Last month’s Youth Work Magazine carried a letter I wrote in response to Nigel Pimlott and Sally Nash’s article on Spirituality, well-being, and young people. As this month’s magazine has just come out, I thought I’d put up the text of my letter here. A week or two after this letter was published a friend sent me a message saying that Nigel had read out the letter in a lecture he was doing, showing that sometimes criticism does get heard.
Dear Youthwork magazine,
There was a lot of good and helpful thing in Nigel Pimlott and Sally Nash’s article “Well-being” in the October edition of Youthwork, but I have to take issue with one of the things they said. “Youth work seeks to help young people answer some of the big worldview questions of life such as, ‘Who am I?’, ‘Where am I?’, ‘What is wrong?’ and ‘What is the solution? Such questions are ultimately spiritual in nature and youth workers seek to help young people explore and discover answers that work for them.” (Italics mine.) I have huge problems with that last phrase, but it needs to be said that those questions young people ask are good questions. Because all young people are trying to understand life and trying to form a narrative about it that makes sense those questions do form the basis of a lot of youth work. ‘Who am I?’, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ are questions that come up with young people all the time. And young people (and all people) will through various influences and decisions come up with their own answer. This is why the world is wrong they’ll say, this is how I change it, this is how I makes things better. This in a sense, becomes their gospel story. So for a lot of my young people, the reason the world is so screwed up is because of greedy men who have got rich of the back of people from disadvantaged backgrounds and so keep them down, and the solution is to get rich and save their family out of poverty and bring them into their home and give them financial security. For others the reason the world is so messed up is because of the Illuminati (seriously, conspiracy theories are big in Central London) and so salvation is to find out as much as you can about it to avoid their lies and so live out a life of safety. These are gospel stories, there is a fall, a salvation, and a heaven, and inevitably the saviour is themselves and their work.
And so we need to engage with these questions, because we know the truth. Man has sinned, but Christ has died to set people free and bring them to Him and give them a family and a heaven and a security from the world. So when the authors say we need to help young people work out the answers that work for them I despair. We have the answers to these questions and the answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is very good, and it is the hope of these young people. Their own answers-my own answers-will not give anything better than an illusion of salvation. Please, youth workers and minsters of the nation, can we be confident in this one thing? This is what young people desperately need to hear and what will give them satisfaction and hope and joy, and it is what glorifies God because it shows how great and loving and merciful He is because He will rescue us and deliver us.