When I was 12 one of my old primary school teachers convinced my mum to let me come on a weekend away with the youth group from her local church. She and her husband helped out with the group in their spare time. And it was there, for the first time, that I met other people my own age, and older (and therefore cooler), who were Christian, or open to exploring the Christian faith.
It’s a small thing she did and it was just one weekend. But it opened up a whole new community and a whole raft of information I’d never really heard in a way that made sense. I gave my life to God that weekend and started to get excited about my faith.
Not long after that weekend, that same teacher and her husband started to open up their home every other Friday night to the church youth group, and our friends. They picked us all up and dropped us home afterwards (sometimes that was a lot of trips). There was unlimited cola, Kettle Chips and Maltesers, and just as importantly, there was an unconditional welcome, friendship, encouragement and Bible study. I started going along when I was 12 and was still going when I left school.
25 years later, we’re still in touch and there’s a good crowd of us who credit those two volunteer youth workers with the fact we still love Jesus, and we’re still in church. Some of us are now youth leaders and church leaders ourselves.
So, what was their formula? I think it was just a willingness to go out of their way to love teenagers and share their faith with us, whatever shape that took. (Also, good taste in snacks).
I’ve been thinking about them a lot recently as we gear up for National Youth Work Sunday on 23rd September. You might not have heard of it, as 2018 is still part of the pilot phase, but it’s an invitation to churches across the country to dedicate one Sunday in September to celebrating young people and asking ourselves what more we could do to show them God’s love. Remembering how people consistently went out of their way to support me as a young person, I am asking myself how I can pay that forward.
Churches celebrating Youth Work Sunday this year will be hearing the story of Ananias from Acts 9 – the first Christian that God sent to Saul after his dramatic conversion, the first one to take a risk on this intimidating outsider.
Ananias isn’t remembered like Saul/Paul is. And he can’t possibly foresee at that moment the significance that Paul’s life and ministry will have. He is simply asked to go to him and pray for him. And to have the faith that God is doing an extraordinary thing in an unlikely candidate.
I wonder if I have that kind of faith and the willingness to serve without fully understanding the bigger picture of what God is doing in other’s lives. To be the first experience someone has of the church, of the family of God. To offer a welcome and a willingness to engage. To find a way to love young people - or even just one young person - and do that in a way that costs me something but never bring me any glory.
If you would like to join with us in celebrating Youth Work Sunday with your church, everything you need is available here. And if it’s too late for 2018, book 22nd September 2019 in your diary (and your church’s diary) now.