college travels

Monday, May 26, 2008

Reaching Our Youth Through Hip Hop

Youthworks College has intensive teaching blocks at the beginning of each year prior to the beginning of Semester 1. During these intensives I was teaching Youth Ministry 1 – a subject outlining the principles and practices of ministering to young people in churches. Each year we get extra students as well as our full-time students who just pick up the intensive.

The intensive at the beginning of this year was excellent, great group, stimulating discussion. During the course we shared ideas and resources. Again I was reminded of how important music is to many young people. We had a Mum in the course, who had children who are moving into adolescence. She had taken up the challenge to begin a ministry for young people at her church and she particularly wanted good music for her own children and the young people that she will serve.

As we talked about this I shared an issue that arose in one of the churches where I was youth minister. I’d visited a family who were concerned about the attitude that their son had toward them as parents, particularly to the mother. They felt that some of the hip hop music that he was listening to was very derogative toward women. They wanted his attitude to change and asked me what to do about it! They’d tried banning him from listening to one particular Hip Hop artist.

(N.B One thing that will not work for a 16 year old is banning! For example, Les Murray, the Australian poet once was asked how to get young people enthused about poetry. He said “Ban it!”.)

I said that I think redirecting interest away might work. So the next Friday night we had a “Culture Vulture” segment where one of the leaders promoted a hip hop/ roots CD by Michael Franti called “Everybody Needs Music”. Franti is not Christian, but going with the principle that we can use certain things in our culture that God has given us generally through people’s creativity, we were happy to promote this CD. And it worked! It’s a great album with more depth than some Christian albums.

As I got into listening to “Everyone Needs Music” I found I was uplifted. Most importantly he speaks well of women as opposed to some of the other Hip Hop singers. At the time I was also reading G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I read an interesting assessment of the popular expression of poetry that was coming out in his day and made a connection, all be it obtuse, to one of the songs on Franti’s album.

In Orthodoxy there is an essay called "The Slavery of Free Verse" in which Chesterton is weighing in heavily on the new poetry that emerged in the late 19 century – i.e. Free Verse, which is uncadence or unrhyming. The call was to free oneself from the strictures of poetry that held to cadence and structure. Chesterton didn’t agree. Even though the effect or the content of the poem may be good, or even be impacting, he upheld some eternal principle in the order and the rhyme. He had a way with words and found that trusting in the ‘fag-end rather than the principle’ was abhorrent. (Reminded me of a T.S. Eliot line but that's another story...). Rather than being liberated by such free verse, he felt it was enslavement. He said that if humans were truly free, we would talk in ‘rhythm and even in rhyme’.

I wonder what Chesterton would have said of hip hop and Franti’s style of music and poetry. Franti sees himself as a poet and hits the spoken word circuit at times. So reading Chesterton and the line ‘I have always had the fancy that if man were really free, he would talk in rhythm and even in rhyme’ reminded me of this line out of Franti’s song ‘If I were the words, then everything that everybody said would rhyme’.

Here are the first couple of verses from the song for anyone who is interested:

What I Be - Michael Franti off “Everyone Deserves Music”

If I could be the sun
I'd radiate like Africa and
Smile upon the world
Intergalactic love laughter and
If I were the rains, I'd wash away the whole world's pain and
Bring the gift of cool like ice cream trucks on sunny days and
If I was the earth I'd be like mountains bountiful
And if I were the sky so high, I'd be like wind invincible and
If I could be a seed, I would give birth to redwood trees and
If I were the trees, I'd generate the freshest air to breathe in

What I be, is what I be
What I be, is what I be
well, well, well, movin on!
well, well, well, movin on!
Do you love someone? Do you love somebody?
Love that one!

If I could be the leaves, then like jade I would stay evergreen and
Spread my limbs out wide and pull love so close to me and
If I could the roots, I would dig deep like ancestry and
If were the fruits, you'd make the sweetest cherry pie from me and
If I could be the night, my moon replace all electric lights and
Magic music would transmit from outer space on satellites
If I myself could be the ocean, you would feel emotion all the time and
If I were the words, then everything that everybody said would rhyme

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Monday, May 19, 2008

A Prayer Worth Praying

When it all seems like too much to cope with here’s a prayer worth praying:

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It reminds me of what my main task in life is: to be worthy of God’s calling to be his servant.

It reminds me to be active in the way I live this life: to have good purposes and actions prompted by faith.

It reminds me of the way that these plans can be fulfilled: only by his power.

It reminds me of the goal of all our life and ministry: so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in me .

It reminds me of the overflowing love of Jesus that shares his riches with his servants: so that… you [may be glorified] in him.

It reminds me that all this will happen not because I deserve it, or because I’m clever, or hardworking, or creative, or good looking or well dressed but: according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you get a chance to pray for the College today, would you pray this for us please?

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Do our young people view the Bible as fiction or fact?

Not long ago a student mentioned to me that in her high school scripture class there was a girl who listened very politely, seemed very interested in everything that she said, but in the end said “They’re just made up stories after all”. She engaged at the level of interesting religious beliefs but couldn’t believe that the bible was anything other than a made-up story because it was just “what a few different men got together and wrote down”. Fiction rather than Fact. Legend rather than History.

Not that long ago we could presume in Australian society that when you taught a scripture class that the children would have grown up with a general respect of the bible and of the story of Jesus, even if they did not believe it themselves. Now young people are very sceptical about the reliability of the bible. The last few years have been a bit of an onslaught against the bible from the diatribes of Richard Dawkins and others to the bizarre fictions of the Da Vinci Code and the “discovery” of the gospel of Judas. All these have contributed to a greater scepticism.

I was convicted after this conversation of the necessity of looking again at history and gathering the evidence to show the historical reliability of the bible. The problem is, of course, that young people are easily bored with lots of information that seems dry. John Dickson’s video at Easter time was fantastic, but still a little sophisticated. I think there is a place for someone to prepare high quality materials for children and youth, to show them the historical evidence for the Christian faith. We can no longer just presume they will assume “Its from the bible, so its true”!

Has anyone out there prepared scripture lessons or resources that others might be able to use?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Family-Friendly Church

Do you want families in your church to know Jesus? Is it your hope that parents in your church will be actively involved in the discipleship of their children? Have you ever wondered how you might be able to encourage and enable families to glorify God within their local community? These are questions that are addressed in The Family Friendly Church by Ben Freudenburg with Rick Lawrence.

In this book, Ben Freudenburg shares his journey of personal discovery in regards to ministry with young people and in particular with young people as they belong to, and interact with their families. In his own experience he has found that ministry to children and families with young children is often overlooked and undervalued. This is not only true in the United States but for many in Australia this can be a common experience. How many of us have seen that when a church grows or adds staff, the first position to be filled, is unlikely to be that of a children’s worker.

However, in this book we are challenged to think more widely about the church’s responsibility to families. Freudenburg says, 'parents are the primary Christian educators in the church’ and that ‘the family is the God-ordained institution for faith building in children and youth and for the passing of faith from one generation to the next’.

This leads us to ask, is it wrong for us as workers to create programs that remove parents from this God-given responsibility? We need to ask ourselves, are we intentionally looking to find the correct balance between the role of Children’s and Youth ministers, Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders with the primary responsibility of Christian parents to pass on their faith?

Having set out his reasoning for why we need to change our focus Freudenburg is particularly helpful in providing practical and helpful suggestions about the way forward. This is a strong characteristic of the book. Its great strength is in biblical principles supported with many ideas for practical application. For example, Freudenburg identifies four simple family habits that make the difference in helping children of all ages to know about faith and to see how this faith works out in practice.

The four "difference makers" are:

Talking about God and your faith with your mother.
Talking about God and your faith with your father.
Praying together as a family each day.
Doing service projects together as a family to help those in need.

He then pinpoints a number of practical ways to implement these ‘difference makers’. For example, here is one of his suggestions in regard to parents talking about their faith:

Use "teachable moments," those moments when you can use events to make a point or open an age-appropriate discussion.

  • When you are reading a story or watching a movie, discuss the moral of the story.
  • You hear about someone ill or injured, offer a prayer.
  • Your child tells you about his friend telling a lie, you talk about honour and the standard of living by God's laws.
  • When your child tells you about something troubling him.
  • When you see your child is struggling with peer pressure, school pressure or experiencing difficulties with relationships.

It is not surprising that that these factors make a difference. Studies have proven again and again that parents are the single most powerful influence in their children's lives. The challenge is to help families recognise and take on board these small but significant steps. How can we help parents to see that giving their children the opportunity to talk with them about God and their faith is easy if they make it a priority? How can we encourage them to have discussions about God with their children as a regular, spontaneous part of life? You will find many helpful and realistic suggestions within this book.

As well as the answers to these questions you will be challenged to broaden your perspective on parent involvement, be encouraged to become committed to educating parents by offering seminars and workshops and be convicted of a need to be scheduling-sensitive. The book provides guidance and resources to help you:

  • Walk alongside parents as they lead and teach their children
  • Bring families together at church
  • Equip families for a home-based, church-supported ministry instead of a church- centred, home-supported ministry.

If this sounds like a change in direction that you and your church are ready for, then I suggest you buy a few copies and pass them around the ministry staff. Plan a day to discuss the concepts and ideas – I’m confident that it will bear fruit for ministry to the families within your care.

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