This is the second of my #lumen blogs in advance of Youth Work – The Conference, this time I am thinking about the light of generosity . . . .
The Green, Green grass of home . . . this is the title of a country and western song from the 60s, reprised only a few years ago by the likes of Tom Jones and Katherine Jenkins . . . in the song, a man returns home after being away for a long time . . . welcomed with open arms by friends and family, a place of peace and tranquillity. But, being a country and western song – it isn’t quite that simple – the man awakes abruptly to discover it was all a dream – he is in a prison cell and it is execution day . . . he will only be near the green, green grass of home when he is buried 6 feet under it.
What DOES this have to do with the Church? Well, there is something incredibly parochial about the grass of home – it implies “My” home, “My” grass. I had not started thinking about grass and the church at all . . . until I saw a tweet from a fairly famous church leader in the UK – the tweet was this quote:
“The Grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence; the grass is greener where you water it”
This is a well known saying, cliché even – but, rather than relationships per se, I want to apply it to the church – because I think we have some serious problems with how we understand the Kingdom, unity and generosity!
1. Church Envy. “The grass is greener over there” because we cannot help but compare our church to the one up the road, the one in the neighbouring town, the one on the other side of the planet – global communication has not helped us in this – it has only made it worse. James Dobson once said (I don’t quote him often, but this is SO true), “Comparison is the root of all inferiority.” He is bang on with that one. We need to ask ourselves, what on earth we are doing comparing ourselves to another part of the body of Christ in the first place?
2. Church Fences. “The other side of the fence” we LOVE our fences, whether they are theology, practice, gender, geography, our “special” network of people who agree with us . . . maybe it stems from our English thing – our home is our “castle” – we shut the door and shut the world out, our little haven . . . I blame the old chorus . . . “Jesus bids us shine . . . you in your small corner and I in mine.” We like our small corners (is a small corner the best place to shine? I thought we were supposed to be a city on a hill where everyone can see . . . )
3. Church Resources. “Where you water it” this is a sneaky one . . . when we go “out” from our own churches do we take a watering can? Do we seek to water the ground wherever we are? I see this a lot – incredibly resourced churches – can I say almost obscenely resourced? They can sometimes be next to a church that is struggling, would love to work together with churches in the same town, community . . . but the “big” church has all the resources and – whilst it generously gives to those in need on the other side of the world – there is a struggle to work together in the town. This is two edged some big churches are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. On the one hand, if big churches focus their efforts on their own stuff (including things they support far, far, away) they get criticised for being “elitist” “aloof” and too “into themselves” – if they want to get involved in local ministry with other churches they can also get criticised for wanting to “own it” and thinking they are the “answer”. It can be a “no win” situation, because of everybody’s attitude – not just the big church. We also need to remember that the Church that Jesus sees is not the one that we have “partitioned” into little plots of land to be independently of each other tilled, sown and reaped. Yet, that is often what we do . . . whilst our neighbour has no water, so their grass is brown . . . or they have no grass, just baked dirt.
Lumen – Generosity! One of the aspects we will explore at the Conference in November is how we can be a generous church . . . this for me is the killer questions – if we cannot be good news for each other within the body of Christ – HOW do we hope to be a “light to the nations” . . . this little phrase, did not get nullified with the New Covenant – it does not just relate to the people of Israel – it SO relates to us! To the Church! To the Body of Christ, in preparation . . . I don’t know if there is going to be a glorious hen party in heaven before the day we finally get wed to Christ – but what I am pretty sure of is that there won’t be a whole bunch of different parties . . .
What should be the implications for our Youth work? Well, this is where I think that youth work often is (and can be GOOD NEWS) . . . our young people often are not fussed about the little strips of grass that we call “our church”, they are not massively bothered (unless we have indoctrinated them) with whether they grow up Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical . . . young people I meet who are passionate about Christ simply want to follow HIM!
Good things then:
• Youth Work done together in community, across churches, often tackles the “envy” stuff. IF area and community work is entered into with the right heart and spirit, and young people KNOW they are loved by their “home” churches . . . I have not seen many instances of where they leave to go to the glitzy big church up the road . . . unless of course that is where the youth leader would rather be!
• Youth Work done in schools across an area deals with so much of the disunity – it makes no sense to “big up” Christian Unions and Christian Lunch Time clubs . . . if as soon as young people are not in school we get funny about them meeting together – our young people are growing up, cheek by jowl, in schools with young people from other churches. DEAL WITH IT!
• Youth Work is a multi-disciplinary thing. We all have gifts and talents, but no ONE church has a monopoly on what young people need and what young people will value as they grow in faith – it is critical (for their sake) that we do stuff together, share resources and encourage every church in our local community equally. When (and if) young people choose to go to University at the other end of the country . . . will they find the “green, green grass of home?” NOTHING looks quite like your local church . . . you know what I am talking about! If our young people know nothing else, they won’t find a mirror image of what they have grown comfortable with in the same village never mind in Yorkshire!
Psycho Church . . . final thought
Envy, Fences, Resources, these attitudes undermine our spiritual and mental health. They lead us to turn away from the main task of life which is to follow Christ now, where we are, in what we are doing, by the grace of God, until He moves us on (either to somewhere else in this world – or the next). By denying the goodness of God in our very own lives, churches, youth work, we believe a lie – that we have nothing good to work with nor the capacity to work with it. We lose focus, confidence, and hope. A hope not in ourselves or our abilities or our church – but in Christ who is the Head . . . we forget – when we look at our own church navel that there is ONE church, ONE faith, ONE hope . . .
Psychoanalysts spend a lot of time trying to help their patients re-orient themselves to dealing with the life that they have. At first, this can feel very deflating. BUT, just like they must bust the myth that we can have someone else’s life, someone else’s castle, and someone else’s lawn – we need to bust the myth that we can have someone else’s church.
There is no “my church” “their church” . . . there is “The Church”. If we could grasp this . . . WOW what a light that would bring to every nook and cranny of our country!