Get young people on the pitch!

29 Jan

Many of you may know that Lionel Messi is a footballer, in fact he is a very good footballer, some would say the greatest footballer ever! I did some looking and found out some interesting facts about Mr Messi; over 14 years he has played in 659 matches for his club Barcelona and has scored 576 times during those matches, and achieving 41 hat tricks while doing so! Records have been set by Lionel that are unlikely to ever be broken!

On November 16th 2003 Messi played his first game, he was 16. He only played 15 minutes, didn’t score, the pitch was terrible and his team lost but something began that day that has changed the face and standard of modern football.

My reason for writing about the young Lionel Messi probably wont come as a surprise for some people who know me and my passions. If our young people are the ‘Lionel Messi’s’ and the game of football is the church, my point is simple; get them on the pitch!

Some churches do well but many do not, some churches have been amazing at encouraging young people to serve in various roles in the main Sunday morning service, many struggle to know what to do with young people.

I have learnt that young people thrive when given opportunity, they have vast gifts but often don’t get the chance to explore, ‘practice’ and grow those giftings. If our churches aren’t safe places to explore giftings and flex our ministry muscles then I don’t where will be! I understand that there is a certain amount of hesitancy; “what if it all goes wrong”, “what if they make a mistake” or worse than both those “what if they actually do it better than us adults”! Our fear is based on pride and the thinking that our acts of worship need to be perfect and look faultless. I have no idea where this thinking has come from because as I look back over my life I have learnt considerable more from the times when it has all gone wrong than during the times it worked!

As the Barcelona FC coach allowed Messi to head out onto the pitch was he thinking “what have I done?” Or was he thinking “what if this player can make a significant impact on the game?” I am not a big football fan but I love seeing genius at work and I am thankful that the Barca coach went for it.

I say this as someone who took that risk. At our New Years Houseparty, the preachers were 21, 20, 17 and 16, the worship leader was 16 and the band pretty much all under 18. It was a decision I knew I wasn’t going to regret but more than that I got to be part of some gatherings where God’s word was taught truthfully, powerfully and engagingly.

My challenge for church leaders is that they would take a risk, which actually isn’t much of a risk at all, what’s the worst that could happen? I have been involved in services run entirely by adults that were utter shambles and yet the world didn’t end, we learnt a lot, we dusted ourselves off and we moved on.

But what if allowing a young person to preach or lead at our main Sunday morning service releases an individual that changes the face and standard of church in the same way Messi changed football? Just think of what could happen then:

– young people more included

– young people inspired as opportunities to serve are created

– adults minds opened to the ‘endless possibilities’ of God

– adult ministers getting space to rest and receive themselves

– we all benefit from hearing the prophetic voice and wisdom of this current generation

It is most likely that all the disciples were under 20 with some of them being as young as 15. We are called to follow Jesus, particularly in the realm of discipleship, then why are we not following his example with our investment in young people? And don’t come back to me with “but we do youth group for young people!” The disciples were Jesus’ 1st team, the ones who walked with him for 3 years, who listened, followed, messed up, learnt, risked and eventually realised. They also, through the power of the Holy Spirit, started the church!

Maybe, just maybe, if we get over ourselves, if we pray for and invest in young people, if we allow young people to lead, preach and have a role in shaping worship and leading church, then church might just be as dynamic, as thriving and as engaging as the football of Barcelona FC!


Are superheros jealous of each other’s powers?

25 Sep

I think The Flash (particularly in Lego) is one of my favourite superheroes. He just seems very content in who he is! He has a very limited range of power but it is truly awesome, incredibly useful and he definitely knows how to use it.

Now I didn’t come here to talk about superheros, or Lego, even though that would be fun and obviously worthwhile. I wanted to talk about my struggle with working amongst so many gifted youth & children’s work ‘superheroes’! Now I am a work in progress and part of my journey has been to find contentment in who God has called me to be and not to always be looking around and wanting to have someone else’s ‘power’, gifts or ministry. I wouldn’t say it is a daily struggle but some days when my mind wanders or I feel a bit in between things I do spend far too much time wondering what if…

The reason I am writing this blog is actually to give myself a big kick up the butt because spending too much time looking ‘over there’ actually distracts me from what God is doing in my own ministry. And I am blessed to be able to say God is doing great things, there is much fruit, there is great encouragement, there is growth. So I ask myself “what am I looking for elsewhere?” The honest answer is I don’t know, but I think part of it is linked to how we as Christians ‘rank’ ministry. Bizarrely there seems to be a hierarchy in ministry where we think some are better or more worthwhile or ‘cooler’ than others. Maybe as Christians we need to be extra careful of why we are doing things, is it to serve or is it to be noticed, I do confess sometimes I want to be noticed!

In the book of Exodus the 10th commandment says “thou shalt not covet” – one commentator describes this as ‘the language of discontent at our own lot!’ Maybe like The Flash I need to be more content with ‘my own lot’, because I love what I do, it gives me life and so when moments of weakness and jealousy come I must bring myself back to what God has given me and who God has made me to be. I am unique but also my calling is unique, God has shaped it for me.

One of the wisest things I heard while at a conference in the US was “unfollow the right people” – this came from a very gifted pastor who even with his vast giftings and growing ministry still found himself looking at others in ministry and being jealous! It got to the point where it actually became a real distraction to what God was doing in him and his calling. Part of his journey was to give up social media for a while and also surround himself with some trusted friends who could encourage him but also journey with him through the battles.

I gave myself three bits of wisdom to help me work through my struggles and insecurities:

1. MY gifts come from God, who knows what he is doing, knows who he is giving them to and enables me to use them to his glory – “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11).

2. Seek specific and tailored encouragement from someone you trust. I think sometimes we hunger for affirmation and this can sometimes become a bit of addiction. What I am seeking is a couple of friends who know me and know what I need to be able to stand and grow and continue to serve.

3. Know that much of the good God does through you, you may never actually see the fruit of, well until we get to heaven and recognise the people we poured our lives into! Just this week I heard from someone who over the past decade I have known but was unaware just how much influence and benefit he had gained from my ministry. We do this not for affirmation but God chooses to remind us that he is at work and what we do matters, a lot.

Mike, stop looking over there and focus on here, because I am here and I am at work in you. Love God.

Youthworkers are our ‘Thai Navy Seal Divers!’

10 Jul

I, like many, have been gripped by the amazing rescue in Thailand that has just concluded. The lives of 12 boys and their coach saved as they were brought up from the depths of a mountain cave system after 17 days.

I am in awe of many aspects of this story; the resilience of the boys, the courage of the coach to go without food so his team may eat, the sacrifice of one man so that there would be enough oxygen in place for the rescue, the divers who enter the unknown darkness to search and the willingness of so many, from across the globe, to offer all manner of help to get these boys out safely. It is a story which does genuinely restore our hope in humanity, especially when the news is so often dominated by such negative, trivial or horrid happenings.

Not wanting to weaken this story at all but I do feel that as youthworkers we have a task and challenge as huge and perilous as those brave divers in Thailand.

I see youth workers ‘entering darkness’ in search of young people who are lost, I see them sacrifice much of themselves so that others can find hope, I see humbling commitment and I see a powerful combined effort when leaders unite behind a common cause; the spiritual well being of this generation!

It’s not that I want to say that our young people are more lost or in more danger than those boys in the cave, hopefully we will never have to find out. But I do believe that our rescue plan is more complex and needs to be more creative because bizarrely most are completely unaware they are even lost in the first place. For those that are in some way aware of their ‘lostness’ it can be really difficult for leaders to navigate a way to them, let alone bring them out towards the light.

So what is the answer? Well actually the answer is in numbers. They reckon that almost 1000 people were involved in the rescue of 12 boys and their coach, that’s about 76 people for each individual! 90 expert divers from across the globe, the army, politicians, parents, nurses, doctors, businessmen, friends, family and numerous others.

I’m not asking for 76 people per young person, (just 1 being interested in each 1 would be amazing!) but maybe if the ‘one’ youth leader who chooses to go in search was supported by a whole varied army of team then surely chances of rescue become a lot better. Not only the ‘rescue’ of the young person but also the survival of the leader as this type of work is draining, challenging and yes, dangerous!

What if resources were shared, leaders properly supported, churches getting fully behind the rescue effort being made? Well if this happened there would be no cave to dark, to far away or to dangerous to enter and we would be able to celebrate rescues all the time.

The reason I write this blog is because I have been truly inspired by the events in Thailand. As the world gets back to less important things like football, I know that in the weeks and months ahead I will still be having conversations with youth leaders who are burdened by lost young people or by churches that simply refuse to recognise the importance of their ministry. We have all benefitted from knowing about the boys in the Thai cave, it may have put some of our own struggles in perspective. But what it has done for me is re-affirm my calling to serve, resource and support youthwork. I am just one person, but I do have some friends who are gathering ‘at the entrance to caves’ with me, but I would like more, I need more, this generation of young people need more and in fact their chances of survival increase if we choose to get involved!

Whoever is entering the darkness to find people, get behind them!

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” Ezekiel 34:16

Always a son. Raising a boy. Being a Dad.

15 May

I think I have been reflecting for a number of years now on what it means to be a dad while at the same time working through some of my struggles associated with my own dad. It wasn’t that we didn’t get along it was more that he didn’t really do ‘dad type’ things with me! So as I spend time with my joy-filled boy I find myself lamenting on what I did not have for myself, and maybe unhelpfully, trying to raise my own son in a completely different way to the way I was raised.

Because of my calling to youth and children’s ministry I have found myself reflecting on this topic to be around the idea of how we are shaped as dads and then how that shapes how we raise our sons. Because my dad grew up in the war and no doubt his dad was a very strict and ‘cold’ character, that shaped part of who he was. So my dad was also shaped by his relationship with his father. What I am getting at is I truly believe that dads of my generation need to get together, support one another and take some time to consider what it means to be a dad and to be raising sons. I can’t blame my dad really as this was the environment he grew up in but I do want to consider how I raise my own son with maybe less of the struggles that I experienced, and still do!

I think together there are a few obvious things it would be helpful to work through as a group of dads and sons; how do we express ourselves emotionally that isn’t just anger? How do we listen more rather than automatically wanting to fix things? How do we help our sons to see girls as unique, precious and beautiful daughters of God, and then treat them accordingly? As dads, how do we work through, even during our 40’s, some of the things we still hold onto from the relationships with own dads? So this is where I am at and I find myself inspired by my good friend Rachel Gardner who has invested a stunning amount of time and energy in helping girls to see themselves as fierce, gifted and truly & deeply beautiful women.

So today I am beginning this conversation and journey and I would really like some company. I have no doubt we will come across some difficult subjects and will need to be courageous and honest with one another. But surely that is itself a great thing to model to our sons; courage, honesty and accountability. Sometime later this year I would like to get some dads together and begin this journey properly, and hopefully also take some time together with our sons. This is important, it is vital, it is essential that we raise our sons to seek wholeness. If we show our own pursuit of wholeness then surely that will be a great starting point and example to our sons.

Psalm 127:3-5: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court”

I feel so utterly, utterly blessed to be a dad, as hard as some days are it brings me a huge amount of joy. I was at a point where I didn’t even think I’d get married let alone be a dad. God has been so good and so I must treat this gift accordingly, like the Psalmist says; my son is a gift, a gift from God himself. But as with any precious gift it must be protected.

I love being a dad, I find being a son really hard! For too long I have not taken time to work through this but for my own sons future and growth, I must!

The ‘99’ as well as the ‘1’

9 Mar

Let me begin by saying I love the ‘lost’ stories in Luke 15, in fact I think the parable of the lost son is quite clearly the greatest illustration of how God seeks, calls us home, forgives and restores us. I also don’t have much of an issue with the woman who lost a coin either. My issue is with these sheep! The parable of the lost sheep, like the lost son, helps us see that God seeks us but also that there is great rejoicing in heaven when someone truly accepts being found by God. I’m fine with that and of course loving teaching that story.

My issue is this; have we accepted that ‘1’ being saved is ok and so have lowered the bar within our ministry. Have we accepted that ‘1’ being saved is success rather than spending our energies in pursuing the ’99’. Now I know I am slightly twisting the teaching here but I do hear, and have probably said it myself, that “if only 1 or 2 kids come that’s fine because Jesus came for the 1”. Now of course this is true and of course Jesus seeks us as individuals and even 1 person choosing to repent and follow Jesus is cause for great celebration, both here and in heaven.

I think my problem is that we have subconsciously chosen to accept a lower level of success. My worry is that by choosing a lower level of success we then don’t put as much energy in and consequently we aren’t as daring, radical and adventurous in our ministry. Maybe it’s just that I am greedy, I don’t just want 1 young person to be saved I want 99. I don’t just want occasionally parties in heaven for individuals who get saved, I want hourly parties every day for the 99 who find Jesus.

It is worth noticing in all three lost stories there is a vast amount of energy spent in searching. The shepherd leaves the 99 and goes out search, the woman “lights a lamp, sweeps the house and searches carefully’ and we understand the father in the story was looking daily for his son to return home.

Maybe it is my greed for the kingdom but if I am going to put in that much energy, and youthwork is hard work, I want more to show for it. I would love to see the energy put into youthwork reap the rewards they deserve. Maybe its our Englishness of being ok with coming 2nd and ‘a 1-1 draw’ being acceptable. But we are talking about the lives of young people here, more than that we are talking about the churches ability to thrive and grow. So let us pray more, work together more, support one another more, imagine more.

This isn’t really a blog about theology or prayer or maybe even youthwork. It is a blog that hopes to encourage us all to aim higher and think bigger. We need to have a certain dissatisfaction with ‘coming 2nd’ or ‘the 1-1 draw’. I heard a talk while I was away which spoke about us needing to imagine what it would be like to have our ministry 10x the size it is now. With that image in our minds we then need to consider how we would change our behaviour, our planning and the investment of resources to make this ’10x’ change happen. I loved this and think it helps us consider now only what growth might look like but also what we need to do to enable it to happen. The first thing I think we can all do is to want more than we have before, to go for the 1, to invest in the 1 but at the same time long for a ministry that pursues and engages the 99 as well.

Is the church risk-averse?

12 Feb

After spending two weeks in the company of American Christians I think one of the most attractive things about them is there ability to be audacious. What I mean by that is they seem to approach ministry, particularly youth ministry, with a certain ‘up for it’ and ‘all or nothing’ attitude. Now I want to clarify this doesn’t mean I think they are dangerous (although their cheese consumption would be considered by some to be very dangerous), but they seem to have a certain boldness to the approach which means taking certain risks that us in England wouldn’t dream of.

As I reflect on my time I think I have come to the conclusion that in England we are willing to risk a lot to ensure we don’t fail or lose, in the sense that we don’t want to do anything that might mean we ‘lose’ young people from our ministry. But we are not willing to risk to win, or to do something so radically different and ‘risky’ that if it worked could potentially change the face of our ministry by drawing in numerous new young people. I am the first to say that obviously there are many differences between the church in England and the church in the US, but this does not mean we shouldn’t consider learning from their audacious, loud and risky approach to ministry.

I for one think the church must be a little tired of playing safe, of being content to just tick over and run an ever-shrinking group week in week out. We must be tired of hearing how young people are leaving the church in their billions! We must be tired of our young people saying that church is boring. We must be tired of youth leaders not being able to fulfil their potential so seek to live out their calling in an alternate ministry. We must be tired of the ‘adult’ church shaping services around their own needs nearly all of the time without considering what it must be like for a child or young person.

My proposal is simple, enough of being safe and average and grey. A friend of mine seemingly engraved in my mind the quote “go big or go home” and it has stuck and become something of a mantra for me in my ministry. Please don’t hear that I am saying there isn’t anything great or growing amongst youth ministry in the church, I am not. I have the privilege of seeing and being part of some hugely exciting and life-changing youth ministry. I also see some churches prioritising youth ministry and keeping going even when it is tough.

What I am saying is that we need to up our game and want more for our churches and our young people. But we have to go beyond ‘wanting’ it and change our behaviour, and dare I say it, our churches.

Three things I am going to try and do: firstly shape my ministry around growth and not ticking over or doing what we’ve always done. Secondly begin to adapt current events and plan new ministry events that are different and focused on, as the Americans say, ‘the win’! Thirdly and most importantly, spend more of my time meeting with individual leaders and young people and encouraging them in their calling so that they can see how significant the call God has placed on their life.

In the first two chapters of the book of Nehemiah the words ‘pray’ or ‘cry out’ are mentioned around 10 times. We need to pray more, a lot more. So next time you see a 267 prayer gathering, please come along and bring friends. Also, I give you permission to keep me to all of this, if at any time I begin to play it safe or go a little grey, feel free to remind me that I said “go big or go home”

Nehemiah 8:17 – The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great’

Is the opposite of loneliness, community?

3 Feb

Lately there seems to be a lot of articles online about people being more lonely than ever. Maybe this deep loneliness has always been around but for some reason right now I feel challenged by it. Thinking about it makes me sad and I want to consider how as we offer community to the young people we do ministry with we can counteract those feelings of deep loneliness. I mean come on as a Christian community we have everything to offer and I have seen first hand how the young people I work with bring life-affirming joy, real relationships, deep friendships and a sense of ‘doing life together no matter what’!

Now please understand I am not talking about people who actually like being on their own, I mean I used to drive around the M25 of a night just to get some thinking space! I want to talk about the difference between ‘being on your own’ which seems to be a choice, and ‘loneliness’ which seems not to be a choice. Our youth ministry needs to be more than a weekly group, more than ‘church’, more than the text conversation during the day. I truly believe, particularly through our Houseparty and Fuel ministry, that the community we need to offer encourages people to deeply invest in one another, to journey through life with one another. This means a sense of honesty and accountability needs to be encouraged and this wont happen with everyone but is worth pursuing with a smaller group of individuals. If all of us can seek to find these groups, and to be inclusive as we do it. Then these groups are able to journey together as a larger group because of the thing we have in common – the priority of community. Honesty and accountability are some of the hardest things to live out but at the same time they are able to provide a depth of relationship and friendship that is truly attractive and should be able to counteract times of loneliness.

Ephesians 4:2 says “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

I heard something this week which spoke about how young people aren’t wired to build relationships in the same way or to the same depth as the previous generation. I wouldn’t say I fully agree as I have seen a level of support and depth of friendship in our groups which would say the opposite. But I do believe that in our ‘instant friendship’ online world we do tend to think a deep relationships exists when the truth is, it does not. In my opinion a Snapchat ‘streak’ is not a deep friendship!

Pauls letter to the church in Ephesus speaks about this deep and secure relationship. Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, effort, unity; these are the things that build deep ‘loneliness-conquering’ relationships. This is what I want to pursue and what I want to encourage our ministry to pursue and promote. Join me in this risky, challenging but powerful and highly rewarding journey in community.