The other day I blogged about how much I hate people calling youth the ‘Church of Today’ when it isn’t true in practice.
Dan commented and said:
Ok, I get it … but … could you give some real practical ways to get them involved in what goes on at the top of the ship? And some practical ways to say that they are valued? I like what you are saying and I guess I am just asking asking you to go to the next level and offer some practical solutions.
You have identified the problem, can you blog about some solutions?
Firstly, let me thank you, Dan, for the challenge. I’m going to try and write a few blogs called Topside about youth involvement in response to your comment. Second, thank you for calling me to account when I complain without suggesting solutions … It annoys me when other people do it but I’m guilty of it too. So here is my first post on Topside.
One of the best ways to annoy my Dad and Mum is by trying to solve problems on their computers. It’s not the act in itself … They appreciate the help … They just get frustrated that Step One in the solution process is always me (sometimes rudely) telling them to get out of their chair so that I can get at the keyboard.
I have a zeal for solving the problem and I have the knowledge. Within seconds I’m opening menus, using shortcuts, changing settings and working what they can only imagine must be some sort of witchcraft. All I see is a problem that has to be solved. What they see, however, is flashing windows and colours because they have no idea what is going on.
I’ve come to realise, however, that all I’m achieving in doing this is solving a short term problem in a way that makes them feel insecure and ill-equipped. The problem might be solved for the moment … but a bigger problem remains. They are a part of a generation that doesn’t have the intuitive knowledge to problem solve with this technology. No one ever prepared them for this.
In Ephesians 4, Paul writes:
[God] handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.
(Ephesians 4:11-13 MSG)
Though most people know that God has given gifts, talents and abilities to his people, few actually realise why. As Paul writes, God has given us these gifts in order that we might train and equip others to fulfil their calling. This means that whenever we use our gifts in a way that makes other people spectators rather than participants we are misusing these gifts.
I really struggle with this. I’m a do-er and I’d far rather do something quickly than watch someone else do it slowly with endless questions and mistakes. But me doing it is the easy way. It’s the wide road that leads to destruction because it creates a community that is dependent on me rather than one that will grow to be well-rounded, independent and skilled.
As youth workers we often have a tendency to be entertainers, teachers, performers and taskmasters but don’t realise that we’re cultivating a community of consumers. Two of the rarest and most precious traits a youth worker can have (or develop) are the love and patience that are required to stand back and allow their youth to lead. To try and fail.
If we can start to do this when they’re 12 or 13 in small steps then by the time they are adults, many of them will have developed the confidence, intuition, knowledge and skills to play a vital role in their church. And they will see it as their church. A community that they are a vital part of … rather than a community that provides them with vital things.
If I can muster the patience to stand back and explain with love and care the steps my parents need to follow to solve the problem in front of them, I can transform their experience of this technology. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting them to break into the CIA mainframe or organise a hacktivist protest any time soon … But they may be able to approach their working life with greater confidence, ability and joy because they know they have what it takes to get it done.
The same is true with our young people. If we want young people to be the church of today, that means involving them today … before they’re ready … in a safe place for them to learn and fail in order that one day they might lead. It makes no sense to assume that once they become adults they’ll possess the knowledge and maturity and wherewithal to lead if we haven’t instilled these things in them during their formative years.
To bring them Topside, we must stand at their shoulder with patience and love while we let them at it.