‘I will never forget the time people gave to me, no matter what I did, or how I was, they didn’t give up on me’.
When the phrase ‘children’s work’ or ‘youth ministry’ is used, most people will have a picture in mind of what that may look like. But it is not all like that as Ez Lucas, School Life Pastor in Dorset, explains.
For years there has been an emphasis on what we should ‘put on’ for children and young people. How do we attract children and young people to our settings? How do we encourage them to be part of a church? What does that look like? Youth clubs, groups, events, drop ins, cafes and such like are an opportunity for children and young people to come together, to share life and experiences, to relate, to socialise, to belong. It is a time to be with others in a safe place, to have support and fellowship. There is very much a place for this type of ministry.
However, there is something that hits on a deeper level. For this we need time and space. Being able to see children and young people on a one-to-one basis has a different impact than a group setting. This, of course, brings its own set of challenges. Some children and young people find the experience a challenge and can feel very awkward. Sitting there. With one person. Nowhere to hide. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Predominantly I work with children and young people in this type of setting, usually in a school. An activity is a good distraction as we talk. It isn’t anything ground-breaking, it is something simple that can be done independently or together. Clay, painting, making an item, a game. Literally anything. Over time we get to learn what things they like to do, so the activities can be developed and tailored to become more personal, a choice made by them. I have been involved in ‘keepy uppy’ challenges, drawing Arsenal Football club logos on cards, making bracelets! What this does is give the child or young person something to do, that they enjoy, whilst we talk.
What do we talk about? What don’t we talk about? This depends. Some children and young people will be very open, they have no filter. Literally zero. They like to share and will share anything. Others can take a while to open up. Some conversations can be intense. Some conversations can flit and can be rapid; one minute we can be talking about a football match at the weekend, and the next it can be about struggling with not seeing a parent anymore. It can be that sporadic. Having the time and space allows for that. It doesn’t matter how long it takes because we are giving them the time they need. Out of this encounter we can focus how the support could be tailored to be more specific to that individual.
This type of ministry gives the person a sense of belonging and being listened to. It gives all the focus to them with the freedom to speak freely and openly without interruptions or distractions.
If we are spending time with an activity or structured session it doesn’t give as much space or flexibility to allow for this. There are other distractions, other children or young people, other leaders, activities to run and so on.
When I was training, I had a fieldwork tutor called Steve. Steve was great. He sat and listened to me, he listened to my insecurities in my role, he let me share, and talk, and we had time (and cake!). One thing he said to me that has stuck:
"When I was younger and I went to different groups or places I can’t tell you a single thing about the Bible story, or if there was an activity but what I can tell you is I will never forget the time people gave to me, no matter what I did, or how I was, they didn’t give up on me’"
I don’t go in with a Bible story or a piece of scripture to work from in the sessions.
If we talk about God, then so be it. If we don’t, then that’s ok too. The principles are always the same: I listen, we reflect together on what is said, and the morals and Biblical principles are woven into the discussion. I reflect on a personal level throughout my time with the children and young people as I hold them in constant prayer. I remember Jesus and his ministry and pray that I can be more like him in the work I do and that I can remain open to how God may lead me. But the constant when I’m with them is the offering of time and space for that child or young person to be heard and to know they have been heard.
Ez Lucas, School Life Pastor
Please pray for Ez and the other school life pastors who work in Dorset as they go into schools each week, building relationships with staff, children, young people, and their families. Pray for wisdom as they listen and that those, they work with will encounter Jesus through the conversations that take place each week.