Daring Greatly through mission... with the courage to step outside the box

Sandra Crawford writes:

Daring to walk alongside…
I have heard too many stories recently of Christian teenagers who have taken their lives (or attempted to) because they are struggling with their sexuality and think the church, their family and God will reject them.  Whatever our theological position on sexuality, if we are leading young people to kill themselves then we are wrong.  I make no apologies to those who have heard me say this before, and I will keep on saying it.

20 years ago I stepped into my first full time role as church youth worker in Manchester.  I duly fulfilled my own expectations and those of the church and began to head up an all-singing-all-dancing youth and children’s programme with the aid of many superb volunteers.  However, I became unhappy that our primary aim of youthwork was to deliver cup-a-soup versions of the Gospel (pre-packaged, only takes a few minutes, easy to swallow, and soon forgotten) which ultimately tried to rescue young people from their world into the church.  Although hundreds of children and young people came through our doors regularly, there were also many who didn’t fit in and left, or were banned due to their behaviour.  Those who didn’t fit were often those who struggled to find their place in the rest of society too.  It struck me that this didn’t seem to be the way Jesus did things; he seemed to go out of his way to spend time with those that society rejected.  Many of the young people who didn’t fit our big youthwork were from broken families, failing in the education system and living with a depth of suffering that many church volunteers were not trained for.  They did not need to hear a message which highlighted their brokenness, they were already well aware of that, and a conversion to a middle class gospel and church was irrelevant to them.   
Stepping outside the box for me has been stepping out of the big numbers game and deliberately and intentionally working with a few.  I’m part of a small church, to enable me to be here and serve as youth specialist minister I have a second ministry role as a regional minister, but my primary calling in both roles is to work with small groups of young people surrounding them with a community of adults.  I see my calling as one of walking alongside young people, and encouraging others to do the same, to nurture something that is already placed there by God from the beginning of creation.  If we believe we are made in the image of God then each of us is significant, and are signs and symbols of God himself.  I’m trying to encourage small groups of trusted adults to gather around young people, to provide community, security, and a secure base, all of which provide significance.  The intention is not to spoon-feed a cup-a-soup gospel or pour in religious knowledge seeking to address the dodgy moral wellbeing of a young person, but rather to spend time exploring, understanding their perspective, their world and demonstrating the gospel within it.

Walking alongside a young person as they struggle with significance, as they consider their sexuality, as they navigate our ridiculous 'one size fits all' education system, is a huge challenge and is often heart-breaking and emotionally draining. To do this well, you can only walk alongside a few. 
My heart is to encourage a community of faith; a group of people of all ages and abilities, on a journey of searching, learning, discovering, and owning faith.  I have been amazed as I’ve watched the most unusual relationships strike up between young and old.  Bill is in his 70’s, an ex-Navy guy who is covered in tattoos from all over the world who has struck up a friendship with a 15 year old lad.  The conversations began as they discussed his cool tattoos, and Bill has nurtured that relationship, a grandfather in the faith.  Bill would not see himself as a youth leader, but he is standing alongside, listening and encouraging a young person as they work out together what it means to be children of God.
I realise encouraging community in this way presents a whole heap of safeguarding issues, we have had to think on our feet and outside the box, whilst ensuring the safety of young people.  This is another continual journey.
However, I am convinced we need to encourage people to leave the safety and security of running a youth programme, step out from behind the games, and the pre-packaged versions of the Gospel and travel alongside a young person or two as they journey, often to dark places, showing them that they are made in the image of God, exploring with them what Gospel means whilst standing in the crap and darkness with them.  O wait a minute, isn’t that incarnation?  Someone else spent a few years doing that.

SandraCrawfordSandra Crawford is Baptist Youth Specialist Minister living in Leyland (near Preston) with her husband Tony, also a Baptist Minister, and two teenage children.  She is co-pastor at Leyland Baptist Church which is a small church with a big heart, running alongside the church are two charities: ‘SLEAP’ a homeless charity for young people and ‘The Leyland Project’ - 3 community centres serving two social housing estates.

Sandra is also one of the Regional Ministers for North Western Baptist Association, currently working alongside an awesome team of 15 young leaders from churches across the northwest.

She is currently highly frustrated having broken her leg and damaged her knee playing Bubble Football at a youth weekend in July, and is still hobbling around on crutches.  The picture is of Sandra, moments before; it was all going so well!

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