Tag Archives: christ

Advent and the Coming of The X-Factor

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)…

Ourselves.

Success in Youth Work

 

How do you measure success in Christian youth work?

It’s a difficult question isn’t it?

I’m finishing up as youth worker for South Beach Baptist Church in two months and so I’ve been reflecting on these questions. Sometimes reflecting on how successful your youth work has been is like reflecting on whether you’re a good parent. ie it’s difficult.

One day things can be going great and the young people seem to be connecting but then the following day they have completely changed. It’s as if the Body snatchers have come and switched them.

The youth work website infed.org is a great source of articles around the practice of youth work. In one article, effective youth work is described in this way:

(youth work) has three main goals. To increase the ability of young people to:

  • identify and develop their capacities- physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social and emotional;
  • identify and accept their responsibilities, as individuals, citizens, group members;
  • evaluate the contexts in which they live and act accordingly.

Success in Christian youth work, I believe, can be measured in this way:

Are your young people becoming more Christ-like? Are they, by their words and actions, reflecting the character of Jesus? And do they own that christ-likeness? Does their faith depend on you being there to teach them?

That in essence, in my opinion, is how success in Christian youth work should be measured.

In my next post I’ll talk about whether I feel I have been successful in my time at the church.

Thoughts? Do you agree or have I missed something vital?

Draw Something About Slavery

Everyone, including me, seems to be hooked on the new app, “draw something“. it is number one on both the free and paid apps charts in app store. In its first five weeks, it was downloaded 20 million times. Move over Angry Birds!

The app involves drawing a picture, from a choice of 3 (easy, medium, hard), and then sending it to someone else to guess. It’s the mobile equivalent of ‘pictionary’ and its incredibly addictive (at least for the first couple of weeks).

I woke up this morning to find reminders for 17 drawings that I was still to guess. 17 drawings! And the thing is, if you manage to get that list down to 0, which will take you a good half hour, as you draw the final drawing, someone will then send you another one to do.

For someone who needs all their jobs to be done, for things to be neat and tidy and to have no unread e-mails in their inbox, this is a nightmare. It is a game that you will never finish. There will always be another drawing to guess or draw.

It’s so easy to become a slave to something isn’t it?

Whether it be facebook, twitter, an app, or some other social construct, we always end up becoming its slave. It seems to be built into our DNA. Maybe we just like something controlling us. Maybe it gives us a sense of purpose, an identity, something to be part of.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Paul was on to something wasn’t he?

What are we, or our young people enslaved by? What do we constantly need to feed?

Part of the joy of the season of Lent is to remind ourselves that we are not slaves anymore, that we have been set free.

What do you need to be set free of today?

How to get your kids through church without them hating God: Part 3

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

Read part 2 here

In the final session of the evening, Rob spoke about the three disappointments that we need to prepare young people for in order that they don’t give up on their faith and walk away from God.

1) with others

2) with themselves

3) with God

the first two are self explanatory. sometimes we can be guilty of painting a false and idealistic picture of Christianity. None of us are perfect. People will let us down and we will let ourselves down. we won’t always get it right as following Christ is not easy. We need to help young people be ready for when the inevitable happens: when other Christians hurt them. Talk about grace. Talk about God’s grace for us and the grace we need to show others.

The 3rd one is more tricky. I compared a Q&A session with our youth fellowship earlier this year. The young people had the opportunity to ask a panel of ‘mature’ christians (2 of the YF leadership and 2 deacons) a series of awkward questions about faith. One of the questions was, “does God always answer prayer?”. Without hesitation, they all answered “yes” with “but sometimes not in the way we want”.

But that doesn’t cut it for me. And clearly it doesn’t for Rob Parsons either. When I prayed that my gran wouldn’t die of cancer, God didn’t deliver. How ever you wrap that up, the prayer wasn’t successful. God will disappoint young people.

Yes we can say, “well it wasn’t God’s will” or we can talk about “sin” and “spiritual forces” but at the end of the day young people will be disappointed when they pray for something and it doesn’t happen. Rob calls these the “what if not?” moments.

“What if they don’t get healed?”

“What if this never happens?”

I know I’m guilty of not preparing young people for this (and myself if I’m honest). Too often we paint a rose tinted picture of Christianity and its this that mostly destroys the faith of our young people.

It was a great night and it left me with so much to think about? What about you? Has any of these thoughts struck you/ challenged you?

How to Get Your Kids Through Church Without Them Hating God: Part 1

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’.

It was an excellent evening with lots of thought-provoking ideas. As an aside, one thing I really enjoyed what that they encouraged people to tweet comments using #GYKTC tag and it was great to interact with others in attendance and hear what they were being challenged with. A few of the older people I was with glanced at me a couple of times because I was typing away on my phone. They probably thought I was being rude but I was REALLY interacting with the talks through twitter.

I’d love to see my speakers in church using twitter to allow people to comment or ask questions during their sermons. Although, I have to wonder, how many of the church congregation i am part of have ever heard of twitter.

Anyway, let me get one with actually discussing the event.

The evening was split into three sections and each section consisted of a short video, drama and then a talk by Rob Parsons. Phatfish already provided worship at the start and the end of the evening. In this blog, I will explore section 1.

Section 1

Rob explained the four steps of faith for ‘churched’ young people:

1) experienced faith (what they see from their parents)

2) affiliated faith (from their church and peer group)

3) searching faith (where they graps the ability to question their faith and ask difficult questions)

4) owned faith (a faith they accept and own for themselves)

Rob said an interesting thing in that although we don’t think our children/ young people are listening to us, they are in fact hearing everything we have to say. A simple yet profound misunderstanding.

I wonder if you’re anything like me and you’re standing talking to a group of young people about an event coming up or something you’re asking them to do and then a few minutes later they have completely forgotten. It’s like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.  In many cases it is clear to me that they are not listening to me. By listening, I mean taking in the facts that I am presenting to them. But what they are doing is ‘hearing’ how I’m saying things. They pick up on the aggression and the frustration. They pick up on the times I am gossiping or slagging someone off and this will have a profound impact on their faith. As leaders, we need to be aware that young people are always ‘hearing’ even when they’re not listening and how we interact with them and others will shape what they think of Christianity.

Something else, he said, that struck me is that we sometimes confuse “spirituality with personality“. We assume that a christian looks and sounds like ‘this or that’. We have a fixed ‘jelly mould’ that we expect Christians to be like and when they don’t fit that mould we assume their faith isn’t growing/ isn’t strong/ isn’t there. In fact what we are looking at is their personality. All Christians are not and should not be the same and we need to get rid of the ‘christian young people’ moulds that we have in our heads. Just because a young person isn’t acting how we think a christian should does not mean they are not a christian.

This idea has profound implications for how we measure ‘christian growth’. How do we know the young people we work with are becoming more like Jesus? More Christ-like? I know I have been guilty of thinking that only those who are actively engaging at youth house groups or are volunteering to be upfront at the youth services are the ones who are ‘spiritually’ growing. But that’s just not the case!

Instead of a ‘one size fits all’ discipleship measuring tool, we need to look at each young person individually and see how each one is changing. We may see that a young person is smoking (and drinking) and think that the are not becoming more like Jesus when in actual fact they are out helping people and praying loads. We cannot measure all young people’s spiritual growth in the same way.

What do you think?

 

Mark Driscoll and the love of God

I try not to pull other christians down. Especially online. I don’t think its helpful.I don’t think it’s “christian”.

So, this post is not about attacking mark driscoll. There are enough places you can go online if you want to do that.

What I do want to attack his understanding of the notion of love. Or at least offer an alternative view.

The video above is from a sermon he gave on Sunday morning.

Let me first say that I agree with some of the concepts he is saying. He is right that we often cherry pick attributes of God, the ones we like, and drop the ones we don’t agree with. I know that God is loving and God is just. That’s not where I think Driscoll has messed up.

It’s his understanding of the following verse that, i believe, is incorrect.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:7-12

I do not think, in this verse, John is saying “god is loving”. John is not telling us about one of Gods attributes. He is stating something more profound. he is saying that God is love.

The essence of God…is love. At God’s very core; God’s DNA is love.

So every attribute of God whether it be justice, mercy,  wrath etc comes out of a place of love. Love is the lens for every attribute of God. Love is the lens that every decision comes from.

That’s why I am deeply concerned with what Driscoll is portraying here. He is painting an image of a God that does not have love at its core.

And i think that leads to all sorts of trouble.

Thanks to Zack Hunt for the heads up on this. Check out his blog for other inconsistencies in Driscolls’ talk.

Facebook Discipleship Research

I have been asked to do a guest lecture for a Youth Work Honours Degree course on ‘Discipleship and Facebook‘.

As I begin to research this, I want to throw out some questions that I would appreciate your comments on.

What are the positives in using facebook as a discipleship tool?

What are the negatives in using facebook as a discipleship tool?

What are the key differences between face-to-face discipleship and online discipleship?

What are the key issues with young people and facebook? (positive or negative)

Does your church/ organisation have a child protection policy when it comes to interacting with young people online?

I would appreciate your comments on any of the questions

Doctrine, Education and Discipleship

I read this post by John Koessler yesterday.

In it he claims that those who attacked Rob Bell‘s new book, “love wins” (and I don’t use the term lightly) were right to do so.

“the general message seemed to be that anyone who would be disturbed by possibility that Rob Bell denies the literal nature of hell must have too much time on his hands. Don’t Jesus’ followers have better things to do than to dispute such things?”

He then finishes his post with the following statement:

“I know. It sounds “old school.” It seems “ungenerous.” But what can I say. It’s what the Bible says. Unpleasant as it sounds, doctrine does matter. And no, we really don’t have better things to do.”

Really?

I agree doctrine is important (as a way of understanding and articulating what it is that we do or do not believe) but to say that we really don’t have better things to do?

That doctrine is the be all and end all.

Did Jesus really spend all his time making sure the disciples understood everything perfectly?

Wasn’t one of Jesus’ issues with the pharisees that they put too much doctrine on people? Jesus attacked them for focusing too much on right belief.

“Love the Lord your God with all you heart, all your mind, all your body and all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself.”

“Faith, hope and love. but the greatest of these is love”.

The greatest commandment is to love. love God. Love people.

The greatest commandment is not too make sure your doctrine is all nice and neat.

In one of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus congratulates them on rooting out false teaching but convicts them because, as a result of this heresy hunting, they have forgotten what it means to love people.

Rob Bell

Image by feyip via Flickr

Yes, critics had the right to read Bell’s book and criticize it but is that really the most important thing? The things above all else?

As a youth worker in a church, I ‘m realizing more and more that young people struggle with doctrine. they struggle with right beliefs. they get bored by it. we can load them up with all the right info and teaching but does that really do anything?

Isn’t it time we move past simply making sure young people know the right doctrine and instead help them experience faith.

experience God. Walk with them.

Discipleship should be more than teaching.

teaching should be the end bit.

Here is a short animated video of Sir Ken Robinson talking about education.

Yes the video focuses on state education but christian education should be no different.

Let us move away from pouring knowledge about God into our young people and instead, help them to get to know God.

How should the church be led?

Donald Miller has written a great blog that asks this fundamental question.

“Because we’ve been led by scholars for so long, we have slightly distorted ideas about Christian discipleship. If you want to grow in Christ, you should study more. Christian growth, then, is an academic path. And like educators, we only advance to become higher level educators. The point of learning is always teaching which produces further learning and then more teaching. The only difference between the church and another educational institution is that nobody ever graduates from the church. We just keep going to school.”

As a youth worker, I wonder what our youth fellowship would look like if it at its core we understood christian growth as learning through doing rather than learning from hearing?

I wonder what our YF would look like if we handed over the complete running of it to the young people?

Definitely something to ponder…

No, I’m not going to spit on your grave!

I watched this film the other day. Now, I’m sure some of you may say,

“why are you watching filth like that?”

or

“you should be ashamed of yourself”

and I’d understand those comments but for the purpose of the blog, please go with me on this.

The idea in the film is not a new one. The concept of vengeance is as old as time.

In order for resolution, those who abuse you must be abused themselves.

Hollywood Sign

Image via Wikipedia

For salvation to come, blood must be shed.

The myth of redemptive violence is a powerful one. (for more info on this concept check out Walter Wink).

Hollywood is full of films about the good guy killing the bad guy to bring resolution.

Revenge is a dish best served to keep us believing that the only way to deal with conflict is to fight back.

But Jesus offers another option.

Next week, our Youth Fellowship group are leading the evening service. We are going to be summarising the beatitudes as this is what we have spent the greater part of four months looking at.

Jesus calls his followers to be meek. To stand up for injustice. Not to retaliate with violence or to ignore it, but to face it head on.

In essence, Jesus calls us to choose the ‘Third Way“. A way of non-violence. A way of true justice.

It may costs us our face, our dignity or even our lives.

But this is the call of Jesus.

It is vital that our young people know this option. Our world tells us that we only have two choices. Fight or Flight.

But that’s a fallacy!

Jesus chose to walk the Third Way. To stand up against oppressive regimes. And it cost him his life.

Rather than believing that salvation comes through the shedding of the enemies blood (pax romana) Jesus believed that true salvation came from the shedding of his own blood. True salvation comes through self sacrifice.

Check out Clint Eastwood‘s film, “Gran Torino” to see this in action.

This blows the myth of redemptive violence out of the water. We don’t need to let this worldview shape our lives anymore.

How often do you hear,

“wait till they see what I’m going to do to them”.

How often do we bad mouth those who we don’t like?

“wait to you hear what they did”.

In the final seconds of “I spit on your grave”, after brutally killing her attackers, the woman smiles to herself. She believes she has found salvation.

She hasn’t.

She may have found momentarily relief but she is not free. She is caught in the cycle of redemptive violence and it will be the death of her.

Not the death of her physically.

But the death of her humanity.

To choose the “Third Way” is to choose not to let someone strip us of our dignity.

To not allow us to be brought down to their level.

To not lose our humanity.

blessed are the meek