“By the time I was 13 I’d been to church around 8,000 times” | Dave’s story
Feeling uninspired after months of lockdown? In September we began sharing some stories of CEM resources in action, collected pre-pandemic. As we tentatively continue to make plans for the weeks ahead, we hope these stories will spark some ideas for your evangelism this season. We chatted to Dave Cornes about his experience of youth work and using CEM’s SOUL resource.
Hi Dave, can you tell us about your story and how you became a Christian?
I was brought up in a loving Christian home on the Isle of Wight and went to church regularly - three times on a Sunday! I worked out that by the time I was 13 I’d been to church something like 8,000 times.
I saw myself a bit like the elder son in the lost son parable. I was a do-gooder, didn’t rebel and worked hard at school. I thought I was a Christian because I was a nice person, had been to church 8,000 times and had Christian parents.
When I was 13 I went on a summer camp and though they were teaching the same stuff, it felt different. I was given Sneaking Suspicion by John Dickson to read when I got home. It made it clear that being a Christian was a personal decision and not something you inherit. It just clicked - I realised I wasn’t a good person. I was a sinner who needed Jesus.
And now you’re a youth worker at St James Muswell Hill. How did you get into that?
I caught the bug for ministry when I was about 15 when I was asked to take on our school Christian Union along with another person. God grew the CU and ministry there, with 40 or 50 people coming each week, including lots of non-Christians.
After school I did an internship at my home church for two years. I also spent a year in South Africa with the mission organisation Crosslinks. I tried out all sorts of areas of ministry and really loved youth work.
I got the job at St James Muswell Hill six years ago. It’s a parish church with a focus on community outreach, contemporary sung worship and engaging Bible teaching and we get around 200 under 18s on a Sunday.
What has youth ministry looked like since the Covid pandemic hit?
Youth ministry at St James has been interesting over lockdown. We’ve seen about 80% of our young people transition to online Zoom groups. It’s been tough meeting virtually every week and draining for the young people who have been on Zoom most of the day with school.
We haven’t run any courses or events online, but we have tried to equip and encourage our young people to be bold disciple-makers for themselves. We’re looking forward to hopefully meeting back in person, at least in some form.
What do you love about your job as a youth worker in Muswell Hill?
I love working with people and seeing God at work in them.
Recently one sixth form girl told me that after hearing the talk at church the week before on Ezekiel 8 about God’s just judgment on the nations, she went home and wept. She said that she realised she hadn’t been serious about God before and knew that she needed to make a decision to follow Jesus.
It’s thrilling to see young people understand God’s judgment and run to Jesus for rescue.
It’s also great seeing them grow into adults who want to serve Jesus - many of them go on to take part in global mission on their gap years, or get really involved in their university Christian Unions.
What do you find most challenging about youth work?
You get the joyful and brilliant stories, but you also get discouragements. Seeing young people turn their back on their faith after years of being discipled is really hard.
You’ve been using SOUL at St James. How does it work?
We’ve run SOUL a couple of times. Once using the films and once with live talks.
We’ve adapted it slightly to our guys because we know the culture and context that they’re in. The material provides a helpful framework and springboard for this.
I like the fact SOUL goes straight to the Bible to look at who Jesus is, what he came to do and the cost of following him. It doesn’t shy away from talking about sin and judgment and helps us see the joy of grace and forgiveness.
The seven weeks also fit nicely into a half term.
Do you have any tips for anyone running SOUL in their own contexts?
We found live talks worked better for us than the films. So if you can do this and adapt the talks for your audience it’s really worthwhile.
We wanted the young people in our groups to be reaching other young people for Christ. So if you can equip them for evangelism before running SOUL, hopefully they will then be keen and able to invite their non-Christian friends along.