In prior weeks we have focused on the first seven principles: Youthwork is- Family Based, Congregational, Relational, Discipling, Missional, Evangelistic and Holistic. This week we move onto two more that go hand-in-hand:
Principle # 8 – Youthwork is Bible Based
You might be surprised at how often I heard critical negative feedback when I mention the Bible in Youthwork. I truly believe this comes out of the misuse and abuse of the Bible so often characterized on TV in a negative way. But, I have one fundamental idea that I promise to keep saying out loud until it becomes true: “All United Methodists Carry Their Bible!”
A secondary line is also important: United Methodist Adults carry their Bibles and United Methodist Youth do as well! And, this is your fair warning: someday you are going to invite me to preach on a Sunday morning/evening at your church and I am going to do what I lovingly call a “Bible Check” by asking everyone raise their own personal Bible (not a pew Bible though) high in the air during the worship service.
Let me explain. My friend Rev. Zan Holmes once said everybody should have 3 Bibles (at least): 1) on their desk at work, 2) in their car, 3) at home on the nightstand or on the kitchen table for family reading. For Youth I would say that they need to have at least ONE Bible of their very own that they carry in their backpack and read in at least 3 places 1) Church: Youth Group, Sunday school & all Worship, 2) Home, at night before bed or with a parent once a week, 3) Life, there are as many “down times” for Youth as for Adults. During these breaks, reading a Psalm or a Gospel story certainly can build spiritual wisdom each day.
Now, to me it is a no-brainer to have your own personal Bible with you when you go to Church. I mean, if there is a place you know for sure you are going to use a Bible, hopefully it is at your Church. Let it be your own Bible, with your own notes and highlights so that you can build spiritual wisdom and connections to past ideas and understandings of familiar passages. Have you noticed that people who carry a wallet expect to use what is in it everyday? And people who carry a cell phone take time to do things on it? What if carrying the Bible what just as much of a habit as a wallet or phone? (I once led a workshop at a Youth Conference on “How to bring your Bible on a date.”)
To me, one of the clearest metrics that can be measured to judge the effectiveness and sustainability of a Youth Ministry in a local Church is to look at graduating Seniors and see if 1) they carry their Bibles, 2) they know what the Bible says, 3) when the go off to College or make a Vocational choice, they pack their Bible first in that special small box of things they want to find and access as soon as possible.
If you need help picking out the Bible you want to carry from now on, drop me an e-mail.
Principle #9 – Youthwork is Experiential.
ex-pe-ri-en-tial: adj. pertaining to or derived from experience.
Much like the other Principles of Youthwork, a book or three could be written about this. It is an idea as old as Aristotle (at the least) who once said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” John Wesley hinted at the idea by suggesting that we should preach faith until we have it. Later on it would become an important educational concept.
So in Youthwork making meaning from direct experience is the key on all fronts. In educating for Biblical and Theological understanding, it works best when Youth experience the concepts, stories, and spirituality of the Christian Faith directly. It is one thing to memorize that God loves us unconditionally; it is another to feel, believe, and practice that we are loved unconditionally. This happens for Youth through the relationships they build with peers and adults in the Youth Group and Church in general.
Learning to believe that God is on a Mission to Save the World happens when Youth go to the edge and margins of culture and society and meet those who cling to God for basic survival. Families being crushed by poverty in Juarez, Mexico and those found homeless on the streets of Dallas, Texas can help Youth experience what the Bible means when it tells the story of God’s care for those who suffer.
Letting Youth lead their own ministry, letting them fully participate in the life of the Church through Worship leadership, Choir, Church committees, serving children at VBS, hanging out with the “Mature” Methodists, can all help a Young Person experience the Christian Faith in a way that can not be taught in Sunday school.
In the United Methodist Church this is exactly how we Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. The entire Church is responsible for the Faith development of it members of all ages. But to focus on Youth, the question is before each one of us: how will you and I build safe spaces and places for Youth to experience God directly? I look forward to hearing your ideas and YES! you did just volunteer to be an extraordinary Youthworker as soon as you tried to answer the question!
Peace and Grace,
Charles W. Harrison