Mission: Developing gifts on our doorstep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

For – you what made it a good conversation?

 

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

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

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

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

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

Read 2 kings 5  1-8…

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

What does the Girl, the servant girl say…

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

I want him to get well..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord spoke to him in a vision..

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

What does God promise Ananias.. ?

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

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

Maybe thats for another sermon.

Ananias the hearer and doer.

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

 

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

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

Yes, its the woman from samaria.

John Chapter 4.

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

Whats the first thing that Jesus says?

‘Woman please will you give me a drink’?

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

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

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

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

Woman – would you give?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

a copy of which you can buy here 

Read the story of getting out of the way

Amazing the significance of a conversation, of a question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Lets get Theological! On making Theology, not models & strategies first in Youth Ministry

You wont read this post. I guarantee you, no one will read this post. Even with a sneaky reference to an Olivia Newton John lyric in the title, you wont read this, because its got Theology in the title as well. I should have put sex, or masturbation, or something witty, clever or clickbaity, but no, in the spirit of honesty this piece is what it says it is. It is about theology and youth ministry, and I am aware no one will read it.

So, in that case I am going to go full on, deep and thoughtful, safe in the knowledge that it wont be read. I know this because nobody attends seminars on youth ministry and theology. Or conferences on theology and youth ministry. Very few people talk about theology when it comes to solving the problems of young people ‘leaving the church’. Instead its about practices, making practice better, trying to find a missing piece, a magic formula, a new way, or method. It can be that there isnt a conversation about theology, that doesnt only exist in place of formal theological conversation, the college. And for many others thats where it often stays.

So, because there is no grafting, searching and desire from the ‘top’ to do theology about youth ministry, there can be very little appetite from the ground to see it as being worthwhile. Its easier to drag a resource off the shelf, or do what we think works, or uptake business models like ‘develop strategies’. If you want to read the part one to this post, it is here in which i suggested that youth ministry needed to turn to performance theology, rather than business strategy. This is the long awaited, and probably grossly under-read, post that follows that one.

We have inherited a practice of trying to get things right to save and keep young people, and this puts practice and strategies first over and above theology.   Image result for theology?

Youth Ministry needs Theology first. – and that takes work.

However.

The first thing to say is that we are all theologians. Thats every volunteer, youth pastor, helper, leader involved in youth ministry in a church/faith setting. We are all theologians already, because, and this isnt the only reason, young people are reading us and our practices to glean theological insight through them. What we do is a theological act – it is being performed as youth ministry is done. Theology is transmitted in the way we operate.

So think about that for a second. Everything? yes…

In the way we talk about young people behind their backs, in the way we give responsibilities, in the way we decide, in the way we hold or give away power, in the drive to the bowling, or how we stay in the kitchen and dont get involved, in everything to do with youth ministry, every act is theological already. Our beliefs are already affecting our behaviour, but regardless of those beliefs, young people are reading us as if we’re the book. Our Theology is implied in what we do.

We are already in one extent performing it.

But that doesnt mean we get away with just acting it out. For, how do we know we’re acting out theology appropriately, or fittingly?  (its not about effectiveness, effecacy is a reductionist business term that we should ban in churches)

Thats where at least ‘thinking theologically’ about youth ministry also is important. If we’re in the ‘business’ of doing theology. The two go hand in hand. Theres also the theology within our institutions… however,

So, what do we need to thinking theologically about?

We need to think theologically about young people. Who they are in the sight of God, how they are created and loved, accepted and made in his image. And so much more besides….

We need to think theologically about discipleship. If this is the game of the church – to make disciples- then its not a bad idea to think theologically about what being a disciple is all about, and how a disciple is ‘formed’ and what a disciple does ‘performs’ .  What kind of discipleship? Action first or learning first, or both? So we need to think theologically about learning, about study, about actions (and the actions of God in our actions) Theres some stuff of discipleship in the categories section, and resources below.

We need to think theologically about Culture. About the place of the church in the culture, and what the role of young people is participating in the church in the culture – for, against, within, above or to transform it (Neibuhr) or something else – to offer an alternative, creating something new… What is Christ offering young people in discipleship? (and how might the church follow this)

We need to think theologically about Mission – and what we do and what young people do, what is Mission, What is God like if she is missional? How might young people play parts in mission, and who decides whether they can or cant?

There needs to be thought around theology of worship – what is it? Is only ‘christian’ worship worship? What worship doesnt need a band, a stage or a PA system, what worship is pleasing to God? What worship creates opportunities for young people to transform the world? Is worship a gathered experience or an emerging one, a public one or private one?

We also need to think theologically about how young people have faith; What is faith, how is it tested, how do they use it, act on it, and practice it in the every day, – where do they do faith?Related image

We need to think theologically about sex and relationships, about gender, about LGBT, about mental health, depression,  about drugs and alcohol, about education and ambition, about power, greed, globalisation, about politics, about technology, communication, about inclusion, money and fame. Because young people arent looking to us for the answers anymore, because half the time these are difficult subjects that we leave to one side. It is not and never enough to pick stuff up on these subjects off the shelf. Young people also dont want us to give one answer, and presume that culture has another answer, theyre far too clever for that. We need to know how to answer these things, and give tools for interpreting and navigating. There is no ‘one thing’ the bible says, or ‘one thing’ the world says about these things. To say this to young people would be patronising. But that doesnt mean to say we dont have responsibility to think theologically, biblically and ethically about these things to help young people share in and lead us in that exploration of learning.

What about what we do with young people? Might we stop and think about the activities and think theologically about these? About Residentials, gatherings of worship, games, gap years, funding, about festivals and the like, about group work, if everything we do implies theology, then what kind of God is being transmitted through these – what kind of church is? God of attendance and watching? God of large groups (where God is communicated as ‘always being’) God of challenge and risk, God that is ‘felt and experienced’ away from home, away from the local church – Thinking theologically about these things might mean that taking young people to an experience might create a view of God that might actually be unhealthy or even unbiblical. But then, if theology isnt important, then it doesnt matter..does it?Image result for theology?

Thinking Theologically about youth Ministry, might mean more than being motivated by the faith. Though its a good start. Working out how Faith and Beliefs motivate us in youth ministry is definitely a first step, we can spend too long busting a gut to get this bit right, and in reality, we’re never going to get this perfect (theres no such thing). What we need to do in youth ministry is live with the imperfection and the ongoing drama of it, but theologically thinking about youth ministry, given that as youth ministers, volunteers, pastors, workers and leaders, we are urged to be both theological and practical, reflecting and active. Part of the tool kit for us is Theology, our story, our church’s story, and the story we are called to live, the story which we perform and encourage others to. It shouldnt just motivate us like a bad head teacher with a stick (thinking Miss Trunchbull in ‘Matilda’) – but well at us from the deep, call us to something higher, take us (and others) to the margins, where likeness of Jesus is an ongoing task.

Theology emerges from the deep, from the margins. Theology might emerge through conversation between friends (Emmaus), might visit unexpected to give peace, might be present in space of the unlikely. We dont need to try and think theologically if what we’re doing is already good, loving, kind, faithful, generous, and working towards peace, wholeness and restoration – these marks of the kingdom need no law. But we might need to develop new theological language, reflection and resources for the road on which these travels take us. Theology from the streets, like St Francis’s ‘Sidewalk Spirituality’ or Ignatius, or other Saints of the Past. Thinking theologically about ministry might itself call us in new directions, new learning, new faith, thats where we might need to take risks, having experiences of God in the space of the margins, might cause us never to go to the gathering to find God – and thats ok. Youth Ministry is, like any ministry, an ongoing dramatic act. And in the drama, what kind of God is needed for the ongoing walk? One that Speaks and Acts – one that is present and urging, as Kevin Vanhoozer describes – is the holy author in our midst. 

Always speaking. Always giving us reference points. Always giving us things to relate to. Always prompting and provoking.

Image result for theology?

Where is the space for the Holy Author in the Midst of Youth Ministry? In every conversation – possibly, in every approach – possibly, in every action – maybe. The truth is we cant model our Youth Ministry on God – we’re not perfect enough for this. God isnt a model to be copied. God is a mystery who speaks, a creator who does as he pleases (Daniel 4:35) and is not restrained. We need to think and act and listen theologically. Its that Holy Author who will communicate and save. Its that Holy Author who is happy for an ongoing communication, whether this is ragged or poetic, praiseworthy or problematic. Its that Holy Author who is present in, with and amongst. God who might, just might not be white, distant and male – and that might change everything.

In conclusion, Theology needs to go first. Not just because we’ve tried everything else, but because thats where it should be, and not even because by doing this ‘it will work’ – no- because ministry is a risk taking endeavour not an exact science. We dont need to just ‘get on with the job’ of youth ministry, and neither is theology ‘just for the college’ and no one can avoid being theological. Putting this off does a disservice to young people, it does a disservice to ourselves. We can try and find a perfect method, strategy, model, process and practice. And that could consume us (and we can nearly always ‘do’ better) but that search is a painful one and full of frustration, comparison and frailty. Lets ditch the models, and have meaning, mystery and mission first.

Oh and some of this is only the tip of the iceberg….. directions to start, not journeys of discovery along the way hence some resources below:

References and Resources

Talking about God in Practice (2010) by Helen Cameron

Youthwork and the Mission of God (1997) by Pete Ward

What Theology for Youthwork?  by Paul Nash (Grove Booklet Y8)

Faith Formation in a secular age by Andrew Root (2017)  

When Kumbaya is not enough by Dean Borgman (1997)

Models for Youth Ministry by Steve Griffiths (2013)

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by Andrew Root (2007)

Starting Right – Thinking Theologically about Youth Ministry by Dean, Clark et al (2001) 

Remythologising Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer (2010) (more on theodrama in the categories section)

Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer (2014)

The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry by Kenda Creasy Dean/Andrew Root (2013)

Faith Generation by Nick Shepherd (2016)

Here be Dragons; Youthwork and Mission off the map by Lorimer & Richard Passmore (and me) (2013)

Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf (2007) 

 

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

 

Churches should work with young people- but does it matter which ones?

I have mellowed and calmed down a bit since yesterday.

Yesterday I had started to write a piece in which i felt angry and frustrated, and it was passionate and raw, probably too raw, as i was frustrated and angry about the tens of thousands of young people the church has opportunities to work with, but doesnt, and then doesnt create the right environment for discipleship for those it does. I was frustrated that young people had been systematically let down an forgotten by the church, when churches themselves had opportunities to do otherwise.

But no one gets anywhere with passive aggressive spewing in the etha. All it does is create a storm and makes people feel worse. And though i thought myself that things needed to be said, I have calmed down, because fundamentally underneath the anger and frustration is a question, and that question is;

Does it matter which young people the church works with?

and this is the question that im wrestling with in what follows:

I was once told ‘Sometimes we cant choose which young people God sends us‘ , but theres a reality that the church has chosen to ignore some young people more than others. But should it matter? In a church that has finite resources is it better not to just ‘do something’ with the young people whom are known, than do nothing at all? Yes of course.

But in a way then, this is not directed at the local church and its finite volunteers, though it could be. It is to those who put young people in the strategy document, the vision statement and the deanery/diocese plan. The problem with a strategy in which young people are measured, then young people are treated all the same. Despite the different approaches, needs, and energy required for them. Having young people in a church becomes a race for the easiest. Having photos of large gatherings of young people to justify a ministry becomes a race to be the most attractive, well promoted, publicised event, that will gather young people, but which ones? But again, I am prompted- does it matter which ones? 

Thats as long as we arent using young people as a pawn in our game for the most successful ministry? Or that a certain approach to gather them is ‘working’? of course not, 

But does it matter which young people the church devotes its energy to working to?

Maybe it doesnt, but maybe it also does.

Maybe it should pull on our compassion strings more about young people in and out of care, young people trafficked, young people being the victims of crime, young people running county lines in the drug trade, young people victimised in the media, young carers.

Maybe it should just tug on our civil society altruism, that young people who might be on the streets in our local neighbourhoods, outside the shops, the park and beaches might also be part of the same group of young people who ‘God is sending to us’ as they are being raised in public consciousness through local news and conversation.

It may be that the institution problem of young people is the one that causes the heart stings to flutter the most. The future of the church depends on what we do with these young people, and keeping them – rather than any other young people. 

There have been three things that have influence the way of working with young people in the UK since in the 1800’s, first came the need, second the word, third the statistic.

Churches working with young people as a specific group emerged out of needs. Needs for the church to educate its young people specifically, and needs being felt in society caused by the urban young people terrorising the status quo, being undernourished, unfed and ‘sewer rats’. What is documented is that a few churches, people got on and did something (what isnt documented is that 1000’s didnt) , started Sunday schools, and other provision, which others soon copied. Someone had to take the initiative. But its was needs that drove the practice. Image result for urban poor london

Then in the 1950’s it was the word of God, sorry Billy Graham, that began an influence of youth ministry that continues to shape practice, and the church in the UK today. The implicit influence of the large gathering an rally, and the simplified message that garnered a mass appeal, and put success equating to numbers at the gathering as a way of measuring it. But the word spoken was that the church in the UK was devoid of young people. There was no sense of which young people, but in a context of moral fears starting to emerge of post-war frivolity of lifestyles (The Beatles, mainly) , counter cultural youth ministry was born. To create an energy about the alternative, and leaders of it stayed within.

Image result for billy graham crusade

Then became the statistic. Peter Brieleys research in the early 1980’s that over 300 young people had left the church every week since in the 1960s caused a clambering of action. Youth ministry went pro. Youth ministry went theologised. Youth Ministry became even more about fixing the leak, plugging the dam. Regardless of anything else, this statistic spurred youth ministry into a new form of life. But what it also did, was shift the conversation even further from ‘what kind of young people’ to ‘we need to keep the ones we have and employ youthworkers to do it creatively’.

Barely a stop to think about which young people might matter. And how much do all three, or something else be the driver of youth ministry today. What if its young people knocking at the door- should our predominant cue be the immediate and local context – not the institution? Back to the need of the person?

Barely a stop to think about which young people might matter to God?

It would be easy to say ‘all of them’ but that deems that the vulnerable are often the easiest to ignore. In this post last year I suggested that ignoring the poorest young people has been done for years.

Whilst ‘all children’ should come to Jesus, there are as many pleas to connect with the least, weakest, widowed and fatherless that permeate through scripture as a prompt, and provoking passionate prompt, a provoking stick of conscience towards those who are mistreated, oppressed and victims in society. And whilst all young people are victims in society through generation brush spreading, there are some clearly who have been and continue to be more abused by the system and society than others. It is not our fault we’re poor – ran a recent BBC piece its is also not many young peoples fault that their only experience of the christian faith is through its derision on the TV, a christmas service at the local primary school and an assembly. It is not their fault.

Will the church be judged on how it has survived? or judged through whether it has worked with ‘the least of these’

Only Jesus had the large gatherings, he told the disciples to work in pairs, and go and find accepting people in every village. Its what the disciples did an how the church grew, from a few, to small groups and continued. That method worked for the disciples, its what we might use on the streets, and in the public spaces. Go and be vulnerable in a new place and find people willing to accept. Go to the people and be the message.

Does it actually matter which young people the church works with – wont any young person do?

If we’re as passionate about Jesus and being his followers, then we’ll be out in the margins, pushing boundaries and investing our lives, our wares in the poorest. We might need to come clean and say that data and word has a greater hold on youth ministry than need, or for that matter theology. Its been the call since the 1980’s, but if our youth ministry really was theological – what would it look like? Evangelical youth ministry might actually mean following the call of Jesus to the margins and working like he did. Couldnt be more evangelical.

If the church has the opportunity to work with young people who are being sent to it, children whose families go to the food bank, young people on the streets, young people waiting for mental health appointments, and the rest, young people for whom it is not their fault. Young people raging against their poverty, against the system. If only the church could harness a piece of this action.

So, a question for this week;  does it matter which young people the church works with?

for some churches it is ‘any young person will do’  but mainly the ones the church decides it needs to keep. For others, dont ignore those playing football in the church car park (or worse still tell them to go away), or those on the park benches. View them as a opportunity, a provoking call to have your heart strings moved.

(If you dont feel equipped, with the skills or experience to work with more challenging young people, then please do get in touch, training i provide might be able to help. For more information on developing detached youthwork- starting with where young people are – please do contact me via the menu above.) 

References

Joined Up, Danny Brierley, 2003

Youthwork and the Mission of God, Pete Ward, 1997

Various pages on the emergence of Sunday Schools, Ragged schools on the http://www.infed.org site.

Is ‘Pioneering’ in danger of becoming an overused buzzword in the church?

It used to be (when i was growing up) that people in churches were told that they were scared of evangelism, for the decade of evangelism, then people were told not to be scared of the Holy Spirit, either during Pentecost or as a backlash from the heady days of the ‘toronto (or whatever it became) blessing’. And as a result there was a reassurance given about these things, before then the experience was given of them. Both ‘Evangelism’ in its day (is it standing on the street corners or door knocking) or the Holy Spirit ( will i speak in tongues) had a fair share of bad press and ambiguity about them at the time, and so, reassurance was probably needed, and at times still is.

But now there is another ambiguity that seems to be creating the same scared overtones in the church, (no its not GDPR), but Pioneering

The dictionary defines pioneering as ‘involving new ideas or methods’ . Which may be as simple as it need to be as a definition. However, that hasn’t stopped it being used in a plethora of ways in the christian community, notably in the last 5-10 years;

There’s pioneering practices, pioneer youth ministry, pioneer approaches, pioneer course, pioneering clergy, pioneer curate, and probably a whole host besides, there’s probably a pioneer church administrator and pioneer PCC secretary out there somewhere. Some job descriptions ask for ‘pioneering’ people to fill what boil down to the same role someone was doing before (and would take immense culture shift to change)

So, in an attempt to gain insight into the current thinking, frustration or creativity around pioneering, i asked the following question on twitter:

Has ‘pioneering’ become the buzzword no one knows what it means? What might you say it means?

These were the responses:

I’ve just finished my MA in pioneering mission and I still don’t really know what people mean @timgoughuk

Is pioneering the new emergent? @mcymrobin

Getting new stuff done in a place no one is doing it – now define ‘stuff’ @jakesk2

Go to the margins, experimenting, loving, listening, co creating and ultimately annoying the hell out of the centre. Been told many times if they don’t want you dead then you probably aren’t doing it right! @gemmadunning

To pioneer is to go where the church isn’t or hasn’t been for a long time, to journey alongside people and grow a Christian community that is relevant to those people where they are @markrusselluk

Do you mean “innovative stepping out in faith to create something in new wine skins that isn’t encumbered by institutional hierarchy but need to be given permission by same to flourish in their fresh expression of this mixed economy approach to being a witnessing community?” @alicampbell_68

To me pioneering is the Ministry of not fitting in… Never feeling fully comfortable in any church setting because God is always doing something new so churches ‘should’ be open to change but humans are change resistant so pushing for change is a hard place to be in; @JHOsborn

For me pioneering is about ‘stepping off the map’, going to the new place to which God calls me. Laying down my life & agenda.Listening to the community & God. Unconditionally blessing & serving those outside the church context. Sharing God’s love. Joining in with what emerges…@revaliboulton

To break new ground for the kingdom / with the gospel… To take the church to places it isn’t flourishing & cultivating it afresh. @Drmarkscan

Pioneering is living life on a knife edge of not knowing, with no certainties (of establish church) and in everything you do stepping out in faith that God/Jesus is going with you and before you. Pioneering is leaning how to readjust, change and adapt when things don’t work @monty_blog

To pioneer can be a lonely journey being with the people walking alongside people in their natural environments in the community but always showing Jesus ! @suziqvk

Prioritising the cultivation of Christ’s kingdom in unchartered ground over maintaining institutional church practice @greenP

A Pioneer, someone who sees future possibilities and works to bring them to reality, not only dream up new strategies, they implement them, ‘dreamers who do’, seeing prophetically and rightly navigating the edge lands in mission out of love, for Jesus Christ and for the Church.@mummymcalister

Going Before: leading @rachel1946white

Image result for pioneering

Heading out into unchartered territory which gives the freedom to succeed or fail, and both are accepted. When it goes well it forges a path for others to follow, with understanding of the lessons learnt. Pioneering: Trying out something not done before.@piglets4mum

I thought Christian pioneering was taking Christianity to places devoid of faith… isn’t that what pioneers are?? People that are the first ones to occupy an area and make it into a community that is living and thriving before moving on somewhere new to replicate the experience? @artsytype_83

To boldly go where the Christian presence is least and virtually non existent. @stalbansdyo

Contextual mission that, in the manner of Star Trek, “boldy goes….” @revjonbarrett

a self- confessed minority opinion was given, they stated that they thought pioneering meant;

I say pioneering /ought/ to mean “Ministering the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion in such ways as to make sure that the Church is doing what she always has done” 🙂 (@Osacrumcorlescu)

this person also said: I’ve a half-baked theory that when people say “pioneer”, they ought to speak of “permanent deacons”. The ordinal for Deacons states “deacons are to… search out the poor, weak, sick, lonely & those who are oppressed & powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world”

In effect, it might argued that to pioneer is christian ministry is to do what was supposed to be done, and not be consumed by the institutional stuff it has become. In a way its not really pioneering at all, just reclaiming, and reverting to what original practices might be.

One response was a little on the nose, from a new-ish minister, with the title of ‘pioneer curate’: I am reseeding, restarting, refreshing, replanting (whatever the right word) a parish that was allowed to die, in decline to bring it back to a place of living and thriving – I must be a pioneer ! (remains anonymous)

Though talking of on the nose, this tacit response was directed at the systems: Pioneering: Basically, doing traditional parochial ministry, which parish clergy no longer have time and energy to do because they’re busy answering endless questionnaires from the diocese about why their parochial ministry isn’t working.(@fortonchurch)

From the discussion, a range of other questions emerged (see what i did there)

Any thoughts in what we used instead? Sometimes I use old school ‘missionary’ as it sort of says what it does on tin – but also has imperialistic implications, rather than laying down our lives & agenda to serve a new community/context?

Maybe it should be known as Church planting 2.0? (if pioneering has become over used)

Not many people directed me to articles in the field of pioneering at the moment, however, this one was brought to my attention: ”Pioneering Mission is… a Spectrum?‘ In which it looks like someone else has done the same kind of exploratory exercise, looking at the key writers and definers of pioneering. In a way, my survey has been less academic, and may have captured the mood from the ground a little more. However, it is a good piece and worth checking out.

Pioneering in some places might be as scary as ‘The Holy Spirit’ or ‘Evangelism’ might be said to be, it might be as confusing, or even as unheard of. Just a ‘new’ flangled thing’ that Millenials are doing to ‘wreck the status quo’ – when i say millenials, i mean those who grew up in youth ministry and are continuing to shake things up a bit. Pioneering might be too much of a step, or it might be what the church, thats just started a messy church, or a community event, might already be doing without the need to define it. The problem with defining pioneering is that it reduced it to something, the problem with overusing it is that what it could be about becomes lost in over use. There are also many images and metaphors around about pioneering.

as these people also said:

Absolutely a buzz word with a plethora of meanings….it is so over used that it has become meaningless…..!

whenever it works well it (pioneering) is fabulous, Whatever works well actually means!

I am not going to end this piece with my own definitions, as that in itself wouldnt be very pioneering. What is interesting for me is that when i was in the Scouts growing up, if you had said the word pionnering, i would have though you meant to create a structure using raw materials ( rope/poles) as a team in order that that structure did something. Ie was a bridge, a platform, a pulley. It was a team effort to be creative, and was a great way to spend 2-3 hours on a scout camp.

Image result for pioneering

Pioneering, in that sense was about ideas, creativity, using resources, planning and strategising. It was about making something from nothing, and it was about team work. Sometimes it was about competition. But it wasn’t about doing something alone. The problem in the elevated view of alone working in the church is that it creates many of the issues described in the definitions above. Maybe pioneering needs to be more of a team thing, a deliberate team thing.

Image result for pioneering

There is also much for the church in regard to pioneering, it needs to learn from those who do it, encourage it an be the team that gives it a go, especially if beyond the buzzwords theres a realisation that pioneering is just about doing what was authentically the mission Christ gave to the disciples in each local area. To go, make disciples, and to do good. The worst thing that can happen is that it becomes another catch all for everything, or derided as something just as a fashion a fad or business speak. If it captures the essence of going to the margins (because thats what might be needed to be pioneering) and planting, creating and developing approaches that are good, that might be new (in that context) then pioneering is the challenge and prophetic voice that the church might be in need of hearing and embodying in its good practical work in every local community.

Some of the definitions from the conversation were from those who are the real pioneers, so learn from them, reflect on their definitions and where their passions are. I thank them all for their honesty, insight and wisdom on this. I would so hope Pioneering does not become the buzzword everyone starts to hate, or the establishment derides as not needed. But language and its overuse might be a problem.

Forget Millenials; Why does barely anyone in Hartlepool go to church?

I am picking on Hartlepool for a reason.

Image result for hartlepool

It is because it’s where I live.

But the question could be asked of Altrincham, Barnet, Chester, Doncaster, Ely, Framlingham, Godmanchester, Harrow, Ilminster or anywhere else in the UK, and its the question we’re scared to ask.

For, its far easy to speak in the universal, the general, and label culture, people groups or generations, and use these as excuses. But we need to get real, and get local.

Its not just young people who arent involved in churches , who get the forefront of strategy.

Its everyone.

Because, it’s desperately easy to only talk to church people or previously church people (the moaning millenials) as to what we’re the reasons they left and why they’re so important that church should listen to them. The fact is that in the UK there are no millenials who left church, because even 20 years ago there were barely any then 25 year old in church. It’s not the voice of disenfranchised millenials that the church in the uk might respond to. It’s the everyone else who’s barely been connected.

And, if you want to see evidence of the moany millenials, see this post : https://wp.me/p2Az40-1eP and responding to, sharing and receiving this learning is popular (this post alone got over 100 views, my biggest in 2018) – but keeping and re-attracting millenials is futile in the UK, regardless of what they say. On the other hand, creating the kind of church that might keep christians going to it, is no bad thing, whatever age those people are.

But its reality, and local (ity) check. Barely anyone goes to church in the places that we might still go to church. And it doesnt matter if its a university or non university town, a place with many churches or a village with just the one left.

Not everyone is the same in each situation, , and why (as a critical friend of mine says) universal and general solutions dont work. Yet, nearly every church in Hartlepool is situated in a parish, or a housing estate, and surrounded not just by a cloud of witnesses, but a people group who witness and observe its very actions, or non actions. But also a people group of 100’s or 1000’s within walking distance of most churches. And churches in Hartlepool would be full if the people living near to them would go to them.

The same is true in most rural situations, and probably most suburbs and cities too. Yet again, this is too much of a generalisation. But think about it, church leaders – forget the millenials, forget generationalisms, and sociological diagnosis, and get local. What did Jesus say, love your neighbour as yourself. Love your neighbour, love those closest who you might not know yet. Love those in the vicinity. Dont judge, pre judge, condenm, or drive a wedge between, but love.

What does love your neighbour look like in Hartlepool? (and insert the name of your town/city/street here)

Love is more than the loud clanging gong of our worship services, but the moment of kindness on a Wednesday.

Love is not just the prophetic words – but the fighting for and not giving up on people who feel lost and ignored. And believing in those whos gifts arent recognised.

When Jesus said Love your neighbour, its so that we wouldnt worry about things that shouldnt concern us, but prioritise the local, the next door, the persons and families who are literally next door and in the same street. I mean, what if all the people in the same street as the church building, went to every church in the country?

In asking ‘why does barely anyone in Hartlepool go to church?’ – so that in the areas of growing churches there isnt complacency. And that the church that is growing has a positive spiritual footprint in a local area. (and not just be a building that creates unwarranted traffic problems once a week).

The easier response to barely anyone attending church in Hartlepool is that:

its not relevant enough (so changing pews for guitars, or books for screens, has seen the buildings combust with people?) all that happens here is that christians who like contemporary go to a contemporary church.

people dont know about us (so we communicate, websites, posters, noticeboards (some very judgemental slogans included)- but neither these have caused much of a shift)

what might be the problem is that

actually very few people used to go to church anyway – just a slightly few more than today -and buildings were built 100 years ago for growth in mind.

people in general are busier than they used to be – and church hasnt found a way that it has become meaningful in the everyday of peoples lives.

people have been sick of being shouted at via a notice board. If thats the voice of the church locally as people walk past, then why bother going in.

But memories of what the church used to do (and caused offence) may still be in the memory

Yet even these are generalisations, there are specific things relating to the people in every street, family and community that mean that they dont go to church, believe or even want to. But if we dont find out in the real sense, through interacting, our strategies are only based on projections.

Practically and Prophetically what might loving our neighbourhoods, streets and families be like, it has got to start with us, our attitude, our actions, our adaptability.

It is uncomfortable to ask – Why do barely anyone go to church in Hartlepool? Relatively speaking only a few millenials in the UK left the church, those that do often go and make their own church in their likeness. For many churches there’s still vast numbers of other people who might appreciate being involved in a loving and positive faith community that offers support, time, space and a connection to a world view that disrupts the rat race, or proclaims a view of humanity that isnt just the economic.

The local situation is the one that every church finds itself in, but love as a general principle is message of the gospel, and the proclamation that God loves the world is the purpose of that Good news.

Who cares what millenials think about the church. What matters even more is that in many towns and cities 199 out of 200 people dont even bother with it.

Those who left the church might be encouraged to come back, and they have a loud voice at times. Loving our neighbour locally might mean listening to voices who dont get a say, an influence and often hidden from view.

Theres nothing comfortable about doing mission with the risk taking God

It is a fairly well known story, even to those who didnt have to colour in pictures of sheep during sunday school. The story of the Lost sheep. Jesus, when being complained to by the Pharisees about who he spent time with, told them it, and it goes like this:

So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! (Luke 15: 3-7, New living version, taken from Bible Gateway.com) 

What this, and the two other remaining parables in this chapter of Luke illustrate is something about God. Something about what God is like is described to us by Jesus. And what is God like?

God becomes the risky sheep owner, who leaves behind the ones he knows where they are (barely safe themselves on in the wilderness of isreali country fields) , to go alone and find the one that he doesnt know where it is. God is shown to leave those he knows, to take action to find those apart from the community.

I wonder what the 99 felt – when their owner left them? – couldnt hear his voice, or smell his scent- would any inquisitive sheep tag along- following their leader in the path of finding the lost, being protective or inquisitive- taking a risk themselves.  Image result for israeli sheep

A few years ago I penned this piece on ‘Dancing with the Hide and Seek God, in Mission: A post i was reminded of as a I rethought this parable. See, for the ‘found’ – God becomes intentionally absent, he leaves them to act for and with the lost, the action of God is elsewhere- and for those who want to act with God – he is ahead, he is channeling a path, creating opportunities, and encouraging an action through an emptiness of his non active presence in the place of the found. To act with God, in the picture of the lost sheep, is to be as focussed on being active in the process of searching, and finding God active looking for the alone sheep. To Join in with the risk taking acts of God. God, who is concerned about losing 1%, that he calls out in the wilderness and hopes for responses to that call.

What is God like, and what does that mean we are called to do in continued action with him – to leave conformity, leave comfort, and follow God already prompting and already at work with others.

When the sheep is found, he isnt reprimanded, he is carried. It is only Luke that infers the sinfulness of the lost, from the parable- Jesus describes that man (a picture of God) just carries a sheep home on his shoulders and brings it to the rest of the community. Those who have been isolated, need carrying. Those wondering are to be lifted and receive the strength and support of others, and loved back into community. Luke throughout his Gospel is shows the inclusiveness of Jesus to those unexpected to be – so here its a slight on the pharisees, and their sinfulness.

The physicality of the actions reminded me of being involved in the kind of youthwork for the last 15 years that hasnt focussed on the ‘found’ young people – but to be involved in walking and meeting young people in their lost spaces, places of feeling alone and ‘lost’ to the church. There is nothing more spiritual that connecting deeply with someone in a place and space where Gods prompting and provoking is evident. The prompting with God is that he loves beyond the known, and those already feeling ‘included’ and ‘part’- he leaves them to love others. This parable is a challenge to expand a vision of God and realise that Gods priorities reflected in this parable are the one. If church growth is about the numbers game – then the 99% arent important – one is. God shaped mission is about risky love for others, risky love for the world, risky love that requires us to do the same.

Theres nothing comfortable about doing mission with the risk taking God. There may even be curious or questioning looks from the other 98, as we follow the coat tails of God at work.