He told me about his ministry – his calling, his passion and his hopes for the future of youth ministry in the Diocese.
How did you come to recognise what you were called to do?
“Over 15 years ago, when I was working for a church in Wales, I got a strong sense of a fourfold vision – a sense that God was calling me to a particular ministry: to be involved in youth work; to work for churches; to be in a rural context and; to do development work.
“I decided that I would see where I could go to help churches that wanted to do youth ministry but didn’t know where to start. I asked myself the question – in 25-30 years’ time, what is the future of the Church going to be? Looking at the majority of current congregations showed me the stark reality. Out of 100 churches across the denominations in the Forest of Dean, six have closed in the last few years. These small rural churches are at the heart of their communities and they are passionate about their neighbours. If we want people to continue to have a local church to go to, we need to take action now.”
What sort of ministry are you doing?
“I am a freelance youth worker, so I work for different churches, across the denominations, depending on what the local needs are and what the demand is. I’m totally independent, so when churches employ me, all the work I do fits in with the individual church’s ministry.
“We host an inter-church children’s worship event called X:site in the Forest of Dean, aimed at 7-11 year olds. We also host ‘Branch’ which is a youth worship event for 11+s and I’m involved in Prayer Space in Schools. I firmly believe in the importance of young people engaging in faith and the benefits of coming to know Jesus sooner rather than later in life. I want churches to start thinking, ‘If I were six, would I like to be here or not?’ Young people’s worship is just as important, and matters just as much, as adult’s worship.
“What we’re trying to do is to create a flow and a bridge supporting young people in the transition from primary to secondary age. We’re trying to draw people together. Lots of young people might only have one or two other people their age at their church and we want them to see that they are not the only young person in the Forest of Dean who believes in Jesus. I do a lot of work with parents too. As it’s a rural area, the parents drive the children to the places and I use that opportunity to build community.
“Being lay frees me from the pressures that an ordained person might feel to fulfil all the duties that have to be done in a parish. I don’t like the word specialist, but this more focused role frees me up to concentrate on my passion.
What impact is your ministry having locally?
That’s a very good question! A massive impact or none at all, depending on how I am feeling! I hope it’s having an impact. The idea of a quick fix is not a reality. In running clubs and groups, you are there week in, week out, month in, month out, year in, year out… It sends a message that the church is serious. It’s not about ‘bums on seats’ but we are genuinely interested in the individual people.
“We are called to be faithful, and so I am always triple-checking that this is what God wants me to do. I need to be faithful to God’s calling rather than seeing success or failure. I am a cog in a big machine, just playing a small part along with a lot of other people. For me, part of looking at having an impact is whether other cogs start turning as well. If churches start thinking about how we are involved in the community, then that’s success for me.”
What is the most rewarding part of your ministry?
What I have really got a buzz out of is people understanding the Christian faith a lot more clearly. Sometimes people’s view of Christianity might be more ‘church-ianity’. Really explaining the truth of the Christian faith, when the penny drops for someone, is amazing. It’s about journeying with people in their own personal faith story and taking them from one step to another step.
What would you like to see in the future?
People talk about church unity, between different churches. I would like to see the Church partnering together for opportunities – the Christians in a particular area rather than the Anglicans or the Baptists or whatever. And of course, lots of people coming to know and love Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.”
To find out more about Young People’s ministry locally, you can get in touch with Jonathan at Together for Youth on , 07580 141074 or visit the Facebook page for Youth Ministry in the Diocese of Gloucester.