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
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