listening to god

Tim Alford

Leadership 101 - How to hear from God, part 1

What is the purpose of youth and children's ministry?

So what do you reckon? Why do we do what we do? What are we seeking to accomplish in our ministries? Where are we leading our children and young people? What is our purpose?

Is it to aid in a young person’s identity formation? Is it to teach them the Bible? Perhaps it’s about enabling them to navigate relationships, overcome mental health challenges, deal with exam stress, or participate in a life-giving community?

All of this is part of the package when it comes to youth and children’s ministry, and all are important to be sure. But I would argue that none of these sums up our purpose; the reason we do youth and children’s ministry.

Our purpose is simply: to help children and young people know Jesus better.

And that’s it. Whether that means young people who don’t yet know Jesus beginning a friendship with him, or those who already know him learning to love him more; I believe that if our children and young people know Jesus better when they leave us than when we met them, we could call that a job well done.

Surely everything we do - all of our programmes, events, residentials, and relationships - all exist to serve this single purpose; helping children and young people know Jesus better.

And all of this poses a rather interesting question: how do we lead our children and young people to know Jesus better?

Well, I want to suggest that getting to know Jesus better primarily comes from learning to communicate with him - you cannot have a friendship with someone you don’t communicate with.

I heard one leader describe it like this: “Authentic Christianity is not learning a set of doctrines … It is not simply a humanitarian service to the less fortunate. It is a walk, a supernatural walk with a living, dynamic, communicating God.

Thus the heart and soul of the Christian life is learning to hear God’s voice and developing the courage to do what he tells us to do.”

So if our purpose is to help children and young people know Jesus better, and if ‘the heart and soul of the Christian life is learning to hear God’s voice,’ then how do we help our children and young people to hear from God?

Crucially, it starts with us hearing from God, because we cannot lead others where we haven’t been ourselves. Once we have learned (and are continually learning) to hear the voice of God, we will then know how to help our children and young people do the same.

So, how do we hear from God?

Stillness

You may remember the account in 1 Kings 19 when the Lord speaks to Elijah. There’s a fire, an earthquake, and a powerful wind, but the Lord does not speak in the noise. Instead, he comes in a gentle whisper.

I once heard Mike Pilavachi say, ‘God shouts at his enemies but whispers to his friends.’

Why does he whisper to us? Because you can’t hear a whisper from a distance, you have to come near, and more than anything else, the Lord desires for us to draw near to him.

"Draw near to God and he will draw near to you", the Scripture says (James 4:8). In order to hear God’s voice, learning to be still is an absolute pre-requisite.

Henri Nouwen nailed it when he said, “Without solitude, it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life … we do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and listen to him.”

The problem is, the moments that would once have presented us with an opportunity for stillness have been swallowed up by the digital carnivore.

Silence, solitude, reflection, and peace, have become a thing of the past as we have developed the habit of automatically reaching for our phones whenever a moment of downtime presents itself.

In order to hear from God, then, we must first learn to switch off our devices in order to switch on to God. And if that’s hard for us, how much harder is it for the young people we lead?

The coming Leadership 101 columns will be dedicated to exploring nine ways in which God speaks to us, but almost all of them depend on learning to be still. We simply cannot know God deeply if we don’t know how to be still (Psalm 46:10).

So until next month, my challenge to you is this: how will you boundary some technology-free moments of stillness into your daily schedule, and how will you help your young people to do the same?   

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INTRODUCING TIM ALFORD

Director of LIMITLESS

Tim Alford lives in Malvern with is wife Jen, son Tobijah and daughter Aria.

He is the National Director of LIMITLESS, the youth movement of Elim Pentecostal Churches in the UK and Ireland. He is a passionate communicator of the gospel, having spoken at churches, conferences, schools and events all over the world. Tim is the former frontman of [dweeb], a frustrated supporter of Arsenal, and has on more than one occasion been to the cinema in Star Wars fancy dress.

         

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