Sex, drugs, Jesus and alcohol
What do young people need from churches? Simon Edwards reflects
Sex, drugs, Jesus and alcohol are the main topics we have discussed with a small but growing group of young people between 12 and 16 years old who meet every other Sunday morning for the last two years at Sompting United Reformed Church, West Sussex. We also discuss other teenage issues and questions they have about Christianity, but these four topics have predominated.
Sex, drugs and alcohol are important subjects to the young people because they know that if they haven’t already encountered them, they will soon. And it is not surprising that they sometimes want to talk about Jesus, bearing in mind most of them have Christian parents and our sessions happen in church. And yet, we keep finding that Jesus and the Bible don’t seem to mean much to the young people outside of church. They talk about sex, drugs and getting drunk and ask: ‘Is God OK with it?’ Sometimes they already know what the Bible has to say about these questions, but, as they point out, the Bible and Jesus just don’t feel real outside of church and don’t seem to help them.
The problem, it seems, is that they haven’t really encountered Jesus personally in such a way that he has become real to them in their everyday lives. Adolescence is a transitional stage where children move away from dependency on their parents towards interdependency with peers and parents as they become young adults. During this stage young people start developing their own moral frameworks and personal identities. They often build on their parents’ values and beliefs, but are also vulnerable to influences which can lead them to discard these in favour of new ones. For the young people I work with, it seems that even though they don’t want to discard Jesus, they struggle to take their understanding of Jesus with them through this transitional stage. Jesus has started to get left behind and their relationship with him needs to be transformed, from head knowledge of the Bible stories they were taught as children, into one in which Jesus becomes a personal friend who is central to their daily lives.
Our group sessions are providing a vehicle for this transformational process and the young people are starting to reflect on Jesus more in their everyday lives. This is not just because we discuss the Bible and Christian doctrine but also because a lot of these discussions have come out of meals and social activities together. My wife and I, some of the young people’s parents and church members are all involved (and all DBS checked). In these safe, relational spaces created between young people and adults, they observe, experience and understand how to develop their own relationships with Jesus rather than just read about him in a book or listen to doctrine being explained to them…
This is an extract from an article that was published in the October 2017 edition of Reform