In March’s issue of ‘youthwork’ magazine, Krish Kandiah wrote an article detailing the ‘crisis’ the church is in: young people are leaving the church in droves and are not coming back. Let me say before anything that I have the upmost respect and admiration for Krish. I do not agree with everyone he says but I think he is a guy sold out for God and sincerely wanting to see God transform this world. If it weren’t for him starting this discussion, then I wouldn’t have spend the last few days mulling all these thoughts over. Thank you Krish.
His article is a response to the recent research by ‘Care For the Family’ and the ‘sticky faith initiative’ that had all sorts of depressing statistics about the present day church and young people. I blogged recently about the ‘getting your kids through church without them hating God’ tour by ‘Care for the Family’. You can read about it here.
There are things that I agree with in the article and things I do not. I think there are big issues with how young people relate to the church and I do agree that the church, as an institution, needs to change if things are going to improve. And I think some of the suggestions are good and can potentially work but I’m not sure the article is getting to the heart of the matter.
I think there are two big questions that need to be grappled with in regards to young people and church. Kandiahs’ article deals with the second, ‘how can we keep young people in the church?’ but an equally important question is ‘what about all the young people who will never come to a church service?’ But that is not the crux of the article, or the research, but it is one that needs just as much focus because as statistics have shown, young people are inherently ‘spiritual’ and are seeking spirituality in one form or another. Phil Rankins report, ‘buried spirituality’ is proof of this. the church as a whole is failing these young people.
So what’s the issue? Kandiah suggests that youth work is not working. But what is youth work? What is it we are trying to do and communicate with young people? Is it to simply keep young people in church? Why? And how do we define church? Is it the church service? Is it weekly attendance we’re getting at? I think before any discussion about whether youth work is working or not, we need to define what ‘youth work’ is.
I think the issue is that for too long christian youth work has been about keeping young people in church services. But youth work has to be bigger than that. God, after all, is bigger than that. Now I have to be careful when I say this because I do not want to put words into Jesus’ mouth and I do not want to generalise things, but Jesus’ mission was never about keeping people in church. It was about mission.
I think the suggestions of breaking down the age barriers, getting young people more active in church services, and getting more mentoring between young and old going on are great ideas. But that’s difficult. And it will require the structures on institutional churches to change and I am fairly pessimistic about that because the problem is youth fellowships (in general) are creative, democratic and focused on community. church services by their nature are not. they may want to be and they may claim to be but it in most cases the few lead the many. and it’s going to take a lot to change that.
So what needs to be done? After all it’s fair enough for me to be critical of one article but what suggestions am I offering? Or am I just throwing out more questions?
For too long being a christian has meant believing in the right theology. it’s been about the mind. The christian faith has been reduced to a creed. Believe it (in your head) and you’re a christian. Disagree with it, and you’re not. Young people, at least that ones I am in contact with, do not want that. Or at least don’t want that as the starting point. It’s action they want. It’s to be part of a story. It’s to be caught up in a dream that they can physically be part of here and now. They want integrity.
They want to know that the christian faith matters now. that it’s not just about who is in and who is out. but that t’s about transformation. Transformation of people, communities, towns, cities, counties, countries and the world. For too long all we’ve done is talk about right and wrong theology (head knowledge). Talk, talk, talk.
Maybe we need to start with action. Or at least have a better balance. Now hear me out. I’m not pushing for a works based salvation. But by our deeds people should know our salvation. When a church services focuses more on right thinking than action; more on sermons than community action, that’s when the young people start leaving.
Let’s start with the stories Wilberforce, Theresa, Pullinger, Nightengale and show how that connects with Jesus rather than the other way around.
Let’s give them something to get their teeth, their hands, their feet, their hold bodies into.
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
read part 2 here
After a lunch hour that consisted of mostly wandering around aimlessly trying to find somewhere we could buy a sandwich, finding said shop, buying a sandwich (and eating it…obviously) we took our seats for what I hoped would be an inspiring and challenging set of talks.
I wasn’t wrong.
First up was Steve Griffiths who wanted to bring back “hit and run youth ministry”. Griffiths spoke of his frustration with how people used the term ‘incarnational’. He believes that most people who use this term do not use it correctly and do not base their work on the style of Christ. He said that hanging out with young people so that we earn the right to speak to them is a load of rubbish and we need to get back to how Jesus operated.
I agree with his frustrations, but for different reasons.
Youth work is so much more than hanging around with young people. It is this kind of thinking that shames our work and makes us look like a bunch of people who have nothing better to do and have no aims or objectives. Secondly, I hate this kind of manipulative agenda that we sometimes carry as Christians. The idea that we befriend and get to know people so that we can build a bridge that allows us to share the gospel with them. Jesus didn’t do that and neither should we. He helped people, met their needs, talked with them, stood up for them, fought for them. I don’t start friendships with people so that I can change them in some way. that’s not authentic. That’s what salespeople do and that’s not what we are.
After outlining his frustrations he went on to talk about two greek understandings of time that were used in the New Testament.
1) Chronos– Time that can be measured.. quantitative in assessment. seconds, minutes, hours, days etc.
2)Kairos– time that is qualitative in assessment. It’s about how you feel. “That hour felt like two”. It is time that is measured in eternity.
Griffiths shared how he felt that youth workers focused on chronos time on Kairos. He spoke of how we think we need to spend loads of time with young people but that results in us feeling guilty because we don’t think we spend enough time with young people. Thinking about it, that might also be connected with how we feel about the times we spend praying, reading the bible etc (but that’s another post).
Griffiths urged us to move away from Chronos and focus on Kairos time. We need to be people who live in Kairos time to help young people encounter eternity through our conversations. This all sounds good and throwing in some greek words makes you think that what you’re hearing is right but I think this approach is fundamentally flawed.
H said that we feel guilty about how much time we spend with young people. Is it ever enough? But that wouldn’t change with focusing on kairos time. we would still feel guilty but it would be a different type of guilt. we would feel guilty about whether or not our conversations were meaningful or not. it won’t change anything. What we should be is intentional. Intentional about our work and intentional in our relationships. We should be ready to have those conversations with young people at any point if they ask. not just when we feel we’ve spent enough time with them.
And anyway, can you have kairos time without chronos time? surely they go hand in hand.
Up next were lucy bannister & sid williams talked on “sharing your life with young people”. The exact opposite of what Steve Griffiths was suggesting. Brilliant stuff.
They shared personal stories about how getting to know young people and being ‘present’ in their lives was a better way of understanding incarnational youth ministry. It is about being there for young people without having an agenda. It’s about sharing in their story and, at times, if appropriate, demonstrating how they are part of God’s big story. I enjoyed what they had to say but the one thing I found unhelpful was when they said, “love first then professionalism.” (or something to that extent).
In the context of their talk I understood what they meant but I think that kind of quote can be taken the wrong way and can lead to all sorts of trouble. We should be professional in our youth work. We should take it seriously. We should have polices and procedures in place to make sure people are protected. If we don’t, out work can be become sloppy and we leave vulnerable young people open to risk.
Still, food for thought.
Krish Kandiah then took to the stage to argue with himself on the subject of “tell young people about love before you tell them about judgement/ tell young people about judgement before you tell them about hell
I’ve not always agreed with Kandiah’s views on certain theological issues But I listened to his talk with an open mind and was surprised that I agreed almost entirely with it. Kandiahs main point was that when Jesus spoke about judgement it was to those who were the “in” crowd (ie the religious crowd who believed that they were safe). To everyone who was in the “out” crowd, he spoke love. His point was that the context you find yourself in will determine the message you bring. To some you may need to preach judgement whilst to others you will need to preach love.
As an introduction to the subject, I thought this was clear and concise and Krish came across humble and honest.
It does leave me with some questions however.
1) Using the gospel of Luke to make his point is fair enough because Luke talks a great deal about insiders and outsiders but what of the other gospels? Do they make the same point or would they offer an alternative view?
2) What do you actually mean by ‘judgement’? I would suggest that this will be where Krish and I disagree. I realise there wasn’t time to go into that and ir wasn’t the place to do so but it’s an important question.
In my next post I’ll speak about the remaining talks in the “deepening faith” stream.
Thoughts/ comments? do you have similar comments or would you completely disagree with what I have said?
- Youth Work Summit Musings Part 1: Exploring Culture (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- Youth Work Summit Musings Part 2: Inspiring Ideas (smoorns.wordpress.com)