I got the shock of my life today. I heard a sermon in an evangelical church on the message and prophetic words of Amos. It was the first time i can remember in 39 odd years. What i realised was that very few occasions, if not any, in my formation as a young person in the christian faith was I encouraged to think that God was as concerned about world justice, as God might be about Justice, Human flourishing and the state of the world. Christianity was about morality not perfomativity for me as a young person. That changed as i started with Oasis Trust on the frontline teams. It also affected how I began to see the ministries that prioritised morality, or personal faith and experiences of worship over world transformation. Though world transformation was proclaimed for a generation f young people, how it was to be done was left to the individual to work out.
Fast forward to 2004, and a period of Study at ICC (now SCCM) and a time of re-emphasis on the Old Testament and developing knowledge in this, thanks to the sadly now departed Ted Herbert and his tests. His passion for the Old testament was unquestioned, bringing it alive, even the ‘dull’ bits. With a focus on the prophets, including Amos. In fact, Amos got a pretty good deal at ICC, although my own impression of him for an essay wont live long in the memory. But as a running theme, Amos figured heavily. Especially when class discussions centred around justice, on what prophecy is for, and the character and knowledge of God,as someone who embodies justice, and hates injustice.
However, if it took 20 years for me to hear about Gods character of Justice, then it took another 19 for me to hear a sermon in a church on Amos. Up until today it felt as though it was a secret for theological academia.
For the uninitiated, Amos predates Isaiah, and is speaking to the Isrealites in Exile. about 700 years BC. And to supposedly Gods chosen people says this, in chapter 5 of the book:
Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god[b]—
which you made for yourselves.
27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.
Strong words. Strong words that show how God is concerned with justice, in an earlier chapter Amos criticised Israel for its treatment of orphans and widows. A reminder of what made Israel distinctive in the Exodus. Of how Gods chosen was to treat the foreigner and the widow. A Theme repeated by Micah 6:8 and Jesus in Luke 4. Yet a theme, often forgotten or sidelined in youth ministry, and even more so, i think in the ongoing formation of young people.
When I was at school in the early 1990’s, it was possible to join a movement to sign up and be passionate about changing the world, because of a personal concern for an injustice. Whether it was becoming vegetarian (because of animal cruelty), joining greenpeace (because of human injustice) or other campaigns to solve a major world issue. But the Church as movement? It was sadly absent. It possibly still is. What we need to do in discipling young people is to let young people know that when they want to change the world and transform their local community, and world for good, that God is with them and on their side, in fact, it is God in them calling them to want to do this.
It needs not to be Virgin Cross country that uses the phrase ‘Join a movement (to buy your tickets on line), not a queue’ – but the church. Because God, as creator and love, might just want young people to create and love in the world, and be concerned about injustice. If young people are joining a movement to change the world, that they can believe in and be part of, then they might find a reason to belong and be passionate about a cause. Forming young people as discipleship with a world concern might, just might have a massive impact on young people themselves, their faith and also their community. It need not be a queue with a ticket to heaven or a queue to be a leader that not many might fulfil. But a movement, that they especially in groups can participate in. Fufilling dreams and passions. Amos might just be the rallying prophetic call to the ongoing formation of young people. That God loves young people they keep being told. That Gods passion for the world is part of that love is to be harnessed by those who work with them. There is a gospel to be performed, and young people are as tasked with this as anyone. A youth ministry discipleship pathway without a global concern, or a knowledge of God as justice, equality and to free the oppressed acts as an anti dote to the self orientated moral therapeutic Deism, that is powerless, and not as transformational.
What might Amos mean for youth ministry? how might it be prophetic today? – well if its not read in churches very often… or even written about in youth ministry books…
and, if youth ministry can flourish as a space to fulfil the call for justice, then what might this mean for the church as a whole to be doing?