The Church

One of the great privileges of my job is that I get to work with church leaders and members from many different faith traditions.  Some come from very structured church communities while others come from less formal more Pentecostal contexts.  There are churches that see the Bible as one of many holy books they would turn to for advice, while others come from traditions where the Bible is viewed as the inerrant word of God and the only Holy Scripture that should be consulted.  The labels people of faith give themselves and each other are telling as well - Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Liberal, Progressive, etc. After almost two decades of interacting and leading all these different “Christian” groups I find myself fascinated by the similarities between the extremes.  Take for example Scripture.  Both Liberals and Conservatives require a high degree of “Selective Reading” in order to maintain their understanding and reworking of the Christian faith.

My more liberal (or progressive) brothers and sisters don’t really like the Apostle Paul.  They seem him as a sexist and homophobe.  More often than not their approach is to simply ignore Paul and focus on Jesus and his message of Grace.

My more fundamental (or evangelical) brothers and sisters have so confused American Civil religion and Scripture that they can no longer tell the difference between the two.  Take for example the “life issue.”  The vast majority of conservatives are both pro-life and pro-war; at best this is an oxymoron.

I cannot help but wonder what it would mean for the church to take Scripture seriously.  Conservatives would have to give up their sexism, homophobia and need for violence.  Liberals would have to give up their eliteness, smugness and educational arrogance.

Here is the good news.  Every week DOOR hosts multiple church groups, representing a wide spectrum of the Christian faith community.  It is true that the church leaders sometimes judge and condemn each other, but the youth have very little interest in finding reasons to divide.  They are interested in a Christian faith that moves beyond posturing, politics and rhetoric.  For them faith is about taking Scripture seriously, loving God and loving neighbor.  When this happens walls of division become unimportant.

If I could influence your fall schedule

** This post is and excerpt from an article that I am writing for http://ymtoday.com It is that time of year when youth workers of all types start laying out the fall schedule.  Everything from parent meetings to bible studies, from retreats to fundraisers needs to be creatively pieced together.

I would like to petition that one more item be added to your list.  In November take some time to reflect, relive and reminisce about the summer mission trip.  Then send those reflections to the leaders of the place you visited.  It helps programs like DOOR reinforce what we are doing right and make needed corrections.

At DOOR, we have the privilege of connecting with groups as they plan their trips.  We walk with participants as they experience the week.  Occasionally we get completed evaluations from groups.

What we very rarely see or hear about is the longer-term learning.  For most people it takes at least a couple of months, sometimes years to fully appreciate and understand what took place on the trip.  Taking some time in November to remember and recall what happened and what is still happening will give some insights into how youth in your program learn.

What you hear may surprise you.

Don’t make any decisions on next year’s spring or summer trip until you have gone through this exercise. 

Back in my days as a youth pastor some of the programs I gave the worst evaluations for ended up providing the experiences that most influenced the youth.  It just took the youth and me a while to process what happened.  Working through the cultural bombardment of a service project is not always easy.  Getting past agency staff who rubbed you wrong takes time.  First impressions can be right 50% of the time but that still leaves a significant margin of error.  Time can help you and your group to verify or correct those impressions.

I hope you take the time to go through this exercise.  When you do, feel free to let me know how it went!