What would be the distinctive marks of Christian youth ministry which flowed from an understanding of “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10)? In particular, what are the signs that indicate that this “life” is a present reality?
Back in 2014, when I was co-host of Thirst, the youth ministry at New Wine, we had a theme for the summer event based around the acronym “MRS GREN” – which should be familiar to anyone who has studied biology. MRS GREN helps students to remember the seven activities of living things.
The seven activities can be used as a reflective tool for us in youth ministry to consider how spiritually alive we are. Each of these activities begin with what God has done, in Christ Jesus, for us – they become a natural outflowing of His life in us where we cultivate time with Him.
Movement. [God moves] God has moved towards us. While we were still far off, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Mission has often meant “lets put something on and they will come to us” but the example of Jesus is “Go to”. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “the word became flesh and moved in to the neighbourhood” (John 1:14). We need to move in to the neighbourhood where our young people live. This isn’t just creative hanging about where young people are and seeing what happens – there needs to be purpose, intentionality and a desire for change and transformation. Sometimes the most important words a person can say are their last. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) In other words, MOVE!
Are you fixed with an expectation that “they will come” or are you willing to move?
Respiration. [God breathes] The breath of God brings us to life (Genesis 2:7). The fact that we have breath in us means we are alive. In first aid emergencies, after the airway is checked, whether or not a casualty is breathing determines what happens next. According to Paul, in his letter to Timothy, God also breathes life in another way, “All scripture is God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). We don’t just breathe in though, just as essential to our respiratory system is breathing out. There is a natural rhythm to breathing, we don’t do it consciously – we just do it. There is a song “This is the air I breathe” – which reminds us of how essential it is for us to be reliant on the Holy Spirit and the breath of God’s life in us.
Are you breathing in and out, seeking to be in tune with the rhythm of the Spirit’s activity in your life?
Sensitivity. [God Feels] If we are to serve young people we need to be sensitive to their needs. This sounds like stating the obvious, but we can so easily find ourselves desensitised to others when we are tired, overwhelmed, working too hard – oh, and not one of these life activities can be thought of in isolation. Communion with God, maintaining our respiration is vital if we are to be sensitive to the young people, our team and the whisper of God’s Spirit. Jesus, again, is our perfect example – On the cross, showing sensitivity to those who were crucifying Him, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34); to the criminal on the cross next to Him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) and his Mother, “dear woman, here is your son.” (John 19:26).
How sensitive are you to the needs of others?
Growth. [God Grows] Living organisms do one of two things, they either grow or die. The paradox for us in our spiritual lives is that in order for us to grow, we must die. This is where a metaphor from natural biology speaks of a spiritual truth for us, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain, but if it does it brings a good harvest.” In our youth ministry, sometimes things need to die for new life to spring forth. That precious meeting, the annual trip, the voluntary youth leader who should really be doing something else in church! Death brings life – and it is consistent with the image of Christ in us to see the fresh opportunities ahead when something dies rather than dwell on perceived failure.
Can you let stuff die for new life to come forth?
Reproduction. [God creates] God makes and creates, brings forth new life. We experience this by being born anew by the Spirit of God. We are called to reproduce, to make disciples. In our youth ministry practice what does it look like to “do ourselves out of a job”? Are we empowering and releasing young people? Not by dumping on them, but by equipping them. The challenge in ministry is to avoid trying to shape those we serve after our own image. We have things we would like them to do, ways we would like them to serve – but, what is God’s shape for that young person or volunteer youth leader?
Do we reproduce ourselves in others or Christ?
Excretion. [God deals] God deals with the rubbish in our own lives, and also in the lives of the young people we serve. In our youth ministry how do we deal with the rubbish that comes up? M Scott Peck begins his book, “The Road Less Travelled” with this sentence, “Life is difficult.” We need to recognise that reality – we have the youth ministry we have, not perhaps the one we wish we had. We also, as frail humans and leaders, are still a work in progress even as we try to model Jesus to our young people.
Do you keep short accounts with God and others? How do you deal with your own mess?
Nutrition. [God Feeds] Food nourishes our bodies, organs and skeleton and tissue. God nourishes us through word and sacrament, through the infilling of the Spirit, through worship, through us being part of His body. He is our spiritual food and drink. In our youth ministry work we can so easily focus on what we are doing, that we fail to rest in what has been done. We need to demonstrate to our teams, to young people we work with, our need and our daily dependence on Christ for our life.
What nourishes your soul? How do you make time to be fed in your own walk with Jesus?
There are probably inadequacies in the picture above, I’m sure the metaphor doesn’t work in every way – but, personally, I’ve found reflecting on these aspects of “life” really helpful as I pursue life in all it’s fullness and seek to share that life with others.
I hope they might be of help to you too.