With the advent of David Cameron’s “Big Society” and the subsequent whole scale cuts in satutory youth and community budgets throughout the UK, local councils are looking to partner with the voluntary sector in order to continue to provide viable and useful youth provision. And with the church becoming in recent years the biggest employer of youth workers and the foremost provider of youth work in the country, there is a significant opportunity for it and statutory sector to work together in providing services to young people. However in an age where religious groups (and in particular the Christian Church) are increasingly marginalised in the name of “political correctness”, what are the possibilities for the church to maintain its distinct qualities, vision and purpose as culture attempts to dumb down the spiritual?
It won’t surprise you to read that I am exploring just such a partnership in my current situation and one of the questions that is foremost in my thinking is what exactly is the distinction between statutory youth work and youth work in the context of church? Of course the simple answer is Jesus but what does that mean? We could spend an age at this point defining what the term “youth ministry” means, however we can go back to basics and agree with youthpastor.com who say this:
Put simply, Youth Ministry is the Church’s efforts to help each & every young person grow personally & spiritually. Training young people to lead the cause of Christ, and apply Christianity to every area of life.
I think that one of the things Christians are most prone to doing is disengaging on the grounds of what are differences are rather than celebrating and vowing to continue working together in the light of the things that are the same, and if we remove any reference to Christ from the above statement, we are left with words that could apply to the positive outcomes of any statutory youth service document. But thats just it, if we believe in fullness of life stemming from relationship with Christ we leave the integrity of that relationship and our missional charge in the Great Commission at the door if we agree to move into partnership under the terms that we don’t share our faith, and we dumb down the very fabric of the life that Jesus led in the process.
So what are we left with? Do we pull a “Wilberforce” and try to get our ideas and values in under the radar? No, once again where is the integrity in that? Or do we simply walk away and say “it can never work”. The problem with that attitude is that it immediately constricts the work of the Spirit because if we say “it can never work” we are therefore saying that “God cannot do work through the power of the Holy Spirit in that context”. Turning to scripture though, 1John 2 15-17 (NIV) says:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
This is the closest scripture we have the “famous” “in the world, not of the world” statement. God clearly does not create every situation we find ourselves in (he has of course given humans free will) however he can be present in hearts and minds so that any worldly partnership we are involved in with organisations outside the context of church, He can work through us by His Spirit. For me the poem that begins “Christ has no body on earth now, but ours” has never been more appropriate.
I believe God calls out into the darkness of the world so that we can shine His light in that place in service to those who have not heard His voice. Partnership between state and church is one of the ways he calls us to do that. But I believe these are ultimately opportunities for us to further the Kingdom of God rather than to restrict us in our missional assignment.