Should discipleship be ‘action’ first?

Does anyone still use that phrase ;

its always the 20% of people in churches that seem to do 80% of all the work?

It got banded around for quite a while, though I’ve not heard it recently. It was, at best a passive aggressive way of encouraging people who only sat on pews every week to make more contributions in the life of churches. It neither rewarded those who did get involved, nor was much of an encouragement. However. We’ve moved on… haven’t we?

Though there is still a really ethereal conversation about discipleship that still happens, its as if there is a magical way that discipleship happens, that seems to be in need of being continually redefined, rejuvenated and energised. A cynic in me (yes there is one) might think that these attempts are to ‘sell’ the latest fad, model or concept, and with it a whole load of resources and practices. (and yes i do have an inner cynic)  The grown up in me might pose the question about whether there really is anything that can be humanly done about discipleship through churches. This is most pertinent when there are countless research on the ‘state of discipleship’ in churches (LICC have recently done one) . What they discovered that a significant number of active people in churches also self identified that they didnt feel that discipleship was happening. Yet, they were busy.

Maybe theres a few things to say here.

The first might be that a definition of discipleship that looks like Bible reading/prayer/study on a personal level might be genuinely not happening when a person is also involved in so much of the church’s activities. Its more group discipleship, than individual. Potentially.

So there may be a Definition problem.

There is also an expectation problem. Not unlike conversations about ecclesiology and models of churches (Healy 2001)- an almost impossible view of discipleship can act as a hindrance rather than an encouragement, its as if a ‘perfect’ process of discipleship is out there (though still yet to be defined) and until that happens there’s a striving, with often other metaphors like ‘whole life discipleship’ – that rarely about the struggles of life that include poverty, suffering, health and family issues – these can feel at times ‘in the way’ of ‘perfect’ discipleship. Almost that these are to be put to one side – God isnt in these… discipleship is somewhere else… at least that can be the implication. Discipleship doesnt = attendance or involvement – so what is it?  And theres nothing against the continual search – but the human search is for God, not for process or concept (Acts 17)

The problem with discipleship is not that we cant define it from the Greek (Mathetes) , not that we don’t see this as some kind of apprenticeship, or follower of Rabbi status (and i’m referencing Jo Dolbys PhD here) , or looking at Gospel discipleship – because thats been the church for 2000 years effectively – how to follow Jesus model/practice of it – but do it in the institutions of the church created since 70AD. The packages and resources have been written with every new discipleship package being better than the one before. It feels as if maintaining the church as an institution – with all the voluntary giving of time to enable this – doesn’t necessarily equate to the definition of discipleship – yet church maintenance is still good right?

We are urged to be disciples and witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria and the ends of the earth – (Acts 1:8) – the Wednesday morning community project may have all the semblance of the ‘ends of the earth’ compared to Sunday morning. But theres only a call to stay in those places not move people. We may have to reflect on what discipleship in the ends of the earth may look like. It probably wont look like what Jerusalem discipleship did. So  what might that be.

I’d like to end this piece with three thoughts that hopefully add something to this discussion. Practice, Theory and Theology.

One significant thing comes from my practice.

A number of years ago i was the project coordinator of a detached youthwork project in Perth, Scotland. Because of the nature of the role expected of volunteers, they underwent training, on the nuts and bolts of detached work and also, we spent time looking at values, principles and thinking theologically through a practice of being out on the streets, being vulnerable, and how this might be mission. What i didn’t realise, or at least, what was a great joy, was that in the months and years that passed of walking and participating in the practice, how often each of the volunteer reflected on how being involved in the project was a place in which they were doing discipleship, doing mission was discipleship. It shouldn’t have blew my mind, but that it came from the participants and not me, sort of made it real. Did it help that I had framed the action as a missional/theological one.. yes. Did it continue to help that there were spaces for theological reflection ongoing in team time, session reviews and in the growing of this community, well, i guess so. But still, i wonder if there’s just something to be said with how ‘volunteering’ is made a discipleship activity. I think.

From Theory, I wonder where the discipleship conversation converges with the Faith Formation conversation. Are the two the same. Maybe. Its not often a conversation about discipleship from the platform of a UK conference also includes reference to faith or spiritual development (fowler/westerhoff etc) – but neither, does it look beyond a glimpse of the need, to the culture and a few biblical principles. What Andrew Root (in faith formation in a secular age)  does is look at how Spiritual and faith formation needs to take root in the culture that we are in. I cannot in this piece go into his detail, and I have written 5 pieces on his book Faith formation in a secular age (2017) already (links at the bottom of this piece) – but Roots suggestion is that Faith formation is a process of ministry, and ministering and participating in the tasks of God. Where he argues consuming church, spiritual experiences, and personal faith journey all meet culture that is looking for authenticity that is found wanting. Simply put, every one wants authenticity, and there’s nothing more authentic than a real church that transforms the world rather than creates enclaves and avoids it, equally, its not just a current age thing, or Generation Z thing, its everyone. Look at micro breweries, farmers markets and bake off, the desire for the authentic pint of ale, the real news is there, its not just an adrenaline experience… but a real one. A danger, Root argues is that Churches have embraced youthfulness in an attempt to be authentic, culture has won, they have stopped being actually authentic. Practical faith formation for Root is a process of ministering and ministry. Is practical faith formation discipleship? Its not far off… but forming is for performing, and performing is also forming…

The setting for discipleship though, is not the church though is it. Church is the place for the faith formation, discipleship happens on the stage of the world, in which the church is also a part. And this is where the third thing, Theodrama, for me comes into play. Understanding the theological, physical and social context of discipleship might reveal that being in ministry in the world is closer to discipleship.  Theodrama provides a metaphoric platform to imagine/realise that the whole of the worlds timeframe is Gods, that the whole world is a stage in which all are participating in a Holy redemptive drama, just that not everyone is aware of it. From those drinking in the wetherspoons that i am sitting in,  to the drivers on the bus, and the market sellers in the shopping centre, the teachers in the schools and youthworkers on the streets. The framework  of theatre, and drama, takes the notion of connecting stories further, and to consider the artistic and dynamic view of participation (which is Biblical) in God drama, as the context of discipleship. So therefore the church is a principle actor, guided by spirit, to act on the stage of the world in accordance with a number of prompts past(trinity, kingdom, bible etc), and present (spirit) to act in the future. Personal discipleship, may well be a community venture. Personal discipleship is about be more fully aware to these prompts in the every day. It is not the amount of bible studies, prayer times, daily reading notes that have been completed, its being aware of these to act appropriately in the every day. To act in the world where there are competing values (Von Balthasar) where there are prompts to do so and goodness, truth, love and peace to be appropriated. Discipleship may well be a process of awareness and a new reality. Its being able to respond to the voice of God in the midst of the action. Not avoid the action and head to the nearest 5 evening  a week bible study and avoid the world.  (Theres more on Theodrama in other pieces on this blog, see the categories)

Coming back to the 80/20 thing – there is a new issue in town. Its that because of a lack of volunteers, and also the exponential growth in community work projects and ministries in churches – 100’s of volunteers for these things are being grown from within them, food kitchen receivers become servers in kitchens, young people in youth clubs become junior leaders – all in the name of good empowering community practices. The question could be said that these are good ‘social action’ and ‘not mission, or discipleship’ and it could feel as though the powers, and the 20% who’ve gone through the ranks properly and have a mission/discipleship resource to sell, cant conceive that there might be another way.  We might ask a question – how might people be already disciples through the ministry of serving in a community that they feel home in and welcome (and want to create for others) ?  and not that all this serving is only a step to a ‘real’ discipleship elsewhere, that can look like ‘going to a study group’ or ‘alpha’ – the real discipleship could already be happening – from a point of action.

A task of the church, might be to develop practical theological reflection and participation through these serving moments at the time – because im not sure any church has a luxury of increasing barriers to faith – when clearly there are many who want to participate in the good that a church can do.

I would hope there is a space, or a awareness that an action first discipleship can sit alongside a ‘traditional church attendance discipleship’ – because for one thing, people are joining in the action of the mission of God because it looks like something that heals, does good and is something to believe in – because it is making a difference. They are already participating in Gods mission before knowing full well who God is. Well, to be blunt, none of us know who God fully well is. For some people they might be closer to the actions and drama of God in their participation of it in a food kitchen than hearing about it and the stories of those before them.

The task might be to increase theological reflection – not import a model view and make discipleship  unachievable. Root may be right, thinking of discipleship as a faith formation process causes a shift to think of people as ministers and helping people to ministry, and this can start from the food kitchen, the holiday club or the social enterprise. Real discipleship is practical and takes place in the world, that where the tensions and drama takes place, the choices and prompts by the spirit occur. When we talk about discipleship otherwise its often more about faith formation and learning. Discipleship on the stage of the world might be less about doing more faith formation (something measurable by attendance and vocational calling) and more about becoming more attuned and aware of God in the midst of the whole world. Being aware that God might well be in wetherspoons right now, and asking me to have compassion on everyone drinking here at 10 in the morning. Can hearing God in the midst and acting on it in the improvised moments, in the participation of conversations of ministry be measured as discipleship?  I hope so. But discipleship is also volunteering, and starts with the provoke to be part of building Gods kingdom in a place. I cannot argue otherwise that this isn’t the person who has relied on a food bank, a youth club, who is now participating in making this goodness happen for others. God is active and on the move. And its risky and challenging.

References

Andrew Root, Faith Formation in a secular age, 2017

Hans urs von Baltasare – Theodrama Vols 1-5 – 1980

Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005

Wesley Van der lugt – Living Theodrama, 2016

Nicholas Healy, The church, the world and the Christian life , 2001

12 of the inhibiting myths that prevent churches from starting to work with young people

These still kick about a bit, so maybe its worth stating them, once for all, getting them out in the open and realising not only how ridiculous some of these are, but more damaging how inhibiting they are, for churches, congregations to work with young people.

None of these are true, and if you think they are, think about what you’re trying to say about young people;

  1. The building is a barrier for young people coming into the church – no it isnt, its that people from inside the building havent created a welcoming atmosphere, or that its only open for things that young people havent created or wanted.
  2. If only someone could play a guitar, and do modern worship songs, that will bring young people in to the church. Heard this one recently, not going to respond. Might implode.
  3. No one here is young anymore, young people wont want to talk to us – actually they will if you find a way to be interested in them, and create a place that is welcoming, supportive and for them.
  4. We’ll never get young people, theyll all go to the big mega trendy church with lights and guitars. Really, all the young people in your town go there? you mean, the few christians will go, theres more than those 6 though isnt there.
  5. Therell be a safeguarding nightmare working with young people – no more so than any other group
  6. We used to have young people here but they trashed the place. Shame then that a different group of young people 30 years later are being tarred with the brush of their grandparents. Maybe reflecting on new approaches might do it
  7. Theres no material to work with young people like the ones in our town. Agreed, but the resource of being yourself, listening and asking positive questions may be all you need. Or questions like ‘were from the local church, and have no idea about working with young people, can you help us out, what would you like to happen for young people here?’
  8. Were too busy. Only if young people arent a priority.
  9. Its a job for a youthworker. Nope. See point 7.
  10. Attraction is greater than significance and meaning. Because a facade of entertainment wont eventually wear off. It’s not just millennials that crave authenticity, every young person in the history of young people does.
  11. They just need a simple message; strangely young people might be up for being challenged, involved and co creators of their faith journey. Challenge and risk are needed more than ever.
  12. We dont have the space to do it. Create an environment where people are loving and interested, and young people participate and are respected. Then the venue is irrelevant. (Unless ministry with young people is still considered as entertainment)

Theres also the ‘we dont know what they’re into… ‘ myth.. it’s as if young people are a real mystery.

Its only because I still hear these being said that I thought I’d put them together, so yes, this is unashamedly passive aggressive, I admit it. But there are two factors in play that mean that the church is needed more than ever to develop working with young people. The demise of statutory youth services, and the general acceptance that there are less church family young people in churches or staying per generation. The opportunity and determination should or could be there – but the opportunity is written off before the adventure even starts…

Church, you have the resources, the people and the connections with local communities, you can make this happen, if you really want to.

Personal Vulnerability, through the storm

It would be easy to wait until the garden was full of roses, until the stream was calm, and until the struggles of life were over, and a sense of victory, progress or achievement was gained, to write this kind of thing. The ‘salvation’ story of transformation, looking back and how I could chart all the moments, doing so from the point of view of being in a ‘final’ good place. Its like reading into the Easter Story, and forgetting what Holy Saturday might have felt like, in real time. And today, a glimpse of brighter days ahead is looming into view, but im not having in a picnic in the meadow yet.

I am in the middle. But then again, so, most likely are you.

In the past I have written here on the professional challenges I have faced, from thinking through redundancy, from management and also from funding issues. You will also have heard me talk and get angry about some of the structures and narratives that are used as the easy cop outs for a neo liberal ideology to place all the blame of personal reactions, on the individual. See for example, the resilience narrative, and even to some point, some stuff on mental health. And I could do the same again. Get angry.

This isnt the time though. This is the time to get real. With a glimpse of the future light in view, I want to use this space to share with you an number of things.

As one of my line managers said to me about a month ago ( i have 2 jobs, therefore, 2 line managers) ; ‘James, you have had the year from hell’ , lucky for me, it was in a phone call and i was sitting on Middlesbrough railway station at the time and so I held this, and held it together. And holding it together, has been part of the last 12 months. Just at times, clinging on at times.

So, turning up at churches, events, training groups or seeing people and they say to me ‘You’re looking well’ , could be a mixture of the increased fitness, being outside alot and getting a slight tan, or copious amounts of nivea cream to stop my face from drying out. Im sure a disclosure about using nivea creme moisturiser (for men) might be more shocking than anything else. But, guys, if you’re going through crisis and want to ‘look well’ i highly recommend it… But maybe I can look well. Maybe I can look well, because of a number of factors. Maybe I can look well, because I have been also able to feel quite well during some of the challenges. And I have been able to feel well because of a number of factors too. But as I say, I am acutely aware of being ‘in the middle’ of stuff. This isnt a boast, a ‘look what ive got through’ piece.

I was so hoping that I could write a piece about dealing with a significant amount of personal challenges in the last year without using what seem cliches. But I cant. I will write about a number of specifically other aspects of the last year over the next few weeks. What follows is a snippet of it all, and in Mental Health Awareness week, an attempt for me to share some of it. It wont be coherent.

I discovered 3 months ago, that I am more of an introvert that I had given myself acknowledgement for. Though one of my friends pointed it out to me 2 years ago, I hadnt given it much thought. Or wanted to deny it. This aspect of my learning and self awareness, I will explore another time. In her book ‘Quiet’, Susan Cain describes how the internet, and especially social media, has become a haven for the quiet creative, the introvert, the thinker, and I agree.  It is funny, whilst social media at the moment is getting an absolute bashing for the offensive stuff. I counter this and say that it is only a tool. And if it is used by tools then it will reflect that. Social media for a good many number of people, including myself, is a safe space where friends gather. A space to start off being vulnerable. A space where like minded friends are, (also known as an echo chamber) who I, and others are able to share stuff with, like written pieces, but also share and request the need for prayer, for help, for advice. As a tool, social media can be as uplifting, as supportive, as positive. When you know that 100’s of people are praying for and with you, from all over the world. Yes, that. (thank you)

So, getting back to the personal bit, much of which I have still avoided to talk about, one of the first things that I did over a year ago, was realise and use social media, (specifically twitter) to express personal vulnerability, to ask for help, to ask for prayer, to also give me a space where i could ‘talk’ in text, could give me the first few experiences of being able to talk about what was starting to go on in my life, without speaking verbally. They say the hardest thing is to admit you need help. What i did, and trusted early, because I had prayed for the many others, was use that space to begin being real, to begin acknowledging need, and to begin the process. It gave a number of people, and they are heroes, the opportunity to hear me, and make the connection with me to not only pray, but also stand and stick with me through to where I am today, that wouldnt have happened without social media first. I thought it might mean that people would treat me weird, but they didnt at all. Metaphorically, they just held my hand.

As a youthworker I might encourage a young person to ring childline, as a youthworker, I needed to find similar avenues. I also needed to then find people who I could do the real vulnerable stuff and begin to talk through it all in detail. (and no thats not for here)

The second thing I want to say. Is that 6 months into trying to work out stuff, even, having the most supportive friends, pray (ers) and beginning to reflect on myself, my relationships, work situation, emotions, reactions and health. I referred myself to counselling. If nothing else, that having the year from hell in 2018/9, required some healing from and giving myself that opportunity would do me even more good. I know it may not be for everyone, and its not affordable to many, but I would highly suggest not making counselling a last resort. It has been an additional critical and reflective space, that has been really helpful, more than that, crucial, for me in this process. Its not a weakness to admit. It really isnt. And yes of course i would say that.

I didnt want to use cliches, like ‘dont struggle alone’. Talk to someone, talk to anyone. But I cannot avoid them. Where you find community, safety, and friends, and you need to do not be afraid of being or looking weak or vulnerable. I have found, and cried when realising this, that it gives other people the opportunity to help, to support, to give, and to create a place where you can feel strong, cared for and thought of. Even in the midst of the storms.

This week is Mental Health Awareness week. I was reminded of this when I saw Alistair Campbell interviewed on BBC breakfast this morning. Details of the programme, talking about his own personal journey (through mental health) is to be found here:  This piece is not to try and work out what my personal challenges have been, though unemployment was certainly one of them, more to share something about how from the perspective of the middle point, I am able to look back a bit, and reflect on the ways i found strength, found community, and support, from the very beginning, or maybe the part of that process was an earlier middle. As I said, this is still the middle, and so do continue your prayers, and thank you.

I could end this piece about talking about self care. And it would be appropriate to talk about ‘how in ministry we need to look after ourselves’ (and i have written about that here ) but what I also needed to do was look after me, and realise that it was okay to look after me. And so might you.

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.

Should churches view young people as ministers?

What shall we do with young people when they grow out of messy church?

How do we integrate young people into the life of the church?

We do really great childrens work, but youths..?

These are three of the most common questions that I hear on a regular basis from church leaders and congregations in regard to a church working with young people.

I wouldnt say from the outset that there is a magic answer to solve all of these particular questions. however I do think that there is a game to be raised when it comes to thinking about how churches think of young people, which may be a start.youth[1]

There has been notable advances in recent times at churches starting to use terms like ‘learning from children and young people’ rather than ‘teaching them’ and these are creditable. A shift to more child and young person centered education methods (though espoused in the 1960’s in Sunday school unions¹) have put specific young people at the forefront of curriculum design, rather than external programmes, again, all positive. So how young people are regarded in churches is a big deal. As you may know I have written before on the different attitudes that are had in regard to young people, from them ‘not being ready’, to being ‘aliens’, ‘scary’ or too precious and wrapped up in cotton wool – all of these attitudes are featured in this post : young people as saints of the present, not church of the future . In this post, I reflected further on young people being seen as theologians and using some of the themes within adolescent development, think about how their theological reflection changes. More often than not implicit messages like ‘you’re not ready’ or ‘you dont know enough’ are put as barriers to young peoples perception, and many of these are projections, fears and attempts to maintain control.

But, if youth ministry, is all about Ministry – why not conceive the idea, or permeate the concept, that young people have a Ministry and this is what the church is to enable to develop and flourish?

When I say ‘ministry’ , i don’t mean that they get to be underpaid, undervalued and be lumped with a whole load of initiatives and administration for little thanks…what I  mean, what if young people were thought of, not as followers, disciples or ‘a group’ – but as Ministers of the gospel? But i do mean called, and prompted and hear the voice of God in the midst towards acts of ministry.

Would churches, sunday schools, messy churches and youth fellowships be transformed if their primary task was to discover and enable the ministry of young people to occur – rather that be bent on programmes, learning, containment, safety and entertainment? 

What if each young person has a ministry to give to the local church, to the local community that needs awakening, acknowledging, and then using to its full potential? 

I hazard a guess at yes. What if, as I suggested in my previous post. Youth Ministry was about the ministry of young people – and not the ministry of adults teaching at young people?

One of the sad truths is that for many in their churches, many adults, they have pottered along in churches for such a long time and not realise or have their own ministry recognised, because it hasnt fit with the norm. Only the other day someone in a church suggested to me that they felt passionate about litter, and the environment, and they aged post retirement had discovered a real new passion for this, but I wonder even if it was suggested how ‘ the environment’ might become a church’s overall mandate – for some it does and there are eco churches – but my point is that for many even in churches their ministry goes unnoticed and they are put onto rotas, leadership and organisation.The trouble is is then to ask questions about how young people might be ministers is to do so possibly in cultures where what determines ministry is already set.

So lets open it up a bit.

Starting with Andrew Root. For, though I have on many occasions in previous blogs talked about developing young people as ‘performers of the Gospel’ within churches and communities, it is Andrew Root, in Faith Formation who put forward, for me, the concept of young people as Ministers. In Faith Formation, one of the main thrusts of of Root is to ask ;what is faith? and ‘how is faith formed’ and though not always specifically related to young people, he highlights the issues created in practices of MTD youth Ministry stating that faith it seems has been more about an addition to life, rather that , as he suggests, a deduction within life. A Calling out of the material towards the sacrificial. a discovery of the ‘in christ’ of Faith- and what that might mean to be active in the same faith of Christ. stating:

We become like God by sharing in Gods energy, which we do by joining God action and being ministers²

For young people, what might faith formation look like if it was about joining in with God’s actions and being Ministers?  Its a challenging question. I think. For so long we’ve thought of what weve done as youth ministers to be the ministry, and not think so much about how our ministry might be to harness the ministry of young people. If i was to be critical of Andrew Root, it might be that the view of Ministry that he espouses is somewhat limited, albeit probably confined to the ‘application’ section of the book. I may also want to suggest that Theodrama provides a better platform and structure to some of his arguments about divine action, but thats for another piece (or a previous one somewhere in the archives). But back to young people as Ministers.

Developing this further, if Young people are to be regarded as Ministers in churches – this becomes a question about ‘what ministry is’ and also what is the church and how is ministry part of it? All too big questions for this piece. Anthony Thiselton in Hermemeneutics of Doctrine’ brings together a number of perspectives of church, ministry and mission, and ministry and the church relate to each other. But an eccesiology question and ministry question do go hand in hand. What if the church’s main purpose as Thistelton writes (based upon Moltman, Pannenburg and Robinson)  is that the church is 1. moving towards the eschaton (ie in act 4 of a 5 part drama) , it exists to fulfil Gods reign in the kingdom and secondly the church exists for itself and its own sake, more that Christ came to save himself, It exists to participate in Gods Mission to the world³. There is clearly a Theodrammatic view of the church coming through, and this also helps. Nicholas Healy (4) urges a view of the church that sees itself as being within the Theodrama (act 4 towards act 5) , and cultivates that the church in its nature (and thus its ministry) is to be both Practical and Prophetic, being present in the moment, recognising the past and the future, being practical to humanity in Gods world, and also prophetic to care for it and challenge the idolotors and narcissists who seek to destroy it.

Image result for Ministry

Now, in a way this is not about burdening young people with all of this responsibility. However, the responsibility is our shoulders to facilitate young people as ministers within the church and within the world. There is a larger role than what Andy Root suggest for young people, faith formation might not just be ministry in the church, a ministry of sacrament, of generosity and gratitude – though all are important, but in thinking about the role of the church in the ongoing Theodrama of the world – the grander story that we are all participants of – then our task might be to discover how young people are being called and challenged by God into being ministers in the world in which the church plays its part, participating in mission- and thats mission in the grand sense, not just evangelism, which is one part. I have suggest that developing young people as ‘performers’ of the gospel is something that is required as part of faith formation before, and this only adds weight to thinking about young people as ministers, developing action discipleship might be the first paradigm shift we have to do, the second is to be looking for the ways in which the ministry of each young person is being revealed to us through their actions, communication and behaviour – and if this isnt being realised, then maybe our approaches have been deficient.

How might we keep young people in our churches? well, if psychologists (5) and a recent survey that I conducted indicates, its is community, challenge and autonomy that young people, and ourselves crave in situations – then supporting young people through faith formation through a enabling their ministry in the world might be the way of doing this. Entertained young people are not staying in churches – only those whose ministry is harnessed, so we need to harness the ministry of young people in the church and the world from as early an age as possible. If we have worked with young people and their families through messy church for 2 years, then we should know by now or at least be able to identify aspects of that young person, their qualities, passions, beliefs and spirituality to help us help them to find a place in the church and world where they can do ministry? cant we?

It will also help if they can be ‘included’ in practices of ministry – until they choose to reject them. And yes i do mean communion. As ministers children and young people need to be part of the ministry. Theyre not too young to be used by God – are they?

Let help young people be divine actors of Gods performance in the world- and see what happens then?

Might churches and Ministry be transformed if young people were regarded as ministers?

And i dont just mean the ones with ‘leadership’ potential, I mean all. I mean the example in which a young person didnt want to participate in an activity, but found real purpose in helping in the kitchen instead, the young person who wanted to raise money for charity, or the young person who wanted to use their generosity to be on the welcome team, or the young people who use the resources of the church to develop social action (something Kenda Creasy Dean is recommending) , the young people who protest against development or the reduction in green spaces, is this not prophetic?

What if young people were regarded as Ministers in the church- what kind of transformation might this cause?

And what kind of role, skills and abilities might we need to be, those in leadership in churches, to facilitate young people as ministers?  And yes that might be following Gods calling and prompting to pick up litter. To be vulnerable in the task of divine action.

 

References

¹Thompson, Naomi, Church and Young People since 1900, 2018

²Andrew Root, Faith Formation, p176, 2017

³Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 2007, p 486

(4) Healy, Nicholas, Church, the world and the christian life. 2000

(5) (Deci & Ryan), Taken from Jocelyn Bryan, Being Human, 2016

 

Is ‘Ministry’ a problem for Youth Ministry?

Image result for youth ministerI am pretty sure that I’m not going to be the first person to wade into this discussion.  There are a few aspects of why I shy away from the term ‘Youth Ministry’ where I can, but at the same time realise that its the common descriptor for working with young people in christian church contexts, so I do have to use it.

But I think there are a number of problems with it. It might be semantics (an argument about words) – but words do have power and influence, and the ‘ministry’ aspect of ‘youth ministry’ need a few questions asked of. Whilst we’re at it, the ‘youth’ aspect is awkward too, and a seminal piece by Mark Smith on ‘the problem of youth for youthwork explores this. You can find it in the link, on the Infed website. Youth is contested and often negative. Even the ‘youth’ aspect of ‘youth ministry’ has issues.

But the ‘Ministry’ aspect of youth ministry might do too.

In his book ‘The Pastor as the Public Theologian’ Kevin Vanhoozer pronounces a crisis of role identity for the Pastor/Minister. Now on one hand ‘crisis’ is strong a word and often crisis’ are used to set the scene for a major point or new perspective that deals with the issue. So I take it lightly. But in effect what he suggests is that the Parish Ministers role has diminished in society, because other people related professions have over taken the role – so the psychologists or counsellor are called upon sooner than the clergy, so might a social worker or school teacher for therapy or education, where once a church might have been the centre of these things. He goes on, but I wonder whether that same crisis that the clergy might feel, is a luxury not even afforded within youth ministry, yet youth ministry aligns itself with ‘church ministry’ oh so quickly.

The reason I think its a crisis that would be a luxury for a youth pastor/minister – is that whilst there might be a historic association with what a Pastor/Minister might be/do (sometimes a curse) and they can often find the roles that are expected – such as funerals, ceremonies, visits etc – the opposite is often the case with a youth minister who job description apart no one has any knowledge of what the role should be, (but strangely many expectations) and so much of the time the new youth minister (if minister is the right word) spends their time carving out what space there might be for what it is they are supposed to do. At least, if I look back to a time when I was based in a small town as a youth worker/minister or based in a church in the same role – much of the time was spend trying to establish either myself or the role, within the established patterns and trying to find either importance or need. Because there wasnt a defined gap for the role.

Goffman in ‘The Presentation of the self in everyday life’ says that it is very difficult for a person not just fit into the role before them, when everything is already established, so it may be easier to be the person who defines a role from scratch – ‘oh yes a youth minister is like ______ its how they did it’ – and the dye it set. But if there isnt a gap – what then? The gap might be an easier place to define a role – but what if there isnt a gap – because being tied up to being a ‘minister’ doesnt help in a post christendom world where young people arent looking for a minister or have counted out the regard for one.

Being a youth ‘worker’ doesn’t quite share this – saying that you work ‘with’ young people – as opposed to trying to do ministry with/for them – is a subtle but significant shift. Just.

So- Ministry is starting to have a problem.

The Language of ministry is barely recognised in society. Except government departments. And this conatation is probably best avoided. Or the Ministry of Sound. So, its pretty dead in the water except for an association with dominance, power and dis organisation – or a compilation album of dance music. The language of ministry as a concept is limited. But its not youth ministry’s only problem with Ministry.

do young people recognise ‘ministry’?

I’d say this was hardly likely, in a book entitled ‘Your first two years in Youth Ministry’ Doug Fields in the very first chapter uses the terms youth worker to describe the person, and youth ministry to describe the role/context . Even in Evangelical USA, minister was replaced by worker.. Maybe this is helpful, given that Arkle Bell, commented on a previous post the following:

The other big moan is the recent trend to talk about Youth Ministry – do the young people recognise that jargon, so are they already excluded. As I said to a Canadian visitor at church today – youth work is my ministry. A denomination wanted to ordain me as a youth minister, I turned them down saying God had already ordained me as a youth worker and wider society had recognised that.

Its difficult enough trying to find an establish role ‘with’ young people, but I wonder whether trying to do that as a ‘youth minister’ is more difficult than ‘youth worker’, neither is easily defined, but one at least has less association with an organisation such as a church, the other locates the venue of the profession as being where young people are. A shop worker works in a shop, a youthworker, well, where young people are. And Kerry Young has already said that youth work is defined as it is practiced (1999)

However, the main concern, i think, with youth ministry, and being a youth minister is, is the notions of power that are associated with it. Or more accurately, how through default within many churches, minister is associated with authority – the ministry of the young people is the ministry of the youth minister – young people are their ministry. Young people as a result can be viewed as little more than pawns in the activities and programmes, a number.. A group of people done to, with the youth minister acting in a way similar to the senior pastor.  With an image that looks like this;

Kids bored. Not listening, and someone talking at them.

However, It has taken quite a while, not just in this piece, but quite a number of years (150?) for someone to come along and say the brutally obvious.

Youth Ministry is about enabling young people to be ministers.

This is what Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean suggest in their recent two books (references below). Up until then, keeping young people entertained, or hearing ‘nice’ therapeutic/moral messages might well have been the order of the day. (Smith, C)

But helping young people develop their ministry?  Not only ‘what might that look like? – but what might that mean? 

For a start if working with young people to develop their ministry  makes the task more like youthwork as a process of supporting, encouraging, challenging and guiding – rather than leading from the front, so much. It has empowerment and participation as automatic bed fellows again more a youth work concept (just) .  In the next part this week, I will explore further what it might look like for youth Ministry to be about developing the ministry of young people. Given that this causes a need to understand what ministry is in the life of the church, and the churchs place in the world. Aspects that both Andy Root and Kenda Creasy Dean do touch on.

What if youth ministry was about faith shaping young people as ministers?

But i think there is more to the play than whats been said so far.

Image result for youth minister

Is ‘Ministry’ a problem for ‘Youth Ministry?’ – Well it might be if the ministry we have for young people, limits their involvement in the ministry as attenders and being entertained, than enabling them to become ministers themselves, including ministers of the word, sacrament, ministers of mission, justice and love in the world. Ministers who participate in the church and the world.

If its just a ministry the youth minister has – not a ministry that they are being encouraged into also having – then its no wonder that many young people find other places to be entertained instead. Ministry might be a problem for youth ministry in a number of ways, its even more of a problem if the youth minister is the blockage that prevents the ministry of young people thriving in a church. Or where the youth minister is employed to keep young people contained in the church, rather than enable their ministry potential be encouraged. As this picture infers, its the youth minister who is called, the ministry that they enable young people to participate in seems secondary.

What role do young people have in the church?  – maybe they should be considered as Ministers – will be the theme of my next piece.   

References

Goffman Irving – The Presentation of the Self in everyday life, 1960

Vanhoozer, Kevin, The Pastor as Public Theologian, 2016

Creasy Dean, A Root, The Theological Turn in Youth ministry, 2011

Root Andrew, Faith Formation in a Secular Age, 2016

Smith, C, Soul Searching, 2003

Young, Kerry, The art of Youthwork, 1999, 2005

 

Youth Ministry and Discipleship for ‘Generation Non-Religion’ – what needs to change?

On the face of it this piece of research would indicate that Youth Ministry has failed. 70% of young people in the UK are non religious. For all the Generations X, Y and Millenial. None matters, in a secular, or even post secular world – non religious observance is rife. Even Spirituality is relatively scarce.

This piece of research was circulated in the media today, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion,

The Headlines from the Data were, for the UK as follows:

Remember: Young people are defined as 15-29 year olds, (not the young people of youthwork of under 18’s)

70% of young people identify as non religious

6% as non christian religion

24% as Christian religion, 7% of these anglican,

59% of young people do not regularly attend religious services, the UK is 4th highest with this number.

The UK however only has the 9th least praying young people for the whole of europe. (65%)

The report compiler said that :

The figures are published in a report, Europe’s Young Adults and Religion, by Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London. They are based on data from the European social survey 2014-16.

Religion was “moribund”, he said. “With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practising religion.”

The trajectory was likely to become more marked. “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years,” Bullivant said.

But there were significant variations, he said. “Countries that are next door to one another, with similar cultural backgrounds and histories, have wildly different religious profiles.”

Today Theos published its own comment on the data here: https://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/comment/2018/04/06/generation-noreligion-what-the-data-really-shows-about-youth-religiosity?platform=hootsuite

So – what do we make of all this then?

I cant help think that for quite a while most of this is obvious. Even the most large youth groups in churches across the UK might only connect with 10% of the young people population of a town or city, maybe higher in a village, but that leaves well over 90% of young people not connected. One message from these statistics, is that the way of trying to evangelise, be relevant or practice faith in the UK over the last 50 years has barely made any difference. We have one of the lowest proportion of religious observance in 15-29’s in western europe.

Every trick in the book may have been tried to ‘reach’ young people, but a different tack might be, that faith has not been made meaningful, challenging enough, it is less a dynamic movement for social and spiritual transformation, than an organisation content with its laurels, and young people – especially young people with ideals and a desire to change the world, are no more likely to join the church to do this, than sign up to greenpeace. But that might be what I think too. We know that faith is transferred predominately through parents, (but that is largely young people in the church already, to stop them leaving) – the challenge is that theres 70% of young people not involved in religious services. 

I would have been in interested to know in the data what the figures were for the under 15’s and what the differences are. I guess in a way from 15 many young people have their own choice about whether they attend church or not – rather than being dragged by their parents. It is worth thinking then about what churches who kept young people beyond the age of 15 looked like, when fuller youth institute did the research; this is what they found on churches who kept 15 year olds, the report is on this previous article: https://wp.me/p2Az40-NP

If nothing else, this data announced today should be a wake up call, to churches and affiliations not doing anything positive, innovative or meaningful with young people, that they should. But also that there is still plenty of young people to go around right across the UK who have no connection with a church. The challenge might be finding them, the challenge might be connecting in a meaningful way, the challenge is making faith dangerous and meaningful in risk adverse conforming churches.

Somehow, we need to make the christian faith something worth believing in.

And make Discipleship the active, prophetic, dangerous yet life and human affirming thing it is meant to be – challenging the very conformity that churches gravitationally pull towards. Jesus is more disruptive than that.

Richard Passmore on Facebook today saidd – we need a new way of being christian, on the back of the research. Id say we need to provide more spaces for an action orientated, dangerous discipleship to begin.

What do you think?