Monthly youth leaders column
Unless they are incredibly bright, most young people hate examinations as they encroach on their busy social lives. As youth leaders, there are lots of ways of handling this season. We can sit at home and moan that our young people have deserted us as attendance levels plummet. But exams are part of their life and are therefore, by definition, able to be approached in a Christian way and we can help them handle them in a way that helps them grow.
I’m sure we’ve met the young person who, having done little or no work throughout the year, spends a night in prayer asking God to fill his brain with all the ideas and facts he should have learnt from his books. A chance there, maybe, to talk about work being pre-Fall and something which God honours — maybe there’s a teaching series of four in that. Parents have hopes and dreams about their offspring and we should never try to compete with the demands parents will sometimes make on students who are idle and need to learn the discipline of hard work. But maybe we can learn to work with parents during this season when the family is often under pressure. We had five nearly consecutive summers where our children were involved in public exams.
I think this is a good issue to bring into the public domain of church life. Many people create lists of their young people doing GCSEs and A levels and often leave them on the information desk. I would put them in the weekly service sheet and send them to every home / women’s / men’s group and any other group I could think of to ask them to pray for our young people. If young people know this is happening, it is a great way both to give youth ministry some church profile and for adults to get to know their young people. But be careful with the list and make sure it includes everyone.
Another thing I tried during my time as a youth leader in Sheffield was ‘work-ins’. Not a stunning title but the idea was simple. Two evenings of the week you can come to church and bring your revision books and work silently for one hour — we made that agreement with the parents and anybody who broke that silence was asked to be quiet. Often it was supervised by university medics about to take their finals (they were part of the youth team) and they didn’t want to be disturbed. After an hour we stopped for a 20-minute break and a bit of social time to be followed by another hour of study. At the end of that time we got them together to pray for one another. This was often followed by a few minutes of madness just to let off a bit of steam (details are withheld to avoid embarrassment!!!).
Involved in their world
It meant that we saw our young people twice a week and we were involved in their world and, when they went into the exam, they knew that friends at the church (of all ages) were praying for them. It became a first point of contact with the church for some young people.
At the end of this time there are often parties held which have been known to get a bit out of control and young people do something they regret. Why not a try a weekend away for young people finishing exams? So you can turn a situation where the youth group appears to diminish into a time where you do effective ministry, albeit in a different style. Give it a try.