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’