Don’t make them a cause, Give them a cause…

So said Joshua Jost at yesterday’s Youth Work Summit and it seemed to crystalise my thinking after a day and a half of seminars and presentations. The summit works on the TED talks format and features many speakers given 10 minutes to share new ideas or thinking on topics relevant to youth ministry linked by the broad theme of ‘Open Up’. However apart from that they are unrelated and cover a diverse array of subjects.

However there was another connecting strand that seemed to weave its way through the day for me that was probably not intentional but was significant for me. That thread is difficult to define in one word but was around the idea of social action, entrepreneurship and  re-imagining church. It was important because it offered some answers for me to questions that I brought with me from the previous day and earlier musings.

The previous day, I’d attended the’Intensive’ an inspiring and challenging day with Kenda Creasy Dean, author of ‘Almost Christian’ (and other books that have shaped my ministry with young people!). The day explored issues around reaching the generation of teens and young adults missing from our churches and turning their backs on Christianity. I left with a better understanding and ideas of what we might do in order to ‘practice resurrection’ and promote the ‘upside-down hermeneutic of the gospel’.

But I was still grappling with the questions, what is the gospel for this generation? and how do we ‘do church’ with them?

And I had to acknowledge the resonance in my own soul, my own recognition that the ‘gospel’ as we define it doesn’t always work for me. It was oddly reassuring to recognise that ‘the gospel of happiness’ is not true, that the gospel young people are rejecting is a self-centered one that sees God as either therapist or cosmic butler and is not the God of Jesus. Instead it is ok to be broken, to suffer, to be depressed and still to know God. As I struggle with my own failings I too frequently add in guilt for not being the whole, complete person living the full life that I should, and of course, this just makes things worse!

So what if we stopped focusing on these things, expecting church to be a ‘happiness laboratory’, full of cleaned-up, completely well, fully-functioning Christians and instead we joined together to become a movement of ordinary people, following Jesus together to see the world transformed into a better place? What if we recognise that our call is not to self-fulfillment but to fill the earth with the glory of God?

Along that journey we may well discover the in-breaking of God, bringing healing and wholeness as we see His kingdom come but it won’t be our main focus or the destination. We may well see heaven coming to earth as we serve together and we will inspire one another to greater things.

So the one idea that linked all this up? Giving them a cause. There was a constant refrain of examples of young people working to change the world, sometimes in virtual games, but also in real life; sadly too frequently the church was nowhere to be seen, but often with groups like Christian Aid or the Hope Mission academies or in the powerful stories of young people holding true to their identity in a culture and church that often rejected them.

So instead of seeing young people as a project, a (lost) cause to rescue or the answer to the problems of the church, we need to invite them to join us or better still, let them invite us, to help in changing the world.

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