BECOMING COMMUNITIES OF RECONCILIATION:
NOT ANOTHER ARTICLE ABOUT THE BROKENNESS OF AMERICA

There have been plenty of articles, memes, and social media posts detailing the fractured culture we in the United States find ourselves in. The reality is that the state of culture hasn’t changed much. It has always been fractured.

Becoming Communities of Reconciliation

Racism has always been inherent in our systems of power and in the lives of individuals.

Sexism and misogyny have always been present in boardrooms and bedrooms.

Fear of the liberal agendas and hate for conservative agendas are part of our culture’s fabric.

We are a nation fueled by antagonism and violence. It is who we are.

The major change is that these realties are erupting on our TV sets, and in our cities, neighborhoods, homes, and churches.

The fractured culture is front and center. What was once talked about in hushed tones and behind closed doors is now shouted from every news agency, political voice, and person with a smart phone.

Conflict as Opportunity

It is impossible to keep such conflict out of our churches and our youth ministries. Churches are made up of people who come from a plethora of backgrounds and beliefs. When these people gather in sacred spaces, the chance of conflict because of these differences is high.

One approach to coming conflict is to simply avoid it and not allow for it to be expressed in our faith communities. This is an awful idea. It actually works against the way of Jesus.

Jesus calls us to confess to one another, to carry each other’s burdens, to reconcile with one another, and to bring truth into light.

Submitting to these practices will naturally bring these conflicts to light.

As followers of Jesus and minsters of the Gospel we are to be peacemakers and actively seek reconciliation in our communities of faith.

Because of this we must begin to look at this time of great conflict and anger in our culture as an opportunity for reconciliation. David Fitch rightly notes that times of disagreement and conflict “are opportunities for the kingdom to break in and change the world.”[1]

Youth Ministers and Youth Ministries Have a Responsibility

As agents and ministers of reconciliation, we cannot run from our responsibility to open space for healing, truth, and forgiveness to be experienced. As followers of Jesus and minsters of the Gospel we are to be peacemakers and actively seek reconciliation in our communities of faith.

Our students are rapidly developing their sense of justice and morality. They are learning how to live in right relationship with God and others. They are also soaking up cultural norms and modes of dialogue.

We have a responsibility to help shape this process and to reconcile broken relationships due to ideological differences as our students move through these pivotal developmental moments.

Four Practices for Reconciling

As we work toward forming reconciling communities, we must begin to develop practices that will help ensure we are moving from antagonism toward reconciliation. Preaching a great sermon on unity or reconciliation is necessary, but we also need repeatable disciplines as our communities develop.

1. Cultural Exegesis

There are dozens of issues and tragedies that our students and churches can be divided over. Race relations, political positions, immigration issues, the use of violent force, LGBTQ+ rights, and more.

Part of our role as ministers of reconciliation is to exegete our specific culture and community. We do this by asking questions like these:

  • What antagonisms are dominating my students’ lives?
  • What are people talking about at Starbucks?
  • What images and headlines are on my local paper’s front page
  • What are my students responding to on social media?

As we are asking ourselves these kinds of questions, we also remain present in the lives of our students so we can discern what God is doing. From this location we can begin to identify areas of conflict and unrest in our students and the church.

2. Open Dialogue

Most of our students are not jumping into healthy discussions around these difficult issues. The usual approaches are to post behind the safety social media or send texts to like-minded individuals.

Very few adults, let alone students, have the maturity to have open and honest dialogue when conflict is guaranteed to present itself.

As leaders of our ministries, we must create environments to have these difficult conversations. We must tackle them straight on. If your community struggles with racism, have a round table discussion about God’s design for a diverse humanity.

Be prepared for disagreement, and be prepared to steer conversations toward mutual understanding, conviction and repentance when necessary, and forgiveness and grace always. This approach leads students toward inner processing and self-discovery.

3. Submitting to the Other

A difficult practice that we should begin to model and encourage our students to follow is submitting to the other. You and I also hold strong beliefs about many difficult issues. Part of being a mature adult, and a mature Christian, is realizing that others disagree and often have good reasons and/or life experiences that drive them to opposing views.

Learning to submit ourselves to the experiences of others does not require us to abandon our own deep convictions. Rather, it recognizes the other as fully human, intelligent, and worthy of respect.

Simple statements such as, “I see truth and goodness in what you are proposing” or “I can see how that experience has influenced your beliefs” gives dignity to those we strongly disagree with.

As we do this in our own lives, we can begin to lead our students in similar practices. We can ask our students carefully consider another person’s view. Not necessarily to change one’s mind, but to better know and be known by others. In submitting to others in this way, we open the possibility of understanding and peacemaking.

4. Sharing Meals

It is exceptionally difficult to remain in conflict with one another when tacos are on the table. If you are working with young adults, swap out the tacos and share a beer or good bourbon.

In a culture driven by antagonism and violence, we must become people of the table.

As we dive into these necessary conversations, the practice of meal sharing will stir-up moments for reconciliation. Around the shared table we are reminded of the Eucharist – where people of all walks life and persuasions share the body and blood of Jesus.

Around the table we can discern God’s activity in the hearts and minds of our students. We can help usher in moments of forgiveness and grace.

In a culture driven by antagonism and violence, we must become people of the table.

Knowing our Community

It is our job as youth pastors to know our faith community. We must know our students and the culture they are navigating. We must be present in their lives to know how they feel on pressing cultural issues and how their families, schools, and neighborhood are shaping them.

With this relational knowledge, we must begin the long process of reconciliation within our churches. While differences on theological issues, political issues, and relational issues will remain, they need not be points of division.

By patiently walking our students through various practices and with much prayer, we can usher in the grace necessary for relationships to be reconciled and our communities can more accurately reflect the fellowship of diversity that is the Kingdom of God.

[1] David Fitch, Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 78.


About the Author: Jeremy Penn

Jeremy PennJeremy Penn is the founder and pastor of The Crowded House Network (www.thecrowdedhouse.net). The Crowded House is a network of missional house churches that serves dechurched and unchurched communities.  Prior to this Jeremy served as a youth and young adult minister at Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, FL. He earned an MA in Theological Studies from Talbot School of Theology. He is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Fuller Theological Seminary that focuses on The Church and Post-Christendom. Jeremy and his wife, Crystal, have a daughter, Riley, and a son, Phoenix.

Comments

comments