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Time to get over our fear of commitment

In this week's Youthwork blog, Paul Friend questions our fear of commitment and why we need to let it go in order to see change.

We’ve been told that Generation Y is scared of commitment. People are putting off buying houses, getting married and having kids. With high student debt and gloomy job opportunities, they are also reluctant to commit to anything. Businesses are having to adapt fast as people are not prepared to enter long term contracts. Is Generation Y scared of commitment or just picky? Either way, the issue of commitment is massively impacting the church and youth ministry.

My experience, from talking to church leaders, as well as my own involvement, has been that in most churches there are now a large group of people who will attend once or twice a month and fit church around their other social activities.  I’m not pretending that this group has never been there before, but they certainly seem to be growing.

The commitment of sports and pressure from schools and parents has a massive impact on our children and young people and can often be the frustration of many a youth worker. But what about the youth workers? – They are the committed ones – they turn up faithfully every week and get on with it. However, I’d like to suggest that there are some areas of commitment that we, as youth workers, need to foster if we want to see change in this generation.

Committed to Jesus

Surely this goes without saying, and yet, when I meet youth workers in coffee shops all over the south-west and across the country and ask them some simple questions about their relationship with Jesus, I get a lot of people feeling far from close. In SWYM we often talk about how we reproduce after kind – in other words, whether we like it or not, our young people will follow our traits, our characteristics and our faith. If we are a passionately following Jesus, they may well passionately follow too, but if we are lethargic, passionless and distant, we shouldn’t be surprised if our young people are too.

I wonder what youth ministry in the UK would look like if we stopped just doing things within our denominations and actually saw things through the eyes of Christ’s church in our town

This is the Sunday school answer but Sunday school questions should not be ignored as cheesy or simplistic. How is your bible reading, your prayer life, your rest, your devotion?  I wonder how youth ministry in the UK might look if our commitment to Jesus and to prayer became our first priority. I wonder how many of our employers, and, if we are honest, how many of us would be happy to build hours of prayer/reflection into our weekly timetable.

Committed to Stay

Is it just me who is a bit fed up with people packing up and moving on after two or three years in a youth work post? I know staying in one place forever is neither popular nor necessarily always right, but I’m pretty sure moving on is not always the right thing either. I hear people say ‘I need a new challenge’ and other clichés. The truth is staying somewhere for a long time is hard work – you have to push past feeling comfortable; you have to work through conflict and dealing with failure and disappointments; you have to say no to the attractive jobs where we can get a little better known and move in the right circles.

When I took on the post as SWYM Director at the tender age of 24, I said to the trustees – Let’s not do a 3 year contract and extensions etc… ‘I’m here until God tells me to go or you ask me to go. This way it will save us a lot less stress and worry and we can just get on with the job that God is asking us to do right now’. I wonder where youth ministry in this nation would be if everyone stayed in post for 20-30 years not two to three. Don’t get me wrong, I know sometimes it just isn’t working, we are struggling under the strain of the role or finances mean the role can no longer continue, but I fear that too often we move on for the wrong reasons and look for a reason to move instead of assuming God wants us to stay until he says otherwise.

Committed to unity

A few years ago, I sat with a group of youth workers and was asked to help them develop vision for youth work in their town. I asked some frank questions to try and get them to see if they really did want to serve each other or if unity was really just about them looking good and ticking a box. One youth worker mentioned that they had recommended to one of their young people that the church down the road might be a better fit for them as it had more people their age. Another youth worker slated this person, saying that they should be sacked for doing such a thing. I was shocked by the forcefulness of the accusation and discouraged that numbers and the ‘getting them to us’ approach was the primary agenda. When will we move past building our little ghettos and realise we are on the same team? Jesus desperately prays and wills us to work together as his bride.

I wonder what youth ministry in the UK would look like if we stopped just doing things within our denominations and actually saw things through the eyes of Christ’s church in our town. What would it look like if we stopped worrying about that big church down the road and started actually building bridges, letting go of our pride and fear and allowing God to surprise us with the blessing that comes when we work together?

I was in a town a few weeks ago where the churches have come together and are running all their clubs and groups for primary and secondary ages together. No separate discipleship groups or activities – it’s all together – I loved it and felt it reflected something of the heart of God. I’m not suggesting this is a model that would work in lots of settings, it clearly wouldn’t, but I wonder if it’s worth asking the question – what would?

I wonder if we have become scared of commitment in youth ministry. Surely if we put our commitment to Christ first in our roles, a commitment to stay for the long haul, and a commitment to unity in our community, we might see a massive shift in what we see happening across the country.

Paul Friend is married to Jo and has two boys Zach and Charlie. Paul heads up SWYM (South West Youth Ministries) where he leads the team of 65 trainees plus staff as they seek to see every child and young person in the south-west encounter Jesus, get to know him and choose to live for more. 

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