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.
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:
Involvement in all-church worship during high school is more consistently linked with mature faith than any other form of church participation.
The more teenagers serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is their faith will stick.
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.
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? And then there’s the HUB. A new youth venture started by a handful of Kings members in Shinewater wanting to make a difference in their community. Now every week fifty or sixty young people turn up. What would it begin to look like if we could reproduce this across other parts of Eastbourne and Seaford?
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