The disconnect from mission ‘to’, to church ‘with’

As far as i know, Christian youthworkers, volunteers, and many people across the United kingdom are involved very sacrificially in the lives of individual and groups of young people who find themselves struggling with the following issues for a variety of reasons:

Housing and Homelessness

Sexual identity, sexual preference, Sexuality

Learning difficulties

Behavioural difficulties

Disabilities

Addictions to alcohol or drugs

Sex

Perpetrators of crime

Domestic abuse in their relationships

Economic poverty

Mental Health

To be able to interact with young people, these youthworkers often go beyond their comfort zones, beyond the programmes and beyond their job descriptions because of a call to follow the nose of God into the situations and contexts that young people find themselves. They often use as inspiration Jesus mandate in Luke 4, a combination of christian values and what is said to be ‘liberal’ youthwork values of inclusion, valuing community and equality – and build relationships with young people where theyre at, in schools, on the streets, in clubs, in groups.

They present to young people an inclusive, a possibility that Jesus is interested in them, a Jesus that meets young people in their reality, a Jesus that can be grasped. A Jesus who is open. A work of the mission of God in the UK, as embodied by the social activists as described by Newbigin:

“What is true in the position of the social activists is that a church which exists only for itself and its own enlargement is a witness against the gospel, that the Church exists not for itself and not for its members but as a sign and agent and foretaste of the kingdom of God, and that it is impossible to give faithful witness to the gospel while being indifferent to the situation of the hungry, the sick, the victims of human inhumanity” (Newbigin 1989)

Most of these people doing this kind of work – and i also include those in conversation with people at foodbanks, or on the streets of Street pastors, or being a Prison Chaplain. Do so with the honest feeling, and unescapable reality that the local church that they represent personally will not be able to accommodate the complexities of this person or group they are missioning to in conversation, their needs, their learning capacity, their social standing or knowledge of their history. Yet its the language from the core that dictates that others have to adapt, whether people arent valid.

How might this disconnect be confronted head on – when will people we don’t understand, or who are not like the current church community in background, go from being ‘missioned to’ and ‘church with’ . The attractive option is to create other homogenous units of church (as described in Here be Dragons) creating church with young people in the chaos, enacting church amongst groups, amongst friends who share life & ceremony (Clapp)- but this seems to be relatively easy in practice, keep people who wont fit into church outside to create their own faith community that connects to other church communities. (For more examples of this listen to the Nomad podcast) Yes its far harder for an established church community to readily accommodate a different community, or people with a different identity, and if this is going to happen, because clearly the church is doing its best to do mission amongst people who are in the margins (foodbanks etc), what is the process and education needed for the church to disconnect from its own ideals, and expand faith and performance of church within the margins.

Yet for the sake of the life within the margins, the pioneers are staying there. Whilst they do so the so called core of the church remains unchanged and unchallenged. And their voice is ignored, because it does challenge, it does confront, it upsets the applecart, and doesn’t buy into the established structures. Yet, can we have more people who live incarnationally, and build relationships with LGBT young people, immigrants, people with Mental health issues, or disabilities to be inspired by at national conferences. Let the core be expanded. Lets dissolve the disconnections, and embrace and include. Its challenging, improvisory and real.

“Christianity then is not a religion of exclusivity, of a predestined group who are chosen for salvation. Instead it is the set of those who know/embrace this paradox of being strangers. We are the boundary, not the centre, we are the other, not the included, and it is out of this realisation that our empathy for the oppressed and marginalised spring” (Brewin 2011, Embracing difference in a fractured world) – Taken from ‘Here be Dragons (2013)

But at the moment, is there a personal conflict – for those who work with (young) people described as in the margins, and the possibilities that that person finding belonging in the process of finding faith and in the community of the established church. Its not a theological or missiological tension, this is continuously being restriven and reflected on by the soujourners in the margins. But why isnt space for that voice in the mainstream accommodated?

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, said, “My experience has shown that when we welcome -people from this world of anguish, brokenness and depression, and when they gradually discover that they are wanted and loved as they are and that they have a place, then we witness a real transformation — I would even say ‘resurrection.’ Their tense, angry, fearful, depressed body gradually becomes relaxed, peaceful and trusting. This shows through the expression on the face and through all their flesh. As they discover a sense of belonging, that they are part of a ‘family,’ then the will to live begins to emerge. I do not believe it is of any value to push -people into doing things unless this desire to live and to grow has begun to emerge.”

 

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