Monthly Archives: May 2011

Safe Space and Youth Ministry

Kenda Dean presents 10 characteristics of a healthy youth ministry, and the tenth one was called safe space… Its fascinating in that Jesus pretty much ripped safety out of the practices of 2000 years ago by upending tribal ingroup/loyalty, authority/hierarchy, and religious based purity. Its disturbing that as youth ministry evolved over the years, it seemingly embraced much of what Jesus put aside in the interest of safety.

Tribalism and Fear

Youth groups tend to be very tribal focused, ie safety in numbers, and fear of other groups. Some go so far as to embrace isolationism and fear of others.

Authority / Hierarchy

Often times youth ministry revolves around its leaders. Youth often look to the leader as the center, case in point when a leader moves on, youth group fall apart time and time again. Parents look to the leader to outsource their baptismal promise. The leader looks to the executive pastor.

Religious Purity

Often times moral issues and purity seem to occupy a greater priority of youth ministry than does Jesus. Its no wonder moral therapeutic theism is so predominant amongst the young adult crowd.

All of the above are focused on safety, and while at odds with Jesus message, are likewise at odds with the “safe space” which Kendra Dean presents.

Young people need safe spaces in their lives where they can “be” themselves instead of trying to “prove” themselves. Safe space can means time, relationships, or physical space where young people have the emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual freedom to explore, to risk, and to fail in a safety net of love–real love, not the Hallmark stuff. Safe spaces give youth the experience of being really “seen” and known as God sees and knows them, as beloved brothers and sisters of Christ.

If i think back to my years in camping ministry, and the resulting arguments I had back then.. the over-scheduling and activities to keep kids busy and out of trouble, rather than prayer and available percolation time, safety really was the bottom line, rather than safe space.

The thing is, safe space is anathema to many… exploration and risk are scary deals, likewise is failure, and the need to establish REAL safety nets. This is further complicated, as such goes far beyond the realm of just the youth leader, it really requires buy-in and participation of the entire faith community.

Yes, if you ask church councils what is important, children, youth, and families come up again and again…. but implementation is where the rubber meats the road. Matt Cleaver has some good points on what youth ministry needs more of, and what youth ministry needs less of which present some great ideas for change. The question is, will folks go beyond the words of church councils and take to heart what change/work might really need to happen?

The Logistical Problems of Acts 2:36-40

In todays world, Acts 2:36-40 would pose a serious organizing and logistics problem… back then, it would be even more of a challenge. Lets roll on the text.

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Peter gave the message, and folks responded… Lets think about the logistics problems.

First… the probability of every person responding and getting Baptised is about nil. More realistically only a percentage of folks got Baptised, which means a whole lot more folks than 3000 had to hear the message. If we look at the following graph of yearly adult baptisms vs weekly attendance based upon a limited sampling of the St Paul area synod…

…it would seem that well over 200,000 folks would need to hear the message in the best case!

Then again, lets assume Peter had 20X greater success than the best we are doing today, thus 10,000 folks would need to show up. (This is even more impressive in that the above chart is based upon baptisms/year… not baptisms/day!)

Second… How do you gather 10,000 folks together to hear the message, there were no flash mobs, no TV, no radio spots, only word of mouth.

Third… Peter didn’t have an arena with 20,000 watts of audio power, he didn’t even have a PA system, more so, he was more than likely open air preaching… with that many people, Peters message was likely to only reach a few hundred folks if that, due to the ambient noise levels.

Fourth… Assuming each Baptism took at maximum one minute, at least 50 hours would be needed…

Bottom line… Peter had to have a ton of help, he’d need PR type folks to get people out there, he’d need folks to orally repeat his message in near real time, he’d need folks to jump in doing Baptisms etc. No way could one guy, or even one guy with a few  fellow apostles pull this off in the alotted time frame.

As a result, one would like to think that the larger the church is, the greater the potential for scalability of effort, but such doesn’t seem to be the case today as evidenced in the above chart. If anything the reverse appears true, and the larger the church, the greater the dilution of effort… hmmm

*The chart is courtesy of Tim Thompson @feralpastor as part of his learning to evangelize resolution for the St Paul Area synod assembly.

Justice and Mercy, Christian Responses on Twitter in re Osama’s Death

I’ve been following the twitter stream on and off tonight, and responses of Christians are all over the place. So much so, an outsider could well think that Christians have widely differing scriptures, rather than the same Bible. Big picture wise, I think much of it rolls down to how individual Christians view justice, mercy, and the balance between the two, or perhaps if there should even be a balance.

Granted, for those who suffered the loss of friends and/or family members during 911, a focus on justice just due to basic human nature is likely to predominate. Likewise, for those who are very much pro-life, mercy is likely to predominate. One also has to consider that some will tie nationalism into this, which seemingly is possible after a careful study of Augustine’s Just War Theory.

In light of this happening on Divine Mercy Sunday, as well as John Paul II’s Beatification, I thought it would be useful to reread his encyclical entitled Rich in Mercy.

mercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God’s justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that of justice but also more profound. Already the Old Testament teaches that, although justice is an authentic virtue in man, and in God signifies transcendent perfection, nevertheless love is “greater” than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love in the face of justice – and this is a mark of the whole of revelation – are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and His Mercy (Ps 4011; 98:2f; Is 45:21; 51:5; 56:1). Mercy differs from justice, but it is not in opposition to it, if we admit in the history of man, as the Old Testament precisely does, the presence of God, who as Creator has already linked Himself to His creature with a particular love. Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred and ill will toward the one to whom He once gave the gift of Himself: Nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti “you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence” (Wis 11:24). These words indicate the profound basis of the relationship between justice and mercy in God, in His relations with man and the world. They tell us that we must seek the life-giving roots and intimate reasons for this relationship by going back to “the beginning,” in the very mystery of creation. They foreshadow in the context of the Old Covenant the full revelation of God, who is “love” (1 Jn 14:16).

Yet, going back to those who lost loved ones and friends, the divine love John Paul II speaks of is very very hard. A fellow who struggles with this presents the following:

Can we forgive Bin Laden? Can we pray for God to have mercy on his soul? Can we weep for the senseless death we find in any war? Include his name in the prayer of the faithful?

Answering no, only means that the enemy continues to win–even when it feels right to celebrate.

Perhaps God can forgive Bin Laden and in God’s perfect reconciliation we find our human imperfection reaching its limits? After all, we are not Jesus, who called from his cross for mercy, not for himself, but for those who nailed him to the wood.

But that merciful call goes out to us as well. It haunts us to pray for peace and not pain, reconciliation, but not revenge.

Can we forgive Osama Bin Laden?

I hope one day I can. And because I believe that Debbie, Tom and Jeannine are firmly united with God in eternal salvation, it helps me to also believe that their sainthood already gives them the perfection to do what I and probably many others find so difficult, nay, even repulsive or impossible.

The entire entry is a must read, it pretty much ties justice, mercy, nationalism, and human struggle together in such a way as to be all encopassing.

Christian Unity and the US Govt in the 1800’s

Lyman Beecher was a Presbyterian pastor, and is known for his leadership in the 2nd great awakening. Much of what he said concerning the church and state going way back to the late 1800’s has many parallels today, especially so when it comes to unity.

In his younger days, Lyman Beecher said the following:

In The Spirit of the Pilgrims 1831

The Government of God is the only government which will hold society against depravity within and temptation without.

In his Plea for the West, 1835,

If this nation is, in the providence of God, destined to lead the way in the moral and political emancipation of the world, it is time she understood her high calling, and were harnessed for the work. For mighty causes, like floods from distant mountains, are rushing with accumulating power to their consummation of good or evil, and soon our character and destiny will be stereotyped forever.

The context of Pastor Beechers comments was the push to decouple churches and the state. Views such as his as a younger man were commonly held viewpoints amongst many church folks. They were aghast at the push for separation of church and state years prior, and now that states were starting to likewise decouple the churches, they were exceedingly bent out of shape. They feared the downfall of the nation and society.

An interesting thing happened though… rather than the Gospel withering on the vine, the churches stepped up to the plate in a huge way. Many hold that such separation played a huge role in the second great awakening.

Lyman Beecher describes what happened near the end of his life in his autobiography (p344). He said the following with regards to the state of Conneticut severing its ties with the churches:

I suffered what no tongue can tell for the best thing that ever happened to the state of Conneticut It cut the Churches loose from dependence on State support. It threw them wholly on their own resource, and on God. They said ministers would loose their influence; the fact is they have gained. By volutary effoert, societies, missions, and revivals, they exert a deeper influence….

Not only did the event prove that religion was quickend,and enfused with a healthier life, when its unnatural connection with the State had ceased, and that more money was given freely to the support of the Gospel…

From the British Quarterly Review published in 1876!

The Churches of the pilgrim type which had been limping on the crutches of Caesar so long that their limbs were stiffening with inaction, have developed a vigour unknown before.

The inherent vital energy of the gospel has demonstrated that, with the ordinary blessing of Him of whom extraordinacy blessings may be confidently claimed by faith, it can be trsuted to take care of itself in the word.

Its interesting to see what happened when the state separated from the churches… continued from the British Quarterly review.

Disestablishment in New England has promoted a just catholicity between Christians of various shades of belief Standing alias one before the law all are thrown back upon the fundamental principles of their common Christianity and the teaching of that Word of God equally acknowledged by all and there being no element of felt injustice longer to force them apart they drift naturally toward that position indicated by the wise and catholic principle In essentials unity in non essentials diversity in all things charity The motto of William Penn was We must yield the liberty we demand Nowhere on the round earth we are persuaded has the practical union possible among Christians who differ as to minor principles been more beautifully or more beneficently exhibited than during the last generation in New England.

This above was written in 1876… so how come 135 years later, we have such problems? Christian polarization runs left and right, and arguments are everywhere. I’m jumping into the rally to restore unity… but I think once the week has passed, the diatribes will return in short order.

I think George Santayana with this quote written some hundred years ago provides an answer. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”