“Youth ministry has to work on areas such as excellence in life, a correct stewardship of time and resources, and a constant dependence on God that generates confidence in economic entrepreneurship”, says Marcos Zapata.
If the 2008 financial crisis had already shaken the way in which work had been understood until then, the Covid-19 crisis has confirmed that this was not a one-off issue, but rather a process.
The pandemic has highlighted that the creation of new jobs, not in terms of numbers but in terms of the type of employment, is one of the major issues that need to be addressed.
But so is precariousness. As we head into the second summer of the pandemic, which is expected to be more relaxed than the first, the number of new recruits is also expected to grow.
However, if there is one thing that the coronavirus has shown to be urgent, it is youth unemployment.
In the midst of a crisis that has been going on for years, the administrations must not shelve the debate on the work model. And neither should the church.
According to the Spanish national coordinator of the Graduate Bible Groups (GBG), Jaume Llenas, one of the problems related to work has to do with identity, an aspects in which the church can contribute much.
“It is important to understand that job insecurity and unemployment, produce a rupture in the sense of identity. In our cultural context, when someone asks: 'Who are you?', we usually answer with the profession. This means that the unemployed and the retired are deeply affected in their identity”, he points out.
That is why “the church has to work hard on our sense of identity in Christ. We have a 'received' identity. And because it is received, and it depends on the Father's decision to adopt us in Christ, it is impossible for us to lose it”, explains Llenas.
“Working on an identity that does not depend on our achievements (which can be lost) is key to give Christians a firm and solid identity”, stresses the GBG coordinator.
For the president of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE), Marcos Zapata, that “change of mentality” has to do with assimilating that “work is an essential part of the kingdom of God”, and with teaching that “all believers are on mission in their workplace”, and therefore they work “as citizens of the kingdom of God”.
“Work has been seen as an obstacle to serve God. Ministry used to mean leaving the world of professional work. But today we integrate work and ministry as a single block”, underlines Zapata.
Both Llenas and Zapata agree that, in addition to the need to redefine work, there is also a need to strengthen the family identity as a “social fabric to face difficulties”.
“Strong families are the ones who give emotional and financial support to those who are suffering. We live in a society where a large proportion of marriages and common law partners break down. Single-parent families have grown exponentially. It is necessary for the church to build families that support others in all kinds of crises”, says Llenas.
In addition to discipleship, Zapata stresses that in the current situation, “it is necessary to provide integral protection for the family, both emotionally and economically. There cannot be families who cannot meet their basic needs in our faith communities. It is no longer a matter of a particular family, it is a matter of the whole congregation. This is also an issue we have to address”, emphasises the AEE president.
Llenas highlights concept of community of the Early Church as a useful example for church communities today. “In the same way that Christians in Jerusalem sold all they had and there were no poor among them, and Christians elsewhere collected an offering for the impoverished brethren in Jerusalem, the church is the greatest community of life that exists in the world”.
“The church must act as a community of the gospel. A church that is merely a room in which to listen to messages and participate in worship has nothing to give. But a community that is there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has enough to support its own and those who are close to them”, he points out.
Llenas encourages Christians to “get away from church models that do not create community. Let's make communities where everything we have is put at the service of a God who provides abundantly for those who need it, usually through ourselves”.
Zapata identifies four key elements to consider how the church can impact the workplace world: prayer, relationship, ministry and preaching.
“The church is a visible community of faith that manifests itself in deeds that help to take care of families and save lives. We have a vision for tomorrow and we have hands and hearts to serve and transform our reality today”.
Furthermore, he believes that “churches must change their mentality, generating new employment ideas, and encouraging self-employment, the creation of employment integration companies, and multidisciplinary training, so that we move from the old dream of being 'employees' for life, to being 'employable', that is, people who adapt to the current reality of a very changing labour market”.
According to Llenas, “our tendency to fragment into small, sometimes isolated communities, burdened with paying for premises and pastors, makes us much weaker than we really should be”.
“If we were like the New Testament churches, which met in separate houses but worked as one church, we could respond much more effectively to the challenges of adverse economic situations”, he adds.
One of the areas where the need to combine pastoral care and work is most evident is among young people. “The situation of youth unemployment is clearly unsustainable. It is a structural problem that prevents the best educated generation in history from taking their first steps in the work market”, says the GBG coordinator.
Furthermore, “there is a housing crisis of major proportions, and we have a generation that will not be able to start an autonomous and sustainable life project for many years”. But, “at the same time, it is also true that the best educated young people are in a better position to get a job”.
That is why “youth ministry has to work on areas such as excellence in life, a correct stewardship of time and resources, a constant dependence on God that generates confidence in economic entrepreneurship, the vision of work as a place of ministry, etc.”, he underlines.
Llenas also stresses that young people “need to develop a Kingdom mentality that allows them to see reality from God's perspective, and not only from the visible reality, and gives them resilience in times of greater difficulties”.
“It has always been difficult to live as a Christian in a hostile environment. This is not the first time that young Christians have had to face difficulties and the Lord has shown his faithfulness over the centuries”, he adds.
Zapata also asks the churches “not to do our pastoral work badly”. “For example, let's not do activities that cost money and exclude those in financial need. Let's apply biblical principles to the needs and challenges that young people are already encountering in their contexts”.
“Discipleship is an essential tool to lead youth to integrate God's mission into their places of study or work. They are also missionaries in their institutes, universities or jobs”, concludes the AEE president.