The organiser of the National Youth Ministry Weekend (NYMW) says many pastors are struggling with the impact of the abuse allegations against Soul Survivor founder Mike Pilavachi.
Over a thousand youth leaders are attending the event in Birmingham this weekend, with pastors being challenged to better understand issues affecting young people, including abuse in the church.
Following an investigation, the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) and the Diocese of St Albans concluded in September that Pilavachi had spiritually abused his victims for over 40 years. An independent review into safeguarding failures at Soul Survivor is set to be released in the Spring.
Martin Saunders from Youthscape is one of the organisers of the NYMW. He’s been speaking to Premier :
“We have about 800 youth leaders from right across the UK and some from across mainland Europe as well, coming together for three days of teaching, inspiration, worship, but actually, most importantly, just spending time together as a youth ministry community.
“For young people, there are all these issues with climate, with war, with the economy, so much uncertainty, and alongside that, you've got some awful stuff going on in the church at the moment that's making us feel really uncertain around abuse scandals.
“The majority of the people who are impacted by the Mike Pilavachi abuse story and by some of the other recent scandals, aren't young people. Most of the young people in our youth groups today weren't around at the last Soul Survivor event. In truth, this weekend, we're going to have to do an awful lot of pastoring of youth leaders, because they are the people who've either grown up at Soul survivor, and events like that themselves, or they've been taking, like I have, groups of young people to Soul Survivor for 20 years or so. So actually, the people who we are going to be trying to pastor through that situation, this weekend, are our youth pastors, and so we've actually got a special session that's going to look at youth ministry after Mike Pilavachi. We’re going to give people an opportunity to process some of their emotions, some of the sense of grief and trauma that we feel about that.
“We need to pastor the young people through this period where the church seems to be very much in the spotlight for abuse and safeguarding issues. I think we do that by being a consistent presence, by modelling better forms of leadership and safer forms of youth ministry. That’s what I think the youth ministry community is really focused on at the moment. I think that is a real focus, for it to try and do better trying to learn some of the lessons from what happened at Soul Survivor and rebuild confidence in the church to a certain extent as well.”
Martin Saunders says many young people also feel anxious about the fast changing pace of the world, especially with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI):
“If we're going to reassure young people we have to understand the world they are facing. So it's not enough to say we don't understand ChatGPT and AI. We need to understand the world of Snapchat and Tiktok, and all of the complexities of our culture. But also, I think we need to remember that the job of the youth worker really doesn't change, no matter what the culture outside is doing. It’s to be a consistent, listening presence, consistent in the lives of young people over the long term.
“Of course part of that is introducing them to Jesus who will absolutely transform their world. I want to reassure people this weekend, that although the world outside is changing fast, and it is very complicated, the job of the youth minister hasn't really changed. We just need to love young people."