We are so thankful to God for his goodness to us in Wales over many years but as our society and its cultural norms are rapidly changing the church needs to think carefully about how it can engage our communities with the gospel. The evangelisation of children and young people who know very little of the good news of Jesus Christ has never been as crucial as it is today.
Disappearing childhoods through exposure to adult lifestyles with expectations at ever earlier ages, rapidly changing technology where children’s understanding often outstrips that of their parents and the social media influence are all causing churches to re-evaluate how they engage with the youth of today. Many of our children and young people face difficult issues, from fragile family situations to the erosion of beliefs, as media and scientific thought challenge traditional or religious values. Our children also face the influence of consumerism, increasing exposure to new expressions of spirituality and community attitudes towards them that fluctuate between idolisation and abuse.
Reaching young people
Whatever the realities of a child’s life, God regards them as precious (Ps. 127:3). They are to be treasured and taught, both in the community and at home. God’s great solutions in the Bible were rarely predicted in advance by anyone. Even when God sent specific prophecies, people generally failed to recognise what might happen. God used culturally-specific methods to capture the greatest attention: the ten plagues spoke into Egyptian culture; the mysterious hand writing on the wall challenged King Belshazzar; the cross was a powerful symbol to the Jews, who considered dying on a cross a curse.
God’s solutions in the Bible were almost always against the prevailing tide and were countercultural. They were creative, profound, entirely appropriate and completely unexpected. If this is still true today, the solutions to the need to share the gospel with our children will not be found in our own planning and creativity. God calls us to listen to him, to trust and follow him. The very nature of discipleship is following God’s plans, not inviting him to join ours!
God calls us into utter dependence upon him at a time when we have no answers. He calls us to listen to his heart for this generation, to ask him to take us where we must go and to expect the unexpected. As we pray, listen and observe, we will be exposed to some of the unexpected, culturally appropriate and upside-down interventions that God is using across Wales, for the sake of young people. As we see children and young people coming to know the Lord, we are to involve them in the task of evangelisation. The focus of mission and the call to mission do not have any age limitations. The work of mission can be shared by a generation of young people equipped to be faithful witnesses for Jesus – and so the whole church will be built up.
Encouraging young people
Young people bring unique gifts to the task of evangelisation. For example, they have access to thousands of young people outside the church and are often the only means of reaching them. They often have a simple faith that is attractive and put their whole heart into reaching out, doing so in simple obedience. I’ve been so encouraged to see a new generation of young people taking responsibility in speaking up and challenging the prevailing views of their day. We must pray for them but also allow them the opportunities to serve as part of their local church.
Often on camps, the highlight for me has been to hear the young people pray. As churches, we must also give them the opportunity to pray and as they pray, they will develop a love for their peers and will be stirred to reach out to them. Our young people need to know the importance of prayer and to realise that Jesus is with them when they share the good news with their friends.
Do not underestimate the spiritual battle children engage in when they pray. We need to read the Bible with our children and teach them to pray through the promises that God has given, observing and recording God’s answers to prayer. Make prayer an important part of discipling and nurturing children as they build their relationship with the living God. Model prayer to them. Join children in prayer but do not dictate to them what should happen in those prayer times.
Recognise that children have God-given gifts. 1 Corinthians 12 paints a powerful picture of the church as the Body of Christ. Children are part of that body, and need to be recognised as such. The same Holy Spirit lives in each believer, giving spiritual gifts to all, children included. While the nature and manifestation of these gifts may vary, we must acknowledge and value the gifts God gives children and help them to use them. We can challenge our children to be witnesses at an early age, but they do need the opportunities to serve as well.
So often, churches have training, mission trips and speakers that give adults opportunities to share the good news with others, but many of these same initiatives could also be used with young people and children, to enable them to share the message of reconciliation.
Investing in young people
The ministry of the Evangelical Movement of Wales (EMW) camps has been incredibly blessed by God over the years, not only seeing large numbers of children and young people being saved but also providing opportunities for them to serve and develop their gifting as they mature in their walk and relationship with the Lord. The pandemic has prevented many children and young people from having the opportunities of attending residential camps and yet, through unique circumstances, they have shown themselves to be resilient in connecting with their unconverted friends through creative means.
We live in challenging and uncertain days, yet if we truly want to see the church grow and flourish in our day, we would do well to invest heavily in our children and young people, giving them the opportunities not only to hear the gospel and respond to it but also to be encouraged to share the gospel, as they will often be far more effective in reaching their peers than many of us.