So, what might it mean to follow Jesus educational examples in Youth Ministry? or the church at all as it disciples people?
It struck me today that one of the principle differences between the episodes in Luke 24 (Emmaus Rd) and Acts 8 (Gaza Rd) was that unlike Philip who was encountering a stranger, Jesus on the road to Emmaus was talking to his friends. And then it dawned on me that in a way thats a key difference between detached youthwork and the centre based youth work, in that there is space in the group work context of youth ministry to consider people as friends in a more coherant way than detached. Or at least the relationship is somewhat different. and so, If this is how he educated his friends…
It could be argued that meeting young people that are well known on the street is as like the emmaus road experience, but im going to bench that thought for the time being, and reflect on Emmaus in a different way, and consider the question- what if youth ministry was like the Emmaus road experience for young people, and followed its trajectory in terms of process and learning?, of revelation and responsibility?
Firstly is it a relevent question? Well on one hand, the period of the Emmaus Rd is after Jesus resurrection, in the very early part of the fourth act of five in the Theodrama, the awakening of the church, the same period we are in now, albeit Jesus was still on the scene, the scene was about to change. Also whilst its not always great to model church practice on the early church ( due to blueprint ecclesiology and thus never matching up, Healy 2001), its rare that youth ministry attempts that same ecclesial modelling, instead thinking of itself often as ‘evangelistic’, ‘educational;, formational or missional – i can’t really remember times when the processes of faith communities were held up as models for youth ministry. However, maybe thats not the point – what if we know all we need to know how to educate young people in Youth Ministry from the Emmaus Rd experience?
A few pointers that might lead the way:
- There was space for the two followers to talk – without intervention
“the two disciples were walking along to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, as they walked along they were talking about everything that happened” (Luke 24: 13)
Of course, those who know me are going to realise im going to pick up on the informal education aspect of this interaction, given that Jesus’s actions, largely through speech, are the key focus of much of the Gospels. In many cases it is in reaction to a proposal from others, a question, or actions (Luke 20: 22, 18:35), other times Jesus instigates it. In Luke 19:28 the disciples were walking, but Jesus walks ahead of them and speaks, as a contrast on the Road to Emmaus, he gives space for the intent conversation to occur.
The question is, how much space might we give for the conversations to occur naturally in Youth Ministry? – before we interject, sometimes intervene into them? Clearly here it was given- and would it matter depending on the subject. What’s the difference between relevant and irrelevant conversation – and who makes that call? I used to hate it when the programme or the expectations of the volunteers were that the programme dictated the interruption in natural conversation, especially as that was often for an ‘ice breaker’ game that was barely needed. Often thats about letting go of needing to wrestle back control.
2. Jesus hears their conversation, but doesnt join in. Yet.
Not too dissimilar to the Gaza road experience in Acts 8, the audible noises of the conversation, or the man reading aloud from the scroll are heard by the new visitor to the situation. Heard first. If Calvin is right; the not only does a ‘church need to become accustomed to hearing men (& women)’ then it goes without saying that work with young people in churches is to do the same. during the space, its important to hear. What might young people be talking about intently as they walk along? Yesterdays Call of Duty game is todays Pokemon Go!, or relationship issue, or celebrity news. What can we hear as youth workers, in what is said, they way things are said, and what is meant by what is said in those conversations. Hearing is much more revealing than we realise.
3. Jesus was so part of the moment that he wasnt recognised. Yet how often does the Youthworker want to be distinctive (insert typical ‘look’ of youthworker here _______ ) , or make their move to announce themselves in the moment. Instead Jesus is barely recognised. He becomes part of the conversation without adjusting the conversation going on them. Even as highly valuers of conversation, its so tempting to disempower the conversation between young people to make it all about us, or the setting, or the activity. Even phrases like “i remember when i was at school… ” or “when i had a girlfriend….” can be ways of being recognised as different. But Jesus only asks them the following question:
“what are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”
Jesus has heard their intent, their dismay, as well as the content of it. Fast forward to July every even numbered summer, and the conversational dismay of the England football fan as they’ve been knocked out of a football tournament. Or the conversations in August as young people receive exam results, fail/pass driving tests. Intent conversations. In the situation it’s the appropriate thing to ask, because although Jesus walks with the disciples they don’t realise he is there, he hears them. It’s not about copying like to like what Jesus said, but being as appropriate in the space we’re in. In this question Jesus gives value to how they are talking, the feelings being spoken, that are evident. There is genuine interest to give more space to reflect on more or talk over the same incident again.
If this was about setting a programme or theme for the session, then it is being made in the space of the conversation, albeit the events they are talking about on Emmaus were of Jesus’ making, their conversation guides the interaction. If Jesus actions over that weekend were the subject of the conversation then what does that reveal about where the subject matter goes, in our educations and programmes. Its at the beginning. Not the end. (Insert obvious comment about youth groups with closing God-slots)
Setting curriculums is a tough call, equally not having them, or having open space takes being brave and having the interaction skills to cause it to happen. Often the space that young people want is the conversation in the appropriate space, in the situation of Emmaus, it was also what was needed.
I wonder, beyond the programmes, whether growing churches and youth ministries might be also the ones that have genuine spaces for social conversations, and its not about music, powerpoint screens or relevency, but hearing, responding and adaptablility.
Jesus question to those disciples does interrupt the flow of the conversation. It’s like someone arriving in the UK today and asking- “so whats been all the fuss about recently?” The disciples the same , their sadness, written across their faces, saying ‘you must be the only one that hasnt heard…. ‘ – but even then Jesus asks ‘what things?’ as if to say ‘tell me more’. Giving them the chance to describe again. Even though Jesus may have already heard them in and their feelings of intent. ‘What things’ doesnt place and perjoritive on the content, though Jesus would have probably known where the conversation was heading. In our Youth Ministry conversations, the ride to any destination is more Southern rail, than Rollercoaster. But thats not to become involved in the process of joining with the young people to explore whatever it is further.
And thats what happens, along the road, the story of the Jesus own crucifixion & resurrection is told by the disciples back to Jesus, not for his understanding, but for their emotions of the experience to be revealed in the retelling, and where the gaps of learning & understanding might be.
However, as his friends, he also calls them fools. or at least unlearned, fools may be strong. Fools that they didn’t connect their Jewish roots , stories and prophecy with what had happened. Yet for the disciples their culture had prevented them, or they themselves were only just digesting everything so hadn’t made the connection. Jesus then does something new – connects the old with the new, bringing the whole story into immediate focus. Taking them through it, explaining all things concerning himself. describing how to make sense of the recent events.
Ok, so here we’re getting ahead of ourselves, They may feel like God, but the youth minister really isn’t. Yet in the conversation Jesus is able to reappropriate the history of the old story with the recent events, putting everything in a grander perspective, but at the same time not belittling the disciples experience, feelings or reactions.
Jesus showed the disciples how to understand, not what to understand. Giving them a new tool, a way of interpreting the situation using existing frameworks and now in light of a new situation. The whole all fits together, from Isaiah to the Resurrection. For Jesus he shows them how to read it, not what to read, or what to believe, but how to read the signs, read the times and how to believe. Do we in a similar way give young people the tools of understanding or tell them what to understand? there is a difference…
When they got to the disciples house, yes there was hospitality, but it was in the Actions of Jesus that what he was trying to educate made sense. And so, in the moment of our educating, what might be the appropriate actions that cement it in the here and now, as well as long term integrity, works of social justice, grace and forgiveness. For Jesus it was an act that communicated, reassured and revealed himself. An act that took education to revelation, and passive acceptance of truthes, to a type of dialogue that promoted immediate change and action, the disciples then ran back the 7 miles.
The principle challenge, is that if this is the way ( and other post resurrection scenarios are similar) that it is recorded that Jesus educated his friends after the resurrection, how might the education processes that occur be ones that shape the way we as youthworkers, educate young people? Is Emmaus a programme for how to do youth ministry amongst friends of the church? And not just youth ministry – what about education in the church as a whole – church as a body of friends..?
In a way it was a kind of informal education that changed not the individual disciples, but also help them to transform the world. I see no better example of what youth work and ministry should be all about. It is acted interpretation, not just cerebral.