Walk before you run

One of the reasons for launching this blog in the first place was to ensure that older stuff I’d written didn’t just get lost on a hard drive somewhere. So occasionally  I’m going to be posting my old editorials – reworked-  from close to ten years at the helm of Youthwork magazine. These have never been online before – I’m going to edit them for relevance; hopefully they’ll be helpful. If not – you know what the comments section is for…

Left_BehindModern man seems to have developed a knack for over-complicating things. Computers with the brainpower of HAL 9000 (when all you really need is a word processor). Live football coverage that can analyse Wayne Rooney’s bad language from 40 different angles. The gas company down the road with a customer service desk in Mumbai.

As we over-complicate, we also get sidetracked. That’s why I spend too much time playing pixel perfect computer games and not enough time writing word-perfect articles. That’s why more time is spent analysing Rooney’s occasionally unsavoury behaviour than his consistent genius as a player.

The church is no exception to either of these trends. Not content with simply following the simple commands of Christ, we seem to overcomplicate and sidetrack to make our faith more interesting. Witness the endlessness of the creation/evolution debate (no letters please); the long-term campaign to crush a certain schoolboy wizard; and worst of all, those ridiculous End Times books. Let’s be honest – throwing ourselves into these things is just so much more fun than reading the Bible or getting up early to pray!

It seems to me though that sidetracking has two major implications. First of all, it reduces our potency as disciple-makers and neighbour-lovers. Instead of getting out there and showing Christ’s love to people, we spend much of our time trying to win theological arguments, or burning one set of books with a reading age of ten while avidly consuming another. I don’t want to undermine those who believe that these things matter, but what’s more important – how we got on to this earth and how we’ll leave, or what we’re supposed to do while we’re actually here?

Secondly, sidetracking can have a bizarre long-term effect: it can alter the centre of gravity for the generations to come. By focusing on all the bolt-on stuff we can allow what’s important to fade into the shadows. Then, like those kids who grow up thinking that ‘Uptown Girl’ was written by Westlife, the young people of today’s church could grow up knowing their exact position on the rapture, without having the faintest understanding of the Cross.

That isn’t guesswork and conjecture; I know it to be true. I once worked with a group of young people who had all grown up in the church, and had picked up what it meant to be a Christian from there. At first their righteousness seemed clear: at meetings, they spoke almost entirely in jargon, knew enough Christian celebrities to fill an entire edition of Halo!, and could place every sin imaginable into a hierarchy of importance (certain sexual behaviours being the worst). Scratch beneath the service though, and you soon found that their faith was balancing precariously on sandy foundations. They knew what they believed, but they had precious little idea why. Unfortunately, when that kind of faith comes under pressure, it often folds away depressingly fast.

With all that in mind then, let’s make sure we make the main things, the main things. As we look to disciple young people, let’s ensure we’ve properly worked through the basics of the Christian faith with them before we try to over-complicate matters. I can think of one young person who can recite thirty worship songs by heart but doesn’t actually seem to understand the Cross. I’d rather he never listened to Christian music at all, but was able to simply articulate the gospel to a friend.

Christianity is a faith simple enough for a child to understand. Yet so often, we fail to see and marvel in its perfect simplicity. If we must complicate matters then, lets make sure that our young people get a good grasp of the basics first. In my experience, those who run before they can walk are often heading for a fall.

This article first appeared in Youthwork magazine. Find out more by visiting the website: www.youthwork.co.uk

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