Dear Christian who works with young people,
Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech but not of silence; Knowledge of words and ignorance of the Word. TS Eliot in 1934.
I saw this quoted on Twitter by the Bishop of Kensington just before Christmas.
We have been hearing for the last few years that the world of Youth Ministry is in a dire state, that it’s all over – people are leaving youth ministry, that young people are leaving church in their droves – that the Church is going to hell in a handbasket. It’s been a tough ride for youth ministry – it still is – the issue is there is some truth in it. It does not look pretty – I know at least one training college that has no first-year youth ministry cohort this year, for example.
One of the counter narratives has been that we need to innovate to respond to this situation. This again has some truth in it, but only in part. Sometimes this has led to more damage than good, with those in ministry trying to maintain and innovate at the same time – trying to lead and develop, trying to strategise and deliver. The strain has been too great.
I was recently asked if I would recommend Youth Ministry to a dear friend, the question has been haunting me for weeks….
Please don’t misunderstand me…I am passionate about young people and faith, I’m more convinced than ever that we have to continue as Christians to work with young people to engage with them to listen and to love them. To point them to a faith that offers fullness of life and sustains in the valley and can be met on the mountain top. But the system, the culture of youth ministry I have big questions about inviting my dear friend in to.
So what am I left with?
I’ve been working on a couple of projects, CONCRETE and With you can read about them (concreteonline.org and be with.community) I hope this makes some contribution to the field. But I’m led back to this quote from TS Elliot, that even in the busyness of these projects and all the work and all the innovation I want to find a personal place of stillness, of silence, of some sort of knowing. Because it is here that I’m convinced the imagination is given life, this the beginning place of the prophetic – of God’s voice calling the church to more – where our ignorance is challenged. Not that this is only an individual quest at allwe need to join with others – but in the silence we will hear the quiet voice drawing us on.
This is not to lumber on more ‘work’ for those in ministry, but for this to become an essential part of their ministry – like the oxygen of projects, engagements, conversations. For me this is not a booming voice – most of the time this lacks direction, 90% of the time is just about carrying on and faithfully taking the next step however small – sometimes the next step might be going to work the next day – turning up, that might be what is asked of you – the next step. But it’s powerful, it’s prophetic it shouts that there could and a different way, it preaches to the young people you meet that there is a God who is with you and them. It’s hard work.
‘In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.’ Proverbs 16:9
My prayer this new year, is that however we may, in each of our contexts, you and I will have the courage and strength to continue to pray, prophesy , a new and different way for the young people of this country. One step at a time.