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?

Do we enable people to feel chosen or rejected

Many of us will have memories of our school days, the PE lessons, and two people picked as captains, and then they have to choose who they want on their team! those days of knowing that you were going to be last, and only end up on someones team because the other person didn’t choose you. This process of team picking often leads to people thinking that they aren’t worth much, or valuable to others, and they can start to feel rejected.

Not being chosen often leads to that feeling of being rejected. And we see it so much in our society today, where people are overlooked because according to those doing the choosing, they don’t quite fit. But, really, what does it actually mean to fit?

many at times have overlooked me, because I am blind. they make their assumptions about what I can do, what I am worth to a team, and my ability to do things, without talking to me, asking me, or especially pushing past the blindness, to seeing the person, not just the blindness. It is a challenge to all of us, that we don’t allow the church to become that place of rejection for people, but the place not just of acceptance, but chosenness.

But maybe the fact that much of society doesn’t feel chosen, and feel chosen by the church, is because we ourselves, haven’t got to grips with what it really means for us, as Gods people to be chosen. If we haven’t got to grips with being chosen ourselves, how can we expect others to feel chosen? We won’t demonstrate what it means to be chosen if we aren’t receiving gods choosing in the first place. it is time that we really started to embrace the fact that we are chosen people, so that we can live lives, that enable others to feel chosen as well.

the difference between the kingdom of God and the school PE lessons, is that everyone is chosen, everyone has the invitation to join in, nobody is excluded, but people can choose themselves, to be excluded. how much do we actually extend the invitation, and enable people to feel chosen, rather than them feeling rejection, excluded, or simply just not wanted.

In our work with young people, we should always have that invitation at the heart of what we do, and who we are, there should never be any sense of rejection. But many young people have felt that rejection, because of us puting behaviour before the ability or invitation to belong. Jesus invited people to follow him, and he would show them the way, and offer to guide them, they would know that they are chosen, and it was down to them whether they accepted his choosing or they decided to reject it. Jesus was inclusive of his invitation, and enabling people to feel chosen, but people would often reject this for various reasons.

Maybe it is time for us to start living those chosen lives, so that we can truly extend the invitation to others, and enable them to feel chosen, and that way, bring gods love, value, worth to people, and they no longer feel rejection, or exclusion from all that God has for them.

1: What does it mean for you to live a life knowing that you are chosen?
2: How can you ensure that others around you are invited, and not rejected?

Reformation

My knowledge of history, and the reformation is so limited that i am not even going to attempt it here, but what is possibly worth exploring is some of what could be principles behind reformation?

unsettlement: Reformation generally comes when there is some form of unsettlement with the current status quo. But true reformation is not just the human unsettlement, it should and does come from God, when he shakes what currently is, and wants to reform the current into something of what he wants it to be.

there is a recognition across the country at the moment, that Reformation is needed amongst Discipling young people and young adults. There is a stirring, and unsettlement with what is currently being offered or provided, or lived out, and the growth of young disciples needs a reformation. it cannot be, that God would settle for those young people now who have made that choice, or starting to live out that Discipleship lifestyle? God would surely want as many young people as it was possible to hear, to have the opportunity, and have the ways in which discipleship actually meant something to them in their context.

Discipleship: From that place of unsettlement, has to come the recognition of the need of reforming discipleship. We have gone so far in our attempts to work with young people, and engage with their issues, but somewhere along the line, Jesus has been either removed, forgotten, or left to a later stage, which in many cases just doesn’t happen. Professionalising youth leaders has enabled them to certainly be good youth workers, working with young people, but the professionalising of youth leaders has made them that, professionals, rather than disciples who make disciples. there cannot be a discounting of what it means to engage with young people, and those practices, but we have gone so far, that the forming of disciples who make disciples is remote at best.

Discipleship is something that today, is attempted to fit into our practices, rather than being the foundation of our existence and practice. We need to be prepared to take the risks, step out, try new things, go to where young people are at, and stop thinking that they are going to come to us to be discipled.

Jesus as Lord: Following from our thoughts that we have adopted so many practices that discipleship is now a sideline, we need to get back to the foundation that Jesus is Lord, and is our only Lord, there is no room for anyone, or anything else to be Lord in our lives. We need to move from having our youth work practices as our foundation, to having Jesus as our foundation, and working out of that strong foundational place. There will of course be many elements that are brought into discipleship, and knowing Jesus, but this needs to be our starting place now, rather than our working practices, or other youth work activities coming first.

These are not finished thoughts, they are a starting point, but sometimes things need to be put out in the open so that the reformation can begin, and all that God has for young people, and wants to be for young people, can start to come into place.

Reformation needs to start from that place, of recognising that the current status quo is not going to do what it proclaims it is going to do, and for people to step out bravely, passionately, and in the guidance of God to see the reformation take place.

Dream new dreams

Recently, I had the fortune to go with a close friend to see U2 perform the Joshua tree in concert, it was an amazing evening on many levels, but profound to here them perform the whole of this album, which they had not done before, but also recognise the prophetic nature of this album for the time we are in now, not just for the time when it was released 30 years ago.

One song that stood out, was In Gods Country, and the opening lines: “desert sky, see beneath the desert sky, rivers run, but soon run dry, we need to dream new dreams tonight.”

Having not just worked with young people, and released leaders, over a number of years, I recognise the prophetic and challenging nature of these words.

As I reflect upon them, i am reminded of where I used to go as a boy on holiday, and one of our first reflections on arriving there, was that the rivers on the strand beach, had changed! often in width, or depth, but more often than not, in direction, but still the river flowed.

In these words from U2 certain things stand out:

1: Desert: for so long now so many have observed the desert nature of where we are currently at in regard to youth discipleship. observing that not only are fewer young people engaging with God, or the christian faith, but fewer are holding on to that as they grow older. the landscape for which youth discipleship currently exists, is very much a desert landscape.

2: the River: the words in this song, are so poignant, as they say, “rivers run, but soon run dry”. There are indeed rivers in the desert landscape of youth discipleship, but these are rivers that are largely formed out of how we have defined the river in the first place. We have decided that the river of youth discipleship has to look and flow in a certain way, if not, then it isn’t discipleship. Similar to the river of my childhood, i wonder whether we have to become more open to the river flowing in different ways, changing courses, and not being defined by how we want or expect it to flow, but defined, by where it naturally flows. Often we have got stuck into a place that says that God only disciples in certain ways in certain places, and placed our human expectation upon how discipleship takes place, without recognising where the spirit is flowing, and where God is at work. Similar to the river of my childhood, which adapted to its surroundings, and habitats, i wonder whether it is time for us to lose our constructed definitions of how the river of discipleship should flow, and be open to where God is moving.

3: dreaming: these words moe than any other have stuck with me since seeing U2 on that night at the beginning of July. “we need to dream new dreams tonight”, and why? well just remember what the previous line said, the “rivers soon run dry”.
Even though there are rivers of discipleship which are there in our desert landscape now, the reality is that more and more of the defined structured rivers are running dry, which is why we need to dream new dreams.

We should give thanks for those rivers that are still flowing, but also recognise that those rivers are getting fewer and fewer, and starting to run dry, and maybe part of this is because the rivers are not adapting to the context that they need to flow in.

For so long we have held on to our constructed definitions of discipleship and not asked the question first, where is God at work? where is his spirit flowing? If we actually asked these questions first, then maybe, just maybe, the rivers would be a greater feature in thelawdscape, and not be running dry so quickly.

So where are the dreamers? are we prepared to release them, support them, encourage them? Are we recognising those who are up for and able to redefine how the river of disciplehsip can look, to enable more rivers to stand out and less of the desert stand out.

Wouldn’t it be great if in 5, 10, years time, we were recognising more rivers and less desert? More young people were encountering God, and not just for a short period of time, but for life?

As I said, referring to the river of my childhood, no-one ever said, that because it changed, or didn’t look like it did the previous year, it is no longer a river! it still held its identity as a river, and maybe this is our challenge, to stop thinking that everything has to look like the way it always has done, and that is the only way it can look!

We need to dream new dreams tonight, if not then the rivers will indeed continue to run dry, and the desert will not only continue to be the dominant feature, but increase in its domination.