civilisation that has lived there for centuries. The civilisation that does what it does already to survive, labours in the land, uses resources for shelter and warmth, and knows how to maintain the island, because by doing so knows that they survive on an island which thrives.

Imagine the cultures, the festivals, the rhythms of the island. The patterns of life per day, per week, per month. The way it orders itself around the weather, the moon and the seasons, should it have them.

It might not feel like paradise to you as you read this on a screen, with technology, but normal life for that island habitant is likely to feel a kind of authenticity and paradise.

It would be easy to describe what it might be like for this perfect idyllic nation to be destroyed by invaders and have narratives about that invasion become pervasive to the point of nationalism and narcissism. But that story is too well known, and is too explicit for this Island.

What if instead an invasion doesnt happen, but that the island is passively used instead?

On a corner of its land, is a beach, a harbour, where boats leave to catch fish, and that harbour is mid way between two warring nations, and so, one nation uses that harbour as a stop off.

The boats from one of these nations land. Its aeroplanes drop cargo from a newly laid runway.

Its Soldiers and crew become familiar in the place.

The natives wonder what all the equipment is, it was nothing they have ever seen.

They wonder where all the food arrives from that seems to come for free

The natives even wonder if these people in uniform had a religious or sacred affinity, given that their goods arrived with little or no work attached to it.

The Soldiers were respectful and shared their goods to the natives, in abundance at times, food, clothing, tools, materials

Until that is

When the war between the nations ended.

The troops went home. In Jubilant celebration, returning as war heroes to their land. And took all their equipment back.

Leaving the Island paradise bereft of its new found resources.

What might the Island community then do?

To invoke the Gods that they attributed who gave these goods, via the troops, they initiated the same religious sacred militaristic rituals, with devastating effect. The Island Paradise was lost forever.

I wonder.

Who are the Island community, and who do they represent?

Who are the troops? and what is the effect?

In his book ‘Rekindling Democracy’ Cormac Russell writes:

When we reflect on the language that is often used around communities in the face of austerity, they are not too dissimilar to that raised by the story of the US troops and the inhabitants of Tanna Island.

It is not uncommon to hear such partisan and bigoted statements against economically marginalised people such as:

1. They have learned an unhealthy dependence on outside aid, they need to learn to stand on their own two feet and stop looking for handouts

2. They are fundamentally orientated towards materialism and have lost touch with wholesome traditions and values that have helped people get out of poverty for generations

3. Their lack of sophistication and education has caused them to misread the situation and place unrealistic expectations on the benevolence of outsiders – they are now passing this dependency on to their children

4. They are being guided by local leaders who are abusing the situation for their own selfish ends; knowing the cargo will never come, they still use their charismatic leadership style to convince their followers otherwise

5. They are feckless; while they wait for cargo, they could at least engage in constructive activity, they do not proving that they are lazy.

In short it is all their fault

Cormac Russell, Rekindling Democracy (2020)

Cormac wonders whether we have all been subjects of a ‘Cargo Cult’ at some point in our lives, and the extent to which in western materialistic society the marches of materialism are the same as what are seen in shopping centres. What I would add, is the level of projection that the statements above often carry too.

Looking at the troops? Were they in the wrong?

Maybe it’s what they saw, and didnt see. They viewed their goods as riches to share, amongst people they thought had none, but didn’t see a community that had riches that weren’t goods. By being not of the industrialist world, the islanders had perfectly survived and more than so. The islanders had organised and had abundance.

The troops saw only deficits in the society and they sought to address this with ‘goods’ from the cargo, and it made them feel good to do so. ‘We have the cargo, you have deficits and ignorance, we can help you’. The Troops mapped the terrain, based on their own prejudgments and values and acted accordingly.

The islanders then saw themselves not as rich and resourceful, but insufficient and in need of more cargo, they lost sight of what they once had. What they turned to was an expectation that another large grey metal ship would save them in the future. They became in need of rescue from the outsider.

But could the islanders have refused the cargo? Could you?

I ask myself, Have I ever been the Soldier arriving with cargo? – what did I see when I first went to a community? Have I fallen into the trap of seeing young people in need of my rescue? What of a community or an estate? Am I in it to bless it with cargo from the outside? What might that do to it? What resources in a community have I not seen?

What do I need to see differently? And…what about you?

What about now, its not the paradise of an island – but 18 months down the line of a pandemic? When food distribution is at an all time high, and universal credit payments about to be reduced again…what has dependency looked like and felt like- and what happens next?

What does the story of the Cargo Cult do for you? Does it prompt? provoke? And why? Do share below

Ill include some of Cormac further reflections in my next piece…

Contains Trauma: Handle with Care

Maybe I’m the sensitive one?

Maybe I’m the critical one?

Maybe I’m the one triggered?

After receiving trauma therapy. In the beginning of a personal remake from Trauma. In the process of learning about trauma from reading, and attending a few introductory sessions on this subject, and following therapists and trauma specialists on social media. I am not the only one concerned.

Dealing with Trauma is not a tick box

Dealing with Trauma is not a token

Dealing with Trauma is not simple

Dealing with Trauma is not to become opportunist

Dealing with Trauma will require cost, significant cost.

Dealing with Trauma is not a ‘mission field’

Dealing with Trauma requires awareness of Traumas, and includes Spiritual Abuse. God is not the help in times of trouble you may want him to be. That sentence alone has triggered some as they read this.

Maybe its my social media feed right now, or the last 12 months, but during the pandemic, the whole business of becoming ‘trauma informed’ has become a label like ‘being a positive employer’ or a title that pronounced to attempt to engender some kind of ‘safety’.

Thats not how Trauma works for the Trauma survivor.

I think what Im trying to say, is that dealing with peoples Trauma requires care, diligence, education, and is a huge responsibility.

Its not to be done on the cheap and as Lisa Cherry, Trauma specialist writes here, bypassing the experts for cost reasons.

Is not a tag on to say ‘We’re now trauma informed’ lets carry on with how we’ve always worked bullying and harassing people.

It really isnt the first time that in the faith sector the accusation can get hurled that amateur do-gooders that may end up doing more harm. Someone once read a book on adolescent development and can now run training courses on Trauma. Someone led a 10 week ministry on Anger Management and now sells themselves as an international speaker on it from something they did 15 years ago.

This isnt what we’re doing in the faith sector is it..?? Not on something like Trauma?

Really?

If I said to you that I attended some training this week that proclaimed that it was an introduction to being trauma informed…and yet didnt spend any time looking at Trauma at all.. would you believe me? – But it happened. ..

If I said to you that in that same training that its default was that an evangelical theology was the default for understanding trauma, and that theory was to back this up..would you believe me… but it happened…

If I told you that none of the above picture was mentioned as part of the behaviours that could indicate Trauma would you believe me… well it happened..

If I said to you that in trauma training (that didnt include trauma), methods of regulation with young did not account for complex diagnosis like ADHD and mental Health, or PTSD.. but that is what happened…

If I told you that encouraging young people to pray during breathing exercises to ask God to be their ‘perfect relationship’ when they had damaged family ones, was suggested – would you believe me…but it happened…

If I told you that in a ‘conversation introducing trauma’ there was no opportunity to ask questions and the zoom chat was disabled – a monologue for 90 mins with a break in-between, it didnt even create a trauma safe environment in its delivery.

Im not going to mention the name of this organisation, but its at least the 2nd one that is currently delivering material that encourages ‘Trauma informed’ in churches. Theres misgivings about the other course too, from specialists in the sector. I have fed this all back to the organisation in question.

I could go on. Maybe Im missing something, maybe not for the first time in my life Im the cynical sensitive one. Im happy to be accused of being these things, so that the love and care that we have for people as a church is healthier and whole.

‘No one can afford specialist responses to Trauma’ … well in that case… better to leave alone, that make things worse.

My Trauma took years for me to deal with, it may not be required that young people want to deal with it right now. If you want to pay for a young person to get specialist trauma care, then pay for it with a private child psychologist. That would do the world of good, for that young person.

‘Well meant but rubbish’, in the case of Trauma might add layers of trauma on to the original trauma itself.

Trauma is Fragile: Handle with care.

My own Trauma Education has begun with reading the following books ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ (2014) and Lisa Cherrys ‘Conversations that make a difference for Children and young people’ (2021) – I’d recommend both. There are many many others too. Theres also Lisa Cherrys Blog here, parts 1-3 on Trauma informed ways of being are good

On Creating Trauma informed organisations, this is another resource.

‘Is church social action; Colonialism wearing the mask of love?’

Love is patient

Love is Kind

Love is not self serving

Love…

I have to thank both Cormac Russell and Jen Johnson for the stimulation to write this piece. In a twitter conversation this week

Cormac shared the phrase itself, or a variant of it here

How often , as Candice points out do organisations use the term ‘non engaging’, ‘resilient’ and ‘hard to reach’. Its something ive definitely written about before. Especially when the funders come knocking at the door.

But then my friend Jen Johnson wrote this:

Do Church based ‘Social Action Projects’ often run the risk of fitting this description?

Of being ‘Colonialism/Empire: wearing the mask of love

So I wonder.

What is the motivation of ‘church based social action projects’ – including the ones I have worked for, and do work for now?

Is it to ‘pure’ to do social action from as faith perspective – without expectation?

Is it considered a ‘waste of time’ to work with some communities ‘because they dont come to church’?

Does the ‘love’ that is shown – that often looks like ‘serving needs’ – a mask for ‘hopefully if we’re nice to people then they think the church is ok’ ?

As another comment suggested – whilst a default is to look at a community with needy eyes – looking at what is needed and the gaps in the community – then the a church or organisation can play ‘rescuer’ or ‘fixer’ or saviour. Sometimes thats the look the church wants. Sometimes that temptation runs very deep. Its an organisational codependency thats impossible to shift.

I have heard it said that im a dreamer, and that in the ‘real world’ the church is empty and this is what the priority should be

I have heard it said to clergy that they are not social workers – and that ‘their job is discipleship’ not social work.

A reality is that most people don’t believe you when you say you are doing something for nothing. The problem is that for too many people they’ve been on the receiving end of toxic gifts the church has offered, that have never been free. Friendship evangelism was never friendship or evangelism.

So let me ask you, to reflect on the question

Is your understanding of the mission of God – ‘colonialism; wearing the mask of love’?

Or should we abandon masking love at all and just do colonialism – full on street preaching that in its method has barely love.

Or just ‘love’ because – thats a gospel command, to love one another, love your neighbour, love yourself, love God.

Can we loosen the ties of empire and colonialism – for the sake of love?

If actions of ‘love’ ; have to be justified by impact or growth – is that love – or a clashing gong or symbol?

I am questions, because I ask myself the same questions. Have I been implicit in this? Have I as a Christian done similar things, fell into the trap, a trap I am now more aware of, yes id like to think not, but certainly in some organisations, love plays second fiddle to evangelism, in others I worked for love was a motivator, but ‘the churches were empty of young people’ was more explicit. What was my task in the midst, to navigate a path my pwn integrity struggled to cope with, and ultimately couldn’t. I would rather be accused of being a dreamer and unrealistic I suppose and fall into the cracks, still believing and hoping and loving. Maybe from a point of being frustrated that loving has been diluted with expectation has emerged my own criticisms of others, yet I know, an I am learning to be better. Ultimately in all things, change starts with me, starts from the inside and works out wards. But sometimes, like the conversation above, I need my own poke from a loving prompting stick.

Communique; The lost art to help make our youth work practice go deep

Its not often that I’m inspired by what the Amercians are doing in their youth ministry practice that I think could be replicated in the UK. Often its too programmed or packaged, and the context of american evangelicals needs a severe critical scrutiny, however, In a conversation with youth worker Chuck Mellor from University of California UCLA, he was describing to me the concept of Communique and why it was revolutionising his youth work practice in the communities of San Diego.

I wasn’t initially convinced, but the more he spoke I realised he had hit on something.

Communique he said is like communicating with young people, but trying to connect with their inner French romantic side.

I asked him to explain.

He said it was like imagining that every young person, and every person, has a romantic French person inside them

You mean, there isn’t a ‘God shaped hole’ after all?

No, he said,

‘Its more like a French dude (I know there are still some places that say dude, even in 2021), on a bike that wants to write poetry and sing to his lover.’

hmmm, each one of us has a ‘French dude living inside us’ – is this what we have to do as youth workers?

Yes.

So, I continued to ask, what does this mean for your youth ministry?

He went on, I was intrigued;

Gone are the games, we don’t invoke competition any more, we realised that If God is love, then we have to invoke the love that is inside of each of the young people, and so imagining that there’s a French romantic inside them, their core, then we get the young people to write poetry, bake baguettes and look at butterflies instead

(Chuck Mellor, 2021)

He went on

Even the boys, we thought they would never buy it, but they we realised that they didnt have to buy it, reducing basketball for butterflies, and that’s where Communique comes in

So, what is this magical ‘Communique’?

It would take me a while to explain it, as over Zoom Chuck led me through diagrams, various art forms, and the history of Communique through the ages, starting from Witches, the early French explorers, traversing through Europe using Communique to acquire goods and services, though it never worked in battles, it was the art of looking into the eyes of people and connecting with their French romantic side, speaking slowly, deeply and mystically. It was a forgotten art form a way of communicating that went deep.

I had never heard of it, and yet, as he spoke I felt as though he was connecting with my inner French romantic. I was beginning to see the butterflies in my mind, and smell garlic (though maybe I had just cooked a chilli)

Chuck went on to tell me that one of the only known recent proponents of Communique was the French Band Le Deire Straites, and their lead singer Marc Knopfleur, who in their second album gave away the mystical communication form, back in 1980. He said that the communique purists went mad that it went mainstream. But now, Chuck said, it was time for a revival, or a revivale, of this. The groups had overcame their differences and realised the importance of communique. Time to revive it.

He said that he discovered it personally on a skiing trip in the alps, when he googled the word.

Yet he spoke, I felt peace, love and stillness, and realised that I had been in the presence of true communique.

This was going to transform youth groups all over the world I thought. Its like being in a loving trance with the faint whiff of champagne.

And that, he said, was Communique, was that, taking young people to that place, speaking to them in way that enables their inner French dude can thrive.

I struggled as I spoke to Chuck to ask a question, I was so relaxed, but I wanted to know what happens next?

For now, we’re only in the third year of developing Communique, but its been enough for us to already develop communique youth ministries as a brand, and we’ll be writing books soon, in fact theres already one being written, due to publish in 2022, this will change Youth ministry forever, its like we’ve taken it all back to our French basics, its authentic, its like we’ve discovered something real in youth ministry for decades, everything else before seems like fluff and games. We cannot wait to share more.

What happened to the youth group after three years Chuck, after all its results we need?

He told me that the young people began to wake up, and awaken themselves to their true French dude, as their loving self was nurtured through youth ministry, through baking baguettes , art, and discovering beauty, they changed. But their parents hated it, so did the schools. But we kept on going, knowing that the path of communique was a true path.

We had complaints, there always is, when people don’t understand, or they are jealous that all they had in youth group was chubby bunnies and a residential, kids were going home full of peace, contentment and joy, turning off their TVs and reading books, parents who had just bought a three year TV subscription were going ape. Schools couldn’t find new jobs for their bullying champions, as they were transformed into loving zones of learning, cultivated joy by young people.

It sounds blissful, amazing. And this was all down to Communique?

It sure was.

Communique it is then,

Already I can see it in Job descriptions for the future youthworkers, who will now need Communique skills as well as enthusiasm, passion and innovation, or should I say enthuse, passione, and innovatione, and fortunately in the UK, we have closer ties to our French counterparts, and the residual history of communique is closer to our grasp. I looked up the French band Chuck was telling me about, and so I end this piece with a few words from the controversial song, for us to start our path into the communique.

They want to get a statement for jesus’ sake

It’s like a talking to the wall

He’s incommunicado no comment to make

He’s saying nothing at all

(Dire Straits, 1980)

Lets ponder this a while, saying less, saying nothing, and speaking directly to the French romantic inside each young person. Thats the way forward.

Communique, the lost art of communication, about to revolutionise youth ministry.

Taking youth ministry deeper might mean going deep inside to the French dude inside each of us.

Instead of talking to young people as if they have lack, a hole and are sinful beings waiting for us to rescue them, lets rediscover communique and awaken the dormant French romantic hiding deep inside.

Le April fool..

or

is it?