Lego is almost universal because it connects with everyone - pun intended. From pocket money kits to a 7,000 piece Lego Millennium Falcon, everyone knows what it feels like to squeeze those bricks together. And not just kids. Many parents take obsessive pleasure from “helping” their offspring build their latest Lego set - and at £650 how many children could afford the Millennium Falcon? Yet not every Lego builder is the same. Some buy a kit and meticulously follow every detailed direction down to the last 1 x 1 block. Others love to tip a whole box of random pieces onto the floor and just get creative.
But imagine getting an old set of Lego out of the attic, only to dust off the box and discover it is not what you remembered. Sections seem to be missing and you have no idea how it fits together. What is worse, the instructions are nowhere to be found.
Many of us in youth ministry have a similar feeling right now. Just as we look to return to something well known and much loved, we get a bit of a shock. The pieces look somewhat familiar, but suddenly we have no idea where to begin and are maybe even unsure what we are building.
Any building project starts best with the big pieces and the leadership team is the first consideration in youth ministry. We did not just press pause last March like it was a video streaming service. Life has changed and moved on for all of us and we need to check in with each other as leaders to hear how people are, what their general life situation is, along with their capacity for re-engaging with youth ministry in particular. This will help us to assess our overall leadership capacity and get people together to do some prayerful planning.
The obvious other big pieces are of course the young people. Life has changed hugely for them too and though some may still be fairly well linked in, many will find a return to face to face youth ministry harder. We need to connect with each individual pastorally and sensitively, recognising that many have found these recent months in particular very tough and all have experienced loss and challenge. For most of us, the next few months in youth ministry will be about rebuilding that solid relational base with young people, caring for them individually and following up on those who have drifted. Our investment needs to be in people over programmes if we want to construct a solid base for building.
Unfortunately, like the Lego box from the attic, we have no instruction book for the next phase in youth ministry, so we must be more like the creative builder than one who follows step by step directions. The challenges will not only come from negotiating gradually relaxing restrictions, but working out our pace and priorities as we begin to build on our relational base. As we push those bricks together, we can learn from one another but not duplicate anyone else’s model; we all start from different places so must seek God for the unique direction he is taking our group.
We also need to remember that what we are building now and for the next while will probably not be the long term project. However, as we build, we learn more about how the pieces fit together and what seems to work, seeking God for his long-term design. It does mean that, especially over the summer, we can experiment with short-term and one-off activities as we ease our way into the new season.
While there may be no big blueprint yet, it is beneficial to identify the sorts of details we want both at the end and through the building process. Under the guidance of kirk sessions, each congregation will be wise to use these next few weeks to identify the vital parts of this construction and key outcomes.
Strengthening relationships between young people and leaders and with one another have already been acknowledged as vital. Especially if the weather is kind, we should have good opportunities to do that in fun ways over the weeks ahead. We also long to help young people deepen their relationship with Jesus, or even experience saving faith for the first time, as this may be a fertile time for spiritual growth. We will encourage their personal devotions, and work at creating safe places to study God’s Word together in smaller groups and process what God is doing in their lives.
The place of young people in their families, and in the family of God as part of their local church of all ages, is also a key consideration moving forward. Do not miss the opportunity to assess how open our young people’s friends might now be to engaging with church, or to equip young people to serve and witness for Christ too.
Whatever we identify under God as strategic priorities, allow these to shape and order what we do, rather than simply slipping into previous patterns. Few of us will be able to do all we did before, at least not for a while, and perhaps none of us should want to. Having no instruction book will be somewhat liberating, as we each seek what the Spirit of God is creating among our young people and keep our building in step with him.
Graeme will lead a webinar entitled Fanning the Flame: Together again for youth ministry will pick up many of these themes and develop them in practical ways:
- Thursday 10 June
- online via Microsoft Teams
Book your free place by registering here
Find more resources and ideas for youth ministry in this season in the Together again for youth ministry section of the PCI web site.
Graeme Thompson is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Youth Development Officer.
This blog is part of the digital programme series, Refined: Fanning the Flame, an emphasis within the Refined initiative on gradually resuming more regular patterns of congregational activity.
Visit the Refined hub here.