Mission Shaped Big E: June 3-5, 2008

About 17 people gathered at Vaughan Park, Long Bay in Auckland from June 3-5 to discuss Mission-Shaped Youth Ministry. This phrase has come out of the Church of England, and in particular, from a report published in 2005 exploring church planting and fresh expressions of church in a changing context. The basic idea is that we are increasingly in a non-Christian context in New Zealand, where a very large proportion of young people in particular know nothing of the gospel. Mission-shaped church suggests that we need to seek ways to plant the gospel in this context with no expectation of what shape the church those who respond might develop. This is very different from nearly all our models currently used which aim at brining young people into existing church structures. The point of the Big E was to offer a place where key figures in the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches could have a conversation about what if anything this might offer our understanding and practice of youth ministry here in New Zealand.

Several people were invited to help resource that conversation. Nigel Hanscamp from the Methodist Mission Resourcing Unit reminded us that it is God’s mission we are engaging in. He helped us explore what mission might be, and suggested that to be missional the church needs to have 3 conversations, with the poor, with our culture and with other religions. He suggested that the values of mission are: start with the Trinity, incarnational, transformational, relational, and disciple making.

Dave Wells from the Bible College of NZ reminded us to keep the gospel at the centre of our ministry. There were several stories told about how people were working out how this might look in your own situations. How do we use it, how do we live it? He also offered a critique of the un-thought through use of Purpose-driven youth ministry which stimulated a lot of discussion.

Michael Hughes, author of “Young Hearts be Free”, spoke about his research into Liberation Theology, youth ministry and mission. It raises the question of how do we assist young people to develop their own theological voice, and to act on that theology in their everyday life. He also asked how young people are oppressed in our churches, which of course raises the issue of how the oppressed become the oppressors when they grow older.

Jacky Sewell from St John’s Anglican Theological College pulled together a whole lot of research on young people which helped us gain a large canvas vies of what is going of=n for young people here. For many of us, it was amazing to see the change in youth suicide statistics, but we wondered why aren’t there headlines? We youth workers we need to be much more articulate about refusing to define young people as a problem. And we need to play a vital role as youth advocates in insisting on attending to the spiritual dimension in public research.

Mary-Jane Konings, the studentsoul (National) Facilitator offered studentsoul as an example of a church plant which is intentionally missional, and sees young people as ‘the church’, not just ‘the leaders of the future’. Students are taught and equipped to be leaders, given opportunities to serve, and challenged to grow. Young Life in Auckland came and talked about their work in schools in the Howick area. We spent time telling our own stories of being missional.

But in the end how much of what we do really is missional? How much really engages young people who have no knowledge of the gospel? How much is built on the assumption that church as we do it will be what will help them grow in their faith and to engage in God’s mission? There is a lot of good creative youth ministry endeavours which seek to help young people who are or who have been a part of the church engage in the gospel in new and creative ways. Many of these allow these young people to remain in church. But very few endeavours, if any, truly engage with young people with no church background. And even those expect young people to join church as we know it. To be mission-shaped, to palnt with not expectations of what will emerge. That is much harder, and we have much more work to do.