The chocolate cushion lesson

By September 30, 2013Faith

“Oh my goodness this is a mess,” said Jane.


Jane was in our youth group and had an eclectic dress sense, a great sense of humour and had only recently joined our little church community.


I was new in post as the youth worker at our church and was fresh faced, enthusiastic and ready to change the world of youth work.


One of my first ideas was to invite young people to come and watch an international football match and I had set up the church with lots of cushions and then I had had my bright idea … A chocolate fountain.


I had spent hours making the church look lovely and I set up the chocolate fountain in the middle of the room.


“I’ve cracked it,” I thought … “Youth work genius!”


And then came the young people.


It turns out that the combination of chocolate fountain, young people and cushions is … well let’s just say explosive!


By the end of one of the most stressful 2 hours of my life there wasn’t any chocolate in the fountain and our church had been redecorated in splattered brown.


And so as Jane and the rest of the young people filed out and left me all alone scrubbing our church desperately before our minister came to see what his brand new youth worker had done on first occasion let off the leash … something happened.


Jane said the words that I will never forget.


“You should have asked us to help you,” she said. “I would never have done a chocolate fountain if I was in charge,” she said smiling as she turned on her heel and skipped away with the rest of the chocolate covered hyper teenagers.


This is going to sound daft but I can honestly say that it didn’t cross my mind to involve the young people at all.  I had the mentality that I was the youth worker, I was the adult, I was the one that was mature (ish) and so it must be me that led everything. The trouble was that the young people had arrived at the church without any ownership over what they were about to experience and so cushions whirling around covered in chocolate didn’t seem to them like a problem.


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about releasing leaders. Young leaders.  The trouble we have a lot of the time is that we get concerned about these young leaders and we worry that they don’t know what they are doing yet.  We think we’d better wait until people are a bit older before we give them any real responsibility.


I mean they may make a mess of it!


The snag with this is that it’s the opposite attitude of Jesus.


Jesus had a group of very young, very inexperienced leaders around him and yet he sent them out in twos long before they seemed ready.  Most of them didn’t even realize that he was the son of God and yet Jesus risked his own reputation and sent them out in his name to do the things he did.


I am convinced that if we are to reach and keep this emerging generation we need to believe in them, give them a go, allow them to lead.  It’s time to put the baton in their hands, have their back and take a risk on them.  Yes there is a chance they’ll make a mistake, say the wrong thing, make a total hash of it but that’s all part of the beauty. I mean look at he disciples … It’s not like they got it all right, is it?


The problem is that we think we are looking out for this young generation by protecting them from making mistakes.  The problem is that what we create is consumer Christians who turn up, destroy the church and expect someone else to clean up afterwards.  There is no responsibility, ownership, or growing of maturity.


If Jesus took risks on people who were all young, not ready, inexperienced, immature, and had the potential to go off the cliff (Judas) … Then shouldn’t we? 


We have a phrase in our movement first taught to us by Mike Breen that we want to be releasing leaders by acting in a…


Low control, high accountability way.


You see, our tendency is to see all the problems that releasing our young people to have a go in real leadership could have, and it makes us want to respond by saying no.  No they can’t lead that idea forward, teach on a Sunday, change the style of worship, do that crazy mission idea etc.  This is a high control way of leading. The young people will be pushed into a controlled consumer box and then we can’t complain when they act like consumers and walk out when the church doesn’t serve their ‘needs’.


How about instead we sit them down, ask them for their ideas and then say, “Great … Let’s do it!”


The high accountability piece of the jigsaw is fundamental to keeping it all safe.  Jesus didn’t send off his disciples never to see them again.  He drew them back after the experiences that they had and processed with them what had happened.  The successes, the failures, the frustrations and the battles. He helped them see where they had got it wrong, he encouraged them when they were down, he explained what they didn’t understand.


So my question for you today is … Would you prefer to take the risk on releasing young leaders or would you prefer to spend the rest of your life clearing up chocolate after them?'

About Rich Atkinson

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