There is not much that grows while we grip it too tightly.
We have a tendency as adults to think that we know best, we’ve been there and done everything and so we know what is good for the next generation. This is not just a church phenomenon. It is evident across the world in most and possibly every walk of life.
Advertising targeted at teens and making their lives easier is in fact just a way to make money out of them and indeed their parents.
School curriculums are designed to get through a test rather than help them love and learn a subject in depth. If we know that most of the learning we do as drivers is after we’ve passed our test (experiential learning) then why do we insist on repeating failure in schools?
Perhaps it’s because we focus so much on numbers, figures, targets and pay rises that we forget about the human beings, emotions, experiences and souls we are caring for.
You would imagine in church that we would never fall into this trap, after all, we are called to love one another as the body of Christ. Every part has their function and their place. Not one can be thought of as lower than another (1 Corinthians 12). However, we adults in the church have a dramatic tendency toward holding on to the things that suit our personalities and experiences. This could be hymns, organs, waving flags, cool videos or the latest tech. Whatever our “thing” is we can be sure we have one. It’s our form of liturgy (even for those of us who don’t like liturgy much).
I fell into the trap a few years ago of being jealous of those people who stand on stage at big conferences and stated about their worldwide, fancy, well-funded ministry that was changing lives everywhere. I wanted one of those. My vicar though helped me realise that I am a parish youth worker and rather than being a specialist surgeon in one very specific ministry, I was a GP who had to cover a lot of areas to be most effective. This may never be considered glamorous, but it most certainly changes lives.
'This may never be considered glamorous, but it most certainly changes lives'.
I am a passionate believer that if you are struggling for vision in youth ministry or integration of ages in Church at any level you can be sure that spending concentrated and regular time with a young person will inspire you. Shane Claiborne said, “Get ready, God is preparing you for something really, really small...”. If you want to know how you can get more young people into Church, how you can love young people in your community better, how you can make decisions better, how you can make Church better, then start doing something really, really small. Find a young person and start mentoring them.
The future of the church or of youth ministry doesn’t rely on strategy (although this can be helpful), it relies on culture. Culture will not change until we take the time to listen. We listen best, not as a token gesture in a youth service once a year, but through regular and reliable investment in a relationship. We need to change our culture of holding the things which make us comfortable too tightly. We were never, ever called to be comfortable. We were called to make disciples (Matthew 28). We will never have anyone to disciple when we hold on too tightly to what we ‘know’. Start mentoring!
About the Author
Phil is the Youth and Young Adults Officer for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich