Sometimes in the rush of our schools’ work, whether we’re paid or volunteers, it’s hard to take a step back and consider what it is that we are doing and why we do it. So, at the start of a new academic year, this is perhaps the best time to do that.

In the great commission of Matthew 28, Jesus tells us to go and show everyone we meet his way of life, training them in all he has taught us. He promises to be with us. If you’re like me, you’ve seen the opportunity in schools to go to where the children and young people are, rather than waiting for them to come to you. Nevertheless, we all need a refresher on our motivations and perhaps also our planned activities. We need to go back to Jesus in order to renew our passion for this work and ministry. We need to begin our work with Jesus.

One of the things I have been pondering lately is how Jesus’ ministry was often about ‘being there’. How radical was that in the first century? And how powerful is that is in our 21st century world?

  • Imagine if every child and young person in the country knew who Jesus was and why he came.
  • Imagine if every child and young person understood that to be a Christian is to imitate Jesus.
  • Imagine if every child and young person could really experience how much Jesus loves them through the actions of his followers.

How do we go about making that happen? We’re going to look at this in the ‘Do’ section but first, let’s look at what we might need to know and what skills we might bring to this task.


To be followers or imitators of Christ is the prize we are continually reminded of by Paul and Jesus himself. It is the most important thing we can do, both to know Jesus and to make him known. And of course, there are many ways to do this.

Classroom-based lessons are one key way. In 2010, an Ofsted report on the teaching of RE across the UK was an indictment against the profession, both at primary and secondary levels. Too many RE teachers had a poor knowledge of Christianity and too many RE lessons were not engaging students in learning about faith. The real kicker, though, was that these things (among others) were found most often in our church schools.

So, the Church of England swung into action and, after much careful planning and preparation, they released a teaching resource that is now available for all schools, called Understanding Christianity. This is a scheme of work that tells the whole story of Christianity, encouraging children and young people to engage with key concepts such as forgiveness or prayer as well as gaining knowledge. The vision is that a young person leaving school at 16 will have a thorough knowledge of Christianity as a whole faith, rather than knowing only a few stories from the Bible. In the June issue of Premier Youth and Children’s Work, we looked more closely at this resource. If you know someone in the RE department of your school, mention it to them and ask to see the curriculum, offer to be involved in the teaching of the programme or encourage them to investigate it if they haven’t already. It’s not free and requires training, but many local government SACREs (Standing Advisory Councils for the teaching of Religious Education) across the UK are subsidising the cost.

Being there

Another way to make Jesus known is the concept of ‘being there’. Jesus was God incarnate, or "God with skin on" to quote The Message. I’ve heard many ways of describing this: incarnational or ‘hanging out’ ministry, detached schools’ work, among others. They all involve the same intention of being there for others and of building positive relationships that point to Jesus. Jesus does this so many times with Zacchaeus, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman to name but a few. What might this look like in our schools’ work?

The key to this ministry is to play to your own strengths. If you’re good at sports use that, if you love asking questions use that, if you can pick up some card tricks or basic sleight of hand tricks (there are loads of YouTube videos you could learn from), or anything that catches the eye, it’s worth taking the time to learn a new skill! This is aimed at opening conversations and building relationships, something Jesus was good at.


So far, we have referred to three spaces of engagement: formal learning spaces such as RE lessons; informal learning spaces like mentoring or CU; and non-formal spaces like prayer spaces or indeed the playground. What you choose to do will most likely depend on which space you feel the most comfortable in, but I’m going to focus on that last space in recognition that this is likely to be the space you feel most uncomfortable in!

First of all, you need to have a conversation with your school contact about the idea of you hanging around in the playground, courtyard, corridors or lunch hall during breaks or at lunchtime, and get the OK from them. If you’re already working with the school, you might find this is easier than you imagine, as lunchtimes are often difficult times for schools to manage - they might well be happy to have someone they know offering to help engage the pupils. If you don’t already have a relationship with the school, this could be harder but you will get further if you have a specific skill-set like sports coaching or are offering to run a specific activity aimed at engaging pupils during break times. (For more information about starting that relationship, see the ‘Back to school’ article.

" We need to go back to Jesus in order to renew our passion for this work and ministry"

With a plan forming to engage children or young people this way, you’ll need to cover the whole thing in prayer. Gather a prayer support team for this project, or ask those who might already be praying for your schools’ work to include this. Then begin to develop some games or activities that could begin conversations or encourage the pupils to engage with you. The idea here is to build relationships, to spend time with pupils without an agenda, acknowledging that our presence in the lives of young people and children needs to be earned. Some ideas are:

  • Balloon modelling: probably best with primary or lower secondary pupils, but everyone loves a balloon so you might be surprised!
  • Circus skills: juggling is probably the most accessible skill of these. I know a schools’ worker who took a unicycle into school and taught young people how to ride
  • Keepie-uppies: if you’re any good, challenge the children or young people to beat you. If, like me, you’d be no good, then challenge the young people to teach you or to beat each other
  • Clicker races: this is an ingenious idea from Paul at Norwich YFC. All you need is two clicker counters (the kind you might use to count the numbers of young people at an event) and a stopwatch. The challenge is to see who can get the most clicks in a minute, or two minutes or whatever. This game will create a crowd and chances to interact with them in a flash!
  • Card tricks: grab some playing cards from SchoolsworkUK (primary and secondary packs are available from the Youthscape website) and learn a few simple card tricks or ask the young people to teach you. As conversations develop you could ask the questions that are on the cards.

Stick to activities that don’t need large props or too much preparation and be ready to experiment. If you already know some children or young people well enough, then you could ask them for ideas. Then take a deep breath and go stand in the corridor, playground or lunch hall. Tell some of the pupils you already know that you’ll be there and ask them to come say hello! Don’t expect to have an impact straightaway and be prepared for every time to be different.

By imitating Jesus and being prepared to spend time with the children and young people in your school, you’ll find that more are interested and want to know why you’re there than you anticipate! You’ll gain the permission to speak into their lives and in doing so, be given the privilege of speaking about Jesus.

Be yourself. Be Jesus. You’ll be amazed.