‘No, not many’ was the dismissive phrase offered when I asked the church leader on the phone if they had any final year youth heading to university this year. For the hundredth time, my heart sank.
‘Not many’, he said. ‘Not enough that you’d be interested’, he meant.
When I chance upon a youth worker or church leader who is a parent of a 17 or 18 year old, I always get a different response. ‘Yes’, they say ‘we have a few, my son is one of them’. Their ‘we have a few’ is said with a very different tone. This person is thirsty for help because they know that even if there was only that one – their son or daughter – they are worth talking about. They have that endearing quality seen in so many parents that assumes everyone is equally interested in their child's story - I love it.
We might agree that the value of our youth work is not defined by numbers, but the lie that it is can still permeate our mindset. Perhaps we don't believe it but we expect others to. I don’t think that the church leader on the phone thought his young people insignificant, I think he assumed I’d find them insignificant. After all, there are only a few of them. No big numbers, no big interest.
People are often surprised when I ask to meet with them when they admit that they have just one or two going off to university every few years. We meet with those churches because every one of those young people matters. If you were sending a missionary abroad every year you would claim that figure proudly, but sending one young person to university is considered a non-point. Why is this?
- Is it because university is too 'normal' a transition - it's not a big deal, so it's not that important?
- Is it because we don't think one or two are enough to do anything with?
- Is it because other people aren't interested if it's only one or two?
Can I encourage you to be more like the Mum who has great vision for the one. The Mum who is, if anything, over-enthusiastic in proclaiming the hope and potential within her son or daughter. Those one or two matter, those one or two can make waves that impact families, communities, even nations.
If you want some biblical examples, check out these stories of the ones who made a massive impact: