Friday, April 9, 2010

Go Where God Goes

One of my favorite Wesleyan writers is Bishop Kenneth L. Carder. In my next several posts I will be taking a cue from his essay "What Difference Does Knowing Wesley Make?" found in the book: Rethinking Wesley's Theology for Contemporary Methodism edited by Randy L. Maddox and published by Kingswood Books in 1998.

"What difference does knowing John Wesley make in your ministry as a Youthworker?"

The first way to answer this question was to start with God. Be theological. Not anthropological.

The second way takes the next step. Go where God goes. Where is God? Where did the early Methodists find the spirit most accessible and obvious?

I have found The Spirit often in my own journey, in those times I spend on the edge, on the margins of society and culture; especially in areas where good people (people created in God's own image) are being crushed by unbelievable poverty, some who have no choice but to live in impoverished conditions, some who actually choose to live in particular situations of crushing poverty because it is slightly better than a previous condition of crushing poverty. Many of these people work long days for little money to produce things that Middle Class folks easily discard after a few uses.

"What does that have to do with God or Youth?"

When I started in Youthwork, I must confess, I thought my job was to keep Youth busy and happy. And especially to keep Parents happy! AND.... of course to keep the Senior Pastor of the Church happy! AND..... also to keep the Church Staff Committee happy and for that matter the whole church happy and..... if I just keep the Youth busy doing "fun" things everybody would be soooooo very happy, right?

I mean, just how many times can you sling a raw cow's tongue across the fellowship hall with your teeth before it gets boring and starts making people UNhappy??? What if it rains on the canoe trip or what if the bus gets stuck on the ski trip or what if there are shark warnings on the beach trip? Let me tell you all kinds of UNhappiness breaks out!

Now think with me for a minute. What can we imagine makes God UNhappy? Flat tires on church vans? Not enough football players or cheerleaders in Youth Group on Sunday night? Lame ham sandwiches for snack supper.... again?

(*HINT* the answer was "no" to all of those.)

God must cry in bitter UNhappiness at the way we ignore our brothers and sisters who are being crushed by poverty, disease, hunger, violence, neglect, loneliness. God must cry at the way free-market logic and rugged individualism shapes the practice of the church in North America. It can't possibly make God happy. And God must cry, the God who knows how many hairs we have on our head, that God must cry tears of UNhappiness that we don't even know the name of one person in our own community and neighborhood who is being crushed and marginalized.

Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we ignore UNhappy Youth and Parents, I am not suggesting we purposefully make Pastors and Church members UNhappy.

I am suggesting we start with God. And then go where God goes. See what God sees. Be UNhappy with what makes God UNhappy.

The Point

What if our entire Youth Ministry was shaped and implemented around a desire to go where God goes and be in relationship with the people, the images of God being crushed by poverty?

What if we trade the ski trip for a mission trip? Would it work? Yes! I've done just that. And do you know what the response was?

Youth: "Thank you for making this change, I grew way closer to God this time that I did last year on ski trip."

Parents: "Thank you for taking a less expensive trip."

Pastor: "Thank you for keeping our insurance from being revoked by another head injury on the slopes."

Church: "When is the next trip? Can I go?"

OK, it wasn't exactly like that, but you get the point. Were there still some UNhappy folks? Of course. Was there now a family who used to live in a cardboard house now living in a safe cinder-block house? Yes. Was God happy?

What if instead of another Youth Group Game night where we waste food in disgusting olympics we make good food and go out in church vans and serve it to the homeless on downtown streets? Or maybe we go to an impoverished apartment complex and have a cookout? Would God be happy?

What if instead of another Disney Movie Night we watch a movie or TV show about food issues and nutrition and then brainstorm ways we can start to make a difference in our own communities where children are dying of obesity issues? Would this make God cry?

If we start theologically, if we start with God, we can do nothing less that to serve those most in need because in building our capacities to serve, we grow in our relationship with God and in our relationship with Neighbor.

John Wesley said in his Journal on May 25, 1764: "... true religion does not go from strong to weak, but from the weak to the strong."

What if we changed the idea that Youthwork is about keeping people "happy" and instead we decided it was about being with the people God is perfectly "happy" to take special interest in?

Are YOU ready?

Peace and Grace,
Charles W. Harrison
Executive Director
Center For Wesleyan Renewal
Copyright 2008
Reference Url:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Theological or Anthropological?

One of my favorite Wesleyan writers is Bishop Kenneth L. Carder.  In my next several posts I will be taking a cue from his essay "What Difference Does Knowing Wesley Make?" found in the book: Rethinking Wesley's Theology for Contemporary Methodism edited by Randy L. Maddox and published by Kingswood Books in 1998.

"What difference does knowing John Wesley make in your ministry as a Youthworker?"

I believe that is a question EVERY Youthworker in a Church with Wesleyan DNA should be prepared to answer, and answer well.  Unfortunately most of us know little about John Wesley and even less about the Methodist Movement.  Why have we lost this valuable history and praxis?  Why does it not yet shape how we do Youth Ministry?

So let me start where brother John started: God.  Not game books.  Not retreats.  Not mystery rambles.  Not Ipod giveaway nights.  Not ski trips.  God.

"What is God doing in the world today?"

Do we ask this enough as we plan for our ministry with youth?  Do we help youth to ask that question?  Or do we start with "What do I need to do to make my Senior Pastor happy this week?" OR "How can I get these parents off my back?" OR "How do I get Junior High kids to want to go to Big Church worship?"

So, what is God doing in the world?  This is the ultimate theological question.  Unfortunately, we often say we don't have time to be theological.  I've done it.  Maybe you have too.  The schedule, the pressure, the pizza; this keeps us from thinking about God too much.

John Wesley had a preoccupation with theology.  He wanted to know God.  He saw God's claim on all of life.  He saw the Christian's journey as one of being restored/restoring the Image of God in each person.  While this is God's work in us, it is also our response.  Randy Maddox calls this "Responsible Grace."

Practical Atheists

Don't get me wrong.  Wesley was interested in many things.  Science, medicine, politics, etc.  He was interested in culture and society.  But, he ALWAYS started with God.  Theology wasn't an academic exercise with Wesley.  It was life.  Life with God.  Abundant life!  He talked about Christians who were "practical atheists" who maybe had some nice thoughts about God but who lived without God in the world shaping their lives by a God-reality.

How many of our Youth Ministries are neon banners for "practical atheism?"  If we have been personally converted to the God of Jesus Christ, then surely our work with Youth must also be converted so that it reflects what God is doing in the world.  Is doctrine simply some boring "ideas" we teach in Sunday school to overly bored Youth OR is doctrine something we live out with excitement and enthusiasm about what God might do next as all of Creation is being restored?

I can't help but think that this Theological Foundation was the main component of the Methodist excitement and movement.  There is great power for good in joining God.  But, how difficult it is when we don't have time for God, or when we don't see what God is doing, to have time, to have energy, to have focus, to have renewal, to even invite others to join us in following the God of Jesus Christ.  Difficult if not impossible.

"Why do we even do Youth Ministry?"

Today Youth Ministry is shaped more by the free-market logic of consumerism than it is by the gift of Grace logic.  We are more interested in Anthropological questions that we are in God questions.

Why do we need Youth Ministry?  Why that helps grow the Church, DUH!  You know, we are just one generation away from extinction!  Really? (I've heard that one a few times too many.)

Why should we have a Call to Ministry event?  DUH!  We need more pastors!

Why should we build bigger buildings? DUH!  To get more Youth inside the buildings!

Why do we need 10 Guitar Hero stations in that new building? DUH!

The Practical Plan

What if, just for a season we tried to do all we can to help Youth experience God's love in new ways by joining what God is doing in the world?  What if we equipped the Youth we have to ask "What is God doing in the world today?" and to point others to that God.

What if we stopped competing with culture and just got very intentional about joining God.

What if instead of asking how to get 100 Youth to come to our fancy new building, we simply took the 40 or so kids we have already and we steeped them in Scripture, Prayer, Worship, and Service?  What if we taught them to care for and love others the way God cares for and loves them?  What if those 40 kids went out and each shaped 3-4 of their peers, pointing to God, and pointing to what God is doing in the world?

Don't even have 40 kids? Start with 12.  Or even 4.  You know, it worked once before that way.  And that is why there are still people who follow Jesus and look for what God is doing in the world today.

What difference SHOULD John Wesley make in Youth  Ministry?  John Wesley reminds us to seek out what God is doing, join in with God, and invite others to come with us.

Are YOU ready?

Peace and Grace,
Charles W. Harrison
Executive Director
Center For Wesleyan Renewal
Copyright 2008
Reference Url:

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

When Grace is the Chauffer: A Wesleyan Model of Youth Ministry

Ever wonder what it would be like if John Wesley was the Youth Minister at your Church?

Well a few years ago a few seasoned United Methodist Youth Ministers sat around a table in North Texas and asked that very question.

What would we do differently if we paid attention to Wesley's Way of following Jesus?

What would old John say about our models of Christian Discipleship?

How could we help stop the rapid turnover in Youth Ministers while preparing Churches for the spike in possible Students to reach with the Gospel in the early 21st century?

How would curriculum, programs, and structures have to change to emphasize the core of Wesley's theology of Grace?

How could we reach Students at every level of their spiritual journey and then equip them on their journey into full Discipleship?

What if we worried less about how good the t-shirts looked and worried more about praying with and for students?

How do young people form their Identities?

How does Conversion work?

Why is the Christian Community so important for faith formation?

What if we started with a theological foundation for Youth Ministry that didn't worry about the numbers, helped students spend time on the margins serving others, and empowered them to answer their vocational call to participate in the Reign of God here and now?

What should we teach about Discipleship, Mission, and Evangelism and what is the best way for students to learn?

What if we served food to the homeless in the downtown area more often, spent more time in small groups building houses in Mexico for families who currently live in cardboard homes, empowered students to read their Bibles more (and even carry them!), instead of planning better games, bigger concerts, and frequent trips to the waterpark?

Well, we seemed to ask more questions than we had answers for. So we spent a lot of time in fellowship, Holy conversation, study and reasearch. We came up with a framing image; an image of Grace in motion.

You see, we believe Youth Ministry should start with asking the question "What is God doing in the world today?" and we believe that the best theological concept for God's work is simply Grace. God's love working in and through all of creation. We think Grace is like a Chauffer because Grace simply comes and picks you up and takes you where you need to go. It is that simple. You can't buy a ticket. You can't earn the ride. You don't have to jump any hoops to participate. You don't have to know any secret handsakes or formulas.

So, many workshops and Power Point slides later, yeah, we're working on a book. But we would like to hear from you. What do you think? Have you been asking any questions about Youth Ministry?

How has Grace been at work in your ministry? How did you learn who you are? What is your conversion story? Where are you now on your journey? How do you participate in God's Reign here and now? What difference does being a Disciple make in your life and ministry?

Join the conversation. Please. We need you. Or it just won't be the FULL community of Jesus Christ God intends for us to participate in. I hope to hear from you soon.

Peace and Grace,
Charles W. Harrison
Executive Director
Center For Wesleayn Renewal
Copyright 2007
Reference Url:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Coming soon to a screen near you!

The first/next post will be right here!

Peace and Grace,

Charles W. Harrison