Creating Cultures of Hope
Life really hurts sometimes. Perhaps the most pain is found in uncertainty. Can God really create youth ministries that are bound together by the belief that God has not abandoned us? How can we create cultures of hope in small groups that will lead the hurting and despairing to be transformed into signs of God’s lasting hope?
There’s been numerous heard and seen experiences about how a particular youth ministry has helped someone with a problem with pain or suffering. Be that a physical disease, an emotional implosion, or a deep doubt regarding personal existence, there is a common theme that runs through these different experiences with pain: uncertainty. I’ve even experienced my own moments of despair regarding relationships, career changes, and times when life just hurts because of personal struggles. It’s amazing that God has called together a people that can stand and come alongside others in their moment of need.
Whether or not you appreciate the Harry Potter series, one of the famous quotes by Dumbledorf (the school’s headmaster) is this: “It’s the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” In today’s culture, students and families crave certainty. We need to know what the weather is going to be so that we can make plans. We need to know that we have a job, shelter, food, something to do, a stable government, a future, and several other things. So then the issue becomes, what happens when those things are challenged and threatened?
Healthy youth ministries are marked by a commitment by the people to be part of God’s transformation in the world. There are far too many communities that have become clubs with good intentions. Perhaps on the other end are the small groups that create the “bible study experience” where God’s word stays in the world that the words were written and is never invited into their contemporary existence. Granted those are extremes, but youth ministry health is always measured by a common life lived together in God’s presence, never by what is actually done or not done from 7pm – 9pm on Wednesday nights.
I have a friend who was a part of a small group with me a few years ago. She was pretty quiet during the first few months of our group. One night, while we were sharing prayer requests, she shared she had been involved with a police investigation for a rape incident she had reported the previous summer. Obviously, we all were stunned and yet eager to come around our friend to pray and support her through this difficult experience. We were blessed to remember that God had called us to be a people to offer concrete hope in the world…to be a light shining in the darkness.
Youth ministries that are focused on Jesus and the Gospel have power to be a hope-filled presence in the midst of uncertain darkness. I assume that many reading this blog would agree that the true test of a healthy small group experience is it offers God-centered hope in the midst of darkness, scarcity, and uncertainty. I believe these are the kinds of small groups that the hurting and despairing desperately need…and that the Church can courageously create.
Here are three things that can help you create cultures of hope in small groups:
- Create the space for God sightings. God sightings are a practice your group may already practices on a regular basis. The concept (and actually a curriculum created and offered by Group Publishing) is to share how you see God working in your life or another on a regular basis. This type of practice can drive your conversation towards listening to what God might be doing in the midst of pain while directing you towards God’s work in your life and others.
- Don’t force authenticity, but don’t settle for shallow sharing. Obviously, genuine and meaningful conversations take time, but always ride the rhythm of encouraging authenticity without forcing it. What’s a sign that authenticity is forced? A good sign that authenticity is forced is if the leader senses that they are overworking the concept of getting people to open up about themselves.
- Leave uncertainty uncertain. The last thing people need is false hope. “You’ll get that job you interviewed for”, “You’ll beat this cancer”, “Your son will eventually make his way back to God” is not the type of hope that God creates. More than anything, the hope that God creates in Jesus and through the Church is in His presence and promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us. That may mean struggle for a while, but it doesn’t mean abandonment by God.
I had one of those moments in the last month where I knew only Scripture could nourish my thirsty soul. I picked up a book and discovered a version of a well-known Bible verse that did just that:
God’s care for humanity is so great that he sent His unique Son among us, so that those who count on Him might not lead a futile and failing existence, but having the undying life of God Himself. – John 3:16
God didn’t put us on this earth to watch us fail. Even when our small group members are feeling as if they are leading a “futile and failing existence”, we can remind them of the undying, forever life of God that He invites us to participate. My hope is that the youth ministry in your church can become a culture of hope in your church and community.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.