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calling 1


There are numerous books that are written about church leadership and calling. Many of those focus on senior leadership and those who are ordained (whether Anglican, Baptist, Methodist or other denominations or streams).

Yet, we too - if you are serving children, young people and families - are set apart. "Called" to this ministry. It has sometimes been assumed that ministry with children and young people is a space to "cut your teeth" until you graduate to adult ministry. It has also been said that those who do serve children, young people and families don't do so for very long. A often repeated myth is that those who are salaried only stay in this area of ministry for an average of 18 months.

This isn't true!

In the "terms and conditions" survey we carried out in 2019, 
74% of salaried ministers said they would stay in children's, youth and family ministry until retirement if they could.
And, of those we surveyed, (over 630 salaried children's, youth and families ministers), 
25% have been in salaried ministry for a decade or more.
We are called and we are committed!

I first felt the call when I was 15 years old. I was in a large gathering, I can't remember where but I remember someone saying, "If you feel you are being called to some form of leadership in the church, stand up.

I stood up.

The call wasn't about ordained ministry, I didn't have a sense it was to lead a church - I just knew God had something for me to do, something I would need to step in to and that began with standing up.

In various ways I have been trying to "stand up" ever since! 

The next significant moment came when I was 18 and began to lead the Sunday school and youth group in my church. I did this for a decade whilst pursuing a career with the Ministry of Defence. All my spare time was spent creating acetates (yeah, I'm old!) and thinking about how to engage more effectively, how to bring the wider church in to the lives of children and young people (and vice versa!)

I did some training with Oasis, before there were degrees in Christian youth work, and since 1998 have been in full time ministry. Children's and youth ministry has been my passion for the last 35 years - and continues to be so. I've come full circle, whilst I now mentor, train, support and encourage those in children's and youth ministry - I'm back where I began, as a volunteer in my own church serving the children's and youth teams :)

Pursuing this calling without a vocational pathway or any kind of road map hasn't been easy. Everyone, and I mean everyone I was networking with and doing youth ministry alongside 20 years ago is either ordained or no longer in ministry. 

A delight for me, having been around for a while, is to hear the stories of young people and children who are now adults with their own children - remaining in touch and staying connected gives me just a glimpse of something remarkable. It is nothing I have done, I've simply had the privilege of bearing witness to the activity of God in the lives of children and young people.

For me - this sense of calling is best summed up by some words in a couple of Psalms. Firstly, Psalm 78, 
My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old -
things we have heard and known, 
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from our descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, 
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would teach their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
I love that Psalm, the writer gets carried away I think, "even the children yet to be born . . . and then, and then, and THEN . . . their children!" A word I often talk about when I'm training is the word "tradition" - it literally means to "pass on". In church circles tradition can end up meaning "the way we have always done things", but I don't think the true meaning of the word is about that . . . it is about the essentials of what we know, what we love, what we cherish about God and who He is - as revealed through Jesus, and as we come to understand Him through the work of the Spirit in our lives!

So a key question I'm always asking, and I see it as integral to my sense of calling is - what am I passing on? For me, this "passing on" is about staying active and present to the lives of children and young people. Listening, encouraging, cheering them on, being an advocate, noticing who they are right now - not just considering who they might become in the future.

Then, increasingly over the last couple of years, these few lines from Psalm 77, yes - the Psalm right before Psalm 78,
Your path led through the sea, 
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
Here the Psalmist remembers the Exodus. Moses, what have you done? Bringing the people to the desert to die - there is no way forward, and we can't go back! Through the pandemic, I think many of of have felt that we haven't been this way before! This too, is key for me in my calling. As I write, pretty much regardless of denomination, there is no vocational pathway for children's, youth and family ministry - there hasn't been the national investment required, there aren't - as standard - continuing professional development programmes. 

We are following footprints not seen!

Yet, if our survey a few years ago is right, for many of us "this IS it". This is our life, this is our calling, this is what God has for us to do. That is part of the reason behind Paraklesis - the very name itself is about journeying with. So, as you are called we want to encourage you to believe in and hold on to that call, we want to walk with you - even if we can't see where the footprints are - trusting that God goes before and He will make a way.

Why not join Paraklesis, let's step in to the future together committed to making sure the next generation will know the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord and knowing that there is a path through the sea, a way is being made through the mighty waters!

Ali Campbell is a youth and children's ministry consultant - married to the lovely Lisa and with two incredible daughters. When not drinking coffee, hanging out with his family in their caravan or listening to jazz funk,  he runs The Resource to encourage, equip and support those in ministry working with children, young people and families. Ali is the development consultant for Paraklesis.


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