Sunday, May 22, 2005

Church Patriot Acts

I was practically born at my church. It's my alma mater and fater in many ways. Not that I haven't been tempted to leave it, or to leave Christianity altogether. But I grew better for the wear in those areas. Not that I'm claiming any sort of Nietzchean "Whatever doesn't kill you..." statement of self-survival. God brought me out of doubt and selfish mire into a growing sense of community and into a relationship with himself. And not that I didn't actually wrestle with the concepts of life without church and God. I did. I eventually saw through their meaninglessness. And not that I retreat back to a crutch. Actually, I should say, that that's not a primary reason why I remain in the church. For I have come to realize that the whole world is in need of primary care and Jesus himself is the care-giver, the support, the life line. "Jesus is my doctor / and he writes out all my 'scriptions."

But through it all (although I haven't mentioned the 'all' at this point, it's there and I may mention some of it or reveal some of it later), for the last thirty years my church, my junto and in many cases my security and second home have been at 1137 N. Leavitt St. I am a true church patriot in the truest sense. Therefore, what I have to say to my church, to my brothers and sisters in the trenches of the West Town area of Chicago, is out of love. It is largely a calling, a passionate plea to follow the example of Jesus and not be satisfied with the things of the world or the feeling that, as Christians or as a church, we've arrived. What follows is my report (all reports are done in a 5 question outline form, so it made it a little tricky for me) for our quarterly business meeting, which was supposed to happen this morning. But in general, it's an essay (for you, Chris) on a calling of my heart. No, rather, the calling of biblical community, of the bodywork of the Body of Christ. There is no malice in the piece, although I wonder if it may be inferred. (Of course it can, which is why I took the time to write this intro and would have to give a similar intro during the meeting, allowing for time, of course.)

Quarterly Business Meeting Report for Glorify Christ Youth Ministry
Sub. by JasDye, interim Youth Ministries Director on this the 22nd of May, 2005
  • What are some roadblocks to goals that the youth ministry is facing?
The language that we use in this church to describe ourself is that of a family. But the imagery and language used in the Bible is more than that. We are, together, Christ’s bride. We are, together, Christ’s body. All interwoven, all interconnected, all intimately, deeply and fundamentally needing each other.
And I believe that we here at NHBC do a better job than most in recognizing that, even in practicing that. Yet, we still have the marginalized, we still have people within our church walls feeling outside of the church community. Quite honestly, if I were to come here on a Sunday morning and look for signs of interdependent community, I would probably notice three things: 1) The homeless are marginalized; 2) the children are marginalized; 3) the youth are marginalized.
As per evidence, I’ll write briefly on the first two.
1) Despite our in-roads, despite the good progress made in our church’s ownership of Street Hope and the relationships we’ve developed as a result of that, generally speaking, on Sunday the street-influenced sit alone.
2) Our children spend the entire service in a completely different building with a small staple of teachers and security team members, also physically ostracized week after week after week. While this may be necessary, how do we meet them and incorporate them into our church body on a regular basis?
I want to make clear, though, that in these areas, 1) I am personally complicit and guilty, am personally involved in not inviting; 2) again, we are better than many. However, Christ did not call us to compare ourselves to other sickly parts of the body but to himself.
And consider this, summer is fast approaching. Teenagers, being students by trade, will have a lot of free time. A lot. Yet, the church, this church, will not provide a role in healthily filling this season with meaning for them. Besides basketball, New Hope is only providing one (two at the most) retreat(s), bi-monthly discipleship gatherings and Sunday School. That’s it. Absolutely no form of outreach exists at this period of time. Not because the director nor the pastors don’t care for it or don’t want it. But, simply, there are no volunteers to fill the much-needed positions. Technically speaking, this church only has one youth worker. And he’s paid to do it. If you were in the shoes of the youth, wouldn’t you feel a little un-loved? A little outside?
Or look at the racial/ethnic make-up of our church. We say we represent all types of people in our local body. That is our vision and although we cannot say we are complete in this regard (how about some love for our Asian-persuasion brothers and sisters?), we are very progressive. But if you look at our youth – in terms of the youth group – that’s not the case. Almost all of the teenagers in the youth ministry proper are Black. The makeup of teenagers within the church, however, should attest to something different. Believe it or not, a core group of our youth joined this church because it is specifically racially-mixed. Can we not see that the practical racial and cultural mix – or non-mix – would lead to feelings of separate-ness?
Add these situations on top of the immense isolation, confusion and frustration that naturally occur during the period of adolescence – and especially so for the urban teenager – and we may have what some would call a crisis of the marginalized.
  • What are some milestones that the youth ministry is facing?
The good news is that people have risen up to fill in some of the gaps. When our pastor – out of concern for one of the ostracized youth – wanted to throw a baby shower for her, the party-incompetent youth director garnered the assistance of M DJ, who, in turn, enlisted her husband, E’s help. L P is presently discipling this same young lady. T S has innumerably opened up his home for young men and just as often challenged them in their walk with God. AJ Y and K B are in the midst of a years-long discipleship journey with several young ladies and the impact they have had and will reap – as well as the repercussions throughout the youth ministry – will be felt for years into eternity. I would also love to spread the love to V A for opening up her home several times, as well as to the coaches and what they’re planning on doing, the impacts they’ll make and to all those who go out of their way in the little ways, the smiles, the hellos, the occasional dinners.
The other bit of good news is that I have the immense privilege next week to be a part of a dedicated, radical group of followers of Jesus who are going to creatively challenge this local body of Christ to pull-out all the stops and love beyond borders, beyond reason. We are seeking to speak deep to deep, to – by the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit – call us out of ourselves and our mire of selfishness, of which I know that I am the chief of sinners. This radical group of which I am speaking is, of course, the youth, the same marginalized group of which I’m focusing.
  • How can the church pray for the youth ministry?
It is my prayer, and hopefully your adopted one as well, that in and through and with the work of the Holy Spirit, the entire church will not be merely entertained or amused by the performances next week. We pray that a re-enlivening of the Good Samaritan story will take place and we, as a church, will have no choice but to accept Christ’s love, be transformed by it, and turn away from our selfishness. That the deepest, most treacherous, most fundamental sin of selfishness would be challenged and shaken. That we would see it the way Jesus sees it and as a church take off those dirty rags and exchange them for the fresh, clean robes of righteousness, of love towards God and others.
  • What actions are needed from the church toward the youth ministry?
The most important action of all is one rooted in love. Biblically, the most intense actions or talks that are not rooted in love are loud and full of fury, yet signify nothing. You may not have extra time in your – honestly – busy schedule. But love is free. It flows freely from God. You may not have extra time, but what you do have during that time is invaluable – the opportunity to love. I encourage, nay, challenge each and every one of us to do that to our marginalized. How we greet and treat them in the normal course of the week means more than we will ever realize. I know this because it did for me.
To those called, to those whom the Holy Spirit is speaking to now, come. The youth ministry as well as the children’s ministry is in need of extra help. Speaking again for the youth ministry, if we have enough volunteers, we could open up one or two outreaches a month during the summer and expand our ministries shortly thereafter. All you need to sign up is love. Love for God. Love for people.
Love is our blood. It flows through everything. Otherwise, the body does not function. It is tepid and dying.
  • What are some plans that the youth group has that the church may not be aware of but should?
Oh yeah. We are planning for a youth retreat on spiritual disciplines in late June or early July. I am also hoping for one towards the end of summer.

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