Why I am dressed as a bag of flour and other tortoise tales
I really hope you are keeping going through these challenging times. Our church preached on 2 Timothy 4 last weekend, where Paul has finished the race and fought the good fight. Our young people need us to keep running the race and fighting the good fight, as Christians and as leaders, even in a pandemic. Do get in touch if I can support you in any way, even if it's just to remind you it's worth it.
As for the bag of flour, we had a great night last Friday, meeting up with two churches, one in Lancaster and one in London, for an online Pancake Party, with games and a Bible talk, including prizes for fancy dress on the pancake theme (I didn't do it just for fun, though I do quite like dressing up - shop window dummy, old man, street sweeper, robot - to name just a few). If you have the chance and you're a youth leader (and if you're not, it's not too late!), do try something similar in Lockdown - I mean, try a get-together with other youth groups, although if you want to dress up and have pancakes, that's OK too.
Paul reminds his readers in Romans 12.4-5:
"For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."
Those were the verses three youth leaders spoke about to our combined youth last week. We spoke on it, and we tried to demonstrate it, by working together. We're in three churches, in three different cities, but we are still one Church. We are still one body.
There is so much we have lost in this pandemic, but Jesus' Church is still alive and well. We can show this by being together and, with Zoom (other video communication software is available), it has never been easier to meet with groups elsewhere in the country (or think bigger!).
Here's what I think we gained:
Leaders were re-energised in planning meetings and on the night by passionate Christians from other contexts. Many leaders are tired, but I was definitely revived by the combined life of the groups.
There was increased creativity. Three experienced leaders getting together to plan meant there were great ideas (very few from me). Would I have planned fancy dress? Maybe on a good day (but there haven't been lots of good days in the last 11 months). Would I have planned that complicated game of charades that took me three weeks to understand? Probably not. I would have settled for an easier but less fun option. Would I have planned a rap battle? Definitely not. Did they work? Yes (although we did manage to eject quite a lot of young people from the Zoom who tried to leave their Breakout Rooms early, and there was that issue with the tortoise).
The scale was bigger. Our youth group, like many, has sadly seen numbers decline over Lockdown, but with three churches working together, there were so many young people and leaders in the room. That encouraged me, and I'm sure it blessed others.
It reminded all of us that we are one body. Three churches, but we were all united as one that evening. We were united as Christian brothers and sisters - united in faith and in purpose. On Friday, we couldn't see the edges of our groups. We've found the same when we have joined with other youth groups for residential events.
But we're still different. Some dressed up, some didn't in every group; to get back to the tortoise, one mixed group didn't make it into the Main Meeting to finish a game, because they got caught up in a discussion on this creature that carries its home on its back. Different, but still we all have something to bring to the party.
Young people heard new voices speaking God's eternal truth into their lives. The team I normally work with is awesome, as is, I'm sure, your team. At the same time, it is really important that our youth hear other people saying the same things as we say, that they are in Christ - united yet different.
It may be that you already meet regularly with other groups. If not, why not plan an event before Easter with another group or two? In a challenging time, it might be just what our groups need to experience - there are still plenty of young people working out what it is to follow Jesus. They may not go to our church, nor even be in our city, but the Church is still vibrant. We might also gain an energy, creativity and even a faith boost.
Dave Thornton is author of 'Raising the Bar: Nearly everything you need to know about Christian youth ministry'. Buy the book here.