Final Post Here – See New Website!

TheResource_Logo_Col-1For those of you who have joined me on my blog journey for the last four years or so, and for those of you who have recently started following the blog – thank you!

As some of you know, my circumstances changed back in August as I took redundancy from the Diocese of Chichester and began as a Youth and Children’s Ministry Consultant at the beginning of September. I say “began”, but – in reality, I am endeavouring to build and develop on, with God’s help, the 28 years I have been involved in youth and children’s ministry.

With that in mind I have a fresh website, that (as well as including a blog) will have details about training, events, resources and all that I am able to offer those working with children and young people.

Again, if you have watched this blog and occasionally even enjoyed my posts, you will know that actually being consistent has – at times – been a challenge! Weeks can pass with no blog, and then three come along at once . . . !

I can’t keep two things like this running in tandem, so I have migrated all past posts to the new website, and will shortly be shutting this blog down. I do hope you will join me on the new website . . . and if you have been following this blog, maybe take a moment to switch over to the new website – check it out, keep up to date with posts and info on my work.

I would also love your prayers – in this new role I don’t just want to do some good things, but focus on the things God is saying and seeking to be Kingdom minded in all I do.

So, please visit the new website :: www.theresource.org.uk

Thanks again for being with me!

Waiting . . . . God’s Gratuitous Grace

Waiting is a pain.  In a queue that is shuffling along, at the front door waiting for your children to GET THEIR SHOES ON, in your kitchen for the kettle to boil, the microwave to ping (ours no longer pings, so you have to WATCH and wait . . . which seems to make it take twice as long).  Waiting for the cheese to melt on your toast, the phone to ring, an email to ping, . . . when I was younger I even spent a lot of time waiting for myself to grow (I was really short for ages, being mistaken once for a brand new year 7 at secondary school when I was – in fact – as I pointed out indignantly to the year 8 girls that where cooing and ahhing “are you lost little boy”, “do you know your form tutors name yet”, – I AM IN YEAR 11!) . . . anyway, waiting is a pain.

God’s people in the Old Testament spent a significant amount of time waiting and a significant amount of this was their own fault . . . they were “stiff necked” (Exodus 32:9), “forgetful” (Psalm 78: 40-43), “stubborn” (Nehemiah 9:16), . . . . pretty much like me.  I have the MASSIVE benefit of scripture (with the stories of people as both cautionary tales and examples of incredible courage and sacrifice AND the narrative of God made flesh, our saviour Jesus Christ), the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – who IS the Spirit of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17) . . . and yet STILL I am too often a numpty. There is a cracking story in Judges and I used it recently in a family service.  Its the story of Gideon.  I only take the first bit of is sudden and unexpected encounter with the Angel of the Lord, but it was enough to be left totally gobsmacked at what GOD WILL DO . . . you know, despite Gideon.  It is what I need to believe and realise God will and is doing, despite ME.  Anyway, lets head to Judges chapter 6, reading from verse 11,

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press to keep it from the Midianites . . .

Ok, lets stop there (I won’t do this for every verse, but a couple of things . . .!)  Firstly, the Abiezrites – the word / name Abiezer means “Father of Help” or “My Father IS help” . . . I love that.  Secondly, Here is Israel, in a right mess, and here is this little guy Gideon, “threshing wheat in a wine press”  hiding in a trench trying to keep the wheat hidden while he threshed it . . . this is where “help” was going to come from?  This scared little man?  Yeah, RIGHT.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Ok then, this statement – in the natural, normal “things that are said” kind of way is LAUGHABLE.  mighty warrior . . . ?!  That’s like me being called a “son of the King” or someone saying I am “seated with Christ in heavenly places” or, you will do “greater things than these” . . . you know, it’s just, laughable . . . . um.

But then, we have a response from Gideon – this little guy has a BIG mouth!  He isn’t shaken by who it is who is speaking (he maybe hasn’t grasped that from this initial introduction, but still, he seems pretty MIFFED as he answers),

Pardon Me, my lord – but, IF the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  WHERE are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, “Did the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?”  But now the Lord has ABANDONED us into the hand of Midian.

Forgetting and yet not forgetting seems to be what is going on here.  On the one hand, Gideon has remembered the stories of old, those passed down, what the ancestors had told the people . .  . so clearly, some remembering is going on among the people.  Yet, recent history – the more in the “lifetime of those still living kind of stuff” isn’t mentioned.  This is so often part of the problem, not just then but now.

We can look back with rose tinted spectacles to a happier time.  Why isn’t it like this now?  forgetting that maybe our own behaviour, attitude, choices have put us where we are.

Then we have the reply,

But God faced him directly: “Go in this strength that is yours. Save Israel from Midian. Haven’t I just sent you?

Wow, God faced him directly – faced him!  God.  The language has suddenly changed, this is no longer ambiguously a messenger from the Lord, or even “the angel of the Lord . . . ” this, this is GOD.

Go He says, in the strength that is yours – this is not vague encouragement or a motivational pep talk.  God is simply and clearly saying, you have what you need – go.  Which links with that final statement, “Haven’t I sent you?”  The challenge of reading scripture, especially those bits that quote God is, well, it is so hard to get a handle on the tone employed – was God exasperated, surprised, mildly irritated?  You can stick the emphasis in different places and it changes the meaning . . . “Haven’t sent you?” or Haven’t I sent you?” or even, “Haven’t I sent you?”

So, we have God facing this little man, we have God saying “Go” and we have God having to repeat himself . . . is this enough for Gideon?  Nope,

Gideon said to him, “Me, my master? How and with what could I ever save Israel? Look at me. My clan’s the weakest in Manasseh and I’m the runt of the litter.”

Ok then, I gave a wow above when the passage indicates this is God . . . now I am double wowing – Gideon is basically saying, you have got it wrong God . . . how could I be this mighty warrior?

Three words stand out to me – “look at me”.  I have two incredible daughters and from time to time they shout these words to me, they usually mean “hey, Dad, look at me I am about to jump from this sofa to the other sofa and it is miles and oh by the way in mid air I am going to attempt a somersault and if I pull it off it is just going to be so incredibly AWESOME and If I don’t land it well it is probably going to result in a trip to casualty but hey, Dad, LOOK at ME!”  This is not the look at me that Gideon is talking about, he does not believe he is cool, he does not think who he is and what he does is amazing or worth noting . . . he is nothing, his “how?” and “what with?” add to that.

Gideon is maybe like us when we are called to do something, maybe we are not literally facing God – but, we have that response when asked to step up, do something, make a difference . . . “look at me.”  Meaning, “you have got to be kidding me – have you seen this” (and we point to everything we are – how we look, what we consider our worst qualities, we might even suggest other people . . . Lord, have you considered so and so, they would be great for this!)  That phrase “look at me” can also be one of total devastation, we cannot believe or hope for anything good to come from our own thinking or actions . . . “look at me.”  It is supposed to finish the argument, God has moved to be face to face – and Gideon has responded with basically a challenge – “ok, you have turned you gaze on me . . . but, have you really seen me God, have you really looked here – look at me.”

Then, another reply,

God said to him, “I’ll be with you. Believe me, you’ll defeat Midian as one man.”

“I’ll be with you”.  Those words should blow apart our reserve, our sense of personal defeat, our thoughts about ourselves and who we are.  I wonder if there was a pause in the conversation?  After Gideon had said, “look at me”, did God do that – stare intensely, up and down, drinking in all that Gideon was – truly seeing him and looking at him as nobody had ever done before?  Then he said “I’ll be with you.”  It is as if He says to Gideon, “Yes, I can see you Gideon, yes I have looked at you – now, you – you look at ME.”  It is a reminder of the times in the new testament when Jesus told his disciples, “I will be with you.” when they doubted, when they were afraid, when all they could see was trouble, pain, loss.  Those words echo down through the ages to you and me, in our circumstances, in our calling, in our disappointments and personal shame, in our brokenness – and we need to take hold of them and believe them – at the best and at the worst of times.  “I’ll be with you.”

BUT, we are not done yet in this conversation . . .

Gideon said, “If you’re serious about this, do me a favor: Give me a sign to back up what you’re telling me. Don’t leave until I come back and bring you my gift.”

Gideon is coming round to this.  As we sometimes do, but he is going to make sure – so, he has an “if”.  Alright God, I will do this . . . “if”.  Have you ever set something up for God in this way?  You know He is calling you to do something, be something, change something . . . but, you will just check first.  We can do this through “praying for confirmation”, which is a good thing to do . . . but, sometimes, we can “if” what we are being called to do into the realms of totally fantastic impossibility . . . for example, “Lord, I will do this thing, if an eagle flies down into my back garden and taps on the window to get my attention, nods three times and then flies away.” or “Lord, if three purple buses go past in the next 11 seconds I will do this thing you have called me to.” (we live on a bus route, but they are not purple) . . . you get my drift.

The other thing here that Gideon asks God to do is to wait.  “Don’t go anywhere . . . I will be right back.”  Gideon basically puts God on hold at this point.  This is incredible, what is he thinking?  But it gets more incredible,

“I’ll wait till you get back.”

God says ok, and then waits there.  Starts waiting for Gideon to get back.  I don’t know if he sat down, drew in the dirt, started counting the leaves on the tree and then thought (hang on, I made that tree . . . I know how many leaves are on it!) . . . what did God do?  He waited.  Stunning.  It seems incredible as we go through Gideon’s story – but, how many times have we effectively said the same to God?  “wait a minute?”  . . . “Can you just hang on?”  I don’t know if you have ever thought about the prodigal son in that way – there have been loads of different reflections on the parable that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 15, but for me, this is the most gobsmacking bit of the whole story,

“When he was still a long way off, His father saw him.”

This would only have been possible, as his son was a long way off, if the Father – every day, all day, had been out looking, out waiting, out watching for his son to return.  It is not about His faith that his son would return – it is the longing and love of the Father that put him there (probably standing on his roof, day after day watching the horizon and waiting).  It reminds me of the words Paul uses in Romans 5, (as the Message puts it),

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

That is the incredible love of God.  “While we were of no use whatever to him”, just like Gideon (who is all the things he thinks about himself in some ways . . . )  There is waiting in all these stories, Gideon – where God waits for this little man, the least of his tribe and the least in his family to return with a gift . . . not something God needs, but for Gideon it matters and God, in his infinite grace and goodness waits.  In the parable of the lost son in Luke 15, the love of the Father compels him to wait, waiting is key . . . and when he sees the son, the waiting is over!  But he has waited for that moment.  For us, for all humanity – Paul says “Christ arrives right on time” bringing good news and salvation.  To arrive at the right time, there has been waiting – God’s timing, waiting to bring in his very self made flesh, the incarnation of God, coming after 400 years of waiting . . . between the Old Testament and the New Testament . . . we can look at that and think, man, how long God’s people had to wait . . . but, it wasn’t them who were waiting.  It was God.  So that the Christ could come at just the right time.

He is waiting still – this is the gratuitous bit of God’s grace.  There is waiting until Jesus returns, we have received the Holy Spirit – we are not to wait or tarry or hang about, we are to be urgent and diligent and constant in prayer and action, seeking to bring in God’s kingdom wherever and whenever we can . . . yes, even us, even with our “look at me” stuff and our “I’m no ready” stuff and our “but Lord, I haven’t seen a purple bus yet.”

He is with us, even to the end of the age.  The Holy Spirit fills us and empowers us AND because of God’s outrageous grace and while He is waiting to return – we need to get on with all that God has given us to do.

Can we hear him saying those words to us today,

“Haven’t I sent you?” (think about what you have been called to do).

“I will be with you.” (think about who is with you as you are sent).

Maybe, we need to find a childlike faith and trust – the kind my daughters stun me with on a regular basis.  God sees us totally when we think or say, “look at me.” and, in his outrageous grace He is waiting for us to step in to all that He has for us through Christ Jesus.

Everyone is looking for you!

IMG_0858.JPG This is what the disciples say to Jesus in Mark chapter 1 verse 37. ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ Jesus has got up early, after being ridiculously busy it seems pretty much as soon as he has been baptised he is ‘immediately’ doing this and ‘immediately’ doing that – at least, that’s how Mark writes his gospel . . . Breathlessly. Anyway, if he is going to be this crazy busy, he needs time with his Father – recharge, a bit of peace – while it is still dark, he heads off to find it. Peace and space to pray. The disciples are having none of it and as soon as they are awake they are off trying to track him down, they find him – and, not only do they want to know where he is, everyone else does too. Maybe they started out looking for him by belting around in a frenzy shouting, ‘have you seen Jesus?’ . . . . I have never had ministry days like Jesus. But, I have had days when it seems everyone wants a piece of me. Life in ministry can feel like that – you know, your life stops actually being your own. Everyone owns a piece of your time, everyone expects stuff from you, and maybe they don’t always recognise that you have a life, a family, a home . . . Some people never stop, and they expect those around them to be the same. Or, being in ministry maybe you feel you ‘owe’ it to always be available so that no one every asks ‘where are you?’ Because you are always there. We cannot and should not always be there. I once worked for a church that gave me a flat to live in. A ground floor flat and, in the 1st floor flat lived a member of the church. It was pretty hard to have my own space, especially at weekends. We shared a garden and she would regularly walk round the garden, across the patio and peer in through my lounge windows – either to check I was in and reading the bible or preparing a talk, or to check I was out and evangelising the neighbourhood. Well, I was in my mid 20s and generally didn’t get up before 11am on a Saturday morning. It was on one such Saturday morning as I was lounging around in my pyjamas – mostly going backwards and forwards between the kitchen and my nice warm bed – when there was a knock on my front door. I decided to ignore it. The knock was repeated. I thought I would just keep quiet – as you do. I then heard the letter box flap being lifted and a voice speaking through it said, ‘Alasdair are you there?’ I recognised the voice, it was one of the deacons from the church. Again, I thought to myself, it’s Saturday – leave me alone! Then, to my astonishment, I heard a key in the lock and they were entering the flat. I was in my pyjamas in the bedroom and a middle aged lady had just let herself in to my flat. What was she doing? Pushing the door to my bedroom, she then entered and exclaimed, ‘what are you doing?’ (Seriously, what am I doing?!) . . . . I think I muttered something about making a cup of tea, I made her one too (once I had got dressed). I cannot believe this happened, I wonder if I have a false memory or something. I am older now, I have discovered a few things about being in ministry – full time now for 18 years . . . And here is the thing- everyone, at times, MIGHT be looking for you – but, if you want to survive in ministry, sometimes you just need to not be found. Rest is vital, space is vital, your OWN time with your friends who you are not constantly trying to disciple or nurture or evangelise or do a ministry thing to or with, time to watch a film without thinking you need to squeeze an illustration out of it for a talk otherwise it is a waste of your precious time to be watching it, you need space to have a glass of wine, or a pint, space for football or space when you are not watching football because there is a great allegory there to do with team work and body of Christ. Switch off. It does not matter that you cannot be found. Switch off too the things that make you contactable when you are supposed to be switched off. Turn off your mobile, give your friend your iPad . . . Yes, there is ministry to be done – it is never done. However, it is ‘finished’ Jesus for all the immediately stuff in Marks gospel, for all the worry of his disciples, for all the pain of the people, for all the trials and tribulations, for those times when you feel and you think and you say, ‘why can’t they leave me in peace for five minutes!’ It is finished, it is completed. Jesus accomplished something so completely on the cross that we might only discover the true extent of when we reach eternal rest. There might have been desperation in the disciples voices, but even Jesus needed time with his Father, even Jesus needed to get away from it all, even Jesus. We need to be still with the Father if we are to do ministry for the Father. Don’t get cross with yourself if you loose it when people are constantly after you and expect you to meet their needs, but – do take it as a warning that you need space, time, peace, quiet and prayer. We need to not worry if we are not found by the masses of people after us, we need sometimes to be only found in Him.

NYA – Vision to Reality – A Youth Work Offer for 2020?

There is a lot to commend in the NYA “A Vision for Youth Work” document . . . and some gaping holes.  

First, the commendable stuff ::

  • Young people need a viable local offer – and this needs to be a collaborative effort, with all potential stakeholders (especially young people) drawing up plans and strategy that will work locally.
  • As a national agency, the NYA has highlighted the value and significance of youth work – in essence informal education, at a time when many others are focusing on schools and formal education establishments as being the places where investment needs to happen for the future of young people.

This is all good.  However, there are some challenges as I read the document as a whole . . . 

Firstly, the “providers of youth work” . . . it is great that a broad spectrum is mentioned, but – my niggle here is that if you are going to mention a bunch of different types of providers (such as uniformed organisations), is it too much to mention faith based providers?  In parts of the country the faith sector is the major provider of youth work.  See the following extract from a report by the Rank Foundation

The most recent figures suggest that there are around 5,500 fte youth workers employed by churches and Christian agencies, more than the statutory youth service (Centre for Youth Ministry 2006). There are also said to be around 100,000 volunteers. Churches have become the largest employer of youth workers in the country.

The Church is not always great at highlighting the good work it is doing, nor keeping national track of that (with denominations and different streams within the church “counting” and assessing stuff in different ways – so, it is hard to give more recent figures than those above – but, the trend, if anything has been towards greater employment over the last 5 – 8 years . . . and, the Church is just a part of the faith sector . . . yet, it doesn’t get a mention in this list of providers.  The largest provider doesn’t get a mention.  This is a gap, whether intentional or not, that skews the conclusions and the NYA statements about what should happen to make their vision a reality.

Secondly, “the role of local government will be” . . . now, i have nothing wrong with local government being involved along with other providers, but, increasingly – local government is finding itself being held responsible for work it either is no longer doing, no longer has statutory responsibility for or is simply under resourced and cannot make stuff happen.  The level of funding now available for youth work – unless it meets very stringent requirements associated with targeted support – through local councils and districts is negligible; the number of workers that councils and districts have is diminishing by the day.  Local Government itself needs to be re-invested in, re-capitalised, if it is to play any meaningful role in youth service provision when we hit the year 2020!

Thirdly, and this where the holes open up in the vision from NYA – the “workforce”.  what will it look like, well in the vision document there are four elements highlighted, of those four the first three emphasise “qualified”.  Nothing wrong with that, except for who is going to determine what “qualified” means.  NYA want, and have it as a strain of thought throughout the organisation and hold it as a key value, recognition of youth work as a profession.  Again, nothing wrong with that – up to a point.  the fourth element of the workforce though, unlike any other profession i can think of absolutely DWARFS the other three in terms of numbers . . . just taking that 100,000 volunteers as mentioned above in the Rank document . . . in many places, if volunteers were not running youth work – there would BE no youth work.  They need support and training, agreed – but do they need to be “professionals” or “qualified” to be taking the lead in a small rural village with the youth club?  Infrastructure support is vanishing . . . that is a continuing trend, it is not going to be reversed by this vision document – and, appropriate training and support and ongoing supervision are essential elements for effective youth work.  A number of agencies over the last decade have been working on “workforce development” within Youthwork – across vast swathes of rural England, if not also in our urban areas – this support is left to the voluntary sector, Universities are continuing to close down their degree courses in youth work as the take up is poor . . . there is a big difference between having a vision and that vision being rooted in any kind of reality that can make it happen.   This, unfortunately, leads us to “what needs to happen to make our vision a reality.”  This is the biggest problem with the vision . . . 

If I have a vision, generally i accept it is something that I need to do.  Me, I need to be a contributor in making that vision a reality . . . it might be that the NYA consider writing this vision document is their contribution, but – the problem is not with what needs to happen, the problem is with who . . . 

The following statements in the document cause me concern, “Government must . . . “; “Government must . . . “; Government should . . . “; Local Government must . . . “; . . . . let me just say – Government HASN’T, and DOESN’T . . . I do not believe – unless there is a wholesale ethos change across the political parties – that anything will change here.  There are lots of expectations on others to make this vision a reality, others for whom it is not what primarily gets them up in the morning . . . they may pay lip service to investing in the next generation, but it is youth workers who live and breath “youth work” and making a difference in the lives of young people . . .

finally, my biggest gripe with the vision . . . and this stems from having sat in meetings with NCVYS and with NYA there too – and it is this final statement,

“Employers must require all youth workers to undertake JNC approved qualifications relevant to roles and responsibilities.”   

and this one, 

“A register of youth workers.”

JNC is fine, but it is not a panacea for those involved in youth work.  I have been doing youth work for 28 years, I have led large programmes at national events, i have (and do) run training and support and supervision for youth workers, I have line managed and supervised people who are on degree courses to obtain JNC recognised qualifications, from 2008 and to 2011 I studied for a MA in “Reflective Practice” and my youth work is done, primarily in a youth ministry context – where faith nurture and discipleship are the main areas of work.  IF we continue to head down this road then far more needs to be recognised as “qualifying” someone for being a youth worker or being engaged in youth ministry than what is JNC.

And, finally, right at the core of NYA philosophy is to have a system in place where you cannot call yourself or “be” a youth worker if you are not qualified in a certain way, and thus approved for a “register of youth workers.”  

We could find ourselves in the laughable situation where a majority of actual, genuine – yes folks it is youth work and youth ministry is being delivered by volunteers who cannot call themselves youth workers.

My own suggestion?

A decent round-table discussion with all the national representatives of NYA, NCVYS, Uniformed Organisations, YFC, Urban Saints, Scripture Union, Church of England and other national bodies + CYM, OASIS and awarding bodies to agree some criteria for recognising what IS BEING DONE, not create a system where those who already have the skills and are delivering youth work have to “prove it” . . . Oh, and if you look at other areas of national stuff where it used to be provided by the state – NHS and Education, private bodies are flocking around the dying bodies of those national institutions because there is money to be made and “where is the profit” is their bottom line.  Youth Work provision via local authorities has fallen apart, there is not such thing as universal provision anymore . . . where are all the private bodies and businesses and organisations . . . there isn’t any money in youth work, it isn’t why we do it.  

There is a vision for youth work and youth ministry provision that cannot be articulated in a way that a society built around a capitalist model can grasp.  It is right to invest in this generation of young people, it is vital to invest in this generation of young people . . . it is its own reward.

 

 

 

Place and Space – Essential for Life and Ministry

There are times in ministry when we need to find fresh places to “be”.  Whether that be a new place to live and work or a place to retreat that enables new thinking, a different perspective and . . . peace!  We live in such a transient world and culture, place becomes simply where we happen to be – and becomes less associated with a physical “place” (as – we have everything we need to function on our mobile devices that we carry with us everywhere . . . !)

Places can be significant for a whole variety of reasons, here are just a few that resonate with me ::

1.  Something happened.  I no longer associate the dentists waiting room with drills and teeth and that awful waiting to see if things need to removed or hacked away at or broken to bits in your mouth . . . you get the drift.  I received a text message while in the waiting room at the dentist and that day and that time became life changing!  The day, the place are etched in my being.  Nothing to do with dentists – it is the power of association with that place now, “ahh, this is where i received that message.”  Maybe you have places like that?

2.  Decision made.  Throughout scripture there are significant places where meetings have happened or something decisive has changed everything, these places are often marked as places of worship, places of remembrance – places of awe and wonder, places of “we must never forget what happened here.”  Maybe you have places that you associate with making decisions, choosing something – or they are places of encounter where maybe God has made His decision known to you.

3.  Vision.  Sometimes i just cannot see where to go, what should happen, what is worth fighting for and what needs to be let go of – what to keep and what to release, the “where next?” or the “I must re-discover what on earth I am here for!” i need a place for vision making, vision casting . . . there is an amazing place not far from me.  It is high up, a glorious vista of Sussex spreads out below – a physical and geographical vision helps me when I need to re-discover my place.  Where do i fit in to the grand scheme of things.  I find huge landscapes helpful – they remind me of how small i am.  I am not “it”, but i can get carried away with a vision . . . (which becomes my vision) and miss the point of what I am for, and who I am serving.  A big, huge, place where I can take in, drink in an awe inspiring view reminds me that i get to play a part, yes, but it is small.  Something about the air and the sky in a place that is wide open too helps me settle into “vision thinking” mode.  More just seems possible.  Someone once said, 

dreams + reality = vision

I can dream big dreams in a big place.  The reality bit is – the world is big, I am small.  But, God has done much in the past with small people . . . so i dream BIG!

Linked with this finding or being in a new “place” to encourage fresh thinking is actually having the space.  No demands, no blaring phones, no pinging messages, no open plan office, nobody standing at your right shoulder peering over you wondering what you are working on . . . space to think, space to be with my thoughts, with my God and – thats it.  I get energised when i am around people and can bounce ideas off others, but i can also get frenetic and frantic, TOO much zipping around in my brain . . . too many ideas, and colliding thoughts.  I can then leap from one thing, to another thing, to yet another thing . . . leaving half of what is behind me undone or not finished or i forget why i started something in the first place and move on to something else . . . to be a little bit more measured i need SPACE.

The picture that comes with this blog post is a place fairly recently found that is also going to double up as space.  When i have walked through this wood, open to the public, i have been amazed at how few other people are doing the same.  I can sit on a log for ages, and i could be in the wilderness.  It is beautiful, with the tallest tree in Sussex, winding paths, mossy caves that look like hobbit dwellings, carvings on fallen logs, even a yellow brick road (i kid you not) . . . a place of adventure, a place to catch a vision, a place to “be still and know” and a space to catch up with myself.  Pause and think.

Place and space, so important – obviously, we can’t stay there – we come back to where we work, where we live, where we interact with this crazy world, but – prayerfully and hopefully – with a bit more perspective and calm and with a little bit more of a sense of what we are doing and why.  Jesus drew Himself aside to spend time with the Father, and i can imagine He might have had places that were precious to Him and space to dream and see all that God was doing and would do . . . I am sure Jesus would have drawn on what he learnt in these places and spaces as He poured Himself out for those around Him, healing, blessing, encouraging, leading, nurturing, comforting and – ultimately, as he poured himself out for all of us.

Place and Space – essential for life and ministry.

 

 

Four things a youth leader should say to young people

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love?  These are the real questions.  I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will be many fruits, here in this world and the life to come

Henri Nouwen

I have said a lot over the years to the young people that I have worked with – not always echoing the words from Henri Nouwen above!  As I move into a new phase of ministry life, I am in reflective mood.  I have been thinking about when it has actually made a difference . . . . you know, the things I have said – when have my words actually helped?  So – this is my list of top things to say to young people ::

1.  I believe in you.  This needs saying!  Even the most confident (outwardly) young person i have worked with has been racked with self doubt and a certain level of self loathing, not believing in themselves or what they can do or become.  It is important because it gets to the heart of what things are about, the words build a young person up – but, they cannot come from nothing.  You can’t say these words to a young person you do not know – they are not general words of encouragement – they need to be directed at a young person you really know.  They are at times incredibly frustrating, ridiculous, lovely a pain, a nightmare and hilarious . . . but then, you say these words.  They say, “you can do it”, they say, “I am FOR you” and they matter incredibly to young people.  So often our focus in youth ministry can be – “HOW on EARTH can i get this young person to BELIEVE in God!”  There are a lot of things wrong with that statement . . . but, essentially, it is hard to believe in anything if you are not sure that what YOU believe make any difference or matters – that is partly human nature, but it off the richter scale with many young people.  Having personal confidence and having personal dignity and just valuing themselves will make such a difference as they consider eternal truth and the claims of Christ.  “I believe in you” is powerful and helpful – but, it also needs to be said when you actually DO believe in them – you see a spark, a light, a bit of steel, a determination deep within that young person that maybe they do not see themselves . . . a bit like Jesus seeing something in Peter as he called Him.

2.  I don’t know.  Of the four things i am mentioning – this one is the most difficult of the four.  A youth worker is often seen by the church, youth group, parents as THE answer.  And, the one that knows the ANSWERS – the one that will solve the “youth problem” the church is facing, the one that . . . you get the drift.  From a young persons perspective – when there is trust and relationship, we are also the ones that they bring their unanswerable questions to :: “why didn’t my nan get healed?”; “why this . . . “; “Why that . . . ” and also, “Where does the Bible say . . . ?” We have two problems if we don’t simply say “I don’t know” when we don’t know.  The first is obvious, we are not being honest and our young people will suss that out fairly swiftly and trust is damaged – trying to blag our way through with a cobbled together load of nonsense just isn’t real or right!  Secondly, we are not OWNING our lack of knowledge, we have bought the lie that we are the answer and – even if we don’t know – we should!  Well, no actually.  The longer i have been involved in youth ministry the more I have realised i do not know stuff – in fact, there seems to be a SCARY amount of stuff I do not know.  We need to be honest and say it when it is true.  It is also liberating.  It frees us and also our young people.  There is a great work written, scholars think, in the 14th Century – we don’t know who wrote it and it is aptly titled, “The Cloud of Unknowing” . . . there is an understanding in the book that to know the deep things of God takes a lifetime, not only do we “not know”, but – in this finite life, there are things we “cannot know”.  It is a mystical work, not dissimilar to “The Dark Night of the Soul”, by John of the Cross . . . this unknown author – again – we think wrote a final work called, “The Book of Privy Counselling”, in this they wrote,

Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.

It is not love to pretend we know when we do not, it is not love to make our faith one of simply “easy answers” . . . if we want to effectively disciple young people then there are times when we will need to say, “I don’t know”.

3.  You are Loved and Forgiven.  Number 2 was the hardest (i think) for a youth leader to say . . . this one is the hardest (i think) for a young person to believe.  It links with number 1, as we tell young people they matter, what they do counts . . . we tell them also that they are LOVED with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  One of the toughest things to communicate to young people is that they are loved and forgiven because – firstly, if you don’t love yourself it is hard to believe that anyone else can love you.  There are massive issues in our culture for young people right now – mental health problems, self harm and image problems, relationships, how young people view sex and sexuality as they are bombarded by unhealthy and unreal images of beauty and prowess and the pressure to achieve and attain at school and college and university . . . life is tough and many (adults too) feel a failure trying to navigate these challenges as a Christian.  We have somehow communicated an untruth in our explanation of the gospel – on the one hand, Jesus has died for our sin and rescued us and redeemed us – making us right with God – once he has done that though, the pressure appears to be back on “us” or – our young people – to then “live this out”.  They can’t and don’t – it is not possible.  It is sad that i so rarely hear good teaching on Romans anymore!  It absolutely nails it from chapters 5 – 8, taking us through what Jesus has done on the cross and the being “dead to sin, but alive to Christ” . . . why is this so important?  Because we have to live our lives “in the Spirit” (Romans 8) to be fully alive and be trusting, not our own strength to help us live as Christians – but to trust the Holy Spirit who is at work IN US!  It is not be force of will that i resist temptation, it is in the power of the Spirit.  We can miss all this stuff out in our teaching and somehow imply to young people that “now they are Christians” they should be able to obey the commandments and live like Jesus.  Messing up becomes cataclysmic in this scenario!  But, “i’m supposed to be a Christian!”, how can i have messed up . . . ??  Because you are a human being, because you are trying to “live” your life with Christ in your own strength . . . more so, when our young people mess up – they can descend into a spiral of criticising themselves for their failure, continuing to tell themselves negative things, go round in circles – asking for forgiveness even, but not receiving it (or rather, not believing they have been forgiven – because they can’t forgive themselves) . . . all pretty messed up – but, what we teach and model shapes our young peoples expectations of themselves – and also – their expectations of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives!  As youth leaders, do we live forgiven, restored, redeemed and free lives – or are WE racked with guilt about past mistakes, not forgiving ourselves and so finding this whole area a tough one to talk about and model to our young people?  Jerry Bridges, in “Pursuit of Holiness” says this, 

We’re more concerned about our own “victory” over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve God’s heart

Think about that for a moment.  Somehow, even when we are coming to God to ask forgiveness we can still make it about ourselves – more concerned that we haven’t been able to “beat” something, than that we have grieved God’s heart.  Our lives, in Christ, are no longer our own!  We are HIS – we ARE forgiven, we can boldly approach the throne room of God, true “repentance” means to head in a different direction . . . our lives are now GODward rather than Inward or focused on what we want and desire . . . yep, this is all big stuff to unpack.  But, if we cannot ALLOW God to forgive us – because we don’t believe we deserve it, we have totally missed the Gospel.  Lets help our young people grasp this and truly live in freedom, mess ups will happen – just look at the life of Peter (especially after He has received the Holy Spirit at pentecost, throughout the book of Acts he does some amazing things for God – and, messes up and gets it wrong too!) . . . our young people need to know their worth, they need to know there is nothing they can ever do to separate them from the love of God, they are loved now and forever – they also need to receive His forgiveness when they confess their sin.  We need to teach them the truth about themselves and what God has done, that helps them to do this . . . .

4.  What do you think?  Teaching young people how to think for themselves is critical if we want to make life long disciples.  Do they believe what we say the Bible says simply because we are saying it?  Think of the answer to a child who asks, “why?” and the reply they constantly get, “because i said so!”  We cannot disciple like this!  It isn’t discipleship.  Jesus had some great dialogue with his disciples and asked them what they thought.  The classic example is when they are discussing who people think Jesus is . . . and Jesus basically says, “thats great, people think this – people think that – but, who do you say i am?” (Mark 8:29) . . . er, um yes, well . . . then Peter steps up and nails it!  Jesus recognises it is the Holy Spirit that has enabled Peter to get there . . . in saying it though, Peter then discovers who he is and who is to become . . . thinking stuff through and yes, reaching our own conclusions prayerfully under God – is what many of us do as adults – we need to teach discernment to our young people, but this is very different from deciding for them!  It is the difference between teaching and telling – a difference brilliantly illustrated by Paulo Freire in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, chapter 2, as he highlights the attributes of “teaching” without dialogue and questions, 

the teacher teaches and the students are taught;
the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;
the teacher talks and the students listen — meekly;
the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;
the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;
the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;
the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;
the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.

Just to pick up on one phrase above, the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher – in this i think of charismatic leaders who simply expect young people to emulate them, to believe and trust in them (which is not the same as putting their trust in Jesus) and, actually, there is an illusion of personal faith – but it is built upon another persons faith – rather than the faith of the young person, they don’t believe something themselves, they believe something is true because the youth leader has said it . . . 

A questioning, exploring faith – as Jesus encouraged in the disciples leads to the young person working out their faith – developing their relationship with God, it is interesting that we theologically and doctrinally believe that (as Paul puts it), “there is one mediator between God and people.” (1 Timothy 2:5), and yet – so often in practice, we can introduce an additional mediator, the pastor, the priest, the youth worker . . . we MUST create conversation and dialogue as we explore faith together with young people . . . “what do you think?” tells a young person their view matters, “what do you think?” gives a young person a chance to accept or reject what they are hearing, “what do you think?” gives a young person permission to share their view, “what do you think?” is following Jesus’ example . . . and, for me in my practice – i have been challenged and inspired in my faith as young people have answered that question.  

So there are my four key things to say to young people, there are obviously other things!  I have just found that these four have born fruit more than anything else i might have said or done in my youth work practice . . . give them a go!

The Resource begins!

TheResource_Logo_Col-1Well, after months of anticipation – “The Resource” begins!  Already had a great couple of days . . . . Getting ready for and then hosting a “refresh” day yesterday with youth and children’s workers at St Bartz and, this morning been on UCB Radio talking about YPs Guide to Starting Secondary School on behalf of my friends at CWR. Today I am working away on stuff for Youth Work the Conference and editing “The Resource” mailshot which should then be going out on Monday . . .  SO much to come, SO looking forward to supporting, resourcing and equipping youth and children’s workers through “The Resource” 🙂  

children's, youth and family ministry / discipleship / mission / leadership