I have been struck during this season of blogging about the Wesleys and Whitefield by a number of things, but one in particular is how young these amazing people were when they began their ministry.
We tend to see images of John Wesley with long grey hair, or of him depicted in what would seem to be “middle age”. John Wesley was born in 1703 and by the age of 26 he and Charles had formed their religious study group called the “Methodists”, or the Holy Club. By age 23 John Wesley was ordained as a Deacon in the Church of England and Ordained as a priest by age 28.
Whitefield was already a practised and effective field preacher in his mid-twenties, often in the face of great opposition and open hostility from both the church and those who were far from God.
It is all too easy for those of us with a few more years under our belts to dismiss as “youthful bluster” the words, actions and opinions of those of the “next generation”. Our response is often patronising – with knowing nods and years of insight behind us we may dismiss them inwardly (if not outwardly) with the thought that “they will learn in time”. We may even assure ourselves that, given enough time, they will settle down and shut up, and we can get back to an uninterrupted and undisturbed existence.
I recently attended the Methodist Church 2015 Annual Conference in Southport. I was particularly struck that the relatively small number of young representatives (by which I would mean under the age of 30) showed a great determination to contribute to and participate in the various debates. It would be wonderful if the Methodist Church were to really invest in them as young leaders – to teach and train them not only to contribute to the conference, but to shape the debates and help them to understand how they can best make a real difference.
We need to celebrate and nurture those who are young in age and young in the faith. To help them to grow closer to their saviour and in a deeper personal relationship with God. These are the people who have the energy and the drive to move our church and to reach those who do not yet know Christ.
Places like Netley are environments in which such relationship and faith can take shape and people can be challenged to expect and believe for more. This has certainly been our experience at Netley. Whether or not Netley continues to meet as it has done, it is crucially important that we continue to nurture and disciple the young ones amongst us – young in age and young in the faith.