I am not a youth worker and am much more used to working with university students and adults in the world of work than with teenagers. But it seemed like an amazing opportunity to speak to young people in their school about the Christian message.
Professors John Lennox and Alister McGrath both agreed to come and do a morning for us, investigating the evidence for God. Every day for five days we explored this question ? is there a God? ? looking at science, philosophy, history, life and the person Jesus Christ.
Two entire year groups were transfixed as John Lennox talked about the origins of the universe and explained the difference between understanding how a mechanism works and why it is there in an intelligible form in the first place. To illustrate this,he talked about a Ford car. He said that at least two kinds of explanation are relevant when talking about the origin of the Ford car ? both the mechanism of the internal combustion engine and the real person Henry Ford. These two explanations are not contradictory. To think that understanding some of the laws of science dispenses with the need for a creator is like confusing energy with description. Laws describe things but they don’t make anything happen. In other words, 2+2=4 but that never put £4 in my pocket! Eyes lit up as John explained why belief in God had led him, an internationally renowned scientist, to expect a rational, intelligible universe rather than random chaos. God, he showed us, is actually a foundation for science.
I often hear people say that the Church is declining and that the UK is an increasingly secular country, and on some levels I see evidence of that all around me. Yet, given the chance to explore the Christian faith and to ask questions of our team, young people in a normal British school asked hundreds of excellent questions, and when invited to make a personal response to Christ (without any soaring backing music!) more than 90 of them did. Many more signed up to a follow-up course to keep exploring.
64% of people who ever become Christians do so before their 18th birthday
In the midst of all of these questions and answers, I have also seen the importance of sharing real stories of God at work in ourlives. Holding together the intellectual and the experiential has been a real theme for me. Just as philosophical questions were chewed over, so were stories of what meeting God actually looks like.
For one of our speakers, this involved sharing her story. Her parents had had an affair, of which she was the result. Her father, an imam, had made her mother promise that if she fell pregnant there would be an abortion. My friend’s mother decided to keep her child, and later became a Christian. The stigma of the circumstances of her birth and her Christian faith meant that my friend had very little relationship with her father and was forbidden from calling him Dad. But later on as an adult she met him again. His life had been filled with disappointments and rejection, and he came to meet her quite broken. She was able to forgive him and to share with him that this was possible because of Jesus. The questions that followed this story were profound. What does it mean to forgive? How is it even possible? How can you have joy when terrible things have been done to you?
All of this tells me that while young people may be stigmatised in the media as ignorant, ungrateful, rebellious, rude and aggressive, many British teenagers are in fact searching for life’s meaning, and go about things in a thoughtful and compassionate way. Very few have ever heard good reasons to believe in God or pick up and read a Bible. Fewer have heard anything detailed about who Jesus is and why he died or what that could mean for them personally. If 64% of people who ever become Christians do so before their 18th birthday, why do we focus so few resources on this age group?
For the last year I have been helping to run our church’s Sunday morning youth. In the final 20 minutes of each session, we open things up for questions before prayer. Again I have been genuinely touched by the questions: How can I talk about the Bible when people think it is all made up? Has science disproved Genesis? Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers? Why do bad things happen to good people?
It is one of the privileges of my life to be involved with that small group of young people, to hear their questions and to try to help them find answers that satisfy. Why not think about serving your church in this way?