Tag Archives: church

A Step of Faith…

For those that have read any number of my posts, it is probably clear that I do not hold a conservative view when it comes to the Christian faith.

Now, I am not one for labels as I find there only use is to reduce and flatten people to a series of dogmatic statements. I would never define my theology as liberal because of that. I say it only so you can get a sense of where I am coming from. When I studied at bible college, the New Testament lecturer labelled me a heretic. It was good to see that in bible college there was an openness to dialogue and debate (that last sentence was sarcastic).

I’ll be honest and say that my last position, as youth worker for a conservative baptist church, was a difficult one. Many judgements about who I was because of what I believe were made.

We have since moved and as a family we have started attending a small anglican community church. A few weeks ago I went out to the pub with a few of the other folks from the church and through the various discussions, it became clear that the leadership of the church would be, what I term, conservative. Again, I want to be careful with that label.

This sent my mind racing. Can we be part of this church? What happens when I express my supposedly unorthodox views of sexuality, adam and eve, hell, atonement, swearing, horror movies etc? Will we be thrown out? Should we even bother building relationships with people who have such opposing views to ourselves?

We are still at the church.

After several discussions with my wife, it became clear that I was making the same errors in judgement that I felt some of the congregation of the Baptist Church had been guilty of. I was labelling people. And more than that, I was dismissing people because of these labels. I had flattened these people into a label.

I do not want to be that kind of person. I don’t want to be the kind of person who only hangs around with those who share a similar view point; who make judgements on someone because of the views they hold.

So I’m taking a step of faith. My family and I are taking a step of faith. We are going to invest in this church. We are going to seek truth together. We are going to fellowship with one another.

And I hope I can become more like Jesus in the process.

Finding Your Place in the Family

As I’m finishing up my post as youth worker for the church in three months, I’ve been reflecting on the last couple of years there and one of the thoughts I’ve been thinking about is on my place within the church family.

In my last two positions as a church youth worker, I’ve found it had to just ‘be’ me and truly be a part of the family of the church. In this current church post, my family and I moved closer to the church but still I don’t think we ‘fit’. I get on with the young people and the other volunteer leaders but don’t get invited to their social events and I get on with the old members of the congregation but again don’t get invited to their social events. I’m neither one or the other. I’m in the middle.

Part of being a church youth worker is about standing in the gap between the young and the old. And that is often seen as a benefit. But for me, its more of the curse of this line of work. You don’t really fit.

It also has something to do with the fact that I am an employee of the church. I’m not there because I’m drawn to the style of service, or because there’s lots of people my age; i’m there to work with the young people. Now maybe the problem is with that word, ‘work’. What does it mean to work for a church? How do you then become part of the church family when you’re there as an employee? Where do you draw the line between ’employee’ and ‘member’? where does the one begin and the other end?

So, it got me asking the question on twitter, “can you ever become part of the family of the church you work for?” And I’d like to hear some responses. I’d like to hear people’s thoughts because I don’t hear much about this side of the ‘work’. I haven’t seen many articles or training courses on how you integrate yourself into the church.

I realised I’ve asked a lot of questions but I’m keen to hear as many varied responses as possible.

So please…respond.

My Initial Thoughts on ‘The Cabin In The Woods’

Last night, I saw a preview of the horror film, “The Cabin In The Woods” with fellow reel faith contributor Marc Williamson. It’s a film I was intrigued to see as the trailer sets up all sorts of WTF moments and it has been compared to “the Truman Show” and “Scream” in its task of trying to subvert and breathe fresh life into the slasher genre of horror.

As a film, I think it’s patchy. Story and twists takes centre stage at the expense of engaging characters and ‘heart’. It’s all a bit too ‘intellectual’ and you miss having a grounded character that you can empathise with.

But the film has stayed with me because although it fails on being a coherent and satisfying movie, it wrestles with so many themes in its short running time.

If you haven’t seen it and intend to I would suggest you read no further as there are detailed spoilers before.

The main crux of the film is this. There are Gods under the earth. Gods from the old world. And they are angry Gods that need to be subdued. The only way to do this is through ritual sacrifice. But the Gods are sick of the old ‘put a person on a table and cut them open’. They want spectacle. They crave entertainment. And so a ‘company’ is set up to provide entertainment by killing young people in horror movie conventions. The story then follows a group of five young people as they go to a cabin in the woods and become sacrifices to the Gods. The company personnel orchestrate the events so that they play out like a typical slasher film (eg have the characters become slasher movie archetypes: the jock, the whore, the geek etc) All over the world different horror scenarios are set up to offer sacrifices to the Gods (we see a group of Japanese children being terrorised by a vengeful female ghost with hair covering her face).

So the film deals with a whole host of themes such as free will, sacrifice, murder, meta-narratives, truth, reality, redemptive violence, horror films, entertainment and I’ll hopefully put together a few different group resources over the next few weeks dealing with some of these as I think this is a film ripe for discussion.

This is definitely one to watch.

The Story of Film

The world is a narrative.

Our lives are a narrative.

We are all part of one global narrative that is unfolding day by day. One global ensemble film.

It is no surprise then that films reflect the ongoing narrative of our world.

We can tell a lot about our world by the kinds of films that are being made.

Mark Cousins’ ‘the story of film‘, in either it’s written or TV form, is an expansive history of the narrative of film in the world. It beautifully conveys the overarching narratives in film and how they directly correlate to moments in history.

As someone who is deeply passionate about film and culture, I enjoy analysing these connections and I want to begin a series looking at different periods in the worlds story and how films reflect that. Using that as a basis, I then want to connect that into current youth work practice.


Found footage “is a genre of film making, especially horror, in which all or a substantial part of a film is presented as discovered film or video recordings, often left behind by missing or dead protagonists.[1][2][3] The events on screen are seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, who often speaks off screen. Filming may be done by the actors themselves as they recite their lines, and shaky camera work is often employed for realism. While the genre dates back at least as far as 1980s Cannibal Holocaust, it was popularised after the release of such films as The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007) and Cloverfield (2008).”

Now one can simply say that the reason for the sheer quantity of these types of narratives in recent years is a financial one. They are cheap to make. Simple. And in one sense that is true. But the question that must then be asked is, “why are they so popular?” Let me offer a couple of thoughts.

Since 9/11 the news has been filled with images and scenes from ordinary cameras; from members of the public. We have grown accustomed to shaky cam footage of war and other atrocities. Social media outlets like youtube, facebook and twitter, and the rise of the smart phone have allowed the general public to document the news as it happens. It has become part of our culture. It is embedded in our psyche. We associate shaky cam footage with reality; authenticity. Also, the rise of reality shows, beginning with Big Brother in 2000, also demonstrates our obsession with, so-called, reality.

And studios and filmmakers are well aware of this. It seems obvious then that in order to make films appear more real and authentic, they are made as found footage films. Shot on lo-fi tech they seem to produce reality. But, as we are all aware, they are not. ‘reality’ and ‘authenticity’ in film is simply a technique. It is a means to an end. It is just as superficial green or blue screens and special FX.

We want authenticity. We want to be transported from our real worlds and pry on someone elses. We want to snoop on other peoples lives. We see real footage on the news all the time and we want that in the cinema too.

Maybe, we’ve had enough of superficiality. We want to believe in something. We do not want to be conned anymore (although we still are).


I think, for youthworkers, this is both exciting and challenging.

Through this genre of film, we can empower young people to tell their story. It has never been easier for young people to make a film and showcase it online to friends and family. This is an area we should be exploiting (if that is the correct phrase) in our youth work.

Secondly, we need to make sure that we are being truly authentic in our relationships. “Found footage’ films appear to be real but they’re not and we can pretend to care about young people and their welfare but in reality we might not. The rise of scripted reality dramas like ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’ are a worrying trend because I believe they may be even more manipulative than ‘found footage’ films.

What is our agenda in youth work? Are we happy to get to know young people and that be the goal, or are we always trying to push them towards something?

What are your motives in youth work?



Reel Faith discussion at ICC

On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of hosting an evening at the International Christian College in Glasgow, looking at how we use film in christian youth work and how it could be developed. Below is a summary of what I said:

I started by asking three questions to get folks thinking:

1)             What is your favourite genre?

2)             Can you think of a time when a film changed you in some way?

3)             How do you use film in church or with young people?


Films are stories and stories have been around for thousands of years. Judaism used a form of oral storytelling as a way of self definition. It helped them to understand who they were, how they came to be and who there God was. Jesus used parables (stories) to communicate the kingdom of God. And today, we use film to do the same.

Moses encountered God in a burning bush. Moses would have walked past that bush many times but on that occasion God chose to make that place holy. On that occasion heaven collided with earth. In Celtic theology, this is understood as a ‘thin place’. A place where heaven and earth collide. I believe film can be thin places. Places where we encounter the divine.

Film Theory

Historically there has been five ways in which people have interacted with film:

1)    Avoidance- (steer clear)

2)    Caution (watch with suspicion)

3)    Dialogue (a belief that films can have theological themes)

4)    Appropriation (we can achieve greater insight about god and ourselves)

5)    divine encounter (we can encounter God and be transformed)

Group Question

1) which view do you most often hold?

How we have historically used film with young people?

The Matrix Red/ Blue Pill clip

1)             Who has used this clip in their youth work or seen it used in youth work before?

It’s not wrong to show a two-minute clip but what you need to ask, is, the theme I am communicating through the clip true for the rest of the movie?

What other themes appear in ‘The Matrix’?

The blurring of humans and machines, Sex and sensuality, Fate and freewill, mirrors. The blurring of the real world and the simulated world. Philosophical themes of Descartes, Socrates, Plato, bondage and S&M, sexual ecstasy and orgies.

Do any of these ideas conflict with the Christian worldview? By endorsing one theme, are we endorsing the themes we do not agree with?

Now you make think this is all nonsense and unnecessary. Maybe there is nothing wrong with cherry picking scenes from movies that fit the message we want to share. We realise that we shouldn’t read the bible out of context. the bible out of context. Because it’s wrong and can and has lead to all sorts of misunderstanding and oppression. The bible has been used to condemn and oppress all sorts of people because readers have cherry picked what they have wanted to hear. We come to the bible, not with an agenda, but to hear the inspired words of God. I believe we should be doing the same with film.

So what’s the alternative?

Part 3- A new kind of film criticism

Rather than picking out specific scenes to a film your young people might not have seen, why not start by watching a film and then allowing a discussion to take place over a period of time. Rather than having an agenda, let the film speak for itself. You could then do a whole series of discussions and chats around the themes of one particular film, showing a short clip to refresh their memory.

This also gives young people the tools to be able to do this on their own when their watching films or TV programmes.

Here are the questions that I believe are useful to helping people unpack a film.

What the key themes that this film is trying to engage with?

Ø      What is the film trying to tell you about this?

Ø      Is this the commonly held perception of this?

Ø      What’s your perception of this?

Ø      What’s the biblical perception of this?

Ø      Do these compliment or conflict with each other?

Can you see yourself in any roles / do you identify yourself with any characters?

Are there any background influences from writers/directors that shape the view?

We then watched my short film ‘prodigal’ about a repentant Satan trying to re-enter Heaven and used the questions as a test-case study.

Further Reading

Higgins G        “How movies helped save my soul”
Johnston R       “Finding God in the Movies”
Johnston R       “Reframing theology and film”
Johnston R       “Reel Spirituality”
Ortiz G          “Explorations in theology and film”
Sogaard V        “Media in Church and Mission”

Everyday Leadership

Said and Unsaid

Yesterday Apple announced its new OSX  update, “Mountain Lion“. With over 100 updates, this update will allows macs to become more deeply connected with the online world- twitter, flickr and vimeo. Read more about it here

But what I found more interesting than what was said, was what wasn’t.

one word:facebook.

Facebook is not just a social media, it is the social media. 100 million active users testify to that fact. So why not have Mountain Lion integrate with Facebook?

It could be because of technical issues, the fact that (the enemy) Microsoft owns a small part of facebook or, more likely, facebook is too big a competitor and apple do not believe in the proverb, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. Language is fascinating isn’t it?. Often what we do not say has more power than what we do.

Consider again the expenses scandal. When MPs claimed they had done nothing wrong as there were simply, “following the rules”, what they were really saying was “I know what I did was wrong but the law allowed for it so its okay. I’m not too blame”.

When apple announced all the companies they were integrating with but did not mention facebook, what they were really saying is, “we do not want to work with facebook”.

It gets me thinking about the kinds of unsaid things that are said in the church I work for.

“We have a youth led service every two months” could really mean “we give young people their own service every couple of months so we can keep things the same the rest of the time”.


“we’re bible believing Christians” could really mean “we believe in the bits we agree with and ignore the rest”.

Now maybe that’s cynical and maybe that’s not what is really being said but I believe it’s a good question to ask.

So, what kinds of unsaid things are being said in your church and youth work?

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?


Labeling Auschwitz

Last week I had the incredible privilege to accompany a group of secondary school pupils to Auschwitz in Poland and film their experiences for a series of short teaching aids. As a way of processing some of my thoughts, I’ve decided to blog about it.

I’ve heard stories about what happened at the concentration camps. I’ve seen films depicting events there. But when you physically stand in a gas chamber where hundreds of thousands of people spend their last few minutes on earth screaming; it hits home.

As you walk through the different buildings and see the clothes, shoes, glasses and hair of the hundreds of thousands of people who lived and died there; it hits home.

As you walk through the registration building and see where thousands were stripped, shaved, hosed down and left to die; it hits home.

This really happened. These were real people. Death flourished here.

How do you process something like this?

As a youth worker I try to operate from the view that no one is born evil. I try to believe that it is through a whole series of situations, events and decisions that someone is led to make decisions that would be classified as evil. But when I see what happened there. When I hear the stories and first hand accounts of the atrocities that were committed there, my worldview comes crashing down.

How could human beings do this to other human beings?

I understand that we all have the capacity for acts of great good and great evil but this event seemed to cross a line. And what’s worse is that it still goes on today.

So how do people cross that line? What is it that happens to allow someone to treat another human as ‘less than’ human?

It comes down to labels.

If we choose to label someone, then we no longer have to see them as human.

An overt illustration of this is when all of the prisoners who were taken to the concentration tramps were stripped of their names and given a number.  They were no longer to call each other by their names, only by the number that was tattooed on to their arm. Richard Beck writes an interesting post on this looking at the problem of interacting with people through bureaucratic systems and I think there is much truth in what he is saying.

When we see someone as a number or as an ‘other’ whether it be by religion, sexuality, nationality, we dehumanize them. They stop being a real person with a real life, feelings, dreams and become simply a number. If this is pushed far enough, then the consequences are obvious. If we see people as less than human then there is no problem beating them, ridiculing them or torturing them because they are not like us. They are an other. They do not matter.

This is an important lesson for everyone, not just young people, to understand. Until we stop labeling people, then these kinds of atrocities can and do still happen. At the beginning of Paul’s argument in Romans 1 he talks about  people who have taken their eyes off of God and because they have done so,  have exchanged natural ways of living for unnatural ways. They have become dehumanized and they are dehumanizing other people. They see other people as objects for their own gratification. They abuse one another for their own pleasure.

This is part of what happened in Nazi Germany but also what continues to happen to day in a number of subtle and not so subtle ways.

Are there people we label? That we think of as less than human? Are there people who because of their religion, background, sexuality, political views, we have shut ourselves off from? Are we teaching our young people that no one can be separated from the love of God? That God came to save us all? Do we use inclusive language or do we by our very words or actions, label people to the detriment of them and ourselves?

Let’s make sure we never allow these things to happen again.

Falling into the same old routine

Before I joined my present employment as youth worker at south beach baptist church in saltcoats, I worked part time for a small church of Scotland in Mauchline. Our Sunday night youth fellowship ground had a grand total of five young people and so I had to restructure how I ‘did’ YF.

I was brought up with the mini church service still of YF. You would have an intro/ icebreaker, followed by some songs, a short talk and then maybe a discussion group.

I knew that with the small number we had I couldn’t rely on that structure and so by default, the group became very interactive.

Skip forward 12 months. After several people’s recommendations, I’ve started reading “deep church” by Jim Belcher (a fantastic book that I would encourage you to read if you haven’t already). I was reminded of my passion for reinventing groups to make them more interactive and more young people driven and led.

But I look at the YF we run at south beach and I get a little depressed. Rather than being dynamic, its fallen back into the mini church service still where, for the majority of the time, the young people face the front and listen. Yes, they interact a little but not a huge amount.

Should YF be like this? I mean, I have issues with the way the church service is done because it is all led by a select few from the front. Christian education is reduced to listening to a talk for twenty minutes and that’s it. This isn’t how Jesus modelled discipleship but how else would you do it?

I’ve put an online questionnaire out to all of the young people to find out what they like/ don’t like about YF and what could make it better. Over the Summer, I want to come before God and hear his heart for the group. Is there a different style that would work?

What are people’s own thoughts about it? How do you guys structure your youth fellowship meetings? Is it all about the young people listening to a talk and being ‘educated’ or do you guys do something different?

Please leave your comments.