I have a passion to see young people be part of the solution, not be seen as the problem." - Richard Langmead
When we announced the appointment of our new CEO, Richard Langmead, we arranged for the Editor of the brand new Premier Youth and Children's Work magazine, Jamie Cutteridge to speak to Richard about his new role. The resulting piece features in the new January issue of the magazine:
Jamie Cutteridge: Tell us about yourself. How did you end up at Urban Saints?
Richard Langmead: My parents were missionaries on an Operation Mobilisation ship in South America so I was on board when the Falklands War broke out. I have lots of amazing memories from growing up in the mission field – I learnt to swim in the Caribbean and to ride my bike on the back of the ship. I remember stealing ice cream and cake from the chefs! So the foundational ideas and feelings around Christianity have always been massively positive. It’s always been adventure; always discipleship; always challenging and hard. Then we moved to Herefordshire and went to a local church. We had an amazing youth leader called Andy who discipled and looked after us all the way through secondary school.
I made a commitment to Jesus when I was 7. Although I’d grown up with it, there was a real moment for me – it wasn’t a Sunday, I hadn’t been to church or been told to make a commitment – I just felt this inward desire as a little boy. I asked my mum as I was getting into bed: “What do you have to do to be a Christian?” I knelt by my bed, said a prayer, got into bed and fell asleep. Next day I had an amazing sense of joy and peace. The day after that: I felt completely normal – back to being a 7-year-old. So, no big shift after that and then as I went through youth work I made another commitment aged about 13, just to say it again really!
I was on course to become a royal marine but as my Christian faith grew, I felt that being a professional solider was not for me. I’ve always had that sense of adventure so I ended up doing outdoor education and travelling around the world. I was inspired by people like Jackie Pullinger and Iris Ministries and I ended up serving in Africa. I’ve got a huge heart for social justice and getting young people to think about what they can contribute to the world rather than asking ‘what can I consume?’ The Message’s Eden teams have been inspirational – living on a council estate, choosing to live differently.
While in Africa, I felt God say: “Serve in the UK”, which was a bit of a disappointment, because I wanted to be a missionary. However I was fortunate to begin working for a great UK church as outreach pastor, doing evangelism, social action and mission overseas. It was a privilege seeing the inspiration mission can have – there’s a whole bunch of young people now that are speaking and trying to live differently because of mission trips; not just teaching people but taking and showing people has been a big passion for me.
I’ve been director of Richmond Holidays for the last three years and it’s been tough, particularly because of the refugee crisis – one of our resorts was on an island where the refugees came in. We’ve met the basic needs of as many as we could and invested in them. We’ve had an outreach pastor and we saw people converted.
So all of this leads to the Urban Saints position which is my dream job. I can’t think of anything better to do than serve in this way. I have a passion to see young people be part of the solution, not be seen as the problem; to inspire this generation to do hard things, get out of their comfort zone, put away their mobile phone, ditch Facebook for a while, to actually engage seriously, to be disciples. We’re looking to make passionate followers of Jesus.
JC: So you’ll be getting your hands dirty with Urban Saints’ Rebuild projects then…
RL: The dream would be every young person that goes through does something like that – whether it’s Rebuild or another trip with somebody else or something else that we develop. Fusion have something called Escape and Pray which has been genius, absolute genius. That’s how you change lives: make it real, get people involved.
JC: You’ve not come from a huge youth work background so what was it that jumped out to you about the Urban Saints job?
RL: I should probably set the record straight on that bit… I’ve done 20 years of youth work, just not full-time. As outreach pastor I ended up leading and training about 30 young people for overseas mission – we started with about 20 and it grew so we knew it was attractive because we were going on mission. I used to work for Christian Youth Enterprises, Fellowship Afloat, Island Cruising Club… all of which were basically youth work – through sailing, adventure activities, travel. So it’s always been a big part of my story. It hasn’t been my full-time job but it has been a passion for ages. I think Jesus’ strategy to change a generation was to invest in young people; getting your twelve disciples, investing in that group and empowering them to change the world, that’s the method that worked. We need to do more of that.
JC: Do you think part of your role is an advocacy role to churches? Do you want to get the whole church engaged with discipleship?
RL: Absolutely. We have got to raise the level of conversation around discipleship and purposefully investing in the next generation. And if Urban Saints, Youthscape, Tearfund – whoever – can be involved in that growth, fantastic. I’ll encourage absolutely anybody and any organisation to do that. And if we can carry the flag as far and wide for discipleship and investing in young people, then that’s a massive win. The dream would be to partner with all sorts of people. I think there’s a battle to be lost if we don’t get stuck in, if we don’t encourage churches that don’t do youth work to get some youth work, or to partner, to raise up Urban Saints groups in unchurched areas is especially important too. It’s not just inspiring churches and what they're doing, but starting missional outreach communities in new locations.
We must raise the level of conversation among churches about the importance of youth work and that that is got to be discipleship; it cannot be glorified babysitting, where we simply entertain people and then they disappear off to whatever’s next when they’re 18 – that isn’t enough. We need to disciple them so that they have got the energy in themselves, they understand what the Holy Spirit is calling them to do, and we’re passing them on to their next stage of life. Otherwise we just lose them. I think discipleship’s the answer.
JC: The impression from the outside is that Urban Saints has been on a bit of a journey and Matt Summerfield’s role has changed and he’s left you with this five year vision – is that fair to say?
RL: There’s a ‘next chapter’ document, which is a basis for inspiration; it contains values, a broad direction and some key ideas that we want to commit to. I’m looking forward to wrestling with that and seeing what that actually looks like in terms of strategy. There is a great team at Urban Saints and I cant wait to be exploring, communicating and delivering delivering this vision over the next few years.
JC: Does it feel like that’s all of up for grabs in terms of what that’s going to look like?
RL: I think there’s room for interpretation. I’m looking forward to working with Matt and listening to what’s on his heart. He’ll have tried loads of things, he’ll have so much experience that I want to draw on. I’ve no intention of reinventing it all. I’d really rather learn and listen. I’ve spent a bit of time with Matt and we’re very much on the same page. We may go about things a bit differently, but we want the same goal: young people sharing the gospel and walking with the Lord. So, I think there is room for putting my stamp on it – Personally I’m very adventurous, I’m into downward mobility, I’m very much into discipleship so I think these will feature and some words may become more prominent perhaps, but we’re on the same page.
JC: What do you think those key hallmarks of the next few years of Urban Saints will be?
RL: I think we can learn a bit from the Scouts – the emphaisis on adventure has served them really well. This generation needs tangible adventure. Facebook is not satisfying – it’s a fast food experience – it’s not satisfying and young people know that. Also the idea of challenge, doing hard things, giving up something, sharing the gospel – whatever it is – some conversation around this being a generation that should do hard things, and to own that. I read a book called 'Do hard things' from two American teens and it’s just astonishing.
Thirdly, discipleship – we are in the business of mentoring, coaching, doing life together. I come from a background of youth work that really emphasises groups: once a week you go to a group, and every year you do an amazing camp, and then there’s material supporting that. Urban Saints creates a lot of material at the moment and long may that continue, but my heart would probably be emphasising relationships and groups. So, some key words would be: adventure, discipleship, challenge, groups, and relationship. When I think back to my youth work experience, I remember the leaders; I remember my friends; I remember the adventures. Those were the shaping bits.
JC: Would you say that engaging with children in the digital space is the biggest challenge facing youth and children’s ministry in 2017?
RL: I think it is a challenge but I don’t think it’s the biggest. I think we need to wrestle with it and understand it. We need to use it – it’s a tool: it can be used well, and it can be used poorly – and I think if we don’t engage with it we are in trouble. So it is certainly a challenge but I think the biggest challenge would be role modelling, leading and discipleship. We need to raise up a generation of leaders that want to invest in young people and pass on the baton. Matt talked about it 15 year s ago – it’s about capturing a generation that wants to get something and then pass that onto the next generation. If we can create and strengthen those links – of older people passing it onto younger people – like we see in the Bible; it’s what Jesus did; it’s what the disciples did… all the way down to us 2,000 years later. We need to be good disciple-makers – Typically the world disciples very well and we are not so good. Let’s get better at this and see a cultural revival.
There is the challenge of a very liberal, secular society. I think Christianity has lost its plausibility; people don’t instantly say: “that is worth thinking about". We need to create spaces where Christianity is plausible, to have those meaningful discussions and I think weekly groups could be those spaces. I don’t think the online world caters for that particularly well, so maybe there’s something to explore there. But I think we need to build Christian relationships between the generations. I believe we need leaders that are passionately living the Christian faith and then young people will be inspired. They’re looking for role models, they’re looking for leadership; and I think older generations should step up. Raising up many many more volunteer leaders and supporting them would be a huge win for Urban Saints. If five years from now we could have a bunch more of those, I think we’d have really made a difference.
For me it’s always down to relationship and example, that’s what the New Testament talks about – Jesus loved the people he was with and he modelled behaviour and discipled 12 young people. I’m all for a good exciting programme but I think to really make the difference in a young person’s life, a difference that lasts 40 years later, it will come back to those relationships and discipleship.
For our weekly youth meetings in Poole we set the bar pretty high – we said: “If you don’t come to 75 per cent of the group meetings – (by the way, we’re studying the Bible and what it means to be a Christian) – you don’t get to go on mission next summer.” A deal was a deal and they all stuck, in fact our groups grew, because they knew it was a serious meaningful thing. It was exciting because it was hard; because it was challenging.
(Richard takes up his new role on January 3rd.)
Thanks to Premier Youth and Children's Work magazine for allowing us to reproduce this feature on our website. We're really excited about this new publication - merging the existing Premier Youthwork and Premier Childrenswork magazines - and we highly encourage you check it out! It's packed full of ideas, inspiration, challenge and news and it's well worth taking out a subscription!