The Grove Is On Fire

Some Things On A Theology Of Children

Friday, 3 July 2015

There's been discussion on the internet around a theology of children. If you want to reduce it to a specific question, the debate is "if a child asks you 'am I a Christian?' what do you say". Andrew Wilson has a good summary of the various responses going back and forward and it's worth reading all the articles. There's also a further post responding to more of the questions. The whole subject of covenant membership of children, baptism, and entry to communion, is a huge issue that youth workers have to wrestle with and get their heads around.

A couple of thoughts of the debate above. One of the responses seems to be that if you baptise babies but then don't let them take communion till some older date when they can affirm their own faith then you're making exactly the same judgement about a child's faith that credobaptists are making; you're in effect saying you're not a proper member of God's people until confession of faith. This is a good and fair point. This is why having baptised babies you should allow them to receive communion. Here's a short explanation of how this can happen in the Church of England with some of the common objections.

Another thought is that laying the blame of children leaving the church at the feet of paedobaptism seems slightly suspect. Both paedobaptist and credobaptist churches see children drop out of them when they hit their teenage years. Both paedobaptist and credobaptist parents seem guilty of not teaching their children to trust and obey God from their heart. Sure, parents giving their children false assurance that they're saved is one of the reasons for children dropping away from church, but it's one of many, and found equally (in my experience) in paedo and credo churches. It's also worth noting that Paul tells (presumably) baptised church members to examine themselves to make sure they are in the faith. One would hope any paedobaptist is encouraging their child to do this.

Finally, if your theology of baptism is so strong that you can be accused of saying baptism saves you well, you're in good company.

Stop Giving Your Life To Jesus

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

If you haven't seen it, this is Glen Scrivener's new spoken word video for youth workers. It's good.

Mr. Thompson and the Vicar Invent Children's Church

Tuesday, 30 June 2015


A fair and reasonable criticism, which also happens to be very cutting and funny (see also their fair and reasonable criticism of trendy youth work).

Not Your Average Paedobaptism

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

One of the things I increasingly think is important to get your head round as a youth worker is what baptism is and who God's covenant people are. I say one thing, because they're tightly linked. This little article seems a good place to start. What you understand on these issues will affect how you treat children of Christian families significantly.

Job: Children & Younger Youth Worker - St Mark's Kensal Rise (NW London)

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Some friends' church St Mark's Kensal Rise are looking for a children and young youth (0-14's) worker. You can get the –impressively well written– job description here.

Context - St Mark's is a vibrant, multi-cultural local community church in the heart of North West London with a vision to 'Live and Share the Love of Jesus' through worshipping God wholeheartedly, growing in faith continually, loving each other sincerely, leading people to Jesus sensitively and blessing our communities generously. The church currently has a membership of more than 280 people with a Sunday morning service attendance of 150-250, of which 50-80 are children and youth. The role of the 'Children & Younger Youth Worker' is to build and grow the church's ministry to young people ages 0-14 enabling them to flourish as individuals and live out the church's vision.

Capital Youthworks Training: Purity and Pornography

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The folks who organise Capital Youthworks have organised a training day and youth worker meet-up this Friday (5th June). Blurb;

Helen Thorne will be speaking on Purity and Pornography and helping us to help others in our youth groups to deal with these issues. The morning is free, £3 for lunch if you want, Coffee and biscuits from 10.30 at St Helen's Bishopsgate, London. No need to RSVP just come along and bring a friend.

I'll be there (hopefully) so you can say hi if you want.

How To Make An Even More Perfect Rice Pudding

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The recipe I use for rice pudding is this one from the Guardian's 'how to make perfect' series. It's a pretty wonderful recipe (and a pretty great series) but it's not perfect. It's got one minor problem. The problem is that you want to fry your rice in the butter and sugar before you add your liquid to give it a more nutty taste, but if you fry your rice in butter and sugar before you add the liquid you cause the starch to breakdown and it'll loose some of it's creaminess. So you're left with a vicious choice; bring out the creaminess and loose the nuttiness, or enhance the nuttiness and lose some of the creaminess.

Of course, I'm not actually a food scientist. I just copy other people's work. So I only know this because someone else has done lots of work on risotto and what is rice pudding but dessert risotto? So stealing that method of fixing risotto, we can fix rice pudding. Pour the uncooked rice pudding into the milk you're going to use and stir it for a few minutes. Then drain the rice and let it dry out, keeping the milk. You'll now have starchy-milk and dry-ish rice. Then just melt the butter and sugar in a pan and tip the rice into it and follow the Guardian recipe the rest of the way. Now you should have extra nutty and extra creamy rice pudding. Even more perfect rice pudding.

This still though, isn't the best rice pudding to make. The best rice pudding has different flavours to this one. Cardamon and orange instead of bay-leaf and lemon. So here's the recipe I use for special occasions. Warning; it's a slightly ridiculous amount of effort for making what should be a simple dish, but like I said, special occasions.

Orange and Cardamon Rice Pudding with Candied Orange Peel

Serves 8 because why make it in smaller quantities?

  • 100g unsalted-butter
  • 100g soft light brown sugar
  • 200g pudding rice
  • 2 litre full-fat milk
  • 10 whole green cardamons, bashed so they're slightly open and the seeds can fall out
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 300ml double cream
  • An orange, with two strips removed with a sharp potato peeler, the rest of the skin zested
  • 2 tablespoons castor sugar

Note; You should use the widest pan you have that can hold around 3 litres of liquid, the more surface area your pan has the easier it is to fry the rice. If you have a big Le Crueset style cast-iron casserole dish you can do the entire process in one pan.

Rice Pudding

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 140°c /120°c fan
  2. Pour the milk and rice into a bowl or measuring jug. Stir with your hands or a spoon to make sure the rice is thoroughly coated. Pour the milk through a sieve into the widest pan you have (that can comfortably hold 3 litres of liquid) and let the rice dry in the sieve. (at least 5 minutes, giving it a good shake every now and again)
  3. Place the pan full of milk on the stove and add the 10 green cardamons. Turn on the heat to medium-low and stir. Don't let the pan simmer. Leave for at least 5 minutes no more than 151. Taste the pan and see if it's absorbed enough cardamon flavour.
  4. Dump the milk back into the bowl or measuring jug through a sieve to remove the cardamon.
  5. Wipe out the pan and place the butter and sugar in it. Turn up the heat to medium. Keep stirring till the butter has melted and is a smooth mixture.
  6. Pour in the rice and fry for around 5 minutes till the rice swells a bit.
  7. Pour in the milk, the cinnamon, nutmeg, the orange zest, and the cream. Stir to make sure it all mixes properly.
  8. Empty the mixture into an roasting tin or casserole dish and place in the oven for 1 ½ hours. If you're using a cast-iron casserole dish, just place that straight in the oven. The mixture should look ridiculously milky, like it's a handful of rice floating in milk. That's fine. The rice will expand.
  9. Check on it fairly regularly. It's easy to dry out or over-cook the rice and as it keeps well warm and reheats fine, it's better to take it out sooner rather than later.
  10. If you don't want skin, cover the tin with foil after 30 minutes or so.

Candied Orange Peel

  1. Take the two strips of orange peel and with a very sharp knife cut them into long thin strips like match sticks. You want them to be about 2 or 3 mm thick at most. Their length is less important.
  2. Place them in a non-stick sauce-pan and cover with a very small amount of boiling water and leave them to sit for a few minutes (straight from the kettle, you don't need to boil the water in the pan)
  3. Drain the peel and repeat the process.
  4. Drain the peel again, this time add the same amount of boiling water and the 50g of castor sugar. Turn on the heat to medium-hot and let the water start to bubble and boil. Stir them every now and again and allow the water to start to boil off.
  5. When the water's nearly boiled off remove then pan from the heat and taste one to see if they're sweet and edible. If they're still a bit hard, put some more water in and continue the simmering down process
  6. Remove the peel and place it on some kitchen roll to dry.

Serving

Serve a lump of rice pudding (it won't look pretty) with some of the candied orange peel on top.

If you do decide to reheat it in the oven, you might want to stir in some more milk or cream before you put it back into the oven.

If you don't like the skin and have the energy, you can make the entire rice pudding on the hob. When you add the milk and other ingredients, turn up the heat till the pan starts to simmer then stir it regularly. It'll cook through like a risotto this way in 20-30 minutes. It needs careful attention to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan or drying out though.

1 I don't know enough about extracting flavour from cardamons to make a good judgment here on how long you should leave it for. The longer you leave it the more flavour you'll get out of, but if they're anything like other spices and seeds you run the risk of pulling out bitter flavours if you leave it too long. If you want it more cardamon-ny I recommend added more caradmon but not increasing the length of time too much. If someone wants to send me a massive bag of cardamons, 6 litres of milk, and 12 hours, I'll do the science on it and come back to you.

Review: The Jesus Gap - Jen Bradbury

Friday, 22 May 2015

I was given a copy of The Jesus Gap by Jen Bradbury to review for Youthwork Magazine. It's a really good book, so I'm reposting a slightly longer review here (free from the benevolent dictatorship of word counts) as well as some extended quotes from the book.

There's been a lot of research into what teenagers think about god in the last decade. But Christians don't believe in "god", they believe in the triune God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. So youth minister and academic Jen Bradbury's "The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus" is a very exciting (to this reviewer at least) proposition.

Based primarily out of Bradbury's masters research the question she wants answered is; what do American church-going teenagers think about Jesus? Sadly, the research shows they don't know much about him, and what they do is often confused. Bradbury shows again and again how teenagers aren't grasping who Christ is. The book isn't dry academic research typed up though. Each chapter has thoughts on why a particular false view of Jesus affects our young people, and what we as youth workers and church members can do to help our young people know him better.

This is a really good book. If you have an interest in teaching your young people clearly about the God we know in Jesus Christ (and as you're reading Youthwork Magazine, you surely do) then you want to pick up a copy.

Here's a ridiculously long quote to show you how good the book is

As youth workers, our job is not to create a thriving youth ministry that will ensure the continuation of our congregations; it's to create followers of Jesus. If the majority of our youth don't believe or don't know Jesus is God, then we're failing at our primary calling as youth workers.

The good news is we don't have to continue failing. Instead, there are practical ways through which we can help young people understand the difficult reality that Jesus is both simultaneously God and human.

To begin, don't just talk about God. Instead, talk specifically about Jesus. Now, before you say, "I already do!" consider this. During my visits to various congregations, I asked youth workers: How frequently do you talk about Jesus and not just God in your youth ministry?
Inevitably, youth workers would enthusiastically respond, "All the time." Then I'd attend their youth ministry program. When I did, do you know what I heard? Generic God-talk, not Jesus-talk. Often this phenomenon wasn't limited to just youth ministry gatherings; it was also prevalent in the larger communities of faith.

At one congregation I visited, I attended the church's Sunday morning worship service. During the service, the senior pastor preached on John 6:25-59, the passage in which Jesus declares himself to be the Bread of Life. While I lost track of how many times this pastor referred to God in his sermon, I can tell you exactly how many times he said the name of Jesus--aside from reading the word Jesus in the passage itself: none. Instead of talking about Jesus, this pastor took a Gospel story that was unequivocally about Jesus and made it about God.
Regrettably, I can't tell you exactly why this was. What I can tell you is that after observing this phenomenon in multiple congregations, I finally asked a youth worker about
it. Michelle, one of the youth workers I interviewed, said, "Talking frankly about Jesus can make kids uncomfortable. It's perceived as preachy. So it becomes really easy to talk vaguely about God and faith."

As Michelle said, talking vaguely about God is easy. I'd even argue it's safer than talking about Jesus. God is ambiguous enough that people can interpret him as they please. One person's God may differ from that of the person sitting next to them. Not so with Jesus. Jesus is specific. He's an actual person who said and did certain things that not everyone likes or agrees with. When we talk about Jesus, we therefore run the risk of offending and excluding people. Knowing this, we sometimes retreat, willingly settling for God instead of Jesus. If that's the case for church workers, then how much scarier must it be for adolescents to talk specifically about Jesus?

No wonder their responses mirrored those of their youth workers. When I asked teenagers how frequently they talked about Jesus in their youth ministries, like their youth workers, they enthusiastically said, "All the time." However, when I observed them in their youth ministries, that's not what I heard. Often the teenagers would start off talking about Jesus, but before long, their language would shift from Jesus-talk to generic God-talk.

The truth is God-talk simply does not impact the Christian faith formation of young people in the same way that Jesus-talk does. According to Kenda Creasy Dean in Almost Christian, "Conversational Christianity requires Jesus-talk, not just God-talk ... Jesus is simply not an optional category for Christians." (P.42-44)

And here are a couple of shorter quotes that struck me:

Interestingly, the stronger an adolescent's Christology, the less frequently his responses fell into the self-help category. (P.113)

To this end, hold teens accountable to the commitments they make to Jesus, their faith community, and their community at large. When teens agree to be somewhere, don't let them off the hook if and when something better comes their way. When teens agree to do something, take away their safety nets and let them know you're counting on them to actually deliver. (And when, not if, they occasionally fail, practice grace.) Doing so combats narcissism. It takes the spotlight off teens' wants and desires and puts it back on the person whom their faith actually revolves around: Jesus. (P.139)

Do I have quibbles with the book? Yes, there were a couple of times I thought that her applications to youth ministry weren't the best approach. But they're such minor quibbles that I don't think it's even worth articulating them. It's a good book. Buy it.

Running a Bible Study With Young People

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

I wrote some stuff for my diocese (London [the best diocese]) on my top five tips for starting a bible study group with young people. It's one of my favourite short things I've written.

Like Forgetting How To Ride A Bike

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Watch as Destin Sandlin of Smarter Everyday tries to learn to how to ride a bike, with the handle bars reversed.

There are two learning points from this video.
First, doesn't riding that bike seem easy? Just turn the wrong way! Yet clearly it isn't remotely easy. We know how to do it but as Destin says, knowledge is not the same as understanding. We learnt how to ride a bike at a young age and spent years reinforcing that behaviour, and now to change that habit and let it sink down into our actions is really really hard. If this is true for riding a bike how much more is it true for the sinful patterns and thoughts we engage in. If we grow up thinking we're lord of our own life and then come to know that Jesus is lord, our actions will take time to catch up. We'll need to repeatedly be reminded again and again that Jesus is lord and train ourselves to live out that truth. It'll take a long time.

Second, check out the guys enthusiasm about stuff. You want to watch more of his videos and learn because he's so enthusiastic it makes you enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is contagious. So if you're teaching stuff you're not enthusiastic about, or listening to young people who you aren't enthusiastic about it, it's going to show through.

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The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it. - Psalm 24:1