In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, genius Sheldon Cooper is not convinced that his take-away Tangerine Chicken dish is right; after all, he would know. In response he attempts to learn a brand new language simply to confront the manager of the take-away food shop asking: “show me you citrus peels.”
We too need to re-examine the way that we develop the spiritual lives of young people, to synergise not only the power and influence found within the church, but equally the power and influence found within the family. Like Sheldon, we need to strive for correction when we are not convinced that the way we currently do ministry is most effective. We may even desire to learn a whole new ‘language’ to best communicate this need for change. Perhaps it is time in ministry to examine the citrus peels, particularly the tasty zest of thinking orange.
Excerpt from: The Big Bang Theory S01E12, The Tangerine Factor
Outline of the Book
In Joiner’s book, Think Orange, he challenges us to think differently about the dualism that has often occurred between church (yellow) and family (red) in the formation and spiritual development of young people. Joiner encourages a new paradigm of ministry: Orange – the idea that the two combined influences can make a greater impact than just two influences: that the church and family must be synchronised in purpose for effective outcomes. He bravely challenges the traditional theories of influence, pointing out five essential ministry movements that can transform the way we be church: integrate strategy, refine the message, reactivate the family, elevate community, and leverage influence.
Multiple Relevant Voices
One thing that Think Orange makes clear is that youth need external mentors outside of their family structure that will say what a Christian parent would say, but with a different voice, in a different way. Sometimes there can be a rift created between church, family, and youth when it comes to who has the responsibility to speak into the lives of young people – parents rightly want control, senior youth rightly want independence, and the church rightly wants to contribute! This active tension is valuable, because as Joiner points out, “it [takes] multiple influences to guard the faith of a generation” (p.73). The key is to synergise these forces by creating structures and programs that allow for healthy mentorship to take place in a church, where parents can have confidence in, and awareness of, the voices their youth are encountering, without hanging over the church or youth in an act of surveillance. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counsellors there is victory.” This is Orange, and this is essential, as it is often within these intimate settings that the relational qualities of the Kingdom message are made personally relevant to young people. Relationship provides the setting for relevance, and a deeper understanding of what issues need to be tackled, and equally, which ones do not: “We are notorious for answering questions they just are not asking” (p.141). The message that we are sharing is already pre-certified by Jesus as life-changing, but we must make it relevant and helpful for the young people we are serving.
Think Orange presents a necessary truth to the table: that there is a time crisis in youth ministry. We need to be honest about the amount of time that we have as a church to actually influence a young person in their spiritual formation. The book talks about the sobering 3,000/40 principle – that at best, the church would have only about forty hours per year to influence a child, compared to three thousand hours that the average parent would spend with their children (p.85). This has huge implications for the way that we do ministry. Firstly, it gives perspective to our ministry. We cannot carry the burden of a young person’s spiritual development alone, and nor should we. Secondly, it prompts us to be very intentional about what we do with the limited time that we do have, asking questions such as, “What do the youth need to hear that they wouldn’t hear at home?” Lastly, it provides us with the impetus to invest energy in partnering with the family unit, leveraging the three thousand hours of influence that they have: “Doing more for the family is the best way the church can have consistent influence in the heart of a child” (p.93). By thinking Orange, the time of influence is shared, not competed for.
Serve Through Transition
Transitioning into university life and culture is a huge step in the life of a young person; everything is new – pressures, networks, jobs, expectations, this is why the stability of community is so essential in times of transition (p.198). Think Orange challenges the common idea that when Year 12’s complete school, we simply hand them off to a university minister – they are somebody else’s problem. But what would it look like to remain connected? As a ministry we must stay connected with these young people by elevating community, not in an unhealthy dependent way, but in a way that creates expectation of relational longevity. We need to begin cultivating this community from early on in ministry – encouraging interaction with the other gender, establishing shared projects: we must move their faith from their head to their hands to impact their heart (p.206). Community provides space for accountability and discovery, while also empowering youth leaders to follow-up the youth that they once, and continue to lead, in a new way. Orange is about having a bigger perspective than simply the six neatly defined years of youth ministry. In John 15:15 Jesus says to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends…” The young people have entered into a new life stage, with new understanding, but they do not do it alone.
This theological reflection just scrapes the surface of the depth of wisdom and insight contained within this book. Think Orange is a new language of ministry, a revolution of thought, yet with a clear contention: to see young people’s lives transformed. Both the church and the family are institutions that will forever prevail, but whether they are isolated parties, or a synergy of holistic discipleship is up to us.
Joiner, R (2009) Think Orange. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook