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

 

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Pride (in the ways of love)- fyt streetspace gathering 2017

I usually write a post at the end of the FYT (Frontier Youth Trust) streetspace conference.  But in a quiet moment before the final lunch and tidy up I have started to put these thoughts together. If I have some overriding feelings about what happened this weekend,  the main one has been pride.

Not pride because I have and responsibility over the people present, like a father and child sort of pride, but a pride about being part of this community and this weekend. Pride about what has been developed in conversations, pride about the conversations themselves. Pride that conversations have been risk taking and not afraid to navigate difficult issues, like young people faith & transgender change, like counter religious cultural discipleship, an excellent conversation with Jo Dolby (formerly of CYM)

Pride that inclusivity wasn’t a token conversation. Or token action, but one that represented the fact that many projects and workers are involved in this because they create cultures of inclusivity in their practice. It’s part of who they are and wrestling with inclusitity and faith in local christian contexts is an ongoing struggle, of both acceptance with oppressed and ignored communities, and often churches who can’t find points on the pathway to recognise the need to or want to or can understand the need. Pride that the conversation might lead to community actions and not just ideas to be taken away for ‘management ‘ to do on others behalf. Pride that ideas form in and through meaningful conversations, directed in sessions pre chosen by delegates, dialogue and trust. Developing resources from the coal face.

Pride, that in a competitive moment where £1000 was up for grabs for individuals or projects to improve the community.  The top two projects sought first to extend how we might love young people more in and through risky actions. Loving young people comes first, its FYT’s D.N.A. Pride and love may not be compatible. But what became evident yet again, was that acting in love towards young people in the uk is a risk taking exercise that dissolves barriers and positions itself vulnerably. Love that knows no fear. Love doesn’t think about inclusivity. It can only be inclusive.

Pride in visiting a skatepark on Saturday and seeing the effects of long term involvement, in hearing first hand young people tell their story in their own context. And in a moment of direct questioning say ; ‘we love that our youthworker cares for us’ . It was awesome to be in their space for an hour or so. To be in a space of creative energy where youth workers were welcome and where youthworker and young people have renewed and made a space their own with new ramps, benches and through persisting with a local council for funding. Just love in action.

There was so much more. From the acceptance in the community of new people (without a need to introduce them) , to participation by teenagers and families within sessions and activities.

Pride that the fyt streetspace community is sustained by gifts.  The weekend itself was paid for by gifts, and sustained by individual and collective donations of food. Yet there was still some left over. Sharing. Gifts. Embodied in a weekend, an extension of every day in every project.

As I write this now. The UK is in the grip of responding to fear and hate. Ariana Grande is singing of love in Manchester. Choose love. No better than the sound of defiant artists. At the end of a weekend of determined artists in the persist of love in and with young people.

Pride (in the ways of love) -that was FYT Streetspace gathering 2017.

An organisation like FYT that challenges boundaries in an ethical and loving way to invest in young people and all its projects might need to spend far too long raising funding to add to its gifted support. But if you can help please can Donate here. And also click on the link to see more about FYT. To connect further locally in the north east see the above menu.

This article is also now featured in the FYT Summer newsletter 2017, a copy of which can be downloaded here: http://www.fyt.org.uk/v2/wp-content/uploads/FYT-Newsletter-Summer-2017-Web.pdf 

 

Why the church needs to love Evangelism

On Wednesday I am heading to the gathering of Anglican Diocese youth leaders as they want me to do a talk on evangelism, what I think it means and how this might be applied to the practice of youth work & ministry. I have got to be honest, thinking about Evangelism ties me in knots, and brings me out in a cold sweat.

But you say, youve been involved in youth ministry for 20 odd years – how can that be?

Someone who works with young people must be pretty clued up and effective in Evangelism right?

A problem I have with evangelism, is when it becomes disconnected with what i know about God, or to use a technical term, Theology. If God so loved the world, why is an evangelistic venture into the world loaded with proficient sales techniques? Is that what God’s love is like? And if God didnt come into the world to judge it ( John 3:17), then surely that might be the response of the church to the world in how it lives in it. For too long theres been thoughts of separation. Church is here, world out there, Sacred and Secular, very little of this is truly Biblical. If anything the Incarnation of Jesus causes this to be in question, the presence of a person in the living history of the world, approachable, touchable, in full flesh and senses. God sent his son because he loved the world, loving the world despite the vulnerability & sacrifice this would need. The sacred and secular was met head on, persons in relationship. It was the religious leaders that couldnt cope with the way Jesus loved the world, how now might this still be the case.

what would the ending of that famous verse be like if it started:Image result for john 3 16

‘what if the church loved the world, so much that….

it gave sacrificially?   It become vulnerable? It listened to ‘lost communities’? It offered space? It prioritised activities that love the world, over maintenance?

The myth of relevance is that presentation has become more important than substance. Though to be fair, its also what society often judges people on, so its an inevitability. However, the myth of relevancy means choices are made about how a service is presented in a church become more important, and argued over, than how a church community sacrificially loves it community from saturday to saturday. Churches should love its community during the week, so much that the presentation of sunday morning doesnt matter, because within sunday morning is an engagement of a loving God who inspires and shapes the loving mission of the church. Genuine love monday to saturday for people should shape the acts of worship. No-one hungry on a tuesday is going to worry about which song is played on sunday morning. It is not how church services are presented, ie relevancy, its is how the service continues in its showing and sharing of Gods love for and with people.

In a way i have strayed, to think about how knowledge of God, as trinity, love and community might also shape the practices of church – an inevitability i guess, as the evangelism and how it is linked to church growth & discipleship seem to go hand in hand. The problem with relevancy, is that so much energy is spent at tweaking the collective end of worship. How often do people suggest that its in the nature of the music group that will attract people. Yeah, as if on sunday morning theres people who walk past a church service and hear a deep bass note and a drum beat in a church and think ‘ill just go in there’ – no, they’re more likely to if they know it is a place of genuine welcome, and they have been fortunate enough that week to have connected with someone who has acted in the same genuine love to them.  But even then that might be a long shot.

if the church loved people so much that they wanted to opt in to the believing of the source of that love.

Maybe the only evangelism i can believe in is in the way Jesus loved and acted in the world. The crowds need access, stories and opportunities for questions, time and respect.  Disciples need access, privacy and teaching on guidance and no small amount of patience. And the religious leaders…. they got back what they threw at him.

What might loving the world look like in your local area? with young people in a school? with groups of people ‘forgotten’ by the church for a while – and i still include young people, people with mental health, physical health needs, people whos talents and gifts are wasted in the systems of education? And every sunday why not celebrate and encourage the ongoing love of the world as a priority.

Some churches are doing this already – and often its charities doing these things on behalf of churches – great – but might this be a call of the ‘whole’ church, to be active in loving the world.

Theres times when the church might love the world, a bit like the primary school ‘show and tell’ – so by showing love, gives then the opportunity to ‘tell’ however. However, the car sales persons shows me their new car, only to tell me about it. So the problem with ‘show and tell’ is that it implies permission. Show and wait, might be better. what happens if people dont ask?, then it might just be that we havent loved the world enough. Only doing so in our opinion.

As church we do need to be prophetic and practical – I see no other practice to do this that to radically love the world. Going the extra mile, not presenting a love for the world, but that deep compassion, deep love that forgoes culture and expectancy, and sits down with the person who needs it and listens and loves.

The Church is to enact the love and justice of God at all times, in ten thousand places and to everyone” (Vanhoozer, 2014, p132,133)

Can Biblical doctrine direct organisation strategy?

We need our organisation to be effective!

It needs to be ‘moving forward’ ,

Stagnation is capitulation! ,

Growth is good, efficiency is the name of the game,

Organisations needs to be outcomes orientated!

Image result for effectiveness

Does anyone else wince that these get said in places of work, you know the corporate lingo to often mean job cuts, or reschuffles, or changed focus. Its not far off transformational leadership or management styles. In a way these kind of things are more acceptable in the supermarket chain, the factory or even a building site, but is it appropriate that this kind of language, and the ideologies behind ‘effectiveness’, ‘efficiency’ , ‘growth’ and ‘reinvention’ have become virtually staple language to the faith-based educational organisation like youth work, and even more so the church.Doesn’t it seem a bit weird? that the maxims developed from Henry Ford, Apple and Macdonalds are adapted in and used in the church? Maybe it doesnt seem that weird anymore.

Such as:

 we want the church to have a ‘growth’ strategy,

or a church that gives value for money…

What becomes weird is that the language of business and economics has infiltrated not just the process of organisations, and their strategies, but also in the faith settings become justified as theology.

So, for example, In John Nelsons book ‘Leading managing ministering (1998) he looks at a number of models of management (including those mentioned above, transformational leadership and begins to consider how this type of management can be used in the church, using verses of the bible peppered throughout to seal the models approval to a faith orientated audience. And then as a result it becomes valid to use certain styles of leadership/management in organisations and their associated behaviours because there are biblical resonances. Related image

What i am saying then is the culture of business, and its adopted language becomes the main driver for the theology that is interwoven into faith based organisations. There becomes a need for a ‘growth’ theology, or a theology of decline, or a theology of innovation. Reflecting on organisations, reflecting on how the performance of an organisation in community is mirrored in the character, knowledge, themes or actions of God.

I wonder if this is back to front. Just a little bit.

In Drama of Doctrine,  Kevin Vanhoozer suggests that Doctrine, and theology is for the purpose of directing the performance of the church in the ongoing theodrama, the 5 act play of Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consumation, which the church and present is in the fourth act of five. Theology is for directing and guiding the action, it may also be a dramatic endeavour in itself. Vanhoozer contrasts the kind of Theology that is absolute (epic) and that which is found in community action (lyric) with a directive theology that is dramatic, that maintains Biblical primacy but is for ongoing community participation and is for in real time. The live drama.

So, instead of organisations adopting Business langauge and delivery as the starting point for theological reflection – what about the faith based organisation that performs the doctrine of atonement, or doctrine of love, or doctrine of grace in its organisation culture and structure?

In a simplified example, at some point last year in our team reflections at DYFC we looked at the passages in 1 Corinthians 13 about love. They are fairly well known and get read at most weddings, even 4 weddings and a funeral i think. As a group we looked at the question – is it possible to be an organisation that performs as much as possible the call to be loving, kind, faithful and unfailing whilst also being on the stage of the world in which funding, competition, outcomes, communication, projects, attendance, are all part and parcel of practice? 

Image result for love is patient

This wasnt us trying to perform a theology of love, or atonement not by any means, but it was at least starting to make space for the kind of theology that we might want to direct our organisation, to embody in it, and ultimately to perform. So we did ask – what would it mean to ‘love’ young people – genuinely – how would we do this, what would it mean to ‘love’ each other, to trust and be kind to young people and each other. From these conversations it becomes easier to develop a culture that is theological, and directed by not only propositional statements that show truth, but also the sense that being and performing loving, generous and compassionate propel the theodrama, they reveal and embody God in action, especially in the mini series’s of the drama of every day life in the myriad of conversations. The critical reflection was that it would difficult, and there would be considerable adjustments to be made, but that would only be inevitable. But Theology directs the performances in this way.

In my last piece i was talking about the culture created in a youth ministry setting. Culture creating is a big thing, understandably, Morgan talks about organisations as cultures. So again, in faith settings how might a theology that is performed be culture shaping and creating, even prophetic of others. For in a way what is a faith based organisation that has culture but not love – might it be the crashing symbol?

What would happen in an organisation or church that embodied, or performed a theology of the cross? Its marks would be self sacrifice, forgiveness, restoration, resurrection- there would not  just be ‘acceptable’ behaviour, or ‘enough’  – but beyond compassionate behaviour, laying down life for friends behaviour and respect for others. All actions that propel God at work in people, and the ongoing drama, that foretaste a future existance in the present with shadows of the past.

If churches and organisations are full of saints (rather than heroes) Wells, Improvisation, 2004,  then the saint is someone who is faithful to their call, but also develops community around them. They are faithful to the nature of the call, being gracious, humble and not taking the limelight – that is after all Jesus space in the drama. For many saints they have no choice who becomes part of that community for like St Francis, they identified with the poorest, most needy and shaped theology of the sidewalk, of suffering in the moments of identifying with people. Communities of saints take the rough with the rough and journey alongside and with, because ultimately our Human actions of faith are collective and the land is to be explored together warts and all. Can this happen in organisations who might have other motives, like growth, or innovation, or strategy, or success? where might sainthoodness fit in? or a theology of the suffering of Jesus? But as Christians in groups and organisations, our starting point isnt working out how to biblically adopt Apple or Macdonalds into an organisation – it is that we perform in real time the drama as directed, being wise as saints on the stage of the world, yet start with theology that speaks into cultures.

Maybe Theology as it is dramatic,  comes first after all or least has an ongoing part in being performed.

 

References

Newman – Leading, Managing Ministering, 1998

Vanhoozer, Kevin, The Drama of doctrine, 2005

Wells, Samuel, Improvisation, 2004

 

Mission in the edges; developing a Sidewalk Spirituality

Following on from my recent reflection, in which I considered the possibility of decorating St Francis of Assisi as the Patron Saint of Detached youth work ( see http://wp.me/p2Az40-KD if you understandably missed it in the pre-Christmas festivities) , I was reflecting on one of the phrases that Richard Rohr used to describe St Francis and his way:

Franciscanism is truly a Sidewalk Spirituality for the street of the world (Rohr, 2014;4)

In the remainder of the book Eager to Love, Richard Rohr describes the life and considerable impact of St Francis, and how the franciscan movement derived from St Francis himself. As someone who has spent alot of time being a detached youthworker over the last 10 years, even working for a project called ‘The Sidewalk Project’, its seems wholly appropriate to glean some of the principles from St Francis in the honing of a Sidewalk Spirituality.

The Infinite in the Finite

Francis believed that the finite manifests the infinite, and that the physical the doorway to the spititual, then all that is needed is right here and now in the world. Heaven thus includes Earth. Stating that there is no Sacred and Profane, places or moments, there are only sacred and desecrated places, where humanity has caused the desecration.  The mystery of Christ becomes specific, because everything is a revelation of the divine – from rocks to rocket ships, or on the streets, grass to graffiti.

Within this space of seeing God becomes mutuality of the one who sees and what can be seen. The ones who see Christ are those paying the right attention. Francis regarded the dignity of others he was in proximity with, and included also the animals, because he honoured his own dignity as a son of God. As Augustine said: what you seek is what you are (Augustines confessions).

As Francis commended to his followers; ‘we must remain in love’ for, it is only when we are eager to love that we can seen love and goodness in the world around us. The same for peace, hope, and beauty. To remain is not to remove, or to isolate, it is to encounter and to see.

I wonder what this sense of love for others compares with current faith based youthwork practice – thinking specifically of ‘values’ that are often retrieved, such as empowerment, and individual dignity. These are as inherently Christian, as they are professional, yet might any of them matter if there is not ‘love’ than is eagerly sought. On a personal note, I am so aware of the times I have felt that deep compassion, call it love, for young people on the streets, it caused me to take volunteers the extra mile, (literally) or to the next hour, because the conviction was there from feeling compassionate to young people, to want to be in proximity with them. I say this because I also know when i have felt like i was performing values but not that deep compassion or conviction.

As Francis Schaeffer said; “Our conscious relationship with God is enhanced if we treat all the things he has made in the same way he treats them”

One Sacred World

This follows on from the previous. In only a sacred and desecrated world, everything is potentially sacred if ‘you allow it to be’ . ‘Our job as humans is to make admiration of others and adoration of God fully conscious and deliberate’ (Rohr, 2014) . There becomes no centre if God is everywhere, and most paramount at times as far from the centres created by religion, in the weakest, in the fugitive, the frog or the freak, it is about looking for God. Its is how to look and be attentive in the searching for God.

Francis began to divert from the Bishops in removing from the dinners and gatherings, instead preferring to stay close to the ‘cracks in everything’ in the day to day social fabric of the proximity of people on the streets. As Rohr suggests ‘not only were we Franciscans not to be prelates in the church, but we should not hobnob there too much. you tend to think like those with whom you party’ 

Proximity Spirituality

Francis emphasised the identification with the suffering of the cross, solidarity with the poor, and with human suffering in general, this is the starting place for his spirituality – not the private introverted search or self help. Francis recognised that Spirituality without service of others was a prelude to ego inflation and delusion. The Franciscan Spirituality recognised the possibility of the divine in the everyday encounter with the other person, in the hard, soft or broken edges of life, and that suffering and tragedy might be the quickest doorways to encountering God, depending on honesty.

Image result for francis of assisi walking

It is the kind of Spirituality which allows commonality of suffering to be the human leveller in the travelling on the road. like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), the Disciples on the boat ( John 21) , Sidewalk spirituality places itself on the road, respects the other, and asks those it encounters to begin to recognise God at work. Starting by being in proximity.

As a result of holding , reflecting on a living in the reality of Christs suffering in everyday life in costly discipleship, the consequence will be to be much more compassionate and patient. ‘A spiritual leader, writes Pope Francis, who lacks compassion, has almost no power to change people, because people intuitively know he or she doesnt represent the divine truth’ (Rohr, 2014) A powerful Christ is also a weak one, and only those who join him there and come out the other side will understand, like Francis and his followers, for they ‘rule’ from the edges and reign from what is no longer the bottom. It is just where God already is.

Holy extreme disorder

‘He’s Wild you know’ So those who knew of Aslan described him to the children in CS Lewis Narnia Series. As humans we like order, things not necessarily simple, but ordered, systematic even. We even require or revert to order after Christ himself promised disorder post resurrection. Yet we like faith to be controlled, ordered even in the buildings and be able to locate Spiritual and Sacred in easily definable points. A Sidewalk Spirituality is chaotic, it is improvised, it is disordered. As GK Chesterton put it ‘what Benedict stored (in monastries), Francis scattered’ Francis approach is riskier, led to little discipline, clear direction or proper boundaries. This disorder is both a strength and a weakness, clearly. Gospel freedom is always a risk. There is vulnerability in the risky travelling, a cost to personal order, monetary possessions and security.

The Heart of a Sidewalk Spirituality

The Franciscan evangelization principle writes Rohr, is

‘not to preach at or to people, but just to make the truth beautiful, attractive and warm’

And this can only be done if we are eager to love, and look for God in the world, in proximity with others. We dont take something we take ourselves to find God amongst others in places. Jesus becomes someone ‘to imitate’ and not just to worship. Francis took prayer onto the road and into the activity of life itself. The whole world was his cloister! and the message of love and the medium of its message was the same thing.

Image result for francis of assisi

A Sidewalk Spirituality starts with the heart, a heart that takes feet to the places of people, is one that seeks God in all he created, respects those broken and builds community in and amongst them. That’s what Francis did, his communities developed from the roads, from the deemed edges.

What of a Sidewalk Spirituality for faith based detached youthwork – who’s up for this costly pilgrimage?

 

References

Rohr, R Eager to love, The alternative way of following St Francis of Assisi, 2014

 

How might churches develop loving community work?

In my last post i made a simple point that, in a way, in mission the songs of the church matter little (though at times sadly we, and i mean we , the church place alot of emphasis on the relevancy or contemporaryness of music/singing as mission imperative) , and that our love for a community matters so much more. 

Having been challenged to think about what this might mean by a few comments via social media, i wonder then whether it would be good to explore further what it might mean for a church in mission to love its community.

Firstly lets start with Love.

This should be easy for the Christian.

Love is costly, Love is the cross, Love is hard. Love is Kind, Love is Faithful, Love is forgiving, Love keeps no record of wrongs, but delights in the truth, Love is Patient. In a way – we know all of these things, Its love that is the good news, its love that is the call to the corinthian church. Love from a quick skim of the Biblical narrative is easy to know about and theologically contextualise.

So if Love is the imperative and the practice, and the action for a church involving itself in community – what might be good community work that loves?

If you have been reading my previous articles on community work, you will know that i have referred to ABCD, or asset based community development a little bit. I was taken by an article on the Nurture development website this week, it is here is you would like to read it: http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/can-i-help/ . It is an interesting one, in which the question is asked by the agency – to a community – ‘Can I Help you? ‘ In the blog Shaun Burnett discussed the now well-known actions of the Brownlee Brothers at the recent triathlon world championships, and suggest how they embodied help to the weaker and struggling of the two brothers at the time. And though a patriarchial, single dimension of helping was a common theme in the definitions of help that Shaun found, he challenged this by saying that the help that the Brownlee brothers gave each other was because of the relationship that they had with each other – it was not patriarchial, neither was it charity, it was help out of brotherly love.

Shaun concludes his piece by saying:

“And is this not the key point? Here we have a rare glimpse at what a person / helper can do when they are in right relationship with another. The good news is that though it is an unusual occurrence, it’s not the only example. At a time when our world desperately needs such examples, we need to be tenacious enough to actively rummage around to discover them because they are there in each of our lives but they are invisible against the backdrop of classic forms of Helping. We miss them in the randomness of their expression, but if you have a mind to search them out, they actually are quite abundant, and if we’re a little more careful and carefilled we can cultivate a lot more.

At a time when our world desperately needs such examples, we need to be tenacious enough to actively rummage around to discover them because they are there in each of our lives but they are invisible against the backdrop of classic forms of Helping.

At the moment, i see no better way to start thinking and launching ‘loving’ community work for a church than to think about developing relationships with the community. Developing the kind of relationships that breaks down barriers that we, as church, might easily have erected.  As i suggested previously in an article titled ‘The Hearing church’ – one of the first ways of doing this is by listening, by hearing and by being present to hear in the right kind of spaces, the spaces where people are mostly themselves. Its in the non official spaces, to hear, but also to find opportunities to get to know. To form the kind of relationships where help is more of an equal footing.

If as a church we can be unconditional in the love we have for a local community – what might that mean in terms of the relationships we create with people? the opportunities we offer?

the spaces that faith is explored? , of even the right kind of opportunities opened up to meet people where they are at?

doing community work that is constructed with being able to act lovingly (as the christian definition above indicates) towards people – and not just say it. Where opportunities are to build relationship, not just help, or serve (which retains power- but gives it away) . And that’s not to denigrate serving. Serving has enabled the church to be practical and fill a chronically open void created by the system regarding benefits and thus thrust foodbank use into the limelight. Helping as Serving is good.

But if this is only to tick a community work box, or in and of itself – then where might be the sense that the church is acting out of love with its community to help, or to ask how it can help? Or if helping isnt needed – how else might a church love its community?

It could love – by creating community- community around groups of people who have shared interests – like food, or film, or sport, or a hobby.

It could love its community by praising it, supporting it, endorsing it, and recognising its positives.

It could love its community by locating the powers that restrict its people and challenge these.

It could love its community by supporting local charities already involved in it.

It could love its community by responding to community crisis well, and community celebrations too

What might it mean for the church to be faithful, kind, forgiving, rejoicing – with and for its community?

The rise in community work that churches have done has taken a rise in the last 15 odd years, some of it has been more unconditionally loving toward a local community than others. Serving a local community first is one of the key themes that Pioneer groups have undertaken in the exploration of new expressions of church (Moynagh, M, Church for every context) – but what might it mean to ‘love’ a local community – yes it might mean serving, yes it might mean helping – but its more likely to mean getting to know – somehow – recognising interests, strengths and gifts, and developing opportunities to share moments of community, of relationship together. Does todays culture crave authentic community – well in your local community you might need to find out. I havent a clue from sitting here typing this. But it and yours might.

There are countless more than the above – but as Christians who believe in what a deeper, prophetic and practical, sacrifical love is – it is about how we find ways to show, and act this out in our local communities – starting probably with their permission to do so, or be trusted to have that space, and i think in many areas we’re over that, the church is far more trusted (thanks to foodbanks and other initiatives) than it used to be. It has now that task of going from being trusted locally, to loving locally. To act in the interest of others, to act in hospitality to the least likely at the wedding feast- to use Biblical imperatives & parables.

It might not be – ‘How can i help you?’, neither ‘How may i help you? ‘

but ‘you are worth getting to know’ and what do you want us to do for and with you? – once i know you. (not before)

Asset based community work (ABCD) is definitely a start to viewing a local community differently – with gifts rather than needs, and so please do click the nurture development link to the right of this piece to give you ideas, thinking and resources. Yet if a church is to love its local community – asset based community development might just be the start. Doing community work, to be involved in peoples lives whom it doesnt yet know might involved creating spaces and being involved in places where it connects on a human level. For young people this might mean on the streets – where they are comfortable. For others it is in the pub. Or on bus journeys, or toddler groups.

Loving community work is to love people first and foremost. How might a church love its whole community?

 

The songs don’t matter, love does. 

In the church we’ve believed a bit of a myth for the last 50 odd years. That the way we sing on a Sunday matters. So pews have been removed, guitars have been inserted, projectors included, songs shortened, shortened in their lifespans. The myth is that how the church sings affects our effectiveness in mission as a church.

It doesn’t.

The only people who this matters to is the other local christians who are looking for a church which is to their style.

What matters is not how a church sings. It’s how a church community loves. loves unconditionally it’s community and creates spaces where it can show it.

I would imagine, and I know a church where this is the case, when a church loves a community and acts out God’s love in it, people who receive this love want to find out what the source of that love is.

And so, if people are attracted to genuine love and community then it’s values and the performance of those values that are important, and an authenticity on a Sunday to those values. And that could as easily be an Anglican service, or something more contemporary. How it sings, is less important that how it loves.

It’s love Monday to Saturday and connecting in God’s love on Sunday that might make missional sense. Be a theatre of God’s gospel love. How songs are sung and what is sung is almost, almost irrelevant.  How a church loves and builds and creates community in its local community is.