the struggle to contextualize for today
It's frustrating to me that the best message in the world... the message of
Jesus gets lost in our struggle to be relevant and innovative. We have simplified the Message of Jesus into a simple prayer and your on the way. We're so desparate to understand the hard things to understand that when someone comes along with a 40 day bible study or a seven step program to sum thoes hard things up we eat it up. What if we decided to just allow things to remain dificult? We find ourselves in a struggle to "arrive" in the right place; to look like and know all the right stuff. No one has "arrived" we're all trying to figure this whole thing out.
This article, by one of my favorite people and professors, hits the nail on
Innovating Ourselves Out of the Kingdom of God
by Amy Jacober
I just don't think drinks should be chunky. My friend Katie called me tonight after Bible study as she was waiting in her car for a group of girls. The girls wanted to stop and get Boba Tea—a kind of tea with tapioca balls in the bottom of the cup.
The tapioca isn't the tiny clear beads like in the pudding. They're huge and black and quite frankly resemble a loogie more than anything else. Clearly many people out there like these drinks, because they're all over the place. The girls were trying to convince Katie that she'd enjoy it. They even brought a tea with pineapple gels at the bottom instead of the black tapioca balls. She said it wasn't as bad as she was expecting, but I still don't think drinks should be chunky.
Nor do I think we should have to pretend to be in awe of something just because it's new—because it's considered to be innovative or the next great thing. I've spent a lot of time in innovative ministries. I've also spent time in ministries where I would've sworn time stood still. Then there's the third category where most of us fall. We look great. There's always something new. Our paint is shiny and bright. The problem is that when something gains familiarity, our paint dulls and cracks begin to show. Pull out the next great innovation, and just like that, suddenly our paint is new and bright again. Some of us have become so busy innovating—coming up with new programs and methods— that we've left our first love.
A few years ago I was volunteering with a youth group in L.A. We attended a one-day Youth For Christ rally where the song "Holy, Holy, Holy" was sung. I know every word; it's the first song in my hymnal. I sang with the great community of strangers. My students were silent at first. They looked at me. They looked at the crowd. They loved it! They wanted to know why they'd never heard it and wondered if we could take this "new" song back to church with us. We were an innovative church—so much so that we'd innovated ourselves right out of the broader community of Christ. I tried to address this with our leadership only to be told I wasn't catching the vision of our church, which was to contextualize for today's students.
I'm not opposed to change. I'm not stuck in a rut, nor do I want you to be. But I am tired of pretending that glossy covers and cool acronyms equal good ideas. I'm okay with dusty book jackets and the wisdom of elders. I'm okay with my students questioning everything, including me. I'm okay with learning from both the old and the new. I'm okay not pretending I know more than I do.
We also seem to have innovated ourselves into striving to look perfect. The problem is, we're not. We doubt, we struggle, and we put on a smile when we're really in the midst of a "dark night of the soul." Somewhere along the way, I missed this lesson. While this may seem noble, it has cost me dearly and rendered great criticism from some of my colleagues. I sense the pressure of not fitting in.
Many of my students are afraid of losing their bright, shiny paint. They have severe crises, yet are afraid to let anyone know they're struggling. They're more afraid someone will know they've had sex, for instance, than they are of going through with an abortion. The abortion is never the issue; what others may think of them is. They cannot risk looking less than perfect, mostly because they've never known a Christian role model who appeared less than perfect.
Innovation can be good. However, learning to follow Jesus for a lifetime isn't a 10- point checklist. I'm not interested in a well-run, perfect-looking youth ministry; and I'm not interested in well-mannered, perfect-looking kids. I'm interested in reminding youth pastors, and reminding myself, to return to our first love—and in so doing, to model for students (and walk with them into) an adult life filled with passion for Jesus. When we function as if a perfect appearance is more valuable than anything else, we communicate that it's more important to care what we think of one another than to care what God thinks.
We've innovated our students right out of being able to be honest about their struggles. Wrestling with our own faith struggles in front of students allows them freedom to follow suit. And when our ministries aren't using the bright, shiny, new paradigms we read about in books or hear about at conventions, that's okay, too. We aren't perfect—in our lives or ministries. In pretending we are, we set up a paradigm—for ourselves and our students—that's impossible to achieve and creates an environment ripe for alienation and disaster.
Amy Jacober is a 12-year youth ministry veteran with a background in social work
and theology. She’s currently a volunteer youth worker, author, speaker, and
youth ministry professor at Azusa Pacific University.