Thursday, October 13, 2005

Emerging Generations: II

Today we celebrated the day, twelve years ago in 1993, when the Small Bear we call "Caleb" was born. Even as a young child, Caleb was fascinated with musical instruments, and started playing guitar in our worship jams when he was 7. Recently, we passed that magical moment when he was playing something really cool on the guitar, and I had to ask him "hey, show me how you did that".

I was hoping that moment wouldn't come until he was at least in high school, but it was inevitable that it would come...
"This make be the place you hang your hat. This may be a stop along the way -- to other things, grand ambitions, true callings. Either way, we hope you have fun, make friends and create uplifting experiences that enrich people's daily lives."
(from "The Green Apron Book" at Starbucks)
As a pre-thought to the second post on emerging generational ministry, the above quote from Starbucks reminded me of a truism of ministry (youth and otherwise) -- we're only co-travellors on the journey for a season. Yes, there are some people who we walk alongside for many years, but more often than not in our very transient society, we are co-mingling our story with the stories of others for only seasons of varying length. Especially with high school and college students.

How this applies to youth and young adult ministry is simple: (A) relax, you're only one part of the total journey of their lives; you don't have to pressure yourself (or them) to be completely, definitively discipled during the time your paths coverge, but at the same time, (B) don't miss opportunities to be a part of the lives of youth, because you don't know how long you'll be together with them.

For example, look at the two leather-clad guys in the picture here. One of them, of course, is me. The guy giving me the hug committed suicide about three years after this photo was taken. You don't know how long your journey will coincide with others -- invest wisely.



The second building block, as developed by Sonlife Youth Strategies, is a "Healthy Group Self-Image".

You're thinking to yourself, "Wow, how 80's is that? 'Group self-image'? C'mon, give me a break..."

Well, let's morph the concept a bit:

Instead of "healthy group self-image", let's focus on our "tribal identity" -- it's not exclusive, elitist, or 'cutting edge'; it's just our understanding of the unique chemistry of the group of youth & youth adults that God has given us the privilege of knowing, in the context of our community and our church relationships (where applicable).

If our group is a "safe place to take risks", where people are accepted just as they are, and we've set an ethos that says that no questions are out-of-bounds, and no-one will be treated judgmentally if they say something or hold an opinion that is something less than Christian perfection, people will feel that it's a safe place to bring their friends -- who should be treated as honoured guests, not evangelism projects (see George Hunter's excellent ideas on honouring guests in The Celtic Way of Evangelism).

Groups have self-image just as much as the individuals who are in the group do. If we find ourselves "challenging" the group to bring their friends, that should be our first clue that we're probably putting the cart before the horse. A group where people feel loved & accepted, and where God is at work, is a group that people will bring their friends to. If the group isn't attractive even to our own youth, why would they want to bring their friends?

Definition: a healthy sense of our tribal identity is the mental picture (impression) that the group members (AND leaders) have of the group - do they look forward to coming, and do they come with an expectation of meeting God in their community of faith, or do they come because it's what they do on Wednesdays, or their parents made them, or they feel some sense of church loyalty to the leaders even though the group "does nothing for them"?

Checklist:
  • Ask yourself: how do I feel about the group? Ask the group. Treat their answers with respect.
  • Focus on the group's strengths, not on their weaknesses (I.e. if not too many show up one night, focus on the people there, don't look discouraged and moan about who's not there)
  • Do you have an expectation that God is present and working in the group?
  • Is it really okay for people to "belong before they believe"? Do the people presently in your group understand that?
  • Remember (and tell each other) how God has already worked and is working in the lives of those in your group. Celebrate the good times.

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