Mission: Developing gifts on our doorstep

Notes from todays sermon, at Headland Baptist Church, Hartlepool..

Todays subject is on Fruitfulness on the frontline, and based around the subject of mission, and about mission, about fruitfulness on the frontline. 22 year ago I took part in a gap year called Oasis Frontline, and they sent me to Hartlepool back then, so talking about mission on the frontline seems to have come full circle. Today is the first of them. It got me thinking, back to those days in 1996. What was unique or special about Hartlepool? Why would I a fairly middle class boy from the midlands not stick around and do mission in my own hometown? What was the attraction of going somewhere new? In another way, did moving away make mission any more possible, any more real? Granted, for the life experience and experience of culture granted.  But doesn’t it seem a bit weird – that we might often have an elevated view of people who leave somewhere and go and do mission somewhere else.

Its as if a real missionary goes elsewhere. Or a real missionary is someone who is sent to us. In my own experience, ‘the gap year team has come to do the youthwork’ ‘the frontline team has come to enable young people to come to church’ – somehow the experts are from afar. Some how someone else is the one who knows what to do.

But thinking about it – what do they know? Or more to the point – what is that we know that we negate by defaulting mission to someone else. What might we do, to be fruitful, on our own front door step.

Jesus said, love your neighbour as yourself. Love your neighbour – who is our neighbour – well maybe it genuinely is our next door neighbour and street. Not just the work colleague, interest group – but actually the family next door, the lady who is one their own.  Fruitfulness on the frontline, love our neighbour. Thats love. Not just hope they come to church and to an event, or even alpha. But love.

We are all missionaries. It is the principle purpose of the church. Of us. Forget everything else. It is to love the world, to love our neighbour and to witness to Christ in the context that we are in. So – that doesn’t matter where we are, does it, location becomes slightly irrelevant.

If we are to be true to the intentions of Jesus today we must put in the centre of our vision not the church, but the kingdom (Lesslie Newbigin) ,

‘the church can only exist as the church of Jesus Christ when it understands itself as part of Gods mission and lives out that understanding’ (David Bosch)

‘The church is missionary by nature’  mission is its essence, not just the outcome.

Because this is the first in the series, it kind of gives me an opportunity to ask and propose a number of questions, that may require further reflection, but that I think are useful, in all we do, and all the church does is about mission.

The first thing to think about – is if the church is to do Gods mission – what is the Mission of God?

The second is – Is Gods Mission is an extention of his character (and we’re not going to do a significant theological study here) – What is God like?

And how might these two things be our starting point for thinking about the mission of the church? For this church.

It would be much easier to just respond, react and do stuff wouldn’t it.

Do the things that the church down the road say, or the next great initiative from the Baptist union, or do something that we used to do, because it worked there, or then, or with them. But is this an appropriate starting point?

What instead might it be to understand that God is ___________________, and then try and act in this way in to our neighbours, to this community.

What if we held on to this, resisting all other temptations, but genuinely loved, genuinely forgave, genuinely acted with mercy, to the extent that we were doing Gods mission, being Gods ambassadors. To that extent…

It is important, not to start with a book on mission, but to start with the God of Mission.

If we start with theology – our understanding of God – and have this be the key motivation, ethic for mission – rather than our needs, or the need of the church – then what might that be like..

To start with God who is missionary in character and nature.

God who loves, God who listens, God who forgives, God who gives.. God who is… God who is community, God indeed who communicates, the God who speaks…

 

And I wonder if we don’t think of God as a speaking God very often, and for the rest of this time together I feel that as we think about Fruitfulness on the frontline, that we contemplate the communication of God, the conversation of God and how these might help us in developing Gods mission in the local community, doing so as an extension of Gods own character and actions.

Lets think about ourselves for a moment – have a think about the last or a recent conversation that you had with someone. Over a coffee, at the workplace, walking the dog, at home in the lounge.. 

For – you what made it a good conversation?

 

Now; A  question for us all to think about…. I would like you to think about a conversation that you know of that occurs in the Bible, one that exists between God (and in the new testament Jesus) and a human person.

So, it could be an old testament character, Moses, Esther, Joseph, Elijah, Jonah, or Jesus talking to a person, a disciple.. ill give you a minute to think about one such example… pick one well known..

  1. What is it you like about the conversation? Was it a good conversation – do you think?
  2. What does this conversation reveal about God?
  3. Are conversations important.. why?

I would hazard a fairly strong guess, that the conversations that we thought of, were long in nature, were ones that we know quite well, Jesus and peter on the beach, Elijah moaning after the battle with the prophets of Baal.

Yet in 2 Kings 5 there is space for a very small conversation, a very small moment, a significant conversation.

Read 2 kings 5  1-8…

The huge effect of this one girl and what she says, wasn’t a long conversation at all

What does the Girl, the servant girl say…

The essence of what is being said – I take a risk in caring about my master, enough to give him advice

I want him to get well..

I see the effect of his illness on her mistress and want that to be alleviated. In short, it is a sentence that conveys a sense of healing, a sense of risk, a sense of wanting better for someone else.

It is a sentence that from which the commander of the army, Naaman, listened to. She might well have pushed a nerve, triggered an emotion, he may have had a soft spot for her… and we don’t know this… but it carried enough for Naaman to act. And for Naaman to go to the king and for the king to commend a letter.  The voice of the servant Girl…. i mean, could that be the voice of God..?

Yet Naaman, when given the instructions by the prophet, didn’t initially take his advice.. that was a bit too weird… 

Having travelled all that way, Naaman had to take another new risk.  However, that is for another story.

To focus on mission on the frontline we must focus on the girl.

2. Another example, recently a few weeks ago we heard a sermon on Sauls conversion,  Yet, how many conversations did God need to have with Humans that day for Saul to become Paul and then to become a follower… yes 2..

Ananias – the forgotten man – let look at this one  Acts 9:10 –  disciple who has a vision

The Lord spoke to him in a vision..

‘Brother Saul… ‘’  This is meant as a symbol of Sauls healing, of the laying on of hands, but also note the risk that Ananias had to make in doing this, and the message God gave him of Saul, saying that Paul will how much he must suffer’ – suffering is part of faith. Being a witness is a sacrificial task. Paul the zealot now has suffering as part of his commission, in effect. But the conversation Ananias has with him, and with God is interesting.

What does God promise Ananias.. ?

He gives him knowledge of the situation, he calls him by name. Maybe more importantly, God gives Ananias the opportunity to talk back – But Lord – But Lord- thats Saul….

God doesn’t seem to be adverse to the push back- have you noticed this? But God…. But God… But God…

Maybe thats for another sermon.

Ananias the hearer and doer.

And addressed Saul as brother.. you are part of us.. you are with us now. Participation, risk and belonging. Healing.

 

3. The third conversation i thought we would look at it is one involving Jesus- actually, a quick question – which conversation does Jesus have is is the longest? – who does he speak to the longest in one specific conversation?

Give you a clue, Peter Hart preached on this a few weeks ago….

Yes, its the woman from samaria.

John Chapter 4.

And We wont look at it at depth, but we will look at a few of the questions and statements that Jesus uses:

Whats the first thing that Jesus says?

‘Woman please will you give me a drink’?

What is Jesus doing here? – Stating the flipping obvious – thats what… though we know that on one hand this isn’t obvious at all. This was the kind of act that wasn’t supposed to happen, yet it was a simple act. Woman – would you serve me?

Woman, this well is here, you have a bucket – could you use what you have to serve me?

Woman – you do this every day, any chance you could share your skill with me?

Woman – you have already been brave enough, to gather water in the heat of the day – would you take a risk and serve me, a man, too…

Woman – would you give?

Woman, you are standing, i am sitting, I am tired, i am exhausted, will you give me a drink..

We might get the significance easier because we know more about the situation, but thats nearly always the case after the event isn’t it.

Yes there are resonances with Elisha and asking the woman for oil. As importantly it might be a template for the conversations we could have. Jesus tired and weary asked the vulnerable to serve him.

The church tired, weary and exhausted, might need to do the same. Shift the power, sit by the well and receive from others. Sit on the wall and wait, watch and learn, and be in a place where the most vulnerable have gifts to give, and gifts to share- if only we might ask the right kind of question – or be in the right place where their offering is available..

Jesus gave space in the conversation for participaton, for the persons action, and for people to have left speaking to him in a better place than they were before.  And he used what they had. There is alot of using what they had in the New testament, from homes, to resources, to sharing of money, gifts and talent.

We can at time focus on peoples needs, but this doesn’t seem to be what Jesus does, that often, yes peoples needs are fulfilled, and a generous God gives. But I wonder if we can focus on peoples needs too much, and our conversations might reflect this, we have a desire to fix, to repair, to save what was lost, and to be the hero.

That doesn’t seem to be how Jesus operates. Remember, God is love… God is … and we are made in the image of God. So, maybe we need a different starting point. Maybe we focus not on needs, and solving these, and think about how a person might participate, might contribute, might do something that they are good at, how they are gifted.

Our neighbourhoods are full of people, young and old, who are bakers, creators, bicycle lovers, entrepreneurs and artists and more. Our streets are not dark and dangerous, they’re bright and imaginative’ (Mike Mather)

 

One of my Jobs is with Communities together Durham..(https://communitiestogetherdurham.org.uk/

And part of this role is to help churches to create spaces in which people gather, have conversation and develop opportunities to use their gifts, use their talents. Not a group of people who share a love for an interest like a knitting group, but a group of people who discover that they can learn a skill together and use it.

Mike Mather in his book talks about the story of Lucy and her flowers. This story can be found in this book: 

a copy of which you can buy here 

Read the story of getting out of the way

Amazing the significance of a conversation, of a question.

What might mission, conversation look like if we were prepared to ask the gift questions. To sit amongst the vulnerable, and ask

what skills do you have, what would you do if money was no object, and who will help you?

Moment to reflect on these questions… How might these be used by us in our everyday – what gifts do we have that we might share… – baking- artistry, what can we give each other, that we can also give to others…

Gods mission is to love the world, it is ours too.

Love so much that we see people for who they are, love so much that we build them up, we get out of the way, we sit tired by the well and let them use their gifts to serve us, we forget having the answer and be open to the wisdom of other, the person with the surprises who heals. Every conversation we have is a moment of theatre, every conversation is a moment where the ongoing drama of Gods redemption is carried onwards, is acted out. We are all missionaries, all conversationalists, even on social media, conversation is big business, everyone wants to hear from us. Sometimes the best conversation is the silent calm one. To think that we need to be ready to do the Mission of God, or professional, is not correct, we do the mission of God, from the place of our own normality, maybe our own desert place, our own reality, and have you noticed, that even in your desert place there is still energy to be generous, energy to give, energy to be used by God to love others. We are always on the frontline, discipleship and mission is a full on task of us all.

Our conversations that focus on the gifts of others might in reality be the most healing ones, our healing conversations might be those who help people to discover who they are, what they can do, and how they might contribute, not just to the functionality of the church, but the purposes of Gods mission in the bigger created world, the fixers, makers, artists and creators, the restorers, welcomers and the generous.

Reflect on the persons who don’t feel they have purpose who you meet, why not discover their passions, their interests. How might this be how we create the possibility of fruitfulness on the frontline. Its Gods world that we are all part of.  Might our fruitfulness not depend on us, but on how we encourage other to use theirs.

 

Advertisements

And I Would do anything for God..(but i wont get bored)

In his book ‘Faith Formation in a Secular Age’ (2017)  Andrew Root suggests that the biggest motivation in society, that has infected the church – especially in youth ministry , is what seems the influence of the avoidance of boredom. And in the church this looks like:

Must make this event exciting – or no one will come along

Our new youthworker must be excited and innovative (always thinking of the new)

What will make the programme lively and attractive?

We cant be doing the same songs, we must do new ones every now and then!

Young people wont be interested in coming to sunday church, they must have their own meetings

And, some of this also plays out in worship songs, using screens, countdowns and smoke machines, even in an avoidance of reading the bible or meetings (these are deemed boring).

Is Andrew Root right?

in Faith Formation he tells the following story:

‘ A famous bible scholar was meeting up with a young muscle bound man who expressed to him his deep deep love for Jesus. Judging from his passionate excitement, the professor believed the young mans commitment, so they talked about faith and the bible. When the topic of sunday worship came up, the young man explained that he rarely went, telling the professor that it had none of the adrenaline of the workouts, that ultimately Sunday worship was just too boring.

‘I thought you loved Jesus’ the professor asked

‘i do’ said the young man, and said with genuine authenticity, I really do!”

So, the professor asked, ‘do you think you would be willing to die for Jesus?’

Now more reserved, the young man said ” Yes…yes, I think i would, yes I would die for Jesus’

‘So let me get this straight, the professor continued, you are willing to die for Jesus, but not be bored for Jesus?’  (Root, A, 2017, p7)

The point that the scholar would try and make from this is that is the importance of co-orporate worship. The inconsistency of boredom vs commitment.

But Root seeks a different point in Faith Formation, because in an age where the authentic experience is sought… think not adrenaline junkies of the 1990s, but the authenticity of the farmers market/homebaked bread/real music – then in such an age, anything is deemed disingenuous if it lacked connection to the depth of subjective desires.

Therefore to be bored in an age of authenticity is not simply unfortunate or unpleasant it is to be oppressed and got rid of. if we have responsibility for our own individual journey of spiritual life then why would we consider anything boring to be worthy and part of it? if its boring our needs are unmet… arent they?

On one hand is Root right?

Well hang on just a minute. He goes on:

Because if on one hand the church’s pursuit of youthfulness (see this post  ) has created churches that are having a juvenile tantrum (Roots words not mine), then what an age of authenticity also reveals is that churches are criticised not for too much spirituality and depth, but not enough. It is as if they have somehow lost what they are meant to be. The depth of experience (found in the gym, or found travelling the world to ‘find oneself’) is not found in the church.

There are two issues here, and Im not sure even I can do both justice in the remainder of this piece. So, i will focus on the first of the two.

Has the church, in regard to youth ministry played the ‘avoiding boredom’ card far too often?  and what has been its response..

  1. Make everything louder than everything else? Ie bigger and brighter music, churches, buildings, more attractive – keep up with the entertainment
  2. Work out what it might mean when people say that they are bored of church..?

Boredom might mean actually not being involved. Boredom might mean that it is too simple. Boredom might mean that it is not challenging enough. Not that it isnt loud enough. Boredom might mean that it isnt real, or authentic enough. And what might make church authentic… authentic relationships, authentic involvement, authentic respect and faith formation, authentic opportunity to make decisions. (see my post here on developing these) So often boredom has just caused a reaction of adopt technology, adopt fun, adopt noise.

Whats strangely interesting is that the churches that have fared better over the last 50 years are those which retained something of the youth movement of 50 years ago. Possessing the spirit of youthfulness is equated to authentic, because being and staying young is exactly that. In and amongst this is a pretty non existent space for what church is or isnt actually meant to be about. But is that to be the case today? im not too sure…

The possibility of divine action is somewhat minimised for the sake of authenticity, faith is not connected to divine action but meeting in an authentic way. In short, is God more present when im not bored..?

The challenge for those of us who are involved in ministry and youth ministry is not that we cave in to calls to make churches and meetings more youthful, not to cave in to the cries of ‘young people arent going to come to church, its boring’ . The task is not to cave into church being more entertaining, for this will, or has already caused significant problems, where faith formation has almost completely been abandoned for youthfulness.

The challenge is to try and develop opportunities for ministry and gifting, usefulness and meaningfulness, not just a bigger brighter, louder, more colourful experience. If young people want that, they can get it at a coldplay concert. And that might be more authentic. For a coldplay concert does exactly what it says on the tin.

It will take a huge amount of effort to stand up in a culture that prioritised youthfulness as authentic to say hang on, lets do something meaningful, real and faithful. That might take guts to do, yet the hamster wheel of continual youthfulness is only going to have one winner. And it not faith formation, or long term discipleship. It is not experience of God, not the kingdom experiences of generosity, giftedness, gratitude and rest that permeate in church and discipleship, and ministry of the kingdom (Root, p 202) .

Making church less boring again, may well be a legitimate question. The response to it is one that will shape church for the next 50 years. Yet strategy will kill essence (Mather) , so we might as well get on and do the work of the kingdom, that looks like the ministry of God in the world. Being authentically inauthentic in a world of youthfulness. Do the essence of God.

Oh… and making church meaningful, hopeful and dangerous. A sub cultural movement of justice seekers called by God towards peace and reconciliation, generosity and gratitude. Now – who might find that boring..?

Accepting rest amid the storm

There are 2 types of tired:

one requires rest
and the other requires peace (anon)

Yesterday morning, it was Easter Sunday and I had got up for the Sunrise service on the Headland, Hartlepool, in north east England. And. Whilst it was stunning this reflection is about some of the sermon during that, and also something I read when I returned, picking up my Bible just a few hours later.

The previous day was Easter Saturday and I had shared this tweet about the reality for the disciples on Easter Saturday

It is fairly obvious that the real trauma of Easter, it’s darkness and the grief of it are not far from my mind this year.

And so on Easter morning, I started to read the following.. in Luke’s account, two words that I hadn’t really noticed before;

Luke 23:56 New International Version (NIV)

56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

I wanted to read all of the Easter account. But got stuck here..

But they rested.

This word rested only appears one other time in the new testament, and refers in Hebrews to the 7th day of creation. That’s not the point (to be fair I only realised this today when writing this)

But they rested.

Why? We are told because the law said so. The law of the Sabbath, given by God for rest on the Sabbath.

Saturday was rest day.

The Saturday of ‘Easter weekend ‘ was a rest day.

So they rested.

They rested in the midst of the trauma, grief, pain, suffering, betrayal

They rested included Mary, whose son was just hanged publically.

They rested from caring, and looking after the dead.

They rested and hid away. Gathered friends and family. Grieved.

They rested from looking after others.

They rested in the midst. They had to. But they still did so.

They rested. Because that’s what the law said.

They rested.. so they might have some energy to cope with the Sunday. So.. was this planned all along? .. probably. Finding rest for your souls is what Jesus had already shared (Matt 11;28)

Was resurrection Sunday, found only after rested Saturday? Did all the event of the Sunday appearances gain credence because of the day of rest, of quiet, of reflection and devotion, the day before. Because, post good Friday, the first one, back to normal.

Normal included rest. Sabbath, and what was known. That Sabbath now took on more meaning, because the promised saviour had just died. So actually, returning to established patterns was a comfort. (The disciples went fishing.. )

But they rested.

Where their weary hearts found peace. Peace after the trauma, but with no expectation of the future glory. Easter Sunday wasn’t coming for them, not that they knew it.

But they rested

And this is still the promise. You will find rest for your souls, said Jesus. You need to rest. Elijah finds God after the chase, and God feeds him. Jonah the same. The promised rest is not avoidance nor is it comfortable. It’s the continued hearing of the voice of God in the midst.

But they rested

They had to. By law. Who put that law there..?

But they rested.. Jesus said.. I will give you rest.. it is a gift. Resting is a gift given. We have to receive it, embrace it, treasure it, accept it, find it. It is there, already, God already is.

But they rested. What about you? What about me?

They rested on Easter Saturday.. surely you, and I can too. We need to.

What Role do you want young people to have in church?

For the majority of churches, the idea of having any young people being part of the church is a bit of a luxury. The task for many is to find them, attract them, and often this task has seemed to have fallen to the ‘christian organisation’ such as YFC, YMCA or FYT – the challenge where this happens is how the integration from organisation to church occurs.

But thats not the subject of this piece. I raised the question about the role that young people play in the church in a piece last year (here is this piece) , a piece that since April has been read by at least 10 people worldwide per day since. The role of young people in church is clearly crucial and something widely needing a discussion on.

So, what about progressing the conversation on a bit:

If its one thing to state ‘What current role do young people play?’ – and consider how passive, consuming, entertained they might be – the progressing question is :

What Role do you want young people to have in the church?

Because there is no point just assessing what kind of role they currently have, its what kind of role those who work with them want them to have, and how this might happen is key. So, this is yet another piece on young peoples participation. So, it might be worth thinking through why participation is important, and what might need to change, from the point of view of the cultural norms of church, of youth leadership and the perception of young people in the church which proceeds the development of their role. I have written before (and so have others) about the various historical perceptions of young people in churches, that needs to be changed in order that participation is increased. From the social rescue of the 1800’s, to the ‘protection and safety’ and creation of alternative culture youth ministry subsequent to the 1960’s. Throughout it all, there remains a high expectation of young people being involved in church to ‘learn’. Nick Shepherd in ‘Faith Generation (2016) suggests that shifting culture from learning to deciding is key. And I agree.

But why is increasing participation required?

On one hand, Theologically, participation is core to faith and the gospel itself. But I dont think I need to expand this here. Just look up ‘Bible Gateway’ and search participate or participation. And where there are no references, think about how God involves humans in the task of his mission, or loving and caring for the world, and developing the work of the church. Participation, and increasing it is core.

I want to look at this from a psychological basis as well. The psychologists Deci and Ryan have suggested that all of us are motivated by, and seek out continued spaces in which they feel they have:

  • Connection/Belonging
  • Competence
  • Autonomy

And, to be reasonable, developing relationships has been one of the key principles of youth ministry over the last 30 years. It may be something that still needs work, but ask a whole load of young people who have had the same leaders for more than 3-4 years, and they will remark on the depth of friendship and the value of them. Developing connections and relationships is undoubtedly key. From a young persons point of view – they will also be seeking out opportunities to create and have these connections – its worth bearing this in mind.

The second of these things is competence. It can take a number of facets, but essentially, being good at something, being confident in it and then also receiving the feedback for it. So think about it – in what ways do young people ‘do’ something in the church, that they can be praised for – that is quite meaningful? Colouring in a picture and showing it, really isnt competence inducing for a 12yr old. (especially when they’ve been in a committee in primary school)

The third is Autonomy. Which on the face of it might infer that they want to be independent, and this is partly correct, but it is a sense that they have responsibility and possibility to make decisions on aspects of things that directly affect them, having influence in the important. So – what about the youth group, or the church that young people might be important that young people could or should have influence over? Well if theyre an integral part of the church, then i might suggest almost everything. Only having a say in whether to play table tennis or indoor football may be a start, but its barely an important one. Chap Clark (Adoptive church, 2018) suggest that young people could have a say in the content or subject matter of the sermons in church. Maybe with that level of participation, young people might invest in church further. With a direct line to my youth pastor as a tennager, the youth group would make some suggestions to him, back in the 1990’s. It was great to hear on a sunday what he knew we thought was important. And not be patronised or ignored.

Think about all the aspects of the youth group, or the aspect of church – what role do you want each of the young people to play?

What might you need to do to open up the space so they can? challenge barriers? challenge assumptions? create spaces where young peoples voice can be heard? (and this not be a one off) If any church is serious about young people being more than token, more than passive consumers, then as adults, youth leaders and volunteers our role is to create the space, it is also to provide the support for developing the risk taking.

As a reminder, here is Roger Harts ladder of youth participation, which helps to give the rungs and grades of participation for young people.

Image result for youth participation

It might be said then, that increasing young people’s participation isnt just a nice to do – its actually what they need. Beyond connection, competence and autonomy are shot through the participation ladders higher rungs, decision making, doing stuff, creating things, taking risks – all deeply connected to a young persons needs (whether they know it or not).

Naturally, there are some areas in a youth group in which young people can have more participation than others (the games rather than the faith content..often) – it can also be said that some young people are more likely to be given roles than others – its usually the:

  • ones with the leadership potential
  • Right gender, race or ability…
  • extroverts
  • the oldest
  • the loudest
  • those known the longest
  • the most well behaved.

But what about the others? might a church be setting itself up to be accused of favouring the strongest (rather than the less visible) for participation, – is this theological ? After all – who did Jesus prefer. The irony is that ones who are likely to have participation opportunities in church, are as likely to be those who have them in school. So – the least get left out twice. The opportunities for participation might need to be adapted to the persons in the group. fancy that.

So – what kind of role do you want young people to have in their local church? or their youth group?

You might be content with them only having a token role in the life of the whole church, then dont be surprised if they only seem to have a token faith, or a token investment back. ‘The more we invest in young people the more they are likely to invest in their faith’ is a paraphrase from Christian Smith seminal 2003 book. Do you, does the church have increased and full participation as a main aim – but what kind of participation is actually possible for the 11 year old or 14yr old?

If you want young people to stay, and children beyond messy church and sunday school – then increasing participation in the local church is crucial. Its almost the only way. Its why when they have experienced it, ‘just going’ to a ‘event or festival’ might seem boring in comparison. Its participation free.

Without participation young people might get bored. And thats not because they need greater entertainment, its that they need greater respect and involvement. Relationship, Competance and Autonomy – might churches, and youth groups be places where these deep needs of young people are met? They might only be met through increasing participation. So – what role do you want them to play in the faith community? – what role do they want?

References:

Joined up – Danny Brierley, 2003 ( a chapter on participation)

Human Being, Bryan, Jocelyn, 2016 – On personal motivation/goals and a consideration of Deci and Ryan.

Adoptive Church, Chap Clark, 2018

Faith Generation, Nick Shepherd, 2016

Soul Searching, 2003, Christian Smith/ Denton

The following Anvil Journal has pieces on Participation and Empowerment – might be worth a read.

Are youth ministry books all saying the same thing?

The last 4 books I have read on youth ministry have started sounding like a bit of a

Image result for broken record

or reading them, has been like

Image result for groundhog day

its as if there is nothing new under the sun, or maybe with a twist that:

Image result for nothing new under the sun

Now, it could be that I read the same kind of youth ministry books, and to a large extent that might be true. However, I have also benefited from receiving a number for free, so that i can write reviews of them on this very site. So Nick Shepherd, Naomi Thompson and Chap Clark I am looking at you. But I will also add in this conversation Andy Root as well.

Heres what I mean. The only conversation in town is how to keep young people in churches. It is second to the fact there isnt any in church at all. But lets kind of go with the flow.  See what you think from the quotations below:

Naomi Thompson in her 2018 book ‘Young People and church since 1900’ writes

Young people today view their engagement with organised Christianity as a two-way transaction. They do not wish merely to serve church needs, nor do they expect to be passive consumers in accessing the youth provision on offer.” 

Nick Shepherd in his 2016 book ‘Faith generation; retaining young people and growing the church’ writes

The first area we might consider is the way i which young people move in churches from learners to deciders‘ (p156)

Chap Clark insists that: ‘Sometimes it is not a question of whether students and young people have the ability to serve, but a question of power. Adults have the power. Empowerment is a theological and sociophychological one. We need to transcend participation, and go all out for contribution. A participant is allowed to be with us, a contributor is with us on equal terms, a coworker who is taken seriously‘ (Chap Clark, Adoptive Church, 2018, p146-7)

And from a different angle, Andrew Root suggests that:

Andrew Root in ‘Faith Formation in a Secular age’ (2017) writes that faith in a secular world requires that : “study after study in youth ministry seems to define faith primarily through institutional participation. The youth with faith are those conforming to the youth group through affiliation‘ (p30)  The issue is that faith=conformity.

What all say is that participation is both essential, and yet it is not enough. All four writers identify young peoples decision making, creativity and desire to be part of the proceedings, not just a token gesture. Root and Shepherd also suggest that participating in the church structures really isn’t enough.

Young people want the church to be the place where they can be ministers in the world, and be agents of change in it. Institutional participation isn’t enough, but if this in itself isnt there well.. . Faith is to be Plausible (Shepherd), it is to involve ministry (Root) and it is about developing gifts (Root) in a place where faith can flourish (Clark).

But ultimately. I think they all say the same thing.

Its about identifying young peoples gifting, and created supportive places where young people can use these and decide how they want to minister using them. Its about moving from consumerism to contribution, and giving, or allowing young people to shape the roles they can rise to in the church, and develop faith that is risky, loving, generous and transforming.

Its great when four books say the same. Dont you think…. I mean its not as if youthwork hasnt been about participation for many a decade, has it…

It might be worth checking out this piece, on Youth participation, I wrote in in January last year, and includes Harts ladder on youth participation. ‘What role do young people have in church?’  given that this was a question posed by Danny Breirley in 2003, the same question is still being answered. We know that evidence and research is proving it, so why not any change?

Youth participation – the broken record – well it might be until its fixed…

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Does Jesus’ question shape our mission and ministry with people?

This was Jesus question to the blind man, Bartimeus, as Bartimeus sat by the road begging for money as the people passed by. The full story is in marks gospel chapter 10 verses 46.

After the crowds told the man to stop shouting and he shouted louder

Jesus said ‘tell the man to come here’

Bartimeus threw aside his coat, jumped up and came to Jesus..

Jesus asked him a question;

It wasnt;

  1. What do you want?
  2. What do you need?
  3. What is wrong?
  4. What do others think you are?

Or

5. What do you all want, need or desire?

Or

6. Can I help you? Or

7. What strategy do I need to accomplish for church growth before I can help you?

8. You need help, let me help you?

No, to the blind man begging by the road. The homeless outcast waiting for the pennies to drop, as Jesus walks by, Jesus places himself at the choice and decision of the other. He asks

What do you want me to do for you’?

‘Heal me Jesus, I want to be made see’ is the response.

A response that the blind man has full freedom to make. A choice bartimeus can opt into. A moment of passion, of desperation, but also one that he is being given and granted by Jesus.

In the brilliant blog I linked to above Cormac Russell suggests that the desire to help can override the value of respect and the much over used/contested concept of empowerment. Cormac contrasts four approached within community development , working for,at, with and alongside persons in communities (they are not others but persons). As a youthworker, working with values like human dignity, respect, participation and empowerment, I see all of these things in Jesus question.

We might want to aspire to be all the greatest ministries in the world, and be known for many things, but I hazard a guess that if we stop thinking and asking and responding to the very question Jesus would have us ask, and embody this in our community, youth or families work, then we might only be, as Paul wrote, a clashing cymbal or resounding gong.

Jesus asks ‘what do you want me to do for you?’

We will always be in bereft of what Jesus might give us if we ask this question to ourselves, especially when we undergo the most vulnerable of times. But its a question not just for ourselves, it’s a question to share and give away.

Notice that we know the blind man, who has a name. Not many who Jesus heals were given names, Jarius daughter, the centurion, even the woman bleeding. But Bartimeus is remembered and has a name, we think because he became involved in following Jesus later on. But even so, that cannot be our focus, to have an outcome as the motive for our present action. Jesus asks it to the person who was taking the shit left right and centre, whose circumstances put him on the lowest of planes, and who was being virtually trampled on by the crowd who followed Jesus. Jesus asks and gives choice. Asks and gives respect. Asks to a person with a name and gives dignity to the individual.

Jesus cuts through the crowd and finds faith in the individual. And asks that trampled on individual a question that we might do well to be reminded of.

‘So _____________, for we all have names, the families in our communities have names, the person begging outside the shopping centre you walk past has a name, the young person in the inclusion unit has a name…. ‘what do you want me to do for you? ‘

Are we prepared to ask, or afraid of the answer…

In the Drama of your youth Ministry, does God have a speaking part?

Have a think about this for a moment…. Where is God speaking to you through your youthwork practice?

Might it be easy before, or after, but what about through and in midst of it all?

This post will look at how God speaks, Biblically, divine action and then what it might mean for God to speak through our practices of youth ministry. For those who have a memory for these things, this is the post that i was about to write a few weeks ago, after writing this one in which i started the conversation on conversation, speaking and their lack of mention in youth ministry writing. So this is a long awaited part 2…

Image result for god speaking

So, Starting with God speaking. How does this happen?

It might be too extreme to say that God only acts through communication, as Vanhoozer suggests in Faith, Speaking and Understanding (2014) but it is as equally fair to say that the Biblical God does an awful lot of speaking to his created humans, whether that is directly – to Adam, Eve, to Noah, to Abraham, about leaving his home, and crucially in a lengthy dialogue over the destination of Sodom (Genesis 18) . God who speaks to Moses, to Eli, Samuel and David, through Angels who pass on his messages, and ultimately in the communicative act of sending Jesus into the world, to communicate God in person, speaking, acting and communicating God in this one location. And where Jesus does more that speak, he communicates through action, non action, miracle, question, parable and behaviour. ¹

but looking at google, and images, it looks as if God only speaks through sunsets,

silence and reflection and prayer. But God in the bible seems much more practical and conversation than that…

So does God continue to speak?

And if so, where, when and how might God be speaking through your youthwork practice? and who to?

Is God saying something when the ‘numbers are down?’ or up? Is God saying something through the disturbance by a young person? is God saying something when the group reacts to a local poverty issue? is God saying something when people leave? Is God speaking through the young people themselves?

For so long the model of youthwork has been the key. Having the right motivated by faith – might be considered theological practice (Ward, 1997) , but God is no Model, or strategy or even process. God is first of all community and second of all communicative. But models of community might be overstepping the mark, trying to emulate being like God by a community orientated approach and we could get tied up in circles trying to make a practice model itself on community for the sake of a theological perspective. But we could be accused of trying our best, or too hard to find the right model, instead of being open and creating opportunities for God to speak in the present in what is going on in the youth work practice.

Image result for youthwork model

Of course it may be particularly important to ask where God has spoken in the past, how God speaks and what it might be that God is likely to say, and with that maybe comes developing a kind of biblical intuition into the way (s) of the speaking God. The God who provokes his own people that theyre not worshipping properly, the God who welcomes children, the God who has high ideals, the God who guides through the wilderness and who sets people free – the God who speaks to his people through it all, what might that God be saying to you?

Yet strangely, how often might we stop and reflect on where God is speaking through our practices – What is God saying to you about the young people you met last night on the streets – what might God be provoking you with what they say? what story is the parable of tonights youth work, this afternoons mentoring session, or this mornings classroom activity. As reflective practitioners, and theological reflective practitioners, God might be trying to speak to us more that we might think.

Discovering the divine action of God and our relationship to the divine action of God in human practices is one of the key questions that Andrew Root wrestles with in ‘The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry’ , his wrestling continues in ‘Faith Formation’ . However, thinking through the divine action of God, is a topic barely considered in UK youth ministry, at least not the books I have seen. It makes something of an appearance in practical theology, but even then the relationship between human action and theology is the most common, not necessarily what is means that God as communicative agency is the theological perspective overall. So – where might God be speaking through your youthwork practices? – and how might we be open to God speaking through our own actions, and there being ongoing participation in the divine acts of God, on our part too.

So, lets ask the question more often – where is God continuing to speak in and through your actions, in and through the actions of others and in and through the interactions between others in your youthwork practice?

If we take the metaphor of the theatre as one that is plausible, then we might act along with Jesus incarnate on the stage, performing an improvised drama with the script, trinity, church and eschatology as guide, and be in response the similarly ongoing prompting and directing by God². We do not act alone, God acts and prompts in this way in the present. Through our ministry and in it, speaking and directing, and going ahead to prepare the stage for the drama of our obedience.

It is only one metaphor, but in a way it encapsulates how were are both free to act and responsive to act, obedience and yet attempting to participate in something larger than ourselves. And where God is in the ongoing, the present, not just a model to copy, or an ideal to aspire – but a character in the ongoing drama that is prompting in the very midst.

The Bible depicts the living God, the Holy Author acting as an agent in our midst (Vanhoozer, 2014, p481)

Where does God continue to speak in youth ministry? In your ministry with young people? From the midst, from the action, and in the action itself. God as the Holy Author prompts and directs the drama towards redemptive purposes, edging and nudging along. Its our job to be open to hearing, improvise and take up the challenges of those nudges.

For Andrew Root, Ministry or being ministered to is one key aspect of participating in divine action (Faith Formation, 2017, p201), I might suggest that divine action is in the communication of God and his divine action is in communication, and yes, we do communicate the Love of God through the acts of ministry and being ministered too – but it is also about hearing God in the midst and responding in the moment to the prompts to act in a loving way, strategic ministry might not be as loving as the in the moment prompt to take a risk and do the most loving, caring compassionate thing in that moment, despite the risks to reputation. It might be seen as ministry, but if God acts in the present, then it is present obedience and in the moment love, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, hope that might be the moment where God is also at work. And that might be when we see God at work through young people as they do these things. Additionally,

Where might God be speaking in your youth ministry? – Might be where young people are being prompted by God to be ministers…

References

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation, 2017

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Remythologising Theology, 2012

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014

Vander Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2016

Ward, Pete, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997 (others propose models too, Doug Fields, Steve Griffiths, Richard Passmore)

¹For a detailed look at the communicative agency of God, from a Biblical perspective – do engage with Kevin Vanhoozers, Remythologising Theology (2014)

²Vander Lugt (2014) suggests that there are a number of factors, these included, that human actors use to be guided in their performance, though ultimately there is much improvisation.