Nothing more, nothing less, love is the best…What if ‘love is the way’ in Youth Ministry?

Theres a madness in the air and its all about love, this evening its the remembrance services and commemorations of the one love, Manchester concerts to mark the year since the tragedy at the concert. But its love that caught the imagination on Saturday lunchtime, yes the love between Harry and Meghan, their looks, glances and lip-read comments (thanks ITV for this detail). Though the media might want the story to be about the dress, the gowns, the crowds and the dance (their first dance was Witney, apparently they did want to dance with somebody), the stand out performance on the day was of the sermon given by Bishop Curry of the US Episcopalian church.Prince Harry and Meghan Markle listen to an address by the Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, primate of the Episcopal Church, in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle during their wedding service in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018

By now you will have surely read the transcript of Bishop Currys address, if not a link to it is here, and highlights are:

“That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centred. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.

“If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

“Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighbourhoods and communities where love is the way.

“Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.

“Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

“When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

“When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

“When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

“When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

…Dr King was right: we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.

 

One of the points that seems to have been made subsequent to Bishop Curry, certainly by the few comments on social media by the ‘non christians’ is that he made Christianity look attractive, sound passionate, and mean something, and be about love that changes and transforms, love that frees and love that creates a better world. It appears a surprise to many that this is what Christianity is all about. And maybe theres reflection to be done on why this message hasnt been heard before, or been allowed to be heard. Its not as if the church hasnt talked about love, but maybe it hasnt done in public, maybe a message of love and social justice has become too separated, or maybe, its the only time a 14 minute sermon is heard in its entirety in the public stage and so, it can be more than a soundbite or the interpretation of the news reporter (ie ‘the pope used his christmas message to say X, the archbishop Y’) .

However, this blog is about youthwork and youth ministry – and where is the love in that? Well quite. We could be mercenary at times, but more rarely that we might be passionate, dedicated and over committed, usually going beyond the call of duty to accomodate, help, support, and journey alongside a young person. But has the language of love, passion and dedication gone a little out of fashion?

A glance through some of the recent youth work & ministry books, and there are models, methods, ideas, theologies. processes, practices, thinkings, approaches, philosophies and venn diagramms, how tos, not to’s and go to’s. But little on feelings, on emotions, on compassion, on love. The greatest of all. Dig a little deeper and thinking theologically, or philosophically about youthwork and ministry and love, compassion and respect figure. And undoubtedly many youthworkers and ministers burn out through over commitment and passion. And leave posts potentially because their respect for young people might not translate into strategies of growth and attendance – where views of love differ.. Love does seem to motivate youth workers, more than calling – dont you think? 

In ‘Starting right; thinking theologically about youth ministry’ Dave Rahn writes:

These words of Jesus ( Mark 12: 29-31) provide the definitive and final job escription for the youth worker, and for anyone in christian ministry, we are to be guided by love, and only guided by love. What is our role with our students to love as we would be loved (SR, 2001, p379)

going on to say; ‘in response to this rush and passion and longing, we are invited into the intimacy of the trinitarian fellowship, we allow ourselves to encounter the incredible love that God personifies’ (p381) God is love. Love, in a roundabout way also features when we talk about incarnational relationships in youth ministry, but without love this can just mean being in the location of where young people are. Love requires action that involves, interacts, empathises and is compassionate. Incarnationally present is not vulnerable and love if it is just a statement of kudos, and as Root suggests, developing relationships for strategic purposes is not love either. (Root, 2007)

But what if love is the way in youth ministry. Well, there is someone who talked about this a long time ago, someone, outside of these pages who is largely ignored- stating that;

“The situation in which the community of the Church is set, asks questions of it about the age structure, the class structure, the openness to go out into the world and receive the world, The crucial thing at this stage is that all of us who have this concern (for young people in the community) deeply in our hearts should recognise that any remedial christian action will emerge only out of painful, searing, physical and mental acceptance, in love, of a generation which is painfully different. What we need to know about the strategy of action must be learned at the point of personal involvement, of ourselves or of other groups” (Lecture given to World christian youth commission in May 1964, Rev HA Hamilton, taken from Working with the unnattached, a review is here: )

We, the church, really has at times messed up with young people, not loved them enough to be more inclusive, to be more patient, to ready ourselves for the challenge of youth ministry (thinking it was easy, or about keeping things simple), and on other occasions we ban, prevent, exclude the kind of young people for whom love might be absent, yet the plea for a searing compassion, a love for young people who are intrinsically different to the many in the church, or the adults in society is still to be sought for. Love plays its part in thinking theologically about youth ministry thats for sure, for God is love, and this must be the motivation. Yet love might be hidden behind so many of the things that we talk about , that it might be hard to find – especially when talk is growth, strategy and institution – where is the love?. 

If we love young people – would we judge them?, would we clump them together as a generation?

If we love young people – would we talk about them – without them? 

If we love young people – do we blame them, shame them, or find a way to exonerate them? 

If we love young people – are we with them, for them, and alongside them? 

If we love young people – do we fear them, or hear them? 

If we love young people – are they trusted? 

If we love young people – do we challenge them, push them, prize their gifts open? 

If we love young people – what might youth ministry be like with them? 

 

I would hope that in the vast majority of situations young people who encounter youthworkers leave feeling more positive, different and changed for the better, and this surely is the case. But talk of love has been thrust square and centre this week. Maybe its time that love became more central to even more of what youth ministry is all about. Maybe on another hand, young people might know that the church is about love because of the actions they have experienced from a youthworker, the time, effort, energy and space provided, given at personal cost. Maybe its just the community at large and the media that didnt realise that christianity was about love. Maybe, love is what youthworkers have been sharing with and telling young people about for years and decades. Maybe that ‘loving relationship’ with Jesus, hasnt been made meaningful enough through transforming actions that change the world – and many young people would be up for world changing (often its parents and consent forms that prevent it). When love is the way… who should stop young people? When love is the way, young people might need to be participants of it, not just recipients of it. When love is the way, it needs to be given away.

 

References

Clark, Dean, 2001 Starting right; Thinking theologically about youth ministry, 

Goetschius and Tash 1967 Working with the unnattached

Root, 2007, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

 

Advertisements

Young people will go elsewhere for rebellion and danger- if faith in our youth groups is tame and safe

Young People need to be more than just participants in institutional faith -(Andrew Root (2017))

Faith Generation needs to enable young people to explore identity and meaning, and engage in acts of faith that generate experience and engagement with God’ (Nick Shepherd, Faith Generation, 2016, p170)

By Being creative faith activists and taking liturgy to the streets, the prophetic church today can re-imagine space and time through the liturgy, baptizing the community into festival time, and gathering the community to create spaces of Hope in the City  (Peter Heltzel, the church as the theatre of the Oppressed, the promise of a youth-led Urban revolution, in Theatrical Theology, 2014, Hart/Vander Lugt)

I think I have lost count trying to help churches to try and connect with young people in their local community, only for them to find young people and not really know what to offer. I have equally lost count the number of churches who ask about ‘trying to keep’ young people within the church. Its a question that hasnt gone away since Sunday Schools kept 4 million for a few years before 1900.

One of the situations churches find themself saying, and also perpetuated by the relevancy narrative within youth ministry, is that they are boring or irrelevant for much of the last 60 years (or more) the trying to be relevant in practice has been one of the key games within youth ministry, games and themes, or even that a fear of irrelevancy might set in (its one reason why youth ministry orgs re brand themselves, and repackage the often very similar teaching and formational material). Criticisms theologically of this, are well known and not to be repeated here.

Positively.

I think, for the sake of young people, and the gospel, we need to change the metaphor, and the starting point.

We need to view the Gospel as an ongoing Drama, and Discipleship about being a performing actor following the directions of Christ (also acting) on the stage of the World. 

In slightly shorter – we need to be training young people for the task of performing the Gospel – and to be attentive to the ongoing voice of God in their everyday midst. Image result for drama

It would be easy to be critical, rather than constructive at this point, when I have the expansive metaphor of theatre to hand it is within this that I should write, however, for a small second it is worth mentioning here, that for the most part the things that we are getting hung up on in the church regarding young people and discipleship (and Andrew Root confirms this in the US also) is on the aspect of discipleship that is principally about formation.

Many of the programmes are essentially about making the formation aspect of faith ‘really exciting’ , yet for many young people it is still a glorified Bible study, or a non participatory God slot at the end of a series of games or activities that are the ‘fun bit’. Making formation ok enough so young people dont leave the youth group is about the maximum success, even better is to turn them into a leader. One indicator of this is that articles here that are about ‘keeping young people in the church’ are some of the most popular. However, in the metaphor of Drama, formation is not enough. The Drama student needs productions to hone their skills, the playscript needs to be seen, the action needs to happen. Acting is risk and dangerous. Rehearsals behind closed doors are safe.

In a way, its not that the youth group needs to be exciting – its that the Radical Gospel of Jesus needs to be given its full credibility status as a transforming direction that challenges and provokes humanity into a radical way of being in the world, and that discipleship is a task of performing it. 

What young people need is a way of living, and a way of believing that is believable, that is credible and that shapes their whole being (Shepherd, 2017).  The problem is that the Gospel is seen as boring as the church is thinking it is, and the answer is not to make youth groups more youthful, and authentically youth feeling – but to make the Gospel something that young people want to perform on the broadest of world stages. It is to make discipleship meaningful again.

It may also be to make discipleship collective again. It is far easier to perform as a troop that an individual. Monologues of performance are difficult to do, but often we task young people to stand alone and ‘be christian’ on their own.

As an addition, performances are also key to formation.

As every actor knows, they are learning new things about every performance as they perform it, and learning each time, about new audiences, about nuances and cues. Thats before we mention improvisation. (Im trying to keep this article short), and so 5 quick things to think about- if we view youth discipleship as performing the gospel:

  1. The Gospel becomes action orientated – how young people read it is as a script and guide to shape them, it is more than history, or morality – but cues to current action
  2. The world, and everything within in, becomes a stage on which they have the opportunities to enact, in the new situations
  3. Our role as the church is to facilitate good performances, through liturgy, through connecting young people in the story/drama, and helping them know their part (s)
  4. We have the responsibility to help them discern Gods ongoing voice – not just praying, but listening in the everyday
  5. We might avoid ‘fat’ or ‘festival’ christian syndrome, where high formation and attendance is at the price of performances and action. 
  6. Collective social action might be good to put in the youth group programme (it might be the programme)
  7. Participation as an ongoing principle within youth work (which i hope it is- see prev posts) also has a theological premise – the two way participation in which God indwells in us, for the disciple to also participate in the ongoing story
  8. We have an opportunity to make youth groups action and risk taking orientated. Being safe for Jesus doesnt seem to be much of an option.

The above example, from Heltzl is of a youth movement in the USA who acted out of peace and reconciliation within the city of New York, they in effect took their desire for peace, for equality and for the goodness of the local community and made a peaceful protest against the building of a road that would destroy a community in their area. The same might be said today of the young people protesting against Gun crime in the same nation. These are collective protests for the common good being made by collections of young people. What performing the gospel might mean in your context might look very different to these, but what it might help to do is give young people not only a local cause to believe in, but also a faith that is to believe.As Jesus said, it is when we are put in front of the magistrate is the moment where ‘the spirit will give you the words to say’ (Matthew 10:19).

Lets make the youth group and the church the training ground for dynamic local gospel performances, not just a culture of conformity and an ongoing repetition of being part of the christian club going to events. We may not want to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10; 25) but as the previous verse indicates, lets meet to inspire each other to do good and love each other (verse 24)- to perform the gospel in the context… 

We shouldnt worry about trying to keep young people – if the place of faith is also a place of planning to do good and to love each other. We neednt worry about keeping young people if discipleship was encouraged to be a dangerous performance of goodness, that challenged the norms of the world, and gave young people opportunities to have acting parts within the Holy Drama.

There is considerably more on this, the Theodrama, on these pages elsewhere (see the categories/tags tab). FYT have a resource on ‘Experiments’ which gives actions for young people to perform (first) before reflecting (second) on the activity. Its a change from the formation first stuff. It changes the order, and so for individuals and groups it gets them doing stuff first – and 100’s of groups are really being challenged by it: its here: http://www.fyt.org.uk/resources/the-experiments/

References

Root, Andrew Faith Formation in a secular world, 2017

Shepherd, Nick, Faith Generation, 2016

Hart, Lugt, Theatrical Theology, 2014

Boal, A Theatre of the Oppressed, 2005

 

Rethinking learning styles in Youth Ministry; Helping young people have an active faith

In Youth Ministry – How might we use Learning styles? 

I know, there has been some talk recently about the validity of learning styles and whether they actually exist and are of value. there are some fascinating thoughts here: http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2017/5/25-1   But for the sake of what might be an interesting read, stick with me on this one. It not that kind of re-think that i am proposing. I am suggesting when it comes to faith- learning styles might be helpful.

Lets start from the beginning. When i was doing voluntary training in youth ministry and education back in 1996 and even work based training courses in the early 2000’s, the principle learning styles were the following, as it was said that people learned in one of these kind of ways:

Activist – they needed to ‘do’ something to learn it

Pragmatist – ‘it needs to be ‘useful’ applied to a real life situation

Reflector – ‘they need time to process the information and chew the cud of it’ 

Theorist – ‘ they need to know where it came from, that it is proved and validated’ 

(Of course, any theorist is switching off now, as none of what i have said is proven…. ) – and so, in Youth Ministry, especially in ready to use guides and in most session plans, there has become an implicit need to accomodate these learning styles.   Theres a game (with a reference), a piece of information, a way of reflecting on it (through prayer usually) and then ways of applying the learning to real life. The same might also be said of the anglican service, aspects of which are active, reflective, theory (the sermon?) and pragmatic- how it all applies.  For those of you that like to be known as millenials, which is none of you, these old fashioned learning styles have been updated, they are now VARK, and include:

Visual

Audial

Reading/reflective

Kinesthetic. 

though a look onto the worlds most popular search engine, and theres images like this;

Related image

So Learning styles are pretty complicated, because, by the looks of things, each of as humans are pretty complicated.

I am aware that Nick Shepherd, in his excellent faith generation (2016) suggests that young people need to be considered as more than learners, and i completely agree. What i am about to say backs this up. The question that I have pondered is;  might learning styles help in faith & discipleship more broadly?  And this is not just for young people. Nothing ever is.

If I could use the older learning styles for the purposes of what I am thinking. Just to save a bit of confusion. So for example, in the ongoing process of discipling people how might

  • faith be an active thing
  • faith be a pragmatic thing
  • faith be a reflective thing
  • faith be a theoretical thing

Because, what it can seem to be, and going on with what Nick Shepherd suggests, is that a large proportion of the activities of the church and for young people especially, they are regarded as learners, and so a huge amount of energy is spent on increasing their knowledge of the faith – through games, activities, sessions – and even for them, going to a worship event, is still to a point a learning experience that is largely cognitive, and thus reflective. If I used the newer learning styles, then I might be suggesting that young people need to ‘see’ faith, to ‘act’ it out, to ‘feel’ it , picture it and use their imaginations’ and so on.

As an addition, if we conceptualise what young people are as disciples as ‘actors’ who are on the stage of the world, needing to be trained to act in a myriad of situations the fullness of the gospel. Then as actors, we wouldnt expect Matt Damon, or Kiera Knightly to only learn their lines. That is only reading, not acting. An actor in most productions, especially theatre, needs to use their whole selves in the productions, to read the cues, to memorise, to improvise, mind, body, spirit.  Church might be a great place for young people to rehearse, but that shouldnt minimalise the encouragement that faith and discipleship might be a complex thing, encompassing action, reflection, usefulness and theory. All of which is key in how it is seen, heard, pictured, felt and imagined. Young people as performers of the christian faith – how how might the forming of them change as a result..?

Here might be a few examples for each

How might young people act out their faith? 

  1. If the play is about goodness (not being good- Balthasar, 1980) – then they need to see that the goodness they do is part of their performance, and then this ultimately translates into acts of justice, reconciliation and hospitality to their friends & enemies
  2. They act out their faith when they speak up against the oppression of others
  3. They act out their faith when they use their ideas and initiative to solve a community problem – like litter, or food waste, or poverty,
  4. They act out their faith when they get chance to lead, decide and speak, being given the opportunity to how others their learning.
  5. They act out their faith when they are tuned to hear God prompting them in the everyday decisions and decide to follow.

In a way the reflective and Theorist aspects of faith are pretty well covered. From Prayer to bible studies. Reflection and theory takes up a large proportion.

What is interesting is that recent research shows that young people want faith, not to be ‘true’ but to be ‘useful’. Now, there are dangers with this, a faith that provides only usefulness for young people seems to stack faith solely as the problem solver for young people, and only an individual young person will know how ‘useful’ faith is for them. And Christian Smith in 2005 highlighted that a faith that ‘helped young people do what they wanted’ permeated in aspects of youth ministry. Leaving that aside, what might it mean for faith to be ‘useful’ for young people, and be something that on one hand might be ‘pragmatic’ .

It might be useful because it helps a young person conceive of a way of shaping their life story

It might be useful because it can help them answer some of lifes big questions, like personal purpose

It might be useful because it offers hope – the end of the drama, has an ending! 

It might be useful because God offers presence throughout all of lifes activities

On the other hand, useful discipleship might be like doing the things that Jesus asked of the disciples, like find out iif anyone has food, finding the donkey or preparing the upper room, or catching fish. In the every day usefulness, God is at work and needing things to be done. 

Practical young people might need a practical faith.

Yes, young people ‘act’ out their discipleship in the mid week – like the rest of us do (!). I am just wondering about whether re thinking learning styles for ‘faith’ not ‘just’ the content of a session might be appropriate. If we have child actors in the kingdom, what might be the methods of ongoing formation that encourage active performances of faith, of following the ‘way’ of God in the world. Of course, it will help, if in using the other learning styles, that they ‘see’ faith, ‘feel it’ and understand it logically. – Where do young people ‘see’ faith?  or be in a place where they see ‘God at work’? and join in.

What i dont have is the imagination to provide all of what might be creative ideas to develop this thought further, however, if i put the concept out there of young people as performers of the gospel, not just hearers, lets shape how the church might work with young people in a way that has action and usefulness as as much of a priority as reflection and theory. Image result for action

After all we want young people to have an ‘active’ faith. So – let them perform…

Thoughts on Compassion

Recently, along with thinking about culture, values and interpreting, ive been thinking on a number of levels about the subject of compassion – or more pertinently its been a subject that without deliberate intention has been hitting on me.

A few weeks ago i was asked to help out at the local high school at their philosophy day, during which i was working with one of the RE teachers and a group of 12 Year 12 pupils, the subject of the discussion, and subsequent presentation was on Compassion and in particular the http://charterforcompassion.org/ . It was a lengthy discussion with some very articulate pupils in which we tried to define compassion, and understand how appropriate it would be to be intentionally  compassionate, and how signing a charter would make being compassionate any more likely.                            

The Latin word compassion means to feel deep sympathy for someone, and accompany this by action to change their circumstances.  And so it is an both a feeling/emotion, and an action, motivated by that feeling.  The situation causes an effect on us, on which causes us to want to affect the other.

One thing required to have compassion is a requirement to have less pre-judgment of the social group, (and critique how this is being fed to us) “it is impossible to be accurately perceptive of another’s inner world if you have formed an evaluative opinion of that person” (Carl Rogers 1980), so by judging someone to be different to ourselves in often a negative way, we make it more difficult to have understanding of their concerns, from their perspective. It is thus important that we use language in ways that do not judge, condemn or objectify (challenge those that do), and thus where labels, stereotypes, or prejudices disable or divide.

For example, to say something like ‘American Youth’ is an objectifying statement, as there is no such thing as an ‘American Youth’ at least not in a perjorative, collective sense, as all young people in America are by definition different, there is not one but many, and they are multi-faceted. And so to use terms like ‘at risk’ , ‘Youth’ ‘Youth Culture’ may cover generalizations, but only objectify, not specify. Each young person, in every situation, context, family and community is different.

Yet as we engage with young people in the public spaces, we do so as outsiders seeking to understand, listen, accept and validate their life experiences for what they are– often defying our stereotyping, labeling or objectifying, and in doing so show both empathy, and in action, compassion.

We go to be with young people replicating the compassion God showed the world through his communicative action; “Divine compassion is an enabling power by which the triune God shares-communicates his own life, it effects what he communicates; the saving grace and goodness of God. Gods compassion is his active affection” (Vanhoozer 2010)

As we work with young people on the streets, in the parks we create new opportunities to see them for who they really are, to meet them  where they are at, meeting them head on, in their world, as they are naturally, as individuals, individuals part of groups, and using the situation of that context and developing relationship to listen and discover a person, whole, thinking, frustrated, sensitive, creative, determined.

Being compassionate, causes us to be there in the first place, compassion to see beyond the perceived need, but to put ourselves in that moment, and yet compassion/empathy are heightened as we learn more about the shit and injustice that may have befallen a young person.  It means that we also seek to alleviate, fight wrongs and feel their pain.

As an addition, in planning a sermon for the weekend i re read the Story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, being one of the clear moments where Jesus is said to have compassion for the people, the lost sheep of Isreal, yet though it was Jesus who had compassion, it was the disciples whom he asked to feed them – encouraging apostles to feed those who were lost in the lonely places.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: