Tag Archives: care for the family

Is Youth Work Working: Thoughts on Krish Kandiah’s article

In March’s issue of ‘youthwork’ magazine, Krish Kandiah wrote an article detailing the ‘crisis’ the church is in: young people are leaving the church in droves and are not coming back. Let me say before anything that I have the upmost respect and admiration for Krish. I do not agree with everyone he says but I think he is a guy sold out for God and sincerely wanting to see God transform this world. If it weren’t for him starting this discussion, then I wouldn’t have spend the last few days mulling all these thoughts over. Thank you Krish.

His article is a response to the recent research by ‘Care For the Family’ and the ‘sticky faith initiative’ that had all sorts of depressing statistics about the present day church and young people. I blogged recently about the ‘getting your kids through church without them hating God’ tour by ‘Care for the Family’. You can read about it here.

There are things that I agree with in the article and things I do not. I think there are big issues with how young people relate to the church and I do agree that the church, as an institution, needs to change if things are going to improve. And I think some of the suggestions are good and can potentially work but I’m not sure the article is getting to the heart of the matter.

I think there are two big questions that need to be grappled with in regards to young people and church. Kandiahs’ article deals with the second, ‘how can we keep young people in the church?’ but an equally important question is ‘what about all the young people who will never come to a church service?’ But that is not the crux of the article, or the research, but it is one that needs just as much focus because as statistics have shown, young people are inherently ‘spiritual’ and are seeking spirituality in one form or another. Phil Rankins report, ‘buried spirituality’ is proof of this. the church as a whole is failing these young people.

So what’s the issue? Kandiah suggests that youth work is not working. But what is youth work? What is it we are trying to do and communicate with young people? Is it to simply keep young people in church? Why? And how do we define church? Is it the church service? Is it weekly attendance we’re getting at? I think before any discussion about whether youth work is working or not, we need to define what ‘youth work’ is.

I think the issue is that for too long christian youth work has been about keeping young people in church services. But youth work has to be bigger than that. God, after all, is bigger than that. Now I have to be careful when I say this because I do not want to put words into Jesus’ mouth and I do not want to generalise things, but Jesus’ mission was never about keeping people in church. It was about mission.

I think the suggestions of breaking down the age barriers, getting young people more active in church services, and getting more mentoring between young and old going on are great ideas. But that’s difficult. And it will require the structures on institutional churches to change and I am fairly pessimistic about that because the problem is youth fellowships (in general) are creative, democratic and focused on community. church services by their nature are not. they may want to be and they may claim to be but it in most cases the few lead the many. and it’s going to take a lot to change that.

So what needs to be done? After all it’s fair enough for me to be critical of one article but what suggestions am I offering? Or am I just throwing out more questions?

My answer stems from a couple of blogs I wrote a little while ago about ‘belief and action’. read it here and here

For too long being a christian has meant believing in the right theology. it’s been about the mind. The christian faith has been reduced to a creed. Believe it (in your head) and you’re a christian. Disagree with it, and you’re not. Young people, at least that ones I am in contact with, do not want that. Or at least don’t want that as the starting point. It’s action they want. It’s to be part of a story. It’s to be caught up in a dream that they can physically be part of here and now. They want integrity.

They want to know that the christian faith matters now. that it’s not just about who is in and who is out. but that t’s about transformation. Transformation of people, communities, towns, cities, counties, countries and the world. For too long all we’ve done is talk about right and wrong theology (head knowledge). Talk, talk, talk.

Maybe we need to start with action. Or at least have a better balance. Now hear me out. I’m not pushing for a works based salvation. But by our deeds people should know our salvation. When a church services focuses more on right thinking than action; more on sermons than community action, that’s when the young people start leaving.

Let’s start with the stories Wilberforce, Theresa, Pullinger, Nightengale and show how that connects with Jesus rather than the other way around.

Let’s give them something to get their teeth, their hands, their feet, their hold bodies into.

 

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How to get your kids through church without them hating God: Part 3

On Wednesday 2nd November I attended the “how to get your kids through church without them hating God” tour organised by Rob Parsons and ‘Care for the Family’.

Read part 1 here

Read part 2 here

In the final session of the evening, Rob spoke about the three disappointments that we need to prepare young people for in order that they don’t give up on their faith and walk away from God.

1) with others

2) with themselves

3) with God

the first two are self explanatory. sometimes we can be guilty of painting a false and idealistic picture of Christianity. None of us are perfect. People will let us down and we will let ourselves down. we won’t always get it right as following Christ is not easy. We need to help young people be ready for when the inevitable happens: when other Christians hurt them. Talk about grace. Talk about God’s grace for us and the grace we need to show others.

The 3rd one is more tricky. I compared a Q&A session with our youth fellowship earlier this year. The young people had the opportunity to ask a panel of ‘mature’ christians (2 of the YF leadership and 2 deacons) a series of awkward questions about faith. One of the questions was, “does God always answer prayer?”. Without hesitation, they all answered “yes” with “but sometimes not in the way we want”.

But that doesn’t cut it for me. And clearly it doesn’t for Rob Parsons either. When I prayed that my gran wouldn’t die of cancer, God didn’t deliver. How ever you wrap that up, the prayer wasn’t successful. God will disappoint young people.

Yes we can say, “well it wasn’t God’s will” or we can talk about “sin” and “spiritual forces” but at the end of the day young people will be disappointed when they pray for something and it doesn’t happen. Rob calls these the “what if not?” moments.

“What if they don’t get healed?”

“What if this never happens?”

I know I’m guilty of not preparing young people for this (and myself if I’m honest). Too often we paint a rose tinted picture of Christianity and its this that mostly destroys the faith of our young people.

It was a great night and it left me with so much to think about? What about you? Has any of these thoughts struck you/ challenged you?

How to get your kids through church without them hating God part 2

On Wednesday 2nd November I attended the “how to get your kids through church without them hating God” tour organised by Rob Parsons and ‘Care for the Family’.

Read part 1 here

In part 2, Rob Parsons shared, what he considered to be, the five killers of young people’s faith.

1) over busyness

I remember trying to organise a meeting about a drama service that would be happening in the church in a few months time. Half the battle was trying to find a date that everyone could make. Each possible date was shot down because someone either had house groups or music practices, or women’s meetings or prayer groups or youth clubs or deacons meetings or…well you get the picture.

The same is true for our young people. each week they can attend church services, youth fellowship, badminton clubs, running clubs, house groups and music practices. How  they manage to fit in socialising and school into that packed timetable is anyone’s guess.

And there in lies the problem. The church is too busy. There are too many meetings and activities that people can attend. Do we really need them all? Is that what being a Christian is about? Meetings.

Instead of spending our week going out to our neighbours and friends, we spend our time coming to things inside the church. The great commission tell us to go, not come. We want to fill up our young peoples nights with all sorts of church activities so that they aren’t out mixing with questionable young people. But that’s the point. I know a number of young people who have left the church youth work because they just can’t be bothered feeling guilty about not being able to make all the meetings.

I overheard a conversation between two parents complaining that other members of the church let their children go to football on a Sunday morning rather than come to church. What they didn’t mention is that these boys still come to youth fellowship on a sunday evening and house group on a wednesday evening! Let’s stop forcing our young people to attend every meeting in the church just because that’s what we do.

Being busy isn’t always a good thing.

2) hypocrisy (public holiness)

Jesus called a group of religious leaders ‘white washed tombs’. nice and clean and white on the outside but rotting and decaying on the inside. Harsh words eh? But true.

On one occasion whilst having dinner at a Pharisee’s house, he talked about cups and bowls. He spoke about how they (the jewish people) have all these rituals for washing that gives the appearance of cleanliness but on the inside, it’s a different story.

How do our young people see us? Do we put on ‘holiness’ when we go to church? Are we simply actors in a play? And then when we get home we remove the costumes and become ourselves again.

The church needs authenticity. I need authenticity. Young people need to see people who are authentic. Following Jesus isn’t about pretending everything is okay and that you are really holy. It’s about bringing what you have (your doubts, your pain, yourself) to the table before God.

3) Judgementalism

I attended the Scottish Baptist Assembly a few weeks ago (i’ll hopefully get around to blogging about it before the next one) and was struck by what one of the speakers said. As Christians we spend too much time attending ‘anti’ protest rallies when we should be spending more time at ‘pro’ rallies.

Too often Christians are known by what they disagree with rather than what they agree with. We speak out frequently about the things we think are wrong instead of things things we think are right.

We should be a ‘pro’ people. Let us celebrate rather than condemn. Let’s spend more time talking to our young people about what we love rather than what we hate.

4) Cynicism

I can be a very cynical person. I’ll be honest about that. I try not to be but it’s hard. Cynicism is all around us. It’s talked about in our families, our friends, our churches, the media and our workplace.

“they’ll never change”.

“what’s the point in doing anything, this is just how it is”.

“there’s nothing new under the sun”.

Now I’m not naive. I know life can, and often is, harsh and cruel. And that should be embraced. We should not run away from that. But that should not mean that our lives are governed by those understandings.

I want hope. I want to believe that people can change. I want to believe that we are all created in the image of God and are not born corrupt. I want to believe that new things are waiting to be created. I want to believe that we can change things and I want to believe that God is a universalist.

Christianity is catergorised by hope but it looks like we’ve lost it. Let’s stop being cynical. Let’s believe in something better. Let’s believe in hope, faith and love.

5) Familiarity

“have we taken holy things for granted? Have we lost the wonder?”

This was tough and challenging to here.

I was recently told of an older member of the congregation, when on entering the church, complained that she doesn’t know what to expect when she comes in because we keep doing things differently. Isn’t that a good thing? Why is is that our default position is that of rigid routines and traditions?

Shouldn’t we be amazed when we come to church? Shouldn’t we expect God to show up?

I think we’ve misunderstood the concept that God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. That doesn’t mean that God is static and unchanging. God changes his mind. God shakes things up. God changes. And so should we. So should our services. But not just for the sake of it.

The biggest question for me when session 2 finished was how to we shape our services (and our youth work) to allow space for wonder without becoming too familiar?

What do you think?

How to Get Your Kids Through Church Without Them Hating God: Part 1

On Wednesday 2nd November I attended the “how to get your kids through church without them hating God” tour organised by Rob Parsons and ‘Care for the Family’.

It was an excellent evening with lots of thought-provoking ideas. As an aside, one thing I really enjoyed what that they encouraged people to tweet comments using #GYKTC tag and it was great to interact with others in attendance and hear what they were being challenged with. A few of the older people I was with glanced at me a couple of times because I was typing away on my phone. They probably thought I was being rude but I was REALLY interacting with the talks through twitter.

I’d love to see my speakers in church using twitter to allow people to comment or ask questions during their sermons. Although, I have to wonder, how many of the church congregation i am part of have ever heard of twitter.

Anyway, let me get one with actually discussing the event.

The evening was split into three sections and each section consisted of a short video, drama and then a talk by Rob Parsons. Phatfish already provided worship at the start and the end of the evening. In this blog, I will explore section 1.

Section 1

Rob explained the four steps of faith for ‘churched’ young people:

1) experienced faith (what they see from their parents)

2) affiliated faith (from their church and peer group)

3) searching faith (where they graps the ability to question their faith and ask difficult questions)

4) owned faith (a faith they accept and own for themselves)

Rob said an interesting thing in that although we don’t think our children/ young people are listening to us, they are in fact hearing everything we have to say. A simple yet profound misunderstanding.

I wonder if you’re anything like me and you’re standing talking to a group of young people about an event coming up or something you’re asking them to do and then a few minutes later they have completely forgotten. It’s like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.  In many cases it is clear to me that they are not listening to me. By listening, I mean taking in the facts that I am presenting to them. But what they are doing is ‘hearing’ how I’m saying things. They pick up on the aggression and the frustration. They pick up on the times I am gossiping or slagging someone off and this will have a profound impact on their faith. As leaders, we need to be aware that young people are always ‘hearing’ even when they’re not listening and how we interact with them and others will shape what they think of Christianity.

Something else, he said, that struck me is that we sometimes confuse “spirituality with personality“. We assume that a christian looks and sounds like ‘this or that’. We have a fixed ‘jelly mould’ that we expect Christians to be like and when they don’t fit that mould we assume their faith isn’t growing/ isn’t strong/ isn’t there. In fact what we are looking at is their personality. All Christians are not and should not be the same and we need to get rid of the ‘christian young people’ moulds that we have in our heads. Just because a young person isn’t acting how we think a christian should does not mean they are not a christian.

This idea has profound implications for how we measure ‘christian growth’. How do we know the young people we work with are becoming more like Jesus? More Christ-like? I know I have been guilty of thinking that only those who are actively engaging at youth house groups or are volunteering to be upfront at the youth services are the ones who are ‘spiritually’ growing. But that’s just not the case!

Instead of a ‘one size fits all’ discipleship measuring tool, we need to look at each young person individually and see how each one is changing. We may see that a young person is smoking (and drinking) and think that the are not becoming more like Jesus when in actual fact they are out helping people and praying loads. We cannot measure all young people’s spiritual growth in the same way.

What do you think?