This post is part of a short series written by former young people I have had the privilege of working with. Having been involved in youth work for well over 10 years, many of my old youth groups have gone on to do amazing and exciting things. Some, to my immense pride, have also gone on to work with young people themselves. I have asked a few of these individuals to write about their experiences of working with young people in their particular context.
This post is written by long-term friend Rich Lush:
I was honoured when Jon asked me if I could write a guest blog for him. Iâ€™ve known Jon my entire life, and itâ€™s been a privilege to work with him and learn from him from both his mistakes and his successes. Iâ€™ve been blessed to have fantastic opportunities in both Christian and secular youth and kids work. As a result, I now find myself in the USA, working for The Abbey Church in Azle, Texas, about half an hour from Fort Worth and an hour and a half from Dallas.
My Journey to the States started through a Facebook post. I put a status saying â€œwhere next Lord?â€ and the Pastor here answered â€œI know where, letâ€™s talk.â€ So we did and now I find myself in a new setting, a new country and new culture. I arrived in June and am being employed as Childrenâ€™s Pastor, Assistant Youth Pastor and about a hundred and one other things that seem to always fall on the lap of any youth or childrenâ€™s pastor who ends up working for the church.
Itâ€™s funny because often when we compare the United States and England, (via a holiday or on TV), there are some obvious cultural differences, but we generally think that weâ€™re not that different as nations. What we can forget with the USA is that each state comes with its own culture, often extremely different from another.
Some examples are things like the type of vegetables available: the idea of a sweet potato loaded with marshmallows as part of a main meal is wierd! And I’ve noticed an obsession that many people have with working out. Boys and girls will start weight training at 12 or 13 and take protein shakes, which just seems alien from an English point of view. Another obvious example is the attitude to guns, but thatâ€™s a massive topic in itself…
Within the culture of â€œchurchâ€ it is very common for people to go to church on a Sunday and wear their Sunday â€œbestâ€ because that is what is expected of them. Often there is no real connection to faith apart from it being what they are meant to do. As well as this, these churches often preach a â€œthere-is-grace-but-only-if-you-do-it-the-way-we-sayâ€ theology which I believe is completely missing the point.
As a church weâ€™re attempting to stand against these things and bring an authentic reality of God to people. Some people love us for this and other churches wonder what weâ€™re about; why people drink alcohol publicly and donâ€™t wear suits to on a Sunday. When we have a meeting where the preach gets shelved because the Spirit of God is doing other things, we find some even within our church struggle because of the apparent chaos. As leaders, we love it.
For my role as childrenâ€™s pastor, we want to continue this authenticity. Weâ€™re not looking to have children who can list off the books of the Bible and repeat the history of the Bible. All of this can be good, but weâ€™re looking to teach them how to have an authentic relationship with God. We donâ€™t want to be teaching them biblical stories that they take in like a history lesson. The desire for us here is to teach them something real. Something we can all be guilty of is forgetting that God speaks to children too. We nurture environments of fun, and this is extremely important, but we lower the content of welcoming the spirit and drawing the kids to God, attempting to pack our program and never having a moment to stop. Iâ€™m not saying we need to be having mini revivals in our childrenâ€™s meetings every week, or that we canâ€™t play games and must sit for hours seeking God in order to teach them. What weâ€™re seeking here is to help them grow in relationship.
Most weeks, we will just lay down for about 3 or 4 minutes after the teaching and say â€œListen to God, what does he want to say to you today? Maybe he wants to tell you something for someone else?â€ Sometimes this can lead into a great time of sharing! Last week we had a time of the children describing seeing Heaven and its golden streets and blinding lights and amazing presence. And the thing is, whether it is a greater concept of the teaching deepening in their hearts, or God genuinely revealing himself in an amazing way, theyâ€™re catching a glimpse of who God really is. Not the big old man in the sky, but a being that wants genuine experience with His children, old and young.
Iâ€™ll close with this, our vision for the childrenâ€™s work.
â€œThe desire is to have a complete picture of God. To see kids and young people radically on fire with a deep heart knowledge of the grace and love that the Father has for them. That each group would not be a standalone feature, but would be progressive, supporting the children/youth in their ongoing growth and relationship with God whilst allowing them room to find their destiny, not something false or forced. The heart cry is that the children would lead the way in church, that a faith would be risen within them that they are more than conquerors ([youversion]Romans 8:37[/youversion]) that they have a role to play in church life that is bigger than being quiet and listening. That they would be envisioned with the great commission and heart cry of God, that people may not look down on them but help nurture their gifting and character and even learn from them ([youversion]1 Timothy 4:12[/youversion]).”