Courage, Communication, Contradictions: Rob Bell on Youth Ministry
- Friday, October 02, 2009
YWJ: Could we get back to the professionalism part of youth ministry and how to get thousands of kids to come to our youth programs?
RB: I work from a different assumption. My assumption is that the real issues are about the interiors and not the exteriors. What the past couple of hundred years have done, with the invention of machines and mechanisms where you push a button pull a lever, is that it created metaphors of production and industry that are applied to matters of the spirit. So in youth ministry, we ask: How do you grow a youth ministry? How do you reach kids? What external techniques, skills and strategies do I need for doing A and B so I can get to C? The real issues are first and foremost about your own interiors, your own following of Jesus, the way in which the Spirit of God is healing you of all sorts of things. The ways in which you are experiencing the resurrected Christ in a thousand different places.
YWJ: Why do so many youth pastors start strong and then burn out?
RB: This goes back to a production understanding versus discipleship. When Jesus dealt with crowds, He would then withdraw to a lonely place and pray. As the crowds increased, His rhythm of engagement and disengagement seemed to increase. In our culture, the larger the crowds, the harder you gotta work. When you move from a production model to discipleship, one of the questions becomes: Is this sustainable? Am I leading the kind of life in which I'm experiencing and living the things I'm inviting others to experience?
YWJ: What would that kind of disengagement look like today?
RB: Well, experiencing Sabbath is one example. It's a lost art. There is a reason why these ancient disciplines are absolutely necessary. Just ask your average youth pastor, "What day of the week do you not answer your cell phone and not answer email?" When they say, "What do you mean?" Then I say, "Call me in four years when you burn out." Rabbi Heschel said that Sabbath gives the world the spiritual energy it needs to exist for another six days. There is something very mystical and practical about disciplines such as the Sabbath and about centering prayer. These all clash with the gods of production.
YWJ: How do you personally keep from buying into those gods of production?
RB: I have very strong boundaries. There are thousands of things I don't do. My wife and I are ruthless about sustainability. I would tend to just go all the time, so this has been a bit of the journey for me. Saturday is the Sabbath, and I make the boys breakfast and pack their lunches, and we have dinner together every night. I haven't done a pastors' conference in years. God is down in the valley, as well as on the mountaintop; and actually the valley is where we live. This idea that God is to be found up there, well, to me, God is found in making lunches for your kids, driving them to school and helping them with homework; making pasta and taking the dog in the woods with us.
YWJ: So, celebrating the Sabbath is a tool for ministry?
RB: If you're busy, fried and a wreck, who wants your gospel?
YWJ: A lot of people in youth ministry have traded in their guitars for video cameras, no doubt influenced in part by the videos you have done. Is the ability to make a great video the new "it" skill for youth ministers?
RB: (grabs microphone and nearly inserts it in his mouth) Making great videos and short films is totally overrated. (Dries off microphone and sets it down, laughing.) Shane Hipps has a new book out called Flickering Pixels, and he describes the ways youth pastors get suckered into using new tools and how those tools shape us. When you put a message on film, for instance, it's now not that message; it's a new message. Because the very form you put something in—the medium is part of the message. Hipps takes you through the media analysis of how the medium forms the message.
YWJ: What about the Nooma videos that you do?
RB: Once you see the Noomas, you think you know me; but we don't know each other. We've never met. Film gives you a false sense of intimacy. Hopefully, wonderful truth can be communicated; people can be moved; they will wrestle with substantive issues; but there are other things going on of which we need to be aware.
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