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01 January 2010

So what happens next?

So what happens next?

General Director Steve Clifford discovers that it's sometimes important to take a risk...

I was raised in a Christian family, but by the time I was a teenager there wasn't much faith in my life other than a belief that playing football was the greatest possible way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Then in the middle of my A-levels I ended up working at a Christian centre (Capernwray Hall) for the summer.

One evening I sat in the chapel listening to the ever-familiar Easter story. But that night, deep down, I just knew it was true. And because it was true it changed everything.

I prayed the prayer, and I knew that something was different. Over the years, through my involvement with Soul Survivor, I've seen hundreds, even thousands, of young people make that same response at the summer events, usually accompanied by the enormous cheers of their friends welcoming them into the family. It is great to be there to celebrate the moment with these new Christians. But what comes next?

This was the question asked at a recent gathering of leaders from across the evangelical community. And if we're being honest, what's next has often been: "See you next Sunday" or "We'll get you into a small group". And also: "By the way, don't forget to read the Bible. I know it's not easy but it's important. And do remember about giving, won't you?"

I know this is a stereotype, but there's truth in it. As I look back on my experiences as a new 17-year-old Christian, there are certain keys to my development for which I am grateful to God.

"They must have been mad. Or maybe they were just willing to take a risk"

Most importantly, someone took me seriously. Pastor Evans who led the independent Methodist church where I somehow (I'm still not sure how) ended up, gave me his time. I remember long hours sitting and talking in his study surrounded by books. Over those early years, there were a number of people who took me seriously, and through those conversations I came out wanting to love God more and serve Him better.

Taking a risk

In fact, I had decided I wanted to change the world, and by age 18 I was helping to run a Youth With a Mission coffee shop in Copenhagen's busy pedestrian centre. Within a few months I was leading the team. What were they thinking? They must have been mad. Or maybe they were just willing to take a risk.

I'm not sure that we are willing to take risks these days. Sure, there was someone there to pick up the pieces and they held me to account in such a way that it gave God space to do work in me. But that experience encouraged me to learn even more.

My calling was to church leadership, so off I went to study at London School of Theology. For others, their call might be to business, media, teaching, politics - any area of influence in which God is placing His people.

For every new Christian the "what next?" question comes as a challenge to all of us. I love the insight Luke gives on Jesus' discipleship programme (see Luke chapters 9 and 10). Jesus calls an unlikely gang of Galileans to follow Him - they're perhaps not the first team on the rabbinic selection list, but He saw something others didn't.

And a pattern emerges: first is observation, as they watch how He deals with the stuff of life, then there's explanation, as Jesus' teaching often came out of questions the disciples asked. There were keys they needed to find, there was a Kingdom they were called to announce and good news for them to proclaim.

Eventually, Jesus sets them loose - that's participation. He took the risk, knowing that watching and listening isn't enough. And the instructions were clear: "Whatever you see me do and have heard me say, it's your turn now. And by the way, you have my authority."

After a time the disciples return and tell the stories of what's happened. It is a time of reflection and, for some, a time of readjustment before being sent out again. Yes, Jesus took these young Galilean disciples seriously, took the risk, held them to account and whet their appetite to learn much more.

Playing a small part

I first met Linda Ward when she was 16 and had just become a Christian. She had attended a short training course I was running and eventually stayed on to complete a year of discipleship training. Returning to her home church, she became an effective schools worker and after a few more years joined a church plant where she became a member of the leadership team. Eventually the team leader who had planted the church moved on to other work, and it was agreed that Linda should be asked to become the church leader.

Three years ago, Ann and I moved to London and joined the church that Linda is now leading. I can't express how delighted I am to be part of her church and to know that I had a small part to play in seeing her develop into all God has called her to be.

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