Having read a few youth ministry books, the last few weeks have made me wonder what the essence is of youth ministry. Of course, one immediately think adrenaline, fun and lots of lean, athletic stars, leading hundreds, if not thousands of young people 'to the Lord'. I was there, but failed miserably. I simply could not keep up the show. The show couldn't just go on. Upon reflection and again reading books of some other failures in 'showbiz youth ministry', it seems to me more and more, that, also in our journey with young people, the key question is actually the same question as with adults: what does it mean to be a Christian.
Being a Christian for Paul was, some would argue, sheer excitement, lots of struggles, but also lots of adventures. These are the adrenaline junkie's staplefood. Paul lived in a time where it seemed as if these elements are the essential make-up of a bloodied struggle to get on the top. We also see it today amongst some young people, where they would give it all (and more!) and then they would say, with blood running down their cheeks, smiling through the mud: it was fun!
Let's however look a bit deeper at Paul's 'escapades'. After he left the people, (Acts 20) where he had a 'Red Bull' night out,an all-night-through-er, he met up and shared with the leadership the essence of his work as an apostle. This work for Paul entails much more then mere preaching and doing 'spiritual things'. It seems as if he simply focused on 1) nurturing deep relationships, sharing pain, tears, joys-sharing life. Everywhere he goes, one picks up how he seeks times of fellowship, he nurtures friendships and he is spending time with his friends everywhere. One wonders about ('Revisits'- Andrew Root) the notion of 'relational ministry', where it seems as if the point of his visits was not so much, to tell people something or to change them. It seems as if the point was to develop deep and lasting friendships, friendships that nourish new values, that transforms their worlds (both Paul’s and that of his friends). Even in the context of unstable relations amongst the Jewish community, where language ('die taalstryd')played a role, where new religious movements, in particular the way of Jesus of Nazareth, were causing deep and bitter divisions, Paul was trying to convince people of the continuities, the common grounds- he was trying to build unity, across languages, faith communities and even culture, as a goal in itself. One could argue that the goal of unity, amongst a diversity of believers was the goal, not unity for more 'effective ministry', or for reaching the 'unreached', or relevance- unity for its own sake. This reminds one of the words of Jesus, Christ: by this shall all men (sic) know that you are my disciples, if you love one another...
Next thing, ironically linked to his search for unity, across boundaries, Paul suffers. It seems as if, in his quest for deeper understandings of community, there is a constant reminder of suffering, of persecution, of being misunderstood. It seems as if the persecution of Jesus himself, haunts his followers as well. This is possibly not even a consequence of what they do or seek, but everywhere, and seemingly closer to the heart of the gospel, than we think. It is therefore no surprise that the Holy Communion is so central as a ritual in most (if not all!) of the Christian communities. It speaks of and identifies with the suffering God, who suffers in the suffering of the least of these bretheren. Its a suffering that, in and through the cross becomes redemptive, liberative.
In the third place, we see that this journey of Paul is in actual fact, his witness. In these difficult and trying relationships, in these painful, costly misunderstandings, which Brian McClaran and Tony Campolo call "Adventures in missing the point", there is a deep witness. This witness is a challenge to the powers, the empires of the day, be they church empires or political empires, that Jesus, the one who came to walk with ordinary women and men and restored life to young daughters and boys, the Jesus who died, violently, is actually Lord. That we find our deepest fulfilment in these adventures is no surprise, as this is the way we celebrate this life, with Holy Communion, celebrating restored relationships, celebrating in painful relationships, celebrating Jesus Christ. This is where I find myself and I often discover, this is where my younger companions also often find themselves.Hopefully this is the point, where we may find each other.
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