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.
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.
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
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!
mega update! I have left the whole of what was posted on 10th May – but, a quick update! We now have the start up costs – all £2000 – this is truly humbling and amazing. Thank you so much for your prayers, encouragement and support – for those of you who have already got in touch saying you would like to go on ‘The Resource’ distribution list to receive updates and news – we plan to put the first of those out in the 2nd week of June. Hopefully, a mix of great resources to recommend – a bit more information about how ‘The Resource’ is going to work AND a couple of dates for the autumn that will be regional ‘resource evenings’ one looking at resources for children’s work and one focusing on youth work – sign up through the email address highlighted below if you haven’t already done so!
Many of you know that there has been a re-structuring process at Church House, Diocese of Chichester and, as a consequence, my post “Adviser for work with children and young people” has been deleted and I will be taking redundancy at the end of July 2014.
As a family, we have been on a difficult journey since we first received notification of the re-strucuturing plans in November, but, first we would like to say a HUGE thank you to all the people who have supported us during this time. We have been very aware of your prayers!
We have spent a lot of time praying and seeking advice from some wise friends and family. Through all of this, we have continued to feel that we are where God wants us to be, doing what God wants us to be doing. We are passionate about seeing children and young people meet with Jesus, know His fullness of life and have their lives transformed by His grace and love – and we remain committed to serving God by encouraging, equipping and supporting the church across Sussex in its work with children and young people.
Therefore, at the beginning of September, we are planning to launch “The Resource”, a ministry which will be available to support and equip anyone involved in work with children and young people through training, consultancy, mentoring and running equipping events.
This is both exciting and daunting! In many ways we are stepping out in faith and trusting that as we follow what we believe is God’s call on our lives, He will provide for us. Our desire is to generate sufficient income that every church who wants support from me can receive it, regardless of their budget!
And so we are asking if you would pray for us. We have an amazing support team made up of local church leaders and youth workers and, as we meet with them, please pray we would clearly see God’s footsteps and follow in them. That we would have wisdom as we begin this next part of our adventure with God and that God would use this ministry to transform the lives of children, young people and their leaders.
If you would like to be on our regular mailing list to receive future updates from us as well as the resource e-news and details of any training events then please let us know on this new email address Email Me .
And, finally, if you can give financially that would be amazing – please let us know if you would like to do that – we reckon, to kick off in September, we need a start up amount of about £2000 (for the purchase of equipment such as phone and lap-top and to enable travel and meetings in the first few months). As “The Resource” becomes established, we are hoping for an income of about £1500 a month – whether through gifts that enable the work and / or from paid work.
Thanks again for your support, friendship and encouragement. Do keep in touch and feel free to pass on this blog post!
# Attitude. The ‘smile’ represents an attitude that is within it does not mean you must walk around and grin and bear it. Jesus Christ had a purpose. His eyes were fixed firmly on the cross from about half way in each of the synoptic gospel accounts of his life (Matthew / Mark / Luke). Nothing was easy about his goal, his purpose – what enabled Jesus to see it through was the attitude that Paul comments on in Philippians Chapter 2. Jesus is not striving or stretching or overreaching, he has laid everything down. Becoming ‘nothing’ – as the passage says,
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! [Philippians 2:7, 8 NIV]
Other versions of scripture refer to this ‘attitude’ as mindset. Think for a minute about how you think. Your mindset will often determine your ‘purposefulness’ – foe example, if you stub your toe when you get out of bed in the morning – is your day a total write off? Jesus held onto NOTHING, he claimed for himself NOTHING, did not allow ANY sense of entitlement to mess with his focus and purpose on earth. He wore His ‘Being God’ lightly . . . . I don’t know about you, but sometimes in life and ministry my attitude can stink. I can be thrown off course by thoughts of ‘ this isn’t fair’ or ‘why isn’t this happening?’ ‘How come stuff at the church up the road is working out – but not for me?’ Attitude! Linked with attitude and flowing from it is our heart motivation, our very values and the things we say are precious to us – like actually BEING a servant (as Jesus came to be) can grate or be hard to actually LIVE OUT if our attitude is wrong. So, first thing, check your attitude! The first and most important part of the ‘pyramid of purpose’.
# Creative Thinking. We were MADE to be creative! I have met a bunch of youth workers over the years who have told me they are ‘not creative’, but – they can write a cracking drama, they can inspire their youth group with an illustration, they are a technical wizard, they can think of the perfect video clip to go with a talk . . . Creativity is simply about having time to THINK. Our attitude (which is why it is #1 will obviously affect our ability to think. I love what we are encouraged to think about in scripture,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. [Philippians 4:8 NIV
Try this test. When you get to the end of a youth work session or a piece of work, and you are FED up – maybe your whole team or those you work with have HAD it. Instead of picking over the disaster like vultures, why not read that passage – we find it MUCH easier to think negatively, this stifles and can kill our creative, hopeful self. Regardless of what has happened – there is something worth celebrating in there somewhere!
I love NCIS (an American criminal investigative drama), the main character, Gibbs, has a bunch of rules he tries to live by. Rule number 5 is ‘you don’t waste good’. How many times do we waste good, because we don’t think differently about what is going on? An evening session might have been a disaster in some respects – but – that young person who was always dipping in and out has been regularly for the last three weeks. I have even simply settled for, ‘I know this whole thing is a disaster (a youth group I am running for example!), but if we know that – and the young people know that – God MUST be doing something, because they keep showing up!’ That might not feel like much sometimes, but let’s not make the BEST or the IDEAL the enemy of the simple straightforward ‘good’ that is staring us in the face. Get creative with your thinking . . .
Our attitude (giving us the right mindset) and our thinking (giving us space to be creative and ‘see’ in new ways) should then lead to the ‘out working’ bit of this pyramid of purpose – which is:
# Service. The hand, open and out stretched for me represents me asking the question of myself, ‘how can I support, encourage, enable, serve, equip, bless, nurture others?’ IF our purpose is self promotion or some kind of self actualisation, I don’t believe we will ever be satisfied – purpose is about pursuit – but not for ourselves, for the sake of others. A calling is a HIGHER thing than that! Maintaining our purpose, and fulfilling our purpose is tied up in our willingness to serve. IF we get to a place where we don’t want to serve others or can’t be bothered – alarm bells should be ringing!! Maybe we need time out, we might need to examine our attitude and how we are thinking about who we are and what we are doing.
Serving takes us out of ourselves. True serving is also about the other (not the benefits we get from serving), we CAN do stuff for others . . . We can even tell ourselves we are being generous and sacrificial, unless they don’t notice or don’t thank us and take it for granted – THEN, well, THEN we take our ball in and don’t play! We need to find contentment in the act of service. Back in that Philippians passage, Jesus took the nature of a servant. When Jesus washed his disciples feet, at least initially, the LAST thing they were thinking of was thanking him. Peter especially was horrified.
Maybe, we need to horrify people with our service! We aren’t doing it for ourselves, and – in some ways – we aren’t doing it just for them either. It is what Jesus calls us to if we are in ministry!
None of these three things are reliant upon what you (or I) are actually doing for a job. We don’t need to have the job of our dreams or the perfect boss or the ideal working situation to work with this pyramid of purpose.
We need to cultivate the attitude of Christ in our heart and mind (get HIS mindset); we need to think – in such a way that all the creativity that begun the universe – is at our fingertips, because we are made in Gods image, creativity and imagination and ideas are in our ‘born again’ DNA . . . and we need to get on with serving others – right where we are, right now. This IS purpose!
I can’t quite get my head round the current debate – unwittingly (or was it?) kicked off by David Cameron – about whether or not Britain is a Christian Country. Letters from secularists to newspapers, twitter is all a flap – many comments appear to be either ‘of course it is’ or ‘of course it isn’t’ and then there are comments writers who are proclaiming that Britain both ‘definitely is’ and also proclaiming that it most definitely ‘is not’ in the same articles!
Thankfully, as with so much debate that appears to be very much of its day – we have been here before. I say that, with a few caveats – which I will get to . . .
But, before that, my own context and understanding as a children’s and youth worker for both local church, regional and national Christian organisations over the last 28 years tells me that:
:: Firstly, We are engaged in children’s and youth work in a world that is no longer ‘Christendom’ – books have been written about this in recent years, my three personal favourites would be ‘Postmodern Youth Ministry‘ by Tony Jones; ‘Ambiguous Evangelism‘ by Bob Mayo and ‘Youthwork After Christendom‘ by Jo and Nigel Pimlott. If you are after a ‘primer’ on the challenges of Christian children’s and youth ministry today – start with these. Follow these up with ‘Almost Christian‘ by Kenda Creasy-Dean. This book, although American – gives a pretty accurate picture of the state of the church in the ‘western World’ in particular, The States, Canada, Australia and the UK . . .
:: Secondly, I am also taking the view (because it is mine!) that ‘Christian’ means being a Christ follower, a disciple of Jesus. Someone who has acknowledged their need of a Saviour, given their life to Christ and is seeking to live for Him daily. This is not someone who knows some stuff ABOUT Christianity, or ABOUT Jesus. I am talking about a Christian as someone who KNOWS Jesus and desires to put Jesus at the centre of their whole life.
So, with those two caveats – I don’t know what to say about the current debate. It seems to me (frustratingly) to be about Religion, about ‘values’ and where we have got our ‘morals’ from and being proud of our history – and, obviously, a focus (by some) of all the rubbish done in the name of Christianity or Religion or BIG institutional stuff . . . . Jesus did not break the power of sin and death to lay the ground work for religious institutions – but to reconcile all things to Himself!
Anyway . . . . I don’t want to get lost in having a debate with a few people about my tiny perspective (my view point) on this huge subject – but, would like to refer ALL those interested in this debate (the exasperated too, like myself) to Wilberforce!
He wrote a cracking book, 200 years ago – uncannily he could have written it in response to SOME of the articles and thought and comment going on right now about whether we are a Christian Country – it has commonly been known as ‘Real Christianity’ but has the longer title of, ‘A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classed of this Country contrasted with Real Christianity’ (a bit of a mouthful, so you can see why it was shortened!) . . .
Essentially, Wilberforce was encouraging his readers to throw off a kind of ‘cultural Christianity’ and pursue what he saw as ‘authentic Christianity’ which was a life of faith, lived after Jesus Christ. Not something that a person is simply born into, neither was it something to benignly be a ‘part of’ without fully grasping what a person believed and why they believed it. He sparked a debate, a fair bit of repentance and laid some of the ground work for seeing the slavery of the time banned!
This isn’t the debate that seems to be happening. We seem to be sat in that cultural malaise and discussing the cultural ‘merits’ of Christianity – which seems to be totally missing the point of being ‘Christian’!
Lord God, how I pray for men and women of God like Wilberforce to be raised up in this generation and have the kind of influence he had on this nation – would that such a book could be written today (and find a publisher!)
When Moses came down the mountain from his meeting with a God carrying the two stone tablets of the covenant law – his face shone beams of light, his face was SO radiant that he had to wear a veil. The face of one who had met face to face with God, was too much for those who had not (and could not). From then on, Moses unveiled his face when he went in to the tabernacle and met with God, replacing the veil when he was with the people to hide the radiance. Temple worship proceeded from then . . . We fast forward to those from the temple in Jesus day, who had become corrupt and crooked – the temple where the tables were overturned, the home of those who plotted Jesus’ downfall, the place of the pious, the set apart, the elite – the people who sent the temple guards (not roman soldiers) to arrest Jesus. Those FROM the temple, wanting to get rid of and destroy the very one who should have been the focus of their worship!
On the cross, as Jesus is breathing his last, the temple veil is torn in two. This veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple – only the High Priest could go in. The equivalent of Moses meeting with God up the mountain or in the tabernacle. With Jesus death two things are being emphasised when the curtain is torn in two:
:: Everyone now has access to the holy of holies, to this most intimate place of worship. Anyone and everyone can come, Jesus makes this possible by dealing once and for all with sin and death.
:: Temple worship is finished.
As we arrive at Easter Sunday morning I am just pondering if we really live beyond the veil? Is everyone welcome – are all able to come? Do we still have ‘worship’ pecking orders in the church? Do we live unveiled lives? Surely, my face should be more radiant than it is – I have Christ IN me by the power of the Holy Spirit! I am also asking whether sometimes in the church we have returned to a kind of temple worship. We measure commitment, still (though we might say we don’t) according to attendance at worship services in buildings. We measure our effectiveness at being ‘church’ on how many we can gather in one place on a Sunday – rather than whether those from our worshipping communities are seeking to live out their unveiled – Jesus is alive – all are welcome – all can come in – lives in a world in such desperate need.
The temple was done with. Even after the great commission from Jesus, to GO – it was some years later, and with a challenge from Paul to the Jerusalem based apostles – they needed to get OUT and move on! Things would no longer be centred around the temple, around Jerusalem – the veil has been torn, the temple is DONE and – Beyond it is a world waiting to be born.
This is fairly blunt – but, we can easily get distracted from what is eternal and timeless (and priceless) by what is immediate, offers the ‘latest’ or most ‘current’ thinking, gives us a recommended formula, is something that – despite the 2000 years of a Christian history that we have yet to realise – something ‘new’!
The truth is that what MAKES for great ministry is not the latest thing but eternal things. The values that we have have as we go about our ministry with children and young people are far more important than what we actually DO.
– No programme can beat authentic relationships.
– No charismatic leader that likes the lime light can beat a dedicated volunteer who desires the best for the young people.
– No special events to keep it ‘interesting’ can match week in week out commitment to ‘being there’
My previous 4 posts were focused in what young people need from the church: acceptance / love / guidance / significance – these ‘needs’ do not change, they have not changed in the time I have been doing children’s and youth ministry – I have to confess though, I have sometimes disappeared off after the latest idea or trend or ‘transform your ministry’ model. Sometimes it can be a subtle thing that distracts us – the church up the road tries dome thing different (it might be right for them) and then I have assumed I can ‘transplant’ that thing to what I am doing . . . James Dobson once said,
comparison is the root of all inferiority
Equally true in ministry as for whether my six pack (ha) matches up to the guy who just ran past me . . .
The values we have and the values we instil in our young people are the things that will last. Don’t loose your values in a desire to keep up – let values drive your work with young people, let those values shape the kind of ministry you lead and invest in.
We started with acceptance which prepares the ground for young people to be loved into being – we now come to one of the key tensions and challenges in what the church provides for young people. Guidance.
Guidance is a big deal because there are differing understandings of what this looks like. For some churches this appears to be a discipleship approach that involves ‘telling’ – instructing young people in what they must do to behave. Telling them what is right – and then expecting them to just do it. A guidance approach that often struggles with questions, then gets exasperated if they are asked and finally responds when challenged with ‘because I said so!’
Then, there is the guidance approach that encourages young people to discover for themselves, work stuff out, learn from their mistakes and maybe clarity is missing . . .
Somehow we need to find balance – guidance is essential – but what does it look like? This isn’t about the answers, none of these ‘what young people need’ posts is about what we ‘do’ so much as who we are, the values that underpin our work with children and young people. So, what values should steer our approach to guidance.
Let’s start here,
Train a child in the way they should go – even when they are old they will not turn from it
‘Train’ here is the Hebrew word, ‘chanak’ – there are four ideas associated with the word:
#1. To Dedicate. Often accompanied by sacrifice, this was serious stuff – a dedication to The Lord – think of Hannah brining Samuel to the temple and dedicating him to the Lord’s service and you get the idea.
#2. To Throttle. Ok, calm down! This was about constricting or narrowing in order to discipline, like. bit in a horses mouth – think of reigns on a toddler as they are learning to walk!
#3. To Introduce. In discipleship terms we are introducing children, getting them started on the ‘way’, but more than that – we are not just introducing them to Christian practice – but introducing them to Jesus himself. He, himself IS the way.
#4. To Initiate. I LOVE what this means! It’s about creating an appetite for something – in order to get a baby to suckle, it was the habit in the Middle East to put oil or crushed dates in the roof of a babies mouth so they could begin to get a taste for food. I love that, TASTE and see that The Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)
This is ALL from that one word ‘train’! So much in this verse of scripture, we can read it and miss the depth, the range and scope of what is meant here. Also, we can feel (I certainly do as a parent) overwhelmed with the responsibility – what if we stuff it up?
As children and young people grow, their abilities and their talents, their sheer gobsmacking range of choice; their engagement with a world that is now available at the swipe of a finger 24/7; their presence in a virtual world visiting places and interacting with people their parents have never met . . . We can feel overwhelmed and ‘out gunned’ or at least out paced with the changes that are happening that we can’t keep up with – but, also, the shift in the way our culture perceives the young – whether that is marketing products; encouraging young people to buy this, go here, watch this, download that . . . How – in the midst of a world we do not understand can we hope to ‘guide’?
I am reminded of the first Spider Man film from a few years ago – and the wise words of uncle Ben to Peter Parker,
With great lower comes great responsibility
Uncle Ben was watching Peter grow up – and he didn’t know he was Spider Man, but could see, as he was becoming a man, the struggles, challenges and temptations that lay ahead. Yet, at the same time recognising the incredible power that Peter had as a young man with his destiny laid out in front of him – just waiting for him to step into it!
There is incredible strength and vitality and energy and passion and zeal and desire amongst young people – yet, such responsibility to use what we have been given – the gift of life and the gift of our talents and abilities wisely. Our young people need our help – we must dedicate them, sometimes reign them in, introduce them to the truth found in who Jesus is and initiate them in the ‘way’.
Young people want and need boundaries and clarity. Clear guidance. I was once speaking to a group of young people in a class in school – one boy asked me, ‘how far should I go with my girlfriend?’ There are some ‘pat’ answers that are expected in a school context for this kind of question to do with being safe, being comfortable together – but, I realised he actually wanted me to tell him. Seriously, TELL ME what is OK? Nobody is telling our young people what is ok!
I think about the changes in society, the overwhelming pace of things, the world of young people – and then – MY guidance? Really? BUT – absolutely – yes, we must guide – maybe using those four ideas associated with that word in Proverbs as a steer. We need to not panic, we have a remarkable wealth of amazing stuff to train our young people in. The BIBLE is – obviously – incredible, and there is SO much in it – as exploring one word in one verse shows!
The kind of guidance we need is that which draws our young people into an incredible joinery of discovery and transformation as they come to know Christ. Our EXAMPLE in this is the greatest guide – FOLLOW me, as I follow Christ – guidance is about us, BEING a guide – showing them around the magnificence of scripture, the rich heritage of faith, the stories of incredible love and sacrifice found within the BIble and throughout the history of the Church.
The word ‘tradition’ literally means to ‘pass on’ it is what we should fundamentally be asking ourselves as we seek to train and Gide the next generation – WHAT must we pass on? What is essential for faith to take root and for life in Christ to grow and blossom.
Coming back to the ‘power’ thing and responsibility and feeling overwhelmed – this verse has always encouraged me,
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
Love. Obvious right? Well, yes – but, in my experience, this is where the rubber hits the road for the Church. It’s hard not to love jazz funk, really great coffee, marmite, repeat viewings of ‘The a Great Escape’ and my lovely wife and daughters (that is not a list in order of importance by the way) – unfortunately, in English we are stumped by having just that one word for love. Love.
In The Greek, we have ‘Agape’ this is the kind of self giving, sacrificial love that has been poured out on us by Jesus and it is this kind of love that our young people should be experiencing when they come into contact with the Church. Holding no record of wrongs, hoping and persevering kind of love – always trusting, going above and beyond kind of love. What happens when people ‘blow it’ in our churches? What happens when that is a young person?
One of the toughest verses in scripture is this,
Love your neighbour as yourself
This comes as Jesus is summing up the law and the prophets – He has just given the greatest command and then said the second is like it and then smack – love others – the way you love yourself! Ok. Here is the question then – and we don’t ask this often enough – HOW do we love others, if we don’t love ourselves? This builds on from acceptance – the first need I mentioned – and is crucial for the well being of our young people, they must know they are loved and loved unconditionally. There is a great phrase I have come across – it is this:
loved into being
Simply this, we love people SO much – that they are loved into a good place, loved into a living, breathing, life could be good here, hopeful – life has possibilities and I am LOVED place. Our young people often need to be loved into being. So many of the young people I have encountered in years of ministry do not love themselves, struggle to believe that they are loved, that they are special, that they matter.
Dash, from the film The Incredibles puts it pretty well. He is being challenged by his mum when he is moaning in the car. Dash really wanted to do athletics at school, but being so fast would just beat everyone – he is frustrated and only wants to show how special he is and use his gifts. His mum says,
everyone’s special Dash
that’s just another way of saying no one is
Ahh. A child’s logic. If we are all special, what makes me special? And, we have another tough scripture verse here too,
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life
So well known! So well used! But, while some young people can get that God loved the world that He gave His son, they struggle with their part of the world, the bit of the world that they inhabit – the bit of the world that is different because they exist there. Everyone is special – they get that. Somehow though, for many young people, that ‘everyone’ can’t mean them.
This is where we need to step up for each and every young person and love them into being. Demonstrate the love that Jesus talks about with Nicodemus at the dead of night (did you ever notice that? This incredible passage of scripture in John 3 is a one to one conversation – a profound truth, Jesus precious time, the most famous verse about Gods love and salvation in the Bible – not shared from a platform to a crowd, but with one man). We need each young person to know – you are not just part of the youth group, or the crowd of young people – YOU matter. YOU are loved.
IF we can SEE each young person as Christ sees them we will accept them and we will also love them. Let’s see each young person we encounter discover and catch something of the love of Jesus for then through our lives, through our example, through who we tell them they are – let’s persevere, let’s not leave anyone behind, let’s love our young people into a better place . . .
Let’s encourage our young people to believe the following is true, not just for everyone – but true for THEM,
I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers, or height or depth, or any other thing that is created