Our theme for 2019 is “The Body.” Today we are exploring that theme with the blog…..
The Body, Broken for You
Chris Hughes is a youth minister at Christ Church United Methodist in Louisville, KY. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He loves Kentucky sports and enjoys cycling.
I’ve come to believe that everything we need to know, to live and to be as Christians in the world we can find at the communion table. If you think about it, communion is a powerful and centering symbol of our Christian faith. We hear the old, old story of Jesus and his last meal with his disciples, the penultimate act of his work of redemption in our world. We ponder the mysterious words of a man about to die: “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you. Every time you take of this bread and drink of this cup, remember me.” And before our very eyes, the grace of God transfigures into a morsel of bread and a sip of juice.
When we come to the communion table, we learn to give ourselves over to mystery. We don’t ultimately know what God does through the bread and cup – is it Christ’s literal body transubstantiated into bread form or is it merely a spiritual symbol memorializing the last meal? We can’t say for sure. But we lean into the mystery as we nibble the bread and drink the juice, satiating somehow, in some way whatever hunger brought us to the table.
When we come to the table, there is enough for all because each one of us receives the same serving of bread and juice. It’s not a lavish meal – just enough grace to hold us over until the next time we meet at the table. We can’t gorge ourselves on communion either. One does not live on bread and juice alone, though in my work in youth ministry I’ve had plenty of youth who are more than willing to scarf down the communion leftovers. We learn to be content with the simple meal we receive.
When we come to the communion table, we learn that God’s grace works through brokenness to bring the Kingdom of God near to us. When we come to the table, we receive elements that are broken just as Christ’s body was broken by/for/with the world. Communion points us back to a world as it is, not the world as it should be or as we’d like it to be, but a world that is broken. And, if we’re honest, we, too, come to the communion table not as we’d like to be but as we are – as broken people in need of healing.
Communion confronts us with brokenness – our world’s, our community’s, our church’s, our own. Brokenness is not peripheral to our communion celebrations; indeed, the essence of communion is brokenness. These days, as I’ve reached the wise old age of 31, I find myself paying more and more attention to brokenness as a way for God’s grace to break through. Is it possible to shift the paradigm for our ministries, our churches, maybe even the world, towards brokenness as a means of grace and healing?
I don’t know exactly what that looks like as a strategy or as a step-by-step guide for creating transformational ministry but I want to share with you a little bit of how I’ve noticed this shift in my own youth ministry. I think so many of us in churches generally and in youth ministry in particular face significant pressure to grow and to attract new members as signs of success. And so it’s no wonder that we go about building attractional ministries – we put our creativity towards making quirky and cool events that will draw people to us. We focus on numbers. We want to make people happy and we want people to think youth group is a cool place to be. And for a long time, I did that too.
But for the first time in my career, my supervisor at church is not concerned with numbers and not concerned with being cool. I know that is an extremely lucky situation to end up in and I don’t want to sound as if that is an easy switch to make. For much of her career, my supervisor Leanne ran a spirituality center for children and teens who didn’t really have a church, but were completely broken and in need of healing. And so her focus is not so much on bringing people to church; it’s on offering people what they need and what we Christians believe can only come from God – healing, grace, wholeness, peace.
We as a staff are still concerned with creating transformational ministry but we’re focusing more on what our youth need, where their brokenness is and how they can find healing. We’ve shifted our focus from the voices that are popular or “cool” or have it all together and started paying more attention to the voices of those who are most broken – and to those for whom youth group generally speaking has probably always been a challenge: introverts, youth with special/unique needs, kids who are into Dungeons and Dragons.
We’ve shifted our focus from learning objectives and started focusing more on sharing in small groups. We know that anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation are on the rise for youth and we also know that one of the remedies is having healthy peer groups where you can share your joys, your concerns, your fears and failures without judgment.
In the past year, we’ve stretched ourselves even further to create spaces for those who feel left out or are having trouble finding their way. In December we held our first ever Blue Christmas gathering specifically for our youth to help those grieving the loss of a loved one.
We’ve become more upfront about the fact that we are broken, that we have losses and failures, that we’re hurting and we shouldn’t try to hide it. We’re doing this all on the hunch that this is what people really need and that this is what really makes ministry transformative. I really don’t know how this could translate to other youth ministry settings and I definitely don’t recommending telling your pastor the next time she/he asks about the youth ministry that it’s broken. But maybe we can start by asking some new questions:
- Instead of asking, “What will people really like?”, we can ask, “What do people really need?”
- Instead of asking, “What can we do that will be really fun?”, we can ask, “What can we do that will offer healing and hope to youth?”
- Instead of asking, “How many people were there?”, we can ask, “Did transformation happen? Were youth more open and vulnerable with each other? Did we recognize the Spirit working in our midst?
And maybe then, when we shift our focus to brokenness, can we begin to create the kind of ministries where God’s grace can seep in and bring the Kingdom near.