I've always thought that Autumn is THE season that represents change more than most. The shades of colours in the trees, the bite of cold in the air, daylight saving time changes, and in the UK at least, the start of the new school year.
This year, change seems more poignant than most. We have been in this extended season of learning to do things differently. Friendships, work, meetings, daily habits. This covid season has forced us to make changes that we may not have chosen otherwise.
For me, a helpful distinction has always been between change and transition. Change can often happen in an instance. A sudden death, a new house, a new teacher in school, a new car, a new baby. There may have been a process to get there, but in a moment everything is different - we are without a loved one, or we have new loved one, we are suddenly in different surroundings and so on. Those changes may be our choice or not.
But transition - adjusting our expectations, emotions, habits, patterns of life - is more of a process than a moment. We may even welcome the change, but still experience moments of sadness, loss or questioning as we process the loss of the old amidst the excitement of the new. Sometimes the change was far beyond our control and not welcome. That process of adjusting can take even longer, particularly if we are reluctant to allow ourselves to even start it.
You can be really good at change and still need some time to allow the process of transition to take place. Allowing your heart, mind and soul to catch up to the environment around you which is now different. Take a moment and allow yourself to acknowledge the changes that have taken place in your life over the past months, allow yourself to feel sad for the goodbyes as well as the joy of the hellos. Change and transition are different, and there is grace for the process.
Something that comes up in almost every discussion I have with children's or youth leaders, is the significance of parents and the challenges of them recognising, owning and taking the responsibility of spiritual leadership in the lives of their children.
Don't get me wrong, I know lots of people who do that already, but I also know lots who don't, and lots of church workers are wondering how they can help. To that end, I recently read THIS ARTICLE by Relevant Children's Ministry outlining the same problem, and offering some useful reflections on how we might be able to help.
Messy Church Theology is a collection of essays reflecting on different aspects of Messy Church, from its role in mission, 'to church or not to church' and inclusivity amongst others.
The second chapter written by Steve Hollinghurst is titled, 'When is Messy Church not church?' which together with the first chapter by Claire Dalpra discerning when it is church, wrestle with an interesting challenge. Messy Church can be a fresh expression of church, OR an outreach OR even a new expression of worship for an existing church community. Having established that all can exist appropriately in different contexts, Hollinghurst makes a valid point which anyone involved in missonal projects may do well to heed.
He writes, 'When fresh expressions of Church start with worship [as opposed to starting with living and spending time in the culture, building community and discerning what worship may look like in that culture], it is likely that the worship will be what Christians think is an appropriate expression in that culture, when, as yet, they know far too little to be sure that is true.'
This warning is not solely aimed at those engaging in Messy Church, but to any who are thinking of starting a missional 'something' to reach an area or group. We are perhaps in danger of projecting our own styles and expressions onto projects which, if given more time, may have develop their own characteristics and flavours that reflect the culture of the group being reached in the first place.
He goes on to remind us though of the impact that being in a worshiping and believing community can have. Being plunged into an innately Christian culture of worship can in itself be a missional experience. Somewhere a balance needs to be struck to allow different groups of people, or geographical areas to find an expression of worship that is their own, and not prescribed by a pre-existing church, but at the same time, be given a chance to experience an authentic worshiping community, something that will only be achieved if already practising Christians, hence with a pre-existing style create for them to experience.
An interesting dichotomy. Well worth a read.
Sunday 28th July. 1730 hours. 27 families. 50+children under 10. 1 Dining Hall. 1 Factory. 6 Days. Family Camp.
The Family Camp at YWAM Harpenden over the last week was great! Lots of hard work, but lots of smiles, action songs, creativity, cuddles, silliness and some really profound lessons. Having worked for a church, and YWAM and volunteered with lots of different organisations, I have learnt that each place has its own language.
When I hear 'Family' used in the church, I often think of the meaning as 'something for everyone, provision for each member of the family' - i.e. maybe a bit together, but mostly in respective age groups. Perhaps it's a language thing, but often in YWAM, 'family' means 'all-age' or 'intergenerational'. Something I have become used to - although I still didn't know what to expect at our family camp. However, I was challenged and delighted to see a culture being set at this camp of families doing things together - the fun, the serious and the spiritual. It was great to see the 'all-age' bits really being 'all-age' and not just children-focused.
To cut a long story (or week) very short, daily we had 'Tribal Gatherings' (or all-age worship/creative sessions) morning and evening. The morning one was followed by the daily 1.5hrs in age groups, followed by lunch. After lunch each day there were creative options: bubbles (epic bubbles at that, sculpture, high-rope tree climbing, water-fun, wide games, drama workshops, learning the Bible off by heart and so on. Most of those were to give the opportunities for whole families to have fun together. Then there was the evening Tribal Gathering, followed by tea, and then something for the older children and adults once the kids were in bed.
Despite running the 4-7's program, which was so much fun and filled with some delightful manners and wide-eyed wonders, the thing that struck me were the Tribal Gatherings. Although chaotic and noisy, they were filled with heart-felt worship, dramas to challenge and to relate to, symbolic activities of handing on batons and 'bag time' to talk about the day. One on-going activity was that each family had a large planter, and each day added something to their garden. The gardens represented their family and the family's spiritual life, and it was great to see them pulling up weeds and stones and talking about the hard things or things that need to be removed from family life; the hedge of protection around the garden and the role of parents, the planting of seeds - again the role of parents in choosing what to invest in their children and the watering - seeking God for nourishment.
All the families I spoke to felt God had spoken to them about some aspect of their family life - particularly from a spiritual perspective, and were hoping to put some of the ideas and values in place. I too went away excited at the prospect of being more inclusive and feeding the age-relevant stuff into the bigger picture - a value I've owned for a long time, but haven't seen put into practice so explicitly before.
I have just returned from a delightful, if a little busy two weeks leading 'Just Go' our summer missions program. Five days of camping in Sussex, followed by 10 action-packed days in Romania followed by another day and half in Sussex to de-brief and celebrate, a whirl-wind of adventure, an outpouring of God's love and MASSIVE amounts of His grace as I led the entire project as well as the Romania team! (We also had teams in Serbia and Poland!)
The training was a real high-light for many of the 25 youth who joined the project, with Burn 24-7 style worship, creative workshops, a half night of prayer and some Biblical teaching on mission - as well as some 'getting to know you time' for each of the teams given that they'd only just met!
Tues 9th July we all flew to our various destinations - for us, Constanta on the coast of the Black Sea in Romania. We spent a few days there with the YWAM team, helping to lead some Kids Clubs, joining in the life of the base with intercession and worship times, as well as seeing some of their other projects such as the Boy's Home, International Cafe and the newly developing Aquaponics system they are experimenting with! (See www.foodmachine.org)
After a blessed time in Constanta we moved to Medgidia, in many ways a nondescript Romanian town, but one that God certainly has his hand on! We worked with Stepping Stone Missions, and incredible work based out of an old communist style building converted into a community centre. They run a feeding program for Turkish gypsy children including literacy, washing and clean clothes; A pharmacy, a library and are partnered with a local church. The pentecostal church has a vision to plant 44 churches in the surrounding villages by 2022, and so far have 11! We were able to run Holiday Bible Clubs in each one, as well as three church services, 1 youth group, a football tournament and a ministry night. All interspersed with planning, preparation and impromptu worship in the corridors! All in four and a half days!
The young people on my team were fantastic! They were willing to step out and try new things like giving testimonies and praying for healing. They were also hard-working, sacrificing sleep to work very hard, and do things they wouldn't normally like doing, such as cleaning toilets and picking head-lice off children's heads with their fingers!!! All 14 on the team got on like a dream, supported each other through the tough bits (it was quite hard for some of them to see the children in extreme poverty), laughed a lot in the fun bits, and now are continuing to be inspired with fund-raising enterprises springing up, and pursuits into more and longer mission trips.
The whole time I was well aware of God's grace over my life - over the logistics, over my sleep and energy, and over the different projects we were involved in. From the healing on the plane on the way out, to the youth group evening when the local youth didn't want to move from where we were preaching because they wanted to hear more - God was in it all, the smiles, the prayers, the healings and of course it the young people themselves as their faith reached new depths. What an honour and privilege to be a part of something so
I'm currently writing a paper on the challenges and opportunities of social media facing youth & children's workers and parents in their roles of raising and discipling the 'connected generation.' On my travels I have found a series of blogs written by Rebecca Levey. She has several short posts with really practical and well thought out tips and ideas for RULES FOR SCREEN TIME in her family. As she puts it,
"The lure of technology in our lives is so strong; the goal has to be to figure out how to teach our kids to master technology and not let technology master them."
Click this link to read one of her posts titles, 'Parent's Dilemma: Are you raising tech-addicted kids?'
Canon J. John writes about the 'kidswithoutgod.org' website, with a stark challenge reminding us of the high price of holding on to truth in the light of concerning, although at times amusing cultural swing at Christianity. READ THE ARTICLE HERE...
Click the link below to read a great blog post about why, and whether we should be thinking again about our space and how it looks and feels. All the time I was reading it, I was thinking about children, young people and their families... What are we doing to provide an amazing, fun and comfortable place for them to come together - during our services AND otherwise....
CLICK HERE TO READ THE BLOG BY ONE BEAT.... 'FEELS LIKE HOME'
A lot of my work with Youth With A Mission is about mobilising young people, children and families into cross cultural mission, usually, due to life stages involving schools and colleges, for the short term of between two weeks and three months.
Such short-term missions teams come under fire for being a waste of money, better spent on people in need and not a flight, 'flash in the pan' ministry that has no bearing on long term change in a given area, and largely about the young person or child having a great experience. While these criticisms are understandable, they are also perhaps based on misunderstanding, and done well, the fruit, influence and impact of such trips can be vast and significant.
Firstly, it is true that it will be significant for the young person on the trip. For them, there is a significant discipleship element to the trip. They will encounter God's love for others in a new way and they will perhaps be forced to rely on God in a way they never have before. Not only that, but when under pressure in a new, sometimes uncomfortable place, with a team of people, your character is put under a magnifying glass and a whole lot of ugly is exposed some of which you can't ignore!
My musings. Opinions my own, and potentially not that thought through!