Refreshing our vision for youth and children’s ministry

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Two cheers for this tweet from Michael Bird.

Bird is engaging with the problem about why young people too often walk out of church and Christianity as soon as they can.  He correctly identifies some significant issues with age based ministry.  His primary concern is that what we do with kids and teens can become an afterthought and youth and children’s workers become glorified baby sitters.

If a church is in a position to appoint a youth or children’s worker, then they should take the matter seriously.  This is not just a way of getting an extra body onto staff on the cheap. Nor, should people see youth ministry as a stepping stone to pastoral ministry later.  Discipling kids and teens is a worthy calling in its own right.

Some churches and some theological colleges do take it seriously.  At Oak Hill, everyone studied the core theological requirements together. Whether you were a potential pastor or vicar, youth worker, children’s and families pastor, women’s worker or missionary, you studied Old and New Testament, Doctrine, Church History, Ethics and homiletics together.  There were then specialist models relevant to your specific vocation.

However, I don’t think Bird goes far enough.  Partly I say this because a lot of churches are simply not in a position to afford to pay additional staff members, many are struggling to support one.  Partly, it’s that I’m not convinced that sending our teenagers off into separate streams is the answer. I remember a fellow theological student telling me that they’d been working with students at University and found that many Christian students were turning up having never been part of the whole church body.  In fact, I met one guy who even as he was starting to train for the ministry was for the first time getting to spend significant time with the church gathering.  He had gone to Sunday school as a kid, all the way up to 18. At University he had been at a church that ran a separate students service. Then, he had found himself leading youth and student ministry.

The latter is perhaps an extreme example and I’m hoping he was exaggerating for effect. However, even allowing for exaggeration, it feels a little bit close to the bone.  Here’s the thing. If we give the impression to our kids that Christian faith is about working through a topical curriculum and attending a club with a few games, some “healthy snacks” and a short epilogue, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they want to get out as soon as they are old enough.  It’s easy to leave a club. It is however, much harder to leave your family.

So, this is where I think the missing ingredient is from Bird’s critique.  Supposing we work hard to get away from these strands and streams within the church? Supposing we start thinking again about what it means to be a family of God’s people together? 

This will mean that pastors and elders will see themselves as responsible for everyone within the church family, regardless of age.  Imagine then a situation where young people were engaged with the sermon because the preacher prepared expecting them to be in the service and listening.  Imagine if he took time to answer their questions.  Supposing he planned his pastoral visits, Baxter style, to coincide when the family were all at home and to see everyone. 

Imagine a church where when there were specific groups for children and young people that the elders prioritised being on the rota to go and serve in those groups just as highly as they prized their turn on the preaching rota. 

That could be quite something.

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