Category Archives: Childrens Ministry

All topics related to childrens ministry will be put in this category

Final Post Here – See New Website!

TheResource_Logo_Col-1For those of you who have joined me on my blog journey for the last four years or so, and for those of you who have recently started following the blog – thank you!

As some of you know, my circumstances changed back in August as I took redundancy from the Diocese of Chichester and began as a Youth and Children’s Ministry Consultant at the beginning of September. I say “began”, but – in reality, I am endeavouring to build and develop on, with God’s help, the 28 years I have been involved in youth and children’s ministry.

With that in mind I have a fresh website, that (as well as including a blog) will have details about training, events, resources and all that I am able to offer those working with children and young people.

Again, if you have watched this blog and occasionally even enjoyed my posts, you will know that actually being consistent has – at times – been a challenge! Weeks can pass with no blog, and then three come along at once . . . !

I can’t keep two things like this running in tandem, so I have migrated all past posts to the new website, and will shortly be shutting this blog down. I do hope you will join me on the new website . . . and if you have been following this blog, maybe take a moment to switch over to the new website – check it out, keep up to date with posts and info on my work.

I would also love your prayers – in this new role I don’t just want to do some good things, but focus on the things God is saying and seeking to be Kingdom minded in all I do.

So, please visit the new website :: www.theresource.org.uk

Thanks again for being with me!

The Plans for our Future!

Dear Friends,

mega update! I have left the whole of what was posted on 10th May – but, a quick update! We now have the start up costs – all £2000 – this is truly humbling and amazing. Thank you so much for your prayers, encouragement and support – for those of you who have already got in touch saying you would like to go on ‘The Resource’ distribution list to receive updates and news – we plan to put the first of those out in the 2nd week of June. Hopefully, a mix of great resources to recommend – a bit more information about how ‘The Resource’ is going to work AND a couple of dates for the autumn that will be regional ‘resource evenings’ one looking at resources for children’s work and one focusing on youth work – sign up through the email address highlighted below if you haven’t already done so!

Many of you know that there has been a re-structuring process at Church House, Diocese of Chichester and, as a consequence, my post “Adviser for work with children and young people” has been deleted and I will be taking redundancy at the end of July 2014.

As a family, we have been on a difficult journey since we first received notification of the re-strucuturing plans in November, but, first we would like to say a HUGE thank you to all the people who have supported us during this time.  We have been very aware of your prayers!

We have spent a lot of time praying and seeking advice from some wise friends and family.  Through all of this, we have continued to feel that we are where God wants us to be, doing what God wants us to be doing.  We are passionate about seeing children and young people meet with Jesus, know His fullness of life and have their lives transformed by His grace and love – and we remain committed to serving God by encouraging, equipping and supporting the church across Sussex in its work with children and young people.

Therefore, at the beginning of September, we are planning to launch “The Resource”, a ministry which will be available to support and equip anyone involved in work with children and young people through training, consultancy, mentoring and running equipping events.

This is both exciting and daunting!  In many ways we are stepping out in faith and trusting that as we follow what we believe is God’s call on our lives, He will provide for us.  Our desire is to generate sufficient income that every church who wants support from me can receive it, regardless of their budget!

And so we are asking if you would pray for us.  We have an amazing support team made up of local church leaders and youth workers and, as we meet with them, please pray we would clearly see God’s footsteps and follow in them.  That we would have wisdom as we begin this next part of our adventure with God and that God would use this ministry to transform the lives of children, young people and their leaders.

If you would like to be on our regular mailing list to receive future updates from us as well as the resource e-news and details of any training events then please let us know on this new email address Email Me .

And, finally, if you can give financially that would be amazing – please let us know if you would like to do that – we reckon, to kick off in September, we need a start up amount of about £2000 (for the purchase of equipment such as phone and lap-top and to enable travel and meetings in the first few months).  As “The Resource” becomes established, we are hoping for an income of about £1500 a month – whether through gifts that enable the work and / or from paid work.

Thanks again for your support, friendship and encouragement.  Do keep in touch and feel free to pass on this blog post!

Long Distance Children’s and Youth Ministry

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Sometimes a blog post is just a cathartic exercise for me. I know who I am, I know what God has called me to do and I seek to get on with it – some days it is good to reflect on the years since the call!

I heard “the call” when I was 15. As I remember, it was a call for those who knew God was speaking to them about full time ministry. I stood up. I just knew. What I didn’t know was how long it was going to take to get there and the crazy, joyful, painful and incredible journey it would be . . . So far!

Well, that was 30 years ago. It started out as ‘full time youth ministry’, which I took to mean ‘give your life to it ministry’ (whatever ‘it’ might be).

Three years later when I was 18, I became Sunday School Superintendent at my church – what a bonkers title! For the next decade, whilst I worked for the Ministry of Defence in everything from general admin to procurement to systems analysis . . . I carried on with Sunday School and began a youth group – I realised I was spending more time preparing for youth group and Sunday school than i was spending doing my day job (they were very understanding) – so – packed it in.

I went part – time in 1996 at my church whilst I did a certificate in youth work (that’s all you could get back then).

I could rattle through all that has followed – but, suffice it to say – my sense of call has firmed up (and continually is firmed up) as ‘children’s and youth ministry’. I have been asked two things repeatedly:

1. When are you going to ‘pick’? – that is one or the other, children’s or youth ministry . . .

And

2. What are you going to do next or when are you going to ‘move on’?

With 1. There is no picking possibility as far as I can see. Working with young people does not begin when they hit 11 and it does not end when they reach 18. It is working with people, but the most incredible, special and creative and spontaneous and baffling people on the planet. Working with children and young people is life on ‘fast forward’ – it is immense to learn and discover so much in every kids group meeting or youth work setting. I could not pick, I love it all. God is present – right in the midst it feels, in an incredible way – with young people. Jesus had special things to say about them and delighted in them. Jesus placed them in the centre if the disciples – we should place them in the centre of our churches. What we pass on to them through what we model – through what we teach, equip, fail at, laugh and cry at, enjoy or loathe – it all goes in! What a scary privilege. I cannot imagine spending my life doing anything else – certainly not picking between children and young people.

With 2. There is no ‘moving on’ because there is no better job, and nothing else I have been told to do. Peace is found when we are doing that which we believe we were put on this earth to do. This is my ‘thing’ – the only thing that has developed from it, and I simply see it as an extension of children’s and youth ministry is to equip others to do the same. Everything you could possibly want out of ministry is found in serving children and young people and those who work with them and for them. Equipping others is mainly through the lessons learnt from failure and arrogance – with a huge helping of grace.

So, it has been a long distance so far – we (as a family) are loving the mid week kids club we are leading – called ‘Breakout’. I ran one in Ealing for seven years, we have been running this one for nearly three now. It is amazing. The kids are great, we are seeing an increase and a growing team. God is good! There is something about consistency – showing up – week in week out. Building presence takes time – children’s and youth ministry is most definitely NOT a place to ‘cut your teeth’ or ‘have a go’ – bundling something real and tangible with young lives needs stability, commitment, endurance and stamina. These are REAL relationships, this is REAL ministry – it is not a practice ground. If you are doing children’s and youth work please, please grasp this!

The longer you are in this ministry – the more amazing it gets. It really does. Seeing young people I have worked with previously heading up youth ministry, seeing young leaders I have worked with go on to ordained ministry (a whole bunch of them!), seeing children grow up in the faith and discover more and more of what God has in store for them – it is truly EPIC stuff.

No greater privilege on earth than seeing a young person who discovers for the first time they are loved by God – and watching them grow to believe it.

Nothing like watching young people demand a bible study before they have become Christians.

No joy like the moment you think a young person has walked out of a meeting (like you knew they would) only to realise they have gone forward for prayer.

Nothing like seeing a young person blossom as a worship leader when they thought they would only ever be playing songs in their bedroom by themselves.

Nothing like seeing a young person ‘preach it’ and blow a congregations socks off with what the Holy Spirit has given them to say.

There is nothing on earth like the feeling in youth ministry of getting out of the way so that young people can flourish, give, serve, lead and minister.

So – I am 28 years in this year to ‘doing this’ 10 as a volunteer, 2 part time, 16 full time. I cannot imagine doing anything else – I know there are some exciting things ahead AND things I just don’t know about . . . But whatever, here is to the NEXT 28 years of children’s and youth ministry.

Participatory ‘Church’ – am I missing something?

A creative and fun Vicar did something creative and fun at a wedding. This has gone viral on youtube and led to said vicar appearing on telly and also led to commentators on such things commentating. Vicky Beeching in particular . . .

The Vicar is Kate Bottley, and as far as I can see is doing a great job. I have not had a chance to watch the video as I am bashing this post out on my mobile and the video is not enabled for mobile devices. I will watch it, I like dancing and I especially like to see a bit of movement in church worship.  I have now watched it – good moves, especially as the vicar boogied up the isle at the end . . . . 😉

In fact, I (and others I know) have frequently led choreographed dance moves from the front of church – (as far as I know it isn’t a ‘flash mob’)- I also became aware that the Harlem Shake was occurring all over the place in churches – yet neither my choreographed dancing, nor these churches having a crack at the Harlem have hit the news like the wedding thing with Kate.

My own moves are part and parcel of what children’s and youth workers do week in week out in churches. Whether it is called leading action songs, choruses or the kids bit – we are up the front, as part of our jobs, creatively trying to engage the congregation (not just the kids!). I don’t think I can remember someone ever saying that what we are doing in leading songs this way is ‘irreverent’ (which apparently, some burks have said to Kate Bottley), what we are doing is worship -but I guess it is only for the kids, so I can loon about at the front of church to my hearts content and to within an inch of a vicars tolerance level because, well – frankly, because I don’t have a collar!

Yes, there, I said it.

Creative and crazy and fun and hilarious stuff is done by children’s workers and youth workers every week as part of their jobs (for some it is a key feature of their personality and they couldn’t do their job without being slightly off the wall), but – as part of her job – a vicar does something a bit creative and different and its headline news.

I walk past people giving their cars a wash, but grab a local vicar in his or her collar and have them wash the car, or abseil down a steeple, or (as a Vicar did in Chichester, put an ice rink in the middle of the church . . . ) and it is NEWS!

I am sorry, but what does this say about Church?  It says to me, if Vicars are doing something it is “happening” and if others do the same, or similar things – well, they are invisible, only lay workers, not ordained people . . . it just strikes me as very weird.  Obviously, doing ministry isn’t about getting in the NEWS, it is about sharing, living, laughing, joyously being a loon for Jesus and bringing good news into peoples lives and into our communities.  Surely though, we are ALL called to do that aren’t we?

Maybe it is just me.

Nobody should be dissing Kate by the way, what she did was great!  It just wasn’t that unusual . . .

The Christian commentators on it, and those looking for “hope” in our churches have jumped on the story though and seem (to me) to have enhanced certain views about what church is that also, I just don’t get!

Maybe it really is me.

Anyway, one of these was about Church being a place where we can participate (Vicky B writing for The Independent) – and I kept seeing the words attendees and congregation and a focus on the building being the church . . . and I felt a bit depressed.  In the CofE we continue to gather what we call “mission statistics” about church attendance on a Sunday – as if this is what determines our effectiveness at making disciples.  I don’t know how many times I have taught and explored faith questions with young people over the last 25 years, but – 1.  The Church is not the building.  2.  Turning up at the building on a Sunday does not make you a disciple of Jesus.  Yet, in our communication with those who are not yet part of a worshiping community our focus continues to be, it seems, “getting them to church” and “how can we increase attendance”.

So, we still have – it seems –

1.  a clerical and hierarchical church (whichever way you cut it, people in collars doing very similar things to people who are not appears to be interesting – not just to other Christians, but also to people looking “in” at the church) . . .

2. a message we reinforce that being “church” means turning up “at”one and being a congregant or an attendee.

Seriously?  IF we keep doing this (and part of it seems to be a response to the interest we receive from those who aren’t Christians – so any positive interest is jumped on) what exactly are we communicating to the next generation?

Being a Dad

father holding handWell, I can hardly believe it but I have an almost eight year old and a five year old (who is going on fifteen) . . . I am a dad! Yes . . .  I know I have been a dad for almost eight years now but it still feels like I am new at this.

As we approach Fathers Day, I have been thinking about it quite a bit.  How important being a dad is (not because I might get a great bottle of beer and some beautiful homemade cards from my daughters, although that is wonderful) but, this being a dad stuff is MASSIVE. In the midst of everything else going on (work, managing money, can we afford a holiday this year, argh the rota from church has just pinged through on my smart phone . . . etc) I don’t want to add something else – but being a dad is not a DAY, (neither is being a Mum, all about Mothers Day), we are in this 24/7 for – well, the rest of our lives.

The thing is, the moments, the days and the weeks are rattling past.

It is a finger snap since my own children were babies and now – they are not.

Guys, lets not miss a thing!

So, what can we do then? Time might be precious, lacking, stressful . . . but our children are not just another “thing” or “task” to squeeze into the day . . . here are some thoughts and places to start if doing “dad stuff” is either an effort, or (now that you think about it) not happening:

1. Read It Daddy! Read stuff with your children, read stuff to your children, be caught reading . . . give it a go! Weekends, if during the week is crazy – just do it.  Do funny voices for the characters, think of a book that made an impression on you as a child, enjoy the pictures and the creative imagination that went into the story . . . there is even a great place to go for inspiration, it’s a blog called, “Read it Daddy” www.readitdaddy.blogspot.co.uk – a dad kicked off this blog with his daughter and they devour books! Check out what is new, and spend some time with a great book. If you catch the reading bug, or want more stuff on that then check this out, right before we hit Fathers Day (so right now) is “Fathers Story Week” www.fathersstoryweek.org sign up for loads of ideas and resources . . .

2. Play! Inside every bloke I know is a big kid, in our own heads I think we “mess about” and think crazy stuff quite a bit. I will let you in on a secret, when I was younger, I used to sit in church and imagine how I might get from one side of the church to the other without touching the floor (there might have been a sermon happening at the same time, I’m hazy on that bit), well – I still do that! Let that imagination out, play with your kids (no, don’t sit them in front of an Ipad . . . ), get down on the floor do the horse rides, the piggy backs up the stairs, go for adventure walks (with children, a mundane walk up the road can be filled with adventure) . . . let your inner child out and PLAY!

3. Get stuck in with Children’s Ministry at Church! Every child needs role models; every child needs role models who are the same gender as they are. Beyond the family, the place where our children are learning and discovering about life with God, following Jesus and being part of the Church is . . . Church! In most churches, part of that is going out with a group of other children to junior church, Sunday school, whatever it might be called . . . what gets to me is how few men get stuck in with this vital ministry. Boys and girls in these groups need to see guys involved, teaching, illustrating, getting passionate about their faith – showing the children that being part of the church, discovering more about Jesus and living for Him is so important that, as a guy, they are in there with the next generation telling them all about it. A lot of children vote with their feet early on that church is “not for them”.  They need to see a good balance of men and women  committing their time and energy.  Get stuck in, don’t leave it to someone else!

4. Encourage other dads. Outside of work or stuff we spend most of our days doing; we can be solitary as dads. Mostly, bumbling along, hoping we are making the right call, doing the right stuff by our children – but not always sure. I loathe the stereotype, but I think some things are pretty true of us guys – we don’t talk much. We say what we need to say. Maybe we could look around in our own community or church and think about how we might encourage other dads – not because we have loads of answers, but because we need that encouragement ourselves! Let’s get over ourselves and just do that. Be bold, grab a few guys from the back of church or corner them in the playground if you do “drop off” or “pick up”, connect with the dads of your own children’s school friends . . . whatever it takes! Just hanging out with other dads can lead to helpful conversations . . . and, if it doesn’t – well, you have had a curry or had a beer – its a win either way!

Finally, some top tips from other dads on what is most important:

“1. You’re not the boss. 2. Give it 5 minutes. 3. Enjoy.”

“Being there for them, loving unconditionally, giving good leadership, being a friend, being a big kid yourself, laugh lots.”

“Never be too busy to make time for your kids! Even if it means financial and personal sacrifice!”

“It’s easy to miss the special times through over tiredness and a belief that working hard enough makes a difference in your kids lives. When you are with your kids, dig deep and demonstrate the love that God has for you as his children by sacrificing your own needs for theirs.”

“Admit when you are wrong.”

“More important than “quality time” with my kids is the need just to be there, not least to support and love their mother, and to be the target of their teenage angst!”

Thanks to all the dads who contributed the above thoughts.

Resources to check out:

“Who Let the Dads Out?” Inspiring ideas for churches to engage with dads and their pre-school children. Published by BRF RRP £6.99

“Schools Out, Dads About” Follow on ideas from the above book. Published by BRF RRP £6.99

www.fatherhoodinstitute.org – This organisation is carrying our research on all things related to “Fathers” and has a load of helpful advice, resources and stuff to challenge and inspire you.

 

Bad Stats for Evangelism Part #1

evangelism21-300x268This has been (and still is) a bit of a journey.  An incredibly frustrating one!  I would think that a load of people who have been in the Church for most of their lives (44 years and counting) might have heard the odd story / illustration more than once from different people – you know, the kind of story that is told in the first person (this happened to me . . . I’m trying to share, be authentic etc) . . . I don’t know, maybe the people in question have told the story so often it has become second nature to tell it – they even believe it actually happened to them!  It’s a bit suspect, but its a story, their purpose in sharing is maybe to attempt self depreciation (with a story that makes them look silly but not a complete lunatic), maybe it is an attempt to appear human (hey, I’m just like you – look at my ordinary life, it’s just like your ordinary life) . . . OK, they are trying to make a connection.  It also stands to reason that at least one of the people telling the story actually had this thing happen to them!

Well, fine – it’s a story (go get your own and live a little, but still – its just a story).  However, there are things often lobbed into talks by way of illustration (to highlight the thing being discussed etc) that are not stories . . . no, they are put across as truth, as facts.  These things are statistics.  Some statistics have been – and are – used to do more than support the thrust of an argument in a talk – they have helped establish the basis on which some organisations exist.  Now that would not be a problem, and would probably be a good thing – if, these statistics were well researched, had significant evidence (empirical) had data that was both quantitative and qualitative – especially when some statistics make HUGE claims and offer incredibly stark numbers that, on the face of it appear to be irrefutable.

Here is the rub.  I am a children’s, youth and families person in terms of ministry.  I have been doing this for 26 years (10 as a volunteer, 16 full time in various places) and I have, for the last 7 or 8 years had some questions about the following statistic:

When a child is the first to attend Church, 3% of the families follow.  When a wife / mum is the first to attend church, 17% of the families follow.  When a dad / husband is the first to attend church, 93% of the families follow.”

Quoted, just like that on page 111 of “”The Promise Keeper At Work” (from the Promise Builders Study Series).

The thing is, that is it.  There is NO reference anywhere in the book as to the source of this statistic – there is a little bubble above it that just says, “consider this” – then BAM you are smacked with this statistic . . .

WELL, my gut tells me this is a BAD statistic.  Something about it is way, way off.  I finally got hold of the book for myself, and could not quite believe that something like this could be quoted with not a single mention of the source research, documentation at ALL.  Apart from the occasional proverb at the top of every other page, everything else that can be attributed IS.  Quotes by people, quotes from books . . . except for this stat.

What frustrates me (at this point) is that OTHERS in their preaching and their writing have mentioned this statistic.  It sits there on organisational websites,  personal blogs – without a critique – its quoted, therefore it must be OK.  It backs up what we are doing in terms of the vision of our organisation – so lets lob it in.  This isn’t good enough.  WHERE DOES IT ACTUALLY COME FROM?  IF evangelistic resources are going to be increasingly targeting MEN – can we at least make sure our research and our evidence and the data backs up this approach?

Also, two other things.

1.   This is OLD (by that I mean probably dates before 1996).  I can’t be definitive, but the first issue of the book it is quoted in came out in 1996, then again I think in 1999.  So, has more recent research been done exploring this area?

2.  This is American.  Transferring what amounts to social data from one place to another has some inherent problems.  Is the nature of the family the same in the UK as it is in the US?  Is general church going / attendance the same in the UK and the US, with the same factors for why people go to church?

I have trawled through a load of places to try and find out more information, get a handle on where the stats actually come from . . . just a few examples of the comments / places that refer to them below:

http://www.thegatheringaustin.org/about_tga – I don’t want to knock what this ministry is doing.  However, at the bottom of this page they say, “one final point from a Barna study . . . ” and then they quote the quote above.  Well, I emailed Barna and asked them if they produced the research and the stats – this was their reply,

Thank you for your interest in Barna Group and the information we provide. This is not information that Barna Group has published. I also am aware of the book that you mention but it is not our research. I do not know who released this quote. We do not have any information on this topic ourselves.”

Received from Barna on Monday 15th April 2013.

http://www.trinitybaptistpoway.com/men.htm – again, attributed to Barna (but as I have noted above, Barna say “not us”)

http://storage.cloversites.com/evangelicalfreechurchofwillmar/documents/Mens%20Ministry%20Fall%2012.pdf – again – Barna.

https://www.baptistsonmission.org/Church-Programs/Mens-Ministries – here it says, “A classic Promise Keepers survey”

And, startling – here is a completely different stat, but obviously related in some way to the oft quoted one I am focusing on (found here:http://www.danielakin.com/wp-content/uploads/old/Resource_414/15%20Qualities%20Every%20Family%20Needs%20to%20See%20in%20a%20Dad%20-%20Sermon.pdf) :

When the mother of the family is the first person to accept Christ, the rest of the family will convert 17% of the time. When a child is first, the family follows 31% of the time.  However, when the father turns to Christ first, the family will follow him 93% of the time.”

Attributed, hooray!  To: “Stand Firm”, July 2000 page 3

This looks too close to the original to me for it not to (in some way) be related . . . but – look at the difference in that stat!  Children jump from 3% to 31% . . . a mistake?  What gives!

http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=15630 – a big article here, from 2003, again siting the 3% 17% 93% stat . . . then referencing at the bottom of the article the book we started with from Promise Keepers which does not attribute the statistics at all.

More recently, an article here from 2011:  http://www.whale.to/b/importance_of_fathers.html – there are two research pieces mentioned, or rather one piece of research from Switzerland (what is clearly stated here is actual research, so worth exploring) , which I will look at in another blog AND, no, not research regarding the 3% 17% 93% simply a reference to the baptist article above which just quotes the unattributed statistics!!

http://forum.ship-of-fools.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=print_topic;f=70;t=021927 – this discussion on “Ship of Fools” of all places, suggests I am not totally bonkers for exploring this and trying to find out the score regarding whether these statistics can be valid . . .

Oh man!  Yet another slightly different statistic from Scott Hagan’s (http://www.scotthagan.net) website:

Research shows that if you reach a child first, there’s a 34% chance that the rest of the family will follow.  If you reach the woman first, there’s a 42% chance that the rest of the family will follow. But if you reach the man first, there’s a 93% chance that the rest of the family will follow.

Thanks for that, “research shows . . .” what research!!

And finally, here:  http://hardcore-christian.com/author/hardcoreguest/ – the quote I started with, but this time attributed to “Focus on the Family” . .

Anyway, as I said – this is part 1, I am going to keep going until I actually get hold of some research.  So, my next step is this – the book “Promise Keeper At Work” was published by Word Publishing.  It is normal practice for publishers to check the stats / content of their books . . . SO, if anyone knows the origin of this statistic it should be them.

Watch this space for “Bad Stats for Evangelism – Part #2”.

Oh, and keep believing and investing in children’s and youth ministry!

 

 

 

 

 

What comes next?

Well, as you will have seen – on Monday the Bishop of Oxford (who is the Chair of the Board of Education) had to answer 13 questions raised by those concerned across the Church – my previous post to this one details the response to the questions.

I remain deeply concerned and was not reassured by the answers. However, a couple of plus points:

1. The title ‘Going for Growth Advisor’ looks like it will be dispensed with after a strong call that we do not lose ‘children’ and ‘youth’ from the title of national posts.

2. The establishment of a ‘reflection group’, whilst not a stop – is a pause.

3. Decision in March gives breathing space for us to continue to ask questions and engage as much as we can (by we, I mean myself and other diocesan youth officers and children’s work advisers who are concerned).

What next then.

Well, thank you again if you signed the petition – it did its job in raising the profile of what is happening, got mentioned in the questions at General Synod, and communicated that the concern extends far beyond a few disgruntled DYOs!

A number of DYOs and CWAs are going to try and meet with the Chief Education Officer and possibly the Reflection Group mentioned by the Bishop in his answers at Synod.

The place to take this forward, is through face to face communication (as it is communication that has been lacking).

I will link to this page in a message to all who signed the petition, and keep anyone interested up to speed as we seek to engage and have conversations with those who are making these decisions.

The blog has had more activity in the last week than I think it has in rest of the time it has been ‘up’ put together. I have got the bit between my teeth with some of the challenges we face as the church and will aim to blog more often on those things – I don’t, however, want to generate heat with no light (dimly ranting in a corner), so please keep me on track with what I write and how I write it.

Youth Work and Going for Growth

I know, two blog posts in one day . . . I just had to respond to Churchmouse following the post, “Youth Work and Going for Growth” . . .

Mouse does not hold back . . . but it is strange, mouse agrees (“I could not agree more”), with the thrust of the report and what is required . . . but then says,

“So now we have a new website designed to support this all encompassing call to (in)action” – I think, “(in)action” is not fair.  I arrived in my Diocese, as Adviser for work with children and young people in November 2005 and there was a national “youth strategy” in place that (from my perspective as a “newbie”) had very little that I thought the local church could engage with.  That can not be said of “Going for Growth”.  Whilst it is not all I personally might want it to be . . . it is one heck of a step forward:

  • For the first time we are working under the premise of a shared vision for ministry with children and young people (not separate, unconnected strategies).
  • Wide ranging consultation took place in advance of the presentation to Synod, this was not simply an “instituational” response to the challenges of youth and childrens work.
  • It is a work in progress and “Going for Growth” is aspirational and progressive and about developing something – the previous youth strategy had “fixed points” for engagement and did not reflect the needs on the ground (or engage with how fast things change and the need to adapt our methods of engagement – if not the message).

Mouse then says,

“Nameless groups in central functions of the church putting websites and reports together is not the way to make real change happen”  – I was not aware of shadowy, anony[mouse] people engaged in the process – I was engaged with and participated in the consultation before the report and presentation was made to Synod (as were many youth officers, childrens advisers etc around the country – not nameless and not central). 

We must face up to the fact that we are failing to engage young people, and the demographics of the Church of England represent a ticking time-bomb which must be dealt with” – you better believe it!  I have been “facing up to this” for the last 25 years, from being 18 . . . and paraded across the platform at an ecumenical worship event as a symobolic representation of (at the time, in 1986) the 300 young people who were leaving the church every year . . . this then became 1000 leaving the church during the 1990s (the decade of evangelism) . . .I am absolutely awash with statistics – but the ticking time bomb “went off” in the 1950s.  We are now at a point where we need to engage in “pre-evangelism” because most children and young people are growing up with no awareness of the Christian faith whatsovever . . . we are living “after Christendom”.  I admit, some are slowly realising this . . . but not those of us whose job it is, at regional level, to support, train and equip the local church for mission and discipleship with young people – AND, I am in a Diocese that is willing to give me the resources to make a difference (not sit and write reports about the problem) . . the stark fact about the state we are in is that we must make a difference now (previously, we have sought to plan for making a difference at some point in the future should it be deemed necessary or expedient – i.e. financially viable).  We no longer have the luxury of time.  Recent research indicates that 90% of adults attending our churches did so as children . . . the very basic reality is that the fewer we have in the church as children and young people – the fewer we will have in the future as adults.  If we have not been great at reaching children and young people with the gopsel – we have been, completely inept at reaching adults who have never been to church – the challenge with that now is – it is most of the adult population!

[youth work in the local parish] “relies on individual parishes either getting by with volunteers from the congregation to do “something” with the youth, or in mustering up enough money to employ a youth worker.  The latter option has been going out of fashion recently as the recession has put a big squeeze on budgets all round.”

A couple fo quick points on the above:

  • Youth work, if it is to be effective, needs to be owned by the local church and a bulk of those who engage are going to be volunteers – just like most ministries in the local church.  Without volunteers, just about everything the church does would grind to a halt apart form the Eucharist and the sermon – the “volunteers” are more than that, they are ministers of the gospel in their own right (whether at Diocesan or national level we “license” or “commission” people or not), there are many outstanding extra-timers serving children and young people up and down the Diocese of Chichester, and I am sure that is reflected nationally . . .
  • We are not seeing a decline in employment (or a desire to employ) just the opposite.  There is an increasing sense that professionally trained and equipped youth workers need to lead a team of volunteers, equip young people to navigate the choppy waters of contemporary culture, need to be aware of the latest legislation, need to be in a postion to network with the local authority, local district council, parish council – especially in this time of cuts.  When I arrived in the Diocese we had 30 salaried youth, childrens and families workers . . . we currently have 41 – and a significant number of curates see childrens and youth work provision as essential for the health and vitality of the church.

There is usually some support offered by dioceses, but this is normally on the basis that there is someone there to help if you need them, rather than someone with the job of getting out in the diocese and making new things happen” – ok, this really got me!  I lead a team of support (we are collectively called “you, equipped to serve”, www.yesonthenet.org.uk) we are part of the co-ordinated “Church Growth” team in the Dicoese of Chichester, we support, train, equip the local church for ministry with children and young people AND we seek to be proactive in the way we do that . . . as mouse knows (I am assuming this), parishes are autonomous . . . some engage with Diocesan support that is offered / some do not – but, in my particular Diocese, we have 389 parishes . . . we offer proactive support – most of the time, if I chase down a parish, or ring a vicar up or visit an area . . . I generate work for myself and my team.  There is stacks to do!  Effective support, nurture of a new team just getting something off the ground in a place is time consuming and labour intensive . . . there are three of us who are full time – I could employ more to DO more, but budgets being what they are . . . . we manage!  Most of our work is “out there” with the local parish, engaging with what they need . . . not sitting in an office waiting for the phone to ring  – although, if I am not in the office . . . some of those in the 389 parishes might phone and wonder where I am and why I am not there to answer their query . . . such is the job!

Simply putting out resources for parishes to work with is a recipe for inaction“.  I agree – up to a point.  One of our areas of “expertise” is in knowing what is available for people and helping them find the right resource for a piece of work.  This is not inaction!  If we pool what we know, and contribute to the “Going for Growth” website . . . it will become a place of fantastic free resources, reviews, articles and teaching material – that is my hope for it anyway. 

Finally, the Going for Growth website is the opposite of an institutional approach.  If anything, I sense from mouse and institutional response!  It is a bit like saying you have a problem with the “church” . . . you are the Church.  Going for Growth is open to anyone to join in, post resources, share what they have . . . it is not top down – but it will only be as good as peope make it, by using it . . . . rather than look at what you perceive to be “inaction” mouse . . . what action are you taking to make a difference for children and young people?  What might you have to contribute to the website, got a great resource in your archives . . . ?  Lets have it!  Drop an email to Mary Hawes – I am sure all contributions will be greatfully received.

Heading off Oblivion // One Generation from Extinction

I wrote the follow review (“One Generation from Extinction”) a while ago . . and would just add this suplemental – the “church” is sleepwalking towards oblivion.  I say that because what is often reported in the Christian media are the accounts of unmitigated disaster . . . or something amazing that transforms lives . . . in between (and obviously not considered newsworthy) is the mundane, the boring, the just “not very good”.  The vast number of children and young people who continue to leave the church are not leaving because it is awful . . . it is just that there is not much to what most churches engage in that excites the imagination, forms faith or develops disciples . . . mediocre is going to be the death of us. 

This is not a reflection on those serving children and young people in our churches faithfully, week in and week out . . . they, alone, cannot usher in a new age of growth in the Church . . . it will take the whole church to wake up!  Church leaders, parents, grandparents, 20 somethings, 30 somethings . . . we all need to get a grip and start making a difference together for the next generation. 

Some years ago, Penny Frank wrote a book called, “Every Child a Change to Choose” . . . published in 2002 (with it came a website and resources to encourage evangelism amongst children) . . . it did not last long, and the book is just a footnote in Christian publishing history . . . about the same time, Margaret Withers was a year into her job as “Arbishops Adviser on Evangelism among Children” . . . this post ceased in 2006 (work finished?  Children now “reached”?) . . . nope.  Please, lets not let Marks book just be an “interesting” read, or something worth thinking about what when we have more time, or something we recommend to others because it is not really “our bag”. 

This “bag” is everyones . . . there is an old (and oft quoted) african proberb, “it takes a village to raise a child” . . . we need to rediscover what it means to be Church, literally, the “community of the called out ones”.  If as adults in the church there is nothing distinctive about who we are and what we do as followers of Christ . . . it follows that we do not have much to pass on to the next generation.  We maybe need to rediscover what we are here for.  Marks book helps the church begin to do this – not if we read it, but if we do what it says.

[Review] “One Generation from Exctinction”, Mark Griffiths, Monarch (2009)  This is the most important book / report written about children’s ministry (and how the church needs to engage with children and their families) for the last ten years.  Why do I say that?  Well, it not only unpacks some excellent research with some uncomfortable conclusions – hence, perhaps, the title – but, unlike many books before – it goes on to articulate from Mark Griffiths’  own practice how we, as the church, might go about making some changes in children’s ministry that have a lasting impact.

What is great about the whole book is that everything Mark discusses or proposes is based on the evidence found in the research.  This is an academically rigorous piece of writing, theologically stretching and yet, at the same time, eminently practical.  I guess this is what happens when you have the uncommon combination of an academic and a practitioner in one person!

The first part of the books gives a great overview of where we have come from since the very first Sunday school to the current challenging circumstances the church finds itself in.  This, in itself, makes the book worth a read – particularly the eye opening “fifties freefall” – as Sunday school moved from afternoons to the same time as morning services, the church subsequently lost half its children in one generation.  There is more to it that that – but you have to get the book!  There follows a detailed exploration of case studies carried out on a number of kids clubs.

In the second part of the book as Mark explores how we connect with the un-churched child there is a very helpful exploration of theology and an excellent critique of church practice and what helps (and hinders) effective work with children.  There are ideas and concepts, insights and nuggets of truth on almost every page in this section.  In Mark’s conclusion, there are recommendations that deserve more notice than a quick read of my review . . . they deserve close attention and prayerful action – if we are to grow the church and make sure the title of this book is not prophetic.

The gift of a child

I have two daughters, amazing gifts from God.  Hannah is five, Ellie was two earlier this month!  They are a constant delight (and occasionally, challenge)!  The gift of children though, is not just for me and my wife to enjoy.  Our children have doting grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, godparents etc.  Children are as much a gift to the community of faith as to individual parents.

As we are approaching the final day of advent, my children have been building an advent calendar with shepherds, angels, wise men etc – all gathering around the manger . . . ready for the 24th when Jesus will be placed in his crib (I know, a day early) . . . we nothing more after the nativity accounts in the gospels about the shepherds or the wise men (once they avoid Herod and head home) . . . but, what was a private journey to Bethlehem to a place where there was no room . . . those who came and worshipped found room for the Christ child in their hearts . . . the shepherds could not wait to share the news and the family celebration became a community event!

There is an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”.  In the same way, it takes the community of faith to help children grow – to feel that they belong as part of that community, and the faith expressed and shared becomes their faith too.  This activity, spiritual formation, preparation for life etc – is not the preserve of a couple of over burdened volunteers, nor an “expert” salaried children’s worker (though volunteers to be involved in ministry with children, and, where required, salaried children’s workers create an invaluable “dynamic” for life and faith in Church that compliment the role of parents).

I will return to this theme in the New Year, but leave you (my last post before the New Year) with a thought from Jurgen Moltmann,

“The messiah can be born in every child.” says a Jewish proverb, and Christians celebrate Christmas as the feast of the birth of the divine redeemer in the baby in the manger.  We encounter the all-powerful God in a little, dependent, and helpless child.  The creator of heaven and earth divests God-self and becomes lowly in the “Christ child” or the so-called “baby-Jesus.”  The grand theology of the ancient church called this mystery the humanisation of god” or the “Incarnation of the logos.” but it begins very simply, in a manner intelligible to every child, by God becoming a child and in this childs redemptive reign of peace.  What a mystery a child is.  [The good news for children marks the entire story of Jesus]  “Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me” . . .  “Child and Childhood as Metaphors of Hope, Jurgen Moltmann

Will we orientate ourselves this Christmas time, as Moltmann puts it, “towards the child of promise and peace?”