Had a great half-term. The first few days were spent celebrating David’s birthday and moving office. The office is nearly finished – looking very nice, just had all the shelves taken down tonight to paint so it is nearly completed. There is a slight hitch with the internet reception – the signal is weaker down in this office which hasn’t caused me too many problems but has meant that a couple of people who used to do a bit of work while in my old office can no longer conntect to the internet.
We also managed to sneak in some time thinking about the holiday club we will be running at the end of August, summer camp to be run at the Quinta Centre at the end of the summer, and thinking about new ways of doing church to meet those on the edge of church and community.
Had a great deacons meeting on Wednesday night where one of my young people presented some ideas as to where the young people would like to see the church engaging with itself and others. Ideas include 24 hour prayer sessions, Bible marathons, designing some of the church posters, setting up an after-school homework club, supporting a reading project in Ghana. The deacons were really positive and have tasked the young people with sharing their vision at the next church meeting in ten days time which will be exciting.
Following that Hannah and I went on holiday to Norfolk with a whole load of her family. It was an awesome house with an indoor swimming pool, tennis court, table tennis and a huge dining table. We had some great times sleeping, chilling out at the pool, playing on the PS2, and eating and drinking. Just what we needed – definitely something that got Hannah and I thinking about whether it might be better to do more regular short breaks than the long seven to ten day break. Possibly more expensive, but more helpful in the rhthym of our work.

Long term thinking & office move

With half-term started I am spending some of the holiday looking a little bit further ahead then what we will be doing this in our groups this week. Today I spent a bit of time looking at what we might do for the holiday club that we plan to run in the last week of August. We are thinking about using Pyramid Rock by Scripture Union. I would love to hear from anyone who has run that club or any other material that people would recommend.

Tomorrow I am spending some time thinking about how, as a church, we provide for those families who are on the edge of the church family. Thinking about how we can engage and support them more at their level. Hopefully it will be a fruitful time.

I am also in the middle of moving offices which is really exciting – the room has now all been painted and I managed to get a whole load of books moved and sorted on Friday afternoon and am doing the rest of it on Monday.

Exciting times!

The child through the eyes of society: Matt Summerfield

The last session is always a difficult session I think for a speaker. They have to bring together to variety and busyness of the weekend into one message to inspire and encourage 1500 people. No small challenge then! But Matt was brilliant.

He started by showing a home video clip of his son on a rollercoaster. He went on to say that Ronan Keating was correct when he sang that Life is a Rollercoaster. Life is a rollercoaster for children.

How does society view children?
In one sense they have never had it so good: money, activities, technology etc. But on the other hand it is all wrong. He linked to ‘Toxic Childhood’ by Sue Palmer and how things are going downhill.

Is society a paranoid schizophrenic?
Children are vulnerable and need protection, e.g. CRB, risk assessments, which are good things but go to far in banning conker and snow fights etc., and a media that panics us in giving them no freedom of going down the park etc.

Children are dangerous and we need protecting. The media is set on demonising young people, a recent MORI poll shows that 41% of articles about children are highly negative. It is so often out of the overflow of brokenness comes the behaviour. Children have a story; they are the product of our society.
Children are easily influenced and need to be nurtured. Who has responsibility for this – is it parents, schools? The children orientated market, including pester power is worth £30 billion. No wonder brands and marketing is key. The average child in the UK watches 20,000-40,000 adverts.
Children are independent and should be free. They always push the boundaries, e.g. bedtimes. Could it be that our society has put the boundary too far – they eat too many sweets, they don’t do enough activity, they watch TV in their own room, they don’t sleep enough, they don’t talk with their parents.
Proverbs 22:6 forces us to ask is this the way a child should go. We need to care more than just salvation, e.g. Acts 10:36, Ephesians 6:2 talk about ‘shalom’, a wholeness and healing of life. John 10:10 very famously talks about this life – not just pie in the sky but cake as you wait! With that understanding John 14:27 becomes more powerful – only Jesus can bring the healing needed.
We see Jesus grow in wholeness as a child:
Luke 2:40 includes physically, spiritually, wisdom, emotionally, relationally
Luke 2:52 includes emotionally, mentally, physically, relationally.

Breaking down the barriers
We are called to take a stand and make a difference. But we must not view this as the social gospel – there is only 1 gospel and that covers everything. Christians have traditionally led social action, e.g. Sunday schools, the Children’s society, Barnados, etc. Will we have that same passion, commitment and courage. Showing the young people the gospel but also possibly helping them brush their teeth. Be changers.

The call hasn’t changed – the question is who will go. Pray that we will say “me Lord”.

What a great conclusion to a helpful conference – just need to make sure the stuff from it isn’t forgotten but gets registered, reviewed and discussed.

Midweek v Sunday: Andy Saunders

Andy started by outlining the historical setting for church on a Sunday but how there has recently been some thinking to challenge that: then tensions of family life being so busy and Sunday being a time of family activity not church; that clubs during the week are key; and that spirituality is big – parents want young people to have a spiritual and moral base which they can’t give them themselves. He then touched on how the concept of community has changed in the last 20 years – it isn’t local housing but people we are in contact with on the other side of the world.

Theologically it is a challenge. Biblically we are to meet together but it doesn’t have to be on a Sunday. Are we prepared ot take the time to discuss it and seeks God’s desire?

Interesting thoughts and questions included:
They are all God’s children – how is the church committed to reaching them.
The evangelistic imperative – where are the children who don’t come ot church (for example 88% of young people do some form of after school activity or club), who is doing the evangelism, time and place are important, and the methods must be appropriate.
Similar to Paul in Acts 17:16-34 we must take our time to find a hook to share the gospel with these young people.

Practical possibilities include:
– Schools work (including assemblies, RE lessons, lunch clubs)
– Church visits
– Gift books
– Uniformed organisations
– Christingle and carol services
– Drama and music
– Special interest clubs
– Holiday clubs
– Running activities on INSET days

He encouraged us to remember there has never been a revival that hasn’t started with children.

I drew some links from this session with the messy church session by Lucy Moore I attended earlier in the weekend. I was particularly interested in the possibility of using INSET days to provide something for parents. I am heavily involved in local schools and that is something that would be very interesting to explore further.

Seeing them through: Ali Campbell

Ali has a great blog and has regularly written in youthwork magazine so I was intrigued to hear him at this session.

Why do we see them through?
Have to – there is nobody else who is prepared to work with the young people are they grow up.
Want to – we love them and want to see them progress in their relationship with God.

Ali argues that a ministry gifting isn’t specific to an age group, e.g. 7-10 year olds, but that we can do it with any age group, we may have a burden for a specific age group. If you’re gifted as a pastor or teacher you should be able to do it with all ages.

Activities v Attention
By age 8 or 9 young people really care who their leaders are – they want someone who they can own. They need detailed care which is more labour intensive.

Programs v Passion
Sometimes the programme is just there for a child to slot into. Young people often leave youth work because they are not stimulated – the focus moves off them as they become the youngest again.

Numbers v Health
Leaders, especially youth workers, can be obsessed with numbers. But health should be more important – things usch as faith nurturing and teaching biblical truth.

Relevance v Relationships
Some people won’t work with young people because they don’t think they are cool enough. But ironically young people always think that grand parents are cool. We must focus on being real, showing them our music etc., and not be a fake.

Attraction v Retention
We often spend a lot of time thinking about how we attract young people but not how we keep them. That needs to be a higher priority in the join with youth work.

Model of ministry v Mystery of God
We need to focus on God. There is a pressure to do the latest thing in youth work, but in children’s work things work because they do – they don’t seem to be as fad orientated.

Talking about God v Talking with God
A shared journey is crucial – we can all learn from it.

Ali then went on to look at some practical areas such as structures, having fuzzy age boundaries, peer leadership and mentoring to name a few. It was a helpful session as someone who is lucky enough to do both children’s and youth work. I am in the fortunate position of being able to completely link our children’s work with our youth work – and Ali certainly gave me a few things to think about and some areas to go back and re-evaluate.

Making church children’s work unchurched friendly – Matt Summerfield

Matt Summerfield is always a joy to listen to and this seminar, and his session the following day, were both top notch.

He started by sharing how his 6 year old son was talking about church and said to his mate how rubbish it was. That was a really gutting moment – but is the world in which we live, cf. post-Christendom, and Stuart Murray. The challenge now is either to give up or to recognise that it is our job, a mandate to preach the good news. People can reject that good news, but they must do that from a position of knowledge rather than ignorance.

Our work between churched and unchurched kids is becoming more blurred. Sunday school is becoming missional – children want to be at mid-week groups, but on a Sunday they are often there only because of their parents.

The solutions is (5e)R

Education – we are shying away from teaching the Bible to young people. A 5 minute god slot is a waste of time. Sunday school had 8 key stories which used to bore us, but now young people don’t even know those. We need to highlight that it is God’s living story.

Enjoyment – we should enjoy it, have fun. Why do we always bill the god slot as the boring five minutes at the end of club? We need to mix our teaching with crazy activities, e.g. ice cream factory, a trip to a ball park or a weekend away.

Example – we need to look at how we relate to children and other leaders. Jesus says by our love for one another we will be known as his. Young people pick that up very quickly.

Experience – are we providing regular opportunities for young people to experience God? We bottle it and don’t allow God to do his work. Be creative, especially with prayer, and don’t be afraid to ditch some of the curriculum.

Empower – are we creating opportunities for young people to serve God? Not just doing the offering or giving out hymn books. How about writing prayers, doing a rap or a little sermon, visiting OAPs, picking litter/cleaning graffiti? Don’t allow them to be a subscriber but a leader. It doesn’t matter what their faith position is – get non-Christians involved in the mission of God and see how they change.

We have no right to do this work unless we love them, cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:8. Visiting a child in their world every week is great. Children want somewhere to belong and be loved – we can offer that – we may need to change our mindset and go to them rather than bring them to us.

A really helpful session with a great structure – something I will definitely be using with some of our volunteers.

The Bigger Picture: Roger Batt

Roger started off with some challenging questions:
· How are you at reacting to things? Do you look at how things are or how they could be?
· Do you believe in the idea of serving God and giving your life for something that will last forever?

His theme for the session seemed to centre around the idea that we shouldn’t allow distractions to get in the way. As Thomas H. Green says ‘As the cost of loving escalates we settle for less than we dreamed of.’ We need to keep that big picture.

It isn’t about doing more, but being focussed.

1. We need to serve children with a spirit of expectation
Luke 15:20 – the father always expects children to come home. Have we got lots in store for the children:
· Relationship with them is more important than responsibility to them.
· Helping young people to realise that their presence matters more than our programme.
· Introducing them to God rather than gimmicks or gadgets – if we’re not careful we can lose the plot.

2. Secure leadership of support for children with spirit of encouragement
We have a lack of leadership support because of a lack of encouragement to our present leaders. People don’t do it to be thanked but it would be nice if they were noticed. Encouragement is one of the most important gifts, especially allow children to encourage. Linked to this as we choose new leaders allow the young people to be involved in picking the leaders.

3. Seek church blessing to be inclusive with a spirit of engagement
The biggest issue in churches is congregations. Inclusivity in a congregation is incredibly hard. To improve this we need to be multi-directional in our relationships:
Upwards accountability – tell them the good stories of what is going on
Sideways – we need to share our worries etc.
Whole church – show its importance to the whole church, and include a drip feed of the good things, don’t be afraid to include celebrating young people’s deciding to commit to Jesus.
The most important thing is to keep the feed going – drip feed it, don’t blast it.
We should stop asking God to bless what we’re doing and we should start doing what God is blessing.

Reaching all children: the inclusive group: Lesley Burnett & Shirley Austin

This was a slightly bizarre session that was dominated by one delegate who had lots to say!

The first part of the session was spent engaging with what ‘inclusion’ means, and osme of the biblical and legal reasons for it. We then moved on to look at the problem of labels – how they can segregate children and create stereotypes; children don’t struggle with this as much as adults – they are very accepting and see that inclusivity benefits all.

They then concluded looking at some general approaches to how we work towards this inclusivity. The session had some interesting points but lacked direction and therefore didn’t really feel helpful. I hope that the resources recommended will develop what the speakers were saying.

Messy Church: Lucy Moore

Lucy ran a great session outlining some of the stuff they have been doing in her church in Portsmouth to reach out to the community. They had very few children, a small number of church families, yet locally five primary schools. They realised there were 3 options:
– Holiday clubs
– Mid-week groups
– Attempting to reach whole families

They decided to try a ‘fresh expression’ of church. Sunday was still important, but here was another church congregation, not a feeder into the Sunday service. They run once a month for approximately 80 children and adults, including games, crafts, ‘service’, and meal.

Messy theology
There are messy edges to the church – people’s spiritual journey isn’t straightforward. They are irregular in attendance and could go either way. This can be reflected in life and in God – life isn’t straightforward it messes up the simple ABC conversion that we talk so often about; and God has not created an exact or symmetrical world, e.g. the trees don’t match they are one huge mismatch.

An opportunity for all ages to worship together – have to work hard not just to focus on children. A lot of people want to worship but they need to teaching how.
Help people of all ages feel they belong to church and each other. There is no huge community sense these days so it is great to affirm people through knowing their names etc.
Help people have fun and be creative together. Not the be all but a key part of what being a Christian should be. As Christians we can be very boring – let’s be more engaging.
Introduce Jesus through hospitality, friendship, stories and worship. People need the love of someone else first.

Lucy then spent the rest of the session outlining an average session and then looking at some of the key questions to address – both at the start and then a few days down the line. Definitely something that we are spending more time thinking about here in Brentwood.

The Funding is in

As I mentioned ten days ago, we have received some more funding through The Youth Opportunities Fund and Youth Capital Fund. We heard that between the two youth groups they will be given £10,645 for various bits of equipment such as a cycle shed, BBQs, sports equipment, and funding for trips and training such as first aid and food hygiene. Really pleased for the young people.
It was great to hear how Sawyers Church received some funding as well. I hope that local churches will continue to look towards funds like this to help support their children’s and youth work.

Main session 2: The child through the eyes of the church

This session was by Alan Charter and was fantastic. He started off by asking what does it mean to be an older generation sharing with a younger generation? Thoughts included that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, and ‘the life of a child is like a piece of paper on which every passer-by leaves a mark.’ It is the role of the whole community of God’s people: parents, children’s leaders, volunteers, ministers and pastors, and the church family.

We should be raising them up to know God and to live for him. To support this he used the famous verses of Deuteronomy 6; Psalm 78; and Micah 6. As children’s leaders we need to encourage the church in this.

His main points could then be summarised as:
– Be an advocate
– Be people of vision
– Be informed
– Be strategic

He concluded with 4 things to get good at:
1. Your own relationship with Jesus
2. Equipping your own children
3. Making disciples in your church
4. Reaching the children in your community

Concluding thought was this: “The church of God doesn’t have a mission, the mission of God has a church.” A very powerful thought.