When I moved down to Exeter about 6 years ago as a newly commissioned Salvation Army Officer and the new Divisional Youth Officer of the South-Western Division I was given Dr Ivan Andrews as my ‘support officer’. Now, traditionally your ‘support officer’ would be another officer of long-standing service…but as I was moving into a youth post the ‘powers that be’ decided that it might make sense to allocate me someone who knew what they were talking about! Ivan certainly turned out to be that…and more! Thus started an apprenticeship and friendship which has spanned the last 6 years. Ivan is now retired, but previously served the URC South West Synod as their Children’s and Youth Work Training and Support Officer (something like that!), and has countless years worth of youth work experience in both church and secular groups. I thought it might be interesting to post his comments from a couple of posts down…about how we can help young people explore our faith:
Perhaps you can “teach” young people the story of Jesus, why Jesus is important to Christians, how the Churches interpret the story of Jesus (each in their own individual way) – even what people need (in the view of some churches) to be “saved”, “take Jesus into their hearts” “adopt the faith” – or whatever term you like. BUT, in my view, you cannot “teach a young person INTO faith”.
Adopting a faith has to be a matter of personal choice – that’s why I have some difficulty with “youth evangelism” (or evangelism per-se) as its aim is to persuade, cajole, or even indoctrinate young people to take on the beliefs and religious patterns of the adult congregations – now is that ethically sound I ask myself? If I was a member of the BNP and tried to evangelise my beliefs amongst the young people you know – how would you be feeling?
The point of this ramble is this, Teach young people ABOUT the faith – in whatever modern and interesting and relevant way you can, but a young person adopting, growing in and wanting to know more about that faith, has to be their choice. SO, ‘discipling’, in my view is youth work, not evangelism, helping them explore their own lives, views, values, and beliefs through informal education techniques – perhaps with the offer of hearing about the Jesus story in some relevant way (starting where they are at and what they understand), allowing them to make their own responses (pos or neg).
What I have written above begs the question of “what is ‘Christian’ youth work?” Is it:
1. youth work done from a Christian ideological perspective, or
2. youth work that aims to make young people Christians?
There is quite a difference – and my preference of course (based on what I have written above) would be to lean to the former rather than the latter – which, contrary to what people say who have challenged me on this, does NOT rule out offering young people an opportunity to hear the Jesus story and adopt the Christian faith but DOES rule out any attempt to persuade, cajole or even indoctrinate them in the faith – the choice is theirs. Perhaps the way I live my own Christian life might “rub off” – but if it does not……….(I shrug at this point)?
What do you think? Comment below…