Thursday, May 28, 2015

Different Story... "It's Not Rocket Science!"

   Every young person has a story and every young persons story is worth hearing. This is true whether they live on 'struggle street' [thanks SBS for the hatchet job on TV] or are happily comfortable in a loving and secure family with plenty to look forward to educationally and in life [and anyone somewhere else in the story of their lives]. What then is youth ministry about in our Australian contemporary context today? For too many churches I know, younger people left along with their families in the 1970s or there's one family left or there are collection of survivors with kids who participated in something that made a difference and they are still engaged and happy to see activity and a community of other young people joining in a group or a program alongside their congregation.
   Some people are quite conservative theologically and the world makes sense through the values and ethos of the faith community they are part of, some are in a community that has embraced questioning and 'grey' and are caught between cultures but OK enough to make what space they can for their church, in busy lives and some are uncomfortable but this is what they've known and they hang in there with a few highlights along the way [including the great enjoyment their kids get from being part of a small Youth Group or program].
   A few volunteers or one and in some cases a person paid for a few part time hours a week are too often given the discipling responsibility for the young people in the groups/programs and this may have a mix of a few 'church kids' and/or a few kids from the local community whose families are not [or maybe used to be] involved. They kept coming after Kids Club or liked what they experienced at SRE or a lunchtime program at the local school.

In very many of these places, the "haunting questions" for youth ministry are worth facing up to:

Does youth ministry matter?
Do our practices of youth ministry reflect Christ?
Do existing “models and practices” reflect the church’s best theological work?
Do they accomplish what we imagine?
Do they bear any relationship to the church?
Do our practices of youth ministry shape Christians?
How long can we keep this up?

Can we do better?
["OMG: Youth Ministry Handbook" Kenda Creasy Dean et al]

   How many people cobble together a story or reflection for 30mins to present a 'Devotions' at Youth Group? How many, even those who design a curriculum and put heaps of energy into resourcing and visualising that OR find clips, questions and appreciative inquiry methods for exploring faith, actually find a way to address the more immediate question... "what the hell does any of this have to do with me, mean for me or ask of me?" and for many "did I ask you to share any of this with me?"
   How many understand that it's the quality of the relationships made and what they are built on that sustains a community. It's a gathering around shared values and the stories that give us identity which will ultimately go the long haul... It's absolutely true that these things can be both shaped by a community and learnt by it's participants. What if the whole thing is hollow in the middle?
   What is our story? How is it a story of hope? Who does it invite us to be and to be in relationship with? How is that articulated and lived as ethos and values? How is the invitation made for people to make their journey with us in that story? These are the questions of a community trying to understand the world and the local community it's part of... Do we see children and young people [and their families] in our local community as people we are called to seek reconciliation and renewal alongside or are they the object of our 'mission...' Is God's answer to these questions different to ours?
   The "it's not rocket science!" is about simplifying our questions... "who is God calling us to be at this time and in this place?" that can't be a self centred answer.
   God is active in the world and we are beginning to understand something of the importance of answering this question in the current context because God is simply not only active in our four walls on Sunday. If the central feature of our community and the sole focus of our efforts is attendance at worship [especially that some other people have curated, or worse still only one person] then we are in serious trouble.

“If you want to change a society, you have to tell an alternative story”
writes Austrian Philosopher and Roman Catholic Priest, Ivan Illich

It's not easy... 5 things... essentials... do's and don't's... dynamic... 'why milennials are leaving your church' or any of that rubbish, written for a different context anyhow...

For anything to change “someone has to start acting differently, encouraging others to behave differently” We need to foster our imagination but also move to action and in “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading” Heifitz and Linsky explain “adaptive change stimulates resistance because it challenges people’s habits, beliefs and values.” Yes, that's actually our model... 
   “Adaptive leadership is having the guts and heart to learn new ways to bring needed deep transformation of culture in an organization or people and is generally done by the people with the problem.”  Heifitz & Linsky again and one example of how we struggle with this is when voices on the edge of our community or who don't quite fit who 'we are' don't get heard. We miss out! 
   "The Church’s experience is shifting from a stable and secure world toward a huge, open-ended question. If one word characterizes people’s experiences of this, it is uncertainty" writes Alan Roxburgh in “Crossing The Bridge” in 2001. I'm saying 'it doesn't have to be anxiety' and sharing stories of hope is one way to counter that, stories of places 'having a go.' Even places where I wouldn't necessarily do what they are doing, but the relationships are built on a genuine invitation to be 'followers of Jesus Christ.'
   If I had to break it down I'd say I'm more keen on a community that seeks to serve it's world and invites others to express their 'following' by sharing God's love through that... however challenging. I think listening and discerning how people can serve the hurts and hopes of those around them is a deeply spiritual practice [not just a community organising principle] and whether a few key projects emerge or some individual or huddled action, then people will have stories to tell, stories they've lived AND a reason to worship and celebrate, to lament, to seek forgiveness and a reason to come on Sunday or Wednesday night for pot luck dinner, or Saturday for the working bee or Thursday morning to make soup or... In this space children, young people and their families will be invited to share of themselves and to participate in changing the world... they'll be challenged to rise to God's invitation and to prioritise what that takes, but they'll be energised by what it means!! Maybe...
   In the meantime I'm going to search for stories, to spend hours in preparation, to get tired trying to understand my audience, to try to be as honest and vulnerable as I can manage, to laugh, to cry, to listen, to get cranky, to bugger things up, to not be perfect, to try to report what I see and to wonder why I bother... then a person will share a fragment of their amazing story and I'll encourage us all to do it all again...


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