“Jesus said: ‘let the children come to me and do not stop them'”.
I was in my last parish doing an inter-church a youth event, Unite, and we’d hired a local youth club for it, with lights and smoke and the whole works and a band of young people were leading the worship in the style of music they liked (quite rocky) which was really good.
Suddenly a couple of faces appeared at the door, local guys, “Can we come in?” they asked. The rain was pouring down outside, and our incredibly gifted speaker was getting ready to speak.
“Of course” I said, wanting to be welcoming and let them come in, suddenly from 2 or 3, became 5 or 6, and then a couple appeared on their bikes from no where.
They shot into the kitchen and began to eat the left over food, which was okay, most of it had already been eaten by the Church kids, it reminded me of the guys we had been working with earlier in the day at the skate park where we had our Church Plant, the young people would come and eat us out of house and home and then go off on their bikes, but they felt welcomed and loved there, and we had got to know them. I didn’t mind “help yourself” I said.
A few went down stairs rather than hear the talk bit, again I didn’t mind really, better to have a relationship to build on and be welcoming and hospitable than forcing them to hear a preach.
I did try and eyeball some of the other youth workers as they were all sitting listening to the talk -which is great but wasn’t being hospitable to our visitors.
Then heard an alarm go off and ran downstairs, turned out that someone had punched a fire alarm, which caused more problems as we tried to turn it off setting off the burglar alarm too, they then ran off out the fire exit.
“They don’t teach you this at theological college” I thought to myself!
Anyway kids soon ran off, and had to sort everything out, including ringing the people in charge of the building, who said: “Next time, don’t let the local young people in”.
To be honest I can understand the position, yet it feels like this is going against our very ethos of who we are.
These are the people I long to see coming to Church.
I remember when I first lived in Poole and was a local youth worker, we had some feisty nights with the AREA under18’s night club we used to run, and I remember a pretty brutal complaint from a neighbouring Church-goer complaining about the kids behaviour, their thinking was “can’t you just reach nice young people” not those nasty “hoodlum” types. No one likes being the youth worker when a Church hall has been trashed and having to apologise and talk with angry Churchy people that are wanting to close the project; I used to think: “I would happily see every window in this place broken if we could see young peoples lives transformed by Christ!” Jesus said “those who are well don’t need a doctor”… “I tell you the truth there is more joy in heaven over 1 sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who need no repentance”. Jesus never said “just reach out to the ‘nice’ ones” and only work with the ‘safe’ ones.
My friend AJ used to work on the detached team for the council and had to wear a stab-vest to keep him safe, I asked him once how he felt about this, and he told me the story of “the skinny preacher” David Wilkinson, who went into the Bronx to work with street kids, and one of them Nicky Cruz -one of the toughest gang members- threatened to cut David Wilkinson up, to which Wilkinson replied: “You can cut me into a thousand pieces and everyone of those pieces will still love you”. It was these words that eventually led Nicky to give up his old life in the gang and become a follower of Jesus; this reformed gang member has spent his life reaching other gang members for Jesus. As I thought of AJ out on the streets of Bournemouth chatting away, prepared to risk his life for the sake of the young people he is meeting, showing his love for them by turning up each week no matter what.
Mission is costly. I remember one fateful evening when I was running an under18’s nightclub in Poole, Dorset, and we had been running without incident for 18 months and then some new kids who we didn’t know came in, and ended up causing a fight, and then ended up smashing a window in the door of MacDonald’s. The police came, which inflamed the situation, and some of the kids tried to rock the Police Riot van. It was horrible. I remember clearing up afterwards and felt as though someone had kicked me in the stomach. Hospitality and love, can be costly and can cause us pain. Hospitality can be rejected.
So, there we were, running a youth event in a youth club, with the clear instructions “Don’t let the local kids in!”
Again, it makes me ask how these young people in (insert your place name here) will ever hear about Jesus?
It reminds me of size and scale of the hill we have to climb to see this generation hear the gospel of Christ in a way they can understand and respond too, it is a bigger and tougher challenge than we think.
But it is a hill we need to climb.
Who is up for climbing?