Have you noticed our tendency to become one of several tropes over the holidays? Maybe you're a crusader for Christmas magic; maybe you're a Scrooge; maybe you're too exhausted to lift the corners of your mouth into a smile; maybe you're an abstainer of celebration; maybe you're genuinely grieving the loss of a loved one. But... this Christmas, do I have to be what I've always been? Can following Jesus have a real effect on what I'm like this year? When we consider God for just a moment - the God who sees and feels all pain but remains impossibly optimistic about the future - perhaps we see a blueprint for ourselves. Perhaps we can genuinely engage our feelings, whatever they are, and channel them with the will to be a redemptive presence in the middle of pain, joy, grief, nostalgia, and/or loneliness.
Then Mark sits down with Scott Moore, Executive Director of Youth Unlimited GTA. They talk cycling, Ingnatius of Loyola's ideas of "consolation and desolation," and what it's like to encounter the plan-wrecking nudge of God. Then the conversation turns to YU and how the principles of the organization are carefully and thoughtfully shaped by theology and their perceived heart of God: servant leadership, love that fosters change, and the centrality of raising up not merely "well-behaved" kids, but young people that inspire aspirations in others. Scott shares with us YU's Five Gauges - not just a way for the people of YU to measure the impact of their work, but also a way for volunteers, staff, and anyone who follows Jesus to take personal stock of their spiritual journey. Finally, Scott tells us a couple of the challenges that Toronto's young people face and the positive trends transforming youth culture as well.
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Notable Quotes from Scott Moore:
"Our ethos is, 'What does a young person need? How can we meet that need in the context?' So every program we have is tailored to the neighborhood it serves or the type of youth it's trying to reach. So our downtown mobile outreach for homeless youth looks very different than Launch, our leadership development for young Christian leaders."
"Our vision is every young person, right? And so we know we can't do the same 'in the box' type things for every young person. We need to reach each young person in a unique way."
"The unique piece of YU is the long-term relationships we have. We have staff people who started working with kids when they were eight, and they are now eighteen, graduating high school, going to university, and that staff person has been there that whole journey."
"A lot of our programs focus on kids that are more marginalized. Not exclusively, but that is the heartbeat of the organization in many ways. Or empowering young people to reach the marginalized."
"I think God's love creates a place of welcome. It's a place that takes away fear and anxiety. God's love essentially – as God's love impacts a young person, I think they discover the fullness of who God created them to be. And there is freedom in that that they don't otherwise have. So to be completely surrounded by the idea of God's love gives a freedom to be yourself and that takes away a lot of the pressures and struggles and challenges that kids face – whether that's peer pressure, socio-economic pressure – whatever it might be. I really believe God's love can enter into that and take away the entrapment of those things."
"For us at Youth Unlimited… we believe that young people can be that redemptive presence. It's not, 'Okay, someday they'll get there,' or 'One day they can do this.' It's, 'Today we believe they can be the redemptive presence in our city and change our city.' So to us I think a 'redemptive presence' is: as God's love changes their life and as they experience and come alive in that love, they then share that outwardly."
"Being a redemptive presence is really being a change agent - reflecting the heart and values of God as you do that."
"Renewed character, which is in Christian language the fruit of the spirit – we talk about growing and virtue in a more accessible way. So... our kids growing in gentleness, compassion, love, kindness, patience… And it can really shape young people and how they act in their place in the city."
"'Healthy relationships' for us is about seeking reconciliation and vibrant community. A lot of our kids being in kind of negative peer pressure situations or a community that's ostracized or oppressed, helping them find a place that's vibrant and healthy for them. And then obviously reconciliation being a key part of God's mission in the world, so seeing young people reconcile – whether it's with their parents, with their peers, whoever it might be."
"Rooted identity is engaging life with Jesus. In a lot of the youth we see it – and you and I in many ways, too: there's brokenness to us. We might feel trapped in certain areas of life, and I really believe that Jesus brings healing and freedom to those places. And we as an organization believe that. So how are young people engaging in life with Jesus? How are they bringing God into their decisions, into their relationships?"
"How do we teach young people to give back or pay it forward – to serve as Jesus served...? We can all grumpily serve, but how does God's love transform young people to joyfully serve?"
"As God's love and life-changing power transforms a life, we believe that part of that is a young person discovering kind of their niche in the world – what are they passionate about? What are their gifts? What are their skills and how do we walk with a young person to find that purpose for them?"
"The really neat thing is as we presented these to staff, they kind of looked at them and said, 'Wait - if we are going to be measuring tjhis stuff and kids, we better be doing it ourselves, too, right?' And so there's been this really neat resonance where our staff now want to walk through these gauges in their own lives and make sure they're living them out, too."
"Everything I do as executive director needs to be about serving my staff and my organization, which at the end of the day is serving the young people of our city. So I think it's a mindset on one level in kind of a self-check: ' Okay, is what I'm doing in this moment, in this activity, in this strategic approach - is it about serving or is it about me or YU's glory or something that's off-base relative to the ethos of serving?"
"The two things that come to mind for me when I think of challenges around the culture of young people in our city: one is narcissism - just the self-involvement of young people in themselves, and they've lost sight of what's beyond themselves. Now, I can contradict myself to also say a positive move that I see is a global awareness and desire to be just – when you think of something like MeToWe… that's really exciting. But part of me thinks that apart from following the model of Jesus, that's actually about us, too. And to do it from the angle of following Jesus really brings a different sense to service. The other piece that's huge for us would be fatherlessness. So many of the young people we serve just don't have a loving, engaged, present father in their lives. We will have programs where literally 8 out of 10 kids won't have an active dad in their life. And that has massive consequences in a young person's life."
"We see the kids we come alongside - when we walk with them over 3 to 5 years - they are really passionate about addressing issues in their community. It's not like they just want to say, 'Okay great. I'm doing better. I'm outta here. I'm gone" and fly the coop. They actually want to stay and invest in their community and teach other young people and see their community transformed. So that's really neat that they want to stay invested; it's not like they just want to escape to a better place. So that's a real positive trend."
"Our passion is to engage Jesus-followers in the lives of young people in our city. We're very passionate about the local church, because we really believe these kids need a spiritual home.... So our passion is partnering with local churches - to engage that local church in the lives of young people in their community for a long time - a long-term basis."
"Volunteers really are the lifeblood of what we do. If you have a program with 30 kids in it, one staff person can't mentor 30 kids at the level of depth that we desire. So we really see our staff being the equippers of volunteers who walk with those kids."
Next Week, Episode 14:
Guest: Ryan Sim, pastor and creator of Redeem the Commute