Abandon All Fear

What nobody else seems to be saying…

Mind the Gap

Posted by Lex Fear on November 11, 2005

“I always felt, when Jesus talked of forgiveness and acceptance of those who don’t deserve it, or are outsiders, that Jesus was talking of not just a state of mind, but an action. It seems I stand corrected.”

Up until 2 weeks ago I was a volunteer with youth at the church. I guess unofficially I still am. However 2 weeks ago, events came to a culmination which ended up in a private conversation with the Youth Pastor advising him I was ‘taking a break’. In actual fact, I’m not sure if this break won’t become permanent due to a number of factors. But I get the feeling I’m not going to be missed in the youth ministry. Unfortunately, my views and my approach to young people are not things which are appreciated.

For instance, when it comes to troubled young people, who only know how to attract attention through yobbish behavior and general mischief, it seems that an attitude of forgiveness just sends the wrong message to these young hoodlums. After all their parents have failed them, the authorities have failed them, the schools have failed them and the police don’t care for them. It’s the duty of the church, the last institution, standing in the gap before total destruction, to follow suit and strike them off also.

They had been coming along to the youth meeting on a Friday night for about 9 months. Churched kids are trained to sit through even the most mind-numbing hour-long sermons without so much as raising a fart in objection. Their mind may be elsewhere, but they’ve learned the value of respecting even the most drollest of people who are obviously in love with the sound of their own voice. These kids were not churched kids, this is probably one of the only times in their lives they will ever walk into a living, breathing church, therefore, this is an opportunity to leave them with an impression of who we are and what we believe.

For a little while, we put up with their slightly noisy banter, their walking in and out of the youth service. But it was obvious from the beginning they were not welcome. They just didn’t get the hints, the Youth Leaders who would stand around them but not speak to them, the leaders and young people who would stare at them but not engage. Things got awry, some weeks they were fine, but other weeks they were just that teeny bit too loud, they got kicked out. But they came back each week. It was pretty foolish of me to thank God when this happened. How could I be so stupid as to see this as an opportunity for us to have a positive influence on their lives? You see, whilst the rest of the youth meeting stared at them, made it clear this wasn’t the place for them and we didn’t want them there, myself and a few other people actually started speaking to them, talking to them, having a bit of a joke and a laugh. We were showing them a little glimpse of something that no other organisation in the limited existence of their lives had ever done, unconditional love.

Two weeks ago, this group of kids received a total ban on coming onto the property of the church. The reason? It’s speculative, however for a period of two weeks previous, the church had been under attack of vandals which resulted in broken windows and graffiti. Some of these kids were involved, some incidents witnessed, others not. Of course I am not happy to see the building vandalised, I am as upset as anyone else. However, buildings are temporary, repairs can be made, lives are not as easy to rebuild. The fact that it was only certain characters from this group who had done the vandalism, didn’t deter the youth leadership from making the decision to paint all with the same brush and issue a blanket ban.

The next Friday, in an intense meeting before the youth service started, our industrious Youth Pastor handed out to youth leaders, a photocopied picture from the local newspaper with 6 of the kids featured in it. The instructions were, their names and that these kids were not allowed on the property, any youth leader was to immediately call the police. It is ironic that the picture was taken from a local newspaper, displayed on the front page, these very named kids doing a selfless act in helping an old lady who had collapsed on the high street. It seems that by doing this, the newspaper had inadvertently provided an ID for other ‘honourable, respectful’ members of the community, who had submitted complaints to the police regarding misbehaviour.

Foolishly, some people looked at this as positive news, that these kids were showing signs of a turn-around, that perhaps in some way the church had, had an influence. In fact the brave few who had dared to engage with these miscreants were even starting to break-through into discussions with them about their lives and about God.

One night, I had even sat on a wall next to one of the girls, [Jenny], and proceeded to ask her about school, to which she replied that she didn’t go to school.
I asked “how come?” She told me that she had just come out of a foster home and [the local authority] hadn’t made arrangements yet for her to be put in a school. I then asked her what she was doing in a foster home, to which she replied that she had been in care from an early age because her mother didn’t want her.

What could I say? I felt like giving her a hug but resisted since it was only bound to be seized upon by PC conscious advocates of child protection. So when I look at their behaviour, I look at a society that has let them down, and now we too, the church as an institution were also deciding that they just don’t belong. I guess we can’t risk offending the middle class church members
with a not so pleasant looking building.

Already was the red-mist beginning to rise, and when I looked at the photo and saw that 4 of those kids were not even involved in the vandalism, indeed 2 of them, we were beginning to breakthrough with, my blood began to boil. Trouble is, I had no vent, so as the Youth Pastor continued, I began to sweat more and more, and for me, the meeting got more and more intense. Since this was the final straw over a period of years of continuously watching the church strike off young people who we should be helping. Why? Because we have “awesome” youth ministry (read: baby sitting service) and we care about our kids (the churched ones). I had passed the point of patient endurance. I needed a “break”.

Another ironic twist is that our Youth Pastors mission statement is to see the youth ministry grow to 1000 (currently at 60). I wonder how that’s going to happen when the kids that God keeps bringing to us we keep kicking out and banning (this has happened before, not the group I’m talking about now. This is the 3rd time a group of streetwise kids has come to our doors, and have ended upbeing turned away due to not being Christian enough).

I always felt, when Jesus talked of forgiveness and acceptance of those who don’t deserve it, or are outsiders, that Jesus was talking of not just a state of mind, but an action. It seems I stand corrected. Thankfully little Hitler (read: youth pastor) was able to put me straight, and as if that wasn’t enough, he was able to make it just about as patronising as possible to boot. It seems we want the kids here, but we’re not ready for them. We, the church, are not ready for them. For three years now it seems we’ve not been ready for a bunch of troubled kids and we’re still not ready. When will we be ready? When Jesus comes again?

A wise person once coined this phrase “People don’t care how much you know, till they know how much you care”. We as a church still have yet to get to the stage where people know how much we care. I became a Christian despite the churches best attempts at evangelism, and I sure am glad Jesus was ready for me when I came to him, I’m glad Jesus didn’t turn me awa
y and he forgave me not only for what I’ve done, but for the things I still do and will do in the future. I wish his church could do the same right now.

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