So I finally did it: I went to Kennywood.
For those of you don’t know, Kennywood is an amusement park here in Pittsburgh that I have avoided going to for the two years I’ve lived in Pittsburgh. But last night, our youth group went, (18 kids, 4 leaders) so I finally went. And for the record, I had fun.
It ended up being basically six of us (four adults (yes Patrick, I even counted you as an adult), three high school kids) who bummed around together for the night. I even went on the Jack Rabbit (Twice even!) and the Thunderbolt. Now, mainly my parents, will confess that me and roller coasters have had a up and down relationship. I used to love the log flume at Darien Lake, but as I got older the whole “stomach dropping” thing became less fun. Now, in all honesty, the Jack Rabbit and the Thunderbolt are not intense roller coasters at all and I did wimp out of going on the Phantom. But none the less, I was proud of myself for getting on them and even having fun. What was funny was that Sean and I crammed into one car on the jackrabbit which prevented us from really flying around much. The second time I went on the jackrabbit I was alone in the car and when we hit the double dip (where the cars literally leave the tracks for what feels like a few seconds) I came flying out of my seat, it was pretty cool.
Anyway, that was my excitement for a Friday night. I guess it’s a good sign when my idea of fun on a Friday night is going with a bunch of kids to Kennywood rather than go out to a bar.
Normally my blog entries are full of rather dense entries with my reflecting on something I’ve read. Today’s blog entry won’t be like that, I promise.
Everything I’m about to tell you is public knowledge so I’m using his real name. I want to tell you a story about a little boy and a marvelous family. Danny is a sixth grader in our youth group. He is the foster child of a family who have been long time members of the church. The mom and dad have a reputation for being excellent parents, and I have observed this for myself in their other three children. So really, Danny couldn’t be with a nicer family. But Danny has a lot going against him. He was adopted from a Russian orphanage, but the family that adopted him abused him by locking him in closets, etc. So, he was put in foster care and this family from our church took him in, at least for now.
Now, don’t get me wrong Danny is not an angel by any means. Last week at the end of youth group I had had enough of him, and when he gets wound up he gets out of control. But the thing is that Danny is a child of God, who despite all the suffering that he has endured, God has worked in this child’s life to bring him through. Right now, he is with an excellent family and he has found a place in our youth group. I have “adopted” Danny so to speak when it comes to youth group. I make it a point to sit with him during youth group, and to talk to him every time I see him in church. He knows that I mean business when I speak to him (it doesn’t mean he always listens) but we’re working on things together.
The first week he was in youth group Danny volunteered to close the group in prayer. He got about two lines into the prayer and was praying that he could get over everything that had happened to him and he simply broke down in tears. I had to finish the prayer for him. But, last week he was able to tell the group about the abuse he had suffered without tears, and turned to me afterward with this huge smile on his face and said, “I did it! I talked about my other family without crying!” It looked like the kid had just been given a huge candy bar. Even though the moment before and the moment after that I want to string him up (he was really acting up last week) at that moment I saw a glimpse of what life is supposed to be like, what kids are supposed to be like, because the whole group was silent when he was talking. Dead silent, I mean really, dead silent, and that is saying a lot for a group of 20 middle schoolers. They recognized that something special was happening, that a moment of transformation was occurring in this kids life and they could be witnesses to it. Also, in Danny’s eyes I saw the joy of a child, and there is nothing better than that.
Kids like Danny are the reason I’m in youth ministry. You see, there are kids I love to work with – they’re the kids who read their bibles every day, pray often, and show up in church all the time. Why do I love to work with these kids? Because they want to go deep in their faith, they want to learn more, and they want to be disciples. But the kids who really need to be loved are kids like Danny, who have been wounded and need to know that they are loved by a lot of people. Frankly, I doubt very much Danny will remember me, and honestly that’s okay. I know for a fact that I am making a difference in this kid’s life and helping him along, and that’s what really matters.
Its funny how all the sudden two worlds combine.
This term I am reading, albeit slowly, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics III.4, the Doctrine of Creation. In this volume Barth lays out his ethics. It wasn’t my choice to read III.4, but I wanted to do an independent study with Dr. Burgess reading something related to Barth, and he chose III.4. Since I haven’t taken anything but the basic intro to ethics course, I thought it might be good to read, and it has been. While I am hoping to shift to something else next term, it has definitely been worthwhile.
All this is only a set up for my main point. Lately I’ve been thinking about what Evangelism looks like in the Postmodern context, and on Sunday my Sunday school class talked about the issue of evangelism. The end result of that discussion was that most people are rather uneasy with evangelism, because of the connotation that it brings with it. And to be honest, as discouraging as that is to hear, I think I have to agree.
One of the keys that I’ve seen in the Postmodern age in which we live, especially among youth is this: “Truth is only truth that I’ve experienced”. In other words, if a Postmodern student hasn’t lived through something, it isn’t true for them. Now, to be honest I’m not sure how different that is from the “Modern” era, but its something I’ve noticed. Here is where Barth’s comments are helpful.
Barth basically says in the opening of his section on the Active Life that the primary duty of the Christian is to co-operate with the Christian community in service to God to the community. A few quotes
“If we want to show men the kingdom of God, we must prove that we care for them just as they are, that we regard them as fellow-creatures in distress, and that we feel bound and obligated to them as such because of the kingdom which has already appeared, because of the salvation which has been declared to them, because of the fact that Jesus Christ has been born and has acted as their Brother, because of the fact that this has been done to their advantage”
“If this neighbour experiences opposition, hatred, contempt, or even indifference from this circle (Barth is referring to the circle of Christian live which connects those within the church), if he is attacked by it, if a different wind from that of genuine human freedom blows on him, how can he attend and listen to the testimony of the freedom of the Spirit, of the kingdom and grace, which is supposedly born to him?” (CD, III.4, Pg. 503)
Basically, if Christians don’t show love to someone outside the church, if we don’t prove that love through service, which includes but is not limited to speaking, then we cannot possibly expect them to listen to the testimony of the Spirit. So what of those Christians who are unwilling to do love men?
“They can only prove thereby that they are not too sure about this (whether or not they themselves are loved by God) themselves, and perhaps that they are not even aware of.”
Then Barth lays out a few presuppositions that must undergird this service. This one I especially like:
“Their decisive presupposition in respect to every man can be only that Jesus Christ has died for his sin too, and for his salvation.” (Don’t mind the lack of inclusive language, Barth wrote in an age before that was a big deal).
So Christians must view everyone in the eyes of Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ died for that person too, and Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior whether they know it or not.
In summary: “The whole credibility of the Christian service of witness as a human act depends on whether the work of active human love precedes and follows it, accompanying and sustaining it as the commentary and illustration of an eloquent parable”.
The Christian act of service is a “symbolic action” of the Word of God (understood both as the person of Jesus Christ as well as the promises delivered in him) made real in a person’s life. As I’ve heard many times from kids, “show me” or “prove it!”. Barth is saying that Christians show the gospel to be true when they live it in service to the community.
All of this leads to the conclusion that my next paper (for this class) will be the something along the lines of the follow: Service as Evangelism: Karl Barth’s theology of The Active Life as a model for Evangelism in the Postmodern Context
I’ve posted the material I used last night (the PowerPoint slides) on my website. They are available either as a PDF or as a PowerPoint file. Please feel free to take them and use them in anyway you want to. The prayers were all written by me, and the call to worship came from the Book of Common Worship of the PC(USA) Psalter. The images were all taken off the web. I did leave just empty slides that said “Song” where we put a song.
Tonight I tried something completely new at the SON service. The SON service is a contemporary worship service we have every Sunday night, but the people who attend it are quite flexible and willing to try new things. So tonight I threw something new (to them anyway) that looked a little something like this.
Call to Worship
Prayer of Adoration/Thanksgiving
Prayer of Confession
Time of Response with stations
It was a mix of traditional liturgy that one would find at many traditional Presbyterian services, combined with the contemporary music that we use normally at the SON service. Another twist was that my PowerPoint slides weren’t just words, but also including various images, mainly Eastern Orthodox icons. Even the slides that just contained the scripture passages were fancied up a bit with differences in college, font, and size for the key words in the passage. The sermon itself was pretty standard fair (although I didn’t bother to print it out and I just preached from my laptop tonight). After that we did the normal Offertory and then communion (which we do every week). But immediately following communion I had set up a couple different stations for people to go to. One was a station where they could light a candle and say a prayer for someone, another was a station where they could take a rock and drop it into water, to symbolize letting go of a burden that they were carrying. At another station people could fill out a prayer request card that would then be included in the pastoral prayer, and finally if a person wanted to be prayed for individually I was standing off to the side, out of the way. The key station for the night was one where people were invited to take pencil and a piece of paper and write a letter to God or their neighbor (the Sermon was on the greatest two commandments).
I have to say this group of pretty typical Presbyterians did a really great job with participatory worship. A number of people commented they liked the mix of liturgy and music, and the response stations were a real hit, as I almost ran out of candles to be lit, and there were quite a few rocks in the bottom of the bowl. I think when I preach in a couple weeks I’ll try something similar, but change a few stations to provide some variety as well as make at least one station that is specific to the message of the night. It took a little more work to get everything set up, but I think it was worth it in the end.
The next great task will be making the worship here at PTS on November 3rd participatory. That actually may prove to be a greater challenge, we’ll see.
So somewhere during this weekend’s National Youth Workers Convention it struck me: Youth Ministry is in desperate need of a new theological paradigm from which to operate. As I heard stories from various burned-out over-worked stressed-out “I know I can do it myself” youth workers I realized that the problem was at its core theological.
Don’t get me wrong, its not that these are bad people. On the contrary, most of the youth workers who were like this that I talked to were like that because they were pouring their lives out for their kids and become frustrated at the seeming lack of results from their efforts. Honestly, who can blame them? Here they are doing everything they can think of and still kids aren’t responding to them.
So the question now becomes… what can be done? Last year I took Pastoral Care from Andrew Purves and he presented to us a model for ministry that is profoundly Christological (Christ-centered). The central element is that the role of the pastor is to bear witness to what Jesus Christ is doing for a person or a community. So, in essence the focus is on pointing the way to Jesus rather than taking the burden upon oneself. I took that model and as well as I could I applied it to youth ministry in a paper I wrote for my Foundations of Youth Ministry paper. (While there is much in that paper that needs to be improved the central theological work in the first part is a basic introduction to what I am thinking.) While I struggle to apply the model in practice, it has gotten easier with time and I now find that using his paradigm to think about ministry is quite freeing.
This spring Dr. Purves is going to be teaching a new class based on his book including reading the background texts which shaped that book. So, I am going to take it in hopes that it will continue to help me develop this project more. While it would be presumptuous to say that I will someday publish a book, it is my hope that whether published or not (the beauty of the internet is that you can self-publish if needed) I can help relate his work which is quite monumental in its own right, to the area of youth ministry. I also recognize that I really need to get a few more years of experience in full-time ministry under my belt before I’ll have the credibility or experience to write such a book, so I’m not talking about a short term project by any means. But it’s a plan right now.