Thursday night I led a small youth group from a rural church through a series of activities and accompanying discussions about racism, poverty and ministry to urban youth. They offered insights, voiced frustrations, listened to my instructions and (what really impressed me) to each other. The proverbial light bulbs came on. The desire to understand broke out and became contagious. It was cool, you guys. It was cool.
I think that maybe this is work I can devote myself to. I want to steep myself in knowledge about the conditions of our cities and the Church's responsibility to the poor -- and then educate those who are willing to learn. I want to have thoughtful and respectful discussions about our intentions and strategies for ministry. I want to watch the Spirit of God drive Church communities to postures of compassion, humility and effective action.
Let's not get into the Should-we-even-be-sending-30-of-our-brightest-affluent-youth-to-solve-complex-adult-problems? discussion right now. The way I see it, youth leaders (rightly or not) will continue bringing them. And as long as they're here, they might as well be taught.
Until now, I did not think I would get the opportunity to use skills I picked up during undergrad. A defeating and demoralizing student teaching experience convinced me that my philosophy of education was ridiculous and made me question whether I had any skills to offer at all. But now, I am beginning to imagine my strengths and convictions lending themselves beautifully to bridging the chasm between suburban and urban churches.
This is not to boast that my efforts in urban ministry have been effective in the past or that I am suddenly some kind of expert. I admit I am a novice. I struggled to be effective in the past, but learned much as a result of those struggles. One thing I can do, though, is design lessons that leave deep impressions on students. Throughout college, my professors wrote words like "dynamic," "aggressive," "provocative" and "edgy" on my lesson evaluations. "Sometimes too edgy," said Dr. Ager.
This shouldn't surprise you. When I was little, my dad nicknamed me The Instigator because I seemed to find something wickedly pleasurable in getting a rise out of my siblings. And I have been playing Instigator, Devil's Advocate, Exhorter, Soapbox Orator (and other roles) ever since.
"Instigate" -- I love that word. Do you? It means, "someone who deliberately foments trouble." "An inciter, provoker, and firebrand." "To rouse." "To induce, stimulate, encourage, push." "To initiate, start." "To urge, provoke, or incite to some action or course: to instigate the people to revolt."
I realize this definition has some negative connotations, and I don't want you to misunderstand: those who deliberately foment trouble in the Church are deserving of rebuke. (Galatians 5 comes to mind...) But I like the idea of a teacher who rouses, incites and provokes people to action -- in the Hebrews 10:24 sense of the word. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds..."
The Triune God instigated the Creation of the Universe and the salvation of souls, even when those souls were unfaithful to Him. Alleluia. Teach me to act in Your righteousness and wisdom as I play the instigator in my family, work place and church community. Amen.