Trusting the upside-down

Trusting the upside-down

Can a young person be a disciple before they ‘believe’?, wonder mission partners Anna and Chris Hembury

Photo: Unconditional belonging: Anna Hembury pictured with young leaders on a weekend away in Derbyshire

Which comes first: believing, behaving or belonging? It’s a much-discussed question. Mission partners Anna and Chris Hembury’s experience shows you can start being a disciple of Jesus before you ‘believe’.

“No quick fixes” – Chris and Anna Hembury, long-time mission partners in Hull

At the summer camp we help to run (, there is a wholehearted commitment to seeing young people as assets and creating leadership opportunities. Their gifts and abilities and their own journeying with God should find a shaping role in taking camp way beyond where God has tasked us older ones to go with it. Amen to that.

But giving our young people, many of whom have no church or faith background, leadership responsibilities at a camp whose first stated aim is telling Jesus’ story is a big ask.

Do we only allow those who can commit to an institutional church and profess a statement of faith, when their only relatable experience of Jesus and of Christ-centred community is actually camp and our breakfast club?

Unconditional belonging

It’s that old chicken-and-egg situation: which comes first, believing, behaving or belonging?

We have found that unconditional belonging to our faith communities, in what we do in Hull and in a field at camp, is the starting point for non-churched people in their journey into their own relationship with Jesus.

So we are quick to say yes, come help out at camp, work as crew or as a tent partner. But we feel the burden of responsibility and no easy answers or quick fixes to the question of how we disciple them. Where might they learn how to trust and follow Jesus themselves?

Some years ago we started a young leaders’ weekend away: an opportunity for fun, reunion, getting our heads around camp, as well as unpressured but honest time to mull over/wrestle with/find words for some of the faith stuff.

Most of the young leaders have come up through camp, so this is one more step on an adventure with God they are learning to lean into. But this year we felt it right to bring a young person who wants to come and help on crew, who is socially very anxious as a result of bullying and who has never been to camp before.

Here’s what they said:

Before I went my anxiety was at a 10. I thought I’d be happier just staying in my room at home. But everyone just makes you feel welcome, they don’t judge. In school, I used to look at people and copy off them because I was scared of sticking out. There it was really different, I didn’t have to change myself to fit in.

Everyone just accepted me for who I was, how I acted.

Evidence of experience

Discipling young people before they have come to faith does sound like putting the cart before the horse, but we are trusting the upside down and wrong way round of our own experience.

Three people came back from the weekend asking for help with reading and understanding the Bible. And we are encouraged by the life stories of young people who have already come to faith this way, one of whom is now running the young leaders’ weekends and is a crew leader at camp.

Please pray for this new generation of young leaders, that they might find their feet on God’s good road and find their voice in sharing Jesus’ story. Pray too for wisdom for us as we work out how to do our part in their discipleship.

Anna and Chris Hembury share life with people on the margins in Hull and support them to connect with themselves, each other, the planet and God.

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