I remember someone once asked me how I thought Adam and Eve might describe God before sin. I gave my answer but I wasn't sure the point of the question. Then they asked me, "How do you think Adam and Eve might describe God after they rebelled against him?" The point they were making was that after sin, Adam and Eve might have more fully understood love and grace, mercy and tolerance, forgiveness and hope. Sin, in a way, brought them a depth, a better understanding of what they were capable of and how good God really was. I can hear Adam saying, "I deserved to be treated like God's enemy, but instead, he showed me mercy, goodness, and love."
This is not to say that we should encourage sin and rebellion, but somehow God takes our failures and he redeems them. He takes our messiness and our hang-ups and causes growth in our lives.
Yesterday we talked about how so many kids as they get older, start to check out of church => they don't see a place for themselves, a role, or a point to their involvement. In the picture above, we see this teenager heading out, leaving the Angel on the beach, to explore, to go his own way.
It has made me wonder about some things and in particular, about how most of us approach youth ministry.
I love visiting students at their school activities: from plays and recitals, to sports and presentations. I'm always blown away by their gifts and talents and how capable they are. It's amazing to watch! When I was early on in youth ministry, I would get a little pit in my stomach though while watching these amazing students and I'd think, "No one ever comes to church or even to youth group to watch our students do anything." Why? Because, for the most part, students just sit there and watch the adults perform (except for one service a year called "youth sunday"). I knew that there was a BIG problem with this. I knew I was not developing students the way I should. I knew I needed to make changes. I just wasn't sure how to do it.
Jesus Take The Wheel?
I have used an analogy for years and in it I describe a scene where Jesus is a hitchhiker and a student pulls their car up and are amazed that Jesus is just hanging on the side of the road, that no one has stopped to give him a lift. They pull up and open the passenger side door and say, "Jesus, jump in, I'll take you anywhere you want to go!" But Jesus looks at them and says, "Sorry, I don't ride, I drive!"
In recent years I've stopped telling this story and using that analogy. I reason I've stopped using it is because for the most part it just isn't true. God does let us drive, he does let us steer our own voyages, he does ride. In fact, I'd say it's vital we learn how to drive. But the problem is, we leave him on the side of the road -we leave him on the beach and we head out without him, which is exactly what happens in the art piece above.
Get Out of the Way
What if youth group became a place where students learned how to drive and steer and communicate and create and use their gifts? What if it was more about doing stuff than watching stuff? What if it became a place of development and empowerment? What if we found a place for them? What if we let them drive? Maybe the reason why students thrive on mission trips, why they have such momentum at those places, is because we as the adults, get out of the way. The problem is that momentum is stifled once we get home from actually doing the faith. Kids get back in rows for another year of watching us. Now, I know that we've done a decent job getting students in worship bands and even some have learned to run the lights. But I just wonder if the way we do it on mission trips is actually the way we should be doing it the whole of the year.
Would youth group be less professional? Yes
Would the talks be less theologically accurate? Probably
Would there be a lot of failing? You bet!
But maybe failure is key. Not failure in isolation or abandonment, but in community, at youth group, in the midst of their peers and with adults who are passionate about developing them.
Looking at the picture above makes me think that the Angel needed to hand the steering over to the kid. And maybe he did a bit down stream, but I just wonder if in the church students ever get a shot.
How are we enabling students to become the momentum builders for themselves and their own faith? How are we showing them that the faith is bigger, wider, and deeper than they ever thought and their imagination can be stirred by it? Maybe the goal should be to see how much we can hand over to them in Jesus style of discipleship: on the job training.
I just think that the reason why students are more committed to their school's activities than youth group might be because they have a role to play there.
I look at that picture above and I think that something has to happen! Something must be done! Because, I feel really sad (or maybe its more like mad) that this kid thinks that the only way to get a shot at steering the boat is to ask the Angel to get out. He never learned the WITHness of God. That, with God's help, he can live out an adventure of a lifetime. Life WITH God is just so good! God empowering students through a youth workers work- letting them occasionally run into things, make mistakes, all along guiding them. Maybe God trusts us and them, more than we think?