Posts Tagged ‘Children’

This is at number 2.

I sometimes meet with and speak to young men who say that they are interested in planting churches in housing schemes. One issue in particular seems to hinder them, especially if they’re from an educated, middle class background. It’s the problem of children. They are either worried about their current child/children or they are worried about what a future might look like raising a child in a housing scheme environment. I have been asked to do posts on this topic a number of times, so here is part 1 of a developing series.

Let me begin by affirming that following Jesus into housing schemes as a church planter truly can, at times, be a brutal business. Following Jesus at the best of times comes with all sorts of pressures and temptations. Surely that’s why Jesus told his disciples to ‘count the cost’ before following Him. If you want to plant in a housing scheme then you better take Him at His word. Consider the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 9:56b-62:

And they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I’m not going to exegete this text but suffice to say that one clear point of application is this: Jesus is more important than your family. He is certainly more important than your children. Deal with it. Or walk away. There will always be issues and worries and problems and questions concerning the Christian life. When considering moving into a scheme, these are manifold. But the bottom line will always be whether you are prepared to put your allegiance to Christ before all and above all, including those wonderful, fluffy, cute, sweet-smelling bundles of idolatrous joy that we call our offspring. These verses read well until they have to be put into practice. If you truly want to serve Jesus in a housing scheme then it will be hard – that’s not a ‘manly’ catchphrase, it is a heartbreaking reality.

Here’s a newsflash. Wait for it.

Church planting might actually cost us something. That something might even turn out to be everything. It might turn out to be every sacred cow we hold dear in our middle class, educationally driven, child centred, play it safe, let’s cover all the angles before we step out, Christian culture.

Really? You mean those biographies of long since, dead people who buried their children on the missions field after suffering all sorts of wasting diseases, might actually have some relevance for my coddled, sanitised Twenty First Century life? Are you suggesting that I may have to make difficult decisions today that may even be (in human, earthly terms) detrimental for my loved ones? Well, that sounds a bit over the top. That doesn’t even sound biblical, or even closely like my God who wants me and my family to be safe and sound. What would Joyce Meyer or the guy with the nice teeth on the God Channel say about that? God wants me to take decisions that make me and my family happy, doesn’t He?. God wouldn’t really want me to suffer for His namesake, would He? OK, maybe a bit of name calling and some strong debate with my atheist friends. But, to move my family to a tough scheme without thought to my young ones?  C’mon. God wouldn’t want me to do anything that is irresponsible, surely? We should, at least, consider some sort of risk assessment? You seriously mean to say that my children might suffer for the gospel? My wife might suffer for the gospel? I thought I might have to suffer but not like this. Actually, when I come to think about it, I’m not actually sure what I mean when I say that. I didn’t really think that ‘take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee‘, was really all that serious. It sounds so much better with a bit of base and a nice drum beat.

When Miriam and I made a decision to move to Brasil in 2003 we had two young children under the age of 2. We knew it was going to be hot but we had no idea just how difficult it was going to be for us emotionally, physically and spiritually. Don’t get me wrong. We were ready for hardship and difficulty. We were ready to suffer for Jesus. We just weren’t ready to watch our children suffer for choices we had made.

Both of my children were ill almost as soon as we arrived. And not just a cold or a runny nose. It was often brutal vomiting and diarrhoea. In fact, on one occasion, my youngest lost half her body weight in the space of two days. I remember turning up to the hospital with her in my arms and they had to stick a drip in her heel because she was so dehydrated. We were shoved in a room with three other children. There was mould on the floor and blood up the walls and the whole place stank of defecation. It was horrific. We hardly spoke the lingo and I had no real clue how to communicate what was wrong. When they began treatment I couldn’t even be sure of what they were giving her. The whole thing was traumatic. I was burning with rage, fear, frustration and anger. Psalm 46:1-3 came to mind:

God is our refugeand strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

He didn’t feel like my help and strength. And I was frightened in that stinking, third-rate hospital watching my little baby suffer unimaginably while a child on the bed next to us was screeching in pain and bleeding all over the floor. Another time, we were at a BBQ with friends and suddenly my eldest daughter began screaming in absolute agony. She had stumbled onto a ‘fire ant’ nest and had begun playing with it because it looked a bit like a sandcastle. They were all over her, biting into almost every part of her body. I had to pick her up and throw her into a neighbours swimming pool. Again, it was horrendous as I watched her writhing in agony, completely helpless to ease her suffering. I remember thinking at the time, “What am I doing to my children? Have I put their lives in jeopardy for some romantic notion of missionary living?” I remember well the many people we knew back in the UK who had gossiped behind our backs about what we were doing to our children bringing them to such a place. What about their health, education? What about taking them away from their family? It was all coming back to haunt me.

I had read the missionary biographies and I felt that I was supposed to be feeling this deep peace about my sense of call. I was supposed to rest in the the fact of His providence. Well, I wasn’t feeling peace and I wasn’t feeling  a deep sense of call. I was just feeling a deep sense of pain and an overwhelming desire to return home with my tail between my legs. I felt like I was abusing my children out of a sense of some personal, spiritual duty. I felt exactly as the Psalmist did in Psalm 10:1: “O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?”

I feel like I want to quote some Bible verse that came to me in those dark days. But none really did. There was just a sense of putting one foot in front of the other and hoping that things would get better as long as I kept trusting the Lord. In our first year in Brasil, Miriam was ill, both my girls were seriously ill and I had a life threatening illness which resulted in my being unconscious for 3 days. We wanted to leave and never go back. We despised the place and its people. But we loved the Lord and we knew that even in the deepest pit of our emotions, He wanted us to be there. It was just a price we had to pay. It was part of the cost. I just didn’t realise that the cost meant everybody in my family and not just me.

We can read verses like Hebrews 4:15 glibly in our culture. We read it from the safety of our modern homes and comfortable lives.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses . .

In those dark days we remembered, somehow, that we were there because people were suffering just as we were (often worse) without Christ. Imagine that if you can? We were traumatised but we had hope and we had come to live among a people who had none. If our troubles did nothing else they gave us a profound empathy with people. They gave us a faint glimpse behind the curtain of Calvary when Christ cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Even more profoundly, how deeply the Father must have suffered to watch his Son suffer in the pursuit of his heavenly mission. Hebrews 4:15 came alive then, let me tell you.

Then, in 2006 we moved to a housing scheme in Scotland. That brought with it a whole host of other issues related to our children. What about friends for them in a church with few or no children their own age? Wouldn’t it easier and fairer (on them) to pastor in a church with an established children’s and youth group? How about now that they’re older with no friends their own age in the church? What about schooling in an area of failing educational systems? What about role models for them? How about the fact that we can’t really let them play in the street with so many questionable (sex offenders) people about? We can’t let them go into certain houses we now associated with drugs and crime. Big questions I will address in further posts.

I read this prayer this morning in my devotional.

“Good God thank you that this life is not a random throw of the dice. but is watched over by your favour and fatherly care. That’s easy to confess when the wind is at my back and the sun is on my face; give me the same trust in your will when the circumstances of life turn tragic and are tear-stained. Let me understand that even then I am kept by you.”

Stay tuned.

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Just in case you think statelessness is another country’s problem consider the following BBC report. Click on the following link here to find out about the stateless children wandering the streets of the UK.

Many of London’s stateless youths came to the UK legally, but were never officially registered and as a result they have no access to education or social housing. Consequently, they often turn to crime or are often sexually exploited in order to survive. Researchers estimate there are 120,000 children living in the UK without legal immigration status and the need to take action as to help them raise their living standards is urgent.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).

I sometimes meet with and speak to young men who say that they are interested in planting churches in housing schemes. One issue in particular seems to hinder them, especially if they’re from an educated, middle class background. It’s the problem of children. They are either worried about their current child/children or they are worried about what a future might look like raising a child in a housing scheme environment. I have been asked to do posts on this topic a number of times, so here is part 1 of a developing series.

Let me begin by affirming that following Jesus into housing schemes as a church planter truly can, at times, be a brutal business. Following Jesus at the best of times comes with all sorts of pressures and temptations. Surely that’s why Jesus told his disciples to ‘count the cost’ before following Him. If you want to plant in a housing scheme then you better take Him at His word. Consider the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 9:56b-62:

And they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I’m not going to exegete this text but suffice to say that one clear point of application is this: Jesus is more important than your family. He is certainly more important than your children. Deal with it. Or walk away. There will always be issues and worries and problems and questions concerning the Christian life. When considering moving into a scheme, these are manifold. But the bottom line will always be whether you are prepared to put your allegiance to Christ before all and above all, including those wonderful, fluffy, cute, sweet-smelling bundles of idolatrous joy that we call our offspring. These verses read well until they have to be put into practice. If you truly want to serve Jesus in a housing scheme then it will be hard – that’s not a ‘manly’ catchphrase, it is a heartbreaking reality.

Here’s a newsflash. Wait for it.

Church planting might actually cost us something. That something might even turn out to be everything. It might turn out to be every sacred cow we hold dear in our middle class, educationally driven, child centred, play it safe, let’s cover all the angles before we step out, Christian culture.

Really? You mean those biographies of long since, dead people who buried their children on the missions field after suffering all sorts of wasting diseases, might actually have some relevance for my coddled, sanitised Twenty First Century life? Are you suggesting that I may have to make difficult decisions today that may even be (in human, earthly terms) detrimental for my loved ones? Well, that sounds a bit over the top. That doesn’t even sound biblical, or even closely like my God who wants me and my family to be safe and sound. What would Joyce Meyer or the guy with the nice teeth on the God Channel say about that? God wants me to take decisions that make me and my family happy, doesn’t He?. God wouldn’t really want me to suffer for His namesake, would He? OK, maybe a bit of name calling and some strong debate with my atheist friends. But, to move my family to a tough scheme without thought to my young ones?  C’mon. God wouldn’t want me to do anything that is irresponsible, surely? We should, at least, consider some sort of risk assessment? You seriously mean to say that my children might suffer for the gospel? My wife might suffer for the gospel? I thought I might have to suffer but not like this. Actually, when I come to think about it, I’m not actually sure what I mean when I say that. I didn’t really think that ‘take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee‘, was really all that serious. It sounds so much better with a bit of base and a nice drum beat.

When Miriam and I made a decision to move to Brasil in 2003 we had two young children under the age of 2. We knew it was going to be hot but we had no idea just how difficult it was going to be for us emotionally, physically and spiritually. Don’t get me wrong. We were ready for hardship and difficulty. We were ready to suffer for Jesus. We just weren’t ready to watch our children suffer for choices we had made.

Both of my children were ill almost as soon as we arrived. And not just a cold or a runny nose. It was often brutal vomiting and diarrhoea. In fact, on one occasion, my youngest lost half her body weight in the space of two days. I remember turning up to the hospital with her in my arms and they had to stick a drip in her heel because she was so dehydrated. We were shoved in a room with three other children. There was mould on the floor and blood up the walls and the whole place stank of defecation. It was horrific. We hardly spoke the lingo and I had no real clue how to communicate what was wrong. When they began treatment I couldn’t even be sure of what they were giving her. The whole thing was traumatic. I was burning with rage, fear, frustration and anger. Psalm 46:1-3 came to mind:

God is our refugeand strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

He didn’t feel like my help and strength. And I was frightened in that stinking, third-rate hospital watching my little baby suffer unimaginably while a child on the bed next to us was screeching in pain and bleeding all over the floor. Another time, we were at a BBQ with friends and suddenly my eldest daughter began screaming in absolute agony. She had stumbled onto a ‘fire ant’ nest and had begun playing with it because it looked a bit like a sandcastle. They were all over her, biting into almost every part of her body. I had to pick her up and throw her into a neighbours swimming pool. Again, it was horrendous as I watched her writhing in agony, completely helpless to ease her suffering. I remember thinking at the time, “What am I doing to my children? Have I put their lives in jeopardy for some romantic notion of missionary living?” I remember well the many people we knew back in the UK who had gossiped behind our backs about what we were doing to our children bringing them to such a place. What about their health, education? What about taking them away from their family? It was all coming back to haunt me.

I had read the missionary biographies and I felt that I was supposed to be feeling this deep peace about my sense of call. I was supposed to rest in the the fact of His providence. Well, I wasn’t feeling peace and I wasn’t feeling  a deep sense of call. I was just feeling a deep sense of pain and an overwhelming desire to return home with my tail between my legs. I felt like I was abusing my children out of a sense of some personal, spiritual duty. I felt exactly as the Psalmist did in Psalm 10:1: “O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?”

I feel like I want to quote some Bible verse that came to me in those dark days. But none really did. There was just a sense of putting one foot in front of the other and hoping that things would get better as long as I kept trusting the Lord. In our first year in Brasil, Miriam was ill, both my girls were seriously ill and I had a life threatening illness which resulted in my being unconscious for 3 days. We wanted to leave and never go back. We despised the place and its people. But we loved the Lord and we knew that even in the deepest pit of our emotions, He wanted us to be there. It was just a price we had to pay. It was part of the cost. I just didn’t realise that the cost meant everybody in my family and not just me.

We can read verses like Hebrews 4:15 glibly in our culture. We read it from the safety of our modern homes and comfortable lives.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses . .

In those dark days we remembered, somehow, that we were there because people were suffering just as we were (often worse) without Christ. Imagine that if you can? We were traumatised but we had hope and we had come to live among a people who had none. If our troubles did nothing else they gave us a profound empathy with people. They gave us a faint glimpse behind the curtain of Calvary when Christ cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Even more profoundly, how deeply the Father must have suffered to watch his Son suffer in the pursuit of his heavenly mission. Hebrews 4:15 came alive then, let me tell you.

Then, in 2006 we moved to a housing scheme in Scotland. That brought with it a whole host of other issues related to our children. What about friends for them in a church with few or no children their own age? Wouldn’t it easier and fairer (on them) to pastor in a church with an established children’s and youth group? How about now that they’re older with no friends their own age in the church? What about schooling in an area of failing educational systems? What about role models for them? How about the fact that we can’t really let them play in the street with so many questionable (sex offenders) people about? We can’t let them go into certain houses we now associated with drugs and crime. Big questions I will address in further posts.

I read this prayer this morning in my devotional.

“Good God thank you that this life is not a random throw of the dice. but is watched over by your favour and fatherly care. That’s easy to confess when the wind is at my back and the sun is on my face; give me the same trust in your will when the circumstances of life turn tragic and are tear-stained. Let me understand that even then I am kept by you.”

Stay tuned.

This is a very timely article from The Resurgence site on this highly emotive issue. Read it here.

by Mike Stark

Most of us are familiar with the terms  ADD or ADHD (attention deficit disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). We work with and know many local children who have been diagnosed as such, placing them in a box and giving them a medical label to help them understand their (so-called) deficiency. Closely tied to these conditions is the issue of “attention span(s)”. Much is said, and has been published, about the length of time young people can really concentrate on something. The average young person, apparently, has an attention span of around 10-20 minutes. In our local High School, lessons last 50 minutes. In the High School where my wife teaches, periods last 35 minutes. The theory being that young people can only concentrate on a topic for a short period of time before needing to move on to something else.

So, when we see these articles that pop up from time to time, telling us that children can only concentrate for short bursts, and that their minds are being eroded by TV and video games, we may naturally begin to think about our context within the church and, specifically, our preaching on Sundays. Are our sermons too long for our young people? Are our sermons even too long for the adults?

Since the start of the year, our average sermon length at Niddrie has been 29.5 minutes long (yes, I have counted!). We often have a group of people from the community coming along to services on a Sunday morning. In recent months, we’ve also had a few young people as a direct result of  our school’s work and the other activities we do, such as our Youth Café. These individuals are not Christians, they’re ‘un-churched’, and they’re generally not in the habit of sitting and listening to a 30 minute sermon.

Bearing this in mind, we’ve been careful about our preaching recently, and those that bear the bulk of the teaching responsibility take great care each week to contextualise their message, often meeting together to run through it on the Friday beforehand to share ideas. They’ve also been careful about the length, although I’m not even convinced that the length of a sermon is necessarily the defining issue. Many of us will have experience of 10 minute sermons that have bored us to tears within the first minute. My old minister always says, in preaching: “If you’ve not struck oil in the first few minutes, stop boring”. On the other hand, I’m sure we’ve sat through 60 minute sermons that seemed to fly by. So the length isn’t everything.

Recent experience has shown me that even a group of Niddrie young people can sit still, listen to, and learn from a 30 minute sermon. Without going into too much more detail about some of the technical and structural changes the preachers have made (that would be an other blog post), I’d like to share with you just a few things that have worked well for us in Niddrie with the young people who have been coming along each week.

  1. Sit with the young people throughout the service. Be deliberate and make sure other youth leaders in the church are being deliberate too. In our church, some of us have to get up to play instruments; we have to make sure that when we get up, the young person we were sat next to isn’t left by themselves. Young people don’t like being a Norman-nae mates – sit with them!
  2. Try and ensure young people have the freedom to make a little noise. They’ll need someone to help them find their way through the Bible, they may not understand something that’s been said and sometimes they’ll want to ask a question. This can be done quite easily and without being a distraction to the rest of the church if, (a) you’re putting into practice number 1 above, and (b) the young person is capable of whispering – which is never a guarantee. Hopefully whoever is preaching will be sensitive to the situation and not get too distracted and/or irate. I’ve tried to speak to whoever is preaching beforehand to be sure they’re aware. One young man who came for the first time last week (after a number of invites) needed to leave early to visit his dad. He told me beforehand, and so I told Mez beforehand; that way he wouldn’t be distracted when he got up to leave. Sometimes a short answer to a young person’s question isn’t possible, and will have to be explained further after the service. Be sure and remember what the question was!
  3. Finally, give them a notebook and a pen. This has been the most helpful thing we’ve done. Mez said that the best thing anyone did for him when he started coming to church was to put a notebook and pen in his hand. It gives them something to focus on and it helps them to process what’s said and even reflect on it later. Two of the boys that have been coming along recently will testify to the difference it has made for them. It helps that I also take notes, so there is a sense in which they’re watching me and doing as I do. So far they have been copying points that I’ve noted down, but that’s because they’re not used to note-taking. With time, they’ll be able to jot down their own thoughts and points that have challenged or encouraged them throughout the sermon. It’s a skill that needs to be learned, but it first needs to be put into practice.

None of these are particularly new or revolutionary ideas. There’s still much more that could be said on tweaks and changes that the preacher could make in order to help maintain young people’s attention; but perhaps these are a few helpful suggestions if you’re the one  sitting in the congregation each week, wanting to help your young people engage more with what’s being taught up front.

by Mike Stark (Children’s, Youth & Community Worker)

Historically, we haven’t had many ‘Christian’ young people in Niddrie Community Church. We have a vibrant and active work among children and youth in the community, yet this is almost exclusively evangelistic, rather than discipling. So, with a few exceptions, there’s a bit of a disconnect between a Sunday morning service, and the work we’re doing the rest of the week.

As we move forward as a church, with the long-term goal (10-20 years) of growing future indigenous leaders, we’re looking to focus on the children’s and youth work, and invest heavily in these ministries in the hope that God will bless us with young people coming to faith. Recently, we’ve signs of promise:

  • A small group of girls from our Youth Café are meeting up in our flat with my wife and another leader to go through the Soul DVD series and to talk about Christianity. One of these girl’s has been coming regularly on a Sunday morning.
  • One young person from the school, who is extremely keen, has been coming to Sunday services faithfully every opportunity he gets for a couple of weeks now.
  • Another school-leaver has been coming with me to the morning prayer meetings and studying the Bible with me afterward every day for over 2 weeks.
  • In addition to the one-2-one’s I’m doing with some of the young men, another group will be meeting up for the first time this Friday afternoon to go through the Soul DVD series.

Of course, we don’t measure success on the basis of young bums in seats on Sunday mornings; that’s not the way to gauge the spiritual temperature of young people. However, bearing in mind our context and the relative absence of Christian young people – the fact that the spiritual temperature of our average young person is… well dead – we’ve got to be encouraged by seeing young people coming to Sunday services and engaging in things like Bible studies and prayer meetings. Exciting things are happening and it’s apparent that God is at work in our children and youth ministry in Niddrie and we seem to be on the brink of at least a few young people coming to faith

The question is: are we ready for them?

God, in His grace, has stirred a bit of interest in the Gospel specifically, and spiritual things generally, in the hearts and minds of our young people. In anticipation of His goodness, and as we wait expectantly for young people to be saved, we need to be thinking about the next step. What are our plans for the nurture and discipleship of these young believers? Are we ready? I think, at the moment, the honest answer is no. As we’ve seen glimmers of hope with different individuals over the last 6 months, Mez has said to me a few times that perhaps growth is slow because the Lord is being gracious and patient with us. Knowing our limitations, He’s giving us no more than we can bear, yet stretching us and challenging us, leading us on in the way He will have us go.

Here are a few short thoughts I have, in no particular order, on how we can ready ourselves for the coming years.

1) Invest in the Children’s and Youth Ministry Team

Investment can take a number of forms. Leaders need to be trained to fulfill their tasks well, and communicated to, so that they understand why we are doing certain things and be made aware of different needs. I have plans in hand for training leaders and for stimulating growth in their different areas of responsibility.

As young people come to faith, like any baby, they’ll need constant support and attention. I simply don’t have the time/energy to provide that for every young person that comes to faith, all the while investing in new relationships with unbelievers in the community and running a number of key ministries. I will need leaders who are equipped and encouraged to do this alongside me. Initially, I’ll need to model this to them, but, eventually, they’ll need to actually follow my example and invest in young people. They will need to see me doing it, and follow suit themselves. So I  need to be inviting leaders to join me in doing some of the stuff I do with young people so that they ‘see me’ doing it.

2) Plan a ‘curriculum’ for Christian growth

Where do we go from the Soul DVD series? In the past, the church has used resources like Stranger On The Road To Emmaus, and The Cross: Finding Life In Jesus’ Death with some of our new believers. How appropriate are these for our young people? The Stranger series has a DVD companion, but it’s really cheesy! And I’ve ordered a copy of their youth version, so look out for a review soon… I’m also open to other suggestions if you have any.

The advantage for us is that, with a small number of Christian young people (on their way, we pray), we will be able to tailor material to suit the individual. Traditional Christian youth groups will not have this luxury and will normally decide on material to suit the collective as a whole. As our ‘collective’ grows, we will probably look to carve out a suitable time in the week where they can meet to grow together and encourage each other in their faith.

Eventually we WILL want to be encouraging each of them to come along to services on Sunday mornings because that’s where the bulk of our teaching is done. It’s important for them to engage with other members of the church, appreciate the diversity of Christian experience in the church and to realise how much they can learn things from other church members that they wouldn’t otherwise learn from their youth leader/mentor. Conversely, we mustn’t underestimate all that they’ll contribute to the wider church, initially in terms of encouragement of other believers seeing them engage and grow, but later in terms of their spiritual gifting and opportunities to serve and lead.

3) Start thinking 3 steps ahead

Unless we are looking to the future and asking ourselves: ‘Where’s this going? What next?’  then we’ll run the risk of idling as we slip into maintenance mode. To avoid stagnation, we need to be constantly thinking 3 steps ahead.

Take, for example, the work at our local High School. We have a really exciting work going on up there, but what happens if the rug is pulled from beneath our feet and the school is closed (as has been discussed!) – where are we then? What other schools are we investing in, or are all our eggs in the one basket?

We need your prayers as we move forward into this exciting new phase. Please pray for our many young people, that their eyes would be opened to the reality of the Gospel and their hearts transformed under the Lordship of Christ. Pray for us too, for wisdom, vision and foresight. And thank God for his patience with us!

On Sunday evening I have been teaching a parenting class for a group of about 15 people crammed into my front room. One of the dangers of parenting courses is that people think they are only applicable for those with children. Singles think they have no need to know, older couples think they have done it all, those struggling with having children find it difficult and many think it a topic best left to the parent alone.

Scripture has much to say on the topic and this evening we will be looking at the issue of motherhood and daughters. Miriam (my wife) and I have had some interesting conversations off the back of the course. One of the big ones for us has been: who is there in our church that could be an older sister and/or grandmother type figure in the church? Who is there outside of our family unit who could help us raise our girls and bring some much needed Christian maturity into their lives? Apart form one young woman in the church and an unbeliever in the community, the answer at the moment, sadly, is nobody really.

I think perhaps one of the great issues of our day in the Western world is that we have reduced parenting and family to mean merely ‘mum, dad, & children’. Raising children is not really a community affair anymore. We think that is sad and that great riches are being lost to our children and to the Christian community of which we are a part. It’s a delicate issue and cannot be forced. It’s not like we can say, ‘Hey you, be my daughter’s big sister and teach her how to be a young girl in the Lord.’ We are still talking about it and praying it through.

Meanwhile, Mark Bates has written a short piece below to stimulate our thinking in this area.

http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/it-takes-church-raise-child/

“I’d die if I didn’t have my BlackBerry.”

Recent comment from young person

According to the news, a UK survey shows that TV is being pushed aside by mobile internet devices in the lives of young people.

Among 7-16 year olds, 61% have a mobile phone with internet access, and use that phone for an average of 1.6 hours a day. Before and after school, young people are now more likely to play with their mobiles than watch TV. On the topic of social media, here’s a short, very well made, and interesting video I though would be worth embedding…

If you do any work with young people, you don’t need me or the BBC to break this news to you – I’m sure you’re already perfectly aware of how significant mobile phones and social media are in the lives of young people today. The above quote would be fairly normal in my youth work experience and I’ve become quite accustomed to having conversations with young people who are simultaneously holding umpteen other conversations with friends via BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), or Facebook.

I’m all for engaging with young people and communicating in ways with which they’re comfortable: I’m happy to accept Friend Requests on Facebook (so long as I actually KNOW the individual), and I’m comfortable having mobile numbers and texting young people.

In fact, there are lots of ways I could go with this post: we could talk about how, with 600+ Facebook/BBM friends, our young people are growing up with a more diluted concept of what friendship is; we could talk about the trend of sexting (sending revealing or explicit photos and/or video to others, sometimes with the goal of meeting for sex) and how, according to research, 80% of 16-24 year olds have used either a smartphone or the web for some form of sexual contact; or we could talk about some of the practicalities of using social media and the need for transparency and appropriate safeguards. As is often the case, it’s real life situations that lie behind these posts, and one of the reasons why I noticed this particular news article was down to the fact that for the past 2 hours, I’ve been having a text message conversation with one young person who’s in real need of pastoral support.

Though useful for certain things, BBM, texts and Facebook are simply no substitute for face to face contact. There’s no depth to the conversations you have through typing – even something simple like the tone of what’s being said is very tricky to read, and something intended to be clear and innocent can be easily misinterpreted. Even phone conversations are no substitute for face to face – although the conversation can flow more freely than through text, you’re fundamentally unable to ‘listen’ to what the person is not saying: in their body language and such like.

I’d much rather sit down with the young person I’ve been texting this afternoon and just listen to what they have to say. But for now, they feel most comfortable with text messages, and that’s fine. In the past I’ve had long email conversations with young people in need of pastoral guidance and advice, and often these emails have been the precursor to deeper, more fruitful face to face conversations about their situation and where the gospel speaks into that situation. It’s my hope and prayer that this will be the case here, and that this individual will get the support they need.

In the UK, there’s a product called Ronseal. It’s a popular varnish/wood stain product available in most hardware stores. Their advertising strap line is really well known: it’s supposed to be simple, straight-forward, and down-to-earth.

“Ronseal: It does exactly what it says on the tin.”

In January, we’re planning on starting a new youth activity in our church, aimed at young people in our community around the ages on 10-15. So far it hasn’t got a name, so I’ve been thinking a bit lately about branding in youth work: can it be helpful or is it just pointless?

Niddrie Community Church has had a history of unimaginative names for youth activities: Tuesday Club, and Thursday Club are classic examples. I have to confess, I would also tend to adopt the ‘Ronseal’ approach to naming our new initiatives. Surely our group names should do exactly what it says on the tin and reflect the nature of the group. Surely young people ought to know what they’re coming to.

When we first had the idea of starting a bike project, after some thought we decided on what was hardly a revolutionary name: The Bike Project. For quite some time, I had been keen to start a youth café. We were able to successfully launch it in March 2010, calling it Youth Café. Up until recently, Ellis and I ran a nice little group for boys on a Friday afternoon. Whatever we come up with for these 10-15 year olds in the new year will be replacing this little group that was known simply as Friday Boys.

Having grown up in the church over the last 20 years, I’ve come across lots of funky youth group names. I’m not sure where this trend came from. They tend to be either (a) onomatopoeic, (b) a clever play on words, (c) make novel use of numerals, (d) be an obscure acronym, or (e) an ethereal noun/verb (such as ‘Ignite’ or ‘Space’). Here’s some of my favourite youth group names…

  1. AWESOME – Assembly of Wesleyan Eternal Sons Of Methodist Evangelicals
  2. SCUM – stands for ‘School Christian Union Meeting’
  3. Girls On Top – … erm, connotations…
  4. Fuel – come and fill up your tank!
  5. Root66 – rooted in the Word of God; that’s right, all 66 books!
  6. Cliffy Cliff and the Funky Bunch – ???
  7. SWITCH – stands for ‘Sundays, Wednesdays In The Church Hall’
  8. tHis – stands for ‘totally His’
  9. Flipside – cause youth ministry’s cool
  10. MYASS – stands for ‘Miguel’s Young Adult Sunday School’ (erm….connotations…)
  11. 3:6Teen – obviously pointing to John 3:16
  12. X-STREAM – stands for ‘X-Sinners Totally Radical Empowering All Mankind’

Branding isn’t just about coming up with the right name though. We should be familiar, at least subconsciously, with the concept of branding in our consumerist society. Corporations and organisations spend millions of pounds on their brand or identity. Branding will include your name, and usually a logo, perhaps even a slogan or strap-line like ‘Because you’re worth it’ or ‘It does exactly what it says on the tin!’ These days, a name can also depend on the availability of the corresponding .com web domain.

The branding must give the ‘consumer’ an idea of what you’re about. So, whatever you decide to call your group, you need to be aware of what the name, logo and slogan will communicate to your young people. One suggestion I picked up from Bible College was that if I want my young people to have more ownership of the group, I should consider allowing them to (re)name the group(s) – let them be the creative ones. Maybe worth a thought…

One of the biggest considerations for us would be what the young people think? Do they even care what it’s called, or is it just the youth workers? Most of the time, our the young people that come to the Youth Café still just call it ‘the club’ or ‘the youth group!’

Would young people be more or less likely to come to a branded activity? Almost all of our youth work is evangelistic, and so we want to reach a broad range of young people in the community with the good news of Jesus Christ. We want them to know that we’re Christians and that our faith is central to all we do. I don’t think they really care what it’s called as long as we’re available to them.

Image from schoolwork.co.uk

Being the new chaplain on the scene, it falls to me to deliver this year’s Christmas assembly in the local high school next week. The expectation is for me to deliver a short seasonal message to a large group of teenagers (who don’t really want to be there) to help them think more about Christmas. And all this in a way that’s interesting, contextually relevant, light on the cheese, and isn’t going to end up with me being lynched in the playground by angry teachers (although that might be more entertaining and memorable for the pupils). No pressure then!

I’ve always been quite clear that my purpose for being in school is rooted in the gospel. I’m there because I’m a Christian and I have good news to share. I’ve been upfront with the school management and teachers in this: that my faith is the motivating factor for my work in the community. I do what I do because I love young people, I want to serve young people, and I want to introduce them to the man that changed my life: Jesus. Like Spurgeon said, I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where they can find bread.

I don’t always get many opportunities up at the school to say something significant about my faith. Everyone up there knows I’m a Christian, so that in itself presents a good number of low-key, informal opportunities to talk about Christ with staff and students. RME (Religious and Moral Education) classes and assemblies are the formal opportunities – if I’ve been asked to speak, then I’m expected to talk about my faith – so it’s important to take them seriously.

Although the following resources might be a helpful starting point for anyone preparing a Christmas assembly, perhaps helping to get the creative juices flowing, we still need to do a lot of work in terms of contextualising the message for our audiences. Just because an ‘off the shelf’ assembly idea worked in some high school in middle-England doesn’t mean it’s a sure fit for an Edinburgh housing scheme or any other school for that matter. Know your school, know the staff, and be diligent in faithfully representing the Saviour at this significant time of year.

Assembly Ideas (and other bits to connect church and schools) – does what it says on the tin.

ReJesus.co.uk – Christmas articles, stories and illustrations.

Schoolswork.co.uk – resources, inspiration and training for Christian schools workers.

The Brick Testament – if the bible was lego…