Youth work: Focussing on the strength of the rope, not its knots.

A rope is 1/3 weaker when it has a knot in it. 

Or at least thats what I was told in Scouts many years ago. I havent googled it to confirm it. Image result for rope knots

A rope is only two thirds effective when it has a knot in it. It is less strong.

On Sunday I preached at Headland Baptist Church, Hartlepool, on the Subject of the churches in Revelation, The church in Smyrna. It is known as the suffering church, and it was also a church that thought of itself as poor. It was was a ‘not’ compared to others.

It caused me to think and reflect on young people. ‘Not’ just the 10% that might be deemed ‘hardest to reach’ but even more than that, and think of the ‘nots’ that they hear, from a range of people, parents, teachers, sometimes friends, from society at large, things like;

You’re Not allowed to play in there

You’re not allowed to take those two subjects

You’re not clever enough

You’re not tall enough

You’re not sporty enough

You’re not as good as your older brother

You’re not thin enough

You’re not pretty enough

You’re not going to get a job acting like that

You’re not capable

You’re not resilient

You’re not confident

You’re not calm

You’re not fulfilling your potential

You’re not able to control yourself

You’re not going to make it in life if you do this.. 

You’re not welcome here

You’re not important

You’re not………


Add to this the lists of the messages that appear in all the advertising and media that young people hear, like you’re not something unless you have this thing. This might make you attractive – but by default you’re not without it. Being not something is part of culture, part of growing up.

And for every ‘not’ the rope gets weaker and weaker. The young person has to prove the adult wrong, or give in. ‘But Im not tired’ ! says the child – knowing full well there isnt a right answer to that one. 

Likewise the rest, the young person fulfils the prophecy, or kicks against it (and is then rebellious) – nay angry.

The nots keep adding up, weakening the rope, and denying the young person to fulfil their purpose.

The Message given to that Church in 120AD, was that ‘They were rich’  They were not to think of themselves as ‘not’ something. Their perspective needed to change of themselves. They had riches.

This could have been an article on how churches compare and think of themselves as ‘nots’ against other churches, in the competitive market place of church growth and the numbers game. But it isnt. This is about how a church, how we as youth-workers provide the kind of opportunities for young people to enable some of the tight ‘nots’ to be begun to be undone. In the metaphor of the rope, it would take two hands, one at each end to begin the process of undoing the knot.

Itll take a community of people to undo the knots that young people store as part of them. 

In the metaphor of the rope , a bit like the headphones cable in the pocket which automatically knots when not in use, it is less likely to become reknotted whilst it is being used for its purpose. 

So in thinking about developing the assets of young people – the sooner they are being used for the purposes, gifts and abilities that they have and in the right supportive environment, they might be more able to withstand the ‘nots’. With many young people, it is that so many are being used in society at so less than what they have to potential to be. In the restrictions of the education system (you’re not welcome here, the talent you have is not valid here)

If it true that churches are only working with 5% of young people (and i would suggest that with these 5% there is still significant wastage with the talents/skills and gifts of young people not being used), this is according to Scripture Unions recent research. Then it is worth reflecting on what kind of approach a church or youth ministry practice could take – when it engages with young people who are tired of being ‘nots’ in the world. It is one thing working out what a ‘generation z’ young person might look like, believe and be influenced by to make the gospel relevant. It is more significant to provide churches, groups and youth work projects with the tools and approaches to begin the process of undoing the ‘nots’ that hold them back. To not give them confidence by telling them so. But to gradually, painfully undo the nots. It is doing that heartfelt ministry, that painful searing physical mental acceptance in love of young people (Hamilton, 1964). It is also identifying the gifts and abilities in a young person that thus far had been hidden deep, that needs a little excavation, and tender nurturing. It is telling a young person that they are human, that they are of worth, and that they have richness.

As youthworkers, we may not ever be able to undo the knots, some will be tight, but even a 2/3 effective young person can be given the opportunity to flourish, to use their gifts and contribute, participate in society, and in our faith communities. It was said of Jesus, a bruised reed he will not break. We might be able to prevent the nots from being there, though we might try, focussing on what makes that person strong, even if hindered might be what is required.

By way of an epilogue: Many of you will have listened to Ken Robinsons TED talk on education, 11 million of you would have done. In it he describes the story of Gillian Lynne, the choreographer of ‘Cats’, here is that story: Thinking of education and talents; It’s really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most people have never heard of; she’s called Gillian Lynne — have you heard of her? Some have. She’s a choreographer and everybody knows her work. She did “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

It was asked of Gillian, how did you get to be a dancer?

And she said it was interesting; when she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the ’30s, wrote to her parents and said, “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.” She couldn’t concentrate; she was fidgeting. I think now they’d say she had ADHD. Wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930s, and ADHD hadn’t been invented at this point. It wasn’t an available condition. People weren’t aware they could have that.

Anyway, she went to see this specialist. So, this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother, and she was led and sat son this chair at the end, and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it — because she was disturbing people; her homework was always late; and so on, little kid of eight — in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, “Gillian, I’ve listened to all these things that your mother’s told me, and I need to speak to her privately.” He said, “Wait here. We’ll be back; we won’t be very long,” and they went and left her.

But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. And when they got out the room, he said to her mother, “Just stand and watch her.” And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”

“What happened?” She said, “She did. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me.

People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.” Who had to move to think. They did ballet; they did tap; they did jazz; they did modern; they did contemporary.

She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School; she became a soloist; she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet School and founded her own company — the Gillian Lynne Dance Company — met Andrew Lloyd Weber. She’s been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history; she’s given pleasure to millions; and she’s a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

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