Category Archives: Youth

Christmas is coming, and so is Saint Nick

Our current image of Father Christmas as a fat old man with red cheeks and long white beard was cemented into popular culture by Coca-Cola in the early 1930s, as part of a marketing campaign to get people to drink cold drinks during winter. The red-coated figure of Santa was created by a commercial illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, based on illustrations that had appeared in the New York Times in 1906, 1908 and 1925 (see below):

Santa Claus NYT 1906   Santa Claus NYT 1908   Santa Claus NYT 1925

But Santa Claus has been around for a long, long time in various cultures and traditions around the world. It is generally accepted that the earliest incarnations are based on the real life figure of St. Nicholas, who lived in Asia Minor in the 3rd century AD. He seems to have been a wealthy man, who gave most of his wealth away to help others. Famously, he would go at night in mid winter and throw bags of money into poor people’s houses. He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. He attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Greatly loved for his faith, compassion and care, he is venerated in both East and West.

Continue reading Christmas is coming, and so is Saint Nick

How Youthworkers are seen – and see themselves

Just for fun this weekend…

I met with a few people from the Portsmouth Diocese yesterday (we are working together on a project to put my “Mind the Gap” generations work into a DVD programme). Ben Mizen (Youth and Children’s Work Adviser for the Diocese of Portsmouth) alerted me to a video that was put together recently for a Youth workers conference here in the UK.

If you are – or ever have been – in youth ministry, you’ll find it laugh out loud funny. It’s true, and funny, and a bit sad all at the same time. Enjoy. And share with the youth workers you know:

YouTube link if you can’t see the video above.

How (not) to speak of Christmas

Sometimes I really do despair of evangelical Christians. I claim to be one, on the basis that I believe the Bible when it teaches us about God and how He is reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus, and that we as humans need to respond to that fact. As such, I do understand that there is an imperative to share what I believe with the world. I try to do this humbly, acknowledging that truth exists throughout the world and that I do not know it all. But I also do it boldly, believing that God is knowable, personal and involved in the world, and has revealed Himself to us. I believe this is good news for everyone.

But I do sometimes cringe at those who also call themselves evangelicals and take a very different approach to telling others of the “Good News”. For many, more fundamentalist evangelicals, the only version of the good news they ever tell is that “if you trust in Jesus you won’t go to hell when you die”. This might be true, but it is nowhere near the whole truth.

Last Friday night (23 December), my 12 year old daughter excitedly invited two of her unchurched school friends to join her at a special pre-Christmas youth group evening event, with a group of about 30 other young teenagers. They were expecting an evening of fun activities and a brief Christmas themed talk to wrap things up – a fairly standard evening at the youth group. What they got instead was a long “Gospel” message from one of the church’s pastors that went something like this:

You might be a young teenager, but you still need to think about death. When I was at high school, two of my friends died: a motor cycle accident and falling off a cliff. It could happen to you. If you die without knowing Jesus you’ll go to hell. So, make sure you take this seriously and accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour so that if you die you’ll go to heaven. You’re never too young to think about this.

Although I might argue with the theology of this, let’s leave that aside for now. This is not an appropriate message 36 hours before Christmas. This is not the message the angels brought to the world. It’s not what Mary thought of as she gave birth to the Saviour. How can this be “good news”? The good news was good news for everyone. It was news that a King had been born. Yes, this king would die – and rise again. Yes, this king would be a Saviour. But the good news was not that “you can avoid eternal conscious torment when you die.” The message had to do with the king and his kingdom.

Surely a more appropriate Christmas message is that God, the Creator and Sustainer of this universe and our world, is so committed to restoring His Creation to its original glory that He was prepared to humble Himself and come into His Creation to be born as a humble child into a humble family in a nation that had been humbled by history. He came to show us that God’s Kingdom is breaking into the kingdoms of this world, and that what is wrong will be made right; what is broken will be fixed; what is shattered will be restored. Jesus did not come to solve your personal sin problem: He came, as promised, to be the culmination of God’s story unfolding across time, and to reconcile the world to God through His life, death and resurrection.

Our response is not to accept His message because we fear the consequences of what might happen if we don’t. The correct response to the good news of Christmas is to realise that the One who created the world has also supplied us with a model of how life is supposed to be lived in the world He created. That model comes in multiple forms: there is the model of a family, of a nation, of a temple, of leaders and rulers, and the ultimate model of the God-man, Jesus. Our task is to learn what it means to live a life worthy of the calling we have received in Christ, and to do our part in “making earth as it is in heaven” as we await the final transformation of this world into the paradise God-connected place it was always meant to be.

There may be place in this story for a bit of fear and dread. But that time is not a few hours before Christmas. And I’d suggest that this approach to evangelism, especially of young teenagers, is precisely why so many of them abandon what faith they might have when they leave school. It is not a good foundation on which to build a life of discipleship.

To put it more plainly: it’s wrong!

Please don’t preach this at your church. Please.

Christmas reminds us very clearly and very precisely that the coming of a Saviour to the world was – and is – first and foremost: good news! It would be a very strange definition of “good news” if it is nothing more than escape from hell after you’re dead.

Study: Why Young Christians Leave the Church

One of the biggest ‘elephants in the room’ for evangelical Christians is why so many of their young people leave the church in their late twenties. There’s no denying this happens. There are too many “used to evangelical Christians” running around. Something must be wrong.

Some people blame the way youth ministry is run. For example, see this hour long documentary produced by a young churchgoer, “Divided“. They have a point, but I don’t buy into their analysis completely.

A new book by David Kinnaman, Barna Group president, provides some more detail. “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church” is an excellent read. The Christian Post reviewed it and provides a summary of the findings (read it here, or a summary below).

This is a problem I have been passionate about for nearly three decades. I continue to be dismayed at how few churches are trying new things in an attempt to reverse nearly a half century of losing young people. This book from Barna provides some clues. What is your church going to do about it?

Study: Why Young Christians Leave the Church

By Jeff Schapiro | Christian Post Reporter, Sep 2011

Nearly three out of every five young Christians disconnect from their churches after the age of 15, but why? A new research study released by the Barna Group points to six different reasons as to why young people aren’t staying in their pews.

Continue reading Study: Why Young Christians Leave the Church

Dear God, who invented you?

Brian McLaren alerted me to a lovely little story in the British media over the weekend. A young girl sent a letter to God. And the Archbishop of Canterbury sent her a remarkable reply.

A six-year-old girl writes a letter to God. And the Archbishop of Canterbury answers

By Damian Thompson, The Telegraph, April 22nd, 2011

There’s a charming article in today’s Times by Alex Renton, a non-believer who sends his six-year-old daughter Lulu to a Scottish church primary school. Her teachers asked her to write the following letter: “To God, How did you get invented?” The Rentons were taken aback: “We had no idea that a state primary affiliated with a church would do quite so much God,” says her father. He could have told Lulu that, in his opinion, there was no God; or he could have pretended that he was a believer. He chose to do neither, instead emailing her letter to the Scottish Episcopal Church (no reply), the Presbyterians (ditto) and the Scottish Catholics (a nice but theologically complex answer). For good measure, he also sent it to “the head of theology of the Anglican Communion, based at Lambeth Palace” – and this was the response:

    Dear Lulu,

    Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

    ‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected.

    Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like.
    But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

    And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off.

    I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.

    +Archbishop Rowan

I think this letter reveals a lot about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sort of theology – more, indeed, than many of his lectures or agonised Synod addresses. I’d be interested to know whether readers of this blog think he did a good job of answering Lulu’s question.

But what the letter also tells us is that the Archbishop took the trouble to write a really thoughtful message – unmistakably his work and not that of a secretary – to a little girl. “Well done, Rowan!” was the reaction of Alex Renton’s mother, and I agree.

Source: The Independent

Classical Flash Mob: A wonderful intergenerational experience

One of the questions I am most often asked when I do consulting on different generations with churches and faith-based groups, is “what can we do to get young and old people doing things together”. Often, the question behind the question is about how to get young and old to enjoy the same sort of worship service together. That’s a tough (but not impossible) ask.

My response is normally to push people to think beyond the church service, and to think of actual service. Serving each other, and serving others together, is probably the easiest way to create inter-generational experiences.

So, I really enjoyed a YouTube video that is the most watched video on the web in the past week. I enjoyed it even more that it was my mother who sent me the link. It’s a four minute video of a very well executed flash mob singing the Hallelujah Chorus. It struck me that this is the perfect Christmas inter-generational experience. Young and old would both love this experience. And it is such a feel good experience, one can only imagine it will live long in the memories of all who were there.

Watch the video below, or at YouTube directly (and join the – literally – millions of others who have done the same in the past few days):

Continue reading Classical Flash Mob: A wonderful intergenerational experience

Multigenerational ministries in local churches

In 2000, I wrote my Masters thesis on the topic of multigenerational ministries in the context of a local church. It was an extension of the work I had been doing on different generations, and a forerunner to a best selling book I wrote a few years later that applied generational thinking to all aspects of life and work (that book is “Mind the Gap” – see here for more details and to purchase copies).

I have received numerous requests to post my thesis online, and so, here it is. The thesis itself was nearly 200 pages in length – the HTML file is 1.5Mb in size. You can read it online by clicking here – feel free to save it to your machine to read at your leisure.

There are some parts of the thesis that feel a bit out of date and simplistic. But I hope it sparks your thinking and influences your practice of multi-generational ministry in your church.

Expanding Youth Professionals Opportunities

This paper, originally published in the peer reviewed Journal of Youth and Theology, edition 3, volume 1, 2004 (see, aims to expose youth professionals to a number of opportunities within the corporate business world. This will enable youth professionals to self-fund their ministries/work, as well as gain credibility and experience in their area of expertise. The paper outlines the need that the corporate world has with regards to an understanding of today’s youth culture, as well as provides specific guidelines for ministry professionals who wish to pursue part-time (or full-time) consulting work in the corporate world. The paper specifically ignores theological and ethical issues such work may provoke. Since it was written in 2003, it also doesn’t take into account the many social media and digital opportunities to prove your expertise that are now available. These should obviously be utilised as part of developing one’s profile.

Expanding Youth Professionals Opportunities

The contribution that not-for-profit youth professionals can make in the corporate world
by Dr Graeme Codrington (2003)

The Professional Youth Ministry Problem

One of the abiding complaints of professional youth ministers and workers1 around the world is that they are not taken seriously. They are often seen as glorified baby-sitters or cheerleaders. Yet, in an increasing number of countries, there is a growing number of professionally trained, well qualified, called and committed life-long career youth workers and ministers (“youth professionals”).2 These people are as qualified in their specialised field as any other professionals are in theirs. Their expert knowledge and critical skills in fields such as childcare, adolescent development, youth culture and group dynamics, together with deep understanding of related disciplines, such as theology, psychology, sociology and education, set these youth professionals apart in today’s world. Yet, they are often not accorded the recognition they deserve, or the responsibilities they are equipped to handle.

In addition to these systemic challenges, youth professionals also facea financial challenge at the start of the 21st century. Churches, denominations, missions and youth agencies are no longer receiving the funding they were some years ago.3 Budgets are tight, and full-time youth professionals are seen as a luxury in many places. Many are ridiculously underpaid, and cannot sustain a career, and therefore are either forced to go part-time, or to abandon youth work/ministry all together.

Continue reading Expanding Youth Professionals Opportunities

Welcome new readers – a quick intro to the conversation thus far

Every now and again I’ll do a quick overview of my favourite posts – and that can act as a nice introduction for new readers and a navigation tool for those who want to “catch up” with some of the thinking and conversations on this blog.

The purpose of this blog is to help Christians and those seeking faith to find new ways to think about what it means to be a Christ follower. I have been writing and blogging on this topic since 1995, and this blog includes a selection of new and old stuff I have been working on. Some of it I’d die for, but some of it is purely experimental (I try and let you know which is which). The point is not to present a fully worked through systematic theology, but rather to allow you to enter into an ongoing conversation with me. If you like, this is just my journal – and you get to look in…

So, with that said, here is a brief intro to some of the posts on this blog:

Continue reading Welcome new readers – a quick intro to the conversation thus far

Challenges Facing Youth Ministry in the 21st Century

This paper was originally published in 2003 in the Baptist Journal of Theology (South Africa). It has not been updated – some of the website references in the footnotes may be out of date.

The paper was a collaboration between Dr Sharlene Swartz (read her bio at LinkedIn or in her current position as HSRC researcher) and Dr Graeme Codrington.

Challenges Facing South African Baptist Youth Ministry in the 21st Century

A Crash Course in Post Modernism

It’s all around us. But most of us can’t concisely describe it. It’s the philosophy of the age which follows modernism. Modernism is basically the world view which drew the line between science and religion, faith and superstition, truth and veracity. It demanded technical, scientific answers to questions of faith and science. Non-ending proofs and evidence. Modernism required that everything be rational, observable and repeatable. It was in one sense a return to the scholasticism of the thirteenth century but without a supreme deity as its anchor. “God does not exist until proven otherwise” could be a foundational principle for its atheists, although Christianity too flourished in the modernist milieu. For modernists, the truth exists objectively; things must be explainable, we must be able to demonstrate and understand it. Modernism takes it as axiomatic that there is only one true answer to every problem, from which it follows that if we can correctly formulate those answers, the world could be controlled and rationally ordered. That’s why we grew up on Creation – Evolution debates, Disco (very tangible beat and structured dance form), long theological debates, proving the existence of God and cerebral reasoning. Modernism has ruled supreme in Western thought for the last 500 years. But since its beginning, a new approach has been gathering momentum, and as this century ends, it claims dominant position, not only in the intellectual corridors of power, but is pervasive throughout society in all corners of the globe.

Continue reading Challenges Facing Youth Ministry in the 21st Century