Over the last few weeks, I’ve been exploring Ephesians, and reflecting on it my quiet time. I’ve been reminded of the book’s value to the church in so many circumstances. As I consider youth ministry, I’ve been keeping in mind Paul’s reminder to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” [Ephesians 4:2, NIV]. In particular, I’ve been reflecting on this phrase, “bearing with one another in love,” and recognizing its potential impact in our churches and the ways that we invite youth to participate in our church life.
I recognize that many of our churches fail to really invite youth to participate in their ministry. We may give them the opportunity to serve in nursery, stand in the sound booth, or play an instrument in the worship team, but are we really inviting them to be heard in our churches, to speak into our ministry? Are we empowering their voices, and allowing them to be heard? Too often, we fail at this, and dismiss them as “too young.” The reality is that this takes more work than our churches want to do, as we recognize that the viewpoints of younger generations will be at odds with older generations. So we fail to “be patient” and we give up on “bearing with one another.” As one scholar notes, “the combination of “be patient” and “bearing with one another in love” implies that real life in Christian community is no picnic.
It’s hard work to bring generations together in meaningful dialogue, and so we brush off young people in our churches, and dismiss their opinions. This isn’t only a problem in our churches, but a problem in our society. By and large, we have abandoned young generations, and the pandemic has only highlighted this reality. We have created a society in which children and youth are growing up without meaningful relationships with adults who care. In Hurt 2.0, Chap Clark notes that we have left the younger generations to flounder on their own. The “answer is relationships with adults who sincerely care. That is the most fundamental need of this abandoned generation.”
Study truth together
One of the ways that we can show that we care is by engaging our entire churches in conversations that matter and are pressing to them. Too often we’re accused of avoiding tough topics, and this communicates to our students (and all our people) that these topics don’t really matter, or that our churches are irrelevant. Topics such as sexuality, gender, climate change, racism are big issues that warrant tough conversations, and we have opportunity to model what healthy conversations can look like. We need to be able to pursue the truth around these topics, and discern together what God is teaching our community.
This pursuit of truth is best handled in environments rooted in trust. Unfortunately, there is often a low threshold of trust in our ministry environments. We silence critics and individuals with alternative viewpoints, and we prevent people from sharing their perspectives. Our desire for our churches should be to create “a grace-based family of siblings [which] requires trust, the invisible glue that binds people together.”
Demonstrate God’s grace
Let’s face it. We can begin discussion on one of these tough topics, and not everyone in the room is going to agree. So in light of Paul’s encouragement, how can we be patient, and bear with one another in love? It’s important to be able to have conversations that respect one another. A common metaphor in the New Testament for the Church is “family,” and we should be able to have disagreements within our family, without tearing one another down, or tearing the family apart. (Remember Wanda’s line in Wandavision: “Family is forever!”)
Recently, I led a cluster group of pastors around the topic of gender dysphoria. This was a fun series of meetings and even though we didn’t all agree with one another all the time, we were able to have respectful conversations with the desire to learn together and support one another. We were able to “be patient and bear with one another in love.” I recognized that this was going to be a challenging conversation, and so I began the series by sharing some community standards. Thanks to the wonders of zoom, I was able to remind our participants that violating those standards would force me to evict them from the zoom room (fortunately, I never had to actually do that!)
Create a Call-In Culture
With the pandemic still ongoing, I believe that there is opportunity for us to be reflecting on our ministry cultures. Many of us lean towards emphasizing truth or grace, and there are likely different seasons in our life, when we’ll lean towards one or the other. There are a lot of unhealthy practices, and even toxic cultures. Does your ministry environment allow for challenging conversations? Gravity Leadership developed a “Grace and Truth matrix,” recognizing the weaknesses that come when we are low in either grace or truth as we develop community. They challenge us to create a “Call-In Culture,” which emphasizes high grace and high truth, and aims to empower others to embrace their God-given identity and to participate in God’s activity. They remind us that the only way we can begin to walk in grace and truth is to be filled with the love of God in Christ, which comes as we abide in Christ. By abiding in Christ, by sitting at the feet of Jesus, we learn how to walk in his way and follow his model of demonstrating truth and grace.
Like us as individuals, our churches will gravitate towards either grace or truth. By emphasizing one over the other, we fail to empower others and call them into the way of Jesus. For those of us who tend to over-emphasize truth at the expense of grace, let’s keep in mind that “many Christians need to be better listeners. To listen is to love, and you can’t love without listening … Jesus won’t ask for your church attendance … He will ask whether you loved.” Likewise, if we emphasize grace at the expense of truth, we fail to acknowledge that these conversations around tough topics are already happening. However, by initiating dialogue around tough topics, we’ll be better prepared to shape our students in keeping with a Christian worldview.
Where to go next?
Take advantage of learning opportunities that come along, whether from CBAC or other sources. We’ve held recent learning clusters around gender dysphoria and Indigenous reconciliation. As these come up again, sign up to join the conversation. We have a Deeper workshop coming up at the end of March which will invite us to lead conversations around climate change. It’s so valuable to address these topics in conversation with other pastors and leaders.
Read great books on different topics. Reach out to me if you’d like suggestions on a particular topic. If you’d like to see us offer a learning cluster on a particular topic, let’s chat about that!
Things I’m reading that contributed to this blog post:
Roberts, M. D. Ephesians. (p. 119).
Clark, Chap. Hurt 2.0 (p. 198)
McKnight, Scot and Laura Barrington. A Church Called Tov. (p.119).
“Covenants of Presence.” Find it at fteleaders.org/anotherway
Gravity Leadership. HTTPS://GRAVITYLEADERSHIP.COM/GRACE-AND- FOR REFERENCE:
Sprinkle, Preston. Living in a Gray World (p. 142)
Yarhouse, Mark. Emerging Gender Identities (p. 189)