Want to change the world?

Start a youth group

Gavin Rodgers | Wed, 24th Jun 2020

Something feels strange to me this year as we head into July. For me, this is usually one of my busiest times of the year, being one of Jubilee’s youth leaders. We are normally getting ready for the Newday Youth event. Preparing for this involves taking my life into my hands by entering the camping cupboard at Melbourne House and spending days sorting through all of the tents which were shoved in there a year ago ‘not to be thought about till next year’! With Newday being cancelled this year it left me thinking about and praying for our young people.

Every year we take them to these large gatherings and I am astounded by the way which they powerfully meet with God. Over the years, there have been countless moments where, as leaders, we have stood back and watched the young people praying for each other, prophesying over one another and worshiping side by side and quite often arm in arm! I learn so much from our young people all year, but especially at these large events.

As I was praying for the young people this week, I felt reminded of my own personal story, coming from a non-Christian home and only discovering Jesus in my late teens. Those early days for me as a teenage Christian were some of the best days of my life! There is something about the youthful passion I had for the gospel which I have never quite been able to replicate!

I’m often encouraged by the quote from Gavin Calver;1

 ‘When Jesus wanted to change the world, he didn’t start with a board of Elders or a council of reference but with a youth group’.

Historical evidence and cultural understanding tell us that most of the disciples will have been aged under 18 (due to being unmarried Jewish men, with the exception of Peter) and some will have been as young as 15! Jesus clearly saw something in the youthful passion and adventurous spirit that many churches for centuries since have missed! He chose to gather a group of young people, teaching and training them before commissioning them for their mission to the rest of the world.

If you think about the disciples, they were willing to give up everything without a second thought in order to follow Jesus. This is something that we still see today with many young people giving up gap years to serve churches across the world, putting studies on hold in order to give time to Christ. I think back to my own story when I decided against applying to university as I felt my calling was in the local church. I spent two full years working without wages for local church projects as I was sure that this is what had God called me to. I wonder whether I would still be as quick to accept that calling on my life now?

Not only that, but when this group of young people were handed the baton and asked to take a lead, we see the birth of the early church in the book of Acts. Of course, we saw various examples of the disciples messing up, being a bit daft and saying the wrong things occasionally, but, when the time came, these guys were able to do amazing things through the Holy Spirit. When I look at the early church there is a sense of fearlessness, a sense of passion and care for those around them and a community feel which I see so often in young people. What started off as a youth group ended up becoming one of the most influential forces in history. Just think about the influence that the Church has had on social justice, on education and political reform over many years.

It goes without saying that Churches need that energy and passion from young people if we are to reach out to new generations. If we are to go further than previous generations have, we need the input and the releasing of young people. We need to hear the voice of young people right now instead of waiting till they are older. Of course, don’t hear what I’m not saying. There is obviously lots to be said about the wisdom that comes with age - this isn’t an article slamming older people, quite the opposite. It doesn’t always have to be an ‘either or’ - can’t we have youthful passion and experience working together? 

How good would it be if we were able to fuel the fire that God has started within our young people, teaching and equipping them for a glorious future serving God throughout the world. Now think of something even better - equipping and fueling them, but also learning from their example and allowing that to shape each of us. After all, one of our Jubilee Values is ‘We Inspire’ - wouldn’t it be great to inspire each other?

As a young Christian attending various youth events, one of the scriptures that was always preached through was 1 Timothy 4:12 ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity’. A really encouraging passage for young people and certainly one which inspired me. The older I have got, however, the more challenged I am by this passage. How often do I follow the example of the radical faith shown by the young people in our church? How often do I get ideas from the younger guys? How often do I let them challenge me?

One of the many things I love about our young people at Jubilee is the fact that they are so open and honest about all things church and faith related. I see it on a Friday evening; the guys will passionately share their opinions as controversial as some of those may be! There doesn’t seem to be this desire to people-please (or maybe fear of not pleasing people) that we often fall into the older we get. A great example of this was a fantastic gender debate which we had a few months back where the young people gave open and honest opinions on how they feel as male and female young people within the church. We can learn from this. If we want to continue to reach out to new generations, this is one of the approaches we need to take! We need to give forums for people to be able to voice their opinions and speak their mind in non-judgmental settings - one of the great things about our Alpha courses. We need to hear the young people out and allow ourselves to be challenged.

This last month I have been inspired by some of our young people and their response to the Black Lives Matter campaign. Most of the posts I have seen on social media have been shared by our own young people, fighting for a cause which they feel passionate about. There is something for us all to learn from that. We have a voice to stand up for things which we see happening around us.

My challenge for us this month is to think about how we can capture some of the youthful desire that the disciples and, indeed, our very own young people have. But not only that, let’s learn from their example in different situations. Why not take a few minutes every day this month to pray for our young people, thanking God for them but also asking for opportunities to learn from their example!

  1. Gavin Calver is the former chief executive or Youth for Christ and currently leads the Evangelical Alliance in the Uk

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