Around the late 1980's, youth work, working with young people, both those already attending church and those not, became the 'in-thing'. Many churches rushed to embrace this new movement, keen to bring God's Word in a 'relevant' way to the young people in their area.
How churches approached this varied greatly and I wonder if we will ever know, in our earthly times, how useful, helpful or successful any of it was. The sentiments and ideas behind it were I think for the most part godly and laudable, to bring the gospel into the lives of the under 18s using words, images, media etc that they could understand and interact with. To give them opportunities to ask questions, debate, criticise and create. To introduce many young people to the gospel for the very first time, and to help those already trying to live a godly life to do so in the multi-cultural, anti-religion, multi-faith, truthless society that they found themselves in.
Here at the Lighthouse, a small, determined and dedicated group of adults decided that they wanted to give to the young people of the church, and wanted the Devons Road area to be included in this initiative. They set up a youthclub in the 'blue hall' and invited both the church and local children along. Ages 7-11 came along, many (the majority maybe) were from the neighbourhood; they came to play pool, table tennis, team games etc, to hear a short presentation of the gospel of Christ, and to buy some sweets from the tuck-shop.
The work went well, with the club being well attended and some of the young people showing a real interest in hearing who Jesus is.
In 1992, the people leading the work went to the rest of the church to ask if they would consider the possibility of the church taking on a trainee youthworker. It was not something to be undertaken lightly, a student would cost the church: (1) financially (they would need to supply board and lodging as well as a weekly allowance); (2) in resources (helping out with whatever schemes/ideas that any youthworker may come up with – subject to church approval of course); (3) pastorally it would cost the minister time, as he would be expected to provide supervision, mentoring, support and augment/correct any theology that the student would encounter while studying for the Cambridge Diploma in Theology. It would also mean for the whole church that Erik would not be able to relinquish his part-time status and return to pastoring the church full time.
After careful prayer, thought and discussion it was agreed that the church would approach Oasis Trust, a London-based Christian organisation who were training youthworkers, to see if we could have a student. Not just any student though, but one in particular that they knew and had spoken to about it. Oasis were not too keen at first, as the application was later than usual for that year's intake, and the usual procedure was to apply for 'a' student then allow Oasis to match up churches and students themselves. God, as is His way, sorted it all out and the Lighthouse ended up with its very own trainee youthworker. He was older than most of the other students, a bit raw and idealistic, fresh faced and had only realised how much God loved him a few years before. Erik and the church though saw potential and patiently, gently and strongly supported him. Erik, I think, liked the fact that he was already a bit of an establishment rebel, and I like to think that at the end of my time at the LIghthouse – some 14 years later – I turned out all right!
In the 2 years of my course (July 1993 – June 1995), we started a youthgroup for an older age group (12–16 yrs) as well as a Bible study for the church young people of the same age. With considerable help from Scripture Union, we put on a summer playscheme for 7–11 yr olds over a 3 week period; that was a great success and was repeated over a few years afterwards too.
When the course ended the church decided to ask me to stay on as youthworker and the work continued and developed. Throughout all this time – 1993 onwards – none of the work could have been achieved if it wasn't for the committed support and hands-on help of the church. Every week, people prayed for the young people and the leaders, people volunteered their time and skills to staff the youthclubs, share their faith with the young people and befriend them. Everyone gave in order to pay for the clubs, the materials, to subsidise trips out etc, and many relationships with the parents of the kids were formed too.
– Mark Dobell