Birthdays are landmark occasions, especially ones with zeroes in them. They are a moment to reflect on the past and look to the future. 

This year Youthworks College turns 20. We were planning a big birthday bash, but the Coronavirus derailed those plans. We are now looking forward to having a 21st next year. In God’s providence, this seems even more appropriate for the Diocese’s youth and children’s ministry training college, even if a little wilder (depending on your experience of 21sts, I guess). 

Youthworks College turning 20 is no mean feat and is an opportunity to reflect on the future of youth and children’s ministry in the Sydney Diocese and beyond. Is there a future? What will it look like? What will guarantee that future? 

Numbers don’t lie

There is definitely a future. The numbers tell the tale. There are more than 60,000 children born in Sydney every year with, doubtless, more coming through overseas migration. There are a lot of young people in your local churches. There are a lot more that aren’t. 

    “There are over 60,000 children born in Sydney every year…”

It is no secret our churches urgently need more youth and children’s ministers. Every year Youthworks College gets sent more job notices from Sydney Anglican churches – and beyond – than we have students to fill. At the same time we observe the attrition rate among our churched young people, and the ever-growing numbers of young people for whom the Christian faith is a foreign language, as well as those for whom English is literally a foreign language! 

And it’s not just about numbers. Young people are growing up in a world where they experience many anxieties: Coronavirus, employment, climate change, their own and others’ mental health. They are in the midst of massive cultural shifts and debates. 

That’s why they need to hear and be grounded in the good news of the gospel, so they can not only negotiate these anxieties but ultimately understand their biggest issue is a broken relationship with God. A relationship that can only be mended by accepting the offer of forgiveness for their sin and rebellion offered in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

How does the virus change our future?

So, there is a future, this ministry is needed… but what will it look like in a post-COVID world?

From one point of view it will look just as effective youth and children’s ministry has always looked. That’s because the basics of ministry to young people remain the same. These are: 

  • the foundational importance of engaging young people with the Scriptures as the source and sustenance of their relationship with God. 
  • prayerful dependence on God because we know that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). 
  • realising the importance of the family and church context for the nurturing of disciple-making disciples. 
  • understanding young people’s development to help inform our teaching and discipling. 
  • appreciating the cultural context in which young people are growing up and equipping them to navigate that faithfully. 

No surprises there! 

It’s my privilege to see the hundreds of gifted, godly and enthusiastic practitioners who have been raised up by the Lord, and presented for training at Youthworks College over the past 20 years, doing such good work in our churches. 

What’s in store?

As we look forward to the next 20 years of youth and children’s ministry in the Sydney Diocese, I hope for certain things.

  • I hope the future will look more holistic, with youth and children’s ministries thoroughly integrated into the local church instead of free-floating. 
  • I hope we will continue to think through the implications of our understanding that young people are disciples of the Lord Jesus now and not simply the church of the future.
  • I hope that we will continue to explore the implications of the increasing body of research suggesting the importance of intergenerational relationships in the church: that every member of the congregation can play a role with the young people the Lord has brought into their midst. 
  • I hope the Coronavirus lockdown has reminded us again of the fundamental importance of the role of parents in nurturing the faith of their children, posing the question of how we can help each other do that better. 

What will guarantee the future of ministry to young people? Our inclination is always to look for the next silver bullet, the next technique, the next book, but that is to look in the wrong place. 

The future of ministry to young people is guaranteed because young people matter to God. We know that he is still working out his sovereign purposes in drawing a people to himself through the proclamation of the gospel of his beloved Son. 

We know that about 75 per cent of people who come to know the Lord through his grace do so before the age of 18. We trust that he will continue to do this through the name of the one who said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14).

And we pray. I pray that God would help us to value ministry to young people as he does.

  • To value it as parents, congregation leaders, denomination leaders, whoever and wherever we are. 
  • To value it with our time and resources. 
  • To value it by encouraging our young people to take advantage of the opportunities presented in their local church’s youth and children’s programs. 
  • To value it by striking up discipling relationships across generational divides.
  • To value it by encouraging and supporting people to train for effective ministry to young people. 
  • To value it because we understand that this ministry is nurturing our young people in the only faith, the only worldview, the only relationship that can deliver on the promise of abundant life.

Uncertain times can breed fear and anxiety about the future. Praise the Lord that not only the next 20 years of youth and children’s ministry is secure, but all our futures are in his grace-filled hands. 

The Rev Dr Bill Salier is the principal of Youthworks College.