What is JY - a caring community or a mission project?
We faced a crisis during the late 1970’s. The core team of our fast-growing prayer group was constantly fighting. There were seven of us in the team and we were divided on many issues. Some of us in the team were making big plans to build the community, while the others thought they were too fanciful. These other members were mostly doing things outside the community, and the rest of us felt as if they had no time for the community. All this resulted in misunderstandings, allegations and endless arguments.
Finally, we took time to have a sitting with the national Chairman. This priest listened to us attentively and for a while we prayed together. Then he gave us some insights into what was happening in our team. May be this was a fight between two parallel ‘visions’. Some of us in the team were deeply convinced of the need for building a sharing and caring fellowship and were committed to that; but the other half of the team had deep evangelistic drive and was thinking overtime to go out and do missionary outreach. These divergent Christian visions were driving us parallelly and hence we were fighting.
Divergent styles in the movement
What I mentioned was an early experience of our local youth group. Later we grew into a wider and much complex network, but this dichotomy and its resultant leadership conflicts, we see cropping up time and again. In almost every group and in all teams some people express a deep need to have beautiful and intimate relationships, but several others are eager to organize outreaches and other programs. Invariably if you are not careful, one style can overshadow the other. Another way of putting this would be – this is a conflict between ‘being’ and ‘doing’.
I remember a session of free interaction in a Middle Eastern country. One senior woman leader got up and remarked how she missed the old intimate fellowship. Earlier it was such a great joy to come together and everyone knew each other’s needs and concerns. Now all that’s gone, and we are obsessed with activities. People and their needs are completely forgotten. No wonder people drop out and are not at all eager to come back to the group. The agreeing nodes and the eager responses indicated that a large proportion of the group not only agreed completely with her, but they whole heartedly wished for those times to return.
Interestingly, in another city, during such an interaction the members were expressing their utter disappointment about how the gatherings have become ‘so fruitless’. Every week people come, pray and go, and nothing more. So much of need around – “our hearts burning to express our Christian
charity. But our groups have become so ‘inward looking’. There used to be many initiatives – small and big here, but now all have become too busy and have forgotten their mission”. There was a long discussion about this and the group decided that as many as possible should be helped to do personal and group missions.
The above two scenarios discussed two seemingly contrasting issues in Jesus Youth groups. Conflicts of charisms and interests come up in a variety of ways in our groups. But one important conflict is between those who are eager to build a community and others eager to go out on mission. In one way this is also a conflict in leadership styles, between Relationship Oriented as opposed to Task Focused leadership approaches.
Need to go hand in hand?
More than three decades ago, Fr Rufus from Mumbai gave us a memorable workshop on ‘Lessons from Nehemiah’. This great Old Testament leader who lived more than four centuries before Jesus, is an amazing example of personal mission and community leadership. He begins rebuilding Jerusalem but there were conflicts from inside and outside. In Chapter 4 of the book we see how he directed his people to work. Building and fighting were going hand in hand. Those who were working on this big project, “everyone with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon” (Neh 4:17).
The picture of the work in Nehemiah is like a parable for us. It shows how in the work of Christian mission two important aspects must combine. Jesus, while talking of discipleship (Lk 14:25ff), mentions the need for ‘building’ and ‘fighting’. In Jesus Youth daily work, building community and going out and winning over the world using the ‘sword’ of the word have to go hand in hand.
Maybe it is a problem that some people only think of deep relationships and community and some other people only think of going out to do big things in the world outside. Though charisms and personal skills vary, everyone in the fellowship has to be concerned about building a loving and joyful community, and at the same time about the need to bear fruits for building the Kingdom around.
So many things in life needs delicate balancing, or as the Greeks would say, finding the Golden Mean. In the growth of any Jesus Youth group also this fine balancing between Community and Mission must find an important place. Every leader must be eager to build relationships with everyone in the group and thus build the group into one body in Christ, and also to encourage and assist each person to bear rich fruits of mission in their personal lives and together as a group.
I was talking about a serous conflict as well as its analysis that happened in our prayer group many years ago. That taught us an unforgettable lesson and it had its good effects. We took practical measures to build our prayer group into a loving community, and also to open avenues for the members in our group to engage in mission. The result of all these was abounding joy in everyone and vibrant growth of our fellowship.