Prayer. Yes, I know – start with the obvious! However, this is so often overlooked. Let me say this is not just about prayer meetings (which in my experience can often be filled with people talking about what we need to pray about and why prayer is so important and then we might squeeze in 5 minutes of prayer at the end), but just modelling an attitude and the habit of praying. When you meet with people to catch up over a coffee or chat about ministry stuff in the church – pray together. Email prayer bulletins; seek the Lord together for what HE wants for your local church, youth group, community. Be open in your prayer time to what God is saying . . . I know, again this might be obvious – but, do we do this? Do we miss the Kairos moments because we forget to say, “Lord, guide me today” or “Jesus, please be with me in this conversation.” Or simply, “What do you want me to do here Lord?” Kairos is simply the time that is NOW, right this moment – Jesus had them all the time – because he prayed! When Jesus says, “I only do what the Father says.” (John 5:19; John 8:28; John 12:49).
There is a great story told by Juan Carlos Ortiz in his book “Disciple” – which is about revival in Argentina during the 1970s – on one side of a road, in their church a group of Protestants are gathered together praying; on the other side of the road a group od Catholics are praying – to both groups God says, “go outside”. They obey – and bump into each other! They realise they have been praying for the same things, God wants a united Church – under the Lordship of Christ they come together!
WHAT could happen if your personal prayer life and the prayer life of your church and / or youth group was transformed? What might be possible if your young people encountered Jesus for themselves through spending time in prayer? How will you model this and be an example?
Profile. What is the profile like of your church or youth group? Does anyone know what happens behind the doors of the church or in the hall the youth club meets in (apart from those who are already part of it)? How do people know what is going on? Again, you might be thinking – um, this is obvious! But, I was recently at a Church and their notices and signs outside simply had the name of the Church – nothing else, they didn’t have a website, they were a bit tucked away . . . unless you were going to that precise building – you wouldn’t know it was there.
Profile is not about saying “look how fantastic we are” (being boastful) nor is it about “please, notice us – we NEEEED you” (which is desperate!) but about thinking together – how might you raise the profile of the church and / or youth group by being a blessing to the community you are in, what could you do – that is not about getting people to come to the church, but about mobilising your congregation or young people to GO and meet others, engage with others and be a blessing – not to GET anything – but to GIVE. This MASSIVELY raises the profile of the Church. From a decent website that is clear about what the Church people do (activities, events, resources and support, weddings, baptisms, funerals, rooms for hire) not just – as some websites are – what the Church building is (how ever lovely the stained glass might be and the altar and the nave and the general architecture – yes, these are amazing in many of our churches – we have some of the oldest buildings dedicated to worship in the country across Sussex . . . but, we also need to say and demonstrate and raise the profile of what and who the local church is TODAY – a vibrant place with people ready to meet and be friendly and welcoming to new comers).
WHAT is your church known for in your community? What is your church’s DNA – what makes you tick? It might be the youth work – or you might be known for your choral music – whatever it is, RAISE the profile – we have too many hidden gems. What is precious about your church community might become precious to others . . . if they knew about it.
Presence. This is about turning up. Being there. Sometimes the thing we can best do in some situations is “be there”. So much going on across our society is transient or temporary, there are fads and fashions – things that are popular for a moment and then gone. It might be high street shops; it might in some cases be where the high street is! Some of our churches are so ancient that they are situated where the village or town used to be – back in the Middle Ages. Are we “present” and alongside those in our community where they actually are. Presence is about meeting people where they are at – not simply expecting them to come to where we are. The Church is present. When other things come and go – we are still here. At times we might be struggling, but can we provide to our communities consistency and continuity in a shifting world?
How can you be present and alongside the young people in your community? It is not always about doing things – sometimes it is simply about being available, letting others know of your availability. Being at Village fetes, craft fairs, the town meeting – engaging with the things that matter in the community your are in. Sometimes tragedy strikes and being present is what we can offer – standing with people in their pain and distress, weeping with those who weep.
I once made my presence known to a new school in my community, I went and met the head teacher and simply said, “I am here”, “Your local church is here – let me know if you need anything.” That was in the September, it was a brief meeting – the school had just opened . . . three months later, the head teacher got in touch – “one of our teachers has died suddenly, can you help us?” It was awful. The students in the school were just Year 7 (the school were going to grow, year group by year group), these children had no older youth to give them a steer. I couldn’t do much. I was present with them. I helped with a reflection in an assembly and helped the school think about what kind of memorial might be fitting.
I have also bee pretty rubbish with my “presence” . . . I was involved in leading children’s work at church some years ago and I would often tell the children who came to junior church how important and special they were, how much I and the children’s team enjoyed being with them each Sunday morning etc. All of that was true – whilst I was in the junior church hall leading the session, but – once I had got back into church and was mingling with adults having my coffee and rich tea biscuit the children were out if sight, out of mind. One day, there was this little tug on my trouser leg. I was irritated, didn’t this 7 year old know that this was MY time to talk to grown ups – I had “done” the children’s group for another Sunday . . . whoops. I managed to make my facial features smile warmly. I then had a great conversation with this 7 year old about what we had been doing in junior church and he had a load of questions about Jesus and God and the Trinity and . . . well, I nearly missed it. A thought then struck me – how many times HAVE I missed it because I have decided when to be present and when to switch off. This is not about the need for appropriate boundaries – which are VITAL. But, it is often when we are not “on duty” that we have the most significant conversations with children and young people – when we choose to be present.
Practice. We have all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect”. Well, how often do we do stuff again and again until we get it? In our Christian lives, and the lives our young people this takes constant practice! We must “practice” the spiritual disciplines of reading the bible, prayer, solitude, celebration etc. We must also be so “practiced” that is natural to share these with our children and young people. Sometimes we can go through seasons in Church where we have a particular focus – but, certain things need to be our constant practice. This is true in our church as a whole, but also in our youth groups and children’s groups. What would our children and young people know about following Jesus simply by observing our regular practices when we are at church?
I love the story of Jeremiah being called to be a prophet. It is amazing!! Here is this young man, insecure and unsure – called by God, but he doesn’t think he can do it – so he tells God that! “I am only a child” (Jeremiah 1:7) God then shows Jeremiah how it is going to work – He says to him, “What do you see?” Jeremiah replies – “I see an almond tree”. (This isn’t an actual almond tree right in front of him, Jeremiah is seeing prophetically as God enables him), God then says – “Yes, you are right and I am watching to see that my word is being fulfilled.” In the original language, the word for almond tree and the word for watching are very similar. God was playing a word game with Jeremiah! Jeremiah was practicing His gift of prophecy – at no point after this does Jeremiah go off to God’s people and say, “The Lord says to you . . . ALMOND TREE!” It was simply practice!
What are we practicing with our young people – what are the key habits of the Christian life that we are passing on to the next generation? How can we practice the things they really need to grow in Christ?
Persistence. We have to keep going. Things will be tough, growing stuff is not easy (come and look at my garden – no, actually don’t – it is too embarrassing). We are told if we follow Jesus that we will suffer. We can see that in all kinds of different ways. We must not give up though! Jesus endured the cross because of the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12 verse 2); we have incredible promises in scripture – “no eye has seen and no ear has heard what God has in store” – you and I cannot IMAGINE the good stuff that God has lined up for us (1 Corinthians 2 verse 9) . . .
My daughter and I went out for a cycle together when she was about 3. I say cycle together – but it was me doing the cycling, while she sat on the child’s seat behind me like a princess waving at anyone that would glance in her direction. It was fine when we were going down hill – but it was a different story coming back up the hill to get home. I was tired, hot and miserable – it had been fun, but now it was just hard work. What’s the pay off here? Why can’t our house be at the bottom of this hill rather than at the summit (it felt like a summit!), then out of nowhere, while I am huffing and puffing up the hill my 3 year old daughter exclaimed “I’m so happy!” Just a spontaneous declaration of how she was feeling – well, I struggled to get home after that, not because it was hard work anymore – but I couldn’t see through my tears! THIS is what being a dad is about, I then thought – this is SO worth it!
Maybe you are better than me – but that got me thinking about my effort and the completely unexpected payoff! WOW, it was so cool and still is as I remember it – that was five years ago. That is the other thing about persistence, when we stay the course – when we keep going instead of giving up, when we see God with us in the tough times. We will not forget that He is faithful. And part of our persistence sometimes is simply to remind ourselves OVER and over again, as we need to do of what God has DONE for us – that means we can trust him NOW.
When God’s people stopped persisting in telling the story of what God had done for them, (and this is said to them again and again especially through the Old Testament) they wondered away – they had forgotten what God had done for them in the past, so they did not trust God for their today – or their tomorrow.
How are you persisting? Are you seeing fruit or does it feel like dry ground? Don’t’ give up!
Pray, raise the Profile, be Present, get Practicing and be Persistent.
And see what God will do!