I had a really good morning at church yesterday. I’ve been putting together a 24 hour prayer room for the church in June and there were nine hour slots left for people to sign up for. I spoke during the service about the need to humble ourselves and spoke about how the civil rights movement, the NHS and the modern school system all came out of prayer meetings. I spoke about my excitement and expectancy for what God might lay on our hearts during those 24 hours.
After the service, we are left with just one hour block needing filled. I was happy.
A parent also came up to me and said I must be doing a good job as her son (and two friends) came and asked them their thoughts on a whole bunch of theological issues. She was pleased that they were engaging with faith outside of the ‘normal’ groups. I felt really good.
Ten hours later, I returned from the Sunday night youth fellowship tired, weary and one question swirling around my head: ‘why am i doing this?’
Nothing bad happened last night. The young people didn’t trash the place or anything like that. Nobody attacked me or swore at me or did anything to annoy me. It was worse than that. Nothing happened. I didn’t have any real opportunity to engage with the young people. I was overseeing the night, presenting it from the front and clearing things up at the end.
I guess that’s the problem of being the youth worker of the church. You want to do everything, but you can’t. You want to be the one running the event, getting to know the young people, building relationships, working with the volunteers, helping everyone grow, planning for the future etc.
I’ve been trying to do that for the last nine months. And it’s left me tired and weary.
I can’t do everything. And you know what, I shouldn’t. It’s not all about me, regardless of how much I want it to be.
Does anyone else go through this?
It’s silly. I get jealous of some of the other volunteers who seems to be getting on great with the young people whilst I’m standing about picking up the rubbish. But so what? It’s not about me. I’m just here to facilitate. I can’t be ‘super youth worker’!
It reminds me that I need to centre myself before God again and realize that I am called to do a certain job and that’s the job I need to do. We are a team. The volunteers play their part and I play mine. Sometimes it means I’ll have the night to talk to the young people and sometimes it won’t. My job is to fill the gap. To see what needs to be done and do it. So what if I can be everyone’s friend? So what if I can’t be the one that they all confide in for advice? Can you imagine what my life would be like if that were the case? I’d be enough more weary than I am right now.
I’m also looking forward to a holiday. I’ve been working since August and apart from a few days at Christmas and Easter, I’ve not had a proper holiday. A holiday where I turn off the phone, the laptop, the e-mail and be me again. Where i remember that what is important is my relationship with God and my family. Where I remember that it’s not all about me.
Where I remember that i am created to be. Not do.
- The Life of An Insecure Youth Worker (smoorns.com)
There are moments when I’m reminded of my insecurities and weaknesses. A few weeks ago I had one of those moments.
During the Easter holidays, a number of the young people from the church went to an SU retreat in Austria for a week. All of them came back ‘high’ from the experience. I remember the intense experience of weekend aways and week long retreats when I was a teenager. Being in a christian environment, surrounded by christians with no ‘worldly distractions’ is always going to have positive moments. It’s easy to be a christian when you’re away from your ordinary life, surrounded by other christian peers.
I heard the similar views of , “why can’t our YF be more intense”, “oh the speakers were incredible, not like we have here” etc etc.
But then one of the leaders of the trip away invited all of the young people from the trip to a ‘sort of’ reunion at a youth event in Edinburgh. Nothing wrong with that.
But it’s what he said that made me insecure and angry.
He said that he didn’t want the young people getting complacement in their faith and so wanted to keep them going to other invites to keep that flame lit.
The voice in my head responded with something like “and what do you think I’m trying to do?” “is my work meaningless?”
That was my gut reaction. the voice in my head that craves attention and worth.
“I’m the one working with these young people every week, not you”.
The rants continued in my head. I came home afterwards with a mixture of thoughts in my head. Retreats are good for young people but we have to help them realize that those ‘mountain top’ experiences aren’t everyday occurences. They can’t live their christian life going waiting for the next ‘high’. i remember coming home from trips to soul survivor and being angry with my church. “how can they be so complacement? Where’s their passion? I felt God there but not here”.
Now that I’m a youth worker I see how hard those things are to hear.
But thank God for grace. Thank god that i am not defined by my work. And I pray God would continually break me down every time I forget that.
But that’s not to say that those thoughts should be ignored. We need to find ways to disciple the young people we work with through those experiences. We need to help them practice the presence of God in their daily lives and realize that that God can be found in the small insignificant moments and no just the intense worship experiences. To help them realize how to be a disciple when you don’t feel God’s presence; when things are hard and your friends don’t take about your faith.
I thank God for those events, but I need His grace and vision to help bring the young people back into ‘normal life’.
I’d catch a grenade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Throw my hand on a blade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
I’d jump in front of a train for ya (yeah, yeah , yeah)
You know I’d do anything for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Ridiculous sentiments that don’t make any sense. But you know what, the crucifixion doesn’t make sense either.
It got to the stage where God was like, “how do I express my love to them? How do I show them once and for all?”
And he came up with a ridiculous sentiment.
Die for us. Die with us. Die in place of us.
How do we show our love for people? We go over the top. We do grand gestures proclaiming our love. We buy stuff or them, we give up our lives for them, we write songs for them, we make movies for them. We try and satisfy that love any way that we can.
How did God satisfy his love for?
I just finished watching Saw 7. The final chapter in the successful ‘torture porn‘ or ‘gorno’ franchise.
Let me say a few things before I delve into it:
1) I believe that is is good to explore and discussion films with young people. I know young people watch the Saw films. Rather than simply saying, “Don’t watch it”, I want to find ways of exploring the themes and characters of the films and comparing and contrasting them with the themes and characters that we find in the Bible.
2)I’m not saying that God and Jigsaw are the same or that God can even be summed up by a character in a film or story. What I am intending to do is to
make comparisons that help young people explore faith in culture 9and vice versa)
3)These are initial thoughts and have not been critiqued in depth by myself as yet
With those things said, let’s plunge ourselves into the murky and morally bankrupt world of the Saw franchise.
For those unfamiliar with the Saw films and the character of Jigsaw, here is a summarised excerpt from wikipedia:
“Jigsaw, introduced in the series as John Kramer, was a civil engineer dying from an inoperable frontal lobe tumor that had developed from colon cancer. After a failed suicide attempt, Kramer experienced a new respect for his own life and set out to force others through deadly trials to help them appreciate their own lives by testing their will to live through self-sacrifice. The tests were typically symbolic of what Jigsaw perceived as a flaw in each person’s moral character or life. The Jigsaw name was given by the media for his practice of cutting puzzle pieces out of the flesh of those who failed their ordeals and perished, symbolic of their missing survival instincts.”
Two comparisons between Jigsaw and the Christian understanding of God
1) Jigsaw offers salvation to his subjects
2)Jigsaw takes risks.
Let’s look at these in a little more detail.
1)Jigsaw offers salvation to his subjects. That is the crux of his plan. He wants people to be like him. To have a new found respect for life. But to do this they must lose something of their self. They must die to their old ways. You can see where I’m going with this.
Now, let me make clear that I’m not saying God is like this. God, as I understand it, does not put us through horrific trials in order for us to find life. He may use these things that happen to us to weave potential good out of them but that is not the same thing.
Jigsaw wants these people to see the errors of their ways and repent. Only by truly repenting, can they do the things that he asking of them and liberate themselves.
At this time, Christians celebrate Easter. The death and resurrection of God. Rather than us going through torture to find salvation, God goes through the torture. God dies that we might have life. Deeply, deeply humbling.
The cross, like Jigsaw’s torture chamber, is a symbol of hope. It symbolizes the possibility of new life.
2) Jigsaw takes risks. Jigsaws victims might not find salvaation. His efforts may be, in the end, like chasing after the wind. They might not have the strength or the courage to die to themselves. As a result, the Saw films are overflowing with corpses.
It is my belief that God takes risks. He is the ultimate risk taker. On the cross, God gives his life as a ransom for many. His hope is that all will be reconciled to Him through his actions. Whether you hold to universalism, or annihilation or a traditional understanding of Hell, we can all testify to the fact that God took a risk.
And not just on the cross. From the very beginning of time, God has taken risks. the Bible is full of stories of God’s interaction with mankind. It’s full of stories of the risks he takes.
In the end, it is obvious that Jigsaw and the Christian God are not the same. But there are themes in the movie that resonate. That can be explored with young people.
I’m not saying you should get your youth group together and watch a Saw film (although that would be interesting).
But what I am saying is this. Don’t ignore the fact that young people watch these types of film. But on the other hand don’t just say you shouldn’t and leave it at that.
Instead, do what God did and still does. Take a risk. Interact with him. Discuss it with them.
You might be surprised by the results.
- Horror Films: Saw the Final Chapter (moneysupermarket.com)
A few things have been on my mind this week.
1) “Rubber”. A film about a group of viewers ‘watching’ a film about a killer tyre in ‘real life’ right in front of their eyes. They watch the film unfold in front of their eyes, comment on it but never enter into the story itself.
3) With our young people on a Sunday night, we’ve been working through the “Soul” DVD series by Christianity Explored. Last night, we looked at the cross and a couple of the young people described how hard they find it, entering into the story as it’s one they’ve heard so often.
4) A boring, lifeless communion I attended yesterday.
So, what’s the connection? I’ll look at each of them in a little more depth.
1)”Rubber”. There are lots of things going on in this movie but let me pick out one of them. The audience watches the proceedings. They comment on it but choose not to get involved. They are spectators and when there are faced with the choice of being part of ‘it’, they panic.
2)”Treme”. I love how, despite everything that they have been through, they don’t lose their spirit. They still have their marches. Music. Dance. Music is what defines them. It’s what they share together. It’s who they are, where they’ve came from and where they’re going. They want to be part of something. They don’t sit and spectate. They get involved.
3)Too often, the young people have simply been told about the Easter story. About what happened. They’ve never been given the chance to enter into it. to experience it. For it to be more than words on a page. More than something that happened two thousand years ago.
4)The communion I attended was a ritual. Now, I don’t have a problem with rituals when you can enter into them. I didn’t feel I could enter into this. It was something I wanted to enter into. There didn’t seem to be any life in it.
5)Dr Brian Cox describes with passion how we are all part of the story of the universe. We all have our part to play in the grand metanarrative.
So, there’s the connection. They are all about the choice of choosing to enter in or out of something.
More and more, I think christian youth workers (and I include myself here) are guilty of not allowing young people to enter into the story. We fill them up with facts, and rules, and theology and forget about helping them live out the story itself.
When I watch the people parading in “Treme” it makes me think, “that’s what communion should be like. that’s what the christian faith should be like”.
Beliefs are important. But beliefs are not the same things as knowledge.
So why is the church so guilty of making their service an intellectual lesson? And how can things change?
I want to help young people embrace the story. A story that transforms how they see the world and their place in it.
Dr Cox gets excited about how we are part of the universal story of the stars. he’s passionate. He’s convincing.
He wants people to step into this reality and I want the same for the young people I work with.
At Easter time, more than ever, I need to help the young people I encounter find space to forget what they know about the story and instead enter into it.
That’s what the Christian faith is about.
During Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter) our church runs a series of evening services. I am leading the Good Friday evening service.
One of my ideas is to put together a modern interpretation of the passion using a news report template. The news presenters will ‘break’ the story to the public and interview some of the people affected by it.
What was most important to me was that as many of the young people I work with could be involved in the service.
this morning the youth group chose their roles for the news report and started writing the script. These young people are aged between 12 and 14 years old.
Here’s the problem. I’m a perfectionist. I am a filmmaker and believe in making my movies the best that they can be. This ethos crosses into every area of my youth work and life. I think we have a responsibility to make things great.
But in allowing the young people to write the script, I risk the end product not being as ‘technically’ good as it could be. The script won’t be as good. The acting won’t be amazing etc.
But that’s the point.
I believe, as many have stated before me, that youth work is about the process, not the product. like the faith I try to live out, youth work is a journey.
Through their involvement, the young people will learn how to put a short film together. They will learn that they are creative. They will have a sense of achievement something that they have helped make will be broadcast to the whole congregation.
Are there times when we focus more on the product than the process?
Maybe, that’s something to think about.