YVQ | Risky Discipleship

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Writer Gemma Bell

Amy was having a moment of crisis. “I’m totally not cut out for this! I’m a terrible youth worker, I feel like I haven’t helped this girl at all!”

It’s late at night. Amy is 18, still in Year 12, and we are in the middle of the outback, somewhere between Coober Pedy and the Northern Territory border. Annually, Fusion, the organisation I’m a part of, takes young people through Aboriginal communities, helping suburban kids empathise with and value First Nations people. Amy comes from a middle-class Christian home, and her upbringing has been the kind that includes comfortable wealth, the safety of a loving family, and a supportive church. Many people would call her blessed.

Twelve months ago she asked to be mentored to support young people, stating she wants to learn how to follow Jesus. Did she really know what she was asking for? Not a chance. But now Amy has been one of many Christians that has experienced risky discipleship. For myself and our team, we follow Jesus to the margins. He has called us to live with the homeless, walk alongside people with crippling mental health, who live with the daily echoes of trauma, people who are often lonely isolated souls… this is the kind of blessed life we seek.

I can recall a time when I too associated following Jesus to being some kind of serene peaceful life. Maybe with rainbows, sunshine, and puppy dogs, sanitised and romanticised by my own imagination. Can’t say that has been my experience. My experience has been earthy, gritty, wild, and somehow larger or denser than what I can contain. So I totally get where Amy is coming from—in fact, I kind of pity the dilemma she is in.

Marie, the girl Amy is supporting, has lived most of her life in foster care, when she hasn’t been in foster care she has been in an abusive home. Marie has lived with stuff young girls shouldn’t ever be exposed to. Amy is realising just how hard life is for many people, and how far her own life is from the pain and suffering that this girl has experienced.

Amy wants to give up, go back to her beautiful home, her mum and dad, her no-conflict life that makes sense to her. I know this, and smile at her. “Good. That’s what you’re supposed to feel—like you don’t have the answers. Now what do you think God’s heart for Marie is?”

Asking a young Christian to live out the heart of God when they feel like they are falling apart—rough call, hey? I could write about the kinds of mentoring we put in place so that young adults are completely supported as they seek to find their feet as ministers to kids on the fringes, and that by age 20 Amy was offered a position as a school Chaplain, was leading trips to the outback, and supported a range of high-needs young people.

But I think I need to talk about what happens if the opposite of Amy’s story occurs—when young Christians never take a risk to follow Jesus. They are a Christian without the experiential knowledge that they have the Spirit of the resurrected Christ in them; a Christian who has never built a relationship with those Jesus calls ‘the least of my brothers’; a Christian who has never had to follow Jesus without a safety net.

It’s like owing a F1 racing car and only doing 5km an hour.

Our schools across the country talk about building resilience in our kids. I say we need to build resilience in our brothers and sisters, so that they are willing to go where Jesus calls them.

And what if we get it wrong, you say? So what! Shake the dust from your feet, get up and try again. It worked for the disciples—maybe it’s good enough for us too.

Not neat and tidy is it? That is risk for you, it is messy. You learn humility, the gift of laughing at yourself, and of trusting Jesus and not always liking what he is doing.

Bonhoeffer once preached, “the Kingdom of God is bound to Earth,” and the Earth is chaotic and messy. It is the same place where Jesus walked and ministered, and he calls us to do the same with the Holy Spirit guiding us.

What a beautiful mess we’re in. Aren’t we blessed…

Originally published in YVQ16: BRAVE. Written by Gemma Bell.

Gemma is Team Leader at Fusion Mornington Peninsula and Youth Ministry Facilitator with Mornington Church of Christ. The Bell family, husband Stuart and daughter Jade, live onsite at Fusion’s accommodation and support service for homeless young people. Gemma develops and delivers leadership and youth work training and awareness raising events to spark community change.

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