Rhythms: Embracing the Story as Community
At the Nike headquarters in the wooded hills of Beaverton, Oregon, there's a class in session for all new employees. It seems there's more to this company than learning how to make running shoes.
“Nike University,” as some refer to it, is a place where those new to the company hear the story—the “Nike” story—from it's humble beginnings to the present. Why is that? One of the training managers sees it this way: “When people understand why we exist, what our foundation is, and who we are today, then they'll understand what we're trying to accomplish.” 1
Nike is successful, in part, because they take the time to share with employees the story of where Nike's been. As a result, employees have a better idea of where their company's going.
Take a moment to reflect on the importance of storytelling in your youth ministry. What is going on week after week to clue in your teens to the unique history of what this gathering, this “Church,” is all about? I'm not talking about your local church, but the “Church” universal. What are we doing to tell this story to the younger generations? In other words, talking about it “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19)
We Must Be Storytellers
The church's mission to tell this story is critical. We have more than a history. We have a heritage that is incredibly relevant today. If we can connect teenagers to that, chances are they won't feel like they're on the outside looking in.
Our story is revolutionary. Teenagers like that. They're looking for a cause, something bigger than rising up and protesting the use of red church punch at potluck dinners or proclaiming the heresy of substituting those square Styrofoam wafers for real bread during communion. They're looking for something that connects them to a purpose greater than breathing in and breathing out.
Our story is the Bible. A story of a people called by God to be a people of God. When you have a relationship with Jesus as Lord, letting him rule your life, you become a part of this unique people, this wonderful story. In the Old Testament, this people of God was known as Israel. Through the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection, a “new Israel” has emerged. We know this to be “the Church.”
In his book A Peculiar People, Rodney Clapp states it this way: “The church understands itself as a new and unique culture. The church is at once a community and a history—a history still unfolding and developing, embodying and passing along a story that provides the symbols through which its people gain their identity and their way of seeing the world.”2
Our teens have some idea of what the church is supposed to be about. They want to be a part of a people authentically living out what they say they believe. They want to be a part of a people sharing a unique relationship based on a love for God and a love for God's people. They want true, biblical community with a desire to see a people of God be a people of God. If we take this plea seriously, the church may never be the same.
Are you “Together”?
In his book A Different Drum, Scott Peck states, “If we are to use the word community meaningfully we must restrict it to a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to rejoice together, mourn together, and to delight in each other.”3
Can we then use the word “community” to describe our churches? Are we at a place where we truly “delight in each other?” What about those in our churches who don't know what to do with teens? Sure, they love these kids. But they are longing for the day when they recover from “teenagerhood.” I caution churches who isolate their young people in well-decorated youth rooms filled with comfy couches, hoping that someday they'll emerge as bigger people, less confusing, and better groomed. In The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, Thomas Hine says, “…young people are often judged to be less able than they are. The concept of teenager has been an impediment that has kept them from becoming the people they were ready to be.”4 Are the people of God ready to fight this way of thinking and empower this generation with the ability to make decisions and move forward? Is the church ready to hand the ball off to its teenagers and let them run with it, at least for part of the way?
I think so. Actually, I hope so.
I've Seen it all Before
One of my favorite sports stories deals with the 1989 French Open. Michael Chang, then a 17 year-old American kid, defeated the world's top-ranked player, Ivan Lendl, and won the tournament. However, it wasn't the fact that Chang defeated Lendl that was so amazing, but how he did it.
Near the end of the match, Chang, injured and exhausted, broke two of the basic commandments of winning tennis. First, in a sport where powerful overhand serving is considered the key to winning, Chang servedunderhand confusing Lendl, whose returns went into the net.
Second, facing match point and Lendl's 125 mph serve, Chang moved closer to the net and stood at the line of the server's box. The bewildered Lendl double-faulted and fell victim to one of the most memorable upsets in tennis history. 5
H. Richard Niebuhr once said, “The greatest Christian revolutions come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there.” 6
It seems every generation has posed some sort of new idea or perspective against what's gone on before them. This time may be different. When it comes to the church, this generation isn't demanding a new form; it's subtly calling the church back to its original form. This time around, we're finding students experimenting in the tried and true Christian traditions of the past, searching for a deepening relationship with God and with each other. Yet they're not seeking individually. They're doing it within the context of community.
This has the potential to be revolutionary, because it doesn't separate the church into opposing camps. It's a move to reunite the fellowship, to overcome the generational differences, and to begin defining the church as a people with a unique and distinct purpose. Teenagers are realizing that the individual exists more for the church than the church for the individual.
What can we Have Them Do?
This generation of teens knows that the church is missing something. It's not that they're overly skeptical. I believe from deep within their hearts they're looking for ways to be meaningfully involved. What this generation feels the church is missing is them. Teenagers need to be a part of a community that allows them to own and perform the vital practices of that community.
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden was known to start each season with a somewhat unusual exercise. He stood in front of his team of all-star caliber players and said, “This is a basketball.” He waved it in front of their faces as if this was the first time they'd actually seen one. The point of the exercise was to remind each player that no matter how expert he became at the game, there were always basic fundamentals that he had to return to every year. 7
As the church has evolved through time, culture, and technology, it has always been called back to the timeless practices that keep it true to its identity. These practices have been the driving mission of the church since its inception at Pentecost. These are the ways that the church identifies itself. They're simple yet profound in giving the church its distinctiveness.
Join the Band
While separate and special, these practices or rhythms seem to flow in and out of each other. You might liken them to the rhythms of an orchestra or jazz band, moving in various directions to create dynamic harmonies and melodies. The following rhythms have given life and meaning to what it means to be the people of God since the birth of the church. They describe a people who live out “the story.” This list is derived from the earliest descriptions of the church as found in the first few chapters of Acts. These are the things in which our teens need to be actively involved:
The Rhythm of Relationships—the ongoing practice of confession, repentance, and forgiveness that occur within authentic community
The Rhythm of Servanthood—the celebration of the sanctity of life and the pastoral care of God's world and God's people The Rhythm of Becoming—the relational delivery of truth and a hunger for growth
The Rhythm of Reaching Out—a burden for those out of relationship with God which results from a personal encounter with Jesus Christ
The Rhythm of Rest—a need for spiritual renewal and refocus
The Rhythm of Praise—an overwhelming sense of God's greatness that results in acts of adoration and honor
Practice Makes Permanent
These rhythms have always been present. Each spirit-led practice moves, prods, and convicts the church to go to extremes, to watch what God can do through it. These are the ways we live out the story together. Without them, we're simply a weekend support group, dead to our potential. Our teens want more than the status quo. As youth leaders, we must walk alongside our students. Our responsibility lies in challenging them to do all of the following:
Model these practices within the community. We can learn a lot from our teens if we give them the chance to be active participants within the community. As someone once told me, “They may be young, but the Holy Spirit within them is no child.”
Minister across generational lines in the spirit of restoration. Our teens can be the bridge to span the gap that has grown between the generations in our congregations. We must allow them to infiltrate every area of our churches.
Make these practices the priority of what we do as a people of God.Teens aren't satisfied or very well-fed when they're entertained or simply taught about what it means to be the church. They want to be about the mission of the church. They want to have a cause. They want to be radical in their faith.
We have an incredible heritage in the church. That heritage—that story—links us to each other, to generations past, and to generations yet unborn. It's God's story of God's desire to redeem a lost world. Since our teens are part of the church, it's their story too. Let's let them take part in it.
1 Fast Company Magazine, The Nike Story? Just Tell It, January – February 2000. p44-46.
2 Clapp, Rodney. A Peculiar People. Intervarsity Press. 1996. p89.
3 Peck, Scott. A Different Drum. Simon & Schuster. 1987.
4 Hine, Thomas. The Rise And Fall of the American Teenager. Avon Books. 1999. p8.
6 Quote taken from personal collection, no source available.
7 Story from personal collection, no source available.
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.