Youth workers are scared to talk about suffering. In fact, it seems it’s a subject that’s deliberately avoided at times. Questions young people have like ‘How can God be real if my Gran died of cancer?’ or ‘How can God be good if so many people live in poverty?’ can often feel overwhelming and impossible to answer. We can end up crafting talks that avoid going anywhere near the topic of suffering because it can be too difficult to do well. We have a deep fear that our explanations are lacking and that our young people won’t understand the deep theological answers for how God and suffering work.
But as our team is discovering, suffering isn’t a topic to be avoided- in fact it can draw young people in as they have a chance to speak about their disappointment with life and with God.
Two weeks ago myself and my team put on another STIR night for our young people. Our theme for the night was ‘Suffering’, based on card 4 of the Stir Pack, (http://reignministries.co.uk/thestirpack/stirpack1/stircard4/). We chose to call the night, ‘Fire and Thankfulness’ and adapt the session to fit our group. We changed the session, to keep the teenagers’ perspectives on the reasons for suffering rather than on the hardship of the moment, because there was a likelihood that our young people would leave feeling depressed and self-pitying. We wanted to lead them through that and into a place of reflection and thankfulness.
As we sat around the table with fish and chips, one of the young people commented that this was the only time she ate a meal at the table with others. Someone else then added that this group felt like a family to them. That was the point when I realised we’ve successfully created community! The power of this shouldn’t be underestimated. Community is essential to faith building and it’s through relationship and rhythms of life- like eating together- that young people can experience God’s love and develop in their experience of Him.
As part of the session we watched a video of Job, using a resource called ‘rage despair hope’, (credit to http://www.dare2engage.org/our-resources), which introduced the theme of ‘Fire and Thankfulness’. We discussed the video of Job’s life story and his experiences of suffering and it was clear that teenagers could relate to Job and to his story. I know that theologians have struggled to pinpoint why God allows suffering and us as youth workers will all have our own theories and experiences of it too. Yet here was our group deciding that God was still good to Job and noticing that Job refused to curse God. These profound realisations were being reached easily which reminded me afresh that the Bible was written for everybody to understand. There are threads in every bible story that connect to something in every person. God knew what he was doing when he wrote His book.
As we spent some time around the fire processing our own experiences of hardship, we shared one thing we were thankful for. Each person contributed, thanking a parent, an experience or a friend. The atmosphere around that fire felt like how prayer feels. One of the leaders led the group in prayer in the most natural way. I love that prayer and bible stories are becoming natural features for the group. These are all unchurched, not-yet Christians and here we are exploring the bible, praying together and unpacking life. I have to say, I love it!
The apprehension I’ve held about leading a session on suffering has been false. The teenagers don’t have this barrier between them and God that I’ve imagined. It’s been proved to me that all kinds of young people can connect with God. In fact, anyone can, even through hard topics like suffering. God knew what he was doing when he made us, he knew what each of us would need to hear.
After each of these Stir nights, my faith in God grows, as I feel empowered to share God with people. Thinking of ways to communicate God to people can seem hard but I’m learning that the simpler ideas are better. Finding an approach that goes back to the basics of faith appears to me to be what works with young people. Quality time together as a community speaks more of Christianity than a long preach.
My challenge to other youth leaders and myself is ‘how can we take the next step of faith with our young people?’ We’ve got to feel the weight of responsibility to share the gospel with others. We’ve got to know our mission. We’ve got to reach action with it. I’m sure we’ve all despaired over the enormity of our calling at times and I’m reminded that progress is very encouraging. The joy that small change can bring is immense and can propel us forward in our youth work strategy and mission. Progress is powerful food to developing in our calling and so getting started is essential to moving ministry along. These are exciting times to be in youth work!
Categories: Youth Ministry Resources
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