Bishop Paul addresses General Synod in debate on children and youth ministry

Bishop Paul today (12th Feb) made a speech during the General Synod debate on youth evangelism.

You can read the speech below:

As Lead Bishop for Youth Evangelism I am thankful for this motion. This report presents us with a sobering challenge, but I would urge us, Synod, not to become too overwhelmed or absorbed by inward facing missional angst on this.

We need to pull together in prayerful and purposeful action – we have everything to play for and we have the Holy Spirit. The statistics matter, yet they can create such a fog of despair that it obscures our vision of the great opportunity before us and the unrivalled resources we have available to us.

I want to highlight particularly the substantial benefits that arise from smaller and larger churches learning together in this ministry. We are best placed to fulfil this commission when we pull together. The harvest is plentiful and we need every available worker in every church equipped and engaged.

This was demonstrated recently for me in our diocese where a cohort of 28 churches, comprising four or five people from each, met every other month for a year as learning communities together. Four of the churches had over 25 under 18s; two churches had none; most were in between. Four came with the headteacher of their church school part of their team. The objective they shared was a resolve to make some new, bold step-change in their ministry with children.

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What became clear was that ‘best practice’ and ‘ground level’ inspiration didn’t come only from larger churches. Larger churches certainty bring creative gifts and resources, often contained within their stronger teams, as well as having energy and exuberance in their evangelism and worship which is enhanced with greater numbers.

But many of the smaller churches demonstrated what can happen when the whole congregation is engaged in welcoming and nurturing the faith of a young person. In smaller churches it is more often seen as a responsibility of the whole congregation. Whether that’s reflected in the kindness and care to a young person learning to ring, in a choir or music group, as a server, even being given the opportunity to lead and preach: in smaller churches the whole congregation really notices and values the young person rather than delegating the ministry to someone else. They notice when they are away and welcome them when they return. This was essential in my own early faith and vocation, supported by faith nurtured in the home.

Some of our larger churches in the learning communities were hugely challenged by this and realised that complacency in their context can turn children and youth ministry into a department of the church which many have no interest or engagement with. As a former incumbent of a larger church there is more of a challenge in this report for these churches than for smaller churches. For those to whom much is given much will be expected.

So in supporting this motion I commend the value of churches learning together, not with some who have all the answers and others who have all the struggle, but united in a holy and urgent endeavour, with every member of the body of Christ playing their part, so that Christ is commended and made known by our resolve to engage in this mission together rather than leaving it to a few churches or a few notably gifted people. I urge Synod to support this motion.