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?

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?

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.