My beautiful friend Richard Passmore of Streetspace & FYT and Sunday Papers stood in front of a crowd of youth workers on Monday and courageously said the above statement out loud.
See it might sound like a funny concept for some of you but I completely agree with him.
In fact if you have read any of my posts you would of come across me saying several times it would be crude of me to share the details of situations and conversations that I am privileged to be part of. I believe whole heartedly in the power of sharing testimony, for us to build up the body of the church but I disagree with pimping out stories of young people. Perhaps you have never thought about it in that term before but instead of getting caught up on my use of the word 'pimping' please read on ...
Some of us as youth workers or ministers are afforded a place of privilege, we get to stand in front of others and share our experiences, to equip and enable, to inspire and challenge. But too often when stories of actual young people are shared from those platformed places of privilege it is not to glorify God or even to congratulate the achievement of the young person but more to say 'aren't we doing a great job'. I agree not all cases are like this but inevitably many are. The stories that are shared often fall into two categories:
1) They aim to break your heart
All youth workers and ministers working alongside people will have stories that fall into this category. If they don't then one might be as bold as to ask what it is they are doing with their time. But most of these stories are not our stories to share. They belong to the person who has lived them. These stories are not for me to share. Do you recall the game of Chinese Whispers? Remember the difference from what is said at the beginning to what is shouted at the end? The story changes as it is shared, we each put our interpretation on the story and mutates, morphs, grows, sometimes into something that is unrecognisable from that what actually happened. When we share the stories of others we do this too, we change words to make it more acceptable, we put our slant on the story and sometimes it becomes unrecognisable. It is always better if the person is enabled to share their story in their words. Can we use our platforms of privilege to share others real experiences? Could you ask them to write something, to record something, to film something? And if you don't feel comfortable asking for that, then perhaps you shouldn't feel comfortable with sharing their story in the first place. For it is theirs and not ours. We should not sell their story to make a profit for ourselves.
2) They aim to convince you we are successful
Yes some times we get things right, we say the right thing to the right person at the right time. Praise the Lord! But most of what happens is not this, we get things wrong, we say the wrong things, we upset, frustrate, distract people from God and these are the stories we don't share. Success sells in the wider world and sadly it does to in our Christian sub culture too. What would it look like if everyone on the platform shared a failure? What if the opening line to every conference speaker was 'There was this time when I totally stuffed up...' Would people be interested in 'Why my youth group failed' or 'how I managed to get fired' or 'this week I have been a pain in the arse to ...' See most of my stories are about when I have got it wrong, what I don't know and to be honest how crap I am. But these are not the stories we share. We share about how big our work is (we count both feet rather than heads lol) we share about the times we did good things, when we led people to Jesus, when we preached a great sermon and so very often we forget to acknowledge the part played but others and even sadly God. We give people a show case, an edited version of our reality that is often far far away from the real truth.
I do not want to pimp out others stories or ride on an edited version of the truth to my story. Yes some of what we do down here in Sunny Bournemouth is alright but most of it is small and most of it by accident and all of it is because God is good and we are alright sometimes.
So if you want to know what cyber bullying looks like for LGBT teens don't ask me but check out what these young people have to say.
And if you want the truth of 'success' heres how I stuffed up one day last week, please note worse
things happened but I can't share that with you because I don't pimp out stories of others ;-)
So I was at a conference the other day and someone was sharing their story with me, it was a beautiful heart felt moment of two human beings connected by God in a random place. They were sharing a deeply personal context, when I jump in with 'We are all flawed. If you look in the bible no ones perfect, in fact it is in their flawed'ness that he still uses them.'
The person simply replied 'I don't see myself as flawed'
She was sharing intimate person details and I had asserted that she was flawed, rubbish, less than. Now that was not my intention and of course she is gracious so didn't make a big deal out of it but I stuffed up.
If you are reading this please not my intention wasn't not to make you feel pants but rather to share that it is in our suffering that God is still God, he is still with us and still at work around us. My intention was to make you aware that we are united in our humanity and I did not mean that you are rubbish! I got it wrong, so wrong and I am probably still getting it wrong even now as I try to make it right. For I am human and incredibly flawed!
The above situation is days old but the other thing I have noted about these stories is the time lines often change. We can be guilty of using stories that are old as if they are current. At times it can be said that we are too busy sharing old stories that we have no time to create new ones! I want to be known for my practice with people, lived out in community and not for my old stories that aren't really mine to share and only tell of success. How about you?