Farmers in the West of Ireland meet regularly to learn from each other through ‘Farm Discussions’. These discussions birth ‘Farm Walks’ where farmers arrange to spend half a day or more on another farm where they can experience the new and the unpredictable; where they can smell, touch, see, hear and taste. They inhale good air, observe another farmer at work, enjoy chats about machines of all shapes and sizes and share stories of success and failure; all with a view to becoming better farmers. In short they are discipled in the art of the agricultural.
As I look at the ministry of Jesus I could imagine Him writing an endorsement for the concept of a ‘Farm Walk’. He was committed to the development and impact of His disciples through exposing them to methods and environments well beyond the predictability of the ‘classroom’ setting. Mountain walks, barbeques, boat trips, dining table discussions, drawing water from a well and visits to orchards, vineyards and gardens, were all possibilities for anchoring truth and aiding transformation.
In recent years I have dipped my toe into experiential learning opportunities in unlikely environments. These have included encounters on hillsides with shepherds, building and living in refugee shelters, rambling through orchards with a passionate farmer, exploring John 15 under the shade of a vine and enjoying the hospitality of both rich and poor. As I have explored the contribution of these growth opportunities I have seen the richness gained by the unpredictable, the space created for deep relationships, the potential for different learning styles to be accommodated, the emergence of unlikely teachers and the increased space for fun and freshness.
Looking towards the year 2030 I ask myself what might an everyday youth ministry programme need to look like if it is to be effective in making disciples? Part of the answer I believe is found in taking more ‘Farm Walks’; taking youth ministry ‘on the road’. Ministry anchored in Scripture, mission and soaked in intentionality. My 30 years of youth ministry experience would encourage leaders who will shape youth ministry in 2030 to embrace the approach of Jesus and the farmers in the West of Ireland. “Take young people on a whole new range of ‘Farm Walks’ breathing depth, freshness and life into disciple making youth ministry.”