Thursday, June 17, 2004

Learned Helplessness

I spent the middle of this week in Toronto, where I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with a variety of youth leaders and pastors, and also with leaders of churches who don't have youth leaders but have a heart for the youth that are coming to their churches.

It was a great time of hearing many stories of how God is working among the emerging generations in the Toronto area, and of trying to find ways to encourage some struggling youth leaders, and also seeing one very surprising element crop up again and again.

Learned Helplessness.

It could almost be described, with not too much exaggeration, as a fiercely-held determination to fail. Some of the youth leaders I talked to -- and their situations were difficult, to be sure -- were highly resistant to any suggestions, training, or resources that Darren, Steve & I were trying to steer them towards. Their main theme seemed to be "nothing works" while they simultaneously seemed to resent the fact that we couldn't wave a magical ministry wand over them and their churches, and make everything instantly better.

A couple of them even declined to let us lay hands on them and pray for them. They walked away, some with tears in their eyes, still despondent but refusing to re-consider the ways they were approaching ministry.

Wow. I have so many friends who are eagerly pursuing new ways of re-thinking, doing and sharpening their ministries, which only made the determined helplessness of these people all the more jarring.

My friend Darren, who was my host for the few days that I was there, later told me in our hotel room that his biggest struggle has always been dealing with these kind of people: they know what they're doing isn't working, but they steadfastly refuse to evaluate, critique, revamp, or start fresh.

It's difficult to lead, encourage, or resource people who have already made up their minds that nothing works and nothing will change. I really felt bad for them -- they were truly despairing -- and also for the youth in their churches (I can only imagine how the modelling of frustrated helplessness has impacted them).

There were some really great times of ministry in Toronto as well (not to give an unbalanced report), but it was sobering to see how entrenched this kind of leadership-desperation dynamic was for some people. Would a verse like "Jesus told him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'" (Matthew 8:22 NIV) apply to a situation like this?

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Mysterious Ways

Last weekend, I was playing in Regina at Mosaic, which is their version of Winnipeg's Folklorama. Naturally, we were playing the Irish Pavillion (as we will be at Folklorama in August), and the two nights of concerts played to about 1700 people. It was a great time -- it's always fun to play on a concert-sized stage where there's lots of room to move around (with our wireless instruments), and although it was really hot in the venue, we put on possibly two of our finest shows since I've joined the band.

The "mysterious ways" bit was that I was able to spend a lot of time with some local Christians, all of whom had become followers of Jesus within the last year. The original contact had been that one of them was a waitress at the pub that we usually play in Regina, and she had numerous friends who, like herself, had recently become Christians, and were very interested to find out that one of the band members was a Christian.

We all spent most of Saturday together, and it was incredibly encouraging to hear their stories of how they became followers of Jesus, and how things like alcoholism and drug addiction had been left behind, and one of the teenagers had not only completely quit drugs, but had seen her school marks jump almost 20% -- "it's mostly because of how Jesus changed my attitude" was her comment on her scholastic improvement. She proudly wears a pink-and-white baseball cap with the words "Truckin' With Jesus" wherever she goes.

It was another reminder of the mystery of how when Christians meet, no matter how little personal history we had with each other, the Holy Spirit in me is the same Holy Spirit that is in them, and we are quickly able to have table fellowship. As we sat in a local diner having supper, holding hands around the table and praying together, I couldn't help but marvel at how God brings people together to encourage each other and be reminded that the Kingdom of God is advancing everywhere.

They kept telling me how much I'd encouraged them, but I think they totally underestimated how much more they had been an encouragement to me. It was a great weekend as a performing band, but an infinitely better one for the spiritual fruit of God's "mysterious ways".