New Generation UKToday’s interview is the second in the “Vocation” series. Meet Brad Hawkes, with New Generation, UK.

What is New Generation about and how did it start?

It’s an international network of young people looking to live out the message of Jesus in their schools, colleges and universities. Generally they set up peer-led groups that pray and do outreach regularly, and the organisation supports them with resources, ideas, prayer, school visits, training etc. It all started with a group of Christians at Oslo university in the mid-90s. They were sick of dividing university life and faith and being invisible “submarine Christians” as they put it, so they started to reach out to their friends both through evangelism, social action, friendships and good deeds. What was only ever intended to be a local thing took off and spread throughout Scandinavia and then to mainland Europe, and today we have groups in over 2000 schools in more than 20 countries, and at least 20000 young people in our database.

Brad Hawkes

Meet Brad. He likes beards.

The idea of vocational calling is sometimes thought of as something to work out once we get to the workplace, but you guys are integrating it into educational settings for young people – what’s the biggest challenge?

I’d say one of the biggest challenges is breaking the “sacred or secular” mindset and helping people to see every realm of life as spiritual. We encourage them to look for opportunities to share faith and live out the Christian message wherever they are, not just in church on Sunday or youth on Friday or Saturday night. Even though they’re less set in their ways and usually more easily influenced, we find a lot of young people have still been programmed to categorise and divide life up into Christian and non-Christian, so we’re constantly coming up against that mentality, even in school. So we’re really trying to help people to see things through a new paradigm and help reshape the way they think. The sad thing about the category-based approach to Christianity is that people don’t see their faith as relevant to subjects like maths, science or physical education, and they don’t see the connection between what they believe and everyday situations and problems in their schools like, say, self-harm, bullying or racial segregation. That causes them to withdraw and often we literally find Christian school groups hiding away in the basement or a classroom off in a corner of the school praying “holy huddle-style”, inaccessible and irrelevant. So we’re battling the concept that Christianity is only relevant to church-related activities and that the Bible only has something to say into certain situations, rather than a book that can empower and equip them for all of life and enable them to live missionally in any area of society. The great thing about doing what we do is that school is like a mini-version of society, with all it’s different groups of people from different backgrounds with their various styles, interests and skills, and their different futures. We find that when we get people engaging with what goes on in school, the natural extension of that will be to do the same later in society. We’re both maximising the opportunities that are there here and now in terms of introducing people to Jesus in school, but also preparing them to integrate their faith into everyday life after school when they graduate.

Do you think this generation compartmentalizes their life as much as previous generations might have, with home life, work life, school life, faith life etc.?

I definitely see a shift and that young people are starting to question a lot of the black/white, sacred/secular, Christian/non-Christian categorisation of the past. Lots of them are looking for a new way of living holistically and consistently, and I’m pretty sure things are changing. The challenge is that they’re still part of families, churches and denominations that think within the old paradigm, and often that either forces them to conform and become “churchified”, or it causes them to become disappointed and disillusioned, rejecting church altogether. We’re trying to encourage them to stick it out and plug in at church and in their homes, doing what they can to influence their parents, leaders and pastors from the bottom up, AND we’re encouraging them to still take the message outside of the church walls and pave a new way forward in their schools and colleges.

Do you see a better integration of faith and work for students who participate in New Generation groups, or is the challenge just as great?

Like I’ve said, we see the challenges all the time, and we’re still working with young people that have been programmed to some degree to think and, not least, act in a certain way. But I would like to think we’re starting to see some results and see people living differently. We’re about 10 years in now and a lot of our group leaders have graduated and gone on to engage in society in creative and fresh ways. We’ve got young people involved in politics, the arts, business, etc. and there’s some great stories reaching us about how they’re navigating working life as believers seeking to integrate faith into their everyday lives. Quite a few refer back to their time in school, college and uni and their involvement with NG as helpful in setting them up to live well after school, so we’re encouraged, but far from content.

New Generation is international – are things different outside of the UK in terms of integration and the concept of living a missional life?

The church in the UK is so broad, so there’s sections of it that are really setting an example, whilst there’s others that still haven’t caught on, so it’s hard to generalise – both here and in other countries. On the whole though, I’d say that our whole generation has the same longing to live authentic, relevant, faith-filled lives, come out of the ditches and merge the solely social and solely evangelistic gospels, finding a middle way that’s more holistic. I see that in most of the countries and cultures I travel to, but there’s definitely a lot of groups within British churches that are further down the track in general than many others. What I’ve found is that Western countries where the evangelical, charismatic wing of the church is more established, the backlash and reactions to its paradigms are also stronger and more developed, whilst many of the nations where the modern evangelical church hasn’t been established for as long, there isn’t the same level of frustration (yet), and because they haven’t seen as much of its weaknesses yet they haven’t started looking for an alternative either.

Final thoughts?

I’ve probably said enough already! =)

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