Youth work

The worst prepared youth work ever

I was at church last Sunday. As is normal after about 20 minutes, the children and young people left for their groups. About 5 minutes later, one of the young people came and tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Jon, we are all waiting for you.’ 

My heart sank with a rush of panic. I suddenly remembered, our youth worker was away and I was leading the group that morning.

Nothing prepared

When I got to the church basement room, I found about 15 young people waiting for me. Some I knew well, some I knew a little and some I had never met before.  The ones I knew gave me a bit of grief for being late. 

I had to confess it was worse than that.  I had forgotten I was leading and that I had nothing prepared. I was flustered and my mind was racing about what to do.

Filling time

To buy time, I fell back on some tried and tested icebreakers. I did a couple based on people’s age and what time they wake up. And then I asked everyone to imagine they had been stranded on a desert island and could only take one book of the Bible with them. 

Everyone had to select a book and then stand in a circle but in order of the place that book had within the Bible.  So, those who selected Genesis were at the top of the circle and it ran round so that those who chose Revelation standing next to them.

Everyone did this and it took a while to shuffle everyone into the right order. Some of the more ‘biblically confident’ took a lead in re-ordering others, but it was not too complicated as no one chose Obadiah or Habakkuk. But the list did include Genesis, Isaiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Matthew, Mark, John, Acts and Revelation.

Bold move

So far so good, but I had only used up 15 minutes and had at least 30 minutes more to fill.  The atmosphere was positive, so I thought it time for a bold move.

We handed Bibles out to everyone and I asked them to find the book they had chosen. We then asked them to look for a passage which particularly inspired them and gave them a task: to plan a 1 minute talk on this verse and deliver it to the group.

I thought I might have a fair bit of refusals or reluctance but actually everyone went with it.  We gave out post-it notes and pens and they had about 10 minutes to prepare their mini-sermon.


Then, once done, one by one, the young people stood up, read the verse they had chosen and delivered their talk.

Some spoke for less than a minute. Others more. Some were structured with clear points, others more a flow of consciousness. But they all took it seriously and all spoke earnestly. And not one young person ducked the challenge.

The results were genuinely inspiring. One girl, speaking on a verse in Proverbs said

‘There is so much great wisdom in here: why do we leave it shut in? All we have to do it open this book up and we can find it!’

My experience of the whole session was a great reminder of the following:

1. Hearing the voice of young people

Young people hear from their peers in a completely different way than they do from adults. Empowering their voice is one of the best things we can do.

It is easy to drift into an ‘entertainment rut’ where we turn young people into passive consumers. After all, too often this is the way adult church operates.  But if young people are to grow in faith then they need challenging: if we expect more, we will see more.

2. The Bible’s inexhaustible resources

The talks all drew on the Bible’s unique and inexhaustible resources. Its ancient genres of history, songs, wisdom and letters which all declare truth about God, human value, meaning, purpose, forgiveness, hope, love and redemption.

I was struck by the way each talk blended the text with their context: their subjective experiences viewed through the objective truth the Bible declares.  

This fusion is vital: lived experience is important but it does not define the limits of truth. There are fixed points, we are not just adrift in a sea of subjectivity. God exists. He created us all. He loves us. He cares about you. He wants to save you.

3. Less is more

Finally, it challenged me on how I prepare. Too often, anxiety leads me to over-prepare and over-fill sessions. I fear silences and awkward gaps. But the rush to fill space can block deeper discussions.

It was not not good that I forgot I was leading the session, but in hindsight, I am glad I did. My lack of preparation led to one of the best sessions I have ever been a part of.

11 thoughts on “The worst prepared youth work ever”

  1. Brilliant Jon! So good to hear how God used that time for the young people getting stuck in and having the opportunity to share their own wisdom and experiences!


  2. So the question is are you going to let them loose to do that again?

    I lead a group that is only 5 young people and I try to do questions a lot of the time and also tip things on there head so they can’t answer “God/Jesus/Church”. So we do get lots of discussion and often parents waiting at the door to collect them. But I am now tempted to get them to lead something totally themselves.


    1. Well – to be fair the Youth Worker has got young people to deliver talks to the whole church during youth services. My son Danny did his first ‘sermon’ via this route – see here:

      I think its really worth ‘pushing the envelope’ and giving them as much responsibility as possible. One of the best things about university I found is that students of 19/20 have to get on and run things themselves and its great to prepare people to lead. All the best Diane!


      1. Wow that is great. I’m going to chew over it at a later date when I’m not meant to be working!!!
        Also I think it is the “preparing people to lead” that we so need to be doing not just entertaining.
        Thanks again for a great post 🙂


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