For the past few weeks I’ve been blogging about an evangelical documentary on youth ministry from the States, produced in association with the National Centre for Family Integrated Churches, called Divided.
So far I’ve been quite critical about the film but, as I’ve said before, they do make what I consider to be some valid points. One of the concerns raised by Divided is over the youth ministry practice of some churches, which employ worldly fun and flashiness as a means of reaching young people.
Agreed: the church cannot promise truth, and then deliver foolishness! However, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this movie does seem to have a rather limited view of youth ministry, assuming it to be a youth programme for largely churched young people. Not so with Niddrie, and we don’t really do flashy here either – our Sunday church services are pretty traditional, we don’t even have a smoke machine.
In Niddrie, our young people are almost exclusively unbelievers and completely ‘unchurched’. That means the vast majority of the youth work undertaken by the church is relational and evangelistic. My young people are by definition ‘worldly’, their minds are set on things that are on earth, not things that are above (Colossians 3:2). So at some level, I need to be able to engage them, without succumbing to worldliness myself, and point them to a better way in the Lord Jesus.
One of the things we started a few years back was a group for boys (11–16 years) on a Friday afternoon. They have a half day at school on a Friday, so they’re by and large free from about lunchtime. We’d take them out of Niddrie to do a variety of activities with them: sailing, skiing, Pizza Hut, LaserQuest etc; the goal being to invest in these guys and share the Gospel with them in a relational and informal way. Over the years we’ve taken many opportunities to share the Gospel with these guys through conversation and curiosity; we’ve explained what/why we believe, we’ve shared our testimonies, and this is exciting.
The cynic would say that we’re looking to win these guys with fun. Perhaps its a blessing then that our church has had a spending freeze (including youth work) for the last year, and so the activities must either cost nothing, or be inexpensive, paid for through the boys subscriptions (£1 a week) and anything we can raid from the café pool table (which brings in about £10 a week). We’ve been creative in our activity ideas and this has really helped us assess our priorities and keep the Gospel foremost.
Sometimes when the boys complain that we’re not going to Pizza Hut or LaserQuest any more, I remind them that what’s important is the relationships, not the activities. They seem to get this and, generally, we haven’t had any reduction in the number of guys who come along. They know the leaders who come are there to spend time with them, to invest in them; they’re not there for the sake of the activity.
On the other hand, sometimes (like last week) having sent out our mass text message on the Thursday night saying that we’re going to be having a paper aeroplane competition from the top of a 100ft tower out in the countryside, none of them bother turning up. Hey ho! (Instead we ended up getting to know another couple of guys from the community by paying pool with them for an hour or so).
Perhaps this week, when we send out the text message, we can trick them into thinking we’re going to Pizza Hut, then do the paper aeroplane thing instead..!? What do you think?