Saturday, October 22, 2005

Emerging Generations: V

In Postmodern Pilgrims, author & professor Leonard Sweet described a four-part model that he felt would be a good starting point in ministering in a postmodern context: EPIC, an acronym that stood for Experiential, Participatory, Image-driven, Connected.

For this last entry in the brief look at the Emerging Generational ministry in a church context (for those who are "in the system but not of the system", and who have thus far eluded being Fired for the Glory of God), I just wanted to comment a bit on the "P" of Sweet's acronym, "participatory".

In short, the more participatory you can make your group, the better your group will be. Youth and young adults have always learned well in community settings, and as the shift through postmodernism continues (and on through whatever postmodernism will lead to), this will only increase, not decrease in importance.

In our pursuit of making worship more participatory, we gradually adapted to a "worship jam" approach to worship over the years, where everyone brings whatever musical instrument they play (no matter how good they are at it), and participates in a whang-dang-do of worship which is quite a stretch from the organized worship-band-and-congregation style of most churches. A learned-by-history tidbit here: worship jams start to get unwieldy around 40+ participants -- meaning singers, instrumentalists (all acoustic, since there's no sound system), dancers, painters, readers of Scripture, pray-ers, and so on. In order to keep the level of participation high, it eventually becomes necessary for more than one jam to being going on, although it will feel initially as if the community is getting too spread out (but the only alternative is to make it an invitation-only clique, which is obviously counter to the idea of the advancing Kingdom).

When you adopt a highly participatory approach to teaching, don't be surprised if you're soon inundated with more teenagers than you anticipated. Once word gets out that there's a safe place to talk openly about faith and life issues, people start showing up. Over the years, we have found that many not-yet-followers of Jesus would come to our weekly youth gatherings. The puzzling thing was that we weren't doing anything remotely "seeker" oriented; we were doing creative, but intense, God-in-your-face worship and Bible study. But all these pre-Christians kept showing up, week after week, anyway.

In order to cope with a youth group of around 70, with almost half of them not being followers of Jesus, we had to develop an understanding of how to keep the meetings extremely participatory -- a favourite method was the "agree/disagree", where the group would have to go to one of the two ends of the room when a controversial statement was read (by me, usually). Originally designed to help churched youth get shaken out of their Christian subculture, the goal was to get them talking about the tough questions and being honest about their faith, their doubts, their commitment, and their struggles.

When you suddenly add about 40% pre-Christians to the mix, they assume that they can be as open as the church youth are, which can lead to some interesting tangents and rabbit trails! Eventually, in order to give some framework for how we would choose to act in the midst of an incredibly wide range of Christian denominational backgrounds and completely unchurched teenagers, I came up with "Robby's Rules":

There's a whole story behind the "squirrels" thing, but it turned into a fun inside joke for the group as to why we weren't into "sunday school" answers that had not been thought through.

Bottom line: if we want youth and young adults to "own" their faith, we have to give them a safe place to wrestle through their honest questions and doubts. By nature of this wrestling, a highly participatory approach is absolutely crucial. A community of peers and leaders who have dedicated themselves to be spiritual mothers and fathers (1 Corinthians 4:15) is the best setting for this "safe place to take risks" to happen.

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