Over the past 50 years there has been some great models of ministry helping people hear about faith and grow as disciples of Jesus. A number of them grew from congregations that was well resourced, both financially and with volunteers. They also occurred with very different communities, family and technological expectations. This is not the world we live in now and children, young people, families have a very different experience of life. Is the gospel still relevant and if so how do we effectively be the good news in this world?
As we come out of Covid we are faced with a number of choices, do we just go back to what we were doing before or is this the time to pray and rethink what is possible? For some of us, it will mean getting back into the rhythm of things, for others, who may have been struggling before, now might be the ideal time to gather and pray together about what we could do differently.
I went back to have a look at the readings that talked about when Jesus sent out the disciples, whether it was 70 or 12 the starting place is that the harvest is plentiful but the harvesters are few. We live in a time where there is a great need for hope, love and peace. Our world is desperate to hear that who we are matters and that being a treasured child of God does not mean that you are going to be the Prime Minister, or a rock star or an elite sports person but that you still have value, a purpose and a reason to be in the world. We need to reframe what value looks like in our culture, our young people and children need to hear this as much as everyone else. The harvest very much is plentiful, where are we as disciples and as a church, called to go?
The next thing to notice is that Jesus didn’t send them alone but in pairs, this is important and intentional, having two people working together on what next, keeps you inspired, encouraged and on track. We are called to do this together, so why not get a group of you together to think about what God is calling you to next. Who are some of the young people and children you could partner with in this conversation? What are the gifts they have to share that you have noticed that God is wanting to use to be a light in the world?
The real question here is what are you trying to do? Why do you run your youth group or your Sunday school group or your kids club? Are you trying to educate young people about faith, is it to experience being part of Christian community? Is it for young people to experience and know the love of God? Is the way you are currently doing this the most effective way to achieve your goals? Does it make the most of the gifts and skills you have in your congregation, who could work with you to add to the treasure chest of people and gifts to share with the young people of your community?
The next thing to notice is that it is not going to be easy, there are going to be people who like the status quo and will fight you every step of the way.. The same was the case for the disciples, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Luke 10:3” What are the wolves that frighten you from taking action and stop you in your tracks? What gives you the courage to keep going anyway? How do we give young people the opportunity to be courageous beyond fear, whilst also keeping them safe? In a time of high anxiety how does the fearless light of Christ shine through?
When we have the courage to go, God does provides all that we need. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” Part of being a Christian community is that we are encouraged to share what we have. During Covid our friends got very sick with Covid, they were out of my area and it was when we weren’t allowed to leave. I rang the minister in the area and explained what had happened and that congregation were able to provide food for them for 5 days. When I pondered that, I realised that I knew people across the country and world, that if I knew someone was in trouble in their area, they could help. Some of these are part of the church but some are not. People are loving, kind and generous. Faith reminds us of that when we are most vulnerable and afraid. How do we as we move out of Covid, remind people of who they are at their best selves and inspire and encourage this to continue? How do we encourage generosity and kindness with all ages? How do we learn from children the simple trust that comes from relying on parents, to form us as we grow in our own faith?
We live in very different times, things that worked before may not work now, why not take time to listen to the young people and children about what they know and notice is helpful to them? Talk to them about what might be helpful to them and their friends? How do the things you carry with you stop you from hearing and seeing things in a new way or stop you from listening to them?
“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” As we look to be the light in our world it is a good reminder to walk through the doors that are open to you and shake the dust off your feet and move on when it is closed to you. Jesus does not call us to bash down doors but to walk through the opportunities that are given to us. What are the doors that are asking for you to bring God’s peace to? Are they different from before? Are they the same but require some tweaking in how we think of them? How can our young people and children have a voice in this conversation about where they would like to go?
We have inherited some amazing things in our Church that have served our community well but it is OK if they don’t necessarily serve it well now. I am seeing more and more people being bravely called to share their gifts with their community in a new way. They are leaving their sandals and trusting that God will show them what is needed when they get there. Sometimes it is about tweaking what we have and thinking about it with fresh eyes, sometimes it is something totally different. Who are the others around you that you could partner with to see something new come about? As you come out of Covid both personally and as a church I pray that you might be open to God’s leading to hear afresh what the light looks like in your community and find doors open to share it..
Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.