Reconciliation: equipping young people for our modern, conflicted world

Posted by Martin Kitara on June 10, 2024

Young people
Ruach City Church Youth Group

Inspired by his mother’s dedication to supporting young people, Shem Pinnock embraces his role as a youth leader. He reflects on fostering safe, inclusive spaces and navigating the passionate yet immediate nature of today’s youth. Emphasising unity over uniformity, he champions embracing diverse perspectives.

My mother was a youth leader at Bethel United Church in Birmingham, UK, and her influence shaped my entire childhood. Growing up, our home was a sanctuary where the door was always open. She was incredibly hospitable, creating a welcoming space for young people. They were constantly at our house, where she would cook and cater to them while we played games.

Every Wednesday, without fail, my mother would open the church for the youth club. We’d have anything from Bible study sessions to pillow fights, creating an environment where young people felt safe and seen. This nurturing space kept them occupied in positive, productive ways and helped them build lasting relationships. To this day, people in their 20s and 30s recount stories of how my mum would pick them up and drop them home. Many credit that environment with helping people keep their faith into adulthood, and in some cases, it led to marriages.

I find great joy in seeing young people discover themselves

Inspired by my mum, I’ve been a youth leader at Ruach City Church in Birmingham for around three years. Initially, working with young people wasn’t part of my plan, but it seems to come naturally to me. I find great joy in seeing young people discover themselves. One of the most rewarding experiences is watching a young person who was once insecure, unsure, and timid blossom into the individual they were always meant to be.

I believe it’s pivotal for youth leaders, not just in the church, but across various sectors, to identify and nurture a young person’s potential. I often reflect on my drama teacher, who saw something special in me and encouraged me to develop it. This insight has become a cornerstone of my approach to leadership and mentoring, striving to help young people realise and achieve their fullest potential.

Young people do not stand by in the face of injustice; they speak up

Today’s youth passionately express their beliefs in vibrant ways, which can sometimes seem intolerant. I recall reading about Gen Z being the most progressive yet the least tolerant. They drive progress and openness, but their impatience and intolerance can manifest in cancel culture where people are quickly written off.

We live in a microwave generation that craves instant results. Easy access to information fuels impatience and intolerance, especially when young people don’t see immediate change or when those in power lack accountability and transparency. They expect authenticity and will call out any inauthenticity, which can be challenging.

I often wonder, ‘How do we channel this passionate energy into something positive?’ Yet, I am encouraged because this generation does not stand by in the face of injustice; they speak up, and that is something to celebrate, not fear.

In our church youth group, the intolerance and division we often see arise from theological or ideological differences in how we interpret and apply scripture in our daily lives. There is dialogue and debate on the understanding of Scripture – perspectives vary on ethics, ideology and application. This means that people have different opinions, which can be polarizing.

Holding hands despite our differences

Reconciliation is for everyone, regardless of their background – that’s the essence of the gospel. We can walk together despite our disagreements and different viewpoints. Growing up in church, one scripture that always resonates with me is Amos 3:3: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” This verse isn’t about demanding uniformity but about finding unity. It’s about journeying together and navigating life with our differences. A key part of this journey is listening. When I listen to you, I don’t necessarily have to agree with you, but I gain understanding. Without understanding, it’s easy to dismiss others. Understanding allows us to see different perspectives and makes it easier to walk together, ‘holding hands’ despite our differences.

Friendships rekindled where there was once tension

Ruach City Church youth ministry piloted Difference for Youth Groups. I anticipated it would transform the young people, but I didn’t expect it to transform me as well. It reignited my passion for youth leadership, watching young people grow into their true selves.

During the Difference sessions, our youth started listening to each other, rethinking, reimagining, and exploring new ideas. It was fascinating to witness lively debates about reconciliation and forgiveness. These discussions were profound, questioning whether forgiveness is mandatory and what qualifies as genuine forgiveness. Seeing the changes in our youth’s language and approach to scripture was inspiring. The three habits of DifferenceBe Curious, Be Present, and Reimagine — came to life in our group. Being curious, which is listening to others’ stories and seeing the world through their eyes, though challenging, became natural and safe for our young people to explore.

Friendships were rekindled where there was once tension, and it was beautiful to see. As we progressed through the material, the young people became more comfortable with each other, embracing those who felt different from them and looking beyond their divides. This truly touched my heart.

So, what’s next for me? I’ve been collaborating with a charity called First Class Foundation in the West Midlands to mentor young people and involves working alongside Birmingham City Council. This mission is particularly close to my heart because of the dangers some youths face as they commute between home and school. I’m striving to make a tangible difference in these young lives. It’s a challenging journey, but one that is incredibly rewarding.

Shem Pinnock is a Youth Leader at Ruach City Birmingham and Mayoral Officer at the Greater London Authority.

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