Authentic youth ministry

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I hope this blog post finds you well. It has been a long time since I have actually written a blog post.
I had intended to do this regularly but like many things in life, a busy schedule can get in the way of lots of things. But I thought as I enter my 3rd year serving as the director of youth for the Diocese of Fredericton, I would spend some time writing and sharing my thoughts.
The world these days seems to be getting increasingly darker. Wars and rumours of wars fill our news feeds and we watch as growing humanitarian crises continue on and on with seemingly no end in sight.
As I walk through my own city, I find it can be hard to stay positive as news of record high rates of poverty, illiteracy, teen pregnancy, mental health and many other social issues wear heavy on me.
And now as I watch what our neighbours to the south are going through, it can be difficult to even turn on the news, or scroll through my Facebook feed.
It can seem that the world is beginning to come undone, and that there doesn’t appear to be much hope in sight.
I know, depressing isn’t it? It makes you want to crawl under the covers and pretend that it’s all just a bad dream, and maybe tomorrow will be better!
Myself, I have started trading CNN reports for episodes of CBC’s The Debaters just to lighten the heaviness of my soul. (I highly recommend the pie vs. cake debate.)
What you’re probably thinking right now is, “Colin, what the heck does this depressing monologue have to do with youth ministry?”
Well, I’m glad you asked, because it’s an important question that we need to start answering if we are to move forward. What do the problems of world have to do with being the church? Can the church really effect change in the world? Aren’t we just supposed to tell people about Jesus and bring them to church?
I have worked with youth from all walks of life for the past 20 years. I have spent time with Christian kids, Muslim kids, poor kids, rich kids, mentally ill kids and well adjusted kids, and I can tell you now that if we ever hope to fulfill the great commission of making disciples, we as a people need to start addressing what’s happening in the world around us!
This is not optional. If we are a people who say that we stand on the authority of the gospel, then we must stand in the public arena and tell the world what our Lord has to say about the poor and the oppressed, about the widow and the orphan, about the thirsty and the hungry, about the refugee and the sojourner.
We must stand on the authority of Micah 6:8, Isiah 58, on Mathew 25, on James 1:27, and we must rejoice as we live out the beautiful words of Amos: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” Amos 5:24
Some of you are still thinking, “Colin, can you please get to the youth ministry part?”
Glad you asked! I have conversations with many people about how to grow a youth ministry. What kind of program works best? What kind of youth leaders do we need to have? Where do we find these mystical creatures called youth group kids? Should we buy an Xbox or PlayStation?
Maybe if the priest were cooler — maybe he could pierce an ear and get some skinny jeans!
If you are asking these questions, you probably are starting in the wrong place.
I want to tell you all that the most important thing the church can do is ensure that it is aligned with the work of the Holy Spirit in building the kingdom here and now. Until we do this, we will struggle to engage young people in their journey and we will be irrelevant in their lives.
Sure, maybe we could put together an ultra cool program. I’m thinking laser tag, video games, smoke machines, and we could raffle off a new cell phone every week to get them in the door!
But at the end of the day, none of this will be long-lasting and eternally impacting.
I know, I know I still haven’t answered the question! So here it is. If the bible says we need to care about immigrants, we need to actually care about immigrants!
If the bible says we have to care for widows and orphans, then we need to actually care for widows and orphans!
If the bible says to defend the oppressed and fight for the rights of those without a voice…. yup, you
guessed it. We have to do it!
I could keep going on but I’m going to assume you get the picture.
Youth are looking for authentic engagement with people who really mean what they say. There are a gazillion studies out there that keep telling us this, but somehow, we keep ignoring it.
Authenticity means doing what we say, but it also means that when we invite young people to be part of our community, we are not just inviting them to youth group, or to hang out with us on Sunday mornings.
We are inviting them to be engaged in a family that does its very best to live out the principles of holiness and justice that the scripture commands us to do.
We are inviting them into an incarnational way of living that is by no means perfect, but that seeks to glorify God through living out his heart here on earth.
It is my prayer for the big C Church (as in the people, not the building) to understand that it is these incarnational communities that have always attracted people, that have always provided the answers to those who seek and that have always breathed life and love into this dark world.

Colin McDonald
Director of Youth and Intergenerational Ministries
Diocese of Fredericton

When words change the world!!


1384541537355“I think we need to do something about that!”

These were the words that would change the next 4 years of my life, and be the beginning of changing others lives for ever.  You see long before I came to work for the Dioceses I was a youth worker in Saint John among other places. I spent my days working with youth that were struggling with poverty, addiction, loss and homelessness, those who had so often been discarded by the world and were left at too young an age to fend for themselves. They were and are the hidden homeless of our cities, towns, villages, the lost and oppressed of this generation. Many of us had worked hard to bring to the surface the plight of the homeless teenager in our community.  We spoke about it around tables of other NGO’s, we petitionined government officials, we cried out to the public, we told story after story of lives lost to the street. Some rallied to the cause and others went on with life not giving it a second thought, at times it felt like we were fighting a loosing battle.

Then one day I got a strange phone call.  “Can you come and meet the Bishop in 10 minutes?”  It was my friend Paul who I had met when the Bishop had assigned him to the south end of Saint John to assess the need and to determine how the Church could be a blessing in that community. Paul and I had become friends through this journey together and had dreamed about how we could work together on this project. I had never met a Bishop before so it sounded like fun! I turned my car around and headed to Anglican house.  Upon arrival I was escorted upstairs to the Ladies Auxiliary room, where Bishop Claude and our now Bishop elect David Edwards sat (and Paul).  I entered the room prepared with my best pitch about the need for a youth shelter in Saint John, about the countless lives we were loosing to drugs, prostitution, gangs and mental health, all because we could not offer the most basic of needs, shelter!  The bishop asked questions and carefully considered my answers and after all was said and done he said “I think we need to do something about that”

I had no idea what those nine words would mean in the course of the next four years, but I had a sense in that room that God was beginning a good work in Saint John.  What followed over the next few years was a level of dedication from not just the folks in that room, but Anglicans all over New Brunswick.  First the St James church property was donated, so that it could continue on in its mission to serve the community in the name of Christ.  Then support started rolling in from all corners of the Diocese.  Some sent checks, others committed to funding the project yearly, and others knitted the most comfortable blankets you could imagine so that kids would have something made with love to wrap around while they slept.  Even when hope seemed slim  God’s people led by their Bishop stood by us.  This fall Safe Harbour will open its doors providing 10 bedrooms for homeless youth in our community.  What will happen there will be life altering for these youth, offering more than just a roof over theirs heads, but a continuum of support to walk with them to success.  Some people wonder about the relevance of the church today.  Well I don’t, because the hundreds of kids who’s lives will be saved because of Safe Harbour, say that the church is relevant and we are needed more than ever!!

Jesus talked said a lot of funny things on his time on earth.  He talked about letting the little children come to him and what it meant to serve the least of these.  He stuck his neck out for the women caught in adultery and always defended the poor and oppressed. As I look back over the last 4 years of knowing Bishop Claude I have come sincerely respect the work that he has done and his commitment to serving others. His desire to see young people know the Lord and to see them reach there full potential, and for the church to surround them with loving community has come through in almost every conversation we have ever had.  Many will remember his time as Bishop for different reasons they will celebrate his contributions in many different ways.  For me it will always go back to that first conversation and those 9 words that changed everything “I think we need to do something about that!”


Your brother in Christ

Colin McDonald

What’s up with camp?

“I don’t careMedely what I have to do, I just want to be at camp this summer!”.  These are the words of an enthusiastic young staff recruit who couldn’t contain his enthusiasm during his interview for camp Medley. With such unbridled excitement about possibly spending the entire summer at a place that had meant so much to him, it was impossible to even imagine saying no to this kid.  He went on to share about the incredible impact that his camping experience had had on his spiritual life, and how he wanted campers to experience what he did.  There was passion, dedication, determination and maybe most important an ability to clearly and comfortable share his faith with us  in a way that made you feel good about just being alive!

Now before I go any further I have a confession to make…  I didn’t really get into camping as a kid!!  Ok are you happy I said it “I WASN’T INTO CAMP AS A KID”. Ok I feel better know that that’s off my chest, I’ll seek forgiveness from all of you hard core campers out there later.  So how does a kid who wasn’t really into camp end up believing so much in the value of camping?  Let me explain.

As I have moved through various stages of working with youth I have reached a undeniable truth, the world is loud!  All day long from the time they get up to the time they close their eyes at night the world is talking at them.  Youth are constantly being told they are to short too tall, too fat too small.  They are not smart enough, quick enough, funny enough, cool enough, sexy enough, masculine enough, feminine enough, they are not ENOUGH! And it never seems to end, they hear it in the hallways at school, at home, on TV, on the computer and even when we think they are safe from the worlds voice tucked in at night the resonating noise of the world still echo’s through their heads… your not enough….you’ll never be enough….don’t even bother trying to be enough!  Many of you remember that voice, and may still carry it with you to this day in some way or another.

Now imagine a place that blocks the noise of the world. A place that is cut off from the hallways and screens and has one focus, to tell your child they are enough just the way they are.   The world says your too short, or too fat or too skinny, God says I created you perfectly in my imagine.  The world says your not smart enough or cool enough, God say I love you so much I sacrificed my own son so you could know me. The world says your not enough, your not worth it, God says I have  plans for your life to prosper and live a life abundant.  God says we are enough because he is enough, and frankly that’s enough!

That’s what camping ministry is, a place that blocks the world and the destructive message of not enough and lets your son or daughter hear the voice of the creator saying “your worth it, don’t listen to the world  you belong to me”.  I hope you will consider sending your child or if yours is grown up, send someone else’s child, so they can have an experience of camp fires, games, friendship, laughter and knowing they are enough!  Because from the kid who loved camp so much that he couldn’t wait to grow up and work their, and the the kid who wasn’t really into camp, we both know its a great place for your kid!

Check out the links to our two Diocese camps!

See you this summer.

From your Brother in Christ

Colin McDonald