Hundreds of Children tell Church of England What They Value in Leaders

A group of young people presented the findings of a listening exercise on the theme of leadership, involving 244 children and young people from across the Diocese of Leicester, to a Church of England Project Board, chaired by the Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow, today (23 November) at Brockington College. 

Over September and October, nine primary schools, one secondary school and nine church groups held facilitated listening groups where children and/or young people were asked to share their thoughts and ideas about what they valued in a leader, who inspires them, and who they would speak to about their faith.  

By far, the most popular quality chosen by the children and young people as important in a leader was ‘loving’. Other frequently chosen qualities included kindness, caring, courage, listening well, communicative, fair, fun, serving others and honest. 

When asked who they would talk to if they had a question about faith, 45% of primary age children said parents, the same number said their vicar or faith leader, and 42% said teachers. Among secondary age children, 60% said they would talk to a youth worker, nearly half (49%) said they would talk to their vicar or faith leader, and around a third (36%) said their parents. Nearly three quarters of this older age group said they would not talk to their teachers (73%) or their siblings (72%) about their faith. 

When asked who they wanted to be like in their daily life, the most frequent responses were mum (21%), dad (20%) and teachers (19%), with those individuals eing loving and kind often given as the reason why. Other themes to the reasons given for aspiring to be like others included accessibility or ‘being there’; relatability; and having spent a lot of time with them (or watching them, as with celebrities, influencers and sportspeople). 

The theme of the listening exercise was set by the Church of England’s 30k Project Board, chaired by Bishop Martyn, which aims to bring about change to raise up 30,000 new children and youth leaders by 2030.  

Bishop Martyn said,

It is incredibly important for the Church of England, at every level, to be continually listening to the voices of children and young people if we want our communities to be spaces where they feel they belong. In previous listening exercises, we have heard half of children and young people did not feel listened to at church, but that churches can help them to grow in their faith more by being safe spaces to ask questions and being more interactive.”

I am struck by how the qualities which the children and young people described as valuing in leaders revolve around character rather than skills, and the importance of being relational.

Matt Young, Youth Engagement & Intergenerational Communities Enabler for the Diocese of Leicester said,

We have so far completed three listening exercises with children and young people throughout the Diocese. Each time I have been amazed by the depth of thought and relevance of the responses we have received. Genuinely listening to and learning from children and young people has significantly shaped my thinking and practice this past year. As we continue to facilitate these listening exercises, we hope to hear from more and more young voices. 

In this latest listening exercise, what stood out to me was how children and young people value genuine relationships, rather than those with an agenda. It is a reminder that they want to be known, seen and heard for who they are now not who they might grow up to be. I think it would make a huge difference if across the Church of England, we were able to reflect on whether that approach is at the heart of our work with children and young people.

The Bishop’s Children’s Youth Council have set four questions for Bishop Martyn to respond to by video: 

  • How could the church include ‘character traits’ in the training and development of leaders who work with children and young people? 
  • How could the Church be more accessible and relatable to children and young people?  
  • How could the Church support parents and teachers more? 
  • How could the Church make more time and space for children and young people to build trusting relationships with adults?  

Written by: Florence Gildea

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