Growing Young Disciples 2020
A look back on a conference designed to equip churches in youth and children’s ministry.
I spent three days of last week at perhaps the most unusual of all the conference centres that Christians use in the UK. The Yarnfield Park Conference Centre is actually the British Telecom training centre, so on arrival you are shepherded past the Open Reach car park (full of the ubiquitous vans) to the second car park, adjacent to the Telegraph Pole Training Ground (I kid you not!).
It’s somewhat surreal, but on the plus side it has the fastest broadband of any conference centre in the Universe (322 Mbps, seeing as you asked).
However, the conference happening inside the building was even more remarkable than the surroundings outside, for this was the annual Growing Young Disciples conference for youth and children’s workers. It is now in its 18th year, though the charity that now oversees it, the aforementioned Growing Young Disciples (GYD), is still in its infancy.
Encouraging Faithful Ministry
I loved this conference. I loved its focus. I loved its faithful teaching. I loved its passion to see Bible ministry at the heart of youth ministry (contra much of what is passing for youth ministry around the country). I loved its pastoral heart, both for those working in these roles and for those children and young people who have been put into our care. I loved its theology, recognising the role of the local church and the role of parents in bringing up their children.
All of which means it is a natural and helpful place for churches in our family to send their workers. There’s a good mix of non-conformist and Anglicans with the occasional Presbyterian too, but the reality is that children’s and youth work looks the same in many different contexts, so it makes sense to operate at this level.
There’s much to be gained by training and growing together, and hardly anything to be lost in terms of independent identity.
I particularly valued the input and presence of those who are in youth work for the long term. Many of these are serving in FIEC churches: Andy Mossop at East London Tab, Dan Hook at Spicer Street and many more. Not all of these churches have endless resources, by the way, and in some cases have used creative means to fund positions (e.g. running secular clubs financed by councils alongside Christian groups).
I was heartened to hear of opportunities that still exist in schools. The demise of Christian input into schools seems very over-stated from what I could gather, though of course wisdom, gentleness and carefulness are needed, just as much as Biblical fidelity.
Perhaps my only regret is that more youth workers can’t access the time together. Many of our workers are essentially bi-vocational or entirely voluntary and finding four days is a bit of a stretch. The answer to this is to look into local initiatives (e.g. Saturday training) run by groups such as GYD, Faith in Kids and TNT Ministries. Indeed, we sent a group from our church to a local gospel partnership day with Ed Drew from Faith in Kids and it was very helpful indeed.
Most of our churches have people serving in this kind of ministry, even if they are not set apart and paid full time. Investing in their growth like this is just as important as the conferences we send our elders or pastors on. The GYD initiative is a great place to start. The dates next year are 11-14 Jan 2021. Same venue.
Bring your telegraph pole spotters guide.
Photographs from the conference courtesy of Max Broadbent www.maxbroadbent.co.uk