“When it comes to my salvation, all I need is Jesus; after my salvation, everything is Jesus plus the Church...When people preach that all you need is Jesus, they cut you and I off from one of the greatest sources of healing, which is the body of Christ. Don't go it alone – you won't make it.” – Josh McDowell
My friend Ben is part of a group, it is called GUTs (Gluten-free Under Thirties). It’s a community hub for people who have a gluten allergy (aka. Coeliac Disease); on it they share the best places to eat around the country that offer a good range of gluten-free food. The idea being that when you find yourself in a less familiar place, unsure of your options, you go on GUTs and they provide you with amazing coeliac-friendly hotspots. Winner. When I found out about this group a very small part of me wanted to be allergic to gluten, but it was only a very small part!
The reason I share this story is because I want to talk about how encouraging, inspiring and beneficial my time at the National Youth Ministry Weekend has been. The simple answer is in the above quote: “don’t go it alone – you won’t make it”. To be amongst a bunch of people who ‘do what I do’ and have a similar calling and passion is utterly life affirming. We all know the crazy statistics about how long youth leaders stay around, we all know a bunch of reasons why it happens. But for me the antidote is to find allies to walk with, work with, pray with, cry with, learn with, stumble with, risk with, attempt stuff with and journey with.
What I remember clearly from my times at NYMW is dozens of significant conversations with a huge range of people working in a wide range of environments. All of these conversations challenged me, encouraged me, affirmed me and brought me great joy. Because what I realised is that most of us are making it up as we go along, most of us have the occasional bad day where we feel a failure, most of us long to change the world, most of us pour probably more than we should of ourselves into the lives of young people.
The reason we do it is because we have been called by God. Called to live out our own testimony by being a friend to someone, by offering a safe place, be being the one who creates opportunity for a young person to flex their spiritual muscles and explore their gifting, by doing this messy thing called discipleship together. In my ministry with the267project I have the privilege of taking people out to breakfast and coffee and calling it work. I love spending my time listening to others in ministry and hopefully being a positive voice and generous encouragement to them. At the NYMW I was able to bring the best bits of my calling and offer them to the conference. So for the past 2 years I have been involved in running the coaching sessions and helping connect youth leaders with other maybe slightly older, wiser (i.e. ‘having made more mistakes’) youth leaders.
The fruit of this has been huge as people have felt listened to and that they are less alone in their calling. To know someone else is on a similar journey and has experienced similar things immediately connects us, and through this connection we can offer support and encouragement to one another. So what at one point felt like an isolated ministry that no one understood now becomes something more positive with a bunch of people cheering you on from the sidelines and offering to serve alongside you.
24 years ago two guys called Matthew and Paul poured into my life, without them I doubt I would still be doing youth work, without finding these allies I would be in a very different space. They bought me lunch, they listened, they offered ideas, they joined in with what I was doing and invited me to what they were doing. So even though we served in different places and in different churches I never felt alone in my ministry.
So in the same way my friend Ben can now find a sumptuous gluten free meal anywhere in the country, I truly believe that the NYMW can show you that “you are not alone”, it encourages each of us to work together more and seek to cheer on and enable the success and growth of one other’s ministry.
So if you are at NYMW this year come find us. If not, drop me an email, I would love to encourage you and join you in your journey, even if it is just for a brief moment. I might even buy you breakfast (with gluten though!)