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: http://www.cfwr.org