Single men account for 75% of homelessness in the UK

Watching How to get a Council House on Channel 4 is tough.  When you hear statistics such as: “Single men account for 75% of homelessness in the UK and on average rough sleepers don’t survive above the age of 47″ it breaks your heart.

More than three times as many homeless young people a year are estimated to be relying on charities and councils for a roof over their heads across the UK than officially recorded by the government, according to new research by the University of Cambridge, commissioned by the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.

CentrePoint homeless stats

An estimated that 83,000 homeless 16-24 year-olds relied on the support of councils and charities in the UK in 2013-14, the last complete year of available data, compared to just 26,852 recorded by statutory homelessness figures compiled by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and authorities in the devolved nations.

The FA Religious Festivals calendar

THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION CALENDAR OF RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS 2015-16

I recently received an email including a very helpful guide to religious festivals by The Football Association of all people!

It contains the dates of major festivals for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism.  The guide has been provided:

“In order to support you with your fixture planning this guidance has been written to provide you with the most significant dates for religious observance together with some information on them. It is not intended that you avoid all these dates, and the list is by no means exhaustive, but you are advised to consult with your clubs and communities as to the most relevant dates to consider for your locality as this will vary considerably.”

Do download your own copy here.

New £150m grant scheme for youth work

paul-hamlyn-foundation

Youth organisations will be able to apply for cash to support their work as part of a £150m grant scheme launched by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF).The Foundation will be providing £25m a year until 2021 across its range of funds.  A total of £4m a year has been set aside for organisations working with marginalised young people.

As part of the organisation’s six strategic priorities, it wants to “support the development and growth of organisations investing in young people and positive change”.  To do this they’ve developed two new funds: a Youth Fund and a Growth Fund.

The Youth Fund, which will provide funding of between £10,000 and £60,000, is intended to help organisations by covering a proportion of core operating costs.  The foundation said it expects to make up to 30 awards a year through the fund.

“This is a direct response to feedback – that in order to achieve greatest positive impact in the lives of young people, organisations need to achieve a balance of stability, continuity and flexibility,” the organisation’s strategy document for 2015 to 2021 states.

The Growth Fund will provide funding and support to help organisations identify and implement practical steps to growth.  It will be launched later this year and is by invitation only.

Other funds being run by the foundation include the Shared Ground Fund, which will provide support to help explore new approaches to assisting young migrants in need, and two art funds intended to enrich young people’s lives and education through art.

Moira Sinclair, chief executive of the Foundation, said:

“PHF’s mission remains ambitious and has never been more relevant.  At a time of continued austerity and significant social and economic challenges, trusts and foundations can play a vital role in supporting innovation, and backing people with game-changing ideas, as well as providing long-term support and funding.  Most importantly, our focus must be on helping people, especially young people, overcome disadvantage and realise their full potential.”

Sticky Faith training

Sticky Faith

Tonight it was great to host 45 leaders coming together to hear from Brian Spurling of Urban Saints and Sarah Smart from Scripture Union on Sticky Faith:

Consists of four major studies over 2004-2010. Based on American family and church life and culture. We’ve never undertaken this research in the UK, although there are some similar studies from Australia.

Key facts

  • 40-50% of older teens who went into further/higher education failed to stick at their faith.
  • Only 20% of those who leave their faith actually planned to do so. The other 80% intended to stick with their faith but didn’t. Interesting how many were staying in church just to please parents or enjoy the free chocolate and doughnuts.
  • For the 50-60% who do stick with their faith, their life-styles often become very similar to those of their non-Christian contemporaries.
  • Between 30-60% of teenagers who abandon their faith and their church do return to both in their late twenties. However, the damage has been done in terms of the consequences of ‘bad’ lifestyle choices.
  • The research shows little difference in the above between the genders.

What does it look like in the UK?

  • In 1980 almost 12% went to church at least once a month, in 2005 it was down to 7%. Recent research suggests this might level off, mainly due to immigration from countries with a strong catholic and church tradition.
  • Average age in 1980 was about 37 years old, now in 2015 it is aged 56 years old. We have an issue with an ageing population, but the church has an even bigger issue.
  • % of church goers who were aged 15yrs old and under in 1980 33% of the church was 15 years old and younger, in 2020 Peter Brierley expects it to be 5%.
  • The difference to the American church is that in the UK we struggled to keep children, whereas in the USA they kept them through to teenage years.
  • We were seeing 1,000 children aged 15 and under leaving the church every week in the 1990s – half-a-million a year.

There are two fundamental things that had been miscommunicated to teenagers by adults in their churches:

  1. Many young people have picked up a mistaken understanding of what it means to be a Christian. 66% thought it was just about living a life of good works that loves others and that please God and then he would be interested in you. 33% didn’t mention God and 33% didn’t mention Jesus. If you work with young people you might like to ask them this question. The key is relationship with a living God, who made us. Young people in the UK equate God as creator more than anything else.
  2. Many young people have picked up a mistaken understanding of what the gospel is too.
    1. The ‘gospel of sin management’: faith is reduced to a list of do’s and don’ts and focuses on the unpleasant consequences of ignoring the don’ts.
    2. The ‘Red Bull gospel’: a performance-led view of faith that believes staying on a treadmill of good works’ is what really counts. It is almost impossible to keep it up.
    3. The ‘Pharisee’ gospel: a view of faith that believes inner righteousness is achieved by being seen to do the right things on the outside. No need for personal holiness.

History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned with only how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being, and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is presented at the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally … The current gospel then becomes a ‘gospel of sin management.’

Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy

The core of Sticky Faith is developing a clear and honest understanding of both the gospel and biblical faith.

At the heart of Sticky Faith is a faith that trusts in God and understands that obedience is a response to that trust, in everything.

Dr. Kara E. Powell & Dr. Chap Clark

Sticky Faith is

  1. Both internal and external: part of the inner thought and emotions together with lifestyle choices and actions that reflect the inner faith commitment.
  2. Both person and communal: celebrating God’s love for the individual, but always locating faith in the wider community.
  3. Both mature and maturing: showing some evidence of maturity but recognising we are all on a journey.

Developing Sticky Faith

Consumer Gospel: Mike Yaconelli’s, Contemplative Youth Ministry, is a critical book to read. Outside In by Mike Green as you are turning young people into religious consumers through the youth ministry programmes. Mark Yaconelli said we have done it, we’ve

  Consumer approach Content (Sunday School) approach Contemplative approach
Rooted in Anxiety & fear We’ve always done it this way Love for the individual
Theology Faith is fun Faith is conformity Faith is an on-going relationship of trust
Leader Programme director Teacher Spiritual director pointing to God
Volunteers Chaperones Classroom assistants Seekers and mentors
Teaching Life skills/issues Religious information Way of Jesus/Christian living
Practice Passive entertainment Memorisation & reiteration Action rooted in prayer and reflection
Young people Religious consumers Potential church members Spiritual seekers

Key thoughts:

  • Expose young people to real-life examples of others learning to trust God.
  • Contrast ‘good things we should do’ with ‘trusting in a good God.’
  • Focus on trusting God before obeying God.
  • Teach about recovery and repentance.
  • Don’t dodge difficult questions about trust, but do avoid ‘pat’ answers.

How do we view young people:

  • Empty containers ready to be filled with knowledge.
  • Sinners in need of repentance.
  • Prisoners waiting to be freed.
  • Growing plants needing to b carefully tended.
  • Pieces of clay ready to be moulded.
  • Spiritual beings made in God’s image.

The last is the most challenging and yet rewarding.

What is the top issue that tweenagers need to sort out in their lives?

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I?
  • Why is there so much brokenness in the world?
  • How can I find a pathway to wholeness?
  • What does the future hold?

The Bible answers the questions in order beautifully from Genesis to Revelation. Things need to be grounded in the meta-narrative of God’s story.

Sticky Identity

From a survey of 7,000 11-16s from a wide variety of backgrounds, carried out between 2011 and 2014 by the New Philanthropy Capital.

  • Emotional wellbeing for boys is static aged 11-18 and above girls; whereas the girls drops down significantly and is always below boys.
  • Self-esteem matches this.
  • Overall life satisfaction the boys dips as well, but again the boys drops less than the girls.
  • Satisfaction in your community produces the steepest drop for both of them.

Key thoughts:

  • Develop rituals and rites of passage, and celebrate milestones reached or passed. (It works in family life too.)
  • Help your young people identify their passions and gifts. Affirm character growth more than academic achievement.
  • Help your young people to reflect more on their experiences, and grow through hardship.
  • Pay attention to ‘trigger moments’ that promote identity growth.
  • Aim for a diverse youth and children’s leadership team
  • Support your teens for at least an extra year when they leave home.

Sticky Church

Know your young people and involve them fully, not treating them as separate entities:

  • Involvement in all-age worship for teenagers is more consistently linked with mature faith than any other church-based activity.
  • The more teenagers serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is that their faith will stick.
  • Teens in the survey said that the best way they felt welcomed was when the congregation showed an interest in them.
  • Sticky faith encourages churches to develop ‘Sticky Webs’ where at least 5 adults (of all ages) speak into the lives of every young person. Teenagers said they wanted MORE interaction with adults, not less!
  • Mentoring is a brilliant, biblical model for growth!

Quiz

  1. Why do young people go to youth group?  Because they want to be with their youth leaders.
  2. What % of teens said they felt their youth leader really knew them?  20%
  3. What did they want their youth leaders to help them with the most? Applying the Bible teaching to everyday life, especially suffering, why is the church so full of hypocrisy, and what does the bible say about sexuality, creation & evolution.
  4. What was the number one thing the teens said they wanted more of in their youth groups? More time for deep conversations, whereas more time for fun stuff was bottom of the list.
  5. Who had the stickiest faith in the end? Those that often talked about having doubts – especially does God exist, does God love me, is Christianity the only way to God.

Assembly: Communication

Message in a bottle underwater

This morning I used this assembly at our local special educational needs secondary school.  Download the powerpoint here.

Ways of communication

Start the assembly by saying something like this. While you are all getting settled, I’ll just have time to phone my friend who lives in London, about 130 miles away’. Speak on the phone/to the laptop, saying something like: “Hello, Sarah, how are you? Just a quick call to remind you to remember Sam’s birthday. 

(Pause)
 
You had remembered – fine! 

(Pause)
I’m in school, just about to take an assembly. I’ll talk to you later. Bye!”

Continue by saying that if everyone can wait a little longer, you’d just like to email (or text) your friend Santiago, who lives in Chile in South America. Then tap away at the keyboard, speaking as you (pretend to) type. 

Hi, Santiago 
Hope you’re having a good week, and enjoying some sunshine. Weather here is chilly, but the summer was good. Take care and talk to you soon. 
SEND!

Ask the children when your friend will get the message. He might even get back to you before the assembly finishes, unless of course he’s in bed. Suggest that this type of communication, although now commonplace, is amazing. We hear about things happening all over the world within minutes of their actually taking place:

Message in a bottle

Ask the children for examples of the way people send messages today, such as text messages, email, phone, etc. Discuss ways of sending messages through the ages: messengers, post, telegrams, pigeon post.

Have the four bottles displayed on a table in view of the children. Ask if anyone has sent a message in a bottle. Discuss with the children whether they think this is a good way to send a message?

Explain that it is impossible to predict the direction a bottle will take in the sea. 

An experiment was carried out tracking two bottles dropped off the Brazilian coast. One drifted east for 30 days and was found on a beach in Africa; the other floated north-west for 190 days, reaching Nicaragua. (Track these on the world map if you have one.)

Explain that, fragile as it may seem, a well-sealed bottle is one of the world’s most seaworthy objects. It will bob safely through hurricanes that can sink great ships!

Glass also lasts for a very long time. In 1954, 18 bottles were salvaged from a ship sunk 250 years earlier off the English coast. The liquid in them was unrecognizable but the bottles were as good as new!

Similarly last year a message in a bottle was pulled from the sea by fishermen 101 years after it was sent.

A German called Richard Platz scribbled his note to the world on May 17, 1913 – one year before the First World War, in which he died. It was a postcard from Denmark with two German stamps on it and a message asking the finder ‘to post it on to my address in Berlin’.

More than a century on, it was found by a crew from the north German port of Heikendorf, near Kiel. ‘When I saw the date I got really excited,’ said skipper Konrad Fischer.

We are going to think about what kind of message might be sent in a bottle by looking at some actual messages which have been found. Volunteers can be chosen to come out and open a bottle and read the message. Track the journeys on the world map.

Bottle 1: Thrown in to the sea at Morecambe Bay by a four-year-old girl as part of a nursery school project on ‘Beside the Sea’. This bottle ended up in Australia. 
Message: ‘Hello. Please will you write to me?’

Bottle 2: Dropped overboard by a Swedish sailor called Ake Viking. Picked up in a fishing net by a Sicilian fisherman.
Message: ‘If any pretty girl finds this, please write!’ 
The fisherman gave it to his daughter, Paolina, who wrote back, and the couple subsequently married!

Bottle 3: Tied to the long line of a fishing net that was found by 88 refugees who had been abandoned in the seas off the coast of Ecuador. The boat had started to take in water and the men they had paid to take them to the USA had abandoned them three days earlier. As a result they were saved.
Message: ‘Help, please, help us.’

Bottle 4: Picked up on a beach somewhere on the west coast of Africa, along with a New Testament of the Bible.
Message: ‘God loves you very much.’ It had been sent by a charity called Bread on the Waters from the USA.

So you could put all sorts of messages in a bottle and who knows where it might end up and who might read it. It might be a cry for help, it might be a proposal of marriage, it might bring you a pen friend, or it might be good news for someone.

God is always there

Talk about the ways the children have already communicated today, e.g. talking, maybe a phone call, smiling, pulling a face, answering the register.

Show the children some of the forms of communication that you have brought. Ask what is good and bad about each one. For example, a mobile phone is a great way of communicating with people even when they are not at home; however, it can be easily lost, and there are times when it needs to be switched off, making the owner not contactable. An email is a good way to contact someone if you don’t want to disturb them at a busy time, but some people may not check their emails for days on end.

Explain that all forms of communication have their good and bad points but none of them gives immediate access to someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Christians believe that God is available for us to talk to him at all times. They believe that there will never be a moment when God is not listening to us. This can bring people great comfort as they feel that they are never really alone.

Psalm 121 verse 4 tells us: ‘He who watches over you will never slumber or sleep.’

 

Misunderstandings

When we think about how we communicate it’s really important to take the time to understand the feelings of others and what those around you really mean. Otherwise we might upset them, start arguments or just get very embarrassed.

Show the letters WC and ask your audience if they know what these initials stand for. (Answers may include Winston Churchill, West Central, etc.). Hopefully, you should eventually get the answer ‘water closet’ – an old-fashioned term for a toilet.

Now tell them the following story: 
A lady from England, while visiting Switzerland, asked the local schoolmaster to help her find a place to stay where she could have a room for the summer. He was a very kind man and took her to see several rooms. When everything was settled, the lady returned to England to make final preparations to move. When she arrived back home, however, the thought occurred to her that she had not seen a WC in the apartment.

So, she immediately wrote a note to the Swiss schoolmaster asking him if there was a ‘WC’ in the place.

The schoolmaster only had a very limited knowledge of English and was not familiar with the term, so he asked the local priest if he could help in the matter. Together, they tried to find the meaning of the letters ‘WC’ and the only solution they agreed on was that the letters must be an abbreviation for ‘Wayside Chapel’ – a small church common in the Swiss countryside. The schoolmaster then wrote the following letter to the English lady:

My dear Madam,

I am delighted to inform you that a ‘WC’ is situated nine miles from the house in the corner of a beautiful grove of pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds.

It is capable of holding 229 people, and it is open on Sundays and Thursdays only. As there are a great many people expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early, although there is usually plenty of standing room. This is an unfortunate situation, particularly if you are in the habit of going regularly.

You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good many bring their lunch and make a day of it, while others, who are unable to go in their car, arrive just in time.

I would especially advise you to go on Thursdays when there is an organ accompaniment. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere. The newest attraction is a bell, donated by a wealthy resident of the district, which rings every time a person enters.

It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the ‘WC’ and indeed it was there that she first met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat usually reserved for one, and it was wonderful to see the expression on their faces.

Sadly my wife is rather delicate so she can’t go regularly: it is almost a year since she went last. Naturally it pains her not to be able to go more often. 

I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by all.

Hoping to have been of some service to you, I remain, Yours truly,
The Schoolmaster

Comment that, as you see, it is so easy to misunderstand those we come into contact with if we are not careful.

Obviously we hope to see you in the nearest WC – that’s Wayside Chapel, of course!

 

Reflection

Do you ever feel lonely? Do you ever feel scared and alone? Christians believe that God is always with us and that we can talk to him at any time.

Prayer

Dear God,

Thank you that you are always there for us to talk to.

Thank you that you understand me when other people don’t.

Amen.

Heartbreaking – suicide is now the biggest killer of teenage girls

Suicide has become the leading killer of teenage girls, worldwide. Take a moment to read this article to find out why:

Female suicide stats

Towards the end of last year, a shocking statistic appeared deep in the pages of a World Health Organisation report. It was this: suicide has become the leading killer of teenage girls, worldwide. More girls aged between 15 and 19 die from self-harm than from road accidents, diseases or complications of pregnancy.

For years, child-bearing was thought to cause the most deaths in this age group. But at some point in the last decade or so – statistics were last collected on this scale in 2000 – suicide took over. And, according to the WHO’s revised data for 2000, it had already just inched its way ahead of maternal mortality at the turn of the millennium.

“I’m not quite sure why we haven’t realised this before,” says Suzanne Petroni, a senior director at ICRW. “Maternal mortality has come down so much, which is fantastic,” she says.

That’s a major factor behind the fall in the overall death rate for 15-19 year old girls from 137.4 deaths per 100,000 girls in 2000 to 112.6 today. It’s an amazing achievement.

And it has allowed the spotlight to fall, finally, on what has actually been the biggest killer all along: suicide.

The report looks at six global regions. In Europe, it is the number one killer of teenage girls. In Africa, it’s not even in the top five, “because maternal deaths and HIV are so high,” says Petroni.

But in every region of the world, other than Africa, suicide is one of the top three causes of death for 15 to 19 year old girls. (For boys, the leading killer globally is road injury).

It’s particularly shocking given that suicide is notoriously underreported.

“We don’t really know the extent of the problem,” says Roseanne Pearce, a Senior Supervisor at Childline in the UK. “Because the coroner often won’t record it as suicide. Sometimes that’s at the family’s request, and sometimes it’s simply to protect the family’s feelings.”

In countries where stigma is particularly high, suicides are even less likely to be recorded than they are in the UK. And the poorest countries in the WHO’s report have very patchy data on births and deaths at all, let alone reliable detail on what caused those deaths.

 

Books I have read: Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples

Multiply Francis Chan

I’ve always enjoyed reading Francis Chan’s writings, a few years ago I was inspired by his book Crazy Love, so I was looking forward to reading Multiply: Disciples making disciples.  As a youth minister I’m incredibly passionate to resource young people to share their faith with their friends – they do such a better job than I every could do.  Not because I can’t share faith, or because I can’t answer the tough questions, but because I don’t have the shared context that they have.

The book can be used for personal devotions, but works well for a group to look through together.  It is split into five sections:

  1. Living as a Disciple Maker
  2. Living as the Church
  3. How to Study the Bible
  4. Understanding the Old Testament
  5. Understanding the New Testament

This book would work well as a post Alpha or other evangelistic course for those who wanted to develop a stronger foundation to their new-found faith.

We used the first section themed around what is a disciple and what does it mean to share our faith with our group of 11-14 year olds who really enjoyed looking at the material.

I thoroughly recommend taking the time to read this book and the additional resources developed for it.

Assembly: General Election 2015

Ballot Box

Here’s my assembly for our local junior school for tomorrow morning on the theme of the General Election, you can download the powerpoint here.

General Election

What’s your favourite colour? Maybe it’s yellow or red, blue, green or purple. Maybe you prefer a combination or like there to be some kind of pattern or symbol. The media has been saturated with a competing range of badges and banners urging those over 18 to nail their colours to the mast. It’s because there’s a General Election scheduled for tomorrow.
The General Election has probably passed many of you by. It’s simply been an irritating interruption to TV, radio and social media. But maybe it has more to do with all of us than you might think.

 

Politics does have something to do with all of us, even those who are under the age of 18 and are not yet able to vote. Politics is about the way we organize the communities and country in which we live. It affects our water, our power, our schools, hospitals, mobile phone networks and much much more!

 

Every one of us, I’m pretty sure, wants the best for ourselves and also the best for society. The range of political parties competing for seats in Parliament simply shows that there might be many different ways to achieve this and so politics becomes a complicated business.

 

Good Leadership

William Gladstone, Liberal prime minister of the 19th century said ‘It is the duty of government to make it difficult for people to do wrong, easy to do right’.

 

We need good leaders in every area of our society. Without good political leaders, laws would be passed that would make it easier for people to do wrong things and get away with them. Gladstone was right about what governments exist to do – good leaders make it harder to do wrong and easier to do right. Without good political leaders, the country would descend into a very unstable place where the poorest and most vulnerable in society were not being looked after. Many believe a society should be judged on how well it looks after its most needy and vulnerable. Good government frees up people to take responsibility to do good and confront things when they are bad.

 

Explain that the children will have one vote each at the end to choose who they feel would make the best leader of the country based on what they say and anything they know about them:

  • ‘When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won.’ (Gandhi)
  • ‘You have to be unique, and different, and shine in your own way.’ (Lady Gaga)
  • ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’ (Winston Churchill)
  • ‘I stand for freedom of expression, doing what you believe in, and going after your dreams.’ (Madonna)
  • ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ (Nelson Mandela)
  • ‘I still look at myself and want to improve.’ (David Beckham)

 

Hold the vote with a show of hands and announce the winner! Point out that it can sometimes be difficult to choose – perhaps you wanted to vote for more than one person, or you were disappointed that your person didn’t win. But this is how democracy works.

 

In the end, everyone agrees to go with what most people (the majority) decide and once the person who has been elected takes his or her place, that person represents everyone (not just those who voted for them!) – that’s democracy!

What about you?

But what about us? The result of the General Election might affect us but we still don’t have a vote. What’s politics got to do with us?

You are already able to demonstrate your views. You live as part of a school community and reside in a local geographical community. From what I hear, you’ve got lots of ideas. You believe there are better ways to do many things. You get angry at what you perceive as injustice. You get irritated at rules and regulations that seem to have little point. You want to describe a better way to do it. So what might you do?

 

Politics in school is about making your views known. Use ideas boxes to post your concerns and suggestions. Think about what’s important for the most vulnerable in the school or those who are too shy to voice their opinion publicly.
Politics in your community can provide the opportunity to work with all ages. Make a stand, offer to volunteer, take part in a boycott, hold a protest rally and use social media. It’s all politics and you can be an important part of it.
I don’t know what the Election result is likely to be. It’s too close to call. I hope you take an interest. But more than that, I hope you get involved.
Prayer
Dear Lord,

Thank you for people who are willing to give their time and expertise to organize the society in which we live.
Remind us of their sacrifices when we’re tempted to criticise them and help us to see where and when we too can be involved in politics.
Amen.

 

Youth Talk: Why are Christians so hypocritical, nasty and judgmental?

Why are Christians so hypocritical, nasty and judgmental?

Last night I spoke to the young people on the topic of “Why are Christians so hypocritical, nasty and judgmental?” as part of a half-termly series we do on apologetics.  Here’s the powerpoint if it’s any use:

 

One of the biggest question people have against God and the Church is “Why are Christians so hypocritical, nasty and judgmental?”

 

I remember visiting a church where I arrived late, and so sat in the back row. The man leading the meeting halfway through got everyone who was in the back row to stand up. He then got everyone else in the church to turn and face those standing and pray for them that next time they wouldn’t be so lazy and get here on time. Surprisingly I haven’t been back to that church!

 

People have experienced a lot worse than that – some treatment by the church and Christians has been horrific and heart breaking. Some of you will have very reasonable reasons for not believing because of the church and what it has done to you.

 

I get your objection and I’m onside with you. Sometimes how we Christians have behaved has been awful. Let’s look at the objections

 

My objection is not to God but to his so-called followers on earth – paedophile priests, charlatan evangelist millionaires, why does God allow them to do their thing?

 

When you read in the local paper about a church leader now serving time in prison, and when you read about Councillors and MPs writing to David Cameron saying that because you passed the equal marriage act now great judgment will come on this country; and when people like Young Cho, running the largest church in Korea, just got sentenced to three years in prison for embezzling millions of dollars. When we hear of these things I get it, I understand.

 

Another objection is having been abused by one church I decided to try another this time with the Church of England when I subsequently came out as a gay person I was rejected – it is quite clear to me that church does not want me, there are members of the church who despite knowing me will not even acknowledge me on the street. Do you know what I get it, and if the church has been a part of that please accept our sincere apologies for that. It is appalling.

 

I hate to see photos of Christians on marches with slogans and banners that say things like “God hates fags”. It is wrong.

 

Another objection: why is it that I have more Christian values as a non-Church goer than some so-called Christians? I remember speaking to a young person who said the reason I’m not a Christian is this, my friends condemn me for smoking but they’re sleeping with their boyfriends. Another said this, I’ve a friend called Mary, Mary is a gossiping Christian, I have another friend called Sarah who isn’t a Christian and doesn’t gossip – I’d rather be with Sarah the non-gossiping, non-Christian.

 

Another objection: if the church is meant to be a place where all can be welcomed and come in why has its actions meant that some people cannot access it for fear as to how they will be perceived in the church. A conversation took place with a sex worker on the street one night, and trying to support this young lady we asked whether or not she’d thought of going to church. She looked incredulous and said why on earth would I think about going to church, I feel bad enough already.

 

Final objection is this: it’s not so much the idea of God I object to, it is the Christians I have trouble with. Gandhi said this, “I don’t reject your Christ, it’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

 

You see it is not so surprising that this Christian message, the Gospel message, which means good news doesn’t seem so good news when we see apparent frauds and charlatans saying one thing and living in a completely different way.

 

I just want to put out some assumptions that many of us carry:

  1. Firstly, Church is meant to be about love, kindness and tolerance. The subtext is you are meant to accept me for who I am even if that differs from what you believe. And if you don’t like you’re not meant to point it out or show your disapproval.
  2. Second, Church is meant have a moral compass with integrity, standards, and authenticity. The subtext is you are meant to be beyond approach, practice what you preach. You set a standard and if you don’t live to that standard you get loads of abuse as a result of that.
  3. Thirdly, all Christians are probably hypocrites.

 

Now without wanting to offend, I would tend to agree with all those statements, at least in part.

 

To say all Christians are hypocrites is true some of the time. For me often, if not daily, as a Christian I will pretend to be something I am not. Let me just unravel a little bit of what a hypocrite is and isn’t as I think there is some confusion.

 

A hypocrite was actually a Greek theatre term. Literally it means a mask wearer. They would be on a stage, with a mask on them, it wasn’t the real them but a character, a persona that they were portraying. In the Bible that Jesus got hold of this theatrical term and completely redefined it. He started to use it in the religious arena as Jesus hated mask wearing religious fakes.

 

Matthew 7:

‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

 

In Matthew 23 Jesus said:

13 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.

15 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.

16-22 “You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: ‘If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious’? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.

23-24 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?

25-26 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

27-28 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

 

So Jesus took this word from the theatre and completely gave it a whole new meaning and the word was never the same. Now imagine how appalling it is now, the very thing that Jesus hated, is the very thing that is so often associated with the movement he came to start. How tragic is that the word hypocrite is a hallmark of the church as though it fits like a hand in a glove?

 

Now I understand that the fakes, the phoneys and the frauds who live their lives in front of God without even blushing, who publicly condemn others whilst doing the same in private.

 

Hypocrisy what is it? What is not hypocrisy?

 

Hypocrisy is not when someone fails your expectation of perfection. Someone falls short of your expected standard. It isn’t about catching out a Christian who says they follow Christ and by making a mistake we say “Ha, you hypocrite”. A Christian making a mistake is not hypocrisy, it’s a mistake!

 

If you spend any time with me you will realise how far short I fall of the expected standard. The question is does that make me a hypocrite? If being a Christ follower means I have to be perfect then yes I am a hypocrite. However, I don’t think that is the case.

 

What is the opposite of hypocrisy? It is not perfection but it is authenticity, genuiness, transparency. Living without the mask.

 

A hypocrite is someone who is pretending to be someone they are not. I reckon we are in danger or prone to this. We often try to be something or someone that we are not. We might put on a persona in order to receive acceptance. Matthew 23, Jesus said everything they do, those hypocrites, is for show.

 

So if a Christian claims to be perfect, morally superior in anyway then they are being a fake. Jesus’ teaching is this: keep it real, love God, seek God, you don’t have to be perfect, in fact don’t pretend you are perfect as the moment that you pretend that you have got it right that is the moment that hypocrisy comes out.

 

1 John says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” A Christian author, Philip Yancey wrote a book ‘What’s so amazing about grace?’ he came to a conclusion that there were two groups of people that Jesus met. The first group was the sinners who knew it and the second group were the sinner who denied it. This first category of people, the sinners who knew it, Jesus spoke grace, love, compassion. To the second group of people, those who sinned and denied it he called them hypocrites, he confronted and he challenged. The Christian life isn’t about pretending we have it altogether. In fact we don’t, and the fact is we’re all in the same boat, all needing treatment, some of us have accepted the treatment Jesus is offering – that’s the only difference.

 

If you feel tonight that you can’t become a Christian because you’re not perfect then there’s a misunderstanding about what Christianity is about. In fact some people would say I don’t want to become a Christian because I know I can’t be perfect and I know if I cant be perfect that is being hypocritical and I don’t want to be hypocritical therefore I don’t want to be a Christian. That’s upside down and back-to-front thinking as the very essence of what Christianity is about is people who recognise with their hands up to recongise I’m not perfect, there’s so many things in my life which are wrong but do you know what I’m in the process of change.

 

You might say I can’t become a Christian because I’m carrying a load of baggage. Well welcome to the club, you’ll be struggling just like the rest of us.

 

When I look back I think I’m more like Jesus now then I was a year ago, or five years ago, and I think that’s replicated in this room. One day I will conquer, but I’m in the process of change and I know my life has changed.

 

Authenticity is about transparency and honest life change.

 

If we go back to Mary and Sarah and take a snapchat view, in the eight seconds we want to be with the non-gossip. But we fail through the snapshot to realize where Mary has come from. We don’t know what Mary was a year or five years ago. This issue of gossip might be tiny in comparison with the fact that a few months ago she was an axe-wielding murderer. And we have no idea with Sarah, the non-gossip, what difference Jesus would make if she became a Christian because we just get the snapshot moment.

 

There’s many a moment where we look and can’t believe in Christianity or Jesus because look at that. We miss out on the transformation that has taken place in millions of peoples lives who are committing themselves genuinely to becoming more like Jesus.

 

Jesus in Mark 2 :

As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’

 

We see an upside world with the outcast, the sinners welcomed to eat with Jesus and instead, those with good reputation, the moral reputation, the religious hiding behind the mask are out in the cold.

 

The world of misfits are invited and welcomed in. It’s like Charlie Bucket getting the Golden Ticket, the invite to the factory. The misfits are invited and then donated the whole factory.

 

The church community will be messy as we’re full of screwed up people, welcome to the club! It’s no wonder therefore that churches are full of people who say one thing and don’t always mean it. Sometimes we’ll act in a way that isn’t always consistent with the Christian faith because of the nature of the people who come along. People who know they make mistakes but are on a journey of transformation.

 

But don’t think this is an excuse. Jesus didn’t make things easier, he rose the bar – don’t murder in the Old Testament, he says don’t get angry; don’t commit adultery in the Old Testament, he says I don’t want you looking at that guy like that as you wander down the street as if you’ve already committed adultery in your heart. He raised the bar but he didn’t put in place a perfectionism we couldn’t obtain, he makes a way for us to meet with God.

 

Sick people need doctors, we all need to remove the mask and get ourselves into recovery. The real issue is Jesus not the people who follow him. I grew up in the 1980s, one of the best bands then was U2, and one of their best songs was Pride in the name of love. Most of you will have no idea who they are let alone the song I’m talking about. Then you hear that some of your mates are playing this song in your school’s Got Talent competition. They massacre the song and you go away and wonder what on earth was all that about. Let me encourage you there are millions of Christians walking around playing a bad replica of who Jesus is. Please don’t get put off by how we have failed because you need to listen and see the original Jesus. Don’t judge the cover version alongside the original it simply cannot compare. Christians will disappoint you, Jesus won’t.

 

Whatever has happened my plea is look at Jesus, the original, and see what he’s all about.

Youth Ministry – the most meaningful job in the world

Forbes tells us what we all already knew – youth ministry is the best job in the world!  Check out this snippet:

It’s been said that money can’t buy you happiness. It turns out it has similarly little affect on whether an employee feels their work makes a positive change in the world.
Each year, Forbes reports on PayScale‘s list of the most meaningful jobs that also pay well. But when the caveat of income is removed, medical professionals, criminal justice workers, and youth ministers still find their way to the top of the list, while some highly-paid jobs are found to provide little meaning to those that hold them.
Youth minister, the third party in this tie for first, pays the least by far–an annual median $35,000–but 100% of respondents still find strong meaning in the role.