Prayer is like a telephone sang the old childrens song, that helps us talk to Jesus, it went on. Whilst the spiritual discipline of prayer, fasting and meditation seemed to be absent for much of my developing faith practice as a young person, the concept of ‘arrow -prayers’ was fairly common. That pray in an emergency type way, when theres a stressful moment going on. I grew up evangelical, it was about the busyness of attending things in a church.
You will no doubt have a mobile phone, and a list of contacts as long as your arm, one of the ways in which we can help emergency services to know who to ring from our contacts is for us to write I.C.E before or after the persons name. For then they know who we want to ring in case of emergency.
Developing a faith that causes God to be ‘an emergency’ call away, and not involved in the every day of life itself is one of the key findings that Christian Smith identified in his research of over 12 years ago in American youth ministry. God was more aloof, and only used when required. For many young people in evangelical/mainline youth groups – God was an add on to western living, and peripheral at best, contacted when there was an emergency. Or there to help me, a young person, feel good. In the UK, ‘the happy midi narrative’ was coined as an equivalent – in which God is to be for the good times, and helping a young person feel good about themselves. (Theres tons of other stuff on MTD in the archives) .
In a way – what does this say about discipleship for a young person – within a faith that seems to only exist around making them happy – or where God is nothing better than another contact in their phone, to call In case of emergencies. Its not the fault of young people. Its what they have been brought up in the faith to believe, and implicit in their faith formation. It is a faith of superstition, rather than a faith of action, and along with the M of MTD it is a faith of morality ( be good as God is watching you).
The Christian faith is not just in case of emergencies, surely?
God is described as a God of Justice, not just.i.c.e.
And we have a responsibility in youth ministry to ensure that the God of Justice of mercy and righteousness is the one for whom young people have an ongoing working relationship with. The personal relationship with Jesus their friend is almost a given. Its the faith in God who calls them to tasks, and requires us to join in within his actions in the world that is dynamic and dangerous. Theres nothing tame about God….
And its not just the old testament, many many examples in the New testament where ‘good works’ are the responsibility of the faithful, good like God is good, good and just. One of the 7 churches in revelation was commended for it too.
There are some examples of young people across the UK involved in justice projects, from Tear Fund, Christian Aid and World Vision – but often these seem to be on the international scale. They are good none the less. They also seem to be the ‘one off’ thing in a youth group programme – or not at all. So, young people dont get experiences of ‘working’ with God on the stage of the world for themselves or in their groups – merely hearing about God and trying to live a moral life. I know its not always been top of my agenda when i have planned a youthgroup curriculum. Their faith would be about joining in with Gods actions in the world, rather than a discipleship that is about God in case of emergencies.
Helping young people to be ‘just’ in the world, rather than ‘good’ might help them to be energised by faith, by being part of a working relationship with God, rather than hope that God might rescue or help in times of emergency ( and leave life to be got on with).
In faith formation Andrew Root tries to get to grips with the MTD issue in an age of secularism. Ultimately he, and those like Kevin Vanhoozer are saying when they talk about Theodrama, is that Justice and social action on the stage of the world are not seperate acts by humans that might be acts of worship – but that in these human and divine act together in an ongoing relationship, where God prompts in the midst to do good works (as these are not always the natural thing to do). Youth ministry and Theology are both talking about Justice. When Millenials are asked about church, its performing the faith – not just hearing it that they want to do. Performing the faith – now what might that mean for young people? Its less just i.c.e and more justice. More help to help them work with God to change the world.
Young people arent losing their faith, or losing out on being faithful by doing ‘social action’ it is an integral part of it. It is practical and prophetic in the local community that young people make a stand or protest or act in a way that is about Gods goodness in the world, prompted by God in the first place. We want to see a generation of young people make a stand for Jesus, then its not going to be at the £130 Jesus festival where there are 200 of them, it will be as in every youth group, every town, every church begins to help young people play an active part in working with God to seek justice and righteousness in every community.
Faith for young people should not be in case of emergencies. It is about life in all its fullness (that means giving up some for death) and life in its fullness for everyone.
If young people are only buying T shirts for Jesus, but not helping share their T shirts for Jesus at the clothing bank, then we might reflect in their faith. Faith isnt just bought like a T shirt, it is given away. Its not for emergencies, its to help prevent the emergencies of others.
Heres a few questions that might help reflect on this further.
What might Social justice look like in your community?
How might young people be spurred on to think beyond themselves, and for others- through collective action?
How might your youthgroup be both practical and prophetic in the world ?
How might young people act along with God on the stage of the world- in your part of it?
How might young peoples prayer for others be acted upon, and they then read the bible as a guidebook for continuing social justice in the world?
Faith Formation – Andrew Root, 2017
The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer, 2005
Faith Generation, Nick Shepherd, 2016 (on MTD and UKs youth Midi Narrative)
Soul Searching; Christian Smith , 2006