Want a classic throwback to somebody saying something that later proved to be utterly wrong? Of course you do. And who doesn’t enjoy listening to Alan Hansen telling us ‘you can’t win anything with kids’ about the Manchester United team that went on to win the league.
It was in my mind because I’m writing this as I am watching Liverpool playing Arsenal in the EFL Cup. Flying high as we are in the Premier League with our first team squad, we are clearly treating the EFL Cup as our competitive training ground and fielded a team full of kids. Half our players are either benchwarmers or making their way back from injury. The other half are all teenagers. We will see if we can win anything with kids or not!
I was set to thinking about Hansen’s comment in respect to the church. Whilst ‘win’ is probably not the right terminology, can you build a work around kids in the church? If I was being a bit cheeky (and I’m obviously never that), I’d say my Anglican and Perbysterian friends would say, of course. It’s the way to build. If we want to view them as ‘kids’, those who set up churches specifically targeting students would say, ‘why not?’ Even those ‘family churches’ are kind of playing the long game and singing along with Whitney Houston.
But honestly, I don’t really mean that. Inevitably, if you’re in an area with students, you’re obviously going to try and reach them because that’s who is there. Likewise, if God has blessed you with families, you’re not going to ignore the children God has placed in your midst because they are there. Most of us rightly look around, ask who is there and think, ‘well, we better reach them then!’ And that’s all well and good.
But what about those spiritual kids? Those who are immature in the faith. Can you win anything with them? Can you build a work around people who have either been Christians five minutes or even those who have been Christians for years on end but, for whatever reason, simply haven’t matured very far?
Conventional wisdom would probably tell you not. Certainly, if you lead a church and you are looking to send people, these guys aren’t going to head up your list. You want to (or, should want to) send your best people not your worst. But let’s just say these are the people you have. Can you build anything with them or not? Of course you can!
The Early Church didn’t spring up from nowhere with a load of fully formed, mature believers. Most of Paul’s mission work involved going to virgin territory, reaching people with the gospel wherever they happened to be and then forming churches with those who converted. Once Paul was on his way, who do you think led those churches? There were no blokes who had been there 40-years with a wealth of pastoral experience. The most mature lads would have been those who had been a believer barely longer than the next guy.
What are we to say to those involved in church planting today? If you are genuinely reaching unconverted people – rather than just shuffling the same old pieces around the board – you will need to build your church around spiritual kids. Who else will you have? And if the Lord is bringing them in, and they are the ones who are there, what are you to say? You can’t very well say that the Lord got it wrong because there aren’t enough mature believers (as you judge it) to care for them.
A friend of mine set up an evangelistic ministry in an unreached part of his town. As he got about that work, the Lord began saving people. As they were being saved, he needed a church to which he could send them. Only, there wasn’t one. He called for some help, but no help came. In the end, he was told perhaps he ought to be the one to set up the church. And so he did.
My pal could have said ‘no, that’s not for me’. He could have said, ‘I’m not sure there’s enough of us mature believers around to do that’. But he didn’t. He simply got on with the job, knowing that the Lord was saving the people and using him to do it. And by God’s grace that church is pressing on, seeing people saved, with people being brought to maturity and even taken on as gospel workers.
If you can’t do anything with kids, then unless we have a fully formed, wholly mature mission team to send into an area to plant a work, most of our mission work is pointless. The only people you will see coming into the church are those who are new believers. If we aren’t prepared to build our ministry around young believers, there are some areas that will never see a plant in their community because there simply isn’t a mature team willing to go (which might lead us to ask whether we’re really as mature as we think we are). If we aren’t prepared to work with kids, our mission work will fall flat when – as people become believers – we have nowhere to send them and aren’t prepared to build a ministry with them.
As wrong as Alan Hansen was about the football, we are wrong to say it in the church. If we can’t build anything with kids, we won’t build anything at all.