6 common defaults when churches start working with young people (to try and avoid?)

It never really surprises me how often when churches, (and when i mean churches i mean, clergy & some interested congregation members) think about working with young people, that a number of fairly common defaults are evident. In this post I want to share some of these, not because they are wrong necessarily, but it might be that you if you’re reading this didn’t realise quite how much of a default it is, when there might be other alternatives to how working with young people in a faith setting might take place.

Default No 1. The best way to start any youth programme is when a whole load of adults sit in a room and have ideas about what to do and hope young people want to do them. 

How often is this repeated? There’s young people. There’s adults. Adults have a whole load of ideas, look up a whole load of resources from (insert UK wide faith based youth ministry provider) , who is trusted because (the leader used to work for them/leader used to receive them/the organisation is credible/its easier) . Then Adults use resource to shape a programme that young people maybe want , or don’t want, or are encouraged to do because they feel that the church is making an effort . But the only option for them is to opt in, or opt out. And opting out makes them look ungrateful.

Or the adults have a ‘big idea’ – now ‘big idea’ – could be a rock cafe, a worship event, a youth praise group, a choir, a football night, cheese on toast for Jesus, graffiti artist, Rap artist (yes its still the 1990’s in some churches). And its a great idea that the adults spend ages. I mean ages. shaping, promoting, deciding in meetings, risk assessing, getting an MP to praise it, organising prayer meetings for it, getting it blessed by the elders or PCC…. but yet when it happens… not a single young person is involved at any stage, and three turn up, the same three who already go to messy church, the same three who would have turned up if you have offered tea and a biscuit instead.

One of my most read pieces on this website is this one. Titled ‘what role do young people have in your church/youth group?’  The challenge in avoiding the default above, is to be brave and give young people a different role in the life of the church and youth group. One in which their role from the outset isn’t just as a consumer of an idea that is foisted on them, but that they are engaged in ongoing conversation, planning and creation. As i say often, usually 11 year old’s in primary schools have some say in small groups about spending school budgets on improving it, via a school council. Meanwhile the same young people in a different institution, church, are just given shapes of Daniel and the lions den to colour in. Or spaghetti towers to make to illustrate a moral point. Avoiding this default might require an approach taken in which space is created for conversation, and ideas from young people, and trusting in them to be able to shape and create something with adults. You never know…

Default 2. Young people who are bored in church don’t always want bigger,brighter entertainment to keep them interested and coming back.   They don’t always like it when their youth thing condescends, patronises and makes them feel like children, by just looking like a school disco. 

Avoiding boredom may well be the curse affecting most of youth ministry   so there’s constant re invention taking place, constant new song, constant new material, constant make something relevant. Making the programme more exciting might be the biggest long term turn off for young people in their ongoing faith development. Because, when the programme runs out, or they get too old for it, what then? even more boredom when the only option is real church. Sod that.

But if the signs of boredom are beginning to be seen in the groups you have, and 2 years of colouring Daniel, is going to start wearing thin, then it might not be ‘Daniel colouring plus’ that’s required. It might be to actually talk with, respect and give young people the space to contribute, to be involved, to have their say. This is linked to point one above. But its also more than that yes young people might, in many cases want to have their say and voice heard and participate. But it might also be that what they are being offered isn’t challenging enough, isn’t controversial enough (talk about ethical issues) , isn’t real enough (talk about health matters, cancer, periods, mental health, the environment) , maybe even… isn’t spiritual enough. When their friends are into meditation and mindfulness, and the church is offering a prayer spoken by an adult and a god slot- where might their spiritual awakening or curiosity likely to go?  Yes i said it…. youth groups might not be spiritual enough. Young people might be bored… but why might they be…?  Work that out with real conversations and then see… don’t resort to making it louder or bigger as a default. Deci and Ryan suggest that challenge, autonomy and relationship are key factors in personal motivation. Work out how these can be part of developing youth ministry, not just smoke machines and drum kits.

Default number 3. The God bit is the God-slot

Oldest chestnut of a conversation this. Id reveal my bias here when i say I am encouraged that there are some fabulous interesting practices of youth work around that are starting to think differently about how young people learn, engage with, form, and become involved in faith – and have moved away from a God slot. In this piece i provide 6 alternatives. In a way it says something about how we as adults view education, and view discipleship if the only part that of a youth group regarded as ‘God’ bit is that God -slot moment.  Which is a shame… because that can often be the most challenging, boring, difficult part of the youth group evening and yet that’s the bit where young people receive instruction about God. Hmm… God explicitly is getting a raw deal there i think. Its also the bit in the group where young people can often have the least involvement – even if there is an attempt to give them options in other aspects like food or games – and its also the time when the power dynamics shift – and bluntly- it looks like school. Anyway. Old chestnut resurfaced, nothing new in this paragraph. But its a fairly common default. Disciopleship isnt one way and faith isnt formed by just listening. Check out the FYT experiments resource to flip that one on its head. There’s more on the God slot stuff in Here be Dragons. See link above.

Default number 4 : Young peoples faith will develop even more if we get them involved in christian youth culture.  

This is often a parental pressure thing. The default is that once involved in church, a young person must immediately only listen to christian music, wear tshirts, go to christian summer festivals (cheap holidays for parents to send kids away on, and their ‘safe’) , and become a leader in church, volunteer in sunday school. And basically show their christian faith and discipleship through countless attendances and involvement in christian titled things.  Nick Shepherd is onto something though, saying that these things do help with a young person creating a christian identity for themselves. But its part of something bigger in constructing faith… read his book.   Though I wonder… is this what adults do as well… well of course.. . I am not sure its as prevalent – and i also know I pretty much chose to go along to all the things i mentioned there in the 1990s.. however… what might have been ‘good’ in previous generations… might not be now.. but the default remains. Especially when young people more than any other group are bombarded with messages about being distinctive from the world, about almost avoiding the world, about only being ‘in the world’ to evangelise to friends, only having friends.. so they can be invited to youth group (I’m sure this doesn’t still happen) – but what do these messages do?  Create divide. And unhealthy them and us, and put young people in the most difficult positions in schools, communities and homes.  I am sure this isn’t the default it might well have been before, but worth watching out for it.

Default 5. Working with young people is for some one else

There is a magical human out there, who is so radically different from the humans in the church, who will be able to do something magical with young people that they don’t know, but you have known since they were 3 and been in messy church or Sunday school (and got bored colouring in Daniel), and this magical person is about to be transported in under the false pretenses of needing to be innovative, creative and experienced (with the reassurances of being underpaid, under supported and poorly managed) to round up the previously bored from messy church group, the alienated from church 12 year olds, the 15 yr old daughter of the vicar (chosen specifically because they had a young family 12 years ago, and they could be the previous magic person ) – but new magic person is now needed.

This default, creates a thought that magic external person is the best person to connect with young people. The reality is that if you know the young people, and have done since they were 3, then you are. You just need to re connect, maybe apologise (for too much Daniel colouring in) ask and listen and rebuild a relationship.  Young people value relationship, authenticity and long term integrity. You’ll get that if you take the time and listen. value them and re connect. A magic person is starting from scratch. If young people are important, you don’t value them by employing a magic person to rescue them, you value them by giving them space, time and opportunities. You value them by creating a culture in a church where they are important. from the leadership, organisation, planning and decision making down. Where they are welcomed and participate. Thats value.

Default 6. Young people are all______________ – they’re just a completely different generation to us, they so different. 

This is ‘Young people are alien syndrome’. All of a sudden there’s a default position taken that goes along the lines of ‘young people have just arrived from outer space, they’re weird, unruly, into things we have no idea of, unpredictable, different.. etc’ and then someone clever, will recite a piece of research, or the bloody guardian, that talks about ‘Meellenials’ and how in order to reach ‘meeelenials’ the church has to do X and Y and Z.  An invisible ‘them’ and ‘us’ is created. Young people are all of a sudden different, difficult, hard to reach, unique- and yet no one has even spoken to any of them. Just looked at generalised research to make an opinion. Then someone will say ‘its just helpful to do research’ well.. yes it is. But if you want to do research, ask the young people in the community you are working in, and build up knowledge from actions, from conversations, from reality. There is no one else in the world like the young person who plays football in your community park, or the young person who is bored in messy church, or is a bit lost in church, but comes along with his Dad. Research and thinking of young people as alien, really isn’t going to help with listening, learning, empathy, time.  As Carl Rogers said, we cannot empathise if we prejudge, and we prejudge all the time, so lets not add to it with extra lenses  from adopted sociological research (used mainly to justify programmes that we’ve already said… perpetuate a default) . There is no such thing as a millenial young person. Can we dump the universality research, and thinking of young people as aliens. They’re just people (Christian Smith, 2003) . Like you and me. Its children, ironically who are less like adults. Think about it.

Theres 6. I could of added a few others, and yet as i thought about it, they all nearly stem from the concept of participation, and lack of – and these are covered in the post i shared in the link above. its almost as though the key default in churches, is not to give young people any involvement in aspect of what goes on, for them, or for anything at all. Or that they wont be interested if its made too difficult, challenging. For the few young people left in churches…we have to do better. For starting work with young people, churches could start from a different place, and not go straight to these defaults. Expecting different results from the same actions.  I am sure you can think of others too. But these are the ones i see, and have also been guilty of doing myself too.

Some references and additional reading

Christian Smith, 2003, Soul Searching, his 15 recommendations for christian youth groups from research of 1500 church is well worth a look.

Nick Shepherd, 2016, Faith Generation. Still one of the best critical, thought provoking, books on youth ministry in the UK.

Carl Rogers, 1972, A way of Being. On person centred therapy.

Andrew Root, 2017 Faith formation in a secular age, isnt referenced directly, but some of the links do.

Chap Clark, 2018, Adoptive church. Chap suggests churches should be places of participation where young people flourish in the whole community. Id recommend this one.

 

 

Praying the drama

A few thoughts on the above

One of the books that I have loved reading recently has been ‘The Sacred Enneagram’ by Christopher L Heurtz, and whilst I would have been sceptical a few years ago about many of the Myers-briggs/Enneagram type psychological things, reading it, after a few others on the Enneagram, at a time in my life in which I have been open to receive learning, reflection and awareness of myself, has been particularly meaningful.

What i like, especially, has been the link in the book that is made with developing Spiritual practices that align with personality ‘type’ and why these are important. One such one that I am beginning to use, and like is the centering prayer, which is described in the book, near the end.

In it you are encouraged to sit, to rest and bring to attention a picture, an image of God, a sacred symbol, and bring God into the room, the place and use the image as a way of realising God in present, and active in the moment.

It is usually at moments like this when my mind often goes blank.  Sick of usual metaphors like boats, waves, rivers, doors… so i shut off.. minds heads to practical, mind heads elsewhere, heart goes off in a huff, denied.

But what if i started to use the metaphor of play, of drama, of perfomance to centre my prayer. What if i use what i already know and focus my attention on God as loving director, and player of the play? What if i bring all that into my prayers, and not leave it on the academic bookshelf, what if Gods play is active and contemplative, if the drama was here all along?

So, resting in the play, centering my attention on the drama, i have began to write, and pray and reflect and attend contemplatively into the action, over the course of a few days I have been able to write what you see above.

There are parts to be played, verses to be written and dramas to be called to – for the play is ongoing.

Why its Justice and not justi.c.e thatll give youth ministry a future

Prayer is like a telephone sang the old childrens song, that helps us talk to Jesus, it went on. Whilst the spiritual discipline of prayer, fasting and meditation seemed to be absent for much of my developing faith practice as a young person, the concept of ‘arrow -prayers’ was fairly common. That pray in an emergency type way, when theres a stressful moment going on. I grew up evangelical, it was about the busyness of attending things in a church. Image result for telephone

You will no doubt have a mobile phone, and a list of contacts as long as your arm, one of the ways in which we can help emergency services to know who to ring from our contacts is for us to write I.C.E before or after the persons name. For then they know who we want to ring in case of emergency. 

 

Developing a faith that causes God to be ‘an emergency’ call away, and not involved in the every day of life itself is one of the key findings that Christian Smith identified in his research of over 12 years ago in American youth ministry. God was more aloof, and only used when required. For many young people in evangelical/mainline youth groups – God was an add on to western living, and peripheral at best, contacted when there was an emergency. Or there to help me, a young person, feel good. In the UK, ‘the happy midi narrative’ was coined as an equivalent – in which God is to be for the good times, and helping a young person feel good about themselves. (Theres tons of other stuff on MTD in the archives) . Image result for i.c.e mobile phone

In a way – what does this say about discipleship for a young person – within a faith that seems to only exist around making them happy – or where God is nothing better than another contact in their phone, to call In case of emergencies. Its not the fault of young people. Its what they have been brought up in the faith to believe, and implicit in their faith formation. It is a faith of superstition, rather than a faith of action, and along with the M of MTD it is a faith of morality ( be good as God is watching you).

The Christian faith is not just in case of emergencies, surely?

God is described as a God of Justice, not just.i.c.e.

And we have a responsibility in youth ministry to ensure that the God of Justice of mercy and righteousness is the one for whom young people have an ongoing working relationship with. The personal relationship with Jesus their friend is almost a given. Its the faith in God who calls them to tasks, and requires us to join in within his actions in the world that is dynamic and dangerous.  Theres nothing tame about God….

And its not just the old testament, many many examples in the New testament where ‘good works’ are the responsibility of the faithful, good like God is good, good and just. One of the 7 churches in revelation was commended for it too.

There are some examples of young people across the UK involved in justice projects, from Tear Fund, Christian Aid and World Vision – but often these seem to be on the international scale. They are good none the less. They also seem to be the ‘one off’ thing in a youth group programme – or not at all. So, young people dont get experiences of ‘working’ with God on the stage of the world for themselves or in their groups – merely hearing about God and trying to live a moral life. I know its not always been top of my agenda when i have planned a youthgroup curriculum. Their faith would be about joining in with Gods actions in the world, rather than a discipleship that is about God in case of emergencies.

Helping young people to be ‘just’ in the world, rather than ‘good’ might help them to be energised by faith, by being part of a working relationship with God, rather than hope that God might rescue or help in times of emergency ( and leave life to be got on with).

In faith formation Andrew Root tries to get to grips with the MTD issue in an age of secularism. Ultimately he, and those like Kevin Vanhoozer are saying when they talk about Theodrama, is that Justice and social action on the stage of the world are not seperate acts by humans that might be acts of worship – but that in these human and divine act together in an ongoing relationship, where God prompts in the midst to do good works (as these are not always the natural thing to do). Youth ministry and Theology are both talking about Justice. When Millenials are asked about church, its performing the faith – not just hearing it that they want to do. Performing the faith – now what might that mean for young people?  Its less just i.c.e and more justice. More help to help them work with God to change the world.

Young people arent losing their faith, or losing out on being faithful by doing ‘social action’ it is an integral part of it. It is practical and prophetic in the local community that young people make a stand or protest or act in a way that is about Gods goodness in the world, prompted by God in the first place. We want to see a generation of young people make a stand for Jesus, then its not going to be at the £130 Jesus festival where there are 200 of them, it will be as in every youth group, every town, every church begins to help young people play an active part in working with God to seek justice and righteousness in every community.

Faith for young people should not be in case of emergencies. It is about life in all its fullness (that means giving up some for death) and life in its fullness for everyone.

If young people are only buying T shirts for Jesus, but not helping share their T shirts for Jesus at the clothing bank, then we might reflect in their faith. Faith isnt just bought like a T shirt, it is given away. Its not for emergencies, its to help prevent the emergencies of others.

Heres a few questions that might help reflect on this further.

What might Social justice look like in your community? 

How might young people be spurred on to think beyond themselves, and for others- through collective action? 

How might your youthgroup be both practical and prophetic in the world ? 

How might young people act along with God on the stage of the world- in your part of it?

How might young peoples prayer for others be acted upon, and they then read the bible as a guidebook for continuing social justice in the world? 

 

 

References

Faith Formation – Andrew Root, 2017

The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer, 2005

Faith Generation, Nick Shepherd, 2016 (on MTD and UKs youth Midi Narrative)

Soul Searching; Christian Smith , 2006

“Shut up back there, I’m trying to tell you that God loves you”, 6 alternatives to the ‘God-slot’

Its been such a great evening. A good group of young people have come along to the youth club, they’ve played games, chatted nicely, made a pizza, and had a great time, theyre buoyant, nothing has been broken, and theres no shards of wet toilet paper on the toilet walls. But its 20 minutes before the end of the session, and theres a tension in the air. Its that time. The time when the fun stops, the time when the atmosphere shifts, when the bubble of energy in the room is changed. Sean goes and hides in the toilets. Shannon leaves for a fag, the boys start a play fight. why? Because they know its God-slot time.

The workers can feel it too. Its the time where they have to do a talk ‘in front’ of the young people, up to now they’ve been involved with them, chatting, making pizza, playing football, but now they have to be separate, powerful, teachery even. But its the deal isn’t it, the young people get to have fun, play games, make pizza – often for free, so that the payoff is that they listen. isn’t that the deal?

I wonder if theres a difference between what is communicated during God-slot time, and what is said. The obvious example above, is that whilst young people are shouted at they are also told that God loves them. Whilst being told a moral story, they are being controlled and disempowered, often, this bit is the important bit for the workers, but the least important bit for the young people. Often its the most parent/child dynamic moment – and it as this point where faith/spirituality/morality/ is inserted – and so God can become only associated with being told something. There is some evidence to suggest that young people leave this kind of youth ministry practice with a view of God different to what is said about God, because of the way that God is presented – so it might be at best something listened to, but its content isn’t heard. At worst it might propagate an MTD type faith, where God is perceived as only interested in a young persons moral behaviour.

Ive heard it said that ‘without the moment of the epilogue then the club would be nothing different to the youth centre up the road’, or ‘the young people should expect it, we do it every week’ or ‘ without me telling them about God, how will they know about God’ or ‘its the only opportunity they might have to hear, and they must be told’  If there is a desire to do something spiritual, but the ‘God-slot’ isn’t the thing that’s – So, on the premise that young people are in the space that has been created and its in some kind of religious building, ie a church, and something of faith is what is deemed a requirement- what might be the alternatives?

  1. Create opportunities for young people to opt in to Spiritual activities through the evening. So, on a table near to where they normally chat, theres an object and piece of paper with ‘prayer requests’ on it. Its there and young people could find it, and opt in as they choose. Somewhere else theres a Bible for them to pick and read for themselves. Theres plenty of resources for prayer, (see prayer spaces), but just leave them around now and then and see if young people opt in. What about an area with some natural items like shells or stones, or tree bark, and a few printed bible verses, again, not to teach, but for them to explore and ask questions, to provoke.
  2. Let the young people have knowledge of the theme the week before, so they can think about it and be ready to ask questions throughout the evening. its disempowering to teach them ‘blank’ – even if that is what church is like.. then from the beginning of the next week there can be discussion about it in the conversations, there might not be need to talk from the front, because the education has been done in the conversations and moments. alternatively have aspects of the theme around, again for the young people to engage with it, such as a bible verse with a question to stimulate conversation, or a magazine or other ‘prop’ .
  3. Create a culture where the young people make decisions about their ‘spiritual curriculum’ – so do they want prayer, teaching on themes, questions, dilemas, stories, or to participate in mission, in community work, or worship – this may take time, if theyre not used to having the opportunity to make decisions about this, but its time worth investing, as then they are active in their discipleship, or their spiritual exploring (same thing), they needn’t do it alone, they could work in small groups to plan a theme, or a months worth of sessions – and the earlier they do this – ie from 11-13, the more its part of the culture of taking responsibility. As Nick Shepherd says in Faith Generation, Young people need to not be only learners, but deciders, and in this way also creators, creators of the environment in which their spiritual discipleship occurs.
  4. Trust in conversations. If the culture of the session is one that is thriving with many conversations between young people and also between volunteers and workers, then focus on allowing these conversations to be informal moments of sharing, of connections, and where in which the volunteers take risks in the conversation to suggest praying for the young people, or prompting with a question about faith, or where the young person reflects on something of their week, or their thinking about faith from the previous week. Why have 1 ‘telling’ moment at the end, when 15 conversations have occurred during in which faith is active, and real, in the moment and connected to and with the ongoing relationships. If the culture of the session is informal, conversational and about relationships, then it stands to reason this can be the right space that faith can be explored within. Faith becomes connected with integrity to the context.
  5. Encourage sharing times. From pit and peaks, or ‘where has God been in your life this week?’ to ‘what can you be thankful for’ or whats been the struggle? creating an open sharing space or a place in which the young people can be honest with each other, then allow them to help by sharing advice to each other, and praying for each other, or praying in silence ( so they might hear God) – create a routine of care, or friendship that enhances the group, and so that then they are happy to share or lead each other and together in spiritual direction. Traditions are good, but the right one might be to share and chat and pray during the food time, and not at the end, or that every now and then theres participation in a form of a reflection, liturgy or communion as part of the session
  6. Ask the young people. Nothing will happen overnight, plan to make shifts gradually, in conversations with young people and develop their decision making. maybe even say ‘we’ve decided to stop the ‘god-slot’ what would you like to do instead to explore faith?’ That’s going to be the best thing to do. and see what ideas they have…and develop their ideas with them, or just let them take over this aspect. a risk worth taking. let them do so, being supported and guided and allowed to fail, but let them…

If none of these are how ‘church’ is modelled on a sunday. Then theres a possibility that the work with young people will become prophetic in the life of the church, if youth ministry starts producing better disciples over the next 20 years, then the sometimes ‘pew fillers’ that church might have created, then so be it.

There is plenty of ready to use material out there, and use the odd idea as a compliment to the culture of the group, an illustration to provoke thinking during the ‘open time’, a form of prayer, the danger is when an entire group shifts to a programme formula, like ‘play this game, then use it to say this verse, then ask the kids about being loved’ – it has its place – and if the group was set up with that programme in mind, then so be it, but shifting what might be a really good open group where young people have good conversations (and a god slot) to something formulaic – is doomed, especially without actual consultation and decision making from the young people. An opt in space – needs opt in, informal creative spaces to explore faith through a variety of means, and yes it requires effort and a shift, but its a shift worth making and investing in the long term, and investing in the long term in developing relationships. Anyone can turn up and tell young people something for 10 minutes, but ask the young people what they actually get out of it, and itll be realised that its a waste of time. God is for being explored by young people, not just presented to them.

Surviving Setbacks in Christian youth work

Today, without giving any of the details away, has been a particularly challenging day for me, we all have them, maybe today has been for you, or today has been a good day and tomorrow, or friday is going to present you with more of a challenge. But today has been difficult. Actually, today has been difficult day after a period of many challenging situations in my role as Manager of a Christian youth work organisation over the last nearly 3 years. Not much blood-shed, but much sweat and tears lost, periods of waiting, changes of staff, with at times the odd positive thrown in, but there have been occasions where setbacks are compounded with setbacks, and so, instead of writing an article about ‘how i survived lots of setbacks and isnt my new ministry wonderful’ – this is about me now in the moment struggling and writing and reflecting in the midst of it, without being able to look back or know exactly where in the present things are leading to.

  1. Recognise that Mission and Ministry is on the stage of the world. The world is complicated and full of tension, competition and trauma, and that’s the place our work is being done – that’s why setbacks occur , people have every right to reject us, confront us and have their own freedom to choose- and so being involved in Christian youthwork in all its guises takes us into confronting places, setbacks are going to happen, and these can also be from the church that plays a role on the same world stage. If it’s a reality of Christian ministry – especially youth work that it is more dramatically tense and fraught, than bed of roses and smooth – then expectations should shift – setting the bar at ‘its always amazing’ is an incorrect bar…
  2. Look after yourself by doing something at least a little bit distracting and fun. I am in the middle of trying to write an essay for Uni on a subject im loving, it is a welcome distraction, as is being reflective now, but so was walking the dog earlier and playing fifa on the xbox with my son about 2 hours ago.  Our challenges neednt consume us. They can do, they often do, but they neednt. Self-care is important, and i know my exercise routine is shot right now ( dog walks apart).
  3. Being a saint, rather than a hero in Ministry (see http://wp.me/p2Az40-KY ) means that we are called to project a new world and avoid the heroic reaction of violence, or destruction to reach our aims. The task of the saint is faithfulness regardless, faithfulness in action, and faithfulness to follow, it doesnt mean necessarily faithfulness to keep putting up with something. It could mean faithfulness to keep pushing, keep taking risks, keep persevering for righteousness and against injustice – these confront the world, they often confront the church too.
  4. If Saints gather community – then maybe it is worth reaching out to those around you, its easy to criticise those who plea for attention on social media, but if thats the space where your youth work colleagues, ministry supporters and friends are likely to be, then ask for support, prayer or to be thought of. Its great when people respond, and you dont have to be specific about a situation , give others the opportunity to show they care for you, you will reciprocate on other occasions. No one has to be specific about the issue, like im not being now..
  5. Not every action that has been given is a gift that needs to be held. We might want to take everything, unwrap it and treasure the good stuff. But we dont have to accept an unwanted gift – maybe reflect on it yes – and ask what is being said by it, what might it mean, what might God be saying through it, – but it might be possible to choose not to invest in what it is, to make it a personal gift, or a gift that impacts us. This isnt every easy, because we can be very emotionally and spiritually connected to ministry and mission work and we take hold of everything sometimes very easily and very personally. Maybe we need to create mechanisms for ourselves where we decide not to do this.
  6. Keep an ongoing dialogue with God through the deep breaths. Some might call it prayer, id prefer to say it was an ongoing conversation throughout the day. If you dont believe in God then keep the self talk on a positive note.
  7. It might be good to remember Julian of Norwich who said: (as quoted by The Catechism of the Catholic Church who quotes Julian of Norwich when it explains the Catholic viewpoint that in the mysterious designs of Providence, God can draw a greater good even from evil):[25]Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time—that ‘all manner [of] thing shall be well.’[33] (Wikipedia)

or a rephrase occurs regulalry on the Wittertainment film podcast- ‘It’s all going to be alright in the end – (and if its not alright, its not the end)’

right now we’re in the Middle, its not the end – what we see is only what has been, the rest is about to unfold. 

8. There is no storm avoidance culture in the path of discipleship – we could learn to dance in the rain as the saying goes, often we just hope to be able to wear a coat and not get too wet, or that theres some shelter. As im just reading :

“Suffering is not a particularly attractive strategy for human flourishing. churches on the lookout for effective marketing strategies can look elsewhere, however it is precisely through suffering, participating in the drama of the passion of the Christ by witnessing to it, that the saints experience a distinctly Christian catharsis best summed up by the apostle Paul: ‘suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope” (Rom 5 3-4) ( Vanhoozer, 2014, p221)

Not the only things to hold on to when trying to cope, but the ones that have genuinely come to mind during today as ive been reflecting during and on a difficult day, and difficult time of challenges in ministry involving a number of complex issues. In reality there can feel no end in sight at times, or happy this is the redemptive ending to this article, just a semblance of honesty about mission and ministry that can be pretty tough.