Well that was an interesting week.
First a little history. My first experience of Newday was as a youth leader for Kings Church London back in 2007. We took a 100 plus young people from Catford, SE London to Uttoxeter race course in Derby. In a nutshell I felt for the young people we brought with us. Most were Newfrontiers veterans who grew up in this movement and were well accustomed to camping. Talks by Joel Virgo and Stef Liston, seminar streams and Paul Oakley and Matt Redman style worship were the norm. But for many of the young people it was like being a fish out of water. Inner city children, many black, were expected to engage with a culture which was completely foreign to them. Even for myself, aged 29 at the time, and had been in Newfrontiers for 7 years, found the Newday environment a difficult one to participate in and to connect with. The one attempt to engage with these Catford young people was a tent with two broken turn tables playing inappropriate Hip Hop for a Jesus Camp.
I left confused and disheartened and wondered how the gospel could possibly be presented to inner city children in a more accessible way. All around the main meeting, I saw predominately white middle class children meeting with God powerfully, being equipped and commissioned for mission, while inner city children (white & black) were outside the big top meeting, left to their own devises. My own experience of Jesus Camp, Spring harvest was similar but that was in the 80’s and 90’s. Surely we had moved on?
After the 2008 Newday, I was done. I had just helped plant Emmanuel Church London with Stu Gibbs and I was working for the Lewisham Youth Offending service. My two main passions were being met and I trusted God that when the time was right I would re-visit my ire and vexation of Newday. What I didn’t expect was for that opportunity to arise so quickly. It was early 2009 when I was asked by Newday, Jaz Potter specifically, to develop a cafe that would engage the ‘urban youth’ at Newday. Although I have problem with the term ‘urban’, I decided to take on the challenge. We owed it to the increasing number of inner city youth coming to Newday to provide something they could relate to.
At Newday 2009, The Rhythm Factory was born. With the help of my wife and many people from Emmanuel Church London, we developed dance, music production, beatbox and graf workshops for the daytime element of the The Rhythm Factory. In the evening we managed to attract the best in ‘urban’ gospel talent featuring the likes of Faith Child, Victizzle, Tunday, Jaharziel and a 19 year old kid from Essex called Guvna B who had an anthem called Kingdom Skank circulating on the scene. It worked well. Ok thats an understatement. It kicked off. Guvna B even performed Kingdom Skank in the main meeting. Finally these young people had a home. Churches from Catford, Bermondsey, Croydon were happy, the ‘Bosses’ were happy and I was happy. Job done.
Then August 2011 happened.
By this time we had being delivering the Rhythm Factory at Newday for 2 years and the format had been established. In my own walk with God, I was about to be made an Elder at Emmanuel Church London and I was preaching regularly. One of the many problems with me is that I get bored easily. I was already thinking that the format of the Rhythm Factory was getting tired. I felt we needed to be not just giving the children entertainment, not just teaching them how to Kingdom Skank but solid biblical teaching preparing these inner city children for a post Newday world was necessary. Many of these young people come from the most horrific circumstances – domestic abuse, sexual abuse, gang violence, substance misuse and poor mental health. In my job, I was dealing with gang violence and teenage murders weekly. I still felt Newday were not providing answers to these specific issues, for these specific type of young people who were now attending Newday on mass. To be honest, why would they? The issues in Lewisham compared to Eastbourne were worlds apart. But I still felt if Newday were opening up the gates to this new demographic, then provide for their needs. If I’m honest it felt like as long as the Rhythm Factory provided a place for these kids to have a good time, we ticked a box. The problem was that when we spoke to these kids on a level, crazy situations and confessions would come out of the conversations. There was no where to park these discussions. My dissatisfaction was growing.
The weekend after the 2011 Newday, the riots happened. I felt for the children in the RF had been entertained at Newday but I had done them a disservice by not equipping them to the harsh reality the riots brought to the forefront of their lives.
I was done. Finished. The next two years of Newday, I deliberately kept my distance. I was angry, frustrated and annoyed that Newday didn’t see the urgency of teaching specifically to these inner city youth. I saw these children as future leaders, game changers, movers and shakers for Christ. Why did no one else see this? I was upset that what I saw on the main stage didn’t represent their reality and that it appeared that only a few people cared what was happening to these inner city young people. I wanted no part of this. I was happy to focus on my role at Emmanuel and continue fighting the fight at local and central government level in my job.
But I couldn’t get these verses out of mind:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:16, 17 ESV)
The fatherless generation has always played a massive part of why I do Newday and this theme of fatherlessness kept returning to me. A lot of these children from inner city situations had no one to look up to and no one to listen to. The gospel, the answer to understanding who we truly are, was not reaching these young people. Early in 2013 my friend, Owen Hylton, asked me to get back involved in the RF. Owen, now on the management team at Newday, had observed how impactful the RF could be, but also found its lack of bite and reach frustrating.
After a two year break, I felt the time was right to get back involved, but on one condition. We were allowed to run a seminar stream, hosted by the Rhythm Factory for the type of young people we would normally see attending our cafe. I wanted complete control of design, planning and implementation of the stream. Owen agreed and #YOLO #SWAG #PEAK was born.
The basic premiss was to host a week of deconstructing contemporary POP and HIP HOP culture, equipping young men and women to live powerfully through Christ in their day to day lives, looking specifically at the biblical principles in Romans 12. In my experience of working with young people, they can only really focus fully for about 20-25 minutes, so we wanted interaction. Each seminar had a 5 minute video testimony, a talk which was no longer than 25-30 minutes long and then a 30 minute ministry time.
Myself and the fantastic Charlie Rumsby from Revelation Church created and hosted the stream. The five seminar talks were 1) #YOLO (YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE) by myself, exploring what Romans 12 says about Y.O.L.O culture and asks the question ‘Who or what are you conforming to?’ 2) Watch the Throne by Charlie Rumsby examining the topic of belonging, looking at what Romans 12 has to say about the issues peer pressure, gang association and identity. 3) OBEY! – Obedience is boring, right? by Dan Frammingham looking at what Romans 12 says about being obedient and being consistent in your Christian walk 4) God Forgives, I Don’t by Tristan Newman looking at what Romans 12 says about anger, conflict and the power of forgiveness and finally 5) #thatpower by myself and Livy Gibbs exploring the Bible’s definition of power and to facilitate the Holy Spirit to unleash #thatPOWER on those in the seminar.
The response from delegates, youth leaders and has been overwhelming. “real” “straight talking” “easy to understand” “life changing” “relatable” have been some of the words used. One youth leader even said “thank you for cutting out the bull s***” (are we allowed to swear as Christians?). All the ministry times went over by about an hour. Young people who would not normally go to the main meeting were meeting with God powerfully. It was such a beautiful thing to see. One pleasant surprise was the diversity in the room. We were averaging 250-300 young people a day in our seminars and it was such a mix in terms of ethnicity. I have always said that things have changed. Attempting to navigate through popular culture is no longer such a niche task. When I was a teen and wanted to listen to music or watch things that were not mainstream, I had to really hunt for the things that interested me and subcultures developed. Now, with the Internet and fast moving technology, everyone can access everything so easily. Barriers have come down. What an inner city youth listens to is now the same as a kid from the valleys.
A personal highlight was my good friend Tristan’s talk on forgiveness. We prayed and fasted as a team and church before Newday and someone brought a picture that our seminars would be like a thunderstorm, like the heavens opening in our seminar stream. This happened – literally (we had buckets to catch the water) when Tristan spoke. God moved so powerfully. Tristan opened up about the most personal and private things and young people responded. What I also loved, was the synergy of our seminar with Joel Virgo talking on forgiveness in the 15-18’s in the big top on the same day. This wasn’t planned but I think this is a good model for the future. The fact that Joel plugged our seminar meant we were not seen as an additional extra but part of the DNA of Newday. It was a good look.
This quote from the Newday news letter meant a lot to myself and the team:
“The Rhythm Factory has always been a popular venue, particularly with young people from urban contexts. The team are going all out this year to ensure that the teaching meets their needs as much as the entertainment does. From what we’ve seen, they’re doing a great job of engaging minds as well as hearts”
I met some incredible people this week. Young people are truly great. From ‘Man Like Malcom’ to the girls from the Plumstead church who were ever present, there were some fantastic youth who I will be forever inspired by. The motto in the Rhythm Factory was that God Transforms Minds, to Transform Lives so you can Transform Cities #TTT. This is my prayer that the people who were at Newday go back equipped, filled with the Holy Spirit and have an increased love and understand for the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, applying it to their day to day lives.
My last point, is really a plea to the bosses of Newday, not to give up on thinking about the diverse demographic at this event. This isn’t just a black and white thing. It was great that we had Darrell Tunningley on the Wednesday evening and Tope Koleoso on Friday evening but I challenge Newday to keep looking outside the box when it comes to speakers and with regards to the format of Newday. Presentation is everything and I do feel for some of the more marginalised young people, when they look up on the main stage they are put off. They do not see anyone they can relate to. It goes deeper than just having a black man in a cap on stage singing with Simon Brading. Who has authority on stage?, who hosts the meeting?, who is invited up to pray or lead a response? It’s a bit like when you first meet a girl who you might be interested in. You are first attracted by how they look. The rest comes later. For many children the same applies when they are in the big top. I’m not calling for the sacking of Stu Gibbs, Simon Brading et al but I am calling for a deliberate consideration for the changing face of the delegates coming to Newday. I would personally like this reflected on stage and throughout marketing of Newday.
Finally I would like to thank some people. Phil Gray and Owen Hylton for their continued support and dedication to myself, the vision of Rhythm Factory and Newday in general. The fantastic Rhythm Factory team for their dedication, hard work, laughter, joy and professionalism throughout the week. Guvna B for just being a decent and humble chap who continues to serve year on year. All the seminar speakers who poured out their hearts and souls to make this stream work. Special shout out to Charlie Rumsby for believing the vision and helping me to construct something fresh and new (all those meetings paid off mate). To Claire Bulman and Laura Price who allowed me to focus fully on the seminars while you took control of running the RF during the day and evening.
Thanks for a great week.
See you in 2014
Video testimonies shown in The Rhythm Factory 2013:
Gem’s Story from First Light on Vimeo.
Charlie’s Story from First Light on Vimeo.
Rebekah’s Story from First Light on Vimeo.
Dominic’s Story from First Light on Vimeo.