Tuesday, November 11, 2008
My Jerry Maguire moment
The past, the present, the future….
In the past we had up to 1000 young people. 23 years ago there was no youth meeting format. It was a great time to meet young people from other churches. Mannafest was radical and way ahead of its time. It paved the way for churches to plan and style youth meetings. It was free and we had a collection – the boxes went round and people threw in their sweet wrappers and shrapnel. Mannafest would bring across big name speakers – excellent communicators, funny storytellers. It was more of an event for all people, not just young people. We would stand for a period of time and sing praise songs led by a rock style band (with drums!!), which was in direct contrast to stand-up-sit-down-prayer-hymn-sandwich. Drama was a big pull as well. We had some excellent groups over the years and it was the best of the best actors/actresses in our wee country.
We have had to adapt. We have gone through seasons of change, but there has always been a desire for the continuation of Mannafest.
I can remember sitting in Mannafest one night and not being happy at the big event. Yes we had lots of people, but those people were not engaging in an authentic way. I remember being challenged with how Jesus dealt with the crowd. He spoke to them and basically gave them a choice. He made it hard for them to continue following. A big criticism of Mannafest was that it played into the whole event-junkie-monthly-top-up-emotional-experience. So I can remember thinking we should change our efforts and focus from evangelism (shallow) to discipleship (deeper). In reflection, this could have been a bad choice. I believe we made a deliberate change in direction. Some young people and youth leaders commented that they couldn’t bring their non Christian friends along to Mannafest anymore.
We were hit big when we had to move venues due to the closing of the Ulster Hall for refurbishments. Ulster Hall is the home of Mannafest. It’s not attached to any denomination so people don’t feel like we are attaching ourselves with any particular church.
When I was asked to take over Mannafest, I believe God spoke to me from Judges 7. Here Gideon starts of with an army of 32,000 and God sifts them down to 300 committed soldiers. I sat with Steve and talked through how we wanted to make disciples – not just Christian converts who might fall away when they hit 18. I also believed it was time to rebuild and restructure for the future. I felt the speakers over the past couple of years had become Christian comedians. They weren’t teaching from the Bible and while they got a physical response from young people, it was always the same people who went up. Or even worse, the kids that had been talking the whole way through the talk went up!
I also thought we cant we develop local talent? Why do we have to bring in outsiders? I believe we can become a sending country again. Maybe Mannafest wasn’t the right platform to give younger local speakers? But I believe in these people. I love their hearts for young people and for communicating God’s word. I believe we are investing in the future. It will have long term effects, which we probably won’t see for a while.
We have also noticed that a lot of youth leaders have stopped coming. This could be because they don’t know or like the local speakers. We have noticed that a lot of youth events now happen on Friday and Sunday nights, so Saturday is their night off. Also Mannafest has been said to be a glorified youth fellowship now. Everybody is doing their own type of Mannafest. However there is something about bringing life to the city. A minister once said to me if you can capture a city, you inherit the land. There is something about meeting together in the city centre to pray for our country. Bluetree sing, “Greater things are still to be done in this city.” Mother Teresa said, “It’s not about doing great things, it’s about doing small things with greater love.” There is also a song that says, “Knowing you Jesus – there is no greater thing!”
My heart is for young people to get to know God more. We can have youth events with the best bands, the best speakers or worse speakers, lights, cameras, action but what I fear we are in danger of is having over entertained under challenged young people. I want the balance of having a professional and passionate event, with one that has values of reality, authenticity and depth. My question is – is this the job of Mannafest? Surely it is the job of the local church. I have been told discipleship can only take place in the context of the local church – but surely discipleship can and should happen anywhere and everywhere, even at a monthly event. And I don’t just want to make converts; I want to be in Jesus’ business of making disciples.
So does Mannafest have a future?