Posts Tagged ‘church planters’

Brent Foulke’s has written a short article here discussing this question. I would add one significant point, particularly for those planting and wanting to plant in housing schemes: perseverance. This ministry is a slow burn and the fruit can grow awfully slowly. We are in a season of fruitfulness in Niddrie right now but for a couple of years we went through a time when we weren’t seeing anybody saved. I am sure we will go through dry times on the future but we just have to push on preaching the same gospel faithfully and trusting in God’s providence. That’s why people who have a real spirit of perseverance are necessary for this ministry.

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A good little post here from my pals at the Sojourn Network.

This has become something of an ‘issue’ for many men I have known in the last 5 years. I don’t know if it is because we work in a housing scheme or if the problem is more widespread. In my 13 years in the ministry I can say without doubt that one of the biggest causes of ‘failure’ within pastoral ministry has been down to disharmony in the marriage. It is so important that men talk to their wives (or prospective wives) about what it means to work in a housing scheme/council estate. I know lots of middle class wives whose comment to the church their husbands serve, goes something like this: “You employed my husband to be the pastor, not me.” Whilst superficially true, the reality of church planting on a scheme means that this is just not an acceptable attitude. I find this whole sniffiness toward being regarded as: “chief bottle washer, Sunday School teacher, counsellor and cook” to be completely at odds with the servant heartedness that God commends to us in Scripture. In a scheme no job is too lowly and it is all hands to the pump for whatever task for as long as it takes to build some momentum. In our line of the church planting world, a wife must role her sleeves up with the rest of us, get her hands dirty and partner with her man in the fight. Anything less than this will mean almost certain death for him in our particular type of ministry.

Here are some of the attributes I would consider of key importance in the wife of a church planter in a housing scheme/council estate.

1. A planter’s wife must be hospitable. What exactly is hospitality? I don’t think it should mean anything less than, “meeting the needs of fellow brothers and sisters, putting them at ease, providing comfort, expressing love and kindness.” Of course, there is then the need to look after the ‘stranger and alien’ in our midst. In short, hospitality should be about the, “friendly reception and generous treatment of guests or strangers.”

The point is that by receiving strangers in our midst – either at ‘home’ or at a ‘corporate gathering’ – they soon become friends and extended family members. Although ‘hospitality’ as a word is not found in the OT, it is present as a practice. We see it, for instance in Genesis 18 & 19 with Abraham and Lot entertaining strangers. In the NT we are given a direct command in Romans 12:13 to “practice hospitality”. Hospitality, therefore, is about making people feel that they matter and it may take many forms. In Niddrie we eat together after our services on a weekly basis and many people from the community come in and are made to feel welcome. My wife isn’t responsible for feeding them all every time but she is heavily involved in ensuring that members of the community take it in turns to serve and prepare food. She will nearly always prepare too much food in our home in case the odd, unexpected visitor pitches up for the night or for some hot grub. We have seen several people come to Christ through this important are of service! Without my wife that would not have happened (at least not at that point – I must maintain my Calvinism). A hospitable wife is always flexible and not fazed by surprise guests and last-minute changes to programmes.

2. Closely connected to this, she must be a ‘helpmeet’ (Gen. 2:18) in every sense of the word. I could not do most of my ministry without my wife there to support and under gird what I am doing. The way she is a help and support to me in everything that I do (and vice versa) means that I am freed up to do a lot of ministry. My home is an oasis, even when it is full, because of the atmosphere generated by the attitude of my wife. Lots of word studies in this area focus on what the wife should “do” but I think we neglect how she should carry herself. My wife does not serve grudgingly, instead she serves the Lord, me, our children, our congregation, and all who visit our home, warmly and sacrificially. Trust me when I tell you that this is readily apparent to all, particularly the unbelievers who are often in and out of our home (some for extended periods).

2. She must be able to speak what is in accord with sound doctrine (Titus 2). A wife must be well familiar with the Word and if there is any doubt then she must seek counsel from her husband who must ensure that he instructs her and/or points her to the right material. This can be reciprocal, but the teaching in the church is not just a “man thing.” Housing schemes are full of women seduced by mediums, pagan spirituality, witchcraft and all sorts of strange ideas about religion. A planter’s wife must be able to give a reasoned answer for the hope within and must familiarise herself with basic apologetics. Whether she wants to or not, she is going to come under scrutiny and people are going to want answers.

3. She must not be given to slander/gossip (Titus 2). This is the curse of the female species, particularly in  ministry. Women want to gossip and know all the inside details about the pastor, the leadership and the woman they will pinpoint for this is usually the wife. An immature, ungodly and unhappy wife can be a source of much division in this area by what comes out of her mouth. She must be wise because if she is insecure she can easily be seduced by those seeking friendship with ulterior motives. Real discernment is needed in this area.

4. We read a lot about how men should not neglect their families in the pursuit of ministry (and rightly so) but I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far the other way? Young men today seemed obsessed with “me time” or “family time” or “my wife doesn’t want me to do that.” Ministry is brutal in the early years of planting and whilst we want to set good practices out immediately, we must beware of setting out bad practice too. God has called us to minister to the souls of the lost as we try to establish a church. Yes, our family is our primary mission field but too many young men use this as a sell out because of (1) laziness and (2) an inability to lead their homes well. Wives must understand that the early years, especially, are hard and demanding.

5. Connected to the above point a wife must be an encourager and not a nag. Almost every man I have let go over the last 10 years has been down to the fact that his wife is just not helpful to him in his ministry. She has seen it and the church as competition for her affections. Instead of the home being a place of love, warmth and relaxation it turns into a melting pot of bitterness, recrimination and arguments. The ministry here drains the man enough without the lifeblood being sucked from him when he has to go home to a battle every evening. If this is your experience before entering ministry then do not go near a housing scheme for it will only expose these flaws and worsen them. A planter’s wife must be a source of spiritual vitality in his life and not an extra drain on him.

6. She must have a sense of humour. This is an absolute must on housing schemes. Nobody likes a woman who looks like she’s been asked to down the contents of a jar of pickled eggs. Banter is a huge part of what it means to grow up on a scheme and humour is a massively valued and respected commodity. I think of it as the lost spiritual gift. You have to be able to laugh through the tough times.

7. She must love the church of Christ and seek to publicly and wholeheartedly  support your decisions and those of the leadership even if she does not agree with them. She must think before she blurts out her “opinion” on everything by exercising a spirit of self-control. Discussions on such matters (where appropriate) must be done in the privacy of the home and solved by prayer.

8. Above all of these things she must have a warm, genuine, growing and blossoming relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. She must run to Him as her ultimate source of strength, patience, hope, love, hospitality and we men must constantly be leading her and pointing her back to the Saviour in all things.

The wives of church planters have massive responsibilities but also multiple opportunities in housing schemes. Their husbands open up doors that no other members can. They will be privy to (some) information that no other people can be. They will be involved in (some) sensitive pastoral scenarios. What a blessing that can be. All of these things are another opportunity to run to Jesus and cling to Him. Allow God to mould you, refine you, challenge you, encourage you and love you, firm in the knowledge that He who has begun that good work in us will see it through to completion.

Pray for my wife Miriam and pray for the wives of all church planters and pastors that you know.

For further consideration can I recommend the following:

Gloria Furman and her three-part series on issues related to this – here.

The Church Planting Spouse – here.

Check out the work of Jonathan Pollock in a difficult part of inner Belfast. Follow him @jonnypollock.

If you know of any other church planters/pastors working in inner city areas (any country, but particularly Europe) where we could highlight their work, show a film (if they’ve produced one) and pray for them, please email me: mez@niddrie.org

Church planters and pastors of all ilks are united by the fact that they (normally) have strong personalities. This is doubly so for those of us who work in housing schemes and/or other similar situations. We have to lead, often make snap decisions and carry/encourage/develop/mentor a group of people seeking to live for Christ in hard places.

I have to work very hard with my Ministry Team to ensure that I don’t swamp them with the sheer force of my will. People need time to grow and develop their spiritual gifting(s) and, therefore, it is necessary to give people the space to cultivate their own ideas, make mistakes and participate in the forward momentum of our work here.

It is very easy with new and inexperienced people to be the ‘expert’ (because of my age, cultural background and life experience) and to want to continually do the job for them if they don’t perform in a way that I would. Here are some things to watch out for:

1. If people aren’t coming to you with new, fresh ministry ideas, is it because you don’t let them?

2. Does everybody around you always agree with every decision or is it debated and discussed first?

3. Are you pretty much always right? When was the last time anybody told you that you were wrong about something?

4. Do you like to manipulate people to perform according to your standards? Do you butter people up or pay them compliments you don’t mean, to get what you want?

5. Do you feel that you have to be involved in every meeting and every decision in the church?

6. When somebody else is in charge of a ministry project, do you itch to ‘get involved’ (poke your nose in)? Are you always looking for ways they could do it ‘better’?

7. You must have the final say in every meeting and decision made?

8. Do you pay particular attention to the ‘power brokers’ in the church (or organisation) in order to maintain and/or develop your power base.

9. When people disagree with you, does it becomes personal and does bitterness build up in your heart?

10. When somebody comes to you with a new idea is your immediate response, ‘Yes, but”?

11.Do we cut off, sideline and ignore those we disagree with?

I am sure there are many more. We’re all sinners and we all have to guard our hearts in leadership. I have repented of more than one of these things in my own life. The great thing about building teams is that, if you pick them right, they can keep you from most of these dangers. It is good to have ideas and dissenting voices around in order to keep you on your toes and to keep you questioning your motives and challenging heart issues. Of course, leaders must lead and decisions must be made. We cannot escape that fact. I could just as easily write an article on weak willed leaders who are swayed by every opinion and live to please others. But, in a scheme these types don’t last long. It is usually the steely eyed, determined ones that make it (with God’s grace of course) and that’s why we must watch out, for those strengths can often harm and undermine us if we are not on our guard.

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.