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Children and youth- oaks or beansprouts?

Si Walker, 17th November 2017

Oak Tree

Every church wants to have children and young people; but sometimes we feel discouraged that we aren't making things appealing enough. The slow look down the register and we realise we are making ground, but revival has not broken out!

In there seminal book 'Christian Youth Work', Mark Ashton and Phil Moon ask if we are trying to grow oak trees or beansprouts.

Phil Moon used to be the head of CYFA in the UK and he and Ashton did a lot of work in establishing Christian youth camps and training leaders. Their book has helped me a lot.

The reality is, anyone can fill a room with young people. All you need is good food (not even good food) and permission to run wild and that will do it. You will frazzle your leaders, but it will fill the room.

'We played fun games and then we studied the Bible together'

However, 'The first aim of Christian youth work must be to present a young person with the claims of Jesus Christ.'

Today there is a great emphasis in church youth work on, 'what the young people want.' In a self esteem culture where young people are being told their own ego is paramount, we have to remember that it is only by an encounter with Jesus Christ that a young person's deepest needs are met. After all, Jesus teaches that our worst problems lie within our hearts (Mark 7:23) and our problems flow from a broken relationship with God. Jesus says, 'If a young person would come after me, they must deny themselves.' Ok I doctored that bit, but you get my point. He actually says: 'If ANYONE would come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me' (Mark 8:34). Young people are included in the 'anyone'. He goes on to speak about saving your life and losing your life hinging on how you respond to the gospel.

It is the gospel of Jesus saving sinners and causing us to change that distinguishes Christian Youth Work from secular youth work. It is faithfulness and not large numbers that determine success.

Yes, we want to engage with young people at their level and to be missional and aware that some kids are starting with no knowledge of Jesus. But all that means, is that we start simply in our teaching. It says nothing about the content.

Children in a circle

A couple of weeks ago my friend who I used to do youth work with was contacted by one of the kids form our youth group ten years ago. Our youth group was quite small in numbers and to some surrounding churches probably lacked pizzazz! (not sure that is a theological term.) We played fun games and then we studied the Bible together. We built fellowship, but our socials were quite simple. But this young lad got in touch through the church office where she attends. 'I'm trying to track down my old youth leader. She led me to Christ when I was 11 years old.' I can honestly say that my part in the youth work was not impressive. We simply opened the Bible and built relationships and yet from that small youth work many of the kids, by God's grace, have gone on to lead Christian Unions at University and to serve in churches as leaders. This young lad was himself now the member of his church PCC and serving Christ at the grand age of 24.

So, I ask again. Do we want oak trees or beansprouts? We can all get sucked along by the pressure for results and to assemble young people to meet together for the sake of numbers, but there has to be something else controlling our programme. Jesus calls us, not to go and fill a room, but to 'bear fruit that will last'(John 15:16). I guess you could say oak trees rather than beansprouts. It is the gospel of Jesus dying in our place that changes us and it must be taught as diligently as we can week in and week out. It is the steady and long term work of teaching the Bible and building relationships, that we are about here. And so thank you, if you are a praying person or someone who is involved in this endeavour with us. THANK YOU because your labour is not in vain.

Oh, that in 5, 10 or 20 years we have more emails like that!!

* This message was first shared at are CYPEX leaders meeting for children and youth leaders.