It’s time to blog again with some good news from Tottenham
I like to support our local shops and the other Saturday I went to collect a coat from the dry cleaners and then pick up a newspaper. As I went to pay in the newsagents I realised that I’d dropped my wallet. Not good news I know, so bear with me.
So I checked the paper shop but it was nowhere to be seen. Panicing slightly, I headed back to the dry cleaners and met a Somali teenager holding up what looked like my wallet so people could see that it had been lost and that he was looking for the owner.
“i think you’ve found my wallet!” I said
“That’s good,” he replied, “but you need to tell me your name first!”
So I told him who I was and straight away he handed over the wallet, even refusing to take the reward that I offered him, and off he went in the other direction.
As I headed home I realised that I was pleased but not surprised about how this teenager had helped me, and that made me doubly happy. I like living in the city.
Doing youth work differently has meant unlearning some old ideas. When the focus of the church was to entertain the congregation on a Sunday morning then a youth club that did the same fitted well. When the focus of church is to release and equip people to spend time connecting with their neighbours then how do you do your youth work?
Instead of trying to come up with novel activities to attract young people the focus has been to work with them and create projects to make a difference; activity with purpose. So last term the young people decided to plant bulbs in flower pots and give them to their neighbours.
And it was great fun. First a trip to B&Q to work out the cost of bulbs, pots and compost followed by hot chocolate together at Costas afterwards – they loved that. Then a session where they designed, acted and filmed a fund raising video, more fun! A few weeks later they returned to B&Q to buy in materials, and more hot chocolate afterwards, That was followed by a bulb planting session, messy fun! Finally the scary bit, but we provided moral support as they delivered the flower pots to their nearest five neighbours, most of whom were delighted.
And in al this the young people are learning what being a church is all about.
It was the first week back after the Burgerfest and we suggested to the youth group that they might like to try cooking again. They decided on pancakes – a bit early I know – but they wanted to serve each other, organising a sort of cafe. Wow, they really did get it! Fantastic I thought, I could write a triumphant blog about another ground breaking session of youth work. Alas it wasn’t my finest hour!
Smugness is dangerous. It says, “I’ve made, I know it all” which makes me blind to both what I need to learn and also what I need to unlearn. At the start of Philippians 4 we read how the wheels were coming off Paul’s Philippi Project. His response – to rejoice! Now to rejoice is not only a happiness not dependant on circumstances – there’s more, To rejoice in the Lord is alos to delight in being a disciple, not having made it and feeling smug while the rest work it out. It’s realising only God knows best and revelling in a journey of discovery with the King and those in his Kingdom.
And that’s just the start! Beware of Smugness.
Sometimes I get stuck on a verse. The latest has been Philippians 2:12 where Paul says, “work out your faith with fear and trembling” or to be more accurate with nerve shredding terror! While I was chewing on this, one of the n:flame Gap Year students dropped in for a mentor meeting. As we talked about an issue I presented him with an imaginary scenario – if you were driving along in a car and you had to choose between holding onto the steering wheel or keeping you foot on the accelerator which would you go for? He chose the wheel, and I guess most of us would.
But it got me thinking about how I work out my salvation with nerve shredding terror. It’s the complete opposite to my natural instincts, like letting go of the wheel and pushing the accelerator to the floor. If salvation starts when I say “Jesus is Lord” I work it out by letting him take the metaphorical wheel. I say. “You are The Way, give my life your direction, your Kingdom come”. But at the same time the only way it can be the least bit scary is if I have the faith to live his way with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, with everything I’ve got, foot to the floor living turbocharged by the Holy Spirit. Wohoooo!
It’s eaier to default, to do things as I’ve always done them. So when God makes it clear he wants me to do things differently it’s a challenge.
We started a church in Tottenham a few years back with the clear mandate to do things differently. From time to time we find each other gravitating back to traditional thinking that used to please us and kept us comfortable. It’s harder to be living in step with a King who is restless to change the culture of his church, as well as this world, and bring in his Kingdom.
This week we’ve been giving the garden it’s winter tidy and filled several bags with dead leaves and pruned branches. While doing this I realised what unlearning is all about – letting God cut out old ways which aren’t bearing fruit ready for incineration – ouch! And then letting him cut back fruitful ideas so they regrow in new ways to be effective for changing times.
So often Christian youth work can be about teaching young people what they should believe – a diet of ‘do’s and don’ts’ which is far from grace, high on information and low on application.
But at our last youth group event of 2012 we decided to let the food do the talking and after grace there was only one ‘do’ – you could not serve yourself. In front of a hungry youth group were all the constituent parts for a feast of beef burgers. There was no Bible study, no sermon, just a bunch of young people struggling to unlearn all the consumerist, get-it-and-grab-it conditioning of their short lives – to follow the Servant King and put themselves last and others first. As they listened to each other, made burgers to give away and served one another we had a laugh and the food of learning was sweet and satisfying. What is more they did it and they got it,
And the parting challenge, as we started to clear away, was to be the same on Christmas Day.
We created this map of our local area and everyone annotated it with loads of detail to show where we all lived and to include places and people that were special to us. As we placed candles around the map we thought about being shining lights and asked God where he was calling us to be like him – life and light.
This was more challenging and poignant than I had anticipated. I felt God was stirring us up, wanting us to be serious and not just go through the motions. It really made me think about how in my reactions and attitude I needed to be light. As a church God was calling us away from the safety of set piece displays but to live dangerously and be light in the everyday in every way, even in the scrum by the brussel sprouts in Tescos on Christmas Eve!