Don't grip too tightly!

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 Bailie

Phil is the Youth and Young Adults Officer for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich

Diverse, Reactive, Innovative

Our reflections are that at present, youth ministry within Felixstowe has been diverse, reactive, and innovative. But there are some challenges to come over the next few years. In particular, the difficulty of being a Christian will increase, we think the church will lose the critical mass of young people, and a further challenge may be that this decline is accepted.

It's not all bad news! Some opportunities which present themselves over the next 3 years include:

  • a continued presence in Felixstowe Academy
  • a need for collaboration between churches
  • the Churches knowing they need to engage, and that desire is there
  • the Churches engaging with children and young people of all ages, and it will be really interesting to see how work in primary schools develops belief and practice.

Some of the conversations that have been really inspiring us recently are the good questions being asked by young people at Felixstowe Academy, the young people at church who are passionate about their faith, and adults involved in leading youth work wanting to work more closely together.

Regarding the future of youth work and ministry, what I think it will look like and what I would like us to aspire to are two different things.

You could say that the world in 2020 might not be as different as we might think! While patterns of life and work will continue to change, the need for belonging, affirmation, and community will remain. The challenge for us all is how to communicate the gospel in each and every situation.

Youth ministry in Suffolk by 2020 will continue to look very different in rural to urban contexts. Young people's participation in leadership in 2020 will ultimately depend on attitudes and assumptions within communities and the presence of young people there. There will continue to be areas of good practice and others that struggle to engage, but hopefully, the desire to engage with young people will be more fully worked out in practice

About the Authors

  Rev'd Caroline Allen   Priest in Charge of St Mary Walton and St Martin & St Mary Trimley

Rev'd Caroline Allen

Priest in Charge of St Mary Walton and St Martin & St Mary Trimley

  Rev'd Charlotte Cook   Assistant Curate of St Mary Walton and St Martin & St Mary Trimley

Rev'd Charlotte Cook

Assistant Curate of St Mary Walton and St Martin & St Mary Trimley

Deeper Conversations, Together

Conversations with young people continue to be challenging and exciting.

They continue to challenge their purpose and place on this earth, ask the simple yet sometimes difficult questions about faith and spirituality and are still willing to share with us the things that they struggle with in life. These conversations can be tough but they are also inspiring as they highlight that we still have a place in the lives of young people and a part to play.

We have seen a real shift from events based work to opportunities to work with young people in a deeper way, whether that is through small group work, 1:1 mentoring or Chaplaincy style work.

We have been so encouraged by discussions in schools following our first term of Chaplaincy work. In High School settings, we are getting great feedback on how our Chaplains are fitting it, becoming part of the school and simply being available to students and staff in a way that they haven’t experienced before.


The vast majority of conversations that we are having with young people are centered around self-image, worth and value. It feels like young people are crying out for people to love them, accept them for who they are and champion them.

That is one of our biggest challenges; to ensure that we are available and ready to support them appropriately.

In terms of youth ministry, I believe that we have to find new and creative ways to engage young people with the context of ‘church’.

We don’t appear to be overflowing with young people in church, yet there are plenty of young people out there! How do we engage with them? How do we show the love of Jesus Christ to them in a relevant and meaningful way? How can we be ‘church’ to them without having to meet with them inside a church building on a Sunday morning?

As we start our journey with Chaplaincy work, we genuinely believe that more and more opportunities will arise throughout Ipswich. Many schools are showing interest in the work that we are already doing and so we are encouraged that the approach we are taking has some worth and value to the school setting. I always hope and pray for real and genuine partnership across churches and organisations such as ourselves, including opportunities to work together, share ideas, successes, failures and genuinely encourage each other would be fantastic!


Our dream is to see young people supported, valued and loved for, in their school settings, in a way that they haven’t experienced before. We dream of working seamlessly with local youth workers and other organisations; all with the intention of seeing God’s Kingdom grow.

Can we achieve that by 2020?
Who knows; but I’m up for trying!

About the Author

Simon Scott

Simon is the Director of Christian Youth Ministries (CYM) in Ipswich. CYM deliver Chaplaincy, Children's Work, Residentials and more in schools across Ipswich.