Utter craziness! In a few short months, the universe as we knew it had changed beyond all recognition. We – and the young people whom we serve – were in the middle of an unprecedented cultural shift.
Or so we thought. Truth be told, we didn't know the half of it.
The smart people saw some of those things coming (although maybe not the Leicester City one). But while the earth moved a bit beneath our feet back then, none of us could have predicted what was still around the corner. If 2016 unsettled our reality, the early 2020s have begun to break it apart entirely. We're heading into completely new territory.
Now in 2023, young people are facing up to a profoundly different world, marked by damage, uncertainty and fear. The whole planet has been through the unprecedented shared trauma of a pandemic, the effects of which we are still processing on every level. Surging temperatures are suddenly bringing the realities of climate crisis into sharp focus; news images of raging dictators in too-close-for-comfort nations are regularly rattling our deepest fears. The economy looks bad; the politicians dreadfully worse. Workers are striking and the price of everyday goods is suddenly escalating. Not only are these bad and difficult pieces of news in the here and now, but they all point forwards, weaving a bleak tapestry of a future somewhere between uncomfortable and unthinkable. What on Earth are we heading into?
At the same time as they have to process all this complex, existential change, young people are also being asked to find their place in a rapidly-evolving culture. The AI revolution feels like the classic demonstration of asking whether we should before asking whether we could; as open interfaces like ChatGPT allow anyone to dive head-first into a world of machine-assisted living. If you're smart enough to cover your tracks, AI has probably already been writing your homework for months. Boosted by these new developments, technology seems to be lurching sharply forward in every area. Self-driving cars and augmented-reality computing have leapt off the screens of our favourite sci-fi movies and into real life. We - and young people - are in the midst of yet another extraordinary tech revolution. Again, where is this all going?
We've run the National Youth Ministry Weekend since 2017 (an almost-perfect bit of symmetry). Now in 2023, we believe we're about to run our most significant event ever, as we engage with the theme of serving young people in this world of relentless change and overwhelming uncertainty. We're drawing together speakers who will help us to process the strangeness and the pain of the last few years, make sense of the maddening present, and find shared hope for the future. We're creating spaces for friendship, networking, worship and prayer. We believe there has simply never been a more important year to ensure that you and your youth work team are at NYMW.
Because of course, the overwhelming realities of our present circumstances do not have the final word. As followers of Jesus, we have a shared belief in a future that – against all the odds – is going to turn out staggeringly well. We may not know where this is all heading; where the treasures of buried hope can be dug out from within the mire; but God does. God is still on his throne, and our job is to find the courage to trust him as we wait for the skies to brighten.
So – join us, and the youth ministry tribe, as we ask a terrifying question... which also implies a gloriously comforting answer about the future:
Into God Knows What?