Community Slowly

Community Slowly

If you will check out yesterday’s post you will see that I am struggling to find the balance between creating community and creating a safe space. Tonight we had our normal crew of students, both members and students who came on the bus.

Getting them all there is always hard, but in the end tonight it turned out to not be a bad night. They listened and interacted with the lesson and no one was terribly disrespectful. Add that to the fact that I don’t think anyone stole anything and nothing was broken and I think it was a positive night.

I am still looking for what works best in this group. Tonight I taught a lesson with a strong visual component. That seemed to work to keep their attention. Normally I do discussion, but with this group that tends to just derail us and cause more issues. So I am doing what I hope are engaging lectures.

I will keep you posted on what is working.

Safe Community

Safe Community

I am going to jump back into blogging for a bit to talk about some of the things that are happening in our youth group. Some quick facts:

  • Our “core” group is about 10 students
  • We are down to this number because of the changing demographics of our church (there are more families with young kids than with teenagers.
  • We have a few more kids who should be part of that core, but their parents aren’t very faithful either, so that causes some issues getting the kids to church.
  • We have our typical Wednesday night and Sunday night Bible study times. Wednesdays is when we have the band traditionally Sunday nights were for deeper Bible study.
  • This past semester (after school started until December) we started having a larger number of kids come as part of our bus ministry.
  • Some of these students integrated well, and are a vital part of what we do.
  • There are others who cause some problems, but who genuinely want to be there and we work hard to help those students succeed.
  • Then there are about 4 or 5 students who are rude, disruptive, and borderline abusive to the other students. They are a continual distraction and quite frankly many students are afraid of them.

So the question that I am trying to figure out is 1) where is the line before I asked these students not to come back and 2) how can you create authentic community when your students don’t even feel safe around each other.

I have this vision of a youth group that is a force for change in their community and their world. Instead we end up too often with the same little cliques and segregated lives that exist everywhere. I have tried to do a few things to help them to bump in to each other and work together, but right now none of them are super successful.

So I am on a journey with God to try and figure out how to help our group have a safe authentic community.

I will keep you posted on how things work out.

Hymns: Cultural Touchstones

I have to admit if you asked me if I would rather listen to Pillar or the Gaither Vocal Band I would choose Pillar every time. I am not a hymn type guy. I like music that has a little bit of a beat to it, and generally I prefer a song led by a band rather than just a piano and a song leader.

But there is something to be said about “classic” hymns of the church. When people have these conversations they normally talk about the deep doctrine contained in them. That isn’t really much of a reason for me because 1) newer songs have deep doctrine too and 2) just because a song is old doesn’t mean that it can’t have flawed doctrine.

For me what makes singing hymns important in the church has as much to do with the cultural component as it has to do with the message of the song. Classic hymns (for those raised in the church) not only call us to focus on God, but also remind us of the other times when we have sung those songs. It may be a grandmother who just loved “I Love to tell the Story” or a father who loved to sing the low part in a particular song. These songs bring back memories of family and of shared experiences at church. They are reminders of triumph and sadness and life lived in community with other believers.

In a world that is becoming increasingly fragmented, with services like Facebook helping us to stay isolated while feeling connected the church becomes a force for community. It reminds us that we are to live with others, walking with others, crying and laughing with others. Hymns remind us of that community and draw us close together.

I say all of this to tell this story. Last night we were singing lots of classic hymns and we sang “The Old Rugged Cross.” My mother thought it was fun to sing “On a hill far away, stood an old Chevrolet, it’s tires were as flat as could be” There was more of that song, and she would never sing it in church, but it was as song that she taught my sister and me. So when we would sing it in church she would always get this very knowing smile and look down at me and I would smile back and right there in the middle of the church I would feel like I belonged to her and that we had a deeper connection.

So last night when we were singing that song I was transported back to those days of being a little kid worshiping beside my mother. I remembered her smile and the embracing life attitude she had about God, and for a moment in that hymn I was worshiping with her again.

I know that one day there will be old choruses that do the same, (You could argue that “I Love You, Lord” may already be in that category) but right now there is nothing like a classic hymn to remind me of the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before me as I turn my eyes toward God.