The Grove Is On Fire

Bread Of Heaven

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Glen Scrivener has made a great Easter video. In fairness, it's also a great communion video. It's available to download here

Jobs: Thrive Director & Thrive Youth Worker - Oxford

Friday, 4 April 2014

Thrive is a youth project based on an estate in Oxford in partnership with the local church there. They're looking for a new youth worker, but also a director to start up new projects on other estates. Closing date for both of those is the 25th April

Sympathy For The Devil

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

There's a whole plethora of reviews of Noah going on, lots of questions about whether you should see it or not. This, by far and away is the most interesting one I've read.

The Implications of Gay Marriage: Ministering the Gospel After the Triumph of Secularism in the UK

Monday, 31 March 2014

Some good words from John Stevens on what it means to be a Christian in a secular society.

Building Metaphors

Friday, 21 March 2014

This started out as a response to the Youthwork Magazine article about the guy who pays his young people to come to church, but it soon morphed into something else. So read that then come back here and we can indirectly talk about it.

Let me give you two pictures of youth work from the world of architecture. The first is this; youth work as a buttress. A buttress is something that is built up around a structure to support it and hold it in place. You have a buttress when a building won't stay up on it's own. If some internal or external force is going to cause the building to collapse, you shove a buttress on the side to hold the wall in place. This is a lot of youth work in the country. We want young people to stay involved in church but there are lots of forces pulling them out of it. So we provide buttressing structures and activities to hold them in place. A 12 year old is bored in church and wants to leave? Run a group during the boring parts of a church service that's exciting! A 16 year old wants to go out with the friends drinking on a friday night? Run an entertaining youth evening so they have something else to do! These buttressing events at least temporarily overcome the forces pulling young people out of church. Paying your young people to come to church is highly unusual but a natural outworking of this way of thinking about ministry. It's a super-effective way of keeping young people in church against other forces that might pull them out.

The problem with the buttressing approach is that it doesn't work for very long. Almost inevitably for a young person in this day and age1, the forces pushing to leave church will overcome any forces you can put up to keep a young person in church. If a young person finds church boring, and you provide activities to make it more exciting, what happens when they discover something even more exciting elsewhere? Can you really promise to be always more exciting than the way the world does things? Are you going to be able to out-excite going out and getting drunk? Or playing football on a sunday morning? Maybe you can buttress them in long-enough that they get to university or even into work without leaving church, but then what will keep them there? The explosion of organisations working with 18-30 year olds2 in the last decade seems to indicate we're trying to replicate the same approach with that age range.

So what about another way of looking at youth ministry? Instead of a buttress, youth ministry is scaffolding. Scaffolding doesn't hold a building up. Instead it's a temporary structure that exists while something is being built. It exists to allow work to be done to strengthen and repair the building and then it's taken down again. A youth minister does ministry so that the young people are built up and strengthened and come to know Jesus and consequentially stay in the church. The difference in this approach is that you're seeking true heart change. You don't want to hold young people in church, when there heart is not there. You want the young people to come to church because they see it as the family they've been called into when they were saved. This approach seeks the true conversion of young people and them growing in Christ so they can securely be part of the church. They don't need any externally designed buttress to overcome the forces pulling them out of the church; the internal force of the Holy Spirit transforming their hearts means they want to stay in it themselves and be part of it.

Practically, what difference does it make? It won't be so much in what you do, but in why you do it and therefore how you do it. If you think youth work is like a buttress then you're always going to be thinking "how can we keep these kids in church" and you're going to end up burdened with more responsibility than you can carry as you bear the weight of ensuring these kids don't leave church. Your youth sessions will always have a sense of "if only there were more people here, if only I could make them more committed to coming to things". If you think youth work is like scaffolding though you'll be thinking "how can I encourage young people to trust in Jesus more, how can I build them up in Him?" You'll be looking for heart change in the yong people and them to come to trust in Jesus for themselves. Your youth sessions will have a sense of "is this helping the young people I have know more about Jesus and His gospel? Is this helping young people who don't know Jesus come to know Him?" In one sense this is much harder; you can't open someone eyes to see Jesus' glory, only He can. You can't change a young person's heart to rely more on Jesus' work, only He can. You see how powerless you are. But in another sense it's much easier, because all the power and weight of responsibility rests on Jesus' strength and not your own. In the architecture metaphor, he's the foundation stone that the young people are building on. Strong, and never to fall down. You don't need a buttress if you're built on him.

1 Bible-belt Americans and people reading this from the 1800's, where you are there may be enough cultural force to hold young people in once without much buttressing. If your entire communities culture is built round church-going, then young people might stay because these cultural forces are more powerful than the forces telling them to leave. This doesn't mean though, that these young people are actually converted and of their own will would remain in church.

2 Threads just celebrated it's first birthday. Soul Survivor's Momentum is nine this summer.

The Problem With "We Buy Curriculum"

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Adam McLane wrote this article about why you should buy curriculum. The gist is, your time and money could be better spent elsewhere, but that's under-selling it, so go read it then come back, because I'm going to disagree with it.

My problem isn't with buying lesson plans and curriculum, my problem's with the underlying premise of what a youth ministers job is. There's this sentence; "my job is to minister to teenagers, not write curriculum" which is half re-emphasised later on "my role as a youth worker is to minister to teenagers". And I read that and I want to ask, "what do you think ministry is exactly?"

The role a youth minister (or any church leader) is to bring people into a greater knowledge of who Christ is by teaching them about who Christ is and what he's done. In Paul's words Christ himself gave youth ministers; "to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:12-13) Or elsewhere "He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ" (Colossians 1:28) "Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2)

We're teachers of the good news of Jesus Christ. That's the job of a youth minister. Not just in the big once a week talks to all the youth group, not just in the small groups or bible studies, but also in the one to one meetings, in the informal times you have with young people face to face throughout the week. You might not have a talk to give, but you have a gospel to share.

So when someone says something like "my job is to minister to teenagers, not spend all my time studying the scriptures so I've got a message sorted", that seems nonsensical to me. Your job as a minister is to fill up on the scripture and studying so you can go and minister it to your young people. To say you want to spend more time on ministering to teenagers so you're going to cut down your time studying God's word is like a shepherd saying "I want to spend more time looking after my sheep so I'm going to cut down on drawing water from this well for them". You spend your time drawing water from a well so you can look after your sheep.

The fight in ministry is to protect time for studying and preparation so when you have all the time with young people you're ready to meet with them and teach them. So when you're leading a bible study or sitting down for a coffee with them you have something to give them. As youth workers we're always wondering how we can see young people more, and the time that's under attack is the time we spend studying the word. This is what's going on in Acts 6; The apostles are having their time stretched by all the other demands of the growing church, so they appoint people to take over those jobs so they can devote their "attention to prayer and the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4).

This, is where curriculum can be really useful. If it means you can save time and effort on things that are not a priority, it frees you up for study and face to face time. Occasionally I moonlight as a kids Sunday school teacher and we use the On The Way curriculum to give us a framework each week and to provide craft activities and games. You can spend your time planning what the passage is saying and how you're going to tell the story knowing you don't have to really worry about preparing a craft. And yes, because everyone who does it does it as a volunteer, if you're completely out of time and haven't sorted out your week in advance to give you room to plan, you can fall back on their stuff with very little effort.

Every week pretty much, I fail at this act of prioritising study and prayer and face-to-face ministry. Every week I realise I've wasted time doing things that could have been delegated away, or done much quicker, or not done at all. That's time wasted that I could have spent digging into God's word, time I could have given over to prayer, time seeing young people that would have flowed out of those things. (And because because I'm not an apostle who can off-load everything, I could have spent that time doing the administration tasks that need getting done so the work can carry on). This study and over-flowing work that comes out of it; that's the job of a youth minister. I don't need to be given any extra excuses to hide from that job. Don't tell us curriculum can save us from what we need to be doing.

Even More Ten Commandments: How To Yet Again Save the Anglican Church This Time Totally For Real

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Independent has a lovely article called Ten more commandments: How to save the Anglican church. You may read them and think; gosh, aren't these ridiculous commandments that lack any understanding of who God is and what the church should be like in the world, but what I shall argue is not that. No, rather I shall argue these silly commandments don't go far enough. Here are ten even dumber better new commandments to definitely save the Anglican church all over.

  1. Stop Obsessing About Sex, Money, Gender, Suffering, Politics, Family Life, The Environment, Your Neighbours, The Queen, High-Speed Two, In Fact, Anything That Could Appear On Pages 1-17 Of Most Newspapers, And The Sport Supplements
    In fact, stop talking about anything remotely important. People don't need to know what Jesus or the Bible has to say about stuff. Not that you should be mentioning Jesus or the Bible anyway. If you are going to speak about things though, speak about ephemeral stuff. People aren't seeking meaning or investigating the real world or questioning who God is. They want fluff. Give them that.
  2. Ditch the Trinity
    I mean seriously, Three persons who are one God? One God who is three persons? I can't get my head around that immediately and therefore logically; it must be wrong and; no-one else can understand or believe it. There was this guy Arius at the dawn of Christianity who had the bright idea to say that Jesus was a human who became like God, not God from God, begotten not created. Now, just because the entire weight of scripture and church history has declared him a heretic doesn't mean you shouldn't adopt his bright ideas to make it simpler for everyone else. And what goes for Christ can go for the Holy Spirit.
  3. Ditch the Cross
    Do I even have to explain this? If someone dying in my place to rescue me from so-called sins isn't the most offensive idea you've ever heard... Nope. Let's get rid of this one.
  4. Stop Meeting Together
    Everyone hates meetings. Most productivity blogs suggest that any meeting that lasts longer than the time it takes to sit down at a table and get out your iPad are a waste of everyone's time. So cancel them all. It'll free up your vicars to do more ministry things.
  5. Start Teaching Trainee Vicars Important Things
    Why spend time in theological college teaching future vicars stuff like "how to understand the bible"? Instead spend time teaching them all the important things they'll really need, like "how to write funding reports effectively", "how to organise seven rotas at once" and "how to sit on all the subcommittees of the parish school governors body at once and thus fill up your diary". They'll be more effective at ministry consequentially.
  6. Replace Church Discipline With Stern Looks Of Disapproval
    Nothing kills the life of an organisation than disciplining a member of staff who's stepped way out of line, failed to carry out the job they promised to do, and blamed it on everyone else they worked with. Just let everyone get on with getting on right? So if someone breaks their promise not to bless a same sex-marriage, or denies the virgin birth, or claims that you don't really have to believe the apostles' creed, don't bring them before their bishop or dean to get them to explain the matter, that'll bring down morale. Just raise your eyebrow and they'll know they've done wrong.
  7. Show How Attractive The Job Of Being A Vicar Is
    Is recruitment down among vicars? We haven't checked any facts in this article, but it doesn't matter! Once people know how attractive the job of being a vicar is, they'll sign up in their droves! A nice pension, comfortable house, and a "as much as you want to do" schedule of work? Granted, you'll probably get lots of people applying who aren't Christians, but why should that worry you?
  8. If You Have To Do One Of Those Alpha Course Things Don't Mention Hell
    It upsets people, and 95% of theologians who aren't Christians and don't believe that God is real and the bible is His word are fairly certain that all references to hell, hades, gehenna and the fire that will not be quenched were added by Martin Luther in the 17th century to speed up the reformation and oppress women. If you want to see people becoming Christians, then you'd better warn them about hell and that it doesn't exist.
  9. Find Out What's Popular Currently And Appeal To It
    People decrying the church for not ordaining women bishops? Ordain them! People decrying the church for not allowing same-sex marriage? Allow it! People decrying the church for speaking about God so much? Stop speaking about God so much! Remember; these people all would totally trust in Jesus and become active members of the church if this one issue was resolved.
  10. Take Advice From Anyone That Promises To Save Your Church As Long As That Person Doesn't Mention Jesus, Repentance, or the Cross
    Look, follow this advice and every thing will be fine. The church will return to it's rightful place in society, everyone will get their babies christened and babylon definitely won't invade and send us all into exile. Don't listen to those folk over there claiming to repent and turn back to Jesus. That's stupid advice. Peace! Peace everywhere!

Job: Senior Youth Worker - Frampton Park Baptist Church, East London

Sunday, 16 March 2014

This is a great job of if you want to do gospel-centred youth ministry and evangelism in an inner city. Senior Youth Worker - Frampton Park Baptist Church, Hackney, East London

Two Lies That Keep Families From Being Missional

Friday, 28 February 2014

The language of "Missional Communities" may be unfamiliar, but the point of this is good, why having kids shouldn't excuse you from evangelism and involving them in that.

What We're Saying When We Don't Mention the Gospel

Friday, 28 February 2014

This is a truly powerful article on why the gospel has to be present in everything we say.

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