Crazy Obedience

Obedience is one of those things which is often spoken about but it really does take a lot to put into action. As we think about Advent and the lead up to Christmas, obedience is key to the whole of the story.

Firstly, Jesus himself had to be obedient to come to earth! It would have been so easy surely for God to have come up with another plan, another idea, rather than sending his son to us here on earth, in the midst of hurt, pain, turmoil, trouble, anger and even risk, but yet it happened. Jesus, the son of God came to earth! Came to be amongst us, his choice, his obedience!

And then there was Mary and Joseph! We spoke about their ability to hear God's voice previously, but to then act on it in total obedience, even when the whole thing would have seemed strange, odd or peculiar to what they knew, their traditions and so on. Yet they did what God said, and were obedient.

Obedience will be tough when everything around us will be saying something different or suggesting that there must be another way! Yet the challenge for us is to think through where we put our trust. Do we trust the culture around us more than God? Do we trust the voice of our culture more than the voice of God? Do we only give part of ourselves because we are uncertain? If God was prepared to take a risk and Jesus was obedient for us, can we rise to that invitation for us to be obedient to what God is asking of us?

On the Move

This is the first of our Advent reflections, and we wanted to reflect on the fact that God is on the move!

But God has always been on the move, and this is so represented in the life of Jesus even when he was a baby. From the point of birth, his family took him on an adventure (even if it was for his own safety). They took him to different places, and he was on the move. Living in different places, engaging with different people in different ways, Jesus was not confined to one place, nor to one people group, and God today is not confined!

God is continually on the move, inviting people to engage with him, opening his arms to receive, going to where people are, not just expecting them to come to him. If Jesus moved around during his life, and God is on the move, shouldn't we be people who are going to where people are, reaching out to them, engaging with them in their contexts, in their lives and circumstances?

During this season, let's be open to where God is on the move, but also ask, where is it that we should be on the move also?

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.