Voice of God

So much of the story of the birth of Jesus is focused upon his birth, but on at least 2 different occasions, for both Mary and Joseph, God speaks.

This has been overlooked at times, but it is important to reflect on this, as not only did God speak, but they recognised the voice! Seemingly this was not an unusual experience, or there was something different that enabled them to know that this was God speaking. Even when it meant that things that would go against the norm (Mary giving birth and then having to go a different way home because the king wanted to kill your baby), both Mary and Joseph were aware that this was God speaking to them!!

Are we aware enough of God speaking to us? Do we listen? Do we hear? Do we spend enough time with God to recognise his voice? Maybe this Advent as we reflect upon Mary and Joseph hearing God's voice, we ourselves need to be more aware of him, his voice, and what it is he is saying to us!!

Having things in the right place and in the right order

As you may have picked up by now, Andy is busy writing a book exploring how leaders flourish. One of the books he has been reading for his research is called Leading Out of Who You Are, by Simon Walker.

Something Simon writes in the book is: 'What we need to grasp is that the front stage and the back stage are always connected.' For leaders, it is important to realise this connection because  for so much of our lives, people look at our "front stage" - what we do and who we are in public. It is more rare for people to ever ask about the back stage, the unseen, the not public side of our lives.

What we do upfront, engaging with young people, speaking with our teams, engaging with parents, speaking at conferences or even in our church gatherings, is underpinned by what is going on in our back stage, the unseen places.

This is not a permission-giving blog to say that we should be asking anyone and everyone about their back stage, or even feel that everyone can ask about ours, but what it does mean is that every leader should have a few people around them who can ask questions and with whom they can be really honest, knowing they are not going to be judged or condemned.

Ministry is a privileged place but also a vulnerable and often a lonely place. Our back stage may be where so much happens that people do not see or ever really appreciate but it foundational to our front stage, to who we are and how we display ourselves.

Back stages also take time to develop, to ensure the right things are in place; they just don't get created overnight. Not only do they take time to develop, but they also need maintaining. Time needs to be taken by, and given to, a leader so that everything they give in public comes from a good strong foundation of a back stage.

So, questions:

Are you looking after your back stage space?

Do you ever ask or support a leader in the maintaining of their back stage space?

Do you ever over expect from a leader about their front stage without caring about the back stage?

How much time do you as a leader give, or how much time do you as a supporter allow your leaders to take care of their back stages?

Have we made youth ministry too safe and too much about the individual?

Somewhere along the way, there appears to be a youth ministry shift that has put the person, rather than Jesus, at the centre a lot of the time. Somehow it has become all about the "me" and my relationship with Jesus - a personal thing that doesn't need to be shared or put out there in any place. We have removed an element of vulnerability and faith and moved towards being a safe person in a safe place.

Jesus never offered the Disciples safety, nor did he ever seem to offer them comfort; but he did offer adventure, risk, journey and a relationship which wasn't necessarily to be held alone but rather something to be shared. So have we made youth ministry too safe? It's a question that probably needs to be re-explored soon if we are truly to see a generation of disciples making disciples.

Have we taken up the culture that discipleship is all about me and my relationship with God? And have we abandoned the fact that the relationship that is offered by God is indeed one for us but also one for all? Out of our relationship with God, others are meant to be drawn into relationship with God as well.

We will never see a generation released to be all that they are meant to be if we continually focus inward. An outward focus should never be an add-on and it should be something that comes later -  it is an integral part of the who we are meant to be, and we serve young people a disservice in their discipleship the longer we continue to make it about them, rather than what it is truly meant to be about.

Maybe rather than youth ministry and youth ministers, the reality is that we have turned it all into youth work, and thus we are all youth workers. I am not sure about the word ministry, but there is a need to have the distinction between the feel good stuff that a lot of youth work brings and the life-journeying, relationship sharing that Jesus seemed to call us into when he left with the words Go and Make Disciples. He did not leave people with the thought that they are the only disciples and that is it; they had to go and make new disciples.

There is something risky and challenging about Jesus, but we have become so risk-averse that the adventure that we are all invited into is removed and avoided by so much of today's work with young people.

Maybe we would do well to reimagine what it really means to raise a generation of missional disciples who are truly life and community changers for the Kingdom of God.

When will we stop talking about adding to our youth groups?

It is an interesting phenomena that so much of youth work or youth ministry or even youth discipleship talks about adding to our particular group that is currently taking place. Why is it that we feel the need to add rather than doing something different? Why do we continuously think that different young people from so many different backgrounds, with so many different issues in their lives, are going to be able to form one particular group? And why do we still call them groups in the first place?

Maybe the start point is to remove the title of group!! That way we remove the idea of people entering into a particular closed gathering of people, which is what a group usually is. So rather than a group, could, or should, we start referring to the gathering of young people as a community? Community gives the impression of ownership by all and for all, where a group is usually something put on by some for the participation of others. Community also gives the value of shared lives and the giving of each other to the benefit of the whole community. So community is certainly a good place to start, and more can be explored around this in a short booklet on the resource page on this website called the P's and C's of Youth Work. But we do need to explore much more the reason why we feel it is important or necessary to add to our gathering of young people, or whether there is actually a better way forward.

Adding to a number only means an increase in numbers, and where there is an increase in numbers usually someone or some people will get missed or left out, simply due to a large number of people being there. It becomes a difficulty to enable depth or growth in terms of discipleship, and it ignores largely what God is doing in individuals that are there. So, there is a need to move away from the language of adding to the gathering of young people.

This is not to say that we don't want other young people to become disciples - of course we do, but there has to be a better way, surely. And there has to be a way, surely, that does not just assume that by gathering young people in one place, they are safe,  will learn best there, or even be able to go and make a difference where they live. So surely the better way, rather than adding, is to multiply?

The multiplication of gathered communities of young people will make it easier for young people to access something near to them, whether geographically or in terms of relationships.  It also gives more scope for  neighbourhoods to be transformed as young people begin to gather in the  same communities where they live and go to school. In turn, young people are then able to really be part of their communities  as growing disciples, seeing a difference made in their local context.

Multiplication shows movement, and the kingdom of God is a movement, surely. Movement shows that the kingdom of God doesn't just exist or happen in one particular place or in one particular area; it is everywhere - a movement in individual and community lives, and everyone is invited into it.

So if we are serious about seeing young people growing into all that God has for them, we need to change our language and stop talking about adding to youth groups. We need to look to the movement of multiplying youth communities. This way, we will also see the release and development of more leaders and remove a centralised formula of leadership.

Wouldn't it be amazing to see more people being released as leaders, taking part in all that God is doing and feeling that sense of call and release? Not only that, but by seeing the multiplication of communities, we are giving away what we have and removing ourselves from the centre, giving space for God in God's rightful place. What a vision it is to give away leadership, seeing others grow in that and multiplying communities of young people who are able to reach out to others and see them encounter the living God.

This vision is very much at the heart of HYMN, Harrogate Youth Mission Network, where we are seeking to release leaders and see the multiplication of communities of young disciples impacting their culture, their community, and seeing the kingdom of God transforming all around them. It means we have to move away from the usual, the predictable, the what always has been, and explore the new - the what could be, and take that risk in releasing others and believing for the multiplication of impact.

Will you share our prayers and vision to see this happen?