When we think of engaging with people or an area, we can often go with the mindset that we know best or have something that others need to hear and listen to. This means we often go in a spirit of power. But at Christmas, it is worth remembering how the son of God chose to engage with us, our world and our culture, becoming a dependant with nothing at all, growing up, learning and engaging in the culture that he sought to bring to love, peace, encounter and relationship.
Even though we may well have something of God that we carry with us at all times whenever we engage with others, how we choose to show this is key. At this Christmas time, is there something we can learn from the way that God chose to engage with us, live life with us, and in gentleness and compassion, transform lives and society?
At Christmas, we often think about the giving and the receiving of things; rarely, if ever, do we reflect on leaving, letting go, or even abandoning.
So much of the Christmas story has leaving at the heart of it. Jesus leaving Heaven, his father, and coming to us; the three kings, or wise men, leaving their environment, all that they knew and going somewhere that they probably knew little if anything about; and the shepherds leaving their livelihoods to go to meet with Jesus.
How much would we be prepared to leave, to let go of, at this Christmas time? Is there stuff that we still want to hold on to? Is there stuff that we are not prepared to let go of? Is there comfort, the familiar that we feel we need to keep a hold of, rather than going to Jesus and all that he might say to us?
If Jesus himself was prepared to leave and go, what could it mean for us today, and what could God be saying to us through this living example of leaving and going?
Are we prepared to leave all that we know, that is comfortable, that makes life easy, to go to Jesus and meet with him, regardless of whatever the consequences might be?
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?
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.