In the Drama of your youth Ministry, does God have a speaking part?

Have a think about this for a moment…. Where is God speaking to you through your youthwork practice?

Might it be easy before, or after, but what about through and in midst of it all?

This post will look at how God speaks, Biblically, divine action and then what it might mean for God to speak through our practices of youth ministry. For those who have a memory for these things, this is the post that i was about to write a few weeks ago, after writing this one in which i started the conversation on conversation, speaking and their lack of mention in youth ministry writing. So this is a long awaited part 2…

Image result for god speaking

So, Starting with God speaking. How does this happen?

It might be too extreme to say that God only acts through communication, as Vanhoozer suggests in Faith, Speaking and Understanding (2014) but it is as equally fair to say that the Biblical God does an awful lot of speaking to his created humans, whether that is directly – to Adam, Eve, to Noah, to Abraham, about leaving his home, and crucially in a lengthy dialogue over the destination of Sodom (Genesis 18) . God who speaks to Moses, to Eli, Samuel and David, through Angels who pass on his messages, and ultimately in the communicative act of sending Jesus into the world, to communicate God in person, speaking, acting and communicating God in this one location. And where Jesus does more that speak, he communicates through action, non action, miracle, question, parable and behaviour. ¹

but looking at google, and images, it looks as if God only speaks through sunsets,

silence and reflection and prayer. But God in the bible seems much more practical and conversation than that…

So does God continue to speak?

And if so, where, when and how might God be speaking through your youthwork practice? and who to?

Is God saying something when the ‘numbers are down?’ or up? Is God saying something through the disturbance by a young person? is God saying something when the group reacts to a local poverty issue? is God saying something when people leave? Is God speaking through the young people themselves?

For so long the model of youthwork has been the key. Having the right motivated by faith – might be considered theological practice (Ward, 1997) , but God is no Model, or strategy or even process. God is first of all community and second of all communicative. But models of community might be overstepping the mark, trying to emulate being like God by a community orientated approach and we could get tied up in circles trying to make a practice model itself on community for the sake of a theological perspective. But we could be accused of trying our best, or too hard to find the right model, instead of being open and creating opportunities for God to speak in the present in what is going on in the youth work practice.

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Of course it may be particularly important to ask where God has spoken in the past, how God speaks and what it might be that God is likely to say, and with that maybe comes developing a kind of biblical intuition into the way (s) of the speaking God. The God who provokes his own people that theyre not worshipping properly, the God who welcomes children, the God who has high ideals, the God who guides through the wilderness and who sets people free – the God who speaks to his people through it all, what might that God be saying to you?

Yet strangely, how often might we stop and reflect on where God is speaking through our practices – What is God saying to you about the young people you met last night on the streets – what might God be provoking you with what they say? what story is the parable of tonights youth work, this afternoons mentoring session, or this mornings classroom activity. As reflective practitioners, and theological reflective practitioners, God might be trying to speak to us more that we might think.

Discovering the divine action of God and our relationship to the divine action of God in human practices is one of the key questions that Andrew Root wrestles with in ‘The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry’ , his wrestling continues in ‘Faith Formation’ . However, thinking through the divine action of God, is a topic barely considered in UK youth ministry, at least not the books I have seen. It makes something of an appearance in practical theology, but even then the relationship between human action and theology is the most common, not necessarily what is means that God as communicative agency is the theological perspective overall. So – where might God be speaking through your youthwork practices? – and how might we be open to God speaking through our own actions, and there being ongoing participation in the divine acts of God, on our part too.

So, lets ask the question more often – where is God continuing to speak in and through your actions, in and through the actions of others and in and through the interactions between others in your youthwork practice?

If we take the metaphor of the theatre as one that is plausible, then we might act along with Jesus incarnate on the stage, performing an improvised drama with the script, trinity, church and eschatology as guide, and be in response the similarly ongoing prompting and directing by God². We do not act alone, God acts and prompts in this way in the present. Through our ministry and in it, speaking and directing, and going ahead to prepare the stage for the drama of our obedience.

It is only one metaphor, but in a way it encapsulates how were are both free to act and responsive to act, obedience and yet attempting to participate in something larger than ourselves. And where God is in the ongoing, the present, not just a model to copy, or an ideal to aspire – but a character in the ongoing drama that is prompting in the very midst.

The Bible depicts the living God, the Holy Author acting as an agent in our midst (Vanhoozer, 2014, p481)

Where does God continue to speak in youth ministry? In your ministry with young people? From the midst, from the action, and in the action itself. God as the Holy Author prompts and directs the drama towards redemptive purposes, edging and nudging along. Its our job to be open to hearing, improvise and take up the challenges of those nudges.

For Andrew Root, Ministry or being ministered to is one key aspect of participating in divine action (Faith Formation, 2017, p201), I might suggest that divine action is in the communication of God and his divine action is in communication, and yes, we do communicate the Love of God through the acts of ministry and being ministered too – but it is also about hearing God in the midst and responding in the moment to the prompts to act in a loving way, strategic ministry might not be as loving as the in the moment prompt to take a risk and do the most loving, caring compassionate thing in that moment, despite the risks to reputation. It might be seen as ministry, but if God acts in the present, then it is present obedience and in the moment love, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, hope that might be the moment where God is also at work. And that might be when we see God at work through young people as they do these things. Additionally,

Where might God be speaking in your youth ministry? – Might be where young people are being prompted by God to be ministers…

References

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation, 2017

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Remythologising Theology, 2012

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014

Vander Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2016

Ward, Pete, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997 (others propose models too, Doug Fields, Steve Griffiths, Richard Passmore)

¹For a detailed look at the communicative agency of God, from a Biblical perspective – do engage with Kevin Vanhoozers, Remythologising Theology (2014)

²Vander Lugt (2014) suggests that there are a number of factors, these included, that human actors use to be guided in their performance, though ultimately there is much improvisation.

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Should churches view young people as ministers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So lets open it up a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

²Andrew Root, Faith Formation, p176, 2017

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

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

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

 

LGBT and the Christian Story (Part 2) – Might drama make for a better evangelical story?

A few weeks ago I penned a piece that began with Peter Oulds assertion that ‘Evangelicals need a better story’  in regard to how situations of LGBT are dealt with, and the piece ended with my own story of growing up evangelical, and the predominant silence on the issue, a silence which meant that as a young person I had no way of assessing the few perspectives floating around that were predominately negative, and where the churches were represented as being guilty of committing spiritual abuse against individuals. If you want to read that piece it is here: ‘On LGBT and growing up Evangelical- the Silence’

This is the follow up, and tries to respond to Peters original question. One key motivation for me in regard to this piece, is that I was in conversation with a young person recently, and in asking them about ‘difficult issues that they face’ they said ‘well i have my spiritual beliefs over here, and my personal ones here, I go the Pride march locally as I want to support it and am for it, but its as if i have to hide being a christian, or keep my spiritual beliefs separate’. I paraphrase a little. But isnt it a shame that this was how a young person in a local church, growing up evangelical, dealt with what they saw were a divergence of beliefs and values? A better story for them would bring coherence. And i realise coherence isnt everything. But it might help young people growing up evangelical today. Amongst other things.

So, If there needs to be a better Evangelical story ;  Might that story need to be a bigger one? If the only evangelical story in town is to denigrate those who stand with pride marches as having a cartoon faith, and creating an either/or argument, then Peter is desperately right. The tone of the debate continues to sound nasty, and it is evangelicals playing the doom drums.

Where the conversations have been about Vicky Beechings book ‘Undivided’ which is getting alot of positive and dismissive comments.

But if I am brutally honest, when the battle lines are drawn in this debate both lived experience and good humanity become sidelined to bit part players in the great theological conversation. The lived experience, personal ministry and horrific experiences of oppression in the church do have to be wrestled with, are valid, dont mishear me.

If the lines are drawn as ‘lived experience’ vs ‘what the bible says’ then the rut might be stuck in for a while. The tools in what seems a battle have barely move on since i was a teenager. To be evangelical is to still believe in the Bible, yet no evangelical believes in the whole bible anyway, all is culturally appropriated. Thats still not, quite the point.

Yes it has taken 1000 words of preamble, and so this might be the first of a number of posts, but in terms of a framework for using the Bible, and also exploring inclusion, acceptance and participation in the faith – does a Theodrammatic framework help?

Of course, in thinking like this, we have to ask whether we want to find a way that accepting a theological premise that offers acceptance and inclusion with the LGBT community is what we want – if this isnt what is wanted, then no premise will have any affect anyway – because the heels are already dug in and no fancy 2000 word blog is going to change that. But if you humour me a little, and want to work with me to think about a better evangelical story, then read on…

How the Bible is used – is a question that doesnt as often get asked as ‘what does the Bible say’ , neither ‘what is the role of the Bible’ in this or any debate- and this may well be where thinking about Theodrama might also be helpful, in not just providing us with a better story, but also a way of understanding how the bible is to be used.

And one key aspect at stake is the use of the Bible, which, according to the critical piece above is phrased as having no need for interpretation, for only a literal one will do. How the text of the Bible is used is undoubtedly an issue. An issue that isnt picked up on by Ian Paul in this piece, but he does helpful highlight the potential factionary nature of the debates.

but moving on…

Can there be an evangelical story that is the different one that Peter Ould is trying to find?

I am wanting to believe there is.

I wonder whether the limitations described by Peter in his piece on ‘The Christian story’ are also related to the notion that ‘Story’ itself has limitations as a descriptor, its something I have talked about before here in this piece: ‘Does a 3 way Drama help?’ and I suggested that the limited nature of story is that it restricts the participative nature of God in the current story of humanity. It can feel as though what is described is as if the separate story of man and God only connects at certain points. And I am not sure thats Biblically or theologically accurate.

I wonder whether Theodrama helps to create a better story? Where it is not Story, but Drama that is the descriptor, and metaphor that is used to describe the Christian narrative, mission, expectation and purpose.

There will be references to Theodrama at the bottom of this piece, if you want to read further, but for the content of this piece I will try and keep things as fairly simple as possible. Thats if you’re not lost already, please try and bear with me on this.

In thinking about Drama, Balthasars original descriptions evoked Shakespeare (all the worlds a stage) and also Greek Philosophy, in which theatrical language was used to describe the human condition and place in the world. What Balthasar did with it, in 5 volumes was to suggest that the field of Theatre was both underused and devalued by the church, and that it had much to offer that had been sidelined. In particular Balthasar focussed on the nature of the relationships that occur between the script, the author, the playwright, the director, the audience and also the actors on the stage. Principally describing that the actor has both the freedom to perform on the stage, with knowledge of previous performances, the written script, (thats been tailored from the original piece of literature), their relationship with the author, relationship with the director – and also that their performance is being realised on a stage in front of the audience. I think we can get this in terms of a metaphor for the Christian life, in which the human responds in freedom to the author, director, audience, fellow performers and tries to act in a way that brings the audience closer in awareness to the script. (Wells 2004, p49, and Von Balthasar, Theodrammatic 1, The Prolegamma). Shannon Craigo Snell (amongst others) have alligned the various aspects of a theatrical performance to that of the Christian drama, with, the world being the stage, God the director/producer, and performer, and humans/christians as also actors on the worlds stage.

As with this analogy, different methods of theatre in your mind make give this metaphor variety. If you have improvised or interactive theatre, then audience participation and improvisation is high (as is the skill of the actor to incorporate massive disruption and divergence), the more bourgeoisie theatre with clearer boundaries (except when the audience is involved in a panto scene) permeates a different image of what performance is expected. Boals descriptions of Theatre for the Oppressed are helpful here, and I have not done theatre studies. But there’s a glimpse here on how Theatre has possibilities for a metaphor, especially as interactive and improvised theatre suggests that drama as Wells suggests celebrates and embraces an open and social future in a time to be explored. Theology in the Drama engages with time in its openness. (Wells 2004, p50)

A number of people have written further, using the metaphor of theatre as a way of bringing together free will, the creator/creature relationship, the answerability of Man to God, (Balthasar), the church (Nicholas Healy, Craigo-Snell, Wesley Vander Lugt), Trinity (Balthasar/Vanhoozer) calling and salvation (Vanhoozer, Balthasar), Ethics (Samuel Wells) and maybe as importantly for the discussion about the christian story, The bible itself (Craigo-snell, Balthasar, Vanhoozer, Wells, Vander Lugt, Trevor Hart)

Imagine for a moment that the Drama is the descriptor for the Biblical narrative and not story. And so, in that dramatic imagination, think about the historic and present timeline of the Biblical action, whilst there is a bit of a small dispute (and its not worth a discussion) on how many acts there are to play in the drama, for me its easier to think of the framework as five acts of God, four that have happened, and one that is in the future. These being

  1. Creation,
  2. Covenant,
  3. Christ,
  4. Church, and
  5. The Consummation

Hopefully, this still feels evangelical. The Bible contains reference to all of these in the canonical text, and what this time line also does, as Samuel Wells describes, is that it put us is in our place  – being in act 4 of 5 – and thinking about this is below. God is at work in all 5 of the ‘acts’, they are the acts of God that permeate through the Biblical text and these key moments. Though in this description Wells described adequately the chronology of the Biblical narrative, it is laking reference to the Biblical themes, and an alternative is suggested by Vander Lugt who presents it as:

  1. Formation (creation)
  2. Deformation (Fall)
  3. Transformation emerged (Isreal)
  4. Transformation Embodied (Jesus)
  5. Transformation Empowered (church)
  6. Re-formation (new creation)

This carries with it something of the impetus of our current situation. For, as people in the ‘church’ act of the drama, our prime role is of having been empowered to witness, empowered to sustain the faith, empowered in christlikeness and empowered to cultivate and make disciples. And transformation is expansive enough to include other salvific acts such as reconciliation, ransom, adoption, victory, liberation and justification..

This post is not about a theological understanding of LGBT per se, It is meant to be a way of re thinking the Christian story, to drama, and Gods Drama (Theodrama) that might ensure that the Evangelical Christian story, does itself have a better and i hazard a though, more accurate story.

So, for the remainder of this already length piece Ill focus on the question – If there is such a thing as a 5 part Theodrama – what part in this metaphorical drama does the Bible play? And as a result, what is the Bible for, especially given that literal uses of texts (albeit subjectively used) are often weaponised in an LGBT theology-off.

Within the Theodrama, it might be that the Bible is easily determined as the script. But not so fast. For the script of the Bible rarely corresponds to current events, neither do the current actors regimentally act it out. Indeed, the whole theatrical methaphor might itself be under threat in the questioning of whether the Bible is a script or not (Vander Lugt, 2014, 92-93) Although there are many compelling reasons for suggesting the bible as the script, Vander Lugt suggests that it is better to think of the Bible as  a Transcript and a Pre-script. Vanhoozer himself deviated from his original thinking on the bible as a script between Drama of Doctrine (2005), and Faith Speaking Understanding (2014).

With the Bible as a transcript, Vander Lugt paints a picture of God (the playwright) who has a comprehensive view of the whole drama, but guides certain writers in transcribing a long series of improvised performances in interaction with his own performance. Not all is recorded, only those which are events, interactions and notes that contribute to a cohesive story (the OT), and this theme continues by the disciples who improvise with earlier performances and then interact with God playing a lead role (Jesus), and then following this the playwright includes letter from assistant directors ( peter, john, Paul)  to their companies who provide creative ways of performing  in various situations guided by the producer (Holy Spirit), and all these become adapted for future performances, and some even include how the play will end – so actors are required to reincorporate by memory what is transcribed while pre-incorporating with hope and imagination elements from the ending. (A slight rephrasing of Vander Lugt, 2014, p94)

Actors therefore have freedom to improvise within the structure provided by the playwright, protagonist and producer, with God also involved in the ongoing, immediate and present – as he is and was always (it was only written down afterwards) . Scripture may not be a script, but a transcript of what was that serves as a pre script for ongoing fitting and appropriate performances in the future.

I cannot continue this piece any further. It will get longer than the Bible itself.

What I hope that thinking of the Christian story as Theodrama does is bring expansiveness of thought to the concept of the biblical narrative, using theatrical language that has this potential, and uses terms that many people who are adept at film/theatre or music fields can understand. It might be accused of over complicating what for decades evangelicals have harped on about making faith simple. The christian religion as Max Harris describes is a religion of the stage, and not just a religion of the book (Harris, Theatre and imagination) . This is not the place to discuss what it might mean to ‘perform’ the text in an improvised way, and neither is it the place to think about passages that are used in the heat of the LGBT text warfare.

In conclusion, The Bible is a central aspect of Gods own performances by which he reveals to us the theodrama and invites us to be participants in it. The Spirit speaks to, and with ongoing performers who respond to the directions and who are capable of fitting performances. Scripture records particular performances that taken individually and collectively provide a trustworthy transcripts of the theodrama and prescripts for continued participation in the theodrama today. Simple… ?  So what does this mean for the christian story? Its a drama where transformation is the impetus and we are improvisers empowered to perform it, in the everyday of now and tomorrow.

Conceived as a drama that requires participation, Theodrama is a drama that has a transcript written and has elements, themes and examples that form a prescript for todays performances- which are to be improvised in the current context, with the actors freedom, creativity and ongoing responsiveness to, as Vanhoozer describes, the Holy Author in the midst. What does this mean for inclusion, for participation in the drama- well its then a matter of who God speaks to and calls, who is directed and prompted, its a drama of participation in the mission and kingdom that requires Christlikeness and childlike responsiveness to obedience to that call. Is gender important? or transgender important – maybe thats for part 3…

Its Theodrama – with God still speaking and acting in the very present – its more that an old old story – but a present that has ongoing participation, responsiveness, action and transformation as its directives. Its a drama yet to be performed. How do we play the next scene? Is it love that compels or judgement?

To many young people- including the friend of mine – drama might bring coherancy, and expansion, to christian beliefs that remain evangelical, in its overall framework, provide insight into how we are participating in Gods drama that is in need of attentive and fitting performances that take into account the script beforehand, as well as the current context, trinity and the theodrama itself, the drama of Gods covenantal love for the world.

 

References

Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, 3rd edition 2005

Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine 2005, Remythologing Theology 2010, Faith Speaking Understanding 2014

Shannon Craigo-Snell Command performance, rethinking performance interpretation in the context of divine discourse, modern theology, (16/4, 2000) pp 475-94

Samuel Wells, Improvisation, 2004

Wesley Vander Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014

Hans urs von Baltasar, Theodrammatique 1-5, 1980

 

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) 

 

Is our concept of participation, in youth ministry, too small?

Why is it that young people are often involved in committees at schools, as young as primary school, given responsibility in ‘anti-bullying’ campaigns, tasked with being peer mentors, and encouraged to have their view on school councils within school – and yet in churches they’re often just given a picture to colour in and an activity to do? 

Thats a statement I say alot. And it is not completely true of course. Sometimes children and young people do have some responsibility in a local church. But it must be dis-orientating for them, and or the rest of us, that they are respected and given space to have participation in one space, and then a group of adults in their social gathering ( who aim to be even more righteous/holy) close the spaces down. It must feel weird. Thats just the introduction, and if you havent thrown your device against the wall so far, then great, the rest of this piece asks whether our view of participation in youth ministry is too small – or at least- there is a view of participation that encompasses something mysteriously large to fathom, that has been chosen to ignore.

The situation above one of the key moment in youth ministry where we might have a conversation about the role young people have in the faith community, I have written extensively on this before, (just search ‘participation’ in the categories) and the common framework for this theoretically is Harts Ladders of youth participation, (again not to be repeated here – see other posts), in which the sliding scale from token participation (or non participation)  to ‘young people decide, adults follow’ is at point 9. But this is classic and basic to the practice of youth work, and so these other posts might be worth your time (theyre in the references below). Its when only token participation is repeated and young people find meaning they can participate in elsewhere, that they leave any form of non-participatory faith group/event for something more meaningful elsewhere.

But I wonder – is our view of participation too small?

For, its one thing thinking about the way in which a young person ‘participates in’ the culture, structures and process of an organisation, to the point in which they are influencers, creators and contributors (in no particular order)- but is this enough?

Andrew Root puts the nail on the head when writes this, in faith formation in a secular age (2017): 

‘we seek strategies and practices that plug the drain in the sink, hoping that there are pragmatic actions we can use to keep young people from subtracting church participation from their lives’ (Root, 2017, p98-99)

In short, the dilemna faced in the church is to prevent the leakage by keeping young people involved, helping young people not subtract church, leaving it. For the church is that these strategies enable us to experience less loss. Yet in reality, the issue is not, as Root says, that people have a God-gap that needs filling. Participation has become the plug, the ultimate aim of all the faith forming programmes and activities – get them in, belonging and so they can be involvedParticipation becomes the end game of a strategy, (if it exists). But as Root discusses, what does this say about Faith – and for us, here, has this made participation too small? 

There used to be a book (its still around) titled is your God too small? – I wonder if this is the same with the use of and concept of participation.

From the very beginning, the human person was a participant in the actions of God. Tasked with naming the animal and tending to the land, creation pictures involvement in the divine action and a need that God had, or at least space within the action of God for human to be involved. This continues throughout – from conversations between Abraham and God, then Moses, David, Ruth, Mary (spoken to by an Angel no less), and then the ongoing participative requirements that Jesus gave the disciples. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the drama of the Biblical narrative is about the ongoing participation of humans in it, to the point in which they may be involved in as a fourth person in the trinity. But these thoughts are not new.

Both Pete Ward, and Danny Brierley pick them up in their work, Youthwork and the Gospel (1997), and participation in ;Joined up, (2003). An attempt to understand participation theologically is not new, but it might be worth reflecting on further if it is new for you reading this. What might be new is to think of faith as participation, and develop what this means for young people. (and us all)

A way of thinking about the ongoing narrative of the Christian story, is that of a drama, and as continual ongoing performances within the closing act (4) of a five act play that has the prophecies of revelation as the fifth act to be played out. Again I have written on this before, and the resources for this are in the ‘Theodrama’ category, but unlike story which only has tellers, drama has participative performers – who in word and deed perform interpretation and improvisations of the gospel in the every day, doing so along with God who participates in the ongoing act. Drama ‘just’ adds a encompassing level to the ongoing need to be involved and participating.

Roots view of Faith, is taken from emphasising Paul who emphasises not subtraction, but deduction of a personal nature to participate ‘in Christ’ – Faith is an act of deduction, of giving up. It is not just about participating ‘in’ the activities of a local church, (as these culturally have been negated, (p134-140) , faith is about being a participant in the ongoing story of God (Root, p145).

Participation then, is something far far bigger that institutional involvement.

Faith, true faith, for young people is not sufficient if it is about an add on to their lives (back to MTD)  It is that they become deducted of their own life, giving up, to become performers and participants in the actions of God in the whole world. 

In a way, this is no different to what Pete Ward was saying in 1997.

But what we’ve tended to focus on is how to keep young people in church through participating activities – and not think for a moment what faith is about, and how this has a larger view of being a participant in Gods ongoing actions.

So – what might all this mean? – If young people are given the keys to unlock the stage, and realise their role and ongoing performers, what might this look like for being faithful in those actions. For Root, this about helping people be ministers and be ministered to. And this then includes, for us, about how we might help young people be ministers in the kingdom, how we might help them ‘reduce’ their reliance on the stuff of daily life (and fasting/monasticism/meaningful faith is becoming more popular), giving up prophetically in a world of stocktaking and increasing – and ministering to others – all activities planned or spontaneous being prompted to by God in the midst. Faith formation and participation is about recognising the voice of God in the midst, who has the ongoing speaking part, and acts alongside. We participate in, as God participates in us.

Young peoples acts of social justice are not an aside to faith – they are faith. 

Young peoples response to God in their context might mean risk taking and be dangerous and prophetic – and who knows what it might look like. 

What would it be like to give this away – to help young people see themselves as meaningful performers in Gods drama, and that their participation in the world (and the church in the world) is the task of faithful meaningful performances of the gospel?

Its not enough that God loves young people, but that God might also think them worthy of participative parts in his play- and for many young people, they might not have had the opportunities in school to be ‘special’ or involved. Our task is as acting coaches to help young people find their parts, to find their location in the drama, and to recognise the voice of God prompting in the midst. Faith is about participation, and Gods drama is mysterious and massive, and young people, all of us, are invited into it as participants.

If our view of God is too small, then the stage needs to be expanded,

If our view of participation is too small, then young peoples faith suffers as a result.

Theres an expansion of Godly participation required in Youth Ministry.

 

References

For all my other posts on participation click here  if you’re interested in Theodrama click the category above.

Root, Andrew, 2017 Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Shepherd, Nick, 2016, Faith Generation

Ward, Pete, 1997 Youthwork and the Mission of God

Brierley Danny, 2003 Joined up; Youth work and Ministry

Vanhoozer Kevin, 2005, The Drama of Doctrine, 2010 Remythologising theology, 2014, Faith Speaking Understanding.

 

If young people are offered a relationship with Jesus – should it be a working one and not ‘just’ personal.

All those who have put on Christ are equipped to play the part. To act out our being in Christ is to practice the new life and new covenant we have in him (Kevin Vanhoozer, 2014, based on 2 Peter 1:8-10)

There were many distinguishing elements in the way Jesus ‘discipled’ his 12 disciples, as opposed to the order of the day, the discipleship in the Rabbinic tradition of Israel of its day. Not just that Jesus chose his disciples (invited them), who he chose (often those rejected by Rabbi’s already) and these two are key. Jesus discipleship if offered to all, the condition is to accept the invitation, and it is free.

And it is free. That in a way is the point.

In a re-read of the gospel records, another interesting aspect is the level of functionality of what being a disciple of Jesus was all about. There were undoubtedly tasks that any potential disciple of a Rabbi might have needed to do to curry favour with a Rabbi in the temple, in order to become acceptable, but this was an ongoing burden of slavery. But being a disciple of Jesus also involved practical work. From getting donkeys, arranging room space, rowing, crowd control, and probably a myriad of other tasks unsaid. There must have been, because effectively 13 people and entourage were on the road for the best part of 3 years. The point being, that discipleship was practical, the ongoing formation and learning was done through the practical. But it was practical in the walk, in the journey discipleship. And work was done within a relationship that promised much, that gave the disciples acceptance (even though theyd been rejected previously). In short accepting the invitation was free, but discipleship involved work.

The task of the disciple, according to Jesus, for every one who identifies as a disciple is to ‘make disciples’ (Matthew 28:18) it involves participating.

One of the features of youth ministry in the 1940s and 1950s with Billy Graham, was the offer of an intimate relationship with God, an intimate relationship that in particular young people at the time, and ever since craved and lapped up in their droves. Though ironically, as Andrew Root writes, what the large rally lacked for young people was also the intimate relationships of others. If the mass Rally of Graham lost its cultural signicance by the late 1950’s (Andrew Root) – what wasnt lost, in some quarters, is the influence of the Billy Grahams theology and simple message, that reduced faith to a moment, that would make measuring numerical success easy to do.  What was offered to young people (specifically but not exclusivey) was a ‘free relationship’ and acceptance into the family of God, sins forgiven and a ticket to eternal life. All free.  Salvation was offered without much of a catch, all that was needed to was accept and believe. Christian faith became an individual free-will choice that was presented through a self-chosen relationship (Root, A, 2007;58)

The problem was then, and still is now, is that this is not what the great commission says. It says ‘make disciples’ , and disciples are those involved in the tasks of God, are on an ongoing process of learning and doing, or forming and performing.

Salvation was offered by acceptance. What is needed instead is Salvation as participation.

A personal relationship with God is not enough, it makes faith too easy, it also doesnt tell the full story. If we’re going to offer anyone the opportunity to have faith in, and an ongoing relationship with God, then we at least need to say that it is a working relationship. We might as well have a 28 day cooling off period as the original ‘contract’ doesnt give all the details.

In this way, from the outset, any who take up the challenge, know that they are taking up a challenge, and that they have work to do, or at least have some responsibility to be joining in with or doing the practical (often in the normal day to day life). They know from the outset that it involves work, effort and dediction to a cause. It is not a free ride. Or a free ride than then has unexpected effort required afterwards. Oh and neither is it ‘faith by works’ – it is accepting a working relationship with Jesus as a disciple, not just the offer of belief (with less strings attached). The oft-quoted research by Christian Smith, that reveals MTD (moral therapeutic deism) rife in American protestant churches, showed that belief was evident, though this belief was in a deism who didnt have any direct impact or involvement on a young person. Faith was a useful add on to current existence and a confidence giver in case of trouble.

Salvation as participation changes the dynamic. What is offered is a part to play. A working relationship with God changes the dynamic, from free personal relationship, to having practical tasks to do anf fulfil as part of an ongoing ‘job’ in the kingdom. If the workers are indeed few – then at least it should be workers who sign up knowingly to being one. Lets make ‘signing up to Jesus’ more difficult, more challenging, and something that might realistic, communicating the costs, and the work involved. Making faith easy, when it is nothing less than an ongoing drama, shoots it too low, and gives an unreal expectation.

It might be easier to declare that the good news is good news to all, especially good news to the rejected, and marginalised.  It is of course a free gift to be accepted, yet faith is more than belief, or at least, belief is more than cognitive, it is something that is done, and acted. The difference between the wise and foolish builder was ongoing obedience. It was obedience that experienced fisherman Peter led him to toss the net over the boat on its other side. It was practical obedience in the every day.

In his recent book the American Youth Minister Andrew Root talks about Faith acceptance being a process of deduction. Saying that in Union with/in Christ, St Paul himself realised that this was a process of denying himself, and personal death to life experience. A part played in the divine action of God is to deny oneself, for the other, to deny possessions for simplicity, to deny the pull of selfishness. All of these require work, as in they are not easy. They are not done alone, but that still doesnt make them easy.

Faith is about being called to participate in the life and saving activity of God by becoming ministers (Andrew Root, 2017, p130)

What we need to offer is not a free ticket to heaven on a free ride of belief. And not a personal relationship in which God can dangerously be reduced as a concept who meets the needs of the human, the divine Santa claus who gives only abundantly to satisfy the greed of human requests. But as Volf describes, God also makes demands as he also gives generously ( Volf, Miroslav, 2005: 28). Whilst God gives, writes Volf, he gives in order that others might flourish through us, again, they involve work on our part, to share, to give ourselves. Not only that :

But we were created to be and act like God, participating in Gods gift giving is what Gods gifts oblige us to do (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 2005, p49)

Of course there is human freedom to choose to give a gift away. But the intention of God in giving is that we do so, and its that costly obedience, and practical and mental effort to do so that is the task of the disciple. Merely keeping a faith to oneself, is impossible for the christian, even more the disciple. But again, it is disciples we are called to make. A movement of disciples being prepared for the hard graft of kingdom building, through acts of grace, love that cause the denial and deduction of themselves.

But participation in the activity of God, through a working relationship with God, who prompts and guides and acts in the ongoing Drama of Redemption.  (yes that Theodrama gets in here again). Salvation as participation suggest that everyone arrives having a part to play, and part is to be performed and discovered, and involves the process of ongoing learning and formation. Preparing like any actor- by understanding the plot, script and developing an attuning to the likeness of Christ and playing likewise. Working for the Kingdom of God requires both understanding and action, and these aid each other. Formation is also about being ready to act, ready to participate in the tasks a position that Vander lugt describes as Disponibilite – the awareness of the action in the present needed to be made. Being ready to work as well as being at work.

As Bonhoeffer said:

‘Our Task (as disciples) is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of ourselves or what we are doing’

If one of the tasks of being as disciple is to be encouraged to make disciples, then it stands to reason that we should do everything possible in all that we do in youth ministry, in churches to create spaces where discipleship, the radical, propehetic, dangerous discipleship can occur. If our young people are hoping for an easy ride in a culture so consumed by technology that  makes things easy, then we might just have to be blunt and say that being a disciple of Jesus just isnt for them, as they’re not ready for the practical and costly work that is involved.

To follow Christ is to go after Christ along the way of Christ (Vanhoozer, K, 2014, 1)

 

References

Root Andrew, 2007 – Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

Root, Andrew, 2017, Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Vander Lugt, 2014, Living Theodrama

Vanhoozer, Kevin, 2014, Faith Speaking Understanding.

Bonhoeffer, D The Cost of Discipleship, (Taken from Vander Lugt, 2014, p139) 

 

Why did Jesus’ practice of telling parables disappear?

I was reading through the passages in Matthews Gospel that tell us a little about the goings on during Holy Week in Jerusalem all those 2000 odd years ago. What I was hoping to was write a piece on something to do with Holy Week. What I noticed instead, was that in the midst of the week, there seemed to be good deal of story telling going on that Jesus was still doing with the disciples and others around him.

Theres the Story of the two sons (no not the prodigal one)

Theres the story of the evil farmers

Theres the story of the bridesmaids

Theres the story of the great feast

Theres the story of the 10 bridesmaids and also the Three servants

All of these occur, notably in Matthews account between the Palm Sunday narrative and then the lead up to the arrest and betrayal of Jesus in chapter 26. On one hand we might deduce, accurately that Jesus was a great story teller, and these stories have sacred value (as well as make pertinent points). But the question I ask – is where did all the story telling go?

Image result for parables

From a missional perspective – Jesus doesn’t tell the 12 or 72 to ‘tell stories about the kingdom’ when they are given instructions to go into the villages. Neither is story telling part of the deal for the great commission. But at the same time, after three years of watching Jesus – you would think that there may be records of the disciples developing story telling as part of the emergence of the early church. But it seems to be almost completely absent.

A clue might be found in Luke 24 – When Jesus meets the two disciples on the Emmaus Road, his revelation to them, and their great surprise is that he told them how Jesus’ own story was now fulfilment and part of the whole of Gods bigger story ( Luke 24:34) – The story they needed to tell was that Jesus was the Messiah, and this was the one they were guided to. And then throughout the description of the early church, there is the chronological retelling of this one story, at least this is what we hear from the lengthy public discourse by Stephen (acts 7) and then Paul (acts 17) they preach theology- the story of the knowledge of God.

Image result for parables

It is almost as if priority is given to this one story (and probably rightly so) and then the functions of the early churches as a community of many small organisations across the middle east of the time. But it still seems strange that one of the principle teaching methods of Jesus is barely mentioned again. Its not as if Paul or Silas are documented telling stories, neither Peter or John.

But I am intrigued, as to why it seems to have gone out of view all together.

Other practices that occurred in the early church seem to be also at odds (with current moral view of faith) – but so soon after Jesus the disciples drew lots to see who would replace Judas as one of the 12 – was this seen as acceptable practice, endorsed by Jesus for decision making? If this was implicit from Jesus – why did story telling seem to not be in vogue?

What might be some of the reasons why parable telling seems to be absent post Jesus’ ascension?

  1. Jesus story telling was so unique – before Jesus and after – the story telling of the chronology of history is what seems to have been the norm. See for example the references to the story of Israel – or at least these are what is written down and recorded. It may be that the narrator was keen to record the facts in line with the theological chronology and not the incidental fictional stories – but in a way that doesn’t seem to fit with the story of Jonah which has more evidence that it is fictional than historic. So this may be a fable of novel like proportions that is told to reveal something of God – and referred to by Jesus as such. However, the story telling and sharing capacity of Moses, David, Elisha or Esther is barely mentioned- they are the story. With this in mind it might be as reasonable to suggest that this method of narrative story telling is so part of the Jewish culture that it continues post Jesus- so that it then includes Jesus within the chronology. Just as Jesus gives the permission to do for the two disciples walking along the Emmaus road Luke 24. But then is Jesus story telling so unique that it shouldn’t be copied? Only Jesus could tell such stories inn that culture – and so the task of the disciple was not to replicate Jesus, but fulfil the tasks that he set out for them, none it seemed to revolve around story telling.
  2. The context shifted. This response is from Roger Mitchell on Twitter. The fall of the church , because story I harder to control or contradict that historical accounts and so the church of the empire depended on control and conformity, rather than the expansive story telling that is implied in Jesus own stories. Jesus had to talk in parables – argues Mitchell, in this piece, because the entire church was under threat politically. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fall-Church-Roger-Haydon-mitchell/dp/162032928X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1522261353&sr=8-1&keywords=roger+mitchell

3.So maybe it was less that the disciples didn’t continue telling parables, than just that they didn’t need to. What about the possibility that the stories Jesus told, were the ones that were continued to be told by the disciples and so these were the ones remembered when it came to compile the 4 gospels? It may account for some of the variations – as some were more remembered than others. Also as Ricouer discusses, there may be some narrative building between the different accounts as each was written and then recollected, but essentially its at least 2-3 people remembering the stories, and some may have heard them again and again and others not so.

  1. What if the message and not the context changed? Post Jesus resurrection – talk of kingdom seems to disappear almost completely, from what is talked about in Acts, and then Pauls letters to the churches. There are 155 references to Kingdom in the New testament, but only 30 of these occur after the four gospels, and 8 of these in Acts, which isn’t surprising on one hand as there are 43 mentions in Luke itself (second only to Matthew ), in Johns gospel there are less than 3. The message has shifted. The elaborate explanatory stories of kingdom seem to have changed. OR alternatively, they have continued with the writers of 3 of the gospels and inserted into their narratives as they were commonly told and then needed to be attributed to Jesus as to give them their original authority – if it was indeed Jesus who told them originally. The explanations of the kingdom through pictures and stories needed to continue and was being continued through story telling, and it was the gospel writers who were the key narrators of this. This seems in contrast to Pauls more explanatory practical epistles, which barely have any mention of Kingdom at all. Did the objectives change; the early disciples had the job of proving to people who Jesus was in connection with the religious history of the culture – Jesus himself was merely proving himself to be God through how he had authority, through wisdom and pictures.
  2. Can we assume much about ‘how the early disciples evangelised?’ – This is the question posed by John Drane on the facebook conversation that I opened up on this subject. And of course to a point we cant. We can deduce that the early disciples met frequently, they shared belongings, miracles were performed and councils were had. Conversations with people seemed to be more confrontational (and leading people to be imprisoned) than how Jesus communicated. We can only deduce so far, or more to the point, only have the information to hand that include the epistles and written information. The tradition of oral story telling was part of the culture, and telling the dramatic story, both of Jesus within the Jewish tradition to the town squares, councils and in front of the judge, and also Pauls own story as part of the epistles is indicative of this. There is undoubtedly Dramatic retelling and embodiment of the story through its retelling. We cant I guess prove that the early disciples didn’t tell stories – maybe they told stories about Jesus to each other, and shared their collective wisdom about him – what he did, said and amazed – and so parabolic stories about the Kingdom faded from view at least they faded from importance in the task of evangelisation. Maybe stories were so embedded in the culture in the tradition, that it was taken for granted that this was how to do it, and it was uniquely rare to have the longer public discourse of the town square or market place (so these were written down as exceptions) – the story telling over food, fires and walking might have been so regular and repeated than it was barely mentioned. But its not as if at any point- there is a plea to any of the churches, or within the group to ‘carry on telling the stories Jesus told’ or to use stories in this way. Maybe because it just wasn’t needed to be said.Wells suggests that the role of the disciple is to be a witness to the story (2005) and acknowledge the place of the saint verses the hero in the story. Jesus as Christ is the centre of the story, and he creates the narrative – is the role of the disciple just to tell Jesus story? That may be the case.What if story telling was so apparent in the early church as the norm, that it wasn’t worth mentioning? It was taken as red that it was occurring? So it wasn’t needed to be mentioned. What if the reasons that these stories of Jesus have stayed the test of time is because the gospel writers themselves were hearers and retellers of them, and therefore they had been retained through theie ongoing audible use.
  3. What if the disciples were no good at it, and to preserve the dignity and sacredness of Jesus, only retold the same stories Jesus did. They didn’t get the metaphorical stories as Jesus told them, so it might have been easier for them not to maintain trying to use this method for the future. Maybe Jesus let them off the hook and didn’t make this expectation on them. The Wisdom of Jesus gave him story telling nous for the everyday stage – it wasn’t what the disciples could do. Words they did write down that were in any way poetic or metaphorical are attributed as prophetic ( Revelation) and so derived from God – rather than as a gift of eloquent methaphorical speech that the disciples have themselves.

Thank you to the social media communities of Facebook and Twitter for some of these recommendations from the original question.

It leaves us with potentially a further question, how are we expected to be witnesses of Jesus?

We learn so much from Jesus communication methods – from parabolic stories, that inspire, educate and confound their hearers, and create a expansive space for understanding the kingdom of God- but is it in our humanity to try and emulate, replicate or re-appropriate in the contexts we are in. It is said by Vanhoozer that Character (ours) is plot. We tell the story through our lives, but we also need to tell the story through our actions, provocative, prophetic and practical. (not just that we don’t swear) .

The sacred myth, story, narrative of Jesus within chronology has faded from popular view- and replaced by other myths that have a detrimental impact upon people – commercialism, materialism, capatalism and others- the stories of self indulgence that are never satisfied. The place we might have in the story is to know, just like the disciples did how the story all fits together with an ending that draws ever closer, that requires even more love, charity and hope more story. And not just a story to believe – but a story to participate in, as it participates in us ever prompting, ever guiding. The Jesus story is not just a story to live by, it is a story to perform – and that is something, there is no doubt, that the disciples did. To their own personal sacrifice and as they quite literally were martyred for the faith.

References

Wells, Sam, Improvisation, 2005

Ricoeur, P Figuring the Sacred, 1991

Kevin Vanhoozer, 2005, The Drama of Doctrine

What might a theology of strategy look like?

Last week I posted a lengthy piece on developing strategy within organisations, for those who read it it got many positive reviews and comments, a link to the piece is here   if you want to read that one first  , but please remember to come back…

Over the course of thinking about strategy and planning, it occurred to me to ask the question, Might there be a theology of Strategy? The reason being, is that there is something critical to be thought of further in regard to the developing of strategies as a theological task with theological intentions and underpinnings. Theologically where might we start with thinking reflectively about strategy?Image result for strategy

What is a strategy in the first place?

Is it a plan, a way of working, a development of ideas? could be all of these things, and a bit more. It is a commonly used word, in sport, business and games.

A Broader conversation, theologically, might start with thinking about planning, and this is an overdone topic in a way. Talk of ‘Gods plan’ and perfect plan, are common, and especially in regard to free will, predestination and also how someone might live their life, and some of this I might come back to later. Before thinking about the content, it might be good to think about the theological method, or what might be meant by a ‘theology of’ something.

A simple, helpful start to think about developing a theology of something is Paul Nashs Grove Booklet – What Theology for youth work? For, whilst youthwork is his object in this – his subject matter is the different theological positions that could be taken. It is a starting point, and worth a quick read to reflect on the different theological starting points, or at least some of them.

Practical Theology and Qualitative research (Swinton) describes how there might be a critical conversation between theology and social science research, one that informs each other, again this is helpful, in thinking how the ‘on the ground’ practice of strategy development converses with what might seem to be the metaphorical and narrative artistry of the Biblical scriptures, written in a vastly different context.

For the purposes of the remainder of this post, I want to focus on Helen Camerons (et al) work Thinking about God in Practice (2010) for thinking theologically about Strategy.

Within her work, Cameron suggests that in the process of theological action research that we might be attentive to FOUR voices within theological reflection;

The Formal: Theological reflection discovered from the Institution, the university or academia, the product of hard study, interdisciplinary work and conversation.

The Espoused: This the Thei=ology that is discovered through the artifacts of an organisations literature, so for example a written constitution, statement of beliefs, creed.

The Operant: The Theology that is uncovered through observation of an organisations actions – it is what is implied in what people do

The Normative: These are the theological positions that are considered as default within the Christian (or any faith) tradition, and encompass the creeds, liturgies and what might be considered official church teaching on the matter.

Cameron is keen to point out that these voices are not invariably distinct or separate, and each voice is not simple. It may even be these as a tool are not helpful on this basis, but for the purposes of this discussion it might be good place to start.

It feels like the use of strategy within organisations is almost normative as practice. Ways of scientifically organising people to tasks and work go back a long way, from the industrial revolution, to the advent of factories and processing people into order to create an environment where tasks are completed. Strategy thinking of one form is almost normalised, to the point where ‘bad strategies’ are critiqued not ‘not having’ strategies. Not having a strategy is frowned upon. Though this isn’t a history lesson on the development of strategy within organisations. What I am saying though is that there is a considerable weight of pressure from businesses and organisations to develop strategies – it is their normative position. Standing counter to this, is going to be difficult.

So, if we started to think theologically about strategy, against the weight of normativity of this in other organisations – where might we start?

We might ask the question – is the church an organisation? And if so what is its type, purpose and nature? In that way we glean something about how a church especially might become inclined towards the normativity of other organisaions in strategy development. Another question we might asked is what is faith? Especially for a church- considered a faith-based organisation. Faith as a definition, ‘to be hopeful in what we cannot see’ might in itself be contrary to strategy planning at all, especially iif strategy planning might be considered as the thinking ahead to mitigate risks. If church instead was created as a movement – its possible intention – then does something need to be rethought again?

So, to continue on this vein, What might be some of the normative teachings on planning and strategizing from church traditions, the Biblical text even? In his work Leading, Managing, Ministering Nelson outlines some of these, though focusses on leadership and management. There are a few others – to be found via this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Leading-Managing-Ministering-Challenging-Questions/dp/1853112380/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1521800521&sr=1-3&keywords=nelson+leading (and the other similar titles)

Often God plays the role of the great disruptor of Human plans. Abraham has it all in one place, probably his life, and pension all worked out, and then God calls him and his family to something and somewhere new.

Joseph seems to follow God in the midst of an unplanned out life where things are put in front of him to react to, Moses might be similar. The plans of God were hidden, and when disclosed weren’t always obeyed. When there were plans, they seemed to be thwarted. The God has plans, people disobey them is carried through in Jonahs tale, and is indicative of Amos’s warnings of Israel. Through prophecy, Isaiah brings to the attention a pictoral glimpse of the plans that God might have – but this certainty leaves the space within it for Human planning to be minimal. All we have, to a point, is knowledge that God might also have a plan for us, in the oft taken out of context Jeremiah 29:11 verse. In a way this might be reassurance that a human plan and strategy is less required, than it is to trust and have faith in God who knows these things.

Then strategy might be considered in the New testament. In the parables faith is not seen in the man who builds bigger barns – again planning for the future. Stability is in the house built on obedience, not the barn built on planning. When Jesus sees the people of Israel like sheep without a shepherd (might considered as ‘without a plan’) it is a compassionate response, not a desire to organise. Again, many of the livelihood of the disciples is interrupted, temporarily by Jesus call to follow – though some might have used their skills and income in the ongoing movement of faith. Saul/Paul is another whose strategy in life is interrupted, and this continues as the journeys taken by these early missionaries is thwarted by acts of nature, sometimes attributed as active resistance to Gods plan, and other times as Gods plan. The closest we might get to thinking about strategy=ie and organisations , rather than individuals is through the epistles which are letters to new churches, and also to the letters to the churches in revelation.

So, we are beginning to build up a picture of some of the biblical precedents for and against developing strategy, and a part of the overall drama of scripture and the path towards redemption, these should be heard and reflected on.

However; An espoused theology of strategy needs to drill down to the actual practices. Where there are plans and strategies, there also is a belief that strategies are the implied way to do what the tasks in hand require, and a belief in strategy planning as a process. From a fundraising strategy, to safeguarding, mission strategy or youth strategy – by having a strategy as an artefact within an organisation is its own testament to how it should be organised. Whatever might be normative – through biblical theology, could be usurped by an espoused way of doing things that has become the norm. From plans and strategies, can come order and control – and actions, results and behaviours brought in line to the pre determined plan and strategy. The espoused theology might regard highly the biblical warnings – (is a parable a warning?) about ‘without vision the people perish’ or the ecclesial determination that Jesus loves the church and wants it to succeed. (then there is the success narrative) But this in itself is problematic, as it can merely use strategy as a way of ‘keeping the church open’ through planning – and endorsing this as the right way to maintain an organisation. Even the most realistic of plans might not be the best way of causing change to happen. The strategy itself might lose the intention, or virtue of the action.

An Operant theology might be determined by how an organisation behaves. So – actually – what is the talked about theology or reaction to the strategy? (just new flangled ideas..?) does the church congregation act in a way about the strategy that endorses, or deliberately objects the desires of the strategy itself? There might be opposition socially or politically to the strategy – but there may also be prophets who disagree theologically and spiritually too. But I wonder whether at its heart churches aren’t a place theologically where strategies and plans sit very easily. So an operant theology of strategy is one that whilst exemplifying compliance within a structure – usually- is also reluctant to embody the normativity of strategy thinking, causing active disruption. But thinking about what might be the operant theology of strategy is to look closely at somewhere specific. The point of Camerons research method in the first place. So – what does your church or practice operate as – in regard to plans and strategies? Does strategy seem to be ‘the way out of a crisis’ or the ‘way to do things’ – and how is this viewed? How is strategy justified theologically through those who adhere or dispute its implementation or necessity?

Finally, there might be a formal theology of strategy. Through the few published works on this subject, the working practices of theological academia, and the dissemination of research, hypothesis and ideas on this subject all contribute to a formal theology of strategy, that probably, with the weight of normative use in the business and commercial world, contributing to a general endorsement that strategies are a positive and necessary thing. Nelson book seems to endorse planning and strategizing and notably the transformation leadership culture that underpins the strategy thinking in the first place. Others in different discipline to ‘church leadership’ have been less enthusiastic of ‘strategy planning’ especially where is contravenes values and approaches. What is interesting is that the ‘secular’ youthwork approach dismisses strategy planning as something that is against values, and ethics, yet the church – which could have stronger values – does not always. Maybe church sees itself as a stronger organisation and culture- than the youthwork profession.

What if theology itself was more of an improvised play than a planned action? What might that mean in regard to trying to develop a theology of strategy?

Martyn Percy says this:

The belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not an arid set of directives, but rather a faith that is embedded in a community of praxis which makes beliefs work and gives shape and meaning to the lives that believe. So religious belief is not some kind of arcane metaphysics; it is rather, performed-much as one might perform a play. Indeed the beliefs must be performed in order to comprehend the drama. Simply reading the scriptures as a text is about as effective as reading a play as a text. To understand the life of the drama and the intention of the author , the play needs to be witnessed as a performance. Christian faith is, first and foremost the performance of God’s drama”Image result for passion plays

And others the same. Im not going to rehearse these again (just see the Theodrama link on the right)

Do plays need strategies? – they need scripts (we have one its the Bible), they need actors, directors and an audience. There is planning in the acting as actors respond to the cues and know how to respond. Training to act might be more repetition of action than planning of action. Yet whilst the great theatrical performances of the bourgeois need promotion and strategy – the improvised theatre and the mystery plays had word of mouth and reacted in the moment – live. Does the production of the drama of Gods redemption need strategy? Goodness is slightly less good if its planned isnt it – its strategic and false. Authentic reactions in the moment cant be pre planned or strategised. In the great drama of Gods redemption that we are part of – does strategic planning have any place at all? Where there was Chaos – God brought order into creation – but ever since doesnt it feel as though God is continually disrupting the order we try to make ourselves?

I caught a glimpse of ‘Scruffy Vicars’ recent post this week on ‘The Ideal and the Ordeal’ it is here: https://scruffyvicar.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/the-ideal-and-the-ordeal/  and practically this is a problem with aloof strategising. It is to envision the outcome, and not be ready for the actual, normal and effort required. It took me to think about not only what Jon Ord talks about in Critical issues in Youthwork Management – that we should plan for opportunities and not outcomes. But also that when Jesus told the seventy two or twelve to ‘go out’ he gave them instructions to create the right scene – what he barely said was what to do when getting there (except to stay when welcomed) neither was the outcome part of the plan. (aside from leave if unwelcomed). But these instructions we to his own people. In Matthew Jesus’ instructions are that the 12 go to the lost people of isreal. So in effect, Jesus was saying, go and try and find a  welcome in your own land, with your own people. Be receivers of service. It was not outcome strategising, but strategising – or preparing for opportunity.

We need to strategy with an emergence and a readiness on one hand, as well as some thinking and dreaming on the other. In ministry we can be disillusioned with too much dreaming and no reality, or too much thought about strategy before anything is done. Its like in the BBC2 series Red Dwarf, Rimmers Revision timetable takes 4 weeks to put together all colour coded, and only gives him 1 day to actually revise. i digress, let me close. (if youve even got this far)

The four voices of might be needing to be attended to, for the purposes of doing qualitative research into a practice and to work out what a local theology of strategy might be. Here it might be enough to reflect on strategy theologically and critically from a few different angles to begin a conversation. Where there are organisations there might also be strategies, but where there are disruptions – is this the voice of God calling us out from the order we think we have created? God might be in the strategising, but that in itself is action on the stage of the world, and it needs to be performed with the same love and goodness of all the play.Calling to perform his improvised play that is emerging on the stage of the world?

What might a theology of strategy begin to look like…?

References

Cameron et al: Talking about God in Practice – 2012

Nelson Leading, Managing Ministering, 1999

Martyn Percy, Shaping the church, 2012

On Theodrama – Vanhoozer, 2005, 2010, 2012 and many others

Ord, Jon Critical issues in youthwork Practice.  

 

 

Help! Is it possible to be a critical christian and have purposeful faith?

As a four year old, I used to like trying to work out how things worked. Nothing was safe, clocks were a favourite, I’d take the backs of them and then remove the springs pulleys and mechanism. Sometimes I could put them back together, on other occasions there would be a mess of wires and springs on the bedroom floor and no clock possible. I’d take apart bikes and put them together again when I was older. I was curious from an early age. It was more than just asking the ‘why’ question but the ‘how’ question.

My school report might read that I was messy and untidy, but would also say that when it was something that I was interested in it be normal for me to continue that same curiosity. I had an active brain. Being perceptive was something that I had been commended for. Growing up asking questions, growing up thinking. I dont say these things as thinking of myself in any way special or unique, if faith and social development theories have anything to go by then curiosity and exploring are so much part of growing up.

I guess what I didnt do was stop at bikes, or clocks, but continued to ask, sometimes the stupid, questions in my growing up in church; why do you believe in that? why do we do things in a certain way in this church? my own perceptive brain was thinking, and didnt want i guess the stuff of faith that i was drawn to, to be a back alley or cul de saq that hadnt been thought through. Yet even then, I had blind spots that needed others to point out to me – as sometimes the answers to my questions positioned faith in a certain way within the box of that church tradition i guess- within the safe.

Recently I was reading faith formation in a secular world, by Andrew Root, in it, he brings to the youth ministry attention the observations of the world as proposed by Charles Taylor. In a way it gave me a sense of relief – but also a worry.

A relief, in that what Root explores from Taylor is that faith exists in a context, largely that is critical of it. Critical because of religious institutional scandals, cover ups, because of perceived prejudice against groups and inequality, and , the main thing when i was growing up, a media perception of its irrelevance, boring, or something generally to take the piss out of.  I think I also grew up, in that same zone of perception and criticalness that meant that it became difficult to accept completely what was said by powerful people, one example being to ‘stand at wembley stadium and ‘feel’ Jesus at work whilst singing along to a song’ as one example. I guess i questioned the evangelical way of things, that at the time had also fed and nurtured my faith since birth, to a point. But growing up questioning, found a critical edge, and then, in my mid twenties, a further space to enjoy being questioning, and opening up more of the how and why of things through academic study at ICC. (Now SSCM, Glasgow).

I had an avenue to be critical, to think, to read, and in the main ever since I have enjoyed reading, thinking and also being at times really awestruck by images, metaphors and descriptions of God through writing that has broadened, and aided me in personal devotion. Be a critical reflector, thats what they said.  However, there is still a snag, a big one.

My own critical and cynical nature.

What I struggle to do is peel off the onion layer of critique and expose myself to the vulnerability of faith, even that innocence of faith. Im too battle weary, too thoughtful, too much a product of the critical age, and a culture of realism that besets the same. Dont get me wrong its not culture I blame, but aware that it is this culture that it is easy to fit in. And at the same time easy to be critical of ongoing practice that seem at odds with what i might perceive as the truth or the performance of theology, or even just poor ethics. The hand that used to feed me, the evangelical church tradition, is probably the one i bite the most.

But as a contrast I have found solace, spiritually, in a theological framework that remythologises and constructs. The great Theodrama that expands the metaphors of action, of time, of God interjecting and the drama of everyday life. A built up theology of Gods voice speaking in the everyday and a drama of ongoing redemption that connects us all in an overall plan of redemption. It is a thing of great beauty, of humanity and of promise. It is what in every day should cause me to wonder, to believe and take hold of.

But instead, beautiful theology meets skin of cynicism.

Where the Theodrama prompts and provokes – the me of my time kicks back the question and writes it off.

Once the critical has been unleashed is the fear that it wont go back in the bubble? Can I not just have an innocent simple faith anymore? I never had an innocent simple faith, and if im a realist, i dont think anyone has an innocent simple faith anyway, unless thats just my projection. Innocent and simple faith, is that what we’re called to have anyway? see a load more questions. Then a shred of doubt? Can God still use me even if I am critical and cynical at times, or might he use me because of it? Have I spent too long trying to be someone else, someone who isnt full of questions, thoughts and exploring? What if i need to not be for a moment, can i switch off the radar, and just relax and be in the moment and faithful.

I was visiting a project a few weeks ago, that were doing detached youthwork out on a fairly wet night in Glasgow. Before we went out we met at a house with others and spent some time praying together, at least they did. I couldnt help but think that it was the kind of moment that I hadnt had for a while, spending time praying with people, or more to the point, praying with people who seemed to have that innocent faith, combined with an missional heart for a local area that they were prepared to do something. The haggard me realises that I have had to lead prayers in staff meetings previously when much of the time there was foreboding and challenge in the air. On other times involved in prayer meetings where there was too much amazeballs going on that honestly it was difficult not to feel threatened, or that its so unreal that it doesnt make any sense, or its power games and trying to be the most charismatic pray-er in a room of exciting youthfulness. (back to me dissing the evangelicals again – apologies) .

In the great Theodrama, there may be a role suitable, though its not the critic.

Its the Theologian. The task of the theol0gian is to help the play towards its redemptive ending, to keep it guided along against the script, however difficult this is. It is not to ask critical questions that derail the drama of redemption, but ask :

are we on track with the Theodrama?

Is what we’re doing the way of Jesus?

Are we performing in and acting it out in obedience to the prompts of God in the midst?

These are the questions for the theologian to ask of the action before it, is not to critique the play of others, as they do their performances, but to steer guide and help gravitate the existing plays to develop Gods plays. As The Greatest showman realised, critics can say one thing about a performance, but the audience another. But in the Theodrama, the audience is the guest not the critic, and the theologian is the dramaturge guiding the play to be closer to the way of Jesus, but also in doing so is part of the action in obedience to the action. As has been stated previously, who are the theologians, who are those that know in innocence the heart of God – thatll be the children, the intuitive theologians. Those with innocent left, not with innocent lost. More are theologians that just the academic, for, its also the task of the theologian performers, the pastor-theologians who look after the flock, and those who expand the stage to include others in the performance, theologians one and all in the midst of the drama. Shaping from within, listening to the prompts in the heat of the action. Being followers of the great improviser on the stage. As i said, this is rather beautiful.

There might well be space in the Theodrama for critical and helpful questions, sometimes depending on the audience or performers, these rent accepted or heard, other times they are questions loaded with too much malice, cynicism or motive, and  i know i struggle with getting this balance. What i struggle with as much though is hanging onto a kind of accepting faith when my inner cynic, cant keep quiet, and neither my mind and spirit is rarely still. Is it possible to be critical christian? – and yet still have a role to play in the overall drama, and also the day to day drama in the world.

In a way what right do I have to think of myself as a critic, how do I know the acts and wonders of God in the midst, prompting the faithful to new performances, what can I do but contribute to the performances and helping others with theirs. It is no relief to be like this, however much I might be a ‘product’ of a questioning culture. It makes it harder to see God in things, to relax in the transcendance space and to accept an innocent of God involved. Can a critical christian have faith – yes- it just might not be an innocent one anymore. In a way, that is ok. It is trying to find the grown up faith beyond and through the questions that I am struggling to find – when faith seems only to be about simplicity, innocence and acceptance. Can I still have faith, even more so. Is it a learning faith that retains curiosity (as part of our Humanity Acts 17) very much so.

There is no going back for me to naive innocent faith, once the can has been opened and new light has dawned. But that is not either what we’re asked to have. We are meant to grow up in faith, and be aware that our critical nature is part of who we are, and so developing learning, being challenged must be part and parcel of discipleship, and despair and cynicism, like the psalms might be left to our moments of personal reflection, angst and anger. Help! i may be a critical christian thats lost his faith in evangelicalism, but that doesnt mean that i dont have a faith or purpose. What im trying to work out is how the beauty and mystery of God can be realised even with my critical nature as part of the deal. Does God accept our critical nature? take us as we are?

 

References

Root Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age, 2017

Vanhoozer, K, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005

Vanhoozer, K, Remythologising Theology, 2010

 

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