21st Century CHRISTIAN

21st Century Evangelicals21st Century Evangelicals – A Snapshot of the beliefs and habits of evangelical Christians in the UK.

This is my reflection on the above named report just published by the EA – get your own copy here.

I have to be honest and start by saying that I struggle with the term “evangelical” . . . not because I am not one, but because I am not necessarily perceived as one by everyone in the evangelical wing of the Church.  I work to serve the whole Church in my Diocese . . . and this can sometimes be a challenge – in my role as adviser for work with children and young people, I find that the next generation of leaders (our young people) are largely the same across the churches . . . many of them would find themselves during the week rubbing shoulders with “Christians” from other denominations and other streams . . . often in a way that their parents, and adults in the church at large never do.  They share life together. 

The other dynamic that is interesting in actually “being” in an evangelical church (both growing up in one and working in one for 7 years) is how little that term is used to describe the church . . . paradoxically, I was in a couple of churches that routinely referred to themselves as “charismatic” but you would not know that from a Sunday morning service!

labels are notoriously slippy things . . . but as I have got older, I have felt far more comfortable with calling myself a “follower of Jesus”, than identifying myself with a particular stream . . . this might be because I do not believe that the Church that Jesus sees is an evangelical one . . . the Church that Jesus sees is the one church, one faith, one Lord type . . . which (incredibly) almost every different kind of church will refer to without irony . . . yet in towns across Sussex there are “Churches Together” groups which only seem to welcome and accept “particular” churches . . . based on whether they are consider evangelical “enough” . . .

Young people do not care about these differences and quibbles.  This, sadly, is not new . . I say sadly – because division in the church whether across gender divides / churchmanship divides / protestant catholic etc . . . is not new.  Back in the 1950s, an excellent book by JB Philips called “New Testament Christianity” referred to young peoples annoyance at the lack of unity in the church . .

“I find that there is a definite movement towards a united Church, and a very deep desire to see the end of “our unhappy divisions”. I have found this strongly marked desire in all denominations, including my own, and for myself I would say that unless a man is completely blind and bigoted, he could scarcely deny that the living Spirit of God is using gentle but considerable pres­sures to bring all Christians together. Young Christians particularly, many of whom are in daily contact in office, garage, factory, and workshop with ardent young Communists, find the tragedy of a divided Christendom a painful obstacle to their witness. As has been brought home to me so many times, the points of agreement among the Christian denominations are so very much larger than the points of disagreement that, surrounded as we are by a largely pagan world, it is the height of folly to say or do anything which postpones the process of unity or perpetuates our differences. Prayer is prob­ably the best weapon here, since a real influx of the living Spirit into existing denominations would quickly expose the stupidity and sin of maintaining denominational bar­riers of which, be it firmly said, many keen young Chris­tians are not even aware.”

JB Phillips, New Testament Christianity (Hodder & Stoughton, 1956)

And so to the research from the EA . . . in particular, the trend among 16-25s (titled in the research “The Future of Evangelical Christianity”) to not call themselves “evangelical” . . or, to be unsure . . . at a young age then, the figures in the report would suggest to me an openness and a lack of concern about defining what it means to be a follower of Jesus . . . it is disturbing to me that (apparently) the older people get the more we are hammered into submission when it comes to denominational affiliation or being required to take a particular stance – the most worrying aspect of what Phillips writes is that those young idealists he talks about, who were young people in the church in the 1950s, grew up and reinforced the differences that existed in the church just as the generations before them had done so . . .

Unity, at least according to Christ, revolves around Him . . . (see John 17) rather than a particular doctrine / theology / churchmanship – young people in the Church, I believe, love Jesus – but have no time for the additional labels other than Christian (Christ follower, Jesus follower) . . . do we need to “re-define” evangelicalism or do we need to ask them, with humility, what they think it means to be, simply, a follower of Jesus? 

We might be suprised by their answer.  At some point, one of the next generations that comes along . . . (Gen Xers have not been allowed to) need to be given the space to shape the future of the church . . . rather than those of us who are older (who have presided over a shrinking Church in this country) to presume we need to tweak our language, but essentially ensure “evangelicalism” continues . . . is the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, and Jesus Himself is glorifed . . . and there begins to be a greater movement towards an ecumenism without “denominational” or “stream” bias, and “evangelical” disappears from our vocabularly . . . does it matter? 

Ultimately, what is more important?  Andy Frost, commenting on the report says that evangelicalism needs to be redefined as “grace and truth” . . . JESUS is grace and truth – do we need to make it more complicated.  Grace and Truth are found in a CATHOLIC Eucharist an EVANGELICAL preach and a CHARISMATIC worship service . . . if Christ is the centre of our worship it is time we properly acknowledged Him as Head of our Church . . . all of it.

Advertisements

Heading off Oblivion // One Generation from Extinction

I wrote the follow review (“One Generation from Extinction”) a while ago . . and would just add this suplemental – the “church” is sleepwalking towards oblivion.  I say that because what is often reported in the Christian media are the accounts of unmitigated disaster . . . or something amazing that transforms lives . . . in between (and obviously not considered newsworthy) is the mundane, the boring, the just “not very good”.  The vast number of children and young people who continue to leave the church are not leaving because it is awful . . . it is just that there is not much to what most churches engage in that excites the imagination, forms faith or develops disciples . . . mediocre is going to be the death of us. 

This is not a reflection on those serving children and young people in our churches faithfully, week in and week out . . . they, alone, cannot usher in a new age of growth in the Church . . . it will take the whole church to wake up!  Church leaders, parents, grandparents, 20 somethings, 30 somethings . . . we all need to get a grip and start making a difference together for the next generation. 

Some years ago, Penny Frank wrote a book called, “Every Child a Change to Choose” . . . published in 2002 (with it came a website and resources to encourage evangelism amongst children) . . . it did not last long, and the book is just a footnote in Christian publishing history . . . about the same time, Margaret Withers was a year into her job as “Arbishops Adviser on Evangelism among Children” . . . this post ceased in 2006 (work finished?  Children now “reached”?) . . . nope.  Please, lets not let Marks book just be an “interesting” read, or something worth thinking about what when we have more time, or something we recommend to others because it is not really “our bag”. 

This “bag” is everyones . . . there is an old (and oft quoted) african proberb, “it takes a village to raise a child” . . . we need to rediscover what it means to be Church, literally, the “community of the called out ones”.  If as adults in the church there is nothing distinctive about who we are and what we do as followers of Christ . . . it follows that we do not have much to pass on to the next generation.  We maybe need to rediscover what we are here for.  Marks book helps the church begin to do this – not if we read it, but if we do what it says.

[Review] “One Generation from Exctinction”, Mark Griffiths, Monarch (2009)  This is the most important book / report written about children’s ministry (and how the church needs to engage with children and their families) for the last ten years.  Why do I say that?  Well, it not only unpacks some excellent research with some uncomfortable conclusions – hence, perhaps, the title – but, unlike many books before – it goes on to articulate from Mark Griffiths’  own practice how we, as the church, might go about making some changes in children’s ministry that have a lasting impact.

What is great about the whole book is that everything Mark discusses or proposes is based on the evidence found in the research.  This is an academically rigorous piece of writing, theologically stretching and yet, at the same time, eminently practical.  I guess this is what happens when you have the uncommon combination of an academic and a practitioner in one person!

The first part of the books gives a great overview of where we have come from since the very first Sunday school to the current challenging circumstances the church finds itself in.  This, in itself, makes the book worth a read – particularly the eye opening “fifties freefall” – as Sunday school moved from afternoons to the same time as morning services, the church subsequently lost half its children in one generation.  There is more to it that that – but you have to get the book!  There follows a detailed exploration of case studies carried out on a number of kids clubs.

In the second part of the book as Mark explores how we connect with the un-churched child there is a very helpful exploration of theology and an excellent critique of church practice and what helps (and hinders) effective work with children.  There are ideas and concepts, insights and nuggets of truth on almost every page in this section.  In Mark’s conclusion, there are recommendations that deserve more notice than a quick read of my review . . . they deserve close attention and prayerful action – if we are to grow the church and make sure the title of this book is not prophetic.

The gift of a child

I have two daughters, amazing gifts from God.  Hannah is five, Ellie was two earlier this month!  They are a constant delight (and occasionally, challenge)!  The gift of children though, is not just for me and my wife to enjoy.  Our children have doting grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, godparents etc.  Children are as much a gift to the community of faith as to individual parents.

As we are approaching the final day of advent, my children have been building an advent calendar with shepherds, angels, wise men etc – all gathering around the manger . . . ready for the 24th when Jesus will be placed in his crib (I know, a day early) . . . we nothing more after the nativity accounts in the gospels about the shepherds or the wise men (once they avoid Herod and head home) . . . but, what was a private journey to Bethlehem to a place where there was no room . . . those who came and worshipped found room for the Christ child in their hearts . . . the shepherds could not wait to share the news and the family celebration became a community event!

There is an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”.  In the same way, it takes the community of faith to help children grow – to feel that they belong as part of that community, and the faith expressed and shared becomes their faith too.  This activity, spiritual formation, preparation for life etc – is not the preserve of a couple of over burdened volunteers, nor an “expert” salaried children’s worker (though volunteers to be involved in ministry with children, and, where required, salaried children’s workers create an invaluable “dynamic” for life and faith in Church that compliment the role of parents).

I will return to this theme in the New Year, but leave you (my last post before the New Year) with a thought from Jurgen Moltmann,

“The messiah can be born in every child.” says a Jewish proverb, and Christians celebrate Christmas as the feast of the birth of the divine redeemer in the baby in the manger.  We encounter the all-powerful God in a little, dependent, and helpless child.  The creator of heaven and earth divests God-self and becomes lowly in the “Christ child” or the so-called “baby-Jesus.”  The grand theology of the ancient church called this mystery the humanisation of god” or the “Incarnation of the logos.” but it begins very simply, in a manner intelligible to every child, by God becoming a child and in this childs redemptive reign of peace.  What a mystery a child is.  [The good news for children marks the entire story of Jesus]  “Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me” . . .  “Child and Childhood as Metaphors of Hope, Jurgen Moltmann

Will we orientate ourselves this Christmas time, as Moltmann puts it, “towards the child of promise and peace?”

nativity reality check

Quote:

It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide.  This is the God we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors . . . a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.”

Shane Claiborne

This is just a stand out quote that sums up the impact of the incarnation – Jesus coming turned the world upside down.

Three things are needed if we want to keep young people

Quote:

Youth ministry involves entering young people’s world in order to plant the gospel and the church there – it is not a bridging strategy but a genuine commitment to new forms of church.  It is not a temporary way of holding them in church until they learn to worship properly like the rest of us

Graham Cray, Youth Congregations and the Emerging Church, 2002

David Coffee, at the time, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of GB, commented in 2002 of the “double shock” some young people (most?) experience.  Firstly, when encountering Jesus and secondly, when encountering the Church!

Our Church culture can be so different from contemporary culture that it is a bit like traveling to another country for someone new to faith or new to the church.  In our contemporary culture, is there a Kingdom presence?  Is there a Kingdom dynamic at work?  Are there things that God is doing outside of what we would call church?  What are some of the things that are going on in contemporary culture that would resonate with the heart of God?  We are all made in God’s image and, however twisted or warped that may become; His fingerprints can still be discerned.

Can we identify some of these things and, in so doing, find some common connectors between us and those we are working with (whether that is an Urban Saints group or an open youth club . . . wherever we might find ourselves working and the young people are un-churched).

The Significance of Relationship

It is not our abilities that determine who we are . . . it is the choices we make

Dumbledore to Harry, JK Rowling, The Philosophers Stone, 1997

13 years of Harry Potter (can you believe that!)  Books, merchandise, and we are only now drawing to the end of the film franchise!  What has been the churches reaction?  Initially there were a number of high profile Christian writers and speakers who railed against a series of books which appear to encourage an interest in witchcraft and the occult.  Yet, just as “Lord of the Rings” has a focus at the centre of the film on the moral choices of Frodo the hobbit (with a mythical, magical backdrop), the books in the Harry Potter series focus on the relationships between Harry and Ron and Hermione – children, young people and adults alike have been drawn into the world of Harry Potter because they cared about these characters.  These relationships.

Myspace, Facebook, Twitter . . . what is the attraction, relationships, connecting with others, sharing yourself.  Being known, knowing others . . . often being connected by the most bizarre of associations . . .

When the first “Halo” game was released – I couldn’t wait (at the time, already in my late thirties!!) The Halo franchise continues and, it is now so much more than a first person shoot-em-up -, when you play on your own a game can be completed in 12 hours (who has a spare 12 hours!), but the real draw of gaming now is that you can play online . . . with and against your friends and people you have never met from all over the world – almost an infinite number of possible outcomes . . . the point again is social, networking, relationship – you can even use a headset and talk to your opponents and comrades!

Question:  In our churches and youth work, how do we build relationships?  We need to remember that for many young people their relationships are not purely geographical in terms of where they live – they go to school somewhere else, they meet with people on the internet, friendships and shared passions are about the network you are in, not where you live.  Is our church a networked place?  Are we quite focused on the building and the church premises in terms of “church?” – in our youth groups and clubs is the geographical space we meet in the main constant?

  •  
    • Good youth work is 80% relationship and 20% everything else (that is a made up statistic to make my point!).  A wonderful programme of activities or bible teaching will not grow and develop your youth work in the end if you neglect relationships – and, increasingly what matters to young people is not just relationships with the peers, but the kind of relationships they can develop with us, their youth leaders.  I still visit groups where I encounter leaders who do not know the names of the young people who turn up . . .
    • Theology.  We do not need stacks of bible references to know that God is a relational God, from “It is not good for man to be alone” – the only thing that God said was “not good” before the fall.  To our theological understanding of the Trinity – 3 persons, 1 God – perfect relationship – being made in God’s image, “in OUR image” as God says, means we were made for relationship.
    • Make building relationships a priority – it will reap dividends with those in the church and those outside.  You might say “but I build relationships!”, yes, but are they potentially significant ones?  If you lead your group, and there are 20 young people, do you know them as a “crowd” or do you know individuals well within the group.  Jesus had a youth group, but drew aside just three of those to particularly invest in – what about you?

The Significance of Encounter.

When I was growing up, the approach to youth work (in fact, any kind of ministry with an evangelistic thrust) was to convince people of the truth.  From C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity” to Bruce Milne, “Know the Truth” . . . to present day “Alpha Courses” . . . I am not knocking any of this, it is all good stuff.

However, for many young people growing up without a Christian worldview (this is to do with the world we all live in, not whether they are actually Christians or not) in our “post-Christian” culture and society there is a lack of understanding of who God is, the claims on our lives, is Jesus the son of God etc.  We have to start where young people are at, not where we wish they were at!

I have sat in a classroom with some young people and had fired back at me “I don’t care if it is true”.  Convincing young people that the gospel is true is not enough.  We need to demonstrate that the Gospel also works. 

In this sense, are we “telling” our young people the truth or “teaching” them?  There is a difference.  In telling we might be not give space for questions or discussion, because we have the answers – our role is to impart these answers, to fill our young people with knowledge of who God is . . . forgetting that the key is to introduce them to Him.  Our young people need to know more than the facts of the faith – they need an encounter with the living God.

A recent Mori Poll conducted for the British Library looked at Faith in Britain today.  For those who said they had a religious faith, 92% of Muslims said it made a difference to their lives.  Only 45% of Christians could say the same.  For the Muslims they put into practice their faith – knowing Jesus should be a transforming experience.  We need to walk in Jesus footsteps and model that to our young people.

Going back to the double shock mentioned by David Coffee – the shock is that here is this amazing guy called Jesus, he performed miracles, lived an amazing life, taught some incredible things to his followers. . . and, er, here is the Church.  If we do not look a bit like Jesus I think that presents an obstacle to this generation. 

Question:  In our churches and youth work, where do we experience God?  When did we last encounter Him in our worship?  Do we seek to practice His presence?

  •  
    • Good youth work involves giving young people space and opportunity to encounter God as well as telling young people about God.
    • Theology.  Building on God is a relational God . . . this relationship is expressed throughout the bible by encounter from the “burning bush”, to God made man and dwelling among us (in John’s gospel this literally means to “tabernacle” – just like in the desert in the Old Testament), to receiving the comforter, the Holy Spirit who will guide us into all truth – until the disciples had an encounter with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they could not go out and fulfill the Great Commission.
    • Make enabling encounter a priority – it will reap dividends with those in the church and those outside.

 The Significance of the Individual.

The Ipod is the classic example of this.  Young people walk around with their own personalized sound track for their lives, ripping their favourite bits from albums and chucking it all together.  Increasingly, everything is being tailored for the individual.  Food, clothing, music, your tescos – with a store card they know you – and tailor stuff they send you by post or email accordingly.

In some of our churches, we have emphasized the need for “personal” salvation – but then, in terms of meeting together and doing “church” we have encouraged conformity to a set of norms.  What are the norms in your church?  By norms, I mean those things you do or don’t do when you gather that are not “core” essentials of the Christian faith . . . sit in rows?  Stand up sit down for stuff?  The organ always plays the hymns, the “worship band” plays the contemporary songs?  The default position for contemporary worship is “soft rock”? 

Note, I am not talking about some “cult of the individual” where it is all about me.  We need to balance this with building community and needing one another.

Is there variety?  Is there the opportunity for personal expression?

What we do in life – echoes in eternity

Maximus, Gladiator, 2000

Every young person wants and needs to feel significant.  That they count and matter, that it makes a difference whether they are there or not.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.  Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life – in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing.  But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.  So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”

Philippians chapter 2 verses 12 – 18

This is the life that Paul calls us to.  We should be among those that invite young people to join us, to pursue a life not of success, but of significance – making a difference, for the sake of Christ, in those around us.

Question:  In our churches and youthwork, do we help young people to feel significant?  Are they involved in shaping our times together?  Are they active participants or consumers of our progamme?

  •  
    • Good youth work involves participation from young people.
    • Theology.  Building on God is a relational God and this relationship being expressed through encounter – we are also invited to participate in the work of God by being part of His Church, everyone has a place, everyone has a gift, everyone can contribute in the body of Christ – this is the priesthood of all believers.
    • Make equipping young people to live significant lives a priority – it will reap dividends with those in the church and those outside.

Young people are amazing – and incredibly resiliant – some will always “stay” whether we invest in them or not . . . but that is lazy on our part.  IF we are on the most exciting journey through life that is possible, with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour and as our Friend . . . how is it that we often find it so hard to invite young people into that exciting adventure, but instead opt for lecturing them on what is righ or wrong, telling them to be quiet and, despite the fact we are in the 21st Century, still expecting them to be “seen and not heard” . . . as they get older and go through their teens they become a “problem” that needs dealing with . . . !  We need to seriously get a grip!

Review of “Tools for Reflective Ministry” Sally and Paul Nash

I have been involved in youth and children’s ministry for twenty-three years, but I have only recently thought of myself as a reflective practitioner.  One of the many challenges in any kind of ministry is to find the time to stop and reflect or ask questions about what you are doing and why.  I think it was Albert Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  If this is true, there are a lot of crazy people in ministry!    This fantastic book will help anyone who finds this hard, but is also for those who might consider themselves seasoned “reflectors”. 

Although the cover of the book suggests there is dense, academic content – do not let that stop you diving in.  Sally and Paul, though sharing their journeys of reflection, are eminently practical throughout.  Having cracked through the introduction (with an explanation of what “reflection” and “ministry” are) there are absolutely loads of tools and creative ideas to help you reflect in a way you feel comfortable with.  One great example is Paul’s “dice game” on page 43, for the salaried among you – use this to liven up a church staff meeting!

Warning, using this book could change everything – although the focus of application for the exercises and tools suggested is often a ministry context, and therefore a particular piece of work or a group, an unnerving thing happens as you start to explore what is going on.  You will find that you can’t explore why you are doing certain things in a particular context, or why certain things always happen with the group you are in, without also exploring yourself.  This realisation leads to the potential for change, not of practice, but of you the practitioner. 

If we truly want the best in life for our young people then a great way of doing that is embodying the very things we long for in their lives.  If you use the tools in this book, you will become more the person you are called to be, and therefore, more the kind of youth leader your young people need.  We can worry; I think in youth ministry particularly, that we do not match up to what others are being and doing in their youth work.  We need to remember that, as someone once said, “Comparison is the root of all inferiority”.  What this book also suggests to me, in what can sometimes be the “homogenised” Christian market place, is that we are all uniquely gifted, all on a journey of discovery about ourselves and about God.  Use this book to discover that for yourself and it will help you transform your own life and practice, and equip others to do the same.

“Joy to the World” Review

Joy to the World – New Wine Christmas Album

There is much more to this CD than 10 Christmas songs . . . you get all the backing tracks (if you are in a church that struggles with getting musos you can still get stuck in and sing!)  The CD also has a load of Christmas resources for you to run your own event . . . if not in time for this year then start planning now for 2011 . . . this stuff is accessed by sticking the CD into your computer, Mark Griffiths (who wrote “Detonate”, “Fusion” and “Impact” and “Dont tell cute stories – change lives” and, just last year, “One Generation from Extinction” – visit his Amazon page [here]) – this is quality stuff and all for £10.

Ok, to the songs themselves (stand out tracks) . . . track 1 is a thumping, driving version of  “O Come all ye Faithful” – which just makes you want to get on your feet . . . track 3 “Sent from Above”, a new one from Simon Parry, just gets into your head (Simon has a real gift for writing simple and catchy songs for children) track 7 “Great is He”, a straightforward refrain . . . but Nigel Hemmings enthusiastic vocals keeps the track going (with, it has to be said, some great musicianship . . . which is evident throughout the album) track 9 “Hark the Herald”, a slightly bizarre hill billy – we are off to a barn dance thing going on . . . but somehow, it worked (genius with a hint of madness) and we finish with track 10, the “Joy to the World” of the title.
On the whole this is a “good to great” album, although  sometimes the vocals struggle (especially on “O Holy Night”, but then I am comparing the vocal to Mariah Careys version!)
Well worth getting for the stand out tracks and for all the extras that come with it – will bear repeatedly listening over the Christmas period, and not just an album – but a ministry resources too.

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