Starting today, I’m going to be posting a series of reworked editorials from my 8 years at the helm of Youthwork magazine. These have never been online before – I’m going to edit them for relevance; hopefully they’ll be helpful. If not – you know what the comments section is for…
Meeting Sarah made me sad. Sarah was a volunteer Anglican youth worker, part-time office worker and part-time mum. She seemed like a great lady – the sort of person who you could tell would make a great youth worker. We met at a conference where the speakers raved about ‘exciting times for UK youth work’, but meeting her meant I couldn’t share the enthusiasm.
Sarah told me how she sometimes considered dropping out of youth ministry due to sheer frustration. She explained how for a year, she’d been trying and failing to get the churches of her town (teenage population- 1,000; combined church youth group attendance- 35) to work together on local strategy, events and social action. Individually, the Baptist, Catholic and Community churches of the town were all happy to work with Sarah. However, once she suggested that all four of them work together, the chorus of disquiet was audible in the next time zone.
The Community church, while claiming to be ‘passionate’ about the town’s young people, were not so passionate that they were prepared to work with the Catholic youth workers in order to reach them. The Baptists, who had a paid youth worker on staff, were happy to work with the Catholics, but could not abide the hardliners down the road – and anyhow, their work was going really well right now. Oh, and another nearby congregation, which Sarah barely bothered to mention, were so cynical about the notion of ecumenism that they never even joined the debate. The end result? Nobody worked together, and nothing really changed. Now, I know this is just one example, but I have a hunch it might just echo elsewhere.
If you were the General of an army, how would you organise your troops for battle? Would you tell your platoons to work completely independently of one another, giving them some basic instructions, a map and half the equipment they need? Or would you organise them to work collaboratively, intelligently, strategically?
The first set of soldiers I’ve described would be just as passionate about winning the battle – especially on their local level – but with no support, little direction, and no vision for the bigger picture and the whole battlefield, they probably wouldn’t get very far. But that second set – with their individual tasks but whole-battle focus – now they could really get somewhere…
Maybe I’m missing something. I know I’m simplifying all this, but in essence, shouldn’t we be working together more? Shouldn’t local church unity extend a bit beyond one ‘churches together’ service a year? Isn’t it just a bit weird that when we’re all trying to do the same thing, we don’t talk more?
I think youth workers of different denominations and projects need to meet and talk. I think youth workers of the same denominations and projects need to meet and talk. We need to look at our villages, towns and cities together, build strategies, and fight – for the glory of the Kingdom and not for our own success – side by side.
We may have our theological differences, and those can’t simply be ignored. But instead of looking at what divides us, can’t we focus on the things we can agree on? The centrality of Scripture; the call to evangelism; the need for holiness; the imperative of the poor. And building on those pillars, does our effectiveness still need to be watered down by cynicism, apathy and denominational bigotry?
What might happen if – right now – you called some other churches and youth workers in your area? What might be achieved if you resolved to really work together with those outside your denomination, for the shared purpose of reaching and keeping local teenagers for Christ? Hold that thought.
This article first appeared in Youthwork magazine. Find out more by visiting the website: www.youthwork.co.uk