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An Heroic Ministry
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How have we made this boring?
‘All men will hate you because of me….’
I’ve got to be honest; in 14 years of youth work I have rarely used that line from Matthew 10 to encourage and spur young people on to follow Jesus. When it comes to proclaiming the top five reasons why it’s cool to be a Christian, the one about being hated by everyone, well that tends to remain unsaid. Oh, and of course, the bit about being arrested (Matthew 10 v 19) and the section that says how great it is when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you (Matthew 5 v 11).
That kind of teaching doesn’t sound too appealing and, after all, we want to encourage young people to follow Jesus so we spend our hours telling them how much better their life is going to become as a Christian because Jesus, their own personal guardian angel, exists primarily to make them feel better about themselves.
But the problem is this, Jesus did say these things to his disciples and as I read his words it forces me to consider what we actually mean when we talk about discipling young people? I mean, what kind of discipleship are we talking about?
The tide has been going out
There have been many articles written about young people and church attendance. This is not one of them. I do not intend to unpack the statistics that we all know so well, apart from highlighting the shocking truth that on average, the church in the UK, has lost about 500 young people every week for the last 25 years.
In the 1990’s, this figure was 1000 per week, according to Peter Brierley’s Reaching & Keeping Tweenagers. That’s 50,000 under 15’s per year. Half a million young people left the church in the ‘decade of evangelism’.
How did that happen?
I look at the pages of the Bible and I read stories of people who gave their lives to the greatest calling they could have received, men and women who lived the most adrenaline fuelled adventure, communities giving themselves to the most thrilling and radical life-pursuit that you could imagine. Yet, in the UK, young people have walked away from Christianity in their thousands because, I guess, there was nothing in it that grabbed their attention. I assume they thought it was boring. Again, this forces me to consider what we actually mean when we talk about discipling young people?
Run, hop, skip, dance…
In his provocative and challenging book The Irresistible Revolution – living as an ordinary radical, Shane Claiborne tells of his college professor who said: ‘All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don’t tiptoe.’
I wonder; have young people left the church (in their thousands) because what they heard with their ears and saw with their eyes was a church that appeared to tiptoe through life hoping to arrive at death safely? If I had observed this, I would have gone too. Shane Claiborne goes on to tell the story of one young person that he worked with:
‘When I was a youth leader, one of the high school kids who had given his life to Jesus got busted only a few weeks later for having acid in school. I remember asking in disappointment, “What happened bro?” What went wrong?” He just shrugged his shoulders and said “I got bored”. Bored? God forgive us for all those we have lost because we made the gospel boring. I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it’s because we don’t dare them, not because we don’t entertain them. It’s because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Young people want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army. But what are they to do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death?’
The good news of Jesus Christ is the most amazing message the world has ever and will ever hear. It is a message that should compel Christ followers from across the globe to live a life filled with adventure and fuelled with adrenaline; a life of mission and service and dependency on God that is so much more fulfilling than anything else on offer.
How have we made the gospel boring?
Maybe our discipleship should look a little bit more like Acts 19. In this chapter we are briefly introduced to two men called Gaius and Aristarchus. We don’t know much about them other than they were from Macedonia and they were Paul’s travelling companions. I wonder if either of them had any idea what following Paul would mean? He was, in his way, discipling them, inviting them to travel with him on the wonderful adventure of planting churches in unreached cities. And in Ephesus these two guys suddenly take centre stage - literally.
We read that a riot took place because of the impact that Paul and his team were having on pagan worship and the resulting trade of the silversmiths. Gaius and Aristarchus got caught up in this and were dragged through the city into the theatre which was full of protesting Ephesians. I wonder, when they signed up to go overseas with Paul, whether that ever expected this - dragged by a huge crowd of people, in the middle of a riot, at the heart of one of the most significant cities in the world, to a theatre seating 25,000 people.
When you study Paul’s travelling companions, people that spent time with him, guys like Gaius and Aristarchus, you realise that Paul invited them on to the adventure that he was living. He wasn’t a lone ranger, he had companions, people that went places with him, people that he trained up and sent on to other places he couldn’t get to.
Paul’s companions found themselves in huge situations, Timothy in Ephesus as a young man overseeing the church, Gaius and Aristarchus in front of 25,000 people in the Ephesus theatre. If you were travelling with Paul, you’d soon know that you weren’t in for a comfortable trip. You would be stretched and challenged because it appears that Paul had only one context for discipleship, and that was on the adventure of mission. He caught people up in the adventure that he was called to. For Paul’s travelling companions, the gospel of Jesus was far from boring. It was greatest adventure you could give your life to.
So how might this kind of discipleship affect our youth work?
1. Fighting consumerism
We must teach our young people that Christianity is not a faith about their ‘personal Jesus’ who comes to meet their personal needs. Yes, in his grace and love for us, God moulds and shapes us to become the people that he wants us to be – but this is on his terms, not ours.
I bump into many people who, for whatever reason, think that their life as a Christian and their involvement in the life of the church exists primarily to fulfill their needs. They are, in every sense of the word, a consumer.
So, church life exists around their schedule, and they adopt the bits of the Bible that suits their lifestyle, and when it no longer itches where they scratch – they are gone. We must teach that the Christian life is not about being served, but about serving. Its not about what we get out of it, it’s about what we put into it.
2. Pastoral care in the context of mission
The pastoral care of our young people is of paramount importance. I believe we have a God given role to care for and pastor the young people that we are responsible for. But you can’t pastor people in a vacuum.
We must pastor our young people in the context of mission. We pastor them in order that they become all that God created them to become and, in doing so, release them to do all that they were created to do.
Our role as youth workers is not to help young people solve all their problems, our role must be to help them become all they were created to be. Therefore a youth ministry which is primarily focused on pastoral care will not fully serve young people and, actually, will not fully pastor them! Holistic pastoral care must help young people look outside of themselves, and must provoke young people to serve others. It is than that we find maturity (Ephesians 4 v 12-13)
Let’s avoid all this nonsense of not involving young people in ministry and service because they are not yet ‘ready’ or have some ‘issues to work through’. Work them through on mission!
If you don’t agree with me, read about the following people in the Bible – Jeremiah, Josiah, Samson, David, Gideon, Mary, Timothy, Joseph. Were they ready? Were they the right age? Did any of them have ‘issues’?
3. Bigger vision
Our young people must have the opportunity to grasp the scale of the ‘Big Story’ of which they are now a part, as revealed in the Bible.
That since the foundations of the world God has had a plan for a people on earth who bear his image, who worship him and who extend his Kingdom.
That being part of a local church is so much more than simply an hour’s obligatory attendance once a week. Instead it is God’s chosen vehicle to establish his rule and righteousness in every nation on earth through the transforming news and power of Jesus.
That every person who submits their life to Jesus is now caught up in this adventure to the four corners of the world and they have a unique part to play. As we all contribute, utilizing the gifts God has uniquely given each one of us, then the church will function in the way that it was always intended to.
However, if we reduce this story down to a few rules and regulations, endless mini-talks talks about self-image and a 1 in 6 go on the OHP Rota, then we have completely missed the point.
Everyone wants the attention of young people. Just walk down your high street or read a magazine or watch TV. Advertisers invest millions of pounds to get young people to notice their product, to live their dream, to wear their brand. There are a million messages fighting for our young people’s attention every day and a thousand exciting opportunities on offer.
Young people are making decisions about what to give their life to and if we don’t give them an authentic gospel and an authentic mission, if that doesn’t grab their attention, then there are 101 other things out there that will. We must give young people something to live for and there is nothing better, nothing more exciting, there is no bigger adventure, then radically following Jesus to the four corners of the globe and seeing God’s Kingdom established on planet earth.
Let’s not patronize our young people and water it down – let’s give them a huge vision to live for.
4. Live the life
Ultimately, if we want our young people to live this adventure, we need to live it to. As you consider how you might lead your young people into this adventure that we call discipleship, maybe stop and reflect for a moment, ask yourself the question… what adventure am I on? Leadership is about being a few steps ahead of those who are leading.
Following Jesus is the most thrilling and fulfilling thing any human can give their life to. A generation left the church because for whatever reason, what the church modeled and spoke of did not arrest their attention. We are not in a position, to water it down for the young people we serve, we owe them more than that and the stakes are too high for that.
We serve our young people best by giving them the full picture, the real deal and the big vision of what it means to follow Jesus. This will include telling them that people will insult them, hate them, challenge them and maybe arrest them! By not teaching these things we are not truly preparing them for what it means to follow Jesus
Young people are desperate to give their lives to something and there’s nothing better than Jesus.
Jim Partridge is on the Leadership Team at The Kings Church, Mid-Sussex.
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