Monday, 21 June 2010

Winter in June

Apparently contemporary art really has lost its way. It's in its death throes, according to one commentator .

For some of us, the question is more likely one of "Did contemporary art ever look like anything other than something in death throes?" However, setting aside our cultural prejudices and preferences for a moment, there is something worth noting here: people with a more secular outlook are - perhaps - beginning to realise the signs that we live in an age of decline.

I suppose I was intrigued by the above article because of a talk I had heard at the conference referred to in the previous post. Sy Rogers, in one of his talks, gave us some very thought provoking reasons as to why we as a society are now in a winter season. Societies, he argued, go through seasons - spring, summer, autumn and winter. Winter was a season, sent by God, to purge us and set us up for a new springtime. I had never heard this idea before, but it actually made a lot of sense. We're in a winter season and even our most celebrated artists' productions have the marks of winter.

What was also intriguing was how societies came out of winter seasons. Sy talked about a "hero generation" rather like the generation that fought WW2. Those born in the 80's and 90's are potentially that generation. (It was a little hard to accept that one is just a hardened old Gen x-er child of the 60's).

So we listened to Sy's talk on the Friday and headed off home the next day to raise up the "hero generation".

Unfortunately, most of the hero generation isn't in church or even close to it, or at least that's what the latest British Church Growth stats indicate. There is a relative absence of teenagers in the British church. 80% of under 15s and 75% of 15-29s are not church members and 59% of British churches have no-one in the congregation under 19.

The obvious answer would seem to be found in building strong youth works and making youth evangelism a priority.

I am sure that is part of the answer, but I don't think it is the whole story.

A few weeks before conference, I was given a book which had some real insights and presented some compelling research about youth and family ministry.

For a start, it argued that a strong youth ministry can be a very positive thing, but in the long run function as an orphaning structure. What was meant was that once the young person had left the youth group they didn't naturally fit into church life because the only relationships they had built were within the youth group. Now I would never have thought of that!

On that basis, therefore, it would appear that it is equally important to embed teenagers into the general life of the church.

It's one thing to recognise what teenagers have to offer and give them opportunity, but how do we help them become "successful" Christians and "successful" in life? In a Christian home a rhythm of life that includes eating together and praying together helps in the process. But what about those who don't come from a Christian background. They need a cloud of witnesses people who'll cheer them on, encourage them, believe in them.

If you're older than 29 and reading this blog, why not find a teenager or twenty-something to cheer on? You might just be playing your part in helping us through the winter season.


lynn said...

You have hit the nail on the head when you ask "but what about the young people who have become Christians with no-one at home sharing faith with them?"

This is where the predominantly N American model (in which the Mark De Vries book is set) just doesn't do it AT ALL. In the UK context, the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP) has been extensively discussed in Stuart Murray Williams book "Church Planting - Laying Foundations" and...guess what....I'm not into it at all. Quelle suprise, eh?!

I would not have a separate youth church or even something called kids church - I don't even like the words as I think they give rise to an unhealthy ecclesiology.

So for your young people to keep growing in faith when there's no-one at home to help them, try some of the things that I try to practise - take them on ministry trips/conference visits with some of your 30s, 40s and 50s (and beyond)....train them in all of the areas of your church life where you offer training, invite young people along. Not using a quotient to give proportionaity but by looking with God's persepctives to see and call out the latent or newly emerging gifts. They are there, for sure.

Use the "power of the ask" (to quote Hybels)to invite these youngsters to such things as this builds such self-esteem! Have your young people physically in services/gatherings (not out the room doing another activity) where stories of God at work are told, where prayer ministry is being offered - let them be involved in the experiential and the supernatural - as you rightly said - pair a younger person up with an older one. I have two ten year olds begging to join the church prayer ministry team and they'd do a better job that some others as they want to listen (a) to training and (b) to the Holy Spirit.

Just some thoughts :-)

James said...

Thanks Lynn. Your thoughts are always though out. Thanks for taking the time to share them here. In defence of De Vries, he really made me think about some things and some of the stats he pulled were a real surprise. I do love the vision you have articulated.

I think that one of the healthy challenges of your approach is that youth / church leaders have to operate at a more skillful level of mentoring than in more traditional approaches to ministry to young people.