by Kelly Soifer
Editor’s Note: This is the last in a 12-part series on spiritual disciplines for youth workers, based on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.
As I write this I am preparing to head out to the birthday celebration of my favorite one year old in the world, Bryn, who is the daughter of dear friends of mine. She was born on 11/1/11, and we all giggle at that because she is definitely number one in our hearts.
At the same time, I know I will sit back at some point during the day and chuckle at how many adults are there, celebrating an event that Bryn will most certainly not remember! In some ways it is tempting to ask, “What is even the point of having a birthday party for a one year old?!”
I can tell you the answer: Because everyone loves a party! Personally, I can never have enough cupcakes. How about you? We are wired to celebrate with those we love, whether it is a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation, and even a life well-lived as we grieve the loss of a loved one.
Even as I type the word “celebrate” I have many fun memories popping into my head: lighting fireworks with students during service trips to Guatemala; a surprise birthday for me put on by friends; hearty laughter, to the point of tears, when hearing a really funny story…These are foretastes of heaven, where we will be free of suffering because God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
In anticipation of such a blessed eternity, as believers we are called to practice for heaven now. The spiritual discipline for this practice is called celebration. Richard Foster, who has guided our discussion for these last twelve months, defines its crucial role:
Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving.
He goes on to say that celebration is an expression of the fruits of the Spirit, especially that of joy. But as we well know, joy is not the same as happiness. Joy comes from living a life of obedience, conforming to the call of God on our lives, seeking to be fulfilled by service to Him and selflessness to others.
What does this look like for us who serve in youth ministry? Sadly, I believe we have erred in thinking our primary job is to show our students that being a Christian can be fun, and proceed to fill our meetings with gross and wacky games and little else. While I have used my share of shaving cream over the years for a pie or two in the face, I know that silly games are going too far when that is what students are talking about at the end of the night, rather than whatever discussion was a part of the evening. I believe that is setting the bar far too low when it comes to serving the young people we know.
Instead, see the spiritual discipline of celebration as an opportunity for us as youthworkers to really make a difference in the lives of the young people we work with. As you already know, “partying” is highly valued by youth culture–they think they already know how to “celebrate.” Rather than letting them settle for shallow expressions of fun, I believe the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians give us an outline of how to do this:
I will be the first to admit that it is so tempting to trivialize the concerns of teens, whose drama every week can tend to focus on the ups and downs of friendships or who’s dating who. Nevertheless, these are the immediate concerns of our young people, and to dismiss them is to ignore what swirls around them. Instead, respect their young and limited perspective, coaching them into sharing their concerns, though seemingly trivial at times, with God. As it says in 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” As young people sense they are known and heard, they feel loved.
Verses 4:8-9 are straightforward: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Time and again I have had students thank me for remembering their birthday, attending their performance, or noting one of their achievements in front of the entire group. I had a parent tell me the other day how her children noted the difference between two different youth leaders in the community: one of them only saw their daughter if she attended his activities; the other leader made it a point to go to as many of her games as possible. Not surprisingly, she felt most connected to the latter. Active attendance at students’ events becomes a real challenge as your group grows, but it becomes all the more crucial for us to equip our volunteers to understand how much this means to the teens we know.
We are being dishonest if we pretend that life is always puppies and rainbows with our students. I never fail to be stunned at the gravity of issues that I have experienced with young people over the years: suicide, cancer, deathly car accidents, addiction, eating disorders, abuse, pregnancy, gang violence, sexual affairs with adults…the list goes on and on. To teach our students to celebrate, we also have to show them how willing we are to be with them in the depths. Paul teaches me so much in these few verses (4:10-13): “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
As we walk through all of life with our students, we then “earn the right to be heard” and can teach them how to truly “rejoice in the Lord” (4:4), opening themselves up to true and eternal celebration. What a privilege!
This concludes the year-long series on spiritual disciplines (see the links at the bottom of the page if you have missed any of them). The goal from here is to seek after deeper intimacy with Christ on your own and in community, teaching the youth around you to do the same.
My challenge to you
Set aside some time soon to review all twelve of the classic spiritual disciplines. Even better, pick up a copy of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and learn more for yourself. As you read, listen for the promptings of the Spirit as to which discipline(s) you need to grow in next.
Remember, for us as followers of Christ, the church year begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving with Advent, which is coming soon. What if your “new year’s resolutions” included the intentional practice of the spiritual disciplines? Take some time to pray over this question and make covenant with God.
Use the links below to read all of the articles in the series, or visit Kelly’s CYMT contributor page:
Kelly Soifer is currently the Director of Recruiting and Leadership Development for the Free Methodist Church in Southern California, providing strategic planning, pastoral recruiting and training for over 40 Free Methodist churches from Santa Barbara to San Diego. She is greatly energized by the Free Methodist Church’s deep commitment to “walking their talk,” where they serve in multiple ways throughout their communities, reaching diverse populations.
Kelly was a youth pastor for 15 years, and before that served as a Regional Director with Young Life. She has also taught both at a local Christian high school (teaching Bible and doctrine) and at Westmont College, where she trains students in church and parachurch internships.
In keeping with other crazy Californians, Kelly is a devoted bicycle commuter, delighted owner of an Italian scooter, and enthusiastic fan of organic produce and cooking. She has also become quite the blogger, Facebooker, Google Plusser and Twitterer! However, she cannot surf.