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.
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.
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?
When our Sunday night YF starts up again at the end of August, we’re going to go through a series looking at some of the stories Jesus told. The problem is, there are such well known stories. Everyone knows them. They know what happens in them. They know how they end.
So I’m trying to reinterpret them. Make them fresh.
The first one is probably the most famous of all. The Prodigal Son. How do you make that story fresh to people who will have heard it many times before? I’ve taken my first stab at it and the results are below. I’m not sure whether it’s enough but it’s a start. I have a couple of weeks to mull it over. Please let me know your thoughts.
Tom sits staring at the text on his phone. Thinking whether to send it or not.
“Dad, I’m sorry. Can I come home?”
He deletes the message and puts the phone back in his pocket. He leans back against the cold hard cement of the building behind him. The sounds of traffic echoes around his ears. A passer-by throws a twenty pence piece into his cup. He’s been living on the street for three weeks now.
Hard to imagine that just four months ago he had everything. Tom lived in a two story penthouse with his dad and sister. He had everything he ever wanted. Clothes, gadgets, good schooling.
But you know what it’s like when you’re a teenager. You want independence. You don’t want your parents supporting you all the time.
So he left home. Well, more than that.
He got into a fight with his dad one night. Told him, he wanted him dead. That he was moving out and he’d never see him again. Told him that he didn’t understand him. He needed to be on his own. Things escalated. Minutes later, Tom was standing over the bloodied and beaten body of his dad. He grabbed some money from the safe his dad had behind a painting in the dining room, and took off.
His dad was inconsolable. Close friends and family told him to forget Tom. That he was a nobody. He’s better off out of his life. His dad disagreed.
Over the next few weeks, Tom’s sister, Tracy looked after her dad. She nursed him back to health. She did everything for him. Anything to make him happy. That’s just what she was like. She’d always been like that. Trying to get her father’s approval through what she did. What she didn’t realise is that she always had his approval. She didn’t need to do anything to get it.
For Tom, the next couple of months were great. He rented a small flat, went out all night and slept all day. He experienced everything he had ever dreamed of. He had it all. Every desire, he filled.
But soon the money ran out. And the friends that he had recently acquired left also. He didn’t have the money to pay for the flat so he was thrown out on to the streets. He had nobody. Just a sleeping bag and his phone.
He thinks back to what it was like a few months ago. He wants to go home.
He takes his phone out again and tries to dial home. But he can’t. He doesn’t deserve that life.
A voice calls out to him.
“Put the phone away”.
He looks up. The tall frame of his dad stands over him. He stares. Not knowing what to do. His dad reaches out a hand.
“It’s time to come home”.
You see, once his dad was able to walk again, he set about looking for his son. He spoke with bar and club owners, shop managers, any contact he had. And they led him to his son. His sister was outraged. Why does he need him? He threw it all away. He doesn’t deserve his father’s attention. She does. She does everything for him.
“But you’ve already got my love Tracy. You don’t need to do all of this. My son needs my love, just as much as you”.
Tracy doesn’t understand. Tom doesn’t understand either.
But he’s glad to be home.
I want to take a few minutes and talk about the film below:
Now much like my post on the revenge flick “I spit on your grave‘, I realize that this film is not for everyone and some of you may simply be disgusted that I would choose to watch a film like this and talk about it in the first play.
This blog probably isn’t for you then.
But for those who have seen it, or watch this type of film from time to time, I wanted to talk about it.
Here is the BBFC‘s overview of the film:
“MUM & DAD is a horror film about a young Polish woman who is imprisoned and tortured by a middle-aged couple who wish to make her become part of their extended family. It was passed ’18’ for strong bloody violence, torture, terrorisation and sex references.”
As I said. Not for everyone.
But there are some intriguing themes lurking in the blood soaked corridors of the movie.
‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ have two adoptive children (Birdie and Elbie). It is implied that they were at one time captured like the Polish woman (Lena) and tortured. But over time, they became part of the family. That always seems the plan of ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’. They want to have children. They want to have a large family.
But what kind of family?
They want a family who will fear them. Who will do anything for them. Who will kill for them.
If the captured boys and girls’ will yield to ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, and fear them, they will be invited into the family.
As humans, we too have been given an invitation.
Paul, in his letter to the Galations says this:
“So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
We have an invitation into God’s family. We no longer need to be slaves to the idols of this world: individualism, consumerism etc.
And unlike ‘mum’ and dad’s family, it is build on love; not fear.
Unlike ‘mum’ and dad’s family, we are accepted unconditionally into this family. We don’t need to be slaves to their wicked demands.
Is this the message I speak of with the young people of the church?
Is this the message that they hear?
Not always. I’m often guilty of enslaving this good news with rules. Of ‘norms’ that they need to follow.
I end the post, as I often do, with a rhetorical question for myself (and maybe others)
What would the youth groups I oversee look like if they proclaim this joyful adoption message?