Last week i had the privilege of sharing a few thoughts with a contingent of youth work students at Centre for Youth Ministry on the subject of the context and power of detached youthwork, and i have been thinking a little about those initial thoughts since, starting with Pauls description of Christ (Philipians 2):
“Though he was God,[a]
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
he took the humble position of a slave[c]
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
I had asked the students about the power dynamics of being a youth worker and engaging with young people on the streets, in what supposedly, is their territory, and whether it is we, or they that had the power in that situation. We of course, said that the young people could control aspects of the environment, the language, meaning, activities and when to say/do , stay or leave. However, it was also suggested that the worker also has power, the power of knowledge, or skills in conversation, reflection or the wider community, or the experience of being an adult, or ‘leaving youth’. The worker would also have the power to decide who to speak to, what questions to ask, and would also be able to stay or leave when they wanted to make that choice. They would also have the power to choose between which groups to speak to first/second/never in a given situation. However, the moment of the detached youthwork, in the park, on the street , and our desire to respect, empower and be with young people causes us to disempower ourselves. Leaving aside some of what we know, to explore the world of the young people, with them (not give pat answers), to understand their concerns (not belittle them), to provide space for conversation and thought ( and not assume we know what they’re like and how they tick)
Now i am not suggesting that youth workers in buildings dont do any of this, because they do, i just wonder whether the power dynamics of the public spaces such as streets and parks causes this power dynamic to be more acute.
In Jesus, especially at Christmas, we understand that Emmanuel, God with us, and Paul helps us start to understand the great mystery of how Jesus gave up some of his divine privileges to become fully human and retain full divinity. Having the power to be able disempower himself, to live like us, to be with us, and be like us.
It could be said that we should go from being with to being amongst young people and so maybe Jesus shows us the epitome of what with and amongst should be and also how in modelling christlikeness laying aside power, to empower others.