by Mike Stark (Children’s, Youth & Community Worker)
Historically, we haven’t had many ‘Christian’ young people in Niddrie Community Church. We have a vibrant and active work among children and youth in the community, yet this is almost exclusively evangelistic, rather than discipling. So, with a few exceptions, there’s a bit of a disconnect between a Sunday morning service, and the work we’re doing the rest of the week.
As we move forward as a church, with the long-term goal (10-20 years) of growing future indigenous leaders, we’re looking to focus on the children’s and youth work, and invest heavily in these ministries in the hope that God will bless us with young people coming to faith. Recently, we’ve signs of promise:
- A small group of girls from our Youth Café are meeting up in our flat with my wife and another leader to go through the Soul DVD series and to talk about Christianity. One of these girl’s has been coming regularly on a Sunday morning.
- One young person from the school, who is extremely keen, has been coming to Sunday services faithfully every opportunity he gets for a couple of weeks now.
- Another school-leaver has been coming with me to the morning prayer meetings and studying the Bible with me afterward every day for over 2 weeks.
- In addition to the one-2-one’s I’m doing with some of the young men, another group will be meeting up for the first time this Friday afternoon to go through the Soul DVD series.
Of course, we don’t measure success on the basis of young bums in seats on Sunday mornings; that’s not the way to gauge the spiritual temperature of young people. However, bearing in mind our context and the relative absence of Christian young people – the fact that the spiritual temperature of our average young person is… well dead – we’ve got to be encouraged by seeing young people coming to Sunday services and engaging in things like Bible studies and prayer meetings. Exciting things are happening and it’s apparent that God is at work in our children and youth ministry in Niddrie and we seem to be on the brink of at least a few young people coming to faith
The question is: are we ready for them?
God, in His grace, has stirred a bit of interest in the Gospel specifically, and spiritual things generally, in the hearts and minds of our young people. In anticipation of His goodness, and as we wait expectantly for young people to be saved, we need to be thinking about the next step. What are our plans for the nurture and discipleship of these young believers? Are we ready? I think, at the moment, the honest answer is no. As we’ve seen glimmers of hope with different individuals over the last 6 months, Mez has said to me a few times that perhaps growth is slow because the Lord is being gracious and patient with us. Knowing our limitations, He’s giving us no more than we can bear, yet stretching us and challenging us, leading us on in the way He will have us go.
Here are a few short thoughts I have, in no particular order, on how we can ready ourselves for the coming years.
1) Invest in the Children’s and Youth Ministry Team
Investment can take a number of forms. Leaders need to be trained to fulfill their tasks well, and communicated to, so that they understand why we are doing certain things and be made aware of different needs. I have plans in hand for training leaders and for stimulating growth in their different areas of responsibility.
As young people come to faith, like any baby, they’ll need constant support and attention. I simply don’t have the time/energy to provide that for every young person that comes to faith, all the while investing in new relationships with unbelievers in the community and running a number of key ministries. I will need leaders who are equipped and encouraged to do this alongside me. Initially, I’ll need to model this to them, but, eventually, they’ll need to actually follow my example and invest in young people. They will need to see me doing it, and follow suit themselves. So I need to be inviting leaders to join me in doing some of the stuff I do with young people so that they ‘see me’ doing it.
2) Plan a ‘curriculum’ for Christian growth
Where do we go from the Soul DVD series? In the past, the church has used resources like Stranger On The Road To Emmaus, and The Cross: Finding Life In Jesus’ Death with some of our new believers. How appropriate are these for our young people? The Stranger series has a DVD companion, but it’s really cheesy! And I’ve ordered a copy of their youth version, so look out for a review soon… I’m also open to other suggestions if you have any.
The advantage for us is that, with a small number of Christian young people (on their way, we pray), we will be able to tailor material to suit the individual. Traditional Christian youth groups will not have this luxury and will normally decide on material to suit the collective as a whole. As our ‘collective’ grows, we will probably look to carve out a suitable time in the week where they can meet to grow together and encourage each other in their faith.
Eventually we WILL want to be encouraging each of them to come along to services on Sunday mornings because that’s where the bulk of our teaching is done. It’s important for them to engage with other members of the church, appreciate the diversity of Christian experience in the church and to realise how much they can learn things from other church members that they wouldn’t otherwise learn from their youth leader/mentor. Conversely, we mustn’t underestimate all that they’ll contribute to the wider church, initially in terms of encouragement of other believers seeing them engage and grow, but later in terms of their spiritual gifting and opportunities to serve and lead.
3) Start thinking 3 steps ahead
Unless we are looking to the future and asking ourselves: ‘Where’s this going? What next?’ then we’ll run the risk of idling as we slip into maintenance mode. To avoid stagnation, we need to be constantly thinking 3 steps ahead.
Take, for example, the work at our local High School. We have a really exciting work going on up there, but what happens if the rug is pulled from beneath our feet and the school is closed (as has been discussed!) – where are we then? What other schools are we investing in, or are all our eggs in the one basket?
We need your prayers as we move forward into this exciting new phase. Please pray for our many young people, that their eyes would be opened to the reality of the Gospel and their hearts transformed under the Lordship of Christ. Pray for us too, for wisdom, vision and foresight. And thank God for his patience with us!