Do you ever ask yourself, ‘What’s this church thing all about?’
After a weekend with little sleep and constant activity I’m exhausted but exhilarated, recovering but rejoicing and while some muscles ache, I’m energised to keep going.
Many of you will understand fully that question when I explain that I’ve just spent the weekend with a great group of young people from one of our churches in the diocese. I was privileged to be asked to speak to them to encourage them in their faith but I also got to join in lots of fun activities – most of which involved getting wet – from an early morning swim in the lake, to rafting, canoeing, rowing and finally late-night ‘water-zorbing’. But what’s it got to do with church or more importantly how does this help young people understand what church is all about?
Most of those activities required us to work together and it was good to see young people encouraging and helping one another or learning to paddle a raft or canoe in unison so they could move in a straight line. Water-zorbing, however is something else – a very individual pursuit. It involves being sealed in an air- and water-tight plastic ball and then rolling around on a pool of water, trying to stand upright and take some control of where and how you move. Lots of fun, but it’s virtually impossible!
I wonder how often church is more like zorbing (without the fun!) when it could be like paddling a canoe.
Our learning theme for the weekend was ‘taking ownership’ – owning our faith, our community/church and our purpose in life. We were really exploring what it means to belong – to Christ, to one another and the kingdom of God and the responsibilities that go with it.
At the heart of human need is the need to belong, to be connected, to be loved, to be part of a group of people who know us and accept us for who we are, it gives meaning and purpose to our lives and it’s absence is loneliness and suffering.
Church is community (by definition) and yet sadly we often miss this or even ignore it. We buy into an individualistic culture of teaching about a ‘personal’ faith and relationship with Jesus that we lose sight of belonging and relationship. Instead John tells us that the two go together, ‘God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.’ ( 1 John 4:16)
I believe that if we prioritise belonging in our work with young people then the rest will follow; if we create communities where young people are welcomed, accepted and loved unconditionally, where they experience the grace of God as they travel through adolescence, then they will stay with us until they start to understand what they believe and take ownership of a life of faith for themselves.
Sadly too many young people live life as if they were zorbing – in their own bubble, desperately trying to reach others and connect; our youth groups and churches can offer a different kind of life, closer to paddling together in a canoe, where we have to pull together to keep traveling in the same direction.
So who’s coming to canoeing church?