I was lucky enough to go to a thought-provoking conference, God in the Concrete today, a gathering of Think Tanks who have been talking about about enabling churches to become safe places and sanctuaries for young people once more. It was inspiring to hear Sam Wells apply his book The Nazareth Manifesto to the theology of ministry to children and young people. Wells argues that there are 4 main ways of approaching ministry:
- Working For people – working for a charity that might mean you never have face-to-face contact with the people you are working for
- Working With people – working with people who have experienced homelessness, for example
- Being For people – being a public advocate for people on Social Media, for example
- Being With people – living life alongside people
Sam Wells argues that Jesus spent 90% of his life on earth simple being with people, and that is what we are called to do too. It was a stark reminder of the tendency of youth and children’s ministry to involve too much activity, too much planning, too much time that is spent doing anything but simply living alongside young people. It reminded me of my favourite parts of my job – kicking a football around with the youth, eating pizza with the kids, hanging out over hot chocolate.
Yet, in Bishop Karowei’s reminder that we must all be part of the fight against injustice suffered by young people, I was reminded that being with is only part of what we are called to do. It isn’t enough to simply sit in a small part of a big city playing football and drinking hot chocolate because, as somebody wisely said in the reflections after the conference, that disregards the privilege and responsibility entrusted to us by God. And I think that maybe it isn’t enough to be with silently. We must be prepared to speak out about what we see and hear and experience. We must be prepared to create safe spaces for young people to do the same and we must be there for them when they do so. We must be prepared to fight injustice, even when it’s uncomfortable and even when it doesn’t make us very popular. Today’s conference reminded me that we always have a choice in how to respond to the privilege and responsibility given to each of us and that is a reminder that I’ll carry with me as I prepare to start theological college in September.