Friday, June 29, 2012

Our Real Lack: Not Youths but Youthfulness

I have been reading this new book called "Love Without Walls" by Laurie Beshore, a founder-pastor of Mariners Church, famous for its outreach programs. While many people tend to look at how large the church is in terms of people attending, or how big the building is, I find the most powerful testimony of it being a witness for God in terms of their outreach programs. With at least 31 outreach initiatives, Mariners Church is bringing the gospel to their neighbourhood communities in many different creative ways. There are programs to reach out to the poorer members of society, connecting with young people, as well as many humanitarian projects. The thing that most define Mariners Church is the way they help people to help themselves.

Mariners Church goes against the conventional approach of helping by "handing out," or what Beshore calls a "giveaway" culture. The gist of the argument is this: By giving out goodies to the needy we identify, we are not helping them. We are essentially disempowering them to help themselves. The best answer is in two words. Ask them. Then involve them. Then work with them, through them. This approach has made Mariners Church outreach ministries very effective and long term. Unlike conventional approaches that approach outreach on a one-shot, one-project approach that dies down after the initial rah-rah excitement, empowering the needy to help themselves not only goes a longer distance, it gives dignity back to the needy community.

We have all talked about the lack of youths in churches. My church has a problem with trying to build a youth community. Not only are youths few in number, it is getting even fewer. With no new people joining, and the present youth population transitioning into their next phase of life, it is sad to see the demise of a once flourishing youth group. Perhaps, this need not be too discouraging. This may not signal the end of the world. The key is not in the numbers of youths, but the youthfulness we bring to all we do. This is regardless of language and age. Youthfulness is not age related, but is a positive mentality. It is not something we lack, but something to cultivate in us. I remember a senior lady in one church I used to attend. Her name is Margaret. She is a passionate volunteer, always ready to lend a ear to listen to the young, and to lend a hand to participate in new areas of ministry. Despite her age, she manifests a young heart that touches the lives of people from all ages and all walks of life. She is open to learn, and also builds close relationships with the people she tries to help. Her great capacity to serve people lies in one single goal: Putting the interests of others above her own.

The trouble with many Church ministries is that there are too many artificial barriers and too many man-made rules. Why must Church ministries be called Senior Fellowship, or Young People group? Why divide them based on age? If a Church is one people, why spend time separating them from the rest of the congregation? While it is nice to enable each niche to grow deep and to minister to one another, such labels can isolate one group from the rest of the church. It is a sad development. For me, having a niche group is good, but it should not be the only thing that one gets involved in. Otherwise, there is a real danger of compartmentalizing church life into respective ministries. Ideally, we should all be organic in the way we do ministry.

Kevin Harney is big on organic relationships. One example is missions. Many churches tend to focus missions through a committee. This begs the question: What about the rest of the congregation?  Are they exempt from mission work just because the Church has a mission board in charge? No! Missions is the heart of God. It ought to be the heart of the Church. Every ministry needs a mission. Every group needs to be missional.

In the same way, youthfulness, not youth is the hope for the future of the Church. Youths grow up and leave their youth groups. Youthfulness lasts and lasts, and does not necessarily leave any group. In fact, we can also call it passion, purposefulness, or simply, youthfulness.

Here are three ways to cultivate youthfulness in the Church.

1) New Blood

Every few years, have a change of leadership. This enables fresh ideas to be introduced on the one hand, and new leaders to be cultivated for the long haul. It is not the person but the process of leadership renewal that forms the vital and vibrant culture of any church. Leaders who have been on the leadership board for at least three years need to step down. Others need to step up.

2) New Wine

There is no such thing as "not gifted." Every one of us has at least one gift. Perhaps, the reason why anyone tends to be modest about their own gifts is because we have not paid enough attention to what the Spirit is speaking to us. If we know our gifts, what are we doing about it. If we do not know our gifts, how are we going about discovering our gifts. The story of Jesus turning water into wine should serve as an encouragement for us. In the presence of Jesus, at a very important wedding dinner, there seems no lack of wine when the need arises. All because of the presence of Jesus.

The Church of Jesus can take note. Will Jesus ever let the Church run out of new wine? I doubt.

3) New Life

We are made new in Christ. Our old has passed, and the new is come. Ever seen how vibrant and active young believers are? They come forward with plenty of new ideas. Unfortunately, many church culture prefer not to rock the boat, or to avoid fixing something until that something breaks. No. Innovation and new ideas come from new life. We need to learn to be open to new ideas, even if those ideas fail from time to time. Don Valencia is one person who breathes new life in everything he does. Known for his energy and never-say-die disposition, he has been credited for the science behind the popular "Starbucks Frappuccino" drink. If we can breathe new life into old systems, will that not be exciting?

Youthfulness through new blood brings about leadership renewal. Through new wine, we trust God to do the miracle. Through new life, we are re-invigorated, refreshed, and renewed.


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