Young people are the saints of the present, not the church of the future. 

There can be two perspectives, in regard to how young people are viewed in the church, actually scrap that, maybe theres three. All influence the way in which people in churches develop ministries and so they’re important to reflect on, some more common than others, all impact the ongoing way which young people are treated, and then this impacts upon how they are discipled.

The ‘not there yet’ perspective;

This has come about through a number of ways. The most obvious one being that young people are often viewed in transitional stages, ie ‘not quite children, but not yet adults’, Young people can be placed against transitional frameworks from human development, and are then thus ‘not there yet’ because they are the ones always developing, changing and trying to become something. What this does is develop a concept of young people as learners. Something Nick Shepherd alludes to in Faith Generation (2016) he is not alone. But it means that because young people are ‘not there’ yet they need to learn to know ‘how to be there’ , becoming recipients of teaching, and being only viewed as learners, because ‘they aren’t there yet’ .  The not there yet is also in the tool kit for the youth evangelist, the trick being that young people aren’t listened to or with to hear about their faith perspective, but that, stereo-typically, they are given a new plumbline to measure themselves against – to be told ‘they aren’t there yet’ if they haven’t prayed a prayer (but have been confirmed), they’re not there yet if they haven’t ‘recommitted’ or ‘been baptised in the spirit’ or something else new to measure themselves, thus creating a need that only the evangelist can fill. Its a ‘not there yet’ perspective that is the starting point. But its not just the evangelist, think about the processes needed for ceremonies in the church – how often is it inferred that young people ‘aren’t there yet’ – to participate? Then theres the old one of ‘young people as ‘tomorrow church’… but ive said enough….it’s also linked to the ‘potential’ perspective..

The ‘scary’ perspective

Also known in youth work terms as ‘The Daily Mail’ perspective. Think of all the media words and their connotations and then what does that do as an image of young people. Yes news is only news because it is bad news, and probably only in local papers do good news stories exist about young people ( which is great) but young people are unfairly generalised to be wary of for the actions of a few, in a way that all motorists aren’t thought of for a serious RTA or others.  Think it doesn’t matter? When churches start using the words ‘disengaging’ to describe how young people aren’t involved in church, then the proof of this is evident. Or other phrases like ‘young people outside society’ then its clear where this influence comes from. Its not a biblical view of young people, or society. Language shapes understanding, and so words like ‘Youth’ ‘Chav’ ‘Disengaged’ portray meaning, which can cause churches to close ranks, and avoid being involved, and creates distances.

The ‘precious’ perspective

‘We need to keep them safe’ is the cry! So because the world is pronounced as a scary place ( because it is full of other ‘youth’ who act Scary) – then Safety measures are brought in to keep young people in the church away from these horrible horrible things that might damage them. Tactics such as busyness ( be at 3 youth services a week), alternatives (lets go to Soul Survivor, instead of Reading & Leeds), Guilt ( Jesus wouldn’t want you to mix with those friends)  all very subtly are out-workings of the precious perspective. It fits a youth alternative culture form of youth ministry that Brierley attributes to Billy Graham (2003, All Joined up), when avoiding the youth scenes of the day (in the 1960’s-1970’s) was done through the development gradually of Christian youth subcultures and was continually fed. It is not that these things aren’t important, but if they stem from churches, church leaders and even Christian parents who themselves were part of the same scene- having a ‘precious perspective’ of young people then this has implications for the young person themselves.

So, whats the alternative?  Have I got the right answer waiting at the bottom of this article? not yet, ive got two examples.

When I was early into youth ministry 20 or so years ago, as a training team we had a question for someone, I cant remember who, who was talking about evangelism and youth ministry back then. We asked them “what do you do when you don’t know the faith position of the group, and you’re giving a talk? , when some have become Christians, others haven’t? (I’m embarrassed by the question now..) the response was – just treat them all as disciples and you wont go far wrong.

There was a discussion on Radio 5 the other day about Dev Patels new film, ‘Lion’ and why the younger Dev Patel (in the movie) and also Dev Patel when he was a child (playing the child character in Slumdog Millionaire, a few years ago) aren’t likely to feature in Oscar nominations. And there are other child actors that could easily be mentioned, such as those in ET. The response from one of the contributors, Danny Boyle, was that it is very difficult to distinguish with a child actor their performance and also what the director of the film is enabling to be seen in the shot. There is no doubt that a child has to perform, but the person who creates the right environment for that performance is given more of the credit. It also wants to protect young actors from the limelight too early. However, the view in the industry is that the acting of the child is the directors responsibility.  The director helps the young actor rehearse, to act accordingly in the scene, to feel their way through the props, context and environment and be guided by the other actors around them. how might this be translated as a metaphor for young people in the church.

What if young people are Saints called  and being directed by God?

Already. Now and in the present.

Being called by God is one aspect that makes a Human distinct from the animal world (amongst other things, Baltasar, Theodrama pt 2, Vanhoozer, 2005). And if young people are saints called by God, then the responsibility for the church and youth ministry is to create environments (direct scenes?) where rehearsal and performance of the saints in the church and the world can occur. Undoubtedly Biblically young people receive the vocal call of God.

The Saint, according to Wells (2005) is someone who knows their place in the drama, in the sidelines but also with purpose (what purpose in the Kingdom are young people acting towards?) , a saint gathers community (is not alone- essential for young people, and us all), a saint is faithful instead of violent, a saint is aware of failings and these give God glory, a saint is in the world where its tense to show an alternative, loving way.

What if young people are treated, not just as disciples but also as saints, directed by God?

Maybe the view of young people as ‘not there’ ‘feared’ or ‘precious’ have clouded a view of discipleship and sainthood available for young people in local churches across the UK, a safe religion is not an attractive one, neither is one that is only about avoiding the good things that exist in the world. What those of us responsible for young people in churches have the responsibility for is not equipping young people for saint hood, but realising that they are already saints, already being directed by God and so our responsibility is to create environments where their acting as saints can take place, and their role of saints, often prophetic saints in the church, is welcomed and encouraged.

Young People as people called as saints currently under the directorship of God.

As CS Lewis said : ‘Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbour, act as if you did. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him’ . We need to act in churches as if young people are called as saints of God.

References

Shepherd, Nick Faith Generation,  2016

Wells S , Improvisation, 2005

Vanhoozer, K Drama of Doctrine, 2005, Faith Speaking and Understanding 2014

 

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5 New years resolutions for Discipling young people

I am going early on this one, as its not quite the new year – but there has been so much talk on blog and journals recently about trying to discover a true type of discipleship for young people in the church that i thought it might be good to share a few suggestions for the coming year, that i hope are applicable to the resources you have in your church, the young people and enable discipleship that might be authentic, life and world transforming.

  1. Give young people the opportunity to shape the curriculum, from the week to week, to content and its delivery, where things happen and who is involved. See my previous post here http://wp.me/p2Az40-JK – which I talk about one way I managed to do this. If they dictate and decide, they also filter resources or develop their own..
  2. Shape ministry and mission activities around their natural gifts ; so if they are musical then this might be obvious, but if they are warm and hospitable create opportunities with them that play to this as a strength in the local community. Actually, not just in the church or its mission, but if they have specific groups use their gifts there too. – for more on developing gifts in young people – see the nurture development link below.
  3. Cause Faith to be dramatic for them! Let them find out and research the Scriptures – dont give them answers before they’ve even thought of questions!  Find ways of them opting in to or being curious about the Bible so that they read it for themselves – it might not be daily reading notes – but tasks, challenges, games, competitions. Then give them opportunity to see how they fit into it all – not just that they need to apply it – but that they have a continuing part to play, something important. I find young people outside the church more excited about the Bible than those supposedly inside- this cannot be right…
  4. Give them opportunity to practice responsibility, and have an environment where they can be young adults of faith Let them create the right opportunities and structures that they would like to have, so if its house group type with coffee – rather than games night with coke – then this is a sign they want to probably ‘grow’ up… things need to adapt as they lead and create them. Let them move to the thing that suits them, regardless of age, if they are ready let them go or let them create the thing for themselves.
  5. Let Spiritual experiences be both broad and deep. There is no such thing as alternative spirituality, give them opportunities to connect with the natural world or sensory experiences, from stones to candles to walks, and yet at the same time revive liturgies, prayers and something old, thought provoking – like an early church father, saints or creed. Maybe even meditiation of a type. But experiences of God in worship neednt ‘just’ be charismatic and guitar led.

Theres just 5 early resolutions for youth discipleship as we head into 2017, you might want to add a few below in the comments below to share with other people. I have found that Nick Shepherds new book faith generation a good new resource, theres details of it here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-HN – but some of the links below might be helpful. In reality discipleship with young people is best done when we give them as much opportunities as possible to decide, to create and lead themselves.

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