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The crucial role of pastoral friendship 

This is not something that is reserved for trained, professional specialists; we can all play our part in offering welcome, friendship and gentle discipleship in appropriate ways to children and young people. By Lynn Green

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A small but hugely significant privilege of being General Secretary is taking part in the “In Memoriam” at the Baptist Assembly. This year was particularly moving for me because I read the name of the minister who had welcomed me to faith and baptised me - Peter Robert Mitson. Not attending church but having read a Gideon Bible as a teenager, I encountered the Lord and then read in Scripture that I should be baptised.  This resulted in the 14-year-old me phoning Peter and asking if I could be baptised! I look back now and  am deeply grateful for all the welcome, encouragement, love and teaching that Peter and Beth offered me through their pastoral friendship. 

Two things in particular stand out. The first is their warm hospitality; cups of tea, roast chicken meals, baptism classes and lots of conversation. I was welcome in their home and in their lives. In this lovely natural way they discipled me in those early years.


The second was that they were “for me” even if I didn’t quite fit into their Christian “world view”. You see, they were from a Brethren background and I had this sense that God was calling me to ministry…  Even though, in one way, they didn’t know what to do with me, in another they loved and encouraged me nevertheless.  I know that I am by no means alone in this experience – many, many of us have been loved, encouraged, supported and discipled as children and/or young people by other followers of Jesus in our church communities.  This is not something that is reserved for trained, professional specialists; we can all play our part in offering welcome, friendship and gentle discipleship in appropriate ways to children and young people.



Who will be thankful for your encouragement?

What is wonderful, is that smaller churches have a distinct advantage here.  You may not be able to offer “all singing, all dancing” youth programmes (although you can often access this in connection with the wider church) but you can offer real and authentic relationships. Gavin Calver shared recently that a 15 year old in the UK today is more likely to have a smart phone than a dad at home. There are so many children and young people who are longing for a few people to be “for them”.  We need to be wise and accountable in how we do that, but don’t let’s lose sight of the simple power of pastoral friendship.

One practical way we can express this is through taking the time to listen to children and young people and seeking to understand their “world”.  A few years ago I had a go at facilitating this with a local church. First of all I asked people to create a “decadal rainbow”.  Everyone in their 10s, then 20s, 30s and so on.  I figured that asking people to line themselves up in decade order would not be too pastorally insensitive…  The first thing that happened was that we experienced a moment of revelation:  there were less than 10 under 30 and an awful lot of people who were in their 70s and 80s. Now it is not a sin to be in your 70s and 80s of course! 

But this begs the question of what the church will look like in 30 years’ time.  Next we got into decade groups and each group looked at the same set of questions; things like “what was/is school like?”, “how do you find out information?” “What will/does/ did employment look like for you?” Later each group shared their answers and much mutual understanding and insight was gained from this simple exercise – why don’t you try it in your church?

I am so thankful to Peter and Beth Mitson for all they invested in me.  Who will be thankful for your encouragement and pastoral friendship when you come to the end of your days?

Peter and Beth Mitson with Lynn and Stuart Green at their wedding in 1986 (Sarah Pendreigh)
Table: Pressmaster/Shutterstock


The Revd Lynn Green is General Secretary of our Baptist Union

This article appears in the Autumn 2016 edition of Baptists Together magazine


Baptists Together, 09/09/2016
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