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?

Releasing the Reapers

In a recent time of prayer, there was a focus on Matthew 9.36-38, where Jesus sees the crowds and has compassion on them all. He tells the disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. I was drawn to the 3 letters, RTR, which obviously stand for RollTheRock, but I felt there was more, and over a little time, God gave me a new sense of these initials – that they stood for Releasing the reapers.

Jesus tells the disciples that the harvest is plentiful, a large harvest, if you like, to be reaped. We shouldn’t underestimate all that it is that God wants to do and the lives he wants to draw close to himself. How often do we sell ourselves short, or God short, because we haven’t grabbed hold of the vastness of all that it is that he wants to do.

But then Jesus says that the workers are few. If this is the case, do we need to shift our position to be more releasing? If the harvest is that vast, then it will take more workers to harvest it. It is more than possible that there are people ready to reap, but they are waiting to be released, sent, by others in leadership. The workers may be few partly because people haven’t stepped up to the call of God on their lives, but it also might be because they haven’t felt that release and sending by those in leadership over them. If the harvest is to be truly reaped, then more people need to be sent and more need to respond to the call of God to be sent.

Reaping is an outward activity; the crops don’t come to a farmer, the farmer has to go to them to reap. So why do we think that people are going to come to church gatherings, when we know that they aren’t? The reality is that we are going to need to go to where they are, so that reaping can properly take place. So we need to stop the hoarding and be a lot more releasing of people if we are to see the harvest being reaped.

The harvest may well be vast, but so is the need to send the reapers, which is why we need to be church that releases the reapers.

Where does grace show itself in our lives?

You might remember the old acronym of GRACE, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. The thing about this is that grace is about us receiving God’s riches! Do we actually put ourselves in a place of receiving his riches? Do we even believe that we deserve to receive them?

Very often I have heard in churches, people speaking about receiving gifts from God and how they are not worthy of receiving those gifts. They focus much more, if not totally, on the unworthiness to receive, rather than on the fact that God, our Father, wants to give us gifts in the first place.

We speak so much about what God has for people when we talk to others, yet they may find themselves in a church community or environment where we put ourselves down so much that it creates an atmosphere where they will put themselves down as well. This can get in the way of them receiving any gift that God might want to give them.

This is not to put us at the centre, because God is always at the centre. Nor is it about building our egos or anything like that. What it is about is realising that God wants to give us gifts and those gifts are good gifts. The more we put ourselves down, the more we put ourselves in a place of not receiving all the gifts that God has for us.

In Genesis, God talks about how mankind is made in his image. Therefore, if we are truly made in God’s image, why wouldn’t he want to give us gifts? – he sees something of himself in us, the people whom he has created. And maybe if we started putting ourselves in a place of receiving God’s gifts, the rest of the world might get to understand more about what it means to receive God’s gifts. How can others know the God who loves, the God who gives, if they don’t see it in the people who are meant to live their lives as though they know him and receive from him?

So, let’s change our posture, our positioning, and place ourselves in that place of receiving from God, being open to his riches. And out of receiving, let’s enable ourselves to be even more giving people, so that others also receive all that God has to give to them.

The reality of pruning for leaders

Gardeners will understand the necessity of pruning for growth better than I will, but I have heard a number of people talk at length about the need to cut back, the need to prune, to enable whatever is growing to become what it is meant to be – and this is not just in the context of gardening!

Pruning is one of those things we talk about, we even suggest to others, but when it hits us, how on earth do we cope with it?

The first thing to understand is that if we are to grow, and if what we are part of is to grow, then pruning is not just something to talk about, but it is an absolute necessity. We often don’t like to face up to this reality, but it is true, and if we are serious about growth, then we had better get to grips with the truth of pruning.

Growth is something I am sure we would all sign up for, so what is it that stops us from embracing the reality of pruning?

Some suggestions:

Fear: we often have a fear that to be pruned means that we will no longer engage with what we have engaged with, and that we will be seen in a different light. Often our fear comes from how we think others will view us, rather than the reality of what it is that God is doing with us. Cutting back in our lives by God could and will mean that God has other growth for us to live out. Fighting against that pruning and allowing the fear to dominate will stop the growth for ourselves, but also for what God has for us.

Comparison: out of fear, comes our thoughts around comparison. If we are being pruned and things are being taken off us, and others are running with what we have been involved in, we may experience fear of being compared to this other person, especially if that person takes what you were doing to the next level. We see things in the light of comparison as opposed to seeing things in the light of building. Often we will be part of God building something, but then be pruned, to enable others take it to the next level, and maybe even for us to start something new.

Proving self: out of comparison comes our human instinct to prove ourselves to others around us. Proving is human nature, but it isn’t from God. We don’t need to prove ourselves to him – Jesus didn’t need to before he heard the words, “You are my son, with whom I am well pleased”, at his baptism. But often we will fight the need to be pruned, because it doesn’t necessarily look humanly good, and so we want to prove ourselves to others around us.

Need to build: out of our need to prove ourselves, can come the instinct to need to keep building. We don’t embrace the idea very well that pruning can and does strengthen the foundations for the growth that is to come. Often as we grow, or things grow around us, there can be, and often is overgrowth, and things start to look messy once they have overgrown. Pruning needs to take place to ensure that overgrowth doesn’t happen, and that things can grow in the way that they are meant to, looking as God wants them to look. So we need to put aside our own thoughts of us continually pushing to grow what it is we are involved in, to enable it to be what God wants it to be.

Pruning in John 15 is a good thing, a necessary thing, a godly thing, a growth thing, and a releasing thing. The truth is, we will not be the people God wants us to be unless we are prepared to face up to the reality of pruning.

These are just some starter thoughts – there could well be more as I reflect upon this over the summer, but maybe this is something to think through as summer moves on. Where is it that God is wanting to prune you? What does pruning feel like, and are you open to the growth that God has (and therefore open to the pruning he wants)?