Last week Paul and I attended the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry Conference in Durham. The opening address was given by Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham who is a fellow trustee of the Child Theology Movement. He is the Bishop who advocates on behalf of children and young people. He shared from the life of Aidan, Cuthbert and Bede and drew his talk to a conclusion looking at the Apostle John, reminding us of the importance of our call:
John and his brother James leave the family fishing business to become followers of Jesus. I take it that the testimony of Polycrates, Irenaeus and Jerome is to be trusted and John remained alive to a very great age and died in the early days of Trajan; that is around 98-99AD. This makes him a very young man as one of Jesus’ first disciples. It would appear that at least he, possibly others amongst the Twelve, were what we would now call teenagers. Jesus called and trained young men as his disciples. John heard Jesus teach, saw Jesus’ miracles, experienced Jesus’ friendship and himself went out proclaiming the kingdom during the three years of Jesus public ministry as a very young man. So when the mission post Pentecost begins he is still a young man. Leadership of the early church did not lie with the older generation, at least not alone. Jesus it appears deliberately placed his work in the lives of those who were young. Perhaps this was with an awareness that at least a small number of them would live to a ripe old age so that the continuity of apostolic witness was guaranteed for a good long period. Yes, here I speculate a little as we do not have written anywhere with certainty the mind of Jesus on this. But I think it is speculation worth considering. Investment in the young for their own sakes, and for the longevity of a purpose makes sense. This after all was always the vision of Moses instruction to the Israelites about passing on the story to their children. It is the vision of Psalm 78 with its fourfold generational vision of transmission if the faith story. Our calling today is to both invest in young people for their present, and for the long term future. It is not the divide of ‘now and future’ but the connectivity and continuity of ‘now and future’.
John the Apostle potentially stands as an example for us about calling young people here and now with a long term vision in view.
You can download the full address here