what is the spirit saying through young people?
Many young people are protesting climate change or supporting Black Lives Matter, showing their concern for fairness and equality, as also seen in their support of LGBTQ+ people. Many young people clearly feel older generations are making a mess of the world and leaving them to clear it up! Their concern for the future of the planet, fairness, and equality tells us that many in this generation are looking beyond themselves.
An increase in mental health issues faced by young people speaks of the inner anxiety or stress they are experiencing, whilst research has shown significant numbers of young adults interested in online church services during the pandemic. Are younger generations now searching for spiritual answers to address both personal and global problems?
I think it’s important to question whether we are actively listening to what the Spirit is saying through young people. Are we valuing their insights, thoughts, and contributions?
So, what are young people saying?
“I now don’t feel I need to reply straight away when my phone vibrates…” says a young person as he describes the experience of enjoying space and stillness during lockdown. Could God be spiritually awakening young people during the pandemic, who despairing of this world, are ready to look for hope from another world?
“We’re treated as equals,” says Jess, describing her youth church. “It’s not about finding God in one way but giving us the freedom to discover God in our own way,” she goes on to explain. Jess says it is the youth workers listening, supporting and involving her as a member of the team that set her on the road to becoming a Christian.
“I’m on tonight ‘cos I’ve got COVID,” explains Josh who despite Zoom fatigue, goes online to find support during the pandemic from his youth group. There is something vitally important about communities living authentically that include and involve young people as equals. But how is this made possible?
Listening can be so transformational.
What are young people saying (pre-COVID)?
Living through a pandemic means everything is a bit different, so here are some examples from ‘normal’ times…
“Let’s move the pool table out of the back room and into the hall, let’s move the Xbox over here…” suggests Gemma. Other young people nod in agreement. As the adults go with Gemma’s suggestion so other young people begin to feel liberated. Gaining confidence, they too make suggestions. They begin spotting potential problems such as someone badly behaving or an isolated young person in distress. They begin taking on a level of ownership that all starts because the adults don’t just listen but react positively to their suggestions.
During summer camp, an older teenager called Joe begins supporting a group of younger teenage lads. When discussing this with Bob, his youth worker; Bob doesn’t take over but seeks to give Joe the tools to keep supporting the younger lads. A mentoring situation soon emerges, and Joe begins growing into the role. Bob and another adult carefully monitor the situation, ready to jump in if required. The young lads are very disruptive, but they respect and listen to Joe.
One night, Joe has a strong sense the Holy Spirit is about to work powerfully. Towards the end of the worship session, a faith conversation happens between two of the younger lads and another youth worker. Later, they begin discussing this with Joe. After a while, sensing this is the right moment, Joe asks Bob to help him pray with two of the lads. Bob allows Joe to lead whilst giving him advice as he needs it.
Many of the lads experience the work of the Holy Spirit. One is in tears; another asks Jesus into his life and still others sense Gods peace. Next morning, everyone in the camp know something has changed. The group of young lads are the first to tidy their dormitory and pack for home, they speak much more pleasantly and even offer to help others. When other young people notice the change, it gives Joe, Bob and the lads an opportunity to speak of what God has being doing for them. Later in the morning during the last worship session before heading home, several other young people ask Jesus into their lives too.
What can we learn from these stories?
If you lead a youth group, then try hard to empower young people - listen to their suggestions and see what happens.
If you’re parent, try to do the same, it could help your relationship with your son or daughter… and you might be surprised by what you learn through them!
12 February 2021
Andy led a youth church in Bradford called Sorted (part of Bradford Centre of Mission) for 15 years. He now helps others to start youth churches through MYCN (Missional Youth Church Network). For more stories and ideas for youth work, read Andy’s book, The DNA of Pioneer Ministry (SCM, 2016).
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