Is this how you perceive the youth in your local church?
This is what one of the Alongsider coordinators in Cambodia says to local pastors when he shares the Alongsiders vision with them for the first time. Many of them say, "Where did you get this idea? It's such a great idea to educate young people and to change the community. Can you come back next week?"
Of course, not every pastor responds this way, and not all young Christians fit his description. But again and again, we are seeing people of all ages who know something needs to change. And they see in Alongsiders an opening.
When this coordinator, whose name is Phearom, shares the same vision with a group of youth, he always starts with a story. Then he says: "Change starts with you."
They know something needs to change. Next they need to decide what to do about it.
Is telling them "it starts with you" an impossible burden or an opportunity? We think it's an opportunity, and because God leads us by example in Jesus and by his Spirit, it's possible!
If the youth decide to respond, it's easy to start the process to become Alongsiders.
Recently, a new Alongsider named Nisai said, "I felt at first like only smart people, older people, or leaders could be Alongsiders. Not just any member of the church. Then I heard that I could do it, too! I chose my little brother because I felt he wasn't feeling secure or loved in his family. His father drinks every day and hits him. I want to protect him. I also want to help him with his school work and keep him from gambling or drinking.
The danger facing any movement is the temptation to turn it into a performance based program that leaders try to manage and control. This is what happens whenever we doubt that the Spirit can (or will) lead people to act in love.
Recognizing this danger, we emphasize and remind ourselves that the role of leaders in Alongsider movements is to inspire and empower, not to manage and control others.
That doesn't mean we can't be intentional or organized. A great example of a brilliantly organized movement that avoids managing or controlling its members is Alcoholics Anonymous. The structure and requirements of Alcoholics Anonymous are so simple that anyone can understand them and carry them out. Even so, they ask MUCH of their members, and their members give it gladly. They don't need or care about rewards and obligations because their lives are being transformed!
That's what we want to see. We share the vision so that when it takes hold, groups of Alongsiders will be led by the Spirit to serve and love their neighbors -- starting with the most vulnerable ones.
Paul understood the importance of keeping the movement of Christ simple. He wrote to the Galatians, "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Gal. 5:14).
Nisai, the Alongsider quoted above, felt insecure in his faith and role in God's Kingdom. But now he and the other Alongsiders in his group are sending out a ripple effect through their village. They're inspired and empowered. They've decided what they want to do.
What they're doing, loving their neighbors as themselves, is not an add-on to the gospel. It's the core work of walking in the Spirit and being the church together.