It has been revealed that youth workers have all but stopped using the phrase “did you see [blank] last night?” after it turned out that unless the youth worker had spent the night watching YouTube rather than BBC4 or Sky Atlantic the answer was almost certainly no. Except during the World Cup, when the response was invariably: “It’s coming home.”
That was 2018.
Hope is not up for debate
A report from the YMCA showed that overall spending on youth services has fallen by 62 per cent. Between 2012 and 2016, 600 youth centres closed, 3,500 youth workers lost their jobs and provision for more than 140,000 young people disappeared.
That was 2018.
The cultural conditions within which youth work exists are in a funny place. ‘Youth culture’ – the things young people watch, listen to and engage with – feels more disseminated than ever, while the news headlines paint a bleak reality for our young people.
Christmas is quite literally the turning point in the Jesus story, but is it transformative in our ministries?
Culture columns either feel less relevant or more depressing than ever, and those of us who are involved in youth or children’s ministry probably don’t need to read yet another source of damning statistics. We are living with them. They prey on our minds. Sometimes they overwhelm us.
But it’s December. It’s Christmas. And if the hope of Christmas, the power of the incarnation, has nothing to say to the world our children and young people live in, then it’s an overrated story that belongs purely in carols and on Christmas cards.
The incarnation tells us that all this stuff matters. This world matters. The present lives of children and young people we work with matter. They matter enough for the Son of God to take on flesh and move among us. They matter enough to rip up the rulebook and open the kingdom to all. They matter enough to disrupt the comfortable lives of those in authority, to anger kings and governments.
But it’s not just that this world matters, it’s that hope still remains in this world. No matter how dark the night. No matter how distant and quiet God feels. As the great prophet Toby Ziegler (The West Wing) once put it: “Hope is not up for debate.”
The incarnation happens at a turbulent point in Israel’s history, while the people are subjects to an invading force in their own land and the prophets have dried up. It’s at that point that hope shows up, in the most unlikely way: a baby born to no-mark parents in a forgotten town.
Now look, we know this. We get it. But… do we? I mean, do we really get it? Do we get it in a way that transforms the way we believe the world actually works? Do we get it to such an extent that it could shift the way children and young people view the world around them? Christmas is quite literally the turning point in the Jesus story, but is it transformative in our ministries?
The hope of Jesus isn’t some far-off, disembodied hope, it’s transformative in the here and now. It’s transformative in the face of stabbings and mental health crises and Fortnite and cuts, and not being able to hold a conversation about The Bodyguard because young people don’t care what you watch any more. It’s transformative when stuff is going well. It’s transformative when hope seems a long way off.
Sadly, I can’t tell you what that will look like in practical terms. I’m fairly certain that hope isn’t going to involve young people regaining interest in Big Brother. In fact, the hope of Christ is almost certain to surprise us in the way it appears. I don’t know what your youth and children’s work situation is at the moment.
I don’t know if you’re overflowing with hope or whether hope is in short supply. But I do know that, at Christmas in particular, hope isn’t up for debate. May the hope of Christ be transformative to you, those you work with and those you love this Christmas.