The Grove Is On Fire

Bishop of Truro "Young People Misunderstand References to Devil"

Saturday, 14 February 2015

In this week's General Synod debates the Bishop of Truro Timothy Thornton stood up in defence of new alternate baptism liturgy that removes reference to the devil by saying this; "Those who work with young people give consistent advice that references to the devil are likely to be misunderstood in today's culture."

It may surprise you to find I agree with the bishop whole-heartedly. Somehow, in today's world, people who come into the church don't understand who the father of lies is. It's almost as if the devil is a great deceiver and people by nature listen to his lies! If only there were some people in place who could spend time with the young people or adults before they got baptised who could teach them the truth about these things! Maybe we could arrange for some trained and licensed church person to meet up with them and teach them the meaning of baptism and the Christian faith before hand? That's a big ask I know, but maybe it would work? I mean, if we did that it might mean we'd have to not baptise some people who didn't actually want to learn what the church believed, but I don't know, that might not be the end of the world?

The Problem With Rich Kids

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Fascinating —if American— article about the serious problems rich kids have.

Across geographical areas and public and private schools, upper-middle-class youngsters show alarmingly high rates of serious disturbance.

Dry Erase Whiteboard Paint

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Maybe not the most actual useful thing I saw while visiting other projects on Sabbatical but definitely the coolest thing; an entire room painted in whiteboard paint. Unlike blackboard paint, which I have never ever seen work successfully and looks horrible, this just looked like a plain and ordinary white wall except you could write on all of it. File under; for next time I paint the youth room (and have a large budget).

BeLoved

Tuesday, 10 February 2015
A video about love and the gospel;

A Spoonful Of Sugar Helps The Gospel Go Down

Friday, 6 February 2015

I like this from Miriam Skinner on surprising people with the gospel at the end of an event.

Jesus is the bee's knees, the cat's pyjamas, the most incredible social and political radical the world has ever seen. He's good news to the poor, freedom for the captives. We certainly don't need to employ an awkward quiz at the student union bar to make him more digestible.

Replace "an awkward quiz at the student union bar" with "battle of the bands at the school hall" if you need to.

Three Reasons Why You Shouldn't Do Youth Ministry

Friday, 6 February 2015

Earlier this week I linked to Andrew Wilson quoting Michael Horton, asking if this was the best reason not to do youth work.

Michael Horton—tentatively, cautiously, graciously—asks is it a shame that youth ministers have taken the work of discipling young people away from the senior pastor and the rest of the church? And is it not a bit sad that the youth group has "tended to distance believers from the church at precisely the moment that they were supposed to take that next step of maturity"?

This is a big objection to youth ministry, but it's not the only one. There are two other common objections to running dedicated youth ministry in your church. Before I offer some sort of a response I'll briefly outline all three.

1) It's parents, not youth workers, who should be discipling their children.

The argument goes; parents have spiritual responsibility for their children's growth in faith. Therefore parents should be taking the primary role in their children's spiritual development. Therefore delegating most of that away to anyone (be that the overall church leader or the youth worker) is not just a bad idea, but actually sinful. When we think about evangelising young people in this model, it's not really an option. Get the young people's parents saved and the young people will follow.

2) It's the church, not youth workers, who should be discipling the children.

This argument is the one Michael Horton is making. The bible doesn't seem to offer age-segregated ministry, and when we divide the church up we are separating the young people out of the regular life of the church and harming their discipleship. We're also harming the rest of the believers as they don't get to experience what the young people have to offer, nor do they get to serve and sacrifice for the young people in the congregation.

(The book to read on these two arguments is Perspectives on Family Ministry, edited by Paul Jones)

3) It's the Christian young people who should be doing the evangelism of their friends, not adults.

This argument against youth work is generally made about youth evangelism not discipleship. The argument goes, young people are best placed to reach their peers and reach them as equals —there's no awkward potentially manipulative power dynamic like their could be with an adult evangelising a young person. We should enable our Christian young people to reach their peers, whether to evangelise the unbelievers or disciple the less mature ones. We shouldn't do it ourselves.

Those are the arguments, and you know what? none of them are wrong. In fact, I agree with them all. If your young people are segregated from the church life and don't get to serve the younger children and learn from the older members they'll suffer greatly in their faith1. And if your young people don't see in their parents an active and living faith, which leads them to discipling their children, there's a good chance they'll never have it in their own lives2. And your young people are best placed to to reach their peers, that's obvious3.

So let's ditch youth work right? No. The job of any full-time minister is to equip the people of the church for their ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Youth ministry is the same. Equip the young people, and parents, and church for the works of ministry God's prepared for them. The arguments against youth ministry are the same as the arguments against paid ministry. It's the families who should be doing the work, it's the church as a whole not some paid individuals job, it's everyone's responsibility to evangelise. These are true points, but we'd still agree that some full-time church leadership roles should exist to support the church in doing this. The question is, is youth ministry something your particular church needs to be paying someone to equip the church to do?

Here's an obvious point of application from all this for youth workers; If your youth ministry is working against one of these three things, even incidentally, then you're doing something wrong. Is your youth group supporting and submitting to the parents of the young person? Is your youth group just another part of the church family, which supports the church as a whole, or is it a separate enclave? Are your outreach events supporting the young people as they try to see their friends saved, or are they holding them back?

And here's an obvious application for those not youth workers; if you're worried about the young people in your church or your local area, don't think getting a youth worker's going to be the magic fix. In fact, there's a good chance it won't fix anything.

Footnotes

1 See for example the research in A Youth Ministry That Transforms or the Sticky Faith research

2 As well as the previously linked Sticky Faith stuff, see Kenda Creasy Dean's Almost Christian based on the (US) National Study of Youth and Religion. One of the strongest determining factor that a young person will "retain faith" is whether or not their parents have an active and visible faith.

3 I have no research to support this statement. From experience and from reason it seems obvious, but if you know of some, then let me know.

The Best Argument Against Youth Work?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Andrew Wilson quotes Michael Horton and asks politely if maybe youth work shouldn't exist. I'll probably respond to this later but before we get there, try and think of a compelling argument against his point; should we have youth workers as opposed to just church ministers?

2015: A Year Of Youth Work In Preview

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

January: I was going to predict that the world would end and this would affect government funding but clearly that hasn't happened. Sorry.

February: Marvel announce a film starring Mondo, Radioactive Man, and Robbie Baldwin's cat. Finally your knowledge of comic books dries up and your ignorance is exposed. You realise you can't live off half-remembered stories and what you googled the morning before youth club. You crack open the original comics and order the Marvel handbooks and vow to teach faithfully once more.

March: Your argument to church leadership that "if the youth department is going to be forced to have a pool table that converts to a table tennis table we may as well have it convert to a communion table and save even more money!" is flawed and shouldn't be used.

April: More cuts! Your local council ceases to provide universal access youth services and your young people are devastated that they can't go down the youth club any more as they don't cross an arbitrary threshold confirming they have higher needs. They ask for a five week training session on "discovering our problems and higher needs". Alas, you can't get funding for the course.

May: A dull end of season to the football means you start hyping up the Rugby World Cup early to your young people. You remind them of Johnny Wilkinson and his drop goal to win England the World Cup. One particularly clued up young person reminds you that that was 12 years ago, and he was four at the time. Twelve years! But you watched that with a youth group! You used it to start discussions on fair play and good character! Has it been so long?

June: unseasonal snow storms should lead to a discussion with your youth about climate change and stewardship of God's creation. Instead you spend five hours talking about how you'd survive in Arendelle if Queen Elsa's ice curse was never lifted.

July: You get all twelve consent forms back a whole month before the big summer camp. As you scan them you realise you've mixed up the forms and the young people's parents have consented to their son/daughter working as church cleaner. That wouldn't be so bad but now you've got to explain to the applicants for the church cleaner job why going away for a week in a field is a valid job interview technique.

August: Rob Bell releases a new book to accompany his new TV show and the internet responds predictably. You do a 2 hour session explaining the inherent flaws / brilliance of the book and why it's so dangerous / revolutionary. You ask for questions and a brave thirteen year old asks "who on earth is Rob Bell?" You realise Velvet Elvis came out ten years ago. My word, where did the years go? Have you really aged that much? Must everything pass so quickly?

September: Your series on "the vanity of owning stuff" would have gone better had you not queued up for 37 hours straight to buy an Apple Watch immediately before the youth club. For a start, you wouldn't fall asleep halfway through.

October: Following on from American Football, parkour, 10km running, Ski-cross, and jujitsu the latest sport your young people are desperate to try out is chess-darts. A thrilling game combining chess and darts. Each turn a young person takes five minutes to decide which square of a dartboard to hurl a chess piece at. When all 32 pieces are hurled the winner is the one who hasn't given up. To be honest, it's still more preferable than playing football with them.

November: Playing FIFA 16 with a young person you stare at the screen as they incessantly switch around players and formations. Your eyes drift to the ages of the players. Jack Wilshire: 23. Theo Walcott: 26. Wayne Rooney: 30. Thirty! But it was only yesterday he was scoring for Everton! Are you really so old? Has time moved so quickly? You concede two quick goals while lost in contemplation.

December: Reviewing the year gone by you realise you've spent a lot of your time getting your church young people excited about sporting events so they'd come along to your church when you host sporting events and bring their friends not from church to the sporting events which are in your church. After pondering this for a bit, you wonder if you eliminated the sporting events and spent your time getting your young people excited about Jesus and his church they might bring their friends along anyway? Your review is brought to an end as you realise you've still got to sort out all the balloons and cake for the Frozen Christmas Party you've spent the last two months getting the young people excited about.

End of Sabbatical

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Hi, I was gone all of January (and some of December) on sabbatical. It was lovely. I forgot to mention it here. Sorry about that. But fear not, I shall resume my lackadaisical posting schedule forthwith, with the traditional annual preview of the year in youth work.

A Non-Review Of Moses (and Other Epic Bible Films)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Here's my non-review of the new Ridley Scott Moses film "Exodus: God and Kings". It's a non-review because I haven't seen it, and don't have any intention of going to see it unless loads of my young people go and watch it. If you want a real review that talks about the film's problems you can read one here.

If I was a cheap hack1, then the obvious place to start would be comparing Christian Bale's Moses to Christian Bale's Batman. And why not? Moses' origin story is pretty superhero. A child of the persecuted slave people, rescued by miraculous providence and raised in the house of his enemies. He grows strong and well educated and then when he's in the peak of his strength he sees his people being abused and chooses to side with them in secret. I think that at this stage of his life Moses has the Batman narrative going through his head. He shall become the secret protector of the people, hidden in the shadows, working to overcome the oppressive corrupt government and liberate the people. Except of course, he immediately fails. He's seen avenging the Israelites, neither they nor the Egyptians take kindly to his actions. and he runs away to live in the desert as a shepherd for forty years. All of a sudden it's no longer a superhero film.

Okay, so maybe that's a false start to his superhero origin. The actual start to his superhero career really happens forty years later, when a lowly shepherd with a mysterious past finds a burning bush in the middle of the desert, a bush that gives him supernatural guidance and power, but at what cost? Oh wait, that's not what happens either. What happens is God meets him in the desert and Moses attempts to coward his way out of God's plan. He does go back to Egypt, but it's not in awe and thundering terror. It's in timidity and fear. He strides into Pharaoh's court and booms "Let my people go". Except with less striding and more fearful approaching. And with less booming and more standing behind his brother Aaron and getting him to speak instead. It's not very superhero, or even just regular hero, and that's because Moses isn't the hero of the story.

You're never going to tell the story of the Bible right if you make it so the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are the heroes. They're never the true hero of the story. It's always God who is the hero. To be more precise, it's always Christ who is the hero. He is the one who sends the darkness, who strikes down the first born, who parts the waters (Psalm 105:25-45). He's the one who brings His people up out of Egypt by crushing Pharaoh. Moses is not the hero, Christ is.

This is perhaps, why so many bible films struggle to be any good. God essential to the story, so they put him in, but the god they want in the story inevitably doesn't look like Christ. And once God doesn't look like Christ, you've left the biblical story far behind. Imagine a race of aliens creating an artificial earth and going "this sun looks pretty important, so let's put a similarly sized object in the sky" and as their artificial earth orbits this sun-sized lump of rock, they wonder why it can't sustain life. Make a film of the Bible where you get the triune God right, then you can worry about the rest of the characters motivation.

1 Alright, if I was a cheap hack who was writing a review for an actual publication.

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The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it. - Psalm 24:1