This morning I was reading Martin Saunders blog about “why life is too short to watch The X-Factor“. The X-Factor has become a staple on television sets all over the world and there are many complex reasons as to why people choose to watch it year after year (Martin has given a good overview of some of those reasons).
As I read the post it got me thinking about how TV programmes, like The X-factor,are replacing the common seasons of the church calendar and what this tells us about our culture.
For millennia, civilizations have used calendars to find a rhythm and flow to the year. Whether it be the calendar of the seasons in agriculture or the life of Jesus in the Christian religion, we all use calendars, and their significant dates, to find meaning and purpose in the year. Key dates help to remind us of our place in the world and to look forward to the future.
In the UK, we have largely followed the Christian calendar, with a few extras, for centuries. Advent prepares us for Christmas; New Years Eve helps us take stock of the last year and set our eyes on the coming year; Lent reminds us of our failures and the coming of new life and Easter allows us to celebrate the new hope we have in Christ. The Christian calendar has been the overarching story we have found ourselves in year after year but with shows like the X-Factor, I’m noticing a change in this trend.
Rather than following the environmental seasons or the landmarks in the Christian calendar, we now seem to be using TV shows as our gauge of where we are in the year. I’ve heard it said by several people that when The X-Factor starts you know that the countdown to Christmas has begun and for many the Christmas season officially starts when they see the Coca Cola “holidays are coming” advert. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that this a negative thing. Our Christian calendar is made up of a number of pagan festivals that Christianity subverted so it would be disingenuous to say that this is all bad news. A better response would be to see what this change means for our calendar and for our culture.
The seasonal calendar (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) is used as a way of survival. It helps those working in agriculture to know when to sow and when to reap. The Jewish calendar reminds Jews of their story and their place in it. The Christian calendar follows a similar structure as it helps us enter into the story of Christ. But what does this new calendar offer us? What story does it tell?
The traditional calendars mentioned above create community. They give us space to experience the full spectrum of emotions. The new calendar, made up of The X-Factor, Britains Got Talent, Big Brother and the Coca Cola Advert also offer these but their foundation is built on consumerism and consumption. This new calendar has been created by corporations with one goal: to get us to spend money. Rather than inspiring and captivating us, the TV calendar restricts our imagination, forcing us to become vapid consumers. Instead of giving us space to to lament and remind us of our connection to the rest of the world, it forces us down the road of individualism.
We are better than this. There is a better story than this. Yes, we can celebrate the fact that The X-Factor at its best brings people together and showcases new talent. But at its worst it turns us into mindless consumers who care more about who goes ‘out’ each week than our neighbour struggling next door.
If we allow this consumerist story to take centre stage of our year; if we allow it to define and control us then we lose the very essence of the core Christian calendar (and the other calendars before it)…
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.
On Wednesday 2nd November I attended the “how to get your kids through church without them hating God” tour organised by Rob Parsons and ‘Care for the Family’.
Read part 1 here
In part 2, Rob Parsons shared, what he considered to be, the five killers of young people’s faith.
1) over busyness
I remember trying to organise a meeting about a drama service that would be happening in the church in a few months time. Half the battle was trying to find a date that everyone could make. Each possible date was shot down because someone either had house groups or music practices, or women’s meetings or prayer groups or youth clubs or deacons meetings or…well you get the picture.
The same is true for our young people. each week they can attend church services, youth fellowship, badminton clubs, running clubs, house groups and music practices. How they manage to fit in socialising and school into that packed timetable is anyone’s guess.
And there in lies the problem. The church is too busy. There are too many meetings and activities that people can attend. Do we really need them all? Is that what being a Christian is about? Meetings.
Instead of spending our week going out to our neighbours and friends, we spend our time coming to things inside the church. The great commission tell us to go, not come. We want to fill up our young peoples nights with all sorts of church activities so that they aren’t out mixing with questionable young people. But that’s the point. I know a number of young people who have left the church youth work because they just can’t be bothered feeling guilty about not being able to make all the meetings.
I overheard a conversation between two parents complaining that other members of the church let their children go to football on a Sunday morning rather than come to church. What they didn’t mention is that these boys still come to youth fellowship on a sunday evening and house group on a wednesday evening! Let’s stop forcing our young people to attend every meeting in the church just because that’s what we do.
Being busy isn’t always a good thing.
2) hypocrisy (public holiness)
Jesus called a group of religious leaders ‘white washed tombs’. nice and clean and white on the outside but rotting and decaying on the inside. Harsh words eh? But true.
On one occasion whilst having dinner at a Pharisee’s house, he talked about cups and bowls. He spoke about how they (the jewish people) have all these rituals for washing that gives the appearance of cleanliness but on the inside, it’s a different story.
How do our young people see us? Do we put on ‘holiness’ when we go to church? Are we simply actors in a play? And then when we get home we remove the costumes and become ourselves again.
The church needs authenticity. I need authenticity. Young people need to see people who are authentic. Following Jesus isn’t about pretending everything is okay and that you are really holy. It’s about bringing what you have (your doubts, your pain, yourself) to the table before God.
I attended the Scottish Baptist Assembly a few weeks ago (i’ll hopefully get around to blogging about it before the next one) and was struck by what one of the speakers said. As Christians we spend too much time attending ‘anti’ protest rallies when we should be spending more time at ‘pro’ rallies.
Too often Christians are known by what they disagree with rather than what they agree with. We speak out frequently about the things we think are wrong instead of things things we think are right.
We should be a ‘pro’ people. Let us celebrate rather than condemn. Let’s spend more time talking to our young people about what we love rather than what we hate.
I can be a very cynical person. I’ll be honest about that. I try not to be but it’s hard. Cynicism is all around us. It’s talked about in our families, our friends, our churches, the media and our workplace.
“what’s the point in doing anything, this is just how it is”.
“there’s nothing new under the sun”.
Now I’m not naive. I know life can, and often is, harsh and cruel. And that should be embraced. We should not run away from that. But that should not mean that our lives are governed by those understandings.
I want hope. I want to believe that people can change. I want to believe that we are all created in the image of God and are not born corrupt. I want to believe that new things are waiting to be created. I want to believe that we can change things and I want to believe that God is a universalist.
Christianity is catergorised by hope but it looks like we’ve lost it. Let’s stop being cynical. Let’s believe in something better. Let’s believe in hope, faith and love.
“have we taken holy things for granted? Have we lost the wonder?”
This was tough and challenging to here.
I was recently told of an older member of the congregation, when on entering the church, complained that she doesn’t know what to expect when she comes in because we keep doing things differently. Isn’t that a good thing? Why is is that our default position is that of rigid routines and traditions?
Shouldn’t we be amazed when we come to church? Shouldn’t we expect God to show up?
I think we’ve misunderstood the concept that God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. That doesn’t mean that God is static and unchanging. God changes his mind. God shakes things up. God changes. And so should we. So should our services. But not just for the sake of it.
The biggest question for me when session 2 finished was how to we shape our services (and our youth work) to allow space for wonder without becoming too familiar?
What do you think?
on Saturday, I attended the youthwork summit in Manchester: An incredible thought provoking, God soaked, challenging and inspiring day.
Over the next few days, I hope to explore what I thought worked well (as well as what didn’t), what inspired and challenged me, what I disagreed with and what, frankly, bored me. sadly I couldn’t make the retreat or the other activities on the Friday so my posts will focus solely on the Saturday event.
So let’s dive in. read part 1 here
With stream 1 finished, we had some time to relax, get some much needed coffee, and for me, spot a number of #ywchat folks that I was too introverted to go and talk to ( @dancrouch, @beccadean, @GabriellaRusso and @easyrew).
After that, we were thrown into session 2: inspiring ideas (another mixed bag).
First up was Jason Royce and the “survival school” initiative. It’s an incredible piece of youth work and it was great to learn more about it. There were two challenges that I took from this talk.
1) what do I do with the young people that I hope WON’T turn up to my youth group.
2) Am I too nice? Have I compromised my boundaries because I want young people to like me?
Up next was a full blown assault by Lyn Edwards as she reflected on “lesson from rural youth work”. With a toilet brush in hand, she spouted forth that no dream is impossible with God and that good youth work breaks all the rules.
As Martin Saunders quipped afterwards, she truly reminded me of OT prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah with just a hint of John the Baptist about her. On reflection, I think she could be a very difficult person to work alongside but there is no doubt God is doing powerful stuff through her.
Like a tornado she entered and like a tornado she left, leaving the Rend Collective to orchestrate some kazoo worship. As Loyd Harp quipped on twitter:
“Just to clarify . . . “kazoo worship” is not the worship OF kazoos, but worship via kazoos.”
It was then the job of Lat Blaylock to bring us back to reality with his mild mannered talk on “God is missing and is missed here” (the schools work imperative). I was familiar with much of what Blaylock presented as I’ve been to ‘prayer spaces in schools’ workshop and am the proud owner of schoolswork.co.uk art cards but it was still great to hear.
We were challenged to join with God in a divine game of hide and seek in school. Brilliant stuff.
Up next was 90 year old youth worker John Langdon sharing why “youthwork needs grand parents”. From the yws11 hashtag on twitter, it was a clear there was a large number of the audience who wanted to adopt him as their grandpa.He talked about the work he does and the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone.
It was fitting that what followed the oldest youth worker in the UK (probably) was a discussion of the biggest youth event in the UK as Andy Croft shared “Soul Survivor: what we get right and what we got wrong”. Glancing again at the yws11 hashtag on twitter, I couldn’t help but smirk (and feel a little inadequate) as most of the tweets referred to Crofts’ physique. I half expected someone to shout out ‘Get your kit off!”
What Croft managed to do was to turn the question round to us. What do we get right and what do we get wrong in our youth work? Too often church youth workers, including myself, can be guilty of not critically reflecting on their own practice and I think this is essential if we are to keep on course with Gods vision.
Croft also stated that “being attractive and being biblical are not always the same thing” and this is a huge challenge. We need to be continually reflecting on our work and aligning ourselves with what Gods big idea for our work is.
To finish off the second set of seminars, Patsy McKie spoke about “what comes from gangs and guns”. There is no doubt her story is a powerful and dramatic one but honestly I felt this talk was a missed opportunity. Personally I would either liked to have heard more about her story and how she overcame the death of her son or what she actually does.
I felt we got neither of those. disappointing. But again, from speaking to others, I know some people were really challenged and inspired by what she said.
And with that it was time for lunch. Again the session met its aims with a varied mix of talks and there was definitely something for everyone. In my next post I’ll talk about session 3. The most challenging and controversial stream.
The young folks at the church took the evening service last night and it went reasonably well. it didn’t necessarily flow spectacularly (I find that the more people you try to include, the less cohesive it it. maybe i’ll do a post on that, at some point) but it worked and the congregation seemed to engage with it.
Afterwards my line manager came up and arranged our monthly supervision sessions for the following Tuesday night. One of the things we will be discussing is the the future (or lack thereof) of the star inn. a purpose built community centre that the church owns. It’s a great little space but has been left unused for so long that it needs £30-£40k of repairs to get it up to speed and the church members would rather get rid of it than spend that money.
I understand everyone is cutting back and stock of resources needs to be carried out, but I can’t help being disappointed.
I had visions for that place. open mic nights, drop in youth clubs, after school clubs etc and they all seemed to have been dashed in the name of money. I get it. I really do. But it leaves me with some big questions. I’ve spoke to them about applying for funding but they really don’t seem that interested.
If the church building was in better shape I wouldn’t mind but a lot would need to be spent to make it suitable for any youth outreach.
So I’m left thinking about the future. My contract runs out August 2013 and in the state things are in, I’m not sure whether I would hang around. There seems to be a real lack of future planning in the decisions and that depresses me. in the short term it makes sense to get rid of the building (just like every council is doing right now) but is that really the best for the long term?
Maybe there’s a third way. Maybe it’s because i’ve been so set on doing things in this building that I can’t see anything else and if I take some time to sit, pray and reflect, God might throw out another vision (I haven’t had time to do that yet).
But right now, until I can make some time to reflect, I’m in a bit of a funk.
Have any of you been in the same position?
Any thoughts/ comments?