Remembering Teachers

School wasn’t my favourite time for lots of reasons, but I can look back on it now with fond memories.  In preparation for an event we’re organising to celebrate, encourage & commission Christian teachers, I’ve been reflecting on some school memories, and in particular, some of my teachers.

During my first school & middle school years I had some excellent teachers who made learning fun (and some who made it not even seem like learning!), but the teachers who really stand out are mostly from my time in secondary school.  I won’t say too much here, as I’ll be sharing some of the stories during the event: for now let’s just say one was referred to as ‘the Hobbit’, one was ‘fit as!’ and another (supply teacher) went on to become leader of MK Council…

During the event we’d like to include anecdotes & stories of teachers (and support workers) who really stood out during your school life, who had a significant positive impact on you, and

Do you have a story to share?

  • perhaps you can think of a member of staff who has had a lasting impact on you: a teacher, dinner lady, secretary, caretaker, or librarian…
  • maybe there’s a specific incident you can recall from your school day where you were inspired by an individual…
  • or have you kept in contact with one of your former teachers, and become friends over time…

There is a huge amount of excellent work being done in schools by great teachers & support workers. Can you spare a few minutes to share your story and perhaps in turn inspire them? Please add it as a comment below, or drop me an email:

Appreciating Christians in Education

I am fortunate to know a number of teachers & support workers: some are members at my Church, others are friends, some are acquaintances. I’m privileged to be able to go into our local Secondary school once a fortnight and pray with some of them.

The city I live in has a high proportion of young people – and as a result has a lot of schools (90 Primary, 13 Secondary) and, of course, a lot of teachers/support workers too. For the last year we’ve been thinking about putting on an event for Christians who work in our local schools:

  • to encourage them
  • share some resources
  • give them space to chat together
  • celebrate the work they do
  • commission them for another year

Now the thinking and dreaming is over, and the planning and doing has begun. But the scope has changed, as we’ll be extending the invitation to Christians in Education across the whole of Milton Keynes and we’ll be working in partnership with the MK Bridgebuilder Trust.

We’ll be releasing more details in due course, but if you’d like to be kept informed about the event, add a comment below or drop me an email:

Meanwhile, please pray that we’d reach as many Christians in Education as possible.

Breakout at Oakhill STC

Tonight I had the privilege of taking a group from my Church to lead worship at Oakhill Secure Training Centre.  It was our second visit to lead their Chapel service, and I was looking forward to it.  I’ve heard some great things about what the Lord has been doing at Oakhill over the last 12-18 months.

This morning I asked the Church to pray for us during the time we’d be at the Centre; specifically that we’d provide a good witness, that the Lord would continue to move and that His Spirit would be powerfully present during the service. I reminded them of the story in Acts 12 where the Apostle Peter has been imprisoned for being a follower of Christ, and the Church were outraged and prayed hard, and an Angel of the Lord came and broke Peter out of jail.  I didn’t want to be personally responsible for a break-out at the STC, but we prayed that there would be a breakout of the Spirit in the Centre.

We led the trainees through a number of songs, prayers & scripture readings before Andrew Gale, the Chaplain, preached on ‘who is Jesus?’, and we then shared communion together.  Whilst the outward audience participation in the service is not great, with some muttering and sniggering from time to time, there was a powerful sense of the Spirit’s presence.  But for me the most inspiring part of the evening was when the service was over and we had a chance to chat with the trainees.  I spoke to each of the young men and I found that many were slightly uncomfortable and awkward, but that a number of them couldn’t wait to talk about how they’re following Jesus, the difference he’s making in their lives, how they pray and read their Bible every day.  I was able to take in a box of Bibles which had been donated, and Andrew handed them out almost indiscriminately among the trainees, and they were immediately cherished (they couldn’t wait to have the ‘presented to…’ page filled in); one trainee was quoting Scripture within two minutes of receiving his Bible – another took great delight in telling me how he has three Bibles that he’s reading.

I had a great conversation with one trainee who I’ll call ‘B’ who shared how he’d come to faith in Jesus & been baptised whilst ‘inside’ and how he now had something to live for. He told me that when he’s released in 18 months he’d like to be a ‘mercenary’ (I suggested he might mean ‘missionary’ and he agreed).  Please pray that God would continue to transform him, and equip him for the Lord’s service on his release.

Pray also for ‘J’, a young man who told us that he loves Jesus, reads his Bible and prays everyday, but that he ‘isn’t quite ready’ to sing in front of his fellow trainees; I pray he’ll be set free from his inhibitions and go all out for God in the months ahead.

Please pray for Andrew Gale as he continues his ministry among the young trainees at Oakhill; ask God to bless his efforts as he seeks to call the young men to Christ and disciple them in the short time he has with them (in most cases).

As I drove to Oakhill the weather was pretty miserable, with constant drizzle removing any sense of pleasure from the drive. But I turned a corner to be greeted by the sun bursting into my eyes and painting the most beautiful sunset across the sky. As I turned the next corner away from the sun, there was a rainbow in the sky. Whilst being a sign of God’s great promise, I rarely look twice at rainbows.  But what struck me about this one was the fact that at the end of the rainbow was the Oakhill Secure Training Centre, and I had a sense that the Lord was re-iterating a message He’d set in my heart that wanted be to bring to the Staff and trainees: that no matter what the public perception of the Centre was, it was absolutely full of promise and potential, and that there was still work for Him to do there.  As we ended the service my prayer for the Trainees and Staff was as follows:

I pray that the Lord will bless in ways you don’t expect,
– and in ways you cannot explain…
I pray that you would have peace which only He can bring
– and that you would know His unconditional love
and I pray in the powerful & merciful name of Jesus Christ – AMEN

I praise God for the opportunity to serve Him at Oakhill every few months!

Youthwork Summit – Notes

On Saturday 23rd October I spent the day in London in the presence of 592 youth workers/leaders/ministers/etc and at least 20 speakers at the first Youthwork Summit:

‘a new kind of youth work event… breaking down old ways of doing things, and finding new ones; listening to a wider range of voices than ever before, from parts of the church – and the world outside it – that normally we wouldn’t stop to engage with.’

Each speaker had just 10 minutes to speak on their specific topic, which meant there was little time for waffle, and just enough time to get across their main message.  It was an intense and amazing day – not just because of the free Starbucks coffee and snacks.  Below are my notes from each of the sessions as I managed to capture them, when I wasn’t joining in the Twitter conversation which was being broadcast on the main screen.

As time allows I’ll be reflecting on each of the sessions further. If time allows, I may note my thoughts here too.

Watch the video which opened the event, complete with genuine X-Factor man voiceover!

Opening Worship led by Rend Collective Experiment – a group I’d heard of in relation to their fantastic iPhone worship video, but hadn’t listened to their music.  They led worship brilliantly, but I was particularly impacted when they shared the Methodist Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Matt King – Kick London
  • Background:
    • Church attendance down among YP
    • Average church age rising
    • Church is failing to attract: men, poor, YP, Christians
      • Any place for a poor male carpenter?
  • only 15% of the UK population in church on Sunday
    • do they/we care about those not in church?
  • Great commission
    • But how for young people?
  • How many young people are around my church?
    • I have a responsibility for them
    • How can I connect with them
    • Every single young person every week…
  • What a job to do, but we’ve been called to it
  • Need to engage relevantly
    • they won’t be coming into church for a look
  • First, need to meet them on their territory and with their agenda!
    • The things they love are not the things we do in church on Sunday morning
  • Then perhaps, engage them on our territory but with their agenda
    • Not the things we do, but their things
    • Not worshipping through songs or offering
  • Only then can we attempt to meet then on our territory and with our agenda
    • But why must we always bring them into our territory?
    • Can we not attempt to grow Church organically with the young people?
  • Ideas:
    • Connecting through schools – breakfast clubs, sports events, football academies
    • Football service – start with whistle, half time, oranges
  • Model:
    • Connect with millions
    • Community with 10s of thousands
    • Church/disciple thousands
    • Connect and thing about how to lead them on a journey of faith
  • Fundamentals:
    • Bring hope
    • Transform lives
    • From church attendance to kingdom participation…
Andrew Smith – Youth Encounter

[I didn’t take many notes as I’d heard Andrew speak on this previously]

  • Faithful followers of Isa
    • Isa is the name by which Muslim’s know Jesus
  • When did you last go to an interfaith meeting?
  • YP are attending them – every day and every week
    • RE lessons
    • and in the playground, on the street
  • Do we have a mission to young people of other faiths?
  • need to remember that young people don’t live in a secular society…
  • we need to train/educate young people to explain their faith in a positive way with gentleness and respect to Muslims

Bob Mayo – The Faith of Generation Y

  • Young people aren’t reacting against/hostile to the church or Christian faith
    • because they don’t know enough about it
  • Positive: because you don’t have to fight against it
  • Negative: because they just don’t care
  • referred to as the ‘benign indifference of young people’
  • We can talk about our faith much quicker, because if this – mention Jesus sooner
    • Need to put the name of Jesus on what we’re doing
  • Family situations:
    • gone through a divorce
      • children have to grow up quicker
      • when parents use them as a negotiating tool
  • friendship parenting – my mum/dad is my best friend
    • children have to grow up quicker
      • forces children into an adult ‘space’
      • dealing with adult issues with fewer resources
  • Heading into a shame generation – not a guilt generation (as previously)
    • Guilt needs challenging
    • Shame needs affirming(?)
  • Authenticity has replaced authority

Leanne Sedin & Mixed Opinions – XLP Tower Hamlets

  • Urban youth work – it’s not as bad as people make out
  • We shouldn’t speak up for those who can speak up for themselves
    • disempowering
  • Instead, enable them to speak up for themselves
  • Mixed Opinions – group of young people performed their song: Child of War
    • ‘people are dying over postcodes’
    • ‘fallen Angela from up above’
    • ‘we’re not all bad’
    • ‘I’d only you knew what I’ve been through’
    • ‘full of hatred that once was love’
    • ‘I’m a child if war’
  • [you can view a very rough early version on YouTube…]

Half-baked Idea – Andy Burns

  • Incarnational ministry online?

Christopher Pilkington – TV Executive for Children’s TV at Endemol

  • Talking about the role of story in the lives of children
  • Need to captivate young people
  • How can we do it?
    • Need to take them on a journey
    • Need to actively engage them
  • ‘I’m talking theory, you put it into practice’
  • The narrative arc holds everything together
    • structure and character
  • Setup, Conflict, Resolution
  • Deal or no deal
    • an explanation of the three elements
  • ‘true character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure’ – Robert McGee
  • Need to know your audience
    • be aware of their world
    • they are frequently the underdog
      • in the family, at school
      • told what to do and when to do it
      • they desire freedom and want to triumph
  • Use media to help captivate young people
    • these are their references
  • If there is no surprise, why will they take the journey?
  • In what way is Jesus a triumph of the underdog?
    • His choices taken under such pressure
    • that’s what will captivate young people
  • The answer is Jesus

Fr Dermott Donnelly – Catholic Youth Ministry Federation

  • spoke briefly about the Diocesan Youth Village recently opened in the North East
  • I figured out, eventually, that he’s Declan Donnelly‘s brother

Rachel Welch –

  • Affects 10% of young people
    • that’s probably a conservative estimate
  • Self harm is not about attention seeking
    • it’s a coping mechanism
  • How will you cope *when* it happens in your group?
  • Showed a couple of powerful videos
    • more will be available on the website, made from different perspectives

Pete Jeffry – Urban Saints

  • We have a problem – teenagers are leaving the Church in large numbers, primarily led by boys
  • Boys and girls are created differently
  • Does mixed youth work appropriately meet the needs of the young people?
  • Needs:
    • balanced boy-centric programme
    • active, messy, competition, creative
  • Idea: reflective writing of sins on their hands then get them to wash it off
  • Invite them to simply listen to God
    • what is God saying? Share what they hear together
  • Rites of passage
    • iron ball(!), numbers game,
    • they hear about it and want to join in
  • Residentials
    • build community and healthy gangs
  • Encourage them to share
  • Good role models, leaders
  • Create space in mixed groups for single-sex work

Andrea Boden – Romance Academy

  • Can celibacy be a realistic option for young people?
    • ‘celibacy is a massive pair of iron knickers and a big lock which only your church leader has access too’
  • Culture says: ‘everyone is doing it’
    • ‘a one-off sex talk is not going to cut it’
  • It’s about a journey together
  • It’s about intelligent choices
    • – responsible
    • – rational
    • – relational
  • ‘intelligent choice not an informed choice
  • ‘it’s worth sticking it out rather than sticking it in’

Toni Coulton – ?

  • The story of Job in triptychs – Si Smith
  • Sorry – really didn’t engage me at all

Andy Flannagan – Christian Socialist Movement

  • ‘Dad asked me to help him wash the car’
    • ‘because he wanted me to be where he was, doing what he was doing’
    • he didn’t need my help, but he wanted it
  • Our Heavenly Father
    • – same applies
  • Helping the poor, healing the sick, etc
    • – He doesn’t need us, but he wants us there with him
    • – shared tasks
  • Easy to be the good Samaritan
    • harder thing is to return the Jericho Road and trying to stop those bad things from happening
  • Need to get young people involved in political solutions to problems
  • ‘we should encourage young people to help bring about heaven on earth, rather than selling them an escape ticket to heaven’
  • read a powerful piece: his vision of what 2020 could be like if we act now
  • see for resources

Nate Morgan Lock – All Souls Clubhouse

  • Trying to impress upon us the importance of Scripture in youthwork
  • I didn’t get it – perhaps I was distracted…
    • was it just me?

Half-Baked Idea – Matt Summerfield

  • Churches struggle to find enough volunteers
  • What do you do when young people get too old for one group and have to move to another?
  • Should have movable age groups in church
    • cohort moves on and grows up together
    • volunteers stay with the same cohort
    • grow up through church with your young people

Rachel Warwick – Breathe

  • Young people can experience God
  • Introduced the Breathe resource:
  • It’s personal:
    • don’t have to worry about what others are doing, or share it
  • It’s simple:
    • uses simple tools to explore deeper things
  • It’s open:
    • doesn’t force young people to believe anything
  • It’s structured:
    • giving young people a way to respond to whatever they experience
  • we were introduced to one of the tools:
    • Play-doh as a tool to worship God

Kenny Wilson – International Christian College

  • Discipleship as adventure:
    • have we lost the spirit of Jesus’ radical call?
  • Discipleship is a way of forming Christian character
  • The focus has shifted to: Programme, event & mission
  • Discipleship was an adventure for early Christians
    • It should be a daily adventure, of bringing love to those around us
  • Jesus through the holy Spirit is still with us and working through us, but we’ve changed what discipleship is:
    • ‘We’ve emphasised the great commission over the great commandments’
  • We should refocus on the great commandments
  • Young disciple – strong desire to tell others how great it is, but not wanting to push it on them too soon – but what could I do in the meantime? Love others…
  • Loving your neighbours as you love yourself
    • secret discipleship
    • ‘stealing’ bikes and making them new
    • signed ‘the nice’
  • We need to re-empower our young Christians to live discipleship as adventure

Loyd Harp – Rudgwick Youth

  • used to work for a megachurch in the US
    • 90% of the his time was spent within the church
  • Is this why the attendance among YP is on the decline? Almost certainly
  • ‘Jesus: friend of sinners’
  • I would love to hear that ‘the problem with Loyd is that he is friends with sinners’
  • ‘How can you encourage YP to share their faith with non-Christian friends, if we don’t have friendships with sinners’
    • we don’t have the right!
  • ‘as we follow Christ and pursue discipleship we *must* associate with sinners’

Yanah Nightingale – Onelife

  • Could you be overlooking leadership potential in your youth group?
  • Simon Peter was asked ‘do you love me?’ by Jesus
  • He’s then asked ‘do you know Jesus?’ – he denies it
  • Jesus asks him again
    • everything rests of Peter’s reply
  • This is about his character and not his skills and abilities
    • – his suitability for leadership depends on it
  • Answering ‘yes’ will lead to change within you
    • obedience, listening, submission
  • The same question should be asked of anyone wishing to serve in the Kingdom of God
  • The same question should be asked of our young people who wish to lead
  • Leadership as influence, in any context

Mark Russell – Church Army

  • delivered the final commissioning address:
  • ‘the call to youth ministry takes up so much time that our relationship with God suffers…’
  • ‘horror stories are everywhere – I know, I’m an Anglican’
  • The Lord’s Prayer
    • your Kingdom come
    • your will be done
    • on earth as in heaven
  • Matt 9:35 – ministry of words and action
    • Jesus spoke the values of the kingdom
    • Jesus also lived the kingdom
  • ‘The spirit of the lord has anointed me to…’
    • reach those on the margins
  • Jesus went to the broken…
    • …and brings the kingdom in
  • ‘Youthwork is not a strategy to shore up a crumbling institution, but because young people need Jesus’
    • – those on the margins won’t fit in to our church services or youth groups
  • The cute fluffy lambs don’t run away – the angry ones do.
  • Go after them, because Jesus is already there.
  • Challenge the church to model the kingdom
  • If the church is boring, it’s not following Jesus
    • ‘it takes serious talent to make Christianity seem boring – but we’re doing it’
  • Have confidence to expect miracles – because the kingdom is here
  • We will have opposition from the devil because the kingdom is not fully here
  • Let’s demonstrate and speak the kingdom
  • ‘which is more important: words or actions?’
  • ‘breathing in or out’?
    • – whichever one you didn’t do last
    • – do the other this time
  • Challenge to model the kingdom
  • How many non-Christian friends do we have?
  • ‘The more time you spend with Christians the more you’ll spend talking about church; the more time you spend with non-Christians the more you’ll talk about Jesus’
  • They need Jesus, want hope, but don’t want to come to church.
  • We need to model kingdom values: evangelism, etc.
  • Keep company with sinners and with Jesus
  • Trust in a god of miracles
  • Modelling Kingdom changes lives
  • – the story of the hippo and the tortoise
  • Christ met and touched people where they were
  • young people need to find a place to be loved in our churches and communities
  • ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it us in heaven’

Thanks for reading this far. As a special treat* you can now download the notes above in handy PDF format. Thanks to Kieran Murphy [@king_kieran] of Phase-Hitchin

*depending on how desperate your life is!

Options for Worship

This is part four of the series looking at the inclusion of Children & Young People in Worship – if you haven’t read the other posts (intro, 1, 2, 3), I’d encourage you to do so before you continue.  this time taking a bit of a step back and considering the wider issue.

Having critiqued our current practice at Spurgeons, and considered some of the relevant issues and theology, I believe there are three possible options we might consider taking in our context (with a little adaptation, they may be relevant for others too).

Some might argue that I should consider the implications of any change before presenting and choosing an option. I disagree. Too often in my experience we discount options/actions because their implications are too hard/involved/expensive. We focus too much on practicalities (and why we shouldn’t do something) and not enough on what we believe is the right action to take. I think we should work out the right thing to do, and only then work to achieve it. I am fully aware that each option presented below will require work in order to implement them (much of which will probably fall to me), but I don’t want to allow that to deter me from taking the right action, simply because it involves more work.

And so to the options:

Option One

  • fine tune the status quo
    • retain the present slot
    • refocus it to engage 5-16 year olds
    • produce theme/series
      • each week builds on the last
    • provide guidelines to assist those preparing to lead it
    • assess each talk and feedback to volunteer presenters
  • ensure appropriate vocabulary for first part of the service
  • ensure prayers are suitable for all (length/content/style)
  • maintain appropriate pace to keep young ones engaged

Option Two

  • change the nature of the ‘family time’ at the start of the service
    • aim for all-age worship each week, prior to Junior Church groups
    • introduce range of new songs suitable for children & young people
    • allowing space for worship activities
      • creative prayer, actions & movement
    • engaging multiple senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell
    • draw the children and young people into worship:
      • ‘tell the next generation of God’s power & the wonders he has done’ – Psalm 78:4

Option Three

  • young people join together (separate from adults) and have their own worship time
  • similar approach to option two, but without the danger of alienating the adults

Before I reveal my personal view, let me analyse the options a little first.

Option One would be an improvement on where we are now:

  • providing clarity for those delivering the talk and some guidelines to assist in preparation
  • helpful feedback will ensure both consistent quality and encouragement/development to volunteers
  • theme for series will provide direction for volunteers, assist with their preparation, whilst also ensuring progression of the teaching
  • although aimed at children and young people, this would also be accessible and helpful to new Christians of any age
  • the focus on appropriate vocabulary will assist in making the service more accessible
  • positive:
    • will build on the foundation we already have
  • negative:
    • doesn’t specifically address the need to encourage children to worship

Option Two would provide a marked change (gasp! change?!) and involve a great deal of work, both in implementation and on an ongoing basis:

  • form a team to plan & lead worship each week
  • need to invest in appropriate worship resources and developing team skills
  • introducing the changes to the congregation
    • being sure to communicate the reasons well (both theological & practical)
  • weekly task of planning the worship time
  • positive:
    • enables children and young people to join the adults and fully participate in worship, following their example and learning from them
    • the service will be more suitable for families
  • negative:
    • there is a danger of alienating the adults (to be discussed further in a future post)

Option Three is a radical step but I fear it may be a step too far, offering some of the benefits of Option Two whilst avoiding the main danger, but also introducing a significant problem:

  • positive:
    • makes worship more accessible to children and young people
    • encourages them to participate more fully and express their worship
    • the focus of children’s worship may make the church more appealing to families
    • by separating the children from the adults you don’t run the risk of alienating adults by ‘dumbing down’ the worship time
  • negative:


Having considered at length the options outlined above, I believe that we should strive toward Option Two, effectively transforming the worship time at the start of our service.  I will have my work cut out in order to present the options and convince our fellowship that this is the right option for us, and, more importantly, that we can achieve it.  If we agree that this is the way forward, the really hard work will begin when we attempt to implement it.

The Easy Path?

I’ve been leading our ‘family services’ for the last six years, and understand just how hard it is to change the format and atmosphere of a service. Whilst the content of those services has been aimed largely at the young people, often they have reverted to our usual style and format. Preparing services which engage young people requires more work than a regular service (even more so to engage children too!) but as I’ve said, that’s no reason not to do it if you believe it’s the right thing to do. If ‘hard work’ was a valid excuse, I doubt we’d bother with services at all. The time and effort we invest in preparing our services must be proportionate to the value we believe they have. If we believe it’s important to engage adults in worship, we put in the work on a weekly basis. That fact that we don’t currently expend any effort to engage our young people in worship on a weekly basis reveals how little value we ascribe to their worship.

I’d love to hear your views on the options above and the brief analysis of them. Do you have particular experience of them which would be of interest.  Please keep the conversation going in the comments below.

The final couple of posts in the series will probably focus on the ‘holy grail’ or all age worship and good practice which will make implementing the change a success (mostly theoretical).

Encouraging Children to Worship

This is part three of the series looking at the inclusion of Children & Young People in Worship – this time taking a bit of a step back and considering the wider issue. [Image courtesy of BobWeasel]

Having explored the issue of the children’s talk a little and critiqued our current practice, I want to suggest that perhaps we could do away with the slot completely. At Spurgeon Baptist Church we currently have a very tokenistic approach to the involvement of children and young people in our worship: they are permitted/expected to collect the offering and (usually) expected to engage with the Children’s slot. Even assuming that we do the Children’s slot well, I can’t help but think there’s more to involving and engaging the young people during the first part of the service than that. As I’ve been reflecting on this area the message I’ve sensed most strongly is that whatever else we do for young people in our services (Children’s talk, junior church,etc) we must be encouraging them to worship God (see Matt 21:16). Sorry if that sounds too obvious – but I don’t think it’s something we do well, if at all, on a Sunday morning.

Some may argue that our service is already accessible to most ages, if they choose to engage.  At times I think that’s a fair assumption – but only from an adult perspective. But if we were able to see the service through the eyes of a child/young person I think we’d come to a different conclusion, and we’d do well to heed Jesus words when he said: ‘Let the little children hcome to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’ Matthew 19:14

So what is it about our services which hinders children & young people from worshipping God?  At present the first part of the service is aimed at the adults with the the token kid’s bits tacked on.  Often the language we use goes above the heads of the children & young people (and some of the adults too!); not specifically religious language, but language in general. This particularly applies to prayers, which are often long-winded, and unnecessarily wordy (see Matt 6:7). In our Church prayers are always led from the front – with no opportunity or encouragement for others to pray (I imagine this is an issue for young and old alike). The songs are hardly appealing to the young people, and certainly not the children.  We read scripture which is relevant to the sermon, but rarely to the songs we’re singing or the children’s talk. We collect the offering, during which the service stops and everyone waits for the bags to be returned to the front – this actively engages only four young people, whilst the rest sit bored and fidgeting – but we feel good about ourselves because ‘the young people collect the offering’. (Aside: when so many are now giving via standing order, and therefore probably half the church simply pass the bag along with putting anything in, what message are we giving to the young people who collect the offering? That half the Church don’t give financially? That isn’t likely to lead to a healthy attitude to giving as they grow up! Rant over…)

What message are we sending about God when our church’s corporate worship excludes children & young people? Church immediately becomes a time when they don’t need to engage – perpetuating the myth of church as ‘boring’ (or perhaps they’re right {gasp} and it’s not a myth!).  We run the risk of alienating them from attending Church – if their experience of worship is that it’s ‘for someone else’, they’re likely to vote with their feet as soon as they’re permitted to.

A slight aside to consider one aspect of all ages worshipping together:

In Matthew 21, as Jesus was entering Jerusalem we read that people welcomed him with shouts of ‘Hosanna to the Son of David…’, and the whole city was stirred up with people asking ‘who is this?’.  This is a passage which we’re probably familiar with, as is the story which follows of Jesus cleansing the temple of money-changers and market traders.  But read to the end of that particular passage and I believe we see a powerful side-effect of children witnessing adults worshipping.  The Chief Priests and Scribes saw the amazing things Jesus was doing, healing the blind and the lame, and they noted the children crying out in the temple: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’.  Whether or not these were the children of those who’d been worshipping Jesus on His way into Jerusalem is almost irrelevant. But it would appear that they witnessed their worship and are now copying them. You might question whether it was mindless repetition, but I don’t think the text supports that (‘crying out’ in the temple implies passion).  These children had experienced the power of Jesus for themselves – they were present in the temple as he healed the blind and the lame, and their response was one of awe and wonder which led them to worship him, using a form of words they’d seen employed by others.  The whole city was stirred up and people everywhere were asking ‘who is this?’.  Then as they came to know the answer, they too worshipped Him, in ways they’d seen modelled by others.

It is vital for us to share the message of Jesus – but we mustn’t stop there. As others come to hear the message and meet Jesus for themselves (however simply) we must encourage them to worship.  Part of that encouragement must be modelling worship well.  That’s not to imply that we must all worship in the same way – but we all have to start somewhere.  When we learn to speak we learn very simple words and sentences, often just repeating the phrases others say to us, and gradually as we grow in our ability and confidence we learn to form our own sentences.  So it must be with our worship – and the worship of our children & young people.

I believe a different approach to the start of our service is called for.  Whilst the children’s talk has its place, and with a little effort could be far more effective, the thing which is lacking from our ministry with children on a Sunday morning is not ‘teaching’ but ‘worshipping’.  At present they attend the service and are given the choice of worshipping in a way which is aimed at adults, or opting out.  Not only does Jesus say (quoting from Psalms) that the Lord ordains praise from the lips of children (Matt 21:16) but that the things of the Kingdom will be revealed to children (Matt 11:25).  Not only do we have a fantastic Gospel to teach the children & young people with whom we have fellowship – we have a great deal to learn from them too!  As we all worship together, not only can they learn from us, be we can also learn from them.


  • does this resonate with your experience?
  • how would you critique this view?
  • what other scriptural examples would you use to argue in favour of all-age worship?

Segregated for Worship

This is part two of the series looking at the inclusion of Children & Young People in Worship – this time just a quick overview of the issue of segregation.

At Spurgeon Baptist Church it is our practice to spend the first part of the service with all ages present, before separating about half way through, with the young people leaving the service and heading into different age groups.

There appear to be three different approaches to the logistics of the Junior Church ‘hokey cokey‘ (in, out, etc).  In brief, this involves Children and Young People:

  • in at start of service then depart…
    • positive: get to experience other people worshipping
    • positive: experience ‘church’ together as a family
    • positive: acts as an introduction when the leave Junior Church
    • negative: sending them out can appear negative
  • out from the start (never joining the main congregation)
    • positive: appropriately targeted teaching & worship
    • positive: a more relevant expression of church for them
    • negative: never worshipping with adults
  • out at the start but joining the congregation later
    • positive: welcoming the younger ones into the Church
    • negative: logistically more difficult

This is just a simple outline of the options and some positives & negatives of each – it is by no means exhaustive.  Apart from spending the whole service together (traditional ‘family service’), can you think of any additional models to add? Do you agree or disagree with the positives/negatives as stated? Do you have some more to add? Leave your comments below.

The next post will have more to get your teeth into…

The Children’s Talk: Critiquing Current Practice

I’ve been tasked with reviewing the aim and focus of the ‘all-age talk’ or ‘children’s talk’ at the church where I serve as Youth Minister. We are a pretty conservative Baptist church with a fairly set form of service (affectionately known as a ‘hymn-prayer sandwich’). The Junior Church leave approximately half way through the service and head into their own groups for age-specific teaching. But before they go we have the mini-talk which is aimed at them.

For a few years there has been confusion over the title and aim of this talk. Some refer to it as the ‘children’s talk’ and argue that it should be aimed at the children (4-12 years?) with others calling it an ‘all-age talk’ which should be aimed at everyone present (0-90ish?). It was primarily this issue (the name and focus of the talk) that it is my challenge to resolve. But as I scratch the surface of the issue it feels very much like opening Pandora’s box.

Whichever understanding you have of its purpose, in reality the talk rarely hits the mark. Frequently too long, rarely engaging, sometimes indecipherable even to the most switched-on people present, regularly pitched nowhere in particular and occasionally seen as an opportunity to say something to the adult church that you’ve been wanting to say for a while but could never find the right place or time.

There is little doubt that the initial thought/aim was to make the first part of the service more interesting (you might even say bearable?) for the children & young people. I’m sure it was well intentioned – but we’re still a long way off achieving that. Our approach to involving children and young people is very tokenistic (we also ‘allow’ the young people to collect the offering). Clearly something must be done.

At present, at the very least (in my opinion) we need to:
– firmly establish the aim & focus of the slot
– provide training to volunteers on the rota
– produce guidelines & practical advice to assist volunteers in their preparations
– provide feedback to volunteers after each slot with the aim of helping them to improve (not to knock them down)

However, I think a far more radical approach is called for (gasp!). But I’ve said enough for now.

Over to you…

Do you have any thoughts/comments/wisdom to share? Please take a minute or two to describe how you engage children & young people in your services, and if you have any nuggets of wisdom to share – positive (‘this works well…’) or negative (‘here’s how not to do it!’).

Including Children & Young People in Worship

This is the start of a series of posts around the issue of inclusion of children and young people in worship.

As I review the current practice at my church and seek to find appropriate developments, I will be blogging my thoughts, comments, concerns and questions in the hope that it will aid my reflection, help to document my progress and allow others to join the conversation and share their wisdom.

Proposed instalments:

Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences, to disagree with me, and to join the conversation along the way…