Three Benefits of our Co-Mission Network

ccmI was at Christ Church Mayfair on Sunday morning for Co-Mission Sunday (that’s not yet a regular feature in the Church of England’s liturgical calendar, but give it time). Before he got me up to preach, Matt Fuller got me up to be interviewed. I hate thinking on my feet almost as much as I hate realising afterwards what I should have said. And so Matt warned me what he was going to ask, which gave me a few moments to formulate a useful answer. He asked me what the benefits of belonging to a network of churches were.

That’s a bit like asking what are the benefits of belonging to a family. It all depends on your experience of family. And for the record (in case my Mother ever reads this) my experience of my actual family has been uniformly wonderful. And in case the Director of Co-Mission ever reads this, my experience of my metaphorical family has been similarly positive.

But I think the family metaphor works. I like it that we’re (CCB) a part of a family of churches; a network of like-minded congregations trying to help one another do the same thing. For my money there are three obvious benefits that we’ve experienced in the last 14 years.

1. Co-Mission has provided us with a network of relationships. In my wider family I have aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces and so on. It’s good for me to have so many different people in my life like that. It’s relationally rich.  But there are a lot of lonely Ministers out there and a lot of isolated churches. But that’s never been true of me or CCB. We’ve always belonged, partly because we were the first plant from Dundonald in 2002 and they looked after us. But that’s what happens in families. Those of us on the staff and the ministry trainees experience the relational aspect perhaps more than most because we’re involved in training together with others in Co-Mission. Those relationships are so helpful in terms of personal support, ministry encouragement and godly challenge. And the elders of our churches are part of the Co-Mission Partnership and we meet together several times throughout the year as we reflect on and prepare for our joint ministry activity. And wonderfully because of things like Revive, or the forthcoming Co-Mission Women’s Day or Children’s Ministry training there are ample opportunities for congregational members to support one another in other churches. It’s been our great privilege to receive people over the years from other Co-Mission congregations who know what they’re going to get with us and want to remain part of the Co-Mission family. And we’ve been able to send people off to other Co-Mission churches to serve there. And the odds are that they already know people when they get there. It’s so encouraging to be part of a family of churches.

2. Co-Mission has provided us with a wealth of resources. When we were planted we were like the typical teenage kid going off to university or married couple starting out together. We were sent with our hands full of everything that we might need for those early days. We had people, we had finance and we had training and support. There’s no way that we could have got going on our own. It just wouldn’t have happened because we didn’t have what we needed on our own. But wonderfully we didn’t need to have it all because others in the wider Co-Mission family (not that it was called that then because it didn’t formally come into existence till 2005) wanted to be generous and share their resources to help get us off the ground. We continue to share the resources God has entrusted to us. New church plants benefit from people sent from other churches. Money moves from one church account into another in order to finance a worker or two in an economically deprived area. And we share training because there’s diversity of gospel ministers in Co-Mission; men and women with different expertise and experience. And at things like the Ministry Training Workshop everyone benefits. We’ve tried to be intentional about resource rich congregations supporting resource poor congregations, especially in the early days of planting and especially if (humanly speaking) there’s likelihood of some of those ministries ever being self-sufficient. That tends to happen through local geographical clusters. And it’s a good thing to be generous and sacrificial as we steward the resources that God has entrusted to us.

3. Co-Mission has provided us with a reminder of our responsibilities. The issues of training people for ministry, reaching the lost with the gospel and planting churches are rarely off the agenda in this family of churches. It’s really helpful to be reminded of our responsibilities as churches. When teenagers grow up they have to accept that with great privilege comes great responsibility. I’m not sure we would have planted Streatham Central, contemplated training up Jay as a church planter and encouraged BLoC to hibernate with us without being part of a family that regularly reminded one another that we’re trying to reach London for Christ through pioneering church planting. There’s a great danger in our personal lives to strive for, succeed and then settle for comfort. And that’s no different in our churches. But being part of a church family where we’re often talking about planting, about places without a gospel witness and about areas of London that aren’t being reached means that there’s a godly dissatisfaction that drives us on. We’re not happy to settle for comfort because even if we’re going well in our patch, 90% of London doesn’t believe the gospel. That’s a lot of people. And so, even if any of us runs a numerically successful ministry, we’re barely scratching the surface in this great city. Theer’s work to be done. And we have responsibilities. I love being part of a network that keeps reminding us of that.

Co-Mission isn’t the best family. I’m not saying that. But it’s ours. And I’m really grateful for it. It’s helped us be church. And it’s helped me serve church. There are real benefits to our network. And I praise God for it.

The Value of the Weekend Away

sportWeekends away are a hassle. Usually. Aren’t they?

It’s actually harder than you might think to get out of London. I used to be hugely frustrated with all my London friends when I lived outside the M25. Time and again it proved nigh on impossible to get them out of the big smoke. They all became so irritatingly London-centric. But now I understand. It’s so easy to find yourself inextricably drawn into that default position. And when you think about it, it has a certain logic. After all, who really relishes the thought of being stuck on one of the major arterial roads out of town late on a Friday night? The last thing we want to do after a busy week at work is sit in traffic. I want to sit on a sofa. And not so much sit as slouch. And I want to wake up late on a Saturday morning snuggled in my duvet until such time as I can be bothered to drag my lazy backside down to the newsagent to buy the paper and to the kitchen to brew some coffee. But that ship has sailed. I live a different life now! Now I’m more likely to be found on the touchline berating my boys for ignoring a two man overlap or listening to my daughter tap out the notes to Taylor Swift at a piano recital. I certainly don’t want to wake up in a dorm with a bunch load of strangers and have to queue for the shower.  So why do it? Why have weekends away? Why are they an integral part of the ministry programme at CCB? Because they really are.

One word. Depth. That’s what we gain by going away. Depth. We get to go deep. We get to go deep with God’s word. And we get to go deep with God’s people. Going away is a crucial way to stop being superficial and shallow. And by staying in London, busied by all its wonderful distractions, it’s hard to prevent that becoming the norm. The key thing a weekend can offer us is time. There’s lots of it. And it can be given over to the things that ultimately matter. God’s word and God’s people. On a weekend away we can think deeply about a subject. The cumulative benefit of consecutive talks or studies on a subject is invaluable. We can engage with it. Chew it over. Talk it through. And pray about it. And then we can just hang out with God’s people. We don’t have to rush off anywhere. Even washing up or drying up together provides an opportunity to chat at length with someone and find out about their life, their work and their faith. For much of our time in London we’re meant to be somewhere else. We have our next appointment in mind. Someone else is expecting us to do something or be somewhere. But on a weekend away we try to free people up from all that so that they can linger.

We’ve got a few weekends in the programme at CCB. There’s the Knowing God weekend for our Evening Church crowd of young workers, Morning Church Men’s Weekend Away and Morning Church Women’s Weekend. The Evening Church gender specific weekends are in the summer. And we’re planning our inaugural whole Church Weekend away in September. Weekends away have become memorable times over the years. It’s not easy to forget one elder’s astonishment at one young men’s enthuiastic and realistic rendition of Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’. There was the year that on the return home we skidded in the snow and got the car stuck in the ditch. But I also remember thinking about the nature, effect and defeat of indwelling sin, our responsibility as parents and cultivating our affection for Christ. And those are probably more valuable.

Chugging for the Gospel?

ChuggersI imagine that, at some point or other, most of us have been ‘chugged’. To be chugged is the passive verbal form of the noun ‘chugger’. Chugging is what chuggers do to us. And chugging is ‘charity mugging’, perhaps more accurately known as street fundraising. Though I understand why they do it, I really don’t like being chugged. You? It’s usually such an unpleasantly false social situation that often makes me feel very awkward. To be fair, I’ve never been abused for declining their offer to hear more about the cause they’re championing. But I wish they wouldn’t approach me like we’re old friends who just happen to bump into each other on the Balham High Road. We’re not. I’ve lived here for over a decade and they’ve just come here via public transport because the area finally has a fair few people with disposable income. When I’m making my way purposefully from the Church Office to Sainsburys, I’m a man on a mission.  I’m going to buy lunch and I need to get back to my desk. I’ll stop for friends for a chat. And I’ll stop to cross the road for personal safety. But that’s about it. I don’t want to be accosted by some well-intentioned campaigner, no matter how well-meaning.

So how is street evangelism any different? At CCB, we’ve invited street evangelist Geoffrey Hilder to come and train a cohort of street evangelists. He’s a man with lots of experience and no little expertise in engaging strangers in gospel conversation. But aren’t we simply going to populate SW12 with a bunch of irritating chuggers (church muggers?) who waylay people going about their business?

I don’t think so. That’s certainly not our intention. And I don’t think it’s the effect either. Because whilst there are some superficial similarities in what we’re doing, it’s the dissimilarities that make all the difference. Think about it for a moment.

When chuggers chug they’re after my money. That’s not necessarily wrong. But they’re not there to give. They’re there to get. They’re raising money for a charity after all. And so I don’t really gain from the exchange. I’m no better off as a result of our interaction. I suppose I might feel the warm glow produced by an act of selfless philanthropy. But it doesn’t last because I don’t really believe in it in the way that I do the gospel. On the rare occasions I’ve filled in a form it’s because I’ve been put on the spot and felt coerced rather than persuaded.

When chuggers chug they’re trying to manipulate me. Is that too strong? Is it better if I say that I usually feel their approach is a little disingenuous? Invariably I’m approached by the young woman. The blokes don’t even try for eye contact. And I’m under no illusions here. It’s not that I’m irresistible to members of the opposite sex. No really! But presumably someone somewhere has worked out that middle-aged men are statistically more likely to stop and chat to an attractive, smiling young woman. Even if she is carrying a clipboard and wearing a duffel coat. The truth is, if I stop, I’m probably not stopping because the condition of the endanegered lesser spotted newt, for example, is a burning issue for me. And they’re not as interested in me as they appear.

When chuggers chug they’re in it for what they can get out of me. When that persuasive and smiley young woman approaches me, all she wants from me is in my wallet. And that’s fair enough. Presumably she really believes in whatever charity she’s raising money for. And why not? But the whole exchange isn’t really about me and my best interests. It’s about the thing she’s raising money for. And I get that.

So why is street evangelism different? Well, we’re giving people the opportunity to hear something incomparably wonderful. Something that they may not otherwise have access to. The overwhelming majority of people who live in our area do not go to church, they don’t go near a church and they have no intention of ever doing so unless perhaps it’s a friend’s wedding or funeral. Are we really going to leave them in that perilous state? We simply can’t assume that they’ll pick up the gospel from anywhere else. Not even the intelligent media can get it right. The gospel is something that God has entrusted to His church. And it’s for sharing. Of course, we normally try to do that through conversation’s with our friends. But our friends are a very small proportion of the people who live in Balham. And we’re a church that wants other to hear. So what we’re doing is driven by honest motives and characterised by integrity. We don’t stand to gain anything. We’re not in this for what we get out of it. This is love. We’re not trying to recruit members to our religious club. We’re giving people the opportunity to hear what God has done in Christ. We want them to know that they can be forgiven for the way they’ve treated the God for whom they were made. We want them to know that they can have a real relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth, who will love them both in this life and in the life to come. And there won’t be a standing order form in sight. But hopefully there will be many who hear the gospel from a gloriously unexpected conversation.

My Sunday Highlight – the Brixton Launch

We may need to get them a 'lectern'!
We may need to get them a ‘lectern’…

I’ve held one back – in reserve for the Bank Holiday weekend. There was more than one great thing that happened last week. But it didn’t happen in Balham. It happened in Brixton. I wasn’t there. I only got to hear about it.

There was a reason we were a little ‘lighter’ than usual in the morning. And it wasn’t just the regulars skipping church. Sunday afternoon saw the launch of the monthly meeting of the new Co-Mission church plant in Brixton. They met in the afternoon, upstairs in the Ritzy on Windrush Square. There were 38 of them, 25 of whom were adults. And none of the CCB crowd were sent to strengthen the numbers. In the text I received from Jay, the lead planter he said they’d had 25 adults, 12 kids and 3 teenagers so (and I quote) ’48 in total’. I’m not sure whether his finger touched the wrong bit of the screen before he pressed send or whether (like all good church planters) he’s already exaggerating the numbers! We’d all prefer there to have been 48 people but nevertheless, that’s a terrific start. It’s more than we started Balham with. And it’s more than we currently have on the books for the Streatham plant. It’s not a bad foundation to build on. And that’s the challenge now facing the Brixton Plant.

For the past two years the lead church planter, Jay Marriner has been ‘hunting and gathering’. He came onto the apprenticeship scheme with Co-Mission back in 2011 and we’ve given him little more than enough to get by on, some ministry training and lots of encouragement. But under God he’s been able to use his relational and evagelistic gifts to gather a small crowd. Using nothing much more than a cheeky smile, a courageous boldness for the gospel and a big heart for the lost, Jay hit the streets in Brixton to meet people and get into conversations. And in God’s kindness, it’s worked. Those initial contacts have morphed into an evangelistic Bible study meeting in someone’s house on a Monday evening. And a handful have become treasured members at Christ Church Balham on a Sunday. When they eventually go, we’re really going to miss them. But, for now, we’ll only miss them for the monthly Sunday afternoon gathering as they transition to a weekly meeting over the next year.

One of the remarkable things about the fledgling plant in Brixton is that Jay has done it whilst commuting from Mottingham, ten miles away. His wife, Julie and the kids have been hugely supportive and incredibly patient. But it looks as though we’ve got the finance together to settle them in the heart of Brixton – the capital of Black Britain as Jay calls it. This will surely help to strengthen the work and increase their public profile. God willing what began last Sunday will in a few years’ time have grown in size, reach and maturity.

These are exciting times for us at CCB. Reading Philippians 1 this morning reminded me that there’s nothing quite like gospel partnership. And partnering with the guys in Brixton continues to be a real tonic for my soul.

A Church Planting Church Plant

Pratts & Payne
A new gospel church in Streatham – better news than even the return of the John Lewis Partnership!

It’s taken a while. A little over ten years, in fact. But very wonderfully Christ Church Balham (CCB) is set to become a church planting church. And it’s very exciting! It’s probably an exaggeration to say that it’s the best news to hit Streatham since the regrettable departure of the John Lewis Partnership’s Department store, Pratts, in 1990. But neverthless for the town whose High Road was voted the ‘The Worst Road in Britain’ in 2002, it’s surely a ray of sunshine! God willing, a little outpost of the New Creation is about to be set in the middle of this urban sprawl.

The plan is to soft launch a church plant in Streatham in the autumn of this year. And the congregation at CCB is completely behind it. Our consultation process resulted in overwhelming support for the proposal. There are still a whole load of things to sort out. We’ve not yet identified the venue. Alex hasn’t signed his contract just yet. We’ve not appointed any elders, though we have a good idea of who we want. But we have a launch team of twenty people, a longing to reach the diverse population of Streatham, a Bible and confidence in the gospel. And we’re praying. We’re good to go.

Over the past decade the Lord has given CCB steady but modest growth. And that’s remarkable in an inner city suburb in which few of our church members can afford to stay long term. The average house price in Balham was £650,000 six months ago. When we started we were about the same size as the proposed Streatham plant. I was straight out of theological college and pretty raw. Rosslyn and I had historic friendships with a handful of the launch team from our time at Dundonald Church, which was in Wimbledon in those days. We had a wise elder in Gordon Reid who was hugely supportive. We planted an evening congregation attempting to reach the vast numbers of twenty somethings who were moving into the area (in the 2001 census 60% of people in Balham were aged in their 20s and 30s). There were broad evangelical churches on the fringes of Balham but in the town centre little progress was being made with these young professionals. We were willing to have a go. After a few years we realised that we needed to provide for our singles who had married and had children. So we decided to plant a morning congregation. It was ambitious because we were little more than half a dozen couples with babies and pre-school children. But many of us had seen the Lord grow the evening congregation and we had every confidence that He could do the same again if He so wanted. It was tough. We made lots of mistakes. But our partnership with Co-Mission made a massive difference.

As things now stand, CCB consists of two congregations. The morning congregation has about seventy adults and the evening about sixty. We’re a church of 130 adults with a range of ministries. We meet in the school gym of the local secondary school. It’s not a great venue. But our church centre is. Two years ago we moved into an extended office in the centre of Balham. The staff and apprentices work out of there. But it’s also a big enough venue to hold prayer meetings, Mums and Toddlers, our midweek small group Bible Studies, Christianity Explored and a variety of youth and children’s events. For years we’ve been praying for the Lord to provide us with a new venue. He hasn’t. But He has opened up the opportunity to plant. In Streatham.

Streatham has 70,000 people living in it. It’s a huge, sprawling, wonderfully diverse mess. If the Estate agents are to be believed (no really) it’s a slumbering giant and one day it will wake up to roar again. There are signs of increasing gentrification. Tesco have just built a hypermarket at the bottom end near the Common. Caffe Nero moved in a while ago. But I think it’ll be a while before we see a Waitrose or M&S Simply Food. But that means it’s affordable. And we currently have almost 50 people living over in Streatham who currently come to CCB. They’re not all proposing to go with the plant. We want to make sure that CCB can continue to flourish as well as giving Streatham the best possible start. We’ve had useful conversations with a handful of the churches that have similar theological convictions to us. And they’re supportive. We’ve identified the Streatham Hill area as the place to try to plant so that we can ‘work a patch’ in which there’s little evangelical ministry. The intention is to plant an afternoon congregation so that we can reach a variety of people and benefit from ministry support from CCB. It’s likely to be a Free Church (affiliated to the FIEC) because of the theological convictions of the proposed pastor. He’ll be part of ‘The Antioch Plan‘ and receive the training, mentoring and resourcing provided by that initiative. It’ll be part of Co-Mission. But most significantly of all, it’ll be a new church trying to preach the gospel to the huge numbers of people in Streatham.

Wherever you’re reading this, please pray for us. This is the single most significant event in CCB’s short history. And we’d love for the Lord’s hand to be with us so that a great number of people might believe and turn to the Lord (Acts 11:21).

Three Ways to Grow A Church

growthWhat is it that makes churches grow?

Is it down to their buildings? The music? The location? The leader? The preaching? The style of their meetings? Their website? Which factors combine to create the elusive growth dynamic and ensure that the numbers are on an ever upward curve?

I preached on Acts 11 a few weeks ago. Cracking sermon. Small crowd (just a reminder that growth isn’t necessarily automatic!) But in Acts, the church in Antioch grew. God grew it. And He did it using three factors.

Without these we won’t grow. At least we won’t get biblical growth. With them, we may grow. That’s up to God. But these are three factors that He invariably uses.

1. God grew the church in Antioch through evangelism on the ground (19-21)

In Acts 8  God’s way of getting Christians out of one geographical location so that they could share the gospel in another was persecution. It’s an unusual missional strategy. But an effective one. And as a result, Christians ended up travelling as far as Phoenicia (modern-day Lebanon), Cyprus (modern-day venue for package holidays) and Antioch (modern-day Turkey). As these Christians fanned out across the Eastern Mediterranean, they shared the gospel. But their evangelism had a narrow focus. They went only to Jews. The idea that the gospel was good news for the world was slow to catch on. But some enterprising men from Cyprus and Cyrene understood that Jesus had died for the sins of the world, not simply the Jews. And so they employed a very different strategy. They went to Greeks. This was deliberate cross cultural mission. And it was the first time it had happened in the history of the Christian church. They intentionally reached into a very different culture from their own in order to share the gospel. The Lord clearly thought this missionary endeavour was a good thing because He blessed their efforts (21). And this church grew. And it happened simply through evangelism on the ground. It was carried out by unnamed church members. Luke doesn’t say who they were. They were just the normal men and women of the church family sharing their faith in the Lord Jesus. And so this was a church that grew through the evangelistic efforts of everyday church members on the ground.

2. God grew the church in Antioch through encouragement from the side (22-24)

What happened in Antioch was so remarkable that the church back at Jerusalem HQ decided to send an envoy. They sent Barnabas. And I think they knew exactly what they were doing when they sent a guy whose name meant ‘son of encouragement’. When Barnabas saw the undeniable evidence of the grace of God, he took it upon himself to encourage the church. But his encouragement had a particular shape to it. It wasn’t that he was generally encouraging (though I’m sure he was). His encouragement had a specific purpose. He encouraged them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He urged and exhorted them to steadfast wholehearted loyalty to the Lord Jesus. What a blessing this man must have been to the church! That’s the kind of encouragement that I need. And I suspect it’s the same for you, isn’t it? I need people in my life who are there for me when I’m tempted to half-hearted discipleship. It can be a very powerful thing when one person takes it upon themselves to encourage another. So ask yourself, is there someone in your small group who could benefit from some encouragement? There will always be people who are les mature in their faith than we are whom we can encourage. This is something that every single one of us can do.  Imagine how much better you’d live the Christian life if everyone around you was roaring on their support! Imagine how much difference we could make if we were as positive and as vocal in our encouragement as we sometimes are with our criticism! Churches can grow through encouragement from the side.

3. God grew the church in Antioch through education from the front  (25-26)

Very quickly Barnabas realised that he needed outside help. And so he went to Tarsus to get Saul. It takes a big man to admit that a church needs more than he can manage. Whether he realised that the workload was beyond him or that he was out of his depth, we’re not sure. But he knew that this church needed a teacher because they needed educating from the front. And so this church grew because they had at least one gifted teacher. The New Testament takes it for granted that churches will appoint senior, godly men to instruct them. Churches need people who can spend time studying the scriptures for themselves so that they can teach those scriptures to others. In Ephesians 4, Paul makes it clear that pastor-teachers equip the rest of the church body for diverse works of service so that the church can reach maturity, unity and stability. And so churches need teachers to explain and apply the truth of the gospel. When that happens, men and women like Barnabas know what to say to encourage others to wholehearted service of Christ. And every church member then knows how to explain the gospel. Churches need gifted teachers with time to teach. And we need to access good teaching.

Every single church member has a crucial part to play in the growth of their church. All of us can contribute. We can all get involved in sharing the gospel on the ground. We can encourage one another from the side to keep serving Christ. We can demand andwelcome teaching from the front. The ‘formula for growth’ is actually very simple. And so we’ll send our forthcoming Streatham plant off with little more than a leader, some people and a Bible. And we’ll send them off with every confidence that God can use that to grow them if He so chooses.

Abandoning Youth Groups

teen-girls-sad-rgbstockSomeone pointed me in the direction of this article today. It argues that the answer to youth abandoning faith in Christ is to abandon the youth group. I’m not convinced. But there’s much that I liked about the article.

I like the brief critique of modern youth ministry as too shallow and too entertainment focussed. Though I’m not sure that the English conservative theological constituency are as guilty of this as we once were. Or whether we’re as guilty of it as perhaps many in the States are. Certainly those who trained at Oak Hill under Ian Fry and now Mel Lacy would have no truck with superficial youth work. And anyone who sends people on the Good Book Company training sessions ‘The Bible Centred Youth Worker‘ is unlikely to fall foul of this disparaging assessment.

At CCB we’re definitely not shallow and entertainment focussed. We believe in having fun and we believe in studying the scriptures. That’s why we’ve got the kids’ worker that we have; she embodies both convictions in perfect harmony! We don’t think that application and amusement are mutually exclusive activities. And in addition we encourage our youth workers and to a lesser extent our Sunday School teachers to cultivate relationships of trust with our kids so that they have a context in which they can benefit from personal discipleship. We make the parents aware of this. And we seek their permission. Our ten year old daughter has benefited enormously from the care and encouragement of one of our godly younger women. She doesn’t undermine what Rosslyn and I are trying to accomplish; she’s supplementing it and strengthening it. And we’re all for it. We want to encourage and facilitate a deep quality work done by our leaders with those in their spiritual care.

I like their observation that Fathers need to step up to the plate. They set the spiritual temperature in a family. If Dad’s on fire for the Lord then you can expect the spiritual input to hot up. He may not be able to manage a daily family quiet time but you can guarantee that he’ll make sure there’s something substantial at the weekend and that the conversation over Sunday lunch has something to do with the kids’ slot or what they were thinking about in Sunday School. We’ve been enjoying working our way through ‘Long Story Short‘, which has ten minute devotions five days a week. We take a little longer. We’re hopeless at weekends. But we all contribute and we all pray. And it’s been brilliant. I’m meant to be reading the Bible with our eldest son. They all have a daily Bible story (Explore, Discover and the Action Bible) but we’re trying to go deeper with them as they grow up. It’s just I’m hopeless and we’re running out of mornings. But the intention is there. I’m not convinced that we need to get rid of youth groups. But I am convinced that we need to equip and encourage our Dads to take a lead at home.

I like the emphasis on age and wisdom all too often being absent from youth ministry. I heard Carl Trueman argue for something similar in a recent interview he did with Mark Dever. In one sense you can only staff your youth work with whoever you have available. We’re a congregation in which our oldest member has only recently turned fifty. Overwhelmingly the majority of CCB is in their twenties. They need discipling because many of them are young and immature in the faith. And so our more senior men and women are taken up with that. They can’t also be involved in our fledgling youth work because they don’t have the capacity. And so we have to use our fine young men and women and train them on the job. And yet, I do wonder whether we need to get one or two Mums and Dads in from time to time to be interviewed and provide a more weighty view of life that comes from having lived it a bit longer than everyone else. We have an evening congregation in which many do not also come to our morning congregation. That’s a shame in my view. And it’s why I encourage people to do both if they can. The New Testament expectation is that the old teach the young (we’re studying Titus at the moment). Hard to do that if there are no oldies! But I agree that though we want our kids to encourage one another, we don’t want to create an environment where they are ‘focussed on their peers rather than their parents or their pastors’. I happen to think that the interaction between kids and adults at CCB is one of our strong points. There are several young adults who clearly have a heart for kids and several of our kids are not backward in coming forward!

But I’m anxious that we don’t go overboard in our reaction to these studies. We mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s true that there’s no scriptural verse to tell us to have a youth group. And so it’s not mandatory for every church to have one. There’s freedom to try to think through how we grow disciples of Christ in our own contexts. But it’s worth saying that there’s no scriptural verse to tell us to have small group Bible studies either. So should we also get rid of those? Probably not if by having them we can help one another grow in our godly maturity.

It’s a travesty that kids who grew up in youth groups in the States (and perhaps also in this country) no longer profess the faith that they once learned. But there are youth groups and there are youth groups. So if a kid grows up in a rubbish youth group and as a result doesn’t belong to Christ, we shouldn’t therefore write of all youth groups. There are youth groups and there are youth groups. Change the rubbish ones by all means. But don’t get rid of the good ones because the bad ones are, well, bad. The answer to youth abandoning faith in Christ is not to abandon youth ministry but to abandon bad youth ministry.