Posts Tagged ‘church plant’

When was the last time you met a person who took a decision in their life based on how it would affect their Christian community? As a pastor I am informed about decisions to move house, job etc and my immediate response is always, ‘What is the motivation behind your decision?’ For a clear majority of people it boils down to economics – more money or better prospects etc. The spiritual ramifications do not even warrant a thought for many Christians. How will it affect my local church if I move? What about my responsibilities in my local church? Who will take those on? Those are, sadly, ridiculous questions in the mind of many believers in our society.

What’s church got to do with it? This is about me and my family. There will probably be a decent church nearby, but if not we’ll find one somewhere. The implicit reasoning behind this is often, ‘God will sort out the “spiritual” stuff and I will take care of the rest.’

There is a great post here on Kevin DeYoung’s blog about a movement of church planting and growth in our inner cities. He is writing about church planting in cities. But my question to believers in the UK is this:

What if, instead of bettering career prospects, becoming more upwardly mobile and being near a better school for your children, you made a decision to move into one of the council estates or schemes in your area? What if you made the decision based on the need to see healthy, gospel centred churches in these areas? What if instead of moaning about “urban decay” we moved back in with our skill set and set about the work of “spiritual regeneration” in our schemes and estates?

I wonder what the spiritual landscape of our country would begin to look like then?

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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.

Incarnational Living | Church Planting | Urban Youth Ministry | Missional Community| Urban Church

Proximity 2012 is a conference happening this May (25th-26th) in Salford, hosted by the Eden Network. It aims to bring these five streams above together in one place for two days of vision, conversation, inspiration and celebration. If you’re a leader or practitioner in any of these five overlapping areas of ministry Proximity could be of interest to you. Our tickets are being booked this week.

Proximity will be light-hearted and yet intelligent; fast-paced and yet reflective; boundary-pushing and yet affirming.

For more information, you can download the programme here. Or visit www.eden-network.org/proximity

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!

by Mike Stark (Youth & School’s Worker for NCC)

I recently attended “Deep Impact”, Scotland’s National Christian Youth Work Conference in Aviemore. I came back refreshed, inspired and excited about all the work ahead. I’ve got a lot to reflect on over the next couple of weeks: the people I met, the things I learned, and truths I just needed to digest. Since I got back last Sunday, whenever possible, I’ve been re-reading my notes and musing, thinking about how to apply some of these things to our Youth and Children’s work in Niddrie.

Gavin Calver, YFC

The whole theme of the conference was to ‘Boldly go…‘ encouraging Youth and Children’s workers to be bold in their lives and ministries for Jesus. The main speaker for the weekend was Gavin Calver, head of Youth For Christ in the UK, who seems to be a bit of a ‘have-a-go hero’ in evangelism – the kind of man normal people don’t want to sit next to on a long haul flight. During one of the seminars, Gavin talked about the Three Stories model of evangelism as a particularly good way to engage post modern people in a biblical way.

Three Story Evangelism is about connecting stories… three of them as you have probably guessed: me and my story, Christ and His story, and finally them and their story. The idea is to find connections between you and them, therefore connecting an unbeliever’s life and story to Christ and His story.

Image: Long Green Baptist Church

The more these stories and lives connect and the more we have in common, the better. This model also stresses the importance of nurturing our ‘connection‘ with Christ in evangelism even more than we would look to nurture our ‘connection’ with a lost world. So, our relationship with Jesus is of first importance in evangelism.

I confess I’m not always the boldest in my evangelism. It’s tempting to buy into the notion that because I’m not a gifted evangelist, I can leave the evangelism to others. Ellis is, on the other hand, a gifted evangelist – he’s bold as brass when it comes to sharing his faith – and so his gifts are complimentary to my own. However, that aside, every Christian has a role in evangelism, in sharing the good news of Jesus with a lost and dying world, and the three stories model is a very simple approach to use. In fact, most of us have probably used it without even thinking about it because it’s an approach that Jesus used in the Bible.

In John chapter 4, we read the extraordinary story of the woman at the well. Here, I’m taking for granted Christ’s ‘connection’ with his Father, and we will look at how he engages with the woman and her story. Jesus is tired, his disciples have gone into town to buy food, and he says to the woman “Will you give me a drink?”

What does Jesus have in common with this Samaritan woman? Well, they’re in the same place at the same time: Jesus needs a drink and the woman is equipped to draw water. And so Jesus throws social conventions (v.9) out the window to establish a relationship with this lost individual. From a very simple conversation starter, Jesus goes on to share some very profound truths with this woman. He cuts to the core of the woman’s idolatries (men, relationships, sex and intimacy) and brings the gospel to bear in her life. She is so profoundly changed that she forgets her shame (v.6-7), returns to her community and shares the good news there (v.28-30).

I was up at the gym last week with Mez and Andy. As I sat in the sauna thinking about all this, I decided I’d give it a go, so I asked the man next to me a question about the gym (seeing as I was in on a guest pass). This developed into, admittedly, a relatively superficial conversation ranging from golf, TV packages, and the recession, on to my job as a church youth worker. OK, he didn’t repent of his sins and put his trust in Jesus, but it was a little conversation that could have gone anywhere. And it’s important to recognise that it could have gone nowhere: if people don’t want to talk (as most in a sauna won’t!) pursuing conversation isn’t going to do us any favours.

How does all this relate to evangelism among young people in a housing scheme in Niddrie? Nearly every single Gospel opportunity I’ve had in the past 4 years has come because I’m in relationship with a young person. Although I still get opportunities, especially through my chaplain role at the high school, to stand in front of a class, house, or an entire year group and share the Gospel, but the only conversation I can remember off the back of one of these was a little chat with a girl about bullying. Yet, when I’m involved in a young persons life, as they see me day after day, and hear little bits of my story, that’s where the majority of my Gospel conversations come – it’s at these moments that I’m striking gold.

There are some really exciting things happening in the youth work at NCC just now. There are lots of little pockets of young people interested in finding out more about Christianity because of conversations they’ve had with us. We have a little group of girls going through the Christianity Explored ‘Soul’ DVD series, one of whom’s been coming to church every week for about 3 months and it’s really cool seeing her understanding of the Gospel grow. I’m doing ‘Soul‘ with 2 young men in our one-2-ones. The Chaplaincy Room isn’t even officially open yet, but already we’ve had numerous conversations with a little group of boys who have been really keen to take away and read Gideon’s bibles – and not just to use as skins (for rolling joints)! In fact, it looks like a little group of boys up at the school will be doing ‘Soul‘ with us too. I feel as though, very soon, we’re going to have a little group of Christian young people to disciple. So we’re in the thick of planning beyond ‘Soul’ what we can do with these young people.

In all of this, the greatest lesson for me has been to stay close to Jesus. He’s the difference young people notice in our lives. He’s the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing. And He’s the one who has power to turn the hardest of hearts towards Him in repentance and faith. If everyone involved in our Children’s and Youth work are walking hand in hand with our Saviour in prayer and through His Word, if we’re living in dependence on God, in step with His Spirit (Galatians 5:25), then we’re in the right place to be of use to others in evangelism.

“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…

One of the things that we notice about the young people in Niddrie is that many of them like bikes, both the pedal kind, and the motor kind. So bikes present us with a great opportunity for contact with many young people and also with other organisations working in the area.

As a church, we want to build bridges and relationships in the community to enable us to share the gospel with the people around us. We have a number of significant partnerships in the community on the youth work side of things. These include Castlebrae Community High School (our local high school), Make It Happen (a Church of Scotland social care project), and The Bike Station (a local cycling charity) to name a few.

These partnerships have either come about, or have benefited from NCC’s interest in bikes. I confess, we wussed out a bit when it came to the idea of motor bikes – health and safety, and insurance concerns probably got the better of us – maybe we could/should have made it work…

Anyway, if you’re not already aware of our Bike Project, have a look at this short promotional video.

 

If you’re involved in community based youth work, I’d encourage you to look at what the young people in your area like doing, and see if there are contact points where you might bridge the gap between the youth and the church. And look at other organisations in your area that you may be able to partner with. Are there ways you can scratch each other’s backs? Here’s a couple of examples from our situation.

E.g. The Bike Station is an Edinburgh charity that takes old, unwanted bicycles and strips them for spare parts or refurbishes them and sells them on. They aim to promote cycling as a healthy lifestyle choice, and they receive funding from various sources including the National Lottery and the Scottish Government. In addition to the sales, they also run training courses. Through our relationship with The Bike Station, we’re offered places each year for our young people to attend their Build A Bike course. It’s a course that runs for one week, (Monday to Friday) for six young people, they get to build a mountain bike from scratch and keep it when they’re finished. They learn all the mechanical skills along the way, and even get an outing to a Glentress Forest to do some downhill biking on their new bikes. For the past few years, we’ve used this opportunity to help support the local high school, Castlebrae Community High School, and broaden our contacts up there by asking the school’s guidance department to nominate pupils who they feel would benefit most from such a course. Everybody wins.

E.g. Make It Happen is an early intervention initiative designed to identify children and young people that may become at risk and vulnerable, in the east side of Edinburgh (including Niddrie). I can’t remember when I first met Mark, the project worker, but we’ve since developed a very positive working relationship. We regularly meet for coffee up at Starbucks and discuss our work. It helps that Mark is another committed Christian youth worker and has similar aims in his project to me. Mark’s main involvement with us has also been through our Bike Project. Every few months we take Mark and 2 or 3 of his young people for a downhill biking day, again at Glentress Forest. We charge Mark’s project a nominal fee which helps us to make our Bike Project financially sustainable – maintaining our equipment and paying for petrol to Glentress. It also gives us the opportunity to make contact with young people in the community that we don’t have existing relationships with. Mark gets to take his young people mountain biking, and open them up to this new experience at very little cost. Again, everybody wins!

What is it about the Bike Project that makes it a great way of building relationships with other organisations, particularly those who don’t share our faith commitments and values?

It’s probably because there are aspects of the Bike Project that other youth work organisations (both secular and Christian) can buy into, and even benefit from. Schools and other public funded agencies are under intense pressure to demonstrate that they’re collaborating with others in their fields. If there is no outright statutory requirement for this, there will almost certainly be funding limitations imposed by grant making bodies on organisations who are not engaged in partnership work. No partnering, no funding!

The church doesn’t have these same limitations – there is certainly no statutory requirement to engage in collaborative work with others. If churches are applying to similar grant making bodies to fund particular projects, they may be subject to similar restrictions; though I think the majority of churches generally fund their activities in the same way they always have: through the wallets and purses of the individuals in their congregations.

In all this talk of partnerships however, we must be careful to maintain our distinctions as a church. The church isn’t the same as other organisations, agencies or institutions in the community, it’s a life-and-love entity built around the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel. We have a unique identity and purpose as God’s people on earth. We do what we do in community because of the gospel – it’s our desire to see young people transformed under the Lordship of Christ. And we need to be up-front and clear cut about this, otherwise young people will get confused and our message, witness and impact will be diluted.

If any professional ever had a claim to the title ‘Jack of all trades’, it would surely be the church Youth Worker. What other profession can boast such diversity in roles as: counsellor, entertainer, artist, cleaner, cinematographer, people manager, taxi driver, web developer, teacher, caretaker, DIY expert, technology guru, chef, referee, befriender, musician, theologian, administrator, shepherd and pastor? That’s by no means an exhaustive list, and very few of these roles feature on my job spec. Why is it that Christian Youth Workers will almost certainly have to try their hand at most of these roles (and others we might add) throughout their time in ministry?

Part of living in a community is being aware of the needs around us, having compassion on those in need, and being flexible and prepared to meet the needs of those in our community to the best of our ability. This is community living, and it’s not just limited to the realm of Christian Youth Work. Most of the staff team at NCC will relate to the feeling of being a Jack of all trades too.

What do young people need?

Youth UnemploymentSo the question is: what are the needs of the young people in our community? Let’s first differentiate between perceived needs and actual needs. As bible believing Christians, we know that the actual need – the fundamental need – is to hear the Gospel, to trust in Jesus and be transformed from the inside out, under the lordship of Christ. Obviously, few young people will approach you directly looking for the antidote to their sinful heart condition, and demanding an introduction to the Lord. For the young person, their perceived need will be quite different, though not insignificant. This is where we need to be alert to the perceived needs and flexible enough to work with them. And as we begin to meet these needs, we actually find ourselves with many more opportunities to address that more fundamental need.

For those within the 16-20 year old category in Niddrie, getting a job is one of the biggest perceived needs. In fact, quite a number of the opportunities I’ve had with this age group have come off the back of what you might call careers advice. So we can go ahead and add ‘careers adviser’ to the list above…

Careers advisor?

This week, UK Chancellor George Osbourne outlined plans for a £1bn package to tackle youth unemployment, which has been on the rise since the turn of the millennium, and hit a record high of 1.02 million in the months running up to September this year.

The ‘Youth Contract’ proposed by the coalition government hopes to provide nearly half a million new opportunities for young people, including apprenticeships and work experience placements. Employers are being offered cash incentives to take on apprentices between 18 and 24 years old.

[Read more about the Youth Contact scheme on the BBC: “Clegg: £1bn scheme will ‘provide hope’ to young jobless“]

How does this apply to us? In Niddrie, we have young people who want a job but aren’t motivated enough to find one, as well as young people who are desperate for a job, any job, and will do whatever it takes to get one. It’s the latter group that I seem to find myself working alongside most often.

What I do is help guys put together their CV, help fill in  job applications (web based and written), provide potential employers with character references, and coach young people through interviews – I’ve even loaned out one of my ties. All the while I’m keeping an ear to the ground for any jobs that might be going among employers I know personally, and looking for ways to develop the relationships I have with these young people beyond ‘careers advice’ to genuine friendships where the gospel naturally comes out. It’s a different approach to that of all the other youth organisations and careers agencies (and there are many!) that are working in the community. Not better… just different. The sad reality is that there are loads of employable and motivated young people who still can’t find jobs in the current climate, especially in areas like Niddrie, and that’s disillusioning.

Micro-businesses and apprenticeships

With so few suitable jobs going, what more can we be doing for these young people? Of course we can continue to offer advice, polish their CV’s and point them in the direction of suitable vacancies, but is there a way in which we can actually provide gainful employment ourselves? Can the church be that vacancy? As I read these articles about youth unemployment and the government’s Youth Contract proposals, different individuals and situations were brought to mind and I couldn’t help but dream of the possibilities.

Some of the ideas we’ve had in the past have been focused on training; for example, young people working alongside Christian tradesmen, learning new skills and being exposed to the gospel. This would be a more accessible, manageable step towards an actual trade apprenticeship.

Lately, we’ve been thinking about helping young people establish micro-businesses: 1 or 2 person businesses with little overhead costs and a reasonable profit-margin. These might include: gardening, cleaning, pet-sitting, selling crafts, or anything we can imagine. I know of a guy who makes bracelets in his spare time out of high-tensile parachute chord which can be undone in such a way as to provide a length of chord of several feet for use in emergencies. He makes them while watching TV each evening and sells them on eBay to Jack Bauer wannabe’s and makes a fortune!

Might we offer Christian young people church-based apprenticeships, covering the gambit of work we do as a church? Maybe training them in adventure activities and outdoor education, giving them experience of work with the elderly, serving in the café, or in the schools? Wouldn’t it be great if, in the not so distant future, the church could plug into initiatives like the government’s £1bn Youth Contract scheme, and actually offer young people short term employment and training opportunities ourselves?

Nick Clegg says that the £1bn scheme will ‘provide hope’ to the young jobless. It would certainly be great to see more and more young people finding work, but at the end of the day we’re not careers officers. We know that the real need of our community goes beyond jobs and financial security, important though these things are. So we, through whatever means, seek to share that real, deep-seated, lasting hope that we have through the gospel.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

Pray for us as we think these things through.