THE Christian community has discovered and learned so much during the pandemic. It has sought to show and communicate the gospel of Christ with the people of this country in varied ways, including foodbanks for those struggling financially, phone calls, and virtual visits to those most vulnerable because of enforced isolation through age or pre-existing health conditions. By common consent, the Church has been privileged to show that genuine love for God is demonstrated in practical loving concern for our neighbours and communities.
It has also learned some tough lessons. It has seen, again, that a “one-size-fits-all” theology or practice, whether for worship, pastoral care, or evangelism, simply doesn’t work. Some folk have found that the pandemic, with the necessary restrictions on public worship, has weakened their ties with the local church; others have found that accessing the church online through streamed or pre-recorded services has brought them into contact with Christian worship and teaching in ways that suit their style and culture.
Too often, the Church has been heard to say: “We would love you to discover Christ if you come to our buildings at times to suit us and learn our special theological shorthand, so you understand what’s going on.” This pandemic has changed all that.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the Church’s ministry with children and young people. Even in lively streamed services, it is hard for most churches to minister to the adults and the children in the same programme. At times, the children have been restricted to a short “Kids’ spot” before the adults settle down for their sermon.
This has meant that, as one Christian father recently said, “If we can get the children to watch the kids’ spot and a couple of songs, we’re doing really well.” Many churches have moved Messy Church online, or arranged virtual meetings for children and teenagers. This has involved immense care, preparation, and commitment. It has made a difference. The more education moved online, however, the more likely it was that children and young people would zone out, because they were Zoomed out. Sadly, many churches have made little effort at all.
IN THIS hybrid environment, the Church needs to engage and apply two biblical themes.
The first, highlighted in Matthew 18 and 19, is Christ’s view of children. Jesus placed a child in the midst of the disciples. Children matter. They teach adults about God’s Kingdom. A deep responsibility for their care is placed upon us. Children’s ministry and youth ministry should never be what the Church does with whatever time it has left over when the adults are satisfied. It is to be a priority as it ministers to the whole community.
The second theme comes from Pentecost. The strongly accented Galileans found themselves understood by those visiting Jerusalem who spoke many languages and dialects. God gave the people of the world the right to hear the Good News of Jesus in their own mother tongue.
That means far more than just English or Spanish. It means hearing it through play for young children, and through videos for children used to screens. It means, for young people, hearing it from influencers: people from their culture whom they trust or admire. The Church in the 21st century, as on the first Pentecost, has to learn new languages, and needs the power of the Holy Spirit to drive it out of its Upper Room comfort zone.
THAT is why I am delighted to commend this year’s resources for Thy Kingdom Come resources, the initiative of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to enourage a wave of prayer from Ascension Day to Pentecost, which has now spread to 170 countries around the world.
In it, we pray for our friends, families, communities, and countries to come to know the love of God in Jesus Christ. The Thy Kingdom Come team, as Archbishop Welby has noted, has developed a range of resources for everyone aged from three to 103. All the details are on the website www.thykingdomcome.global, but I want to focus on those for young people and children.
The Cheeky Pandas is a new flagship resource for children. The 11 videos, filled with Bible stories, animation, songs, prayer, and laughter, are a wonderful way to help children to connect with God. It has contributions from Bear Grylls, Radzi Chinyanganya, from Blue Peter, Gemma Hunt, of CBeebies, and Archbishop Welby, and more, which we hope will inspire this generation.
There is a fantastic “Cheeky Pandas Prayer Book” for parents or grandparents to use with their children. Then there are games, activities, crafts, and even a series of family-service outlines, so that the whole church family can engage together. We have no mandate to make Jesus boring, but we have his command to go and make disciples.
For teenagers, we have a range of videos that will be delivered daily from people who understand their world and speak their language. There will also be a virtual escape room, too.
All the details are on the website Thy Kingdom Come, and the app can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.
THE Gospels relate that Jesus was annoyed with the disciples when they thought that the children being brought to him were a distraction. Jesus saw children’s celebration, on Palm Sunday, not as a noisy inconvenience or a distraction, but, rather, as true worship.
For Thy Kingdom Come 2021, I encourage you to join in yourselves, and enable everyone in your community — aged three to 103 — to join in, too.
The Rt Revd Paul Butler is the Bishop of Durham.
The Thy Kingdom Come event runs from Ascension Day, 13 May, until Pentecost or Whit Sunday, 23 May.