Obviously I’ve never gotten past step 1 . . . but this is fiction (but hoping to raise some real questions).
Feel free to chime in under comments and add your thoughts:
First Youth Meeting: I would try to meet away from the church building, such as a coffee shop (or wherever the kids like to hang out . . . if it is quiet enough to talk).
I would tell them that we are embarking on a totally new, and radically different, approach to Christian youth groups. I would encourage them to give my ideas a chance to work before creating an opinion. Next I would pass out a copy of my ground-rules/syllabus for the coming year.
1. The space of the youth group is a sanctuary. There is to be no judgmental attitudes from each other or from me. Jesus covers you entirely . . . PERIOD.
A. You can say anything in our group and the only important thing is that it is true. Doubting is welcomed. Talking about your mistakes is welcome . . . I’ve made a huge number of them.
B. I will not promise that I won’t speak to your parents (for example if a student voiced suicidal ideations) but I’m not going to report on them on a continuing basis.
C. I will treat you like adults and so therefore you will be expected to act like adults. Adults respect one another.
2. Honesty is paramount. You are to be the same person in youth group as you are anywhere else. You come to youth group with a seamless transition from your world outside of youth group. I want to deprogram the ideal that church is where you act superficial. So this means;
A. You should use the same language in youth group as you do along with your friends. If you use words that offend other kids in the youth group, then as adults, you should refrain out of respect. However, the one offended should also be “offended” in all contexts of their lives and not just in youth group.
B. If you smoke or have other bad habits, I don’t want you smoking in our setting due to health concerns (not legalism) but don’t try to cover up your breath with mints for our behalf.
3. Sunday morning service is optional. Yes, that’s right. Sunday morning service is optional. You should NOT go to Sunday morning church if you do it for;
A. Penitence, believing that coming to church makes God more pleased with you,
B. Guilt, feel too ashamed before God, your parents or your Christians friends if you skip church.
C. You SHOULD only go to Church if it does something positive for you such as fellowshipping with other believers, giving you a true sense of worshiping God, learning something meaningful from the pastor.
D. If none of the group can find a reason under “C.” to attend Sunday morning church service, then that is not your problem anymore than it is the customers’ fault that a store goes out of business. It is the fault of the ones who put on the Sunday morning service.
4. Being “stupid for Jesus” is no longer cool. It would be a great aspiration for each person in the group to get a PhD from a great school like Harvard, Princeton or Oxford. However, if you have no interest in higher education, then be or do whatever fulfills you.
5. Our youth group will be made up of a core curriculum plus field trips, which are described in the Syllabus.
6. The field trips for the youth group would not be water parks, go cart riding, skiing or Christian concerts. Those things are fine and God is glorified when you are laughing and having fun. However, the public schools, parks and recreation and other groups already do that. Go with them! We don’t need a separate “Christian” area of having fun from the non-Christian. Having fun is important but being entertained or having fun will not be a key part of the youth group. We will do some fun things together only because no one else is doing it (like museums).
This course will be for one hour each week and will deal with a variety of factors over the year. Consistent with the proverbial statement, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish” (okay, you know the rest), this course will not teach you WHAT to think, but HOW to think. This includes Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), philosophy and all aspects of culture and thinking. (I will expound on this in my next post).
Regarding hermeneutics, I will steer the students away from the Gnostic/Dualistic Biblical interpretation that is endemic in most Evangelical settings . . . including youth groups. No more “God showed me a verse this morning.” It will also be studying the Bible, looking for the intended meaning of the authors in their cultural context. No more closing your eyes, ramming your index finger into a random verse, and knowing that was God telling me to ”Ask you out to the prom.”
We will spend a lot of time on culture, understanding where it comes from and how to live within it (or above it at times). This is includes all of its contributing factors of history (secular history not just the Old Testament), psychology, sociology and politics. None of this will be the “Christian (meaning politicized) Perspective,” but the actual facts. None of our study of history will have anything to do with pointing to the “End Times.”
The purpose of studying culture is found in the previously mentioned proverb. If you teach kids what to think, then they must live the rest of their lives behind tightly arranged, high walls to protect themselves from everything that is not included in those “whats.” But if you teach a kid how to discern, then you open the entire world up to them to explore . . . without fear. No more worrying about the demon behind every video game, book, song etc.
The field trips would include:
1) Going to Walmart and loading up on toenail clippers, emery boards, lotion, towels and basins. Then we would drive to the “Nicholasville” homeless camp in Seattle. Offer free pedicures to all the homeless people. The youth would not be there to “Share the Gospel” nor even allowed to (unless, in some odd way, one of the homeless people demanded to know). Nor will we mention that we are from any kind of church. We will clean those stinky (and I’ve dealt with homeless people’s stinky feet before . . . gross) feet all day long and have a ball doing it. While we are trimming their nails and scrubbing their feet, we will talk to them . . . one person to another and asking and learning about their lives. We would see the beauty in every person.
2) We will go and visit the dean of the department of Evolutionary Biology at the U. of Washington. We will ask him to try and convince us that there is no God and all life forms evolved from nothing . . . by chance. We will say nothing back but just listen and take notes and thank them for their time. During out next core class, we will discuss what he/she said . . . their good points and their bad points. The clichés (lazy person’s way out of any argument), such as, “Well I know God is there because there is a God-shaped void in my soul that He fills” will NOT be allowed!
3) We will take field tips to visit art museums, science exhibits and concerns of all types of music. We will go to comedy clubs, poetry readings and philosophy discussion groups.
These are just starters. I will add more over the next couple of posts. Feel free to add your own under comments.