un- macdonaldising the church – learning from the context & streets

The title of this blog is about learning from the streets, and, as a detached youthworker the street, or the context of the street,  is such a key influence on the shape of the work of detached youthwork. In many ways the actions of the detached worker, or project are shaped around the movements, timings, gatherings of young people in any particular contexts, and its the job of a detached worker to find all these things out!

Along with the streets (context) – the work of detached youthwork is shaped around Values (christian/youthwork) ones, as behaving according to values (however that happens) dictates the nature of the relationships that can be created (ie non judgemental, forgiving, mercy) . However, this is an aside as i was wondering what it look like for the church to learn from the street.

The question should be asked currently – what are the factors that shape the performance of church currently?

(and dont say Jesus)

If you stopped to think about it – why does church do the things that it does? who does it do them for? How/why did they start?

You might do a Sunday school – but do you know why you do a sunday school?  You do an old peoples lunch on a friday – do you know why? or what its original purpose was – or the catalyst was for its emergence? And I could go on, but think about the shape of your sunday worship, the activities of the church, its liturgy (or lack of) its maintenance, groups, activities.

What are the main contributing factors that shape & dictate their being?  which people group might the activities be actually for? what might you know about these people which lead you to do the activity and how are you presenting the knowledge?

As yet there is no opposite to MacDonalisation, a term often used as an umbrella term for the profligation of repeated work, done in a franchise system kind of way. Does Macdonalds consider the needs of the local community? hardly, or maybe even be bothered that a similar outlet might close down up the road. But that wouldnt stop a franchise of Macdonalds wanting to position itself in a community. It is there to make money. Even the cutest brands that have more ethical considerations are influenced by Macdonalds – starbucks, body shop etc – though Starbucks might have coined its own consumerist phenomenon. Has the church become Macdonaldized? and if so,  How might that be undone in a culture for which Macdonaldisation has purveyed almost every consumer/cultural space. Ie be counter cultural, not just copying its business ethic but supposedly ‘for Jesus’.

There are some obvious ways in which the church has become influenced by Mcd’s has, and John Dranes book covers these , there are some brands and products flying around the ministry of the church that could be argued are acting in a similar franchise way.

However, what about the softer, subtle activities of your church?  How easy is it to copy the church up the road? or in another county just because it works for them? or the latest teaching materials, or activity manual, church planting programme or social action project – because it looks like to you (person inside the church) it should be done in this way here? What about even the liturgies, performance of communion, songs that are sung – how do they come to being in your particular church- and why?

When might we stop and do things differently in that way of being the church’s local theatre in local spaces with local perfomances? (as Kevin Vanhoozer might put it in Drama of Doctrine p 440-460)

Should the starting point for a new initiative be, not what we like on the inside or what others up the road do, but the people for whom we’re performing with in the village or the town – should this be the starting point?

Mission as the starting point for church – or more specifically the learning, living and being we could be doing in the community of the church.

What might the church learn from the streets?

  1. It would learn that the streets are places of community, of people gathering in groups, of sociability
  2. It would learn that people on the streets are people, are human and worth interacting with
  3. It would realise that there are a whole host of people for whom it is approaches in the last 30 years have had almost no bearing on the lives of.
  4. It would learn that God might already be at work in families, in young adults and that finding this out would be a fun place to start.
  5. It would learn to act differently, reduce power, become vulnerable, and listen.
  6. It would learn that emerging church from local community might be improvised, unpredictable and sparkling with originality and specifically authentic.

It might be difficult to try and shape the church into a different way of being, especially if, on the surface it has a successful conveyor belt of people from youngest to oldest, a regular incoming group, and dare i say it, a regular income, and thus these larger ones might endeavour to keep the status quo, and have the so called platform to dominate the narrative such like.  But what of the majority of other churches? Well, they all have a local community of people around them, of people for whom the church has got to start getting to actually know, not because of a mission strategy, but that it has to unlearn its current endeavours to perform local theatres, on local stages which include the streets. To perform locally, think and listen locally and almost be ‘self service’ might undo an element of Macdonaldisation, but not to do this with this in mind, learn from the streets because that, i hope, might be where God is calling us to follow him.

*When i say the streets, i could also mean other public settings, parks, community centres etc. But not so much other socially constucted or constricted areas like schools, prisons, work places.


Thinking about the context

Over the last few weeks and months i have had a few conversations with other youth workers, students and volunteers about the challenges faced in developing contextual detached youth work, or at least the idiosyncrasies that each context may bring. On one hand its fairly obvious that the young people inhabit different public spaces for a complexity of reasons; often social, territorial, activity related, for belonging, transition or escape. I wonder whether ‘the streets’ is the most open ended space for this, or where young people congregate for the largest variety of reasons, and on a global basis, ‘streetwork’ takes into account a battle for the young peoples survival, and basic human needs being met.  Yet when we consider delivering detached youth work on the streets we do so to encounter and understand the culture and community of the young people, starting with understanding why they choose to be there, as oppose to being somewhere else. When we do detached youth work in a more specified place, these options narrow down- at least by a little, for example, detached youth work in the confines of the school grounds at lunchtime, or detached work near or outside an existing youth venue. The school dictates the reasons why the young person is there, even if the young person does chose what they do in their precious lunchtime, and even then this space could be cluttered with sports clubs in a bid to keep young people ‘entertained’ . Similarly the youth venue could act as a focal point, and the young people using that space to detract/distract/unbalance the construct of the club, as opposed to being there purposefully.

However i wonder how much the context dictates the shape of the detached work being delivered, or whether setting intentions/agendas first has the most impact, and its probably a bit of both. Yet the whilst the context may shape the reasons for the young person inhabiting the space, and this will have an effect on our interaction ( especially if they are kicking a ball around, in a car, drinking alcohol, having ‘relationships’ in that space), we must also consider how the context in a wider level may impact upon this interaction.

The role of the worker, and the agency, is that of an outside resource person who helps to create a situation in which learning can take place, and who can pass on skills and help them to take effect in the life and work of those who are learning to use them. This kind of social education can take place in any circumstances, at any time….

In all the examples the common factor is the attempt to help individuals, groups and social institutions understand, accept or reject, use and affect, their social environment.”

(Goetschius 1969: 184-5, taken from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/george_goetschius.htm)

For example, will the way in which we interact with young people in a detached way be affected/shaped if it occurs on the streets, just outside an off license, in a rural, suburbian, town or city centre environment? what about in a community setting in a small town, or urban?  How might links in the community be a positive or challenge in these different settings, and do they have an impact on detached work there?  what of the role or influence of the church? or at least its perceived influence?  or in a place where it has realised it needs to change and adapt to being contextual and missional, rather than blindly or clinging onto the influential christendom status quo.

At least the Christian faith through the incarnation, is by definition a contextual faith process of kingdom, this is no doubt recognized by the growth of the church in the ‘rest’ rather than just the west. I guess as a Christian detached youth worker i wouldn’t want to throw the incarnational baby out with the ‘relational’ dishwater (and i am not saying anyone is) , given the flexibility and strength, and translatability that being incarnational helps us embody,  in the variety of contexts, schools, streets, urban, rural.

Jesus Christ both identifies with a particular culture, time and place and transcends it. Jesus was in the world but not, finally, of it. His life and work may thus be seen as a series of contextualisations of the Kingdom of God. Not only did he tell stories about the kingdom, but everything he did served to bring  the Kingdom of God into clearer situational focus: the kingdom of God is like this (Vanhoozer 2005)

Yet its worth considering the effect of the context on detached work, and what this might mean for the encounters we have with young people, the time and regularity, the vulnerability and power on our or their part, the effect of the changing landscape of ‘green spaces’ , urban sprawl, new developments, or even when a supermarket takes over a car park where young people used to ‘hang out’. Context and community are important for us to consider, as they are important for young people, just that they might label them differently.

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