Today we got together 30 of our volunteer children’s and youth leaders for a day of teaching and training. I started the morning off with a talk reflecting on the challenge and the hope of children’s and youth ministry:
The last 20 years have seen more changes in a child’s life than any other time in history. The world has been through the fastest technological revolution that has ever happened in the life of this planet, with accompanying changes in lifestyle and economy.
The resulting upheaval has affected everyone, but children’s lives have changed the most. It cannot be assumed that the effects of such changes on children are similar to those experienced by adults.
Working 9am until 5pm was common until the 1980s, this has radically changed. More service industries operate throughout the whole week. Twenty-four hour call-centres, garages and supermarkets, fast-food outlets, Sunday trading and extended licensing laws have become the norm. Flexible working, shift work and job sharing are widespread.
Government initiatives have encouraged lone parents to support themselves, leading to a vast increase in the number in full-time employment. Although legislation prevents people being required to work for more than 48 hours each week, a substantial number work for over 50 hours a week.
The combination of these factors has lessened the time that whole families can spend together. More young children are cared for by childminders or in nurseries. There is a marked increase in demand for places in after-school clubs. The number of families sharing meals regularly has lessened, so there is less free time for discussions of the school day, interests and needs. If Sunday is a work-free day, it is kept for family matters: shopping, sports, DIY, or visiting friends and relations.
A large number of children are taken to school by car. Some parents may drop their children off on the way to work, but cars are also used so children can avoid having to cross main roads, as a substitute for inadequate public transport, to save time, and to avoid “stranger danger” – parents being worried about their children being out by themselves.
The problems from a lack of exercise are well documented, but there are also social disadvantages: lack of contact with friends on the journey and dependence on the goodwill of busy parents.
Divorce and changes in family life
The divorce rate has gone up significantly, combined with the rise of cohabitation and the birth of children to never-married mothers. The average age of women at the birth of their first child has increased to 28.1 years old.
The implications of these changes are vast and affect children the most: juggling life across two families can make it very difficult for children to sustain friendships outside school or attend a particular church each week, even if the parents are practising Christians.
Many sporting events involving children now take place on Sundays as well as Saturdays or after school. Some popular schools demand this sort of participation as a condition of entry, so attending church on Sunday can become a casualty of going to a particular school or playing for a particular team.
The biggest change, however, is in the hour spent watching television, and the development of computers and games consoles.
Consumer culture and the effect on children
The effects of bring up children in such a consumer culture are well known and documented. One obvious side effect is the shortening of childhood and the lengthening of adolescence. Even the youngest children are dressed as miniature adults with the consequent expectation that they will behave accordingly. Another is the constant peer pressure to possess the latest gadget, toy and clothing.
If children are victims of long-term unemployment, poor housing and the poverty associated with such deprivation, they soon become acutely aware that they may lack many of the good things that are enjoyed by other children, maybe even those in the same class at school. Our local area is rated as the fourth worst area to bring up under 5s in the county – Dibden Purlieu is not immune to these issues.
A creeping secularisation has all but destroyed many of the Christian symbols that served as silent witnesses in society. The traditional picture-postcard image of a church in the centre of a village community is unrelated to almost any child’s lifestyle. The church is one of the many factors on the edge of a busy life.
During the 20th century Sunday School attendance dropped from 55% to 4% of children, meaning that even the most rudiments of the Christian story and of Christian experience are lacking in most young people.
It all feels a little hopeless, and yet if we look we can see glimmers of hope, and these are encouraged by the lessons we see throughout the Bible. This morning I want to show you some hopeful things we can learn as children’s and youth leaders from Nehemiah’s leadership.
Nehemiah leaved in Babylon in the equivalent of Windsor Palace during the exile. He got a great job being cup bearer – either chief waiter or testing the wine for poison or head of security – the chances are he was chief waiter.
You must start with tears
Nehemiah hears from his family the state of Jerusalem, when he heard this news he wept – our ministry should begin with tears . We’ve just heard some of the many issues and problems facing our church, we should weep for the church, for these lost children and young people. We need to follow this model. Following this he intercedes for the situation – praying into it.
Jesus tells us we need to sow in tears to reap. In ch. 1 he prays, but he doesn’t tell God all the problems, he begins his prayer with “Lord the God of heaven, the great and awesome God” starting as do so many biblical prayers (e.g. the Lord’s prayer) with praise. How are we praising God?
You can’t authentically minister from a distance
He then goes on to confess. How often though do we confess other peoples sins rather than our sins. Nehemiah prayers incarnately, he includes himself in this prayer not just talking about his people.
On a camel of average speed it took 3 and a half months – Nehemiah had burned his bridges – it would take 7 months to do the round trip if he realised it wasn’t working. Working with children and young people is hard – one minute it seems like revival is about to happen, the next it feels like we might as well end it and we see that here in Dibden Purlieu.
The gift of plodding
We need the gift of plodding in 21st century children’s and youth ministry, Nehemiah models this. Something happens when we outlast the enemy, when go one more round, last one minute longer.
Having arrived in Jerusalem Nehemiah calls the people together and says lets build. Every story has a hero and villain – Nehemiah is our hero and Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab are our villains.
These three attacks seem to come:
The attack of ridicule: 4:1-5
Who do you think you are, you think God can use you. What the enemy does is he knows each of us and so he gets us on our weak points. The devil’s strategy is lying, Jesus describes him as the father of lies. The best lies are the half-truths, he doesn’t waste himself with lies that are so far fetched, e.g. Chris is anorexic, Chris looks in the mirror and sees that isn’t true, but Chris can’t do administration etc., which is semi-true so we then believe he won’t use us. But God uses us because of his grace, he uses us in his mercy.
Nehemiah didn’t argue with Sanballat, he turned it into prayer; but that’s where we fall short as we argue with ourselves about we’re not that bad, but we are, we’re all that bad; let God defend us. God couldn’t use you, you don’t pray enough. The genius of that challenge is how much is enough? Is it 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2.4 hours, and then pray without ceasing!
A full frontal assault: 4:6-11
You’ve seen massive growth and then a lack of support, illness, finances suddenly causes problems, criticsm and attacks from our Christian brothers and sisters. Our first response is to question what we are doing, we must be outside His will as he’s lifted His protection from us – it shouldn’t be so hard. But isn’t that the exact indication that you are in God’s will, if you weren’t doing something right the enemy wouldn’t bother with you. The enemy is evil but he’s not daft, he only attacks when he thinks he needs to.
The thing you dreamt about, it’s happening, children and young people are coming to faith, there’s still problems but lots is happening. When you are physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted you are susceptible to compromise.
We compromise our calling to ministry, we don’t fully do what God calls us to do. But we don’t have any right to negotiate any of God’s calling away, 90% obedience isn’t good enough.
We hear stories of Christian leaders mucking up big time, normally because little things weren’t dealt with, e.g. David not going to war in the spring to take a year sunbathing and then he sees Bathsheba. We need to know ourselves to know when that might happen.
When we give out we can end up having a pity party and before you know it you’ve messed up. That’s the story of Elijah, a miracle on a mountain and then the next day he runs away from 1 woman and sucks his thumb in the desert having a pity party. The Lord tells him to sleep, then he sends some angels from the catering corp, then another sleep and some more food. When he was rested the Lord takes him up the mountain into the cave, and having heard the earthquake, wind and fire, but then hears the whisper and goes back to battle. The earthquake, wind and fire of Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest, seeing people come to faith in our youth ministry. We need to learn to rest in the whisper. We need to develop our disciplines: we need to learn to hear the whisper, and to be sustained by him.
He’s also provided the body of Christ, lone-ranger Christianity is just not biblical. Been amazed to realise how individualistic society is, individualism is sin. After God in the Old Testament the most important character is Israel, in the New Testament it is the Church. We affect one another, for good and for bad – that is the principle of salvation – someone else ding on the cross is a merit for me. We are a family, we need one another, we need to sustain one another. It’s not just the vertical relationship, but also horizontal relationships within our children’s and youth teams that are critical.
2013 A Year of Glimmers of Hope
We have hope, let’s look at what happened here this last year, what you helped to make happen:
- 197 children attended our Monsters Stink holiday club – the biggest summer holiday activity for children in Hampshire
- 78 assemblies, 29 RE lessons, 104 lunch club sessions and 8 pupils mentored weekly in local schools
- 150 year 6 children helped with transition to secondary school
- 225 children visited the church for RE
- 25 young people went to Soul Survivor with 6 young people becoming a Christian
- 30 young people went to Fairthorne Manor
- 290 attendances at iDen and jDen
- 769 attendances at Uncover Tuesdays
- 13 services led by the Youth Worship Group
- 50 at the Dibden Youth Christmas Social
- Over 23,000 watched a testimony video the week before Easter on Facebook
- 13 young people got Confirmed
- 1,601 attendances on a Sunday morning and evening
- 2,115 attendances at Dibden Minis
- Over 5,420 volunteer hours given, excluding Steph Gray’s time, saving over £50,000 in staffing
How do we carry it on?
I’ve recently been reflecting on how important it is that we are homemakers for the children and young people of our community. We need to make the church a place where they are loved, that is relaxed, and fun. A home where they feel they belong and are accepted for who they are (caps, hoodies and all!). We need to have a balance of strong discipline like a parent and the young people having ever increasing ownership and responsibility.
I want to see a place where the young people can have shared positive experiences, where they can see the true love and generosity of a Christian heart. Where we, at the church, commit to loving the young people even when they let us down because that is what our Father in heaven does for us. Where all the young people who come into the building of our church are regularly prayed for by the whole body of our church.
And imagine what that might lead to. With recent surveys continuing to show that 75-85% of all Christians give their life to Jesus between the ages of 11-21 what an exciting and important mission we have here.
Following this we did sessions on: