Help raise a child

As far as I can remember, I have only ever known one Paulette. She was already old when we first met. That was when I was eight. So I imagine now she’s very old. In fact, I have it on good authority she’s very much alive and still living with Stanley in a small seaside town just outside of Blackpool.

I first met Paulette in Sunday School. We had recently moved to the area and ‘me and me brother’ were pulled along by ‘me parents’ the first Sunday we were there. And that’s when we met.

Paulette was the Sunday School Superintendent. Week in week out she prepped, cut, stuck, painted, smiled, prayed, encouraged, read and served. And in the words of Mr Moon the vicar, ‘did a little job for Jesus’.

To be honest, she did more than a little job for Jesus. She did an amazing job for Jesus.

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For more than three decades she invested into the lives of the children of the little seaside town just outside of Blackpool. And after many years, she’s still asking “How’s Graham? How’s he getting on? Such a handsome young man” (OK, I made up the last bit, but genuinely she still asks after me).

What I am, and who I am today is partly down to Paulette.

“For more than three decades she invested into the lives of the children of the little seaside town”

And then there’s Derek and Barry. Derek now a vicar himself up north and Barry, a civil servant in Blackpool, led the youth work. I made a decision to follow Jesus in my teens. Derek and Barry coached, discipled, nurtured those early years. They led me in to the ‘things of the Spirit’. I remember every Friday night in Derek’s lounge, worshipping and having fellowship together (in fact, I think it was called Friday night fellowship, which seems a very appropriate name). Just a handful of teens wanting to meet Jesus. They helped us meet Him.

It was Derek and Barry who encouraged me to lead worship for the first time (aged 16), to preach for the first time (aged 16), organise a March for Jesus on a double-decker bus through the parish for the first time (aged 16). Along with Paulette, they also did an amazing job for Jesus.

Proverbs 22:6 says this, “Point your kids in the right direction — and when they are old they won’t be lost”. They did a great job in pointing me the right way.

When Belinda and I spoke in the recent Citizen’s series, we used this passage to encourage parents in their role as ‘parents’. There’s a million websites already available on Google letting us know how to be more successful, more loving, more caring, more releasing, more controlling, more forgiving and generally do a much better job than we currently are. Being a parent is really tough. Even harder when we consider the iTech world in which we live. Most parents probably think they are letting their kids down. (There was a lovely moment last year, having just finished Facetiming our son, we turned to each other and said ‘after 19 years of thinking we have failed as parents, he’s turned out OK’ and we high fived each other, and had a cup of tea to celebrate).

At the time, we didn’t want to deliver a talk simply confirming what many already thought, that they were pretty hopeless parents. It really is tough. So we only had two points (it took us forty minutes to say them, but they were really good points). DO try and bring your kids up to love God. And DON’T try doing it on your own.

As parents, we should try wherever possible (with every opportunity that comes along) to model priorities, model making decisions and model mission in a way that points kids in the right direction. Some of that will be about going to church even when it seems you are forever sitting in the crèche looking after everybody else’s children as well as your own. It’s about modelling good choices in life in line with what Jesus would do and what the Bible says. It’s about catching them up in God’s adventure, not just a mum thing, but what God is saying to the family.

And then there is this critical key idea. Don’t try doing it on your own. Whether you are a lone parent, a married couple or a blended family, you don’t have to do this on your own. We are family.

“there is this critical key idea. Don’t try doing it on your own. Whether you are a lone parent, a married couple or a blended family”

There is an old African proverb that says ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. It takes the whole community with everybody buying in to the same belief that we are in this together. In the individualistic society we live in, this idea can easily get lost. But if we genuinely want the best for our children and want to see them grow strong in faith and character, then we shouldn’t be thinking it’s simply down to the parents, it’s down to all of us playing our part, a supporting role with a genuine interest in every child. Why? Because every one of them matters.

If the UK stats for church attendance are accurate, then in ten years time, most of our current teenagers at Kings will not be following Jesus at all. Something like 70% of the children in our crèche will be nowhere near church by the time they reach the age of 20. What do we do? Simply accept it? Hope for the best? Hope we do better than most?

Perhaps we need a more radical response. So by the time our children finish school and head off to university, they are strong and confident and tough in their faith. For that to happen, we need to dramatically rethink our ‘parenting’ strategy with a huge increase of time and resources being intentionally diverted towards them.

I recently read the findings of a three year study which had been undertaken by the Fuller Youth Institute in Pasadena, California. They were looking for the crucial factors that helped young people develop a mature faith. They came up with three key elements:

1.
Involvement in all-church worship during high school is more consistently linked with mature faith than any other form of church participation.

2.
The more teenagers serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is their faith will stick.

3.
More than any programme or event, what made kids more likely to feel a significant part of their local church was when adults made the effort to get to know them.

If these findings are true in our culture as well, then it’s really important as to how we develop a church that is appealing and relevant to young people and at the same time incredibly intergenerational. How do I need to adapt? What preferences do I need to reconsider? What am I going to do to make a difference?

If it’s true that it takes a village to raise a child, then perhaps in our UK context the ‘church’ should be the village. It takes the church to raise a child.

Jasmine

Have you noticed? Young people love to be involved. I recently spoke with Jasmine. Jasmine is now eight. She has the biggest smile. And because she is now eight, I said her big smile needs to be seen by everyone as they enter on Sunday morning. So she’s now joining the welcome team with her dad.

At Centro you’ll often see James with a bunch of keys. James is thirteen and he knows the Hippodrome better than most. Along with his dad (who pays for the cooked breakfast afterwards), they unlock the building together. James is great at unlocking buildings. It allows hundreds of people every week to meet God. It’s his amazing job for Jesus.

We need to give lots of opportunities. And take lots of risks. And allow for lots of mistakes. And see where they might be in five years time if we give them the chance.

That’ll need huge amounts of encouragement and support, cheering them on along the way. Rooting for them, shouting their name and genuinely wanting the best for them.

It will also need huge amounts of resources and time. And this is where I think we need to get even more radical. Why? Because of a dream.

I’d love to see over the next five years, one hundred new families added to this church. People who don’t know Jesus yet but will have their lives impacted and blessed by Him in the coming years. At the moment, we have two hundred families on the waiting list to come to our parent and toddler group. Wouldn’t it be great if we could open up more doors so they could come in?

For this to happen we will need to be thinking differently.

It’ll need more volunteers. We’ll need more grandparents, aunts and uncles to many of our children. I love the story of Ann. It’s so inspiring to see the difference one person can make in a young person’s life.

We also want to line up our finances with our vision. In September, we made the decision to divert more of our resources towards kids and families. It turns out we were spending more money on ‘Tea n Biscuits’ on a Sunday than we did resourcing our entire 0-11’s kid’s work. I thought to myself, ‘do we want more cookies or kids?’ If all it takes to be radical is for me to stop eating a biscuit then let’s do it.

We have also made the decision to invest an additional £40,000 per year in the area of families and at the moment, we simply don’t have this money. But we genuinely hope that people will respond to the vision and in faith. If the members of Kings currently not giving started to give just £20 per month (the price of a takeaway) we would double this amount straight away. Seriously. We could double the investment overnight. Imagine the impact that could have.

I look back over the forty plus years and recognise that many people have played a significant part in my life. They showed they believed in me and believed in the gospel. And they believed that I mattered.

I want our kids at Kings to know that they matter. Every one of them.

Not many will have the privilege of meeting Paulette, Derek or Barry. But I did. And looking back, I am very grateful. They invested hugely in me. They saw very little in the way of return. I never thanked them. Probably never showed any appreciation. At eighteen I simply got up and left. But now, nearly thirty years later, I have this opportunity to express my gratitude to them and to the many others who have helped me along the way. And in some small way, I also hope it will inspire the next generation of Paulette’s and Derek’s and Barry’s to do exactly the same, and do an amazing job for Jesus.


by Graham Marsh

Me and my girls

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

I was given this verse in the first few years of being a Christian. I became a Christian when I was 18 and I had plans. Plans to find a nice guy, get married, have kids and settle down. However God had other plans for me and little did I know what these were over 20 years ago.

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Both before and after I came to Eastbourne God put older women in my life to help me, guide me and become spiritual mums to me. I still value this today. This journey started about eight years ago when I felt the nudge from God to return to youth work. To my surprise I was welcomed with open arms and started serving in the 11—14’s. I went to my first Newday and on the way to an outreach event in the back of the coach Jez asked me if I wanted to “look after” the younger girls, take them under my wing.

At the time I wondered what I could offer these girls. I had loads of doubts, what do I talk about, do they actually like me. However, after trying to find a way out by looking for another job in another part of the country I embraced the opportunity and arranged for them to come round for lunch.

To my surprise they came, ate my food and didn’t get ill. We watched DVD’s, played “lets dance” and they sat in my bath! Meeting up together continued for about a year and as they were about to go into year nine we set up a girls group as part of ID each week.

“I can honestly say without someone like Ann, I don’t think I would be this far in my Christian journey.”

For about an hour we would spend time getting to know each other better and talk about issues that were important to them. My heart was for them to grow into young ladies who knew and loved God, who had an identity and security in God and not in how they looked, in social media or in relationships. The world puts so much pressure on young people to conform to the norm and loving God is “not cool”. At that age knowing who you are is not easy anyway.

I pulled in other people in the church to help me and we had some good evenings discussing what it is to be a young Christian lady in today’s world. One memorable evening was the wedding dress night where we all dressed up in loaned wedding dresses and talked about what marriage is and staying pure until our wedding night. Over the year I got to know the girls so much better spending quality time with them.

At the end of year nine they were due to move up to the older group True. They didn’t want to go, wanting to remain in what was familiar to them. However, I knew they were ready and I agreed to go up with them at their request to help them settle in.

I was going to return to the younger group, however, God had “plans to prosper me and not to harm me”. After first being really unsure I would fit into this group as a leader, I loved it. I kept my girls and we continued to meet as a group for the next two years as part of True.

I remember one evening following a talk about God the Father in church I felt God wanted to show the girls what this means practically. So I asked the mums of the girls to get the dads to sit down and together write a letter to each of them which I gave out next time we met. It was another of those stand out nights for me. A good gage for me is tears, and we had a few damp eyes that night.

There have been many memories…

I’ve baptised 3 of them
I’ve cooked for them
I’ve been to Romania with some of them
I’ve watched DVDs with them
We’ve shared meals together
I’ve done 7 years of Newday with them
We’ve made cards together
We’ve drunk loads of tea together
We’ve toasted marsh mellows together
I’ve played “lets dance” with them
We’ve shared experiences of Africa together
We’ve shared ice cream on the beach together
We’ve done car treasure hunts together
We’ve laughed together and we’ve cried together

By being part of their lives and other young people’s lives I have stepped out in spiritual gifts and God continues to teach me and challenge me.

I have been with my girls and their families both through the good and the not so good times. There have been many challenges over the past few years and at times I’ve wrestled with God about some of the situations that have arisen. I’ve prayed for and with them and basically “done life” with them.

“I would like to thank her for what she has done in my life and many others. When I’m older I definitely want to do the same thing”

They have all flown the nest now having travelled to the other side of the world to serve God or starting their second year at University.

I was reflecting on what God has taught me by being part of these young ladies lives and I see it as a journey, from being an older sister, to a cool aunty to actually a little glimpse of what being a mum is like.

I can’t profess to say I know what being a parent 24/7 is like at all (well apart from Newday when I am checking they have drunk enough water, slept okay, encouraging them to go to bed a little earlier, giving them a hug when they are all emotional), but I do feel proud when I see what they have become; and how they are developing as they become more independent.

I am still in contact with them (social media and text messaging isn’t all bad) and still continue to be part of their lives albeit in a different way. I got my first Mother’s day card this year. So what does the future hold? Well I now have my new girls and it’s exciting to see what God is doing in both their lives and mine.

I want to say thank you to the girls for loving me and being part of my life, their parents for letting me be part of their daughter’s lives and to God for putting people in my life who I can learn from and have shown me what it is to be a spiritual mum. I don’t think I have done too badly at this. My plans may not have worked as I expected, instead God has given me a hope and a future in a way I could not have imagined.

Thank you


Get involved

Q: What’s the single, most influential factor in keeping our teenagers at church? A: When the adults spend time getting to know them.

Serving in the youth can change the whole course of our teenagers lives. Contact us to find out more, or come and chat at the Info Point on a Sunday morning.