Reflections on ministry with children, young people and families moving forward…
Jodie Thorpe shares some of the emerging themes for churches with a focus on children, youth and families ministries
The following reflections are based on conversations with and listening to people who are involved in Baptist settings around the United Kingdom with children, young people and families
What are we learning that we don’t want to lose?
During lockdown, many children and families specialists invested significant time in supporting families in the home; equipping parents to explore faith and spirituality with their children, providing resources and encouraging engagement in the Bible, application of faith, reflecting, worshiping and praying together. Previously this had tended to focus on parents of children in the early years but extended for those home-schooling during lockdown. ?
There is a hope that families are praying together more, and exploring questions of faith together in a more open and natural way. The pandemic has got families talking about the things that matter; the big issues of life and death, fear and hope, values and beliefs. It is really hoped that as churches re-imagine provision, they continue to encourage faith in the home; that resources are still provided, that support for parents is key and that honesty and sharing of the joys and struggles of raising children of faith is an integral part of being church family.
Specialists have been more open in sharing resources and ideas, which is a really positive step and something to encourage going forward.
The move to online church and the need to engage with social media is something which many children and young people find easier to relate to than many older people. The use of language having to be thought-through online; non-churchy language preferred in the hope that the non-churched might tune in is also more appropriate and accessible for children and young people. Online messages tend to be shorter (often around 10 minute preach/main message) which is potentially more engaging for young people and children too.
Reflecting who the message is aimed at, whether the intention is still to be attractive and accessible to all as services move back into church buildings is encouraged.
Some churches have found it easier to represent all-ages in online and Zoom services by drawing different ages into leading. (The pre-recording facility has removed the fear of failure for some young people - so some are more willing to be involved.) Considering how to continue and grow the involvement of all-ages in the services and in the life of the church, how to become genuinely intergenerational is an important question that hopefully churches will aspire to.
Safeguarding is always really important and to facilitate ongoing ministry with children and young people, there had to be new guidelines written for lockdown and an awareness that flexibility is necessary. This flexibility is important to continue to bear in mind and to reflect on how churches might maintain links safely with young people in their community so that they know that there is a safe adult that they can talk to should they need to. The pastoral care of our young people is important.
What do we feel God is saying to us?
A common theme from many Children, Youth and Family specialists is a notion that we shouldn’t be intending to ‘go back to how things were before’, that this is a time for change and some changes that have come about are positive and should be kept. What this means will be context dependent, but hopefully some of the reflections on the learnings from lockdown will help churches consider what they don’t want to lose or forget about going forward.
There is a strong sense that God is asking us to be even more creative in our ministries with children, youth and families. How can we ensure that discipleship and mission is fun?
With the increased anxiety that many children and young people are facing, prayer could be a very helpful tool to teach. How churches might respond to this in their local communities; thinking creatively to make prayer more accessible to all.
As more children return to school, there is rightly going to be a highly increased focus on the mental health and well-being of children and young people. This is a great opportunity for the local church to respond to pastoral concerns; this will be more easily done if existing partnerships are already in place.
Mental health and ‘Growth mindset’ were already on many school improvement plans, but they will become even greater priorities as schools come out of lockdown measures (not only for the children and young people, but for staff too). Recommendations are already being made to schools to consider how they are going to offer increased support in these areas. Is this a potential missional opportunity? Could this be something that churches could step in and offer help with - pastoral support? (Please ensure that this is with trained and appropriate persons though.)
What questions do we need to be asking as we move forward?
Given that under 18s were well-placed to advise on suitable digital content, given that this is where children and young people ‘do life’, how widely was/is their advice being sought or listened to? This is also true of what they would like to see change about church going forward. So I would encourage churches to engage their under 18s and young families in these questions.
Is there a need to focus less on our Sunday gatherings and instead invest more intentionally in disciples making disciples? Yes even amongst children and young people!
A concern that CYF specialists expressed during lockdown was that it had been really hard to hear the voice of the child or the young person. It was the inability to ‘be present’ with children and young people in a way that enabled us to really hear them - that is a big reason why personal relationship and spending time together is so important and is what has been missed the most.
How do all churches, whether they have specialists in post or not, hear the voice of the child and the young person? How are personal relationships being built and discipleship journeys continued?
How are we creating a relational model of equals where we realise we can all learn from one another as co-pilgrims?
Image | Leo Rivas | Unsplash
Jodie Thorpe has the privilege of being on the Baptists Together CYF Round Table, which contributed to these findings. She is the Children Youth and Families enabler with the Yorkshire Baptist Association and the children’s team leader at The Well, Sheffield.
This article appears in the Autumn 2020 edition of Baptists Together magazine