Alison and David Booker say it’s time for the Church to re-think the way it engages with young people
Words. We read them, hear them and speak them every day without thinking too much about them. But for two Church Army Evangelists, thinking about the way we use words forms an important part of their ministry.
David and Alison Booker live with their family on the southern edge of Leicester. Alison is the assistant minister at the parish church, and over the last five years has developed the church’s connection with schools and families in the area.
A key focus has been creating worship that is accessible to those with little history of attending church. For Alison, producing worship that is not in ‘church-speak’ but that people can understand has been at the heart of her role. Some of the issues around developing a language for mission are picked up in a new book she and David have recently edited entitled Young People and Mission.
“The book is exciting,” says David, “because it allowed both of us to use our interest in writing as well as our experiences of working with young people.”
It is an interest that they clearly both take seriously. Alison studied for a degree in English and Drama before training with Church Army; David is currently on study leave pursuing his own degree in English. In addition, both have seen their poetry in print and were involved in the writing and performance of Church Army’s Gospel Rocky touring show which featured in last month’s Inspire.
Before moving to Leicester David and Alison’s focus was on bringing God’s Word to young people through the internet. Together they developed, launched and edited Church Army’s Word on the Web - delivering daily Bible notes free by e-mail.
“We wanted to help young people grow in faith, and knew that although they might forget to read their Bible they were unlikely to forget to check their e-mail! What we didn’t expect was the rapid growth of the project or the testimonies of so many people who used the e-mails when they were going through difficult times with their faith.”
With so much of their ministry connected to creating and using words it was perhaps inevitable they would one day find themselves editing and writing books. “We wanted to create a book that was practical, but not to fall into the trap of being simplistic. So we set out to find contributors who had practical experience of both the joy and the frustration of working with young people in mission.
“No-one needs a book that says simply follow this three-point plan and everything will work out fine. Anyone who has tried knows that mission with young people is far more complex than that.”
Young People and Mission is already being warmly received. Bishop Roger Sainsbury, Chairman of both the Centre For Youth Ministry and the National Youth Agency called it “an important book” with a “big vision for mission”.
Mark Russell, Church Army’s Chief Executive and Member of the Archbishops’ Council adds: “Finally, a book that doesn’t just tell us the Church is losing young people, but gives us practical advice and encouragement to reach them for Christ. Every youth worker and church leader needs to read this!”
At its heart is a conviction that God is passionate about our world. It advocates that a church with a big vision for mission in all its fullness will be more attractive to those outside than an insular church worried about its own concerns.
“We wanted to create a book that wasn’t afraid to ask difficult questions, or recognise that working with young people can be frustrating as well as exciting,” say the Bookers. “So often we still see mission as getting young people into church rather than transforming God’s world.”
Writing from a broad spectrum of experience and different perspectives, the authors talk frankly and honestly about their own experiences in youth ministry.
The Bookers passionately believe that mission is about seeing young people so touched by knowing God’s love that they have a real desire to see his kingdom come in the world. That is why injustice and poverty have a chapter, along with equipping young people to share their faith.
David adds: “We know there is fantastic work being done out there with young people and we have found contributors who have real hands-on experience of what they are writing about.”
Contributors such as Neville Willerton, who shares practical insights into enabling young people to engage in mission in the local community. Other chapters include an exploration of ways of developing work with uniformed youth organisations; asking how to engage in mission to young people in a church where there are no young people and practical guidance on how we can equip young people to share their own faith naturally with their friends.
In tackling the challenge for mission in making an impact beyond the Church’s usual circle of influence, the book asks how the Church can equip Christian young people for witness and service in an increasingly multi-faith world occupied with issues such as global poverty and environmental change.
“There are opportunities to bring the new life of God’s kingdom all around us,” claim David and Alison. “So often the only thing holding us back is our own lack of confidence. God calls us to do mission, God’s mission, to heal a hurting world. The stories in this section of the book make it clear that we can, with God, make a massive difference to those around us.”
David adds: “Readers will be challenged to think about what motivates their work and how they carry it out. Youth leaders can be so busy doing they never have space to ask why they are doing it, or if there might be more effective ways of achieving their goals.
“We have deliberately included a chapter exploring the growing phenomenon of short-term social action missions and ask whether they can fall into the trap of becoming a kind of mission tourism.
“Sometimes churches can be tempted to stick their heads in the sand and ignore difficult issues. They think if we work just that little bit harder everything will be fine. We hope people find this book honest, challenging and encouraging.
“Those who work with young people know youth ministry is a real privilege. We hope the book gives them a fresh vision and practical tools to keep going in both exciting and frustrating times.
“There are no shortcuts in youth ministry – but there is an amazing truth in working alongside God.”
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