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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!

4 Things Young People Need from Church || #4. Significance

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We have looked at the need for acceptance, love and guidance – now we see the ministry and life impact of these key values. Young people taking their place as full and active members of the body of Christ – bringing their passion, gifts, drive and vision – or do they?

What space do we create in Church for young people to fully participate? IF we want to see young people remain in the church into adulthood we MUST equip them to serve and get stuck in. They need to know it matters whether they ‘show up’ or not.

I love the film Gladiator! It’s up there as one of my all time favourite films. Near the beginning Maximus (Russell Crowe) makes a glorious speech and reminds his men that what we do – echoes in eternity.

What we do matters. Do our young people believe that? Come to that – do we believe that?

I have had a few chats over the years with some well known Christian leaders. One I spoke to a while ago said that when he hit 50 he realised what really mattered in life and ministry was not whether he was ‘successful’, but whether what he did mattered. Was it significant. Had it made an impact and a difference for the common good and for the gospel? That had become his question.

Philippians is a pretty stonking book – especially (for me anyway) chapter 2. First we have the incredible attitude of Christ – and we can sometimes get caught up in HIS attitude (wow, isn’t Jesus amazing – look at his attitude) when the point of the passage is YOU (which means me too) should have the same attitude. It is one of servant hood. Living a significant life for Jesus is not pushy, it is not about endeavouring to ‘be’ significant for our own sake or glory – but to live a transformed life that makes a difference to the life of others – John 3:30 has it spot on,

He must increase; I must decrease

We don’t ‘disappear’ when we live like this, we simply become more fully who we were created to be. The attitude we have of ‘Christ increasing’ can ONLY be for our good and for the good of those around us. What’s not to like? With the right attitude so much can be done! This attitude leads us to be enablers and equippers of others – especially, if you are involved in youth work – young people. Don’t DO what you have been doing for years (and giving nobody else a look in) GIVE it away, create opportunities for others – YES, they will be significant in their own right with what they initiate and begin and kick off and take on . . . BUT, everybody begins with being given a CHANCE. Give young people a go. It can be done safely, if it goes pear shaped – YOU take the flack. If it goes AMAZING – give them the credit – build a safe place where young people can risk it, have a crack at something – and it is ok to mess up . . .

do everything with grumbling and arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “Children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.
Philippians 2:14-16

Where it says, “hold firmly” this could also be translated “hold out” hold onto and hold out the word of life – it’s not one or the other – it’s both. You cannot hold out the word of life to others without firmly keeping it and knowing it and treasuring it – and, IF you have fully grasped it – you would not be holding onto it – such amazing love and grace is bestowed on us – we cannot keep it to ourselves!

And – the stars! Shining like stars – that is the echo in eternity! If we shine like stars – then, maybe one day – the light from what we have done, been, passed on will reach others – long after we ourselves are gone (just like a star). THAT is the kind of leader of young people that I want to be.

Let’s create space where young people know NOW they are significant and have a significant contribution to ministry and church life today; let’s find ways to get “out of the way” so they might get a glimpse of what they might do to serve Jesus and let’s give opportunities – HOW might young people serve your church today?

Whatever age you are as a leader, whatever your have done so far to raise up and enable young people to take their place of significance in the church – there are always more young people! Let’s equip each other, let’s build up the whole body of Christ to be a place and a community that sees what God is doing in the lives our our children and young people and celebrates it by cheering the next generation on in all that God will call them to. They are fellow ‘runners’ of the race, they are in it NOW – not shuffling about on the sidelines waiting for us to finish!

What you do by saying yes to one young person might transform their group of friends, a relationship at home, set them on the path to full time ministry, see them so boosted in their confidence they do stuff they never imagined they would or could. Some of it – we get to see (what a joy and an immense privilege) others things – we don’t see, we will never see – but God sees it all and knows it all. As we echo in eternity and as we shine like stars – the only one we need to know is watching (and loving every minute of it) is Jesus.

4 Things Young People Need From the Church || #3. Guidance

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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
Proverbs 22:6

‘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.
Ephesians 1:19-20

4 Things Young People Need From the Church | #2. Love

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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
Matthew 22:39

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

He replies,

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
John 3:16

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
Romans 8:39

4 Things Young People Need From the Church | #1. Acceptance

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The first of the four things young people need from the Church is acceptance. We MUST welcome and accept young people as they are; precious, made-in-the-image-of-God, creative, unique and just incredible. Every single one of them. Our welcome makes a difference. Accepting young people is not simply a nod to their existence, but a welcome that includes, draws in and values them. The greatest challenge I have found in youth work though, is convincing young people they are worth the effort. Whilst this post is about the church (meaning all of us) accepting young people – many young people find it incredibly difficult to accept themselves.

They might believe someone else might be – but not them. Words mean nothing if they are not followed through with actions. Acceptance is demonstrated when space is created for young people to worship in ways they find helpful and meaningful; acceptance is demonstrated when their opinion is asked; acceptance is demonstrated when sermon illustrations are inclusive and might be something a young person can relate to; acceptance is shown when at ‘the peace’ adults approach young people to shake their hand; acceptance is illustrated when mid week meetings or gatherings of the church are at a time young people can make; acceptance is demonstrated – not when the church delivers things TO young people, nor when the church does things FOR young people, but when there is work WITH young people.

Part of the challenge for young people is what they can ‘accept’ is possible for them. Many young people ‘accept’ their lot in life – the hand they have been dealt meaning ‘this is it’ – they ‘accept’ that they aren’t going to achieve anything, aren’t worth much; are not valued and won’t get anywhere in life. It doesn’t take many people speaking this kind of stuff into young peoples lives for them to begin to accept it. 75% of media coverage of young people is negative. 1 in 5 young people struggle with mental health related issues. Of those I have worked with over the years a significant number struggle to accept they are FORGIVEN (these are young people who are Christians and repentant – seeking to live as God wants). In our world and culture – acceptance is earned, in academic life, achieving an ‘acceptable’ grade needs effort. What is so hard for young people to grasp is that NOTHING they can do can make them acceptable to God. Scripture says,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 3:23

That’s pretty tough stuff. Yet, we (all of humanity, which includes all young people!) are worth saving – so much so that when we could do nothing to save ourselves – Jesus came for us,

God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us
Romans 5:8

Part of submitting ourselves to Christ and acknowledging Him as Lord and Saviour is accepting that this is true. Christ has made us acceptable!

God gave Jesus to die for our sins, and He raised Him to life – so that we would be made acceptable to God
Romans 4:25

We need to communicate this truth to our young people again and again. Then, knowing this to be true – we can talk about what that means – if we put our trust in a God, if we believe in His name – something wonderful becomes possible. It is a change that can transform any life – any possible destiny, any young persons life where they feel or believe they have no hope suddenly becomes full of potential and possibilities.

but, to all who believed Him and accepted Him he gave the right to become children of God
John 1:12

This acceptance thing is pretty HUGE. Our young people need to accept themselves, they need to accept that they are loved by God and acceptable to Him through what Jesus has done, the church needs to demonstrate this and accept young people.

Then we get to this ‘right’ that we have – to be children of God! Wow! Get in!!

Which brings me to the image at the top of this post – it’s Tom Cruise from Minority Report. Cruise plays a cop who hunts down criminals with the help of some ‘prophets’ who can ‘see’ people commit crimes in the future – Tom and his team then turn up and arrest the criminals just before they are commit their crimes – pretty cool way to police the future! Anyway, one day an image of a future crime flashes up on the screen and yes – it’s Cruise, in a room with a gun about to murder someone. Cruise goes on the run to try and figure out what is going on . . . . Ultimately the picture comes true, there he stands in the room, with the gun, about to shoot someone (as predicted) – then – from the corner of the room the voice of one of the prophets speaks before he pulls the trigger,

you can choose

That’s it. And for our young people life might seem like it is heading in an inevitable direction – but, it does not have to be that way! Our young people need to shown they can choose to have a future as part of Christ’s family.

Let’s accept them, let’s help them accept themselves and let’s show them they are accepted by God – because of Christ – and encourage them to choose life with Him!

What the Holy Spirit tells us about Leadership

dove_four_359520225The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus (Philippians 1 verse 9) appears throughout scripture equipping and empowering people for service.  There are three things I have noticed in particular about the Holy Spirit that speak to me about leadership and what it should look like.  However, these three things kind of buck what is the received wisdom about who can lead and, to some extent, what leadership is.

These are just my reflections, but I feel pretty convinced we have some things wrong when we think about leading others and what that looks like, if we are not modelling our leadership behaviour on what the Holy Spirit does . . . .

1.  The Holy Spirit empowers nobodies.  People who are broken, people who are the least are used powerfully by the Holy Spirit, people who are prone to depression, fits of rage, people who in and of themselves have (until they have an encounter with the Holy Spirit) appear to be achieving nothing it is these that He uses.  This is not some biblical equivalent of my low sense of worth (i.e. I feel as if I am a nobody), this is not just people who had a downer on themselves but were really just not having the right perspective.  Gideon is a good example of someone who was powerless and was actually a nobody.  David didn’t even make the line up when Samuel was looking to anoint the next King of Israel.

Here is the point – what is my criteria?  Do I only empower people who are already “on the way”, “showing potential”, those I have (in my infinite wisdom) “discerned” have leadership skills?  Or, do I listen to the whisper of the Spirit?  “Empower Him . . . . “, “Give her a chance”, “Notice that person over there”.  What these people did seem to have in common was their heart.  It is interesting as I write that Jason has left the apprentice this week.  Everyone reflected on the fact that he was a “good man”, a nice guy.  He wasn’t handling the task and for the first time ever in all the series of The Apprentice, he abdicated the leadership of his team and “for the good of the team” gave the role to someone else.  However, according to Alan Sugar and the needs of the business world in this country apparently, being someone with a good heart is not at the top of the list.  Heart matters, but, it is not the preserve of some elite band of leaders – and, according to the Holy Spirit, it matters more than all the other stuff we might see in someone.  As God said to Samuel, (who didn’t get it), “Man looks at the outward appearance, I look at the heart.”  What are we looking at when we determine to raise people up, give them a shot, equip them and empower them.

2.  The Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus.  This is a clear to me from scripture.  This is what the Holy Spirit wants to do, as I started with, He is the Spirit of Jesus.  Bringing and bestowing gifts (that were all manifest in Jesus’ ministry) and growing fruit in our lives as we “live by the Spirit” that reflect Jesus’ character.  There is nothing self seeking in the Godhead.  Jesus is only doing what He sees the Father doing, and wants to bring glory to the Father, The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus (see John 16 for the beauty of this relationship).  So, our enabler, our empowering presence, the Spirit that gives us life is not in it to make a name for Himself.  The Spirit is not working for his own glory!

When we raise others up and equip them for ministry and leadership – are we simply looking for a “mini ME”?  Do we get frustrated if they are different from us?  do we get frustrated if those we develop and lead have skills that take their leadership in a different direction to the one WE (again, in our infinite wisdom) had mapped out for them?  Do we get insecure if we notice that they are BETTER at stuff than we are?  Maybe we have been generous and in some kind of patronizing way we have given someone “a go”, only to discover they are AWESOME – but, rather than feel thrilled, we start to get defensive and think about ourselves?  This is not leadership!  We aren’t creating clones (or at least we should not be), we should be nurturing growth – yes, but we are not the ones bringing about the real stuff of leadership and ministry – God is at work!  He isn’t in the business of making those we invest in like us, lets not get into a wrestling match with God about what kind of leaders those we raise up are going to become – who do we think we are?

3.  The Holy Spirit is for Everyone.  This one is the biggest challenge (I think) for how we understand what leadership is and what it is for.  In the Church we don’t so much talk about “five fold ministry” (pastors, evangelists, teachers etc) we catch all of that stuff up into this thing called a “leader”.  Leadership is mostly mentioned in the New Testament with reference to what the Holy Spirit is doing.  Let me say that again, it is mostly what the Holy Spirit is doing.  Leadership is rarely mentioned with reference to what people are doing, even the apostles.  We are to be “led” by the Spirit.  Well, hang on a minute – surely that is a challenge to my leadership?  What about all the leaders in the Church?  Yes, what about them – what exactly are they all for?  Rarely mentioned in scripture, but it seems as if we mention nothing else . . . we have leadership courses for everything, and programs to help people to “become” leaders.  We even confuse different roles withing the church and just call everything a “leader” (so, people who have been ordained to the priesthood join this crowd of people we just call “leaders” and rather than being priests are “church leaders”).  Leadership though, is not something for everyone – so if you don’t get selected, someone doesn’t appoint you, you aren’t “noticed” . . . you just get on with whatever you do that isn’t  leadership.

At Pentecost something crazy began.  The Holy Spirit poured out on all flesh.  The promise, for you and for your children . . . (Joel’s prophecy), oh, and by the way – children there means “child” not “next generation of adults”, when children receive the Holy Spirit it is not a junior or baby version.  It is the Holy Spirit.  IF, the work of the Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus, if the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in each believer, what can we NOT DO!

Yet, it often seems that our “leadership” is about creating more people who will be leaders like us, rather than like the Holy Spirit, which is about empowering everyone!  We still, it seems to me, have leadership teams in churches that do most of the work, we cannot get people to volunteer to help with stuff, the same few do everything.  We are missing the whole point – and again, it is probably because, in the Church we have latched on to a worldly understanding of leadership and this replaces everything biblical about what the church could or should look like.  Ephesians is pretty clear about the need to build up the people for works of service, everyone being built up and equipped.  EVERYONE, not the few.

Does our leadership focus on the few or the many?  Do we limit leadership?  Do we even grasp what it is?  The Holy Spirit, equipping the believers to serve, to live and to love . . . well, surely that needs to be managed by us?  By leaders?  Maybe that is the crux of the problem.  The focus of our leadership being what we are doing as “leaders” our own actions (and whether we are being followed), instead of being led by the Spirit ourselves and discovering, TOGETHER, all that God, by His Spirit, might have for us.  The purpose of every believer is to lead, to lead others by example as we point to Christ, as each of us are transformed by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

Come on!