25 April 2023

Youth and Children’s Leaders Conference: Called to be an Army of Shalom-makers

Hannah Potter

Dr Selina Stone speaking at Shalom to a room full of people sitting around tables
Dr Selina Stone

Hannah Potter reports on the 2023 Youth and Children’s Leaders Conference.

The inspiring, God-filled weekend reminded delegates that God is out there and working in communities, and that they need to have their eyes open to see it and join in. Guest speaker Dr Selina Stone used the story of the feeding of the 5,000 to reflect on God’s Kingdom: God is establishing family relationships, connections and deep love with us. We should therefore not require children, young people and their families to cross barriers or conform to rules before they are welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

Over the weekend, hearing about what was going on around the territory and having discussions with people was a blessing. It was amazing to see that God is on the move. He is working and hasn’t finished with our Army yet!

A photo of worship at Shalom, with someone singing and playing a keyboard, someone playing drums and someone singing and playing the guitar
Nik King, Dave Cotterill and Dan Elson lead worship

As everyone present delved deeper into the theme of Shalom, it became clear that shalom is not just a Hebrew word for peace, but wholeness of life and how life should be. Shalom belongs to God and begins when God disrupts our everyday. The weekend challenged us to be ready to be disrupted, both personally and as an Army, and be surprised by God – what he might do and what he is already doing.

Exploring shalom in the terms of injustice, Andrew Grinnell spoke about how injustice is driven by scarcity and shalom begins when justice comes back into the equation. On Sunday morning headphones from the silent disco were used to connect in a different way by listening to the experiences of migrants. It was said that the Old Testament is a story about migration, written by migrants for migrants, and yet we often read it from a powerful and privileged position.

Shalom justice is about right relationships between people and the planet. Children and young people face so much in the world today – a constant battle with social media, war, the climate crisis and more – and looking at the world can be incredibly saddening. But that changes when we begin to look to a new abundance of relationships, possibilities and hope. The conference encouraged children and youth leaders to point people towards this.

A photo of Andrew Grinnel speaking into a microphone at Shalom
Andrew Grinnell

Delegates then looked at shalom and Jesus, using the story of Jesus’ temptations in the desert. This powerful discussion drew on who we are as Christians, as children of God, and as leaders of children and youth in The Salvation Army. The part that was most poignant for me was choosing vulnerability, accepting that we are vulnerable and that shalom doesn’t start with us having it all together. Reflecting on Matthew 3:17 – ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ – reminded us how much God loves each one of us and how he takes us in our fragile state and makes something beautiful. Jesus resisted temptation because he knew who he was, and he resisted frustration because he knew what he was for; shalom is found when we know who we are and what we are for.

On Sunday, Territorial Youth and Children’s Secretary Major Helen Schofield challenged us that shalom love is the love of striving for justice. The Message paraphrase of Revelation 21:3–5 was referenced, which speaks about how God has ‘moved into the neighbourhood’. Helen reminded delegates that he is here today calling us to fight against the injustices that young people face.

Helen used William Booth’s ‘I’ll fight’ speech to challenge everyone further and delegates rewrote their own versions for this moment, looking into the spaces where young people exist and reflecting on how to share Jesus with them, meet them where they are physically and psychologically.

This was highlighted when Lee Ball spoke on the topic of trauma-informed care. It was emotionally striking to learn about how experiences of trauma shape the core beliefs people have about themselves and the world around them.

The weekend called children and youth leaders to action and to make a difference in the everyday, joining with God and his shalom. We are called to be an Army of shalom-makers, who listen to God’s voice and invite God to lead us to know what we should be embodying at the time of meeting people’s needs, not just sending them away. God has an abundance and can meet needs in a way that we never thought possible. We left the conference inspired to share his love, build his Kingdom and be Jesus in this broken and hurting society, inviting children and young people into the goodness and shalom of God.

Written by

A photo of Hannah Potter

Hannah Potter

Norwich Citadel

Discover more

The 2023 Youth and Children’s Leaders Conference.

Working alongside young people is central to the mission of The Salvation Army.

Grace Ball asks what we are doing to support young people.

Jo Taylor reminds us why connecting with children and young people is vital.