inclusion, Marginalised, Youth and Children's Work

“Don’t let the local kids in…”

I was doing a youth event and we’d hired a local youth club for it, with lights and smoke and the whole works and a band of young people were leading the worship which was fab. Suddenly a couple of faces appeared at the door, local guys, “Can we come in?” they asked. The rain was pouring down outside, and our incredibly gifted speaker was getting ready to speak.

I wanted to be welcoming, and let them come in, suddenly from 2 or 3, became 5 or 6, and then a couple appeared on their bikes from no where. I tried being all “Ali G” and told them to be respectful of the speaker and stuff, they nodded, one even shook my hand. Deep down I was hoping they’d hear something of the talk and the worship, and be impacted by the Kingdom of God.

They shot into the kitchen and began to eat the left over food, which was okay, most of it had already been eaten by the Church kids. One was in the music booth trying to disrupt the music, but a burly youth worker called Doug’s presence deterred them.

A few went down stairs rather than hear the talk bit, but was trying to watch the kitchen, was trying to make eye contact with someone, as trying to be in two places at once wasn’t easy.

Then heard an alarm go off and ran downstairs, turned out that someone had punched a fire alarm, which caused more problems as we tried to turn it off setting off the burglar alarm too.

“They don’t teach you this at theological college” I thought to myself! Anyway kids soon ran off, and had to sort everything out, including ringing the people in charge of the building, who said “next time, don’t let the local young people in”.

To be honest I can understand the position, yet it feels like this is going against our very ethos of who we are. we are about to start a Church plant here in this part of the parish, using this youth centre, I have always wanted Church to be open to all, I think Jesus has a a particular compassion for disenfranchised young people.

In many ways though we have to respect the wishes of those who own the building, it is part of being a good guest on someone else’s place… when it is your Church hall that gets trashed, it causes hassle -especially from the grumpy blue-rinse brigade- but there is a whole load of other complications when you don’t own the building.

I remember in Poole, we had some feisty nights with the AREA under18’s night club we used to run, and I remember a pretty brutal complaint from a neighbouring Church-goer complaining about the kids behaviour, their thinking was “can’t you just reach nice young people” not those nasty “hoodlum” types. Jesus said “those who are well don’t need a doctor”… “I tell you the truth there is more joy in heaven over 1 sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who need no repentance”.

The truth is that much of the Church think this, sometimes Church is massively judgemental and a little bit snobby too. we have become like the Pharisees.

Jesus never said “just reach out to the nice ones”.

I think Levi the tax collector, or Mary Magdalene who had 6 demons in her, or Simon the Zealot all were people you might not want to sit next too.

These are the people I long to see coming to Church. we have even called the Church movement ‘All Souls’ making the statement that all are welcome here in the house of God.

I know too I’m a bit of an inverted snob, where I have more time for someone with an obvious dysfunctional life than some elderly, affluent daily mail reader who I struggle to love.  So, I need to be careful of not pointing the finger, only to find three pointing back at me.

So, the week after next we are meant to be back in that hall, and are meant to be planting a Church there in that hall… what do I do now that maybe we’re not supposed to let in the local kids? Interestingly been using this hall for a number of years now and this is the first time it happens just before a plant is due to start? -Is this a spiritual attack?

Again, it makes me ask how these young people in Kingswood and Hanham will ever hear about Jesus. we have Churchy young people that simply don’t relate to these guys of the same age-group, they don’t dress the same or even go to the same schools, they are poles apart, have we created a generation more segregated than before making them less effective and fruitful in evangelism to people who could potentially be their peers.

I don’t know what I think, but it reminds me of the hill we have to climb to see this generation hear the gospel of Christ in a way they can understand and respond too, it is a bigger challenge than we think.

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Discipleship, Youth and Children's Work

A Little Child Will Led Them…

On Wednesday Morning at the Turning Mission, I remember sitting there listening to the training ending with doing some ‘role play’ going the script with those around us. I looked around and everyone was partnered up, and then this little voice piped up with asking if I needed a partner, the voice came from a young lad, Joel, who is probably about 10 (I guess). He was the evangelist going through the script with me, and as part of the role play he went through the prayer of commitment with me, as I prayed that God would “give me a fresh start” and that I would “fulfil all that he has for me”, and felt the Holy Spirits touch, a real God encounter, ministered through a young person.

I was reminded that there is no junior version of the Holy Spirit.

As I thought about this, I began to think about the incarnation, I thought about Jesus being fully baby and yet fully God, fully toddler and yet fully God, fully child and yet fully God, fully teenage and yet fully God, and fully man and yet fully God.

Jesus was a normal human child, but also God in human form, God with skin on.

Therefore, children can be both child-like and Christ-like.

This became evident as we saw the kids on the mission telling people about Jesus, praying with people, giving testimonies and even being involved with worship.

I think too often as Christians we think that our faith is “adults only” and too often we try and provide a baby-sitting service whilst the ‘proper worship and teaching’ is happening, and yet any of us who engage in youth and children’s work regularly know that God can and does meet with young people, and they are some of our most courageous disciples living for Christ in their schools.

Children like adults will fall and sin, they might not have the same sophistication at covering up our sin or pretending to be Holy, I think there often is a danger of unrealistic expectations of perpetual holiness for children and young people that we know isn’t possible for us to achieve.

The Victorian era of children being seen and not heard, where they sat passively in Church and watched in silence all that went on is a really unhelpful model that still exists far too much in the Christendom mind-set but has no scriptural basis.

This is very different from the Jewish way of doing things were the children of the family are right at the heart of celebrating their faith.

The Christian faith is not a passive one, its not just meant to be witnessed but experienced, practically lived out, the call -like the Holy Spirit- has no junior version.

More over God has created us to learn by actually doing, there is an old adage that goes “I hear I forget, I see I remember and I do I understand” -why then do we just fob our kids off with colouring sheets? Why is Christianity in our Churches all about sitting in rows listening?

John Wimber having recently become a Christian asked his Church “when are we going to do the stuff?” -meaning the stuff in the Bible especially in the book of the Acts of the Apostles-… I think if we are meant to have a child-like faith, they roll up their sleeves and get involved, often with glee and gusto, rather than standing back and watching.

Francis Chan, spoke of discipleship meaning we memories scripture, highlight it in our Bibles, talk about it, maybe even learn it in Greek(!) but despite all of this we don’t ACTUALLY DO IT!

Our kids watch us, they see what really matters to us, they see whether we are living this stuff out (and I don’t mean just going to lots of Churchy meetings) and they see what difference Jesus makes to our lives. We have the responsibility of showing out children the great gift the world has ever known the transforming good news of Jesus Christ, the pearl of great price. They see us behind closed doors, they probably can tell what we are thinking in situations, they are like little sponges -picking up both our good habits and our bad habits too!

This week at the Turning we have seen children joining in with the mission of Christ, it is an adventure, they saw their parents/grandparents and Christian friends ‘actually doing the stuff’ with the adventure of following Jesus, and they want to join in, something they wont forget.

Also, they got involved and were encouraged, so often we fob off our children from the ‘real work’ and then wonder after years of being fobbed off when we want them to do it, they’ve lost interest. A leadership mantra is “go with the passion” -where is the fire- often our kids bring with them passion and enthusiasm to get involved but are fragile too, and too often I believe we squash and squander our most precious resource which is our children and young people.

I used to say as a youth worker, your most precious resource is sat on your back row, encourage them and don’t “tut” at them.

When I headed up the kids work whilst I was at theological college I remember saying “you may have in your group the next Archbishop of Canterbury so make sure you are nice to her!”

So, let’s see our kids not as people to “babysit” whilst we do the stuff, but as missionary partners in Kingdom business. Let us see their church experience as more than colouring in but the adventure of following Jesus as part of a family transforming their communities for Christ.

Often, like me at this mission, we don’t expect our kids to bless us and for God to minister through them, and yet I have found that often they astound us by their profoundness, depth and ability to hear and be obedient to the voice of God without the mental clutter that we as adults can cloud everything with.

Jesus said “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for theirs in the Kingdom of God”

 

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2 Kings 22.1-13., Bible, Youth and Children's Work

Josiah.

2 Kings 22.1-13.

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.

In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.”
 
Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
 
11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. 12 He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

I have a heart for the unsung heroes off scripture, often some great characters we don’t hear about much in Church either, but perhaps we should do!

I am looking at King Josiah, a young guy who becomes King of Judah (Israel and Judah have split into separate Kingdoms by this point) when he is just eight years old, a very young age to have such great responsibility thrust upon him. Interestingly we say at how young footballers are to have wealth and fame thrust upon them and they can’t cope, here we have a young guy who could have let the title of King go to his head, he could have let his teenage hormones get a bit carried away, after-all it does seem to be a family weakness both David and Solomon (his ancestors) could control their lusts, rather their lusts controlled them. 

Anyway, this lad becomes King at an early age, yet is one of the few Kings of Judah who do the right thing in the eyes of the Lord.

Sometimes I think we are unduly harsh on young people, we forget that Jesus called us to have a child-like faith, and we seem to think with regards to stuff like teaching and ministry that there is a junior version of the Holy Spirit, yet clearly their isn’t!

Cris Rogers (vicary scholarly dude who runs one of the HTB Church plants) reckons that the disciples might have actually been teenagers, we know Mary may well have been 14 or 15, Jeremiah told God he was too young to be used as a prophet, which suggests he was young, Samuel first heard the audible voice of God in the temple when he was a child, Timothy was told not to let anyone look down on him because he was young and I think that the brave and Godly defiance of Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigeo to the King makes me think these guys were idealists, “The God we serve is able to save us and if he doesn’t we’re still not going to bow down to your poxy statue, so go on then throw us into their firey Furness grandad” -okay that’s not an exact quote from the book of Daniel, but I think it makes the point that the Church I believe sometimes forgets that young people are just as much (maybe more so) Godly ambassadors for Christ on a tough front-line and often serve him with great courage, authenticity and integrity… and yet they too often are ignored in our Churches.

 Anyway, he is left a terrible legacy, people are worship idols, the temple is getting dilapidated, and sound biblical teaching had dried up, so much so that the book of the law (the Torah, the most holy scripture for the Jewish people) had been lost.

Imagine going into a Church and there not being a single bible, nor anyone who really knew what it said, it would be shocking.

Yet this is what happened here in this time in Judah… 

In fact I fear it is happening again, Biblical knowledge is pretty poor in many of our Churches… even shockingly in some of our theological collges there are scarily few Biblical modules on the sylabus.

Yet before we start eye rollings and finger pointing, I wonder if we lost our Bible how quickly we would notice it was missing?!

Anyway, the book of the law is found and brought to King Josiah, who hears God’s standards for life lived God’s way, and he is deeply challenged and convicted (and bear in mind this is a good King) so much so that he rips his robes. (A deep symbol of repentance and mourning), this wasn’t a slightly sheepish embarrassed grin when he was caught having fallen short of God’s Holy standard, this was a heart wrenching devastation and a deep cry of repentance and a begging for forgiveness. 

What do we do when we realise our lives don’t match God’s standards, are we bothered? Or do we, like King Josiah come back to God desperate for forgiveness, deeply sorry for the hurt we have cause God (and possibly those around us).

You, might be saying, hey Andy, this is Old Testament, you are forgetting about grace, God’s all fluffy and nice now (and there is truth in this as our God is incredibly merciful, overwhelmingly loving, beautifully tender, phenomenally compassionate and forgiveness is guaranteed because of Christ’s all sufficient sacrifice) but we forget that God is a Holy God, and sometimes I fear as western Christians we can sometimes engage in what I call cheep grace, and pseudo-repentance, we forget that the Anglican absolution says “Almighty God who forgives all those who TRULY repent”, and the word repent literally means a full 180 degree turn, literally meaning ‘turn your life around’.

So, a challenge to us to be people of the word, getting stuck into our Bibles, not being ignorant of what God’s word says to us, let him speak to our souls. And when we feel the convicting touch of the Lord through the reading of his word, let’s be people of action, that keep on chasing after Christ, living life his way.

The problem is too often in our culture rather than changing ourselves, we try to change the Bible to make it fit our world view… To often as adults we get too clever by half, and manage to neatly talk ourselves out of those awkward bits when scripture challenges us and comes too close into those areas where change might become a bit uncomfortable.

Normally when someone talks about King Josiah finding the book of the law in the temple, someone reminds us of the words of Jesus about having God’s law written not on tablets of stone, but on our hearts… and so this is true, God’s Spirit is within us, and the new testament image of temple is ourselves, our bodies… So a question could be asked, have we ‘lost God’ in our lives? 

Scripture warns us (repeatedly actually): “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts”.

Are we living our lives listening out to the spirits voice? His guiding and directing? Or have we let other things shout louder, other “wisdom” confuse us, different things that distract us…

A challenge, to hear the voice of God today in our lives, to hear his voice and to respond with obedience -like King Josiah- repenting of what shouldn’t have been, and living a new life God’s way.

So when we think of Josiah, a young King who could have gone off the rails but didn’t, a King who found the book of the law because of his love for the temple, who read it and was challenged by it, who repented and called the nation to return to God and his ways. A real unsung hero of scripture… But the challenge is for us to be like him.

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1 Samuel 17.39., Guidance, obidience, Youth and Children's Work

This Armour Doesn’t Fit.

One of the problems with Churches is often they are always on to the next new thing, much of UK Christianity is full of fads.

In the book of Habakkuk God says “Behold I am doing a new thing”, note he doesn’t say behold I am doing the next thing, or another fad, but I am doing a new thing.
The origin of this is from God, not nicked and copied from the glossier church up the road -you do your notices on video, suddenly we do notices on video!
Often these phases are normally cosmetic, and do nothing to solve the heart of the problem which normally stems from people being reluctant to be obedient when it is costly and involves sacrifice… easier to re-design your facebook page than to tell people about Jesus, feed the hungry, love the difficult people who make our lives difficult and all the other sacrificial and costly aspects to discipleship.
Yet Gods changes aren’t superficial nor cosmetic, but go to heart of who we are. Gods changes are transformative and his change stems from his heart.
Yet it’s a strange paradox, that although we want to be doing the new and the cosmetic, underneath it all, we are actually somewhat resistant to real change, -because real change is unsettling and costly- Bishop Mike calls it “the powerful pull of the status quo bias”…
You see we approach life with our own world view, we look at it through our lenses,  we solve problems by past experience, the way we’ve always done it, and history repeats itself again, and again, sometimes in what feels like a never ending spiral.
Yet God looks at his world not with a limited, fallible and broken world view but with the eyes of the all seeing God, and the mind of the all knowing one.
Perhaps this is why he says, “My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts not your thoughts!”
One of the classic examples of this is sending a mere child -David- to fight against a man mountain of  Goliath,  and Saul clothed him in his own armour.
It was well intentioned, but the armour immobilized David.
The old way, the conventional wisdom was insufficient for the task set before them.
David refused to do things the way the had always been done before, and instead armed only with a slingshot and 5 stones, went out and defeated Goliath.
Sometimes people put so many things on us, often well intentioned, but actually end up debilitating and immobilising us.
Are we trapped, suffocated in the dust of a previous culture.
Trying to live for today in yesterdays baggage, held back by the debris of the past.
I believe God is saying to his Church a message of liberation that sets us free from the burdens, weights, restrictions of “Saul’s Armour” that is often placed upon us, and our shoulders, which cause us to buckle under the weight on the burden Christ never intended us to carry.
 What are you carrying? Are you trying to fight in obsolete equipment? Have people put things on you which don’t fit -and probably will never fit-.
Is God opening up new openings, new opportunities and new ways of doing and of being?
I believe that God is doing a new thing in this nation.
I believe that God is doing a new thing in this city.
I believe God is doing a new thing within his Church.
I believe God is doing a new thing within the lives of his followers.
…and I believe this is not simply giving his army a make over, but rather calling us into a place of liberation and freedom, new places of new victories in new ways.
So often we assume we know what to do, we return -like a pig in the mud or a dog to its vomit- to our old default ways of doing and being rather than seeking whether God is showing us a new ways.
God is unpredictable, he never repeats a miracle the same way twice. We need to trust his hand, his heart and his provision and power rather than our own methodology or opinion.
God is doing a new thing, what is our response? Do we keep going as we always have, doing what we have always done? Or do we seek to see what God is saying, catching the wind or the wave of his spirit, seeing his footprints and follow where he leads.
I love Rowan Williams’ line about life and mission which is “find out what God is doing and joining in”.
God show me what you are doing and let me join in, keeping in step with you, as we walk your way into a future that I can’t yet see, but I know that I can trust you with it.
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Authenticity, Pain, Spirituality, Suffering., Youth and Children's Work

Sugar Coated Christianity…

Today I had a whole load of preschoolers in Church to hear the Easter story, which was great, yet I was faced with the challenge, how to speak truthfully about Jesus dying for us on the cross in a way that wasn’t too heavy or upsetting for 3 and 4 year olds.
Of course we need to be wise and careful how we teach our kids, but I wondered too do we try and shield them from the real world?
Do we try and sugar coat the gospel for kids and new converts?
Yet we need a world view big enough and robust enough to cope with the reality of the complexities of life where good and evil, joy and suffering exist, the already and not yet of Kingdom.
Sometimes simple answers about real and difficult questions about suffering are needed for us all, and too often we don’t talk about suffering, brokenness and struggle enough in our Churches and in our families, and allow Christ into those situations.
There is nothing (i believe) Godly in simply putting on a brave face and pretending everything is fine, pseudo happiness isn’t something Jesus ever asks of us, rather he urges us to carry each others burdens, and to cast our anxieties onto him because he cares for us… He even says “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world!”
I remember a spoof kids song written by my friend Marc Catley (from theological college) it went something like this:
This is the day,
this is the day,
After yesterday after yesterday,
We will be happy, we will be happy.
We will be happy all the way.
 
This is the day, 
this is the day,
When my rabbit died,
when my rabbit died,
we will be happy….
 
This is the day,
when dad lost his job etc etc.
 
This is the day,
when the bailiffs came etc etc.
 
Perhaps, we need to be real more as Church about our pains, struggles and difficulties, I feel that even if we can’t understand or articulate everything, lets love one another, let us walk alongside each other, and lets be constantly inviting Christ into the midst of the difficult circumstances, knowing he loves and he is powerful and can overcome difficulty and adversity as well as giving us the strength to walk through the valley of death.
Let us as Church seek afresh to not to sugar coat everything with a fake smile, but instead be a real and authentic community sharing brokenness but also partaking is resurrection strength and power and the presence of Christ.
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