Thinking about the context

Over the last few weeks and months i have had a few conversations with other youth workers, students and volunteers about the challenges faced in developing contextual detached youth work, or at least the idiosyncrasies that each context may bring. On one hand its fairly obvious that the young people inhabit different public spaces for a complexity of reasons; often social, territorial, activity related, for belonging, transition or escape. I wonder whether ‘the streets’ is the most open ended space for this, or where young people congregate for the largest variety of reasons, and on a global basis, ‘streetwork’ takes into account a battle for the young peoples survival, and basic human needs being met.  Yet when we consider delivering detached youth work on the streets we do so to encounter and understand the culture and community of the young people, starting with understanding why they choose to be there, as oppose to being somewhere else. When we do detached youth work in a more specified place, these options narrow down- at least by a little, for example, detached youth work in the confines of the school grounds at lunchtime, or detached work near or outside an existing youth venue. The school dictates the reasons why the young person is there, even if the young person does chose what they do in their precious lunchtime, and even then this space could be cluttered with sports clubs in a bid to keep young people ‘entertained’ . Similarly the youth venue could act as a focal point, and the young people using that space to detract/distract/unbalance the construct of the club, as opposed to being there purposefully.

However i wonder how much the context dictates the shape of the detached work being delivered, or whether setting intentions/agendas first has the most impact, and its probably a bit of both. Yet the whilst the context may shape the reasons for the young person inhabiting the space, and this will have an effect on our interaction ( especially if they are kicking a ball around, in a car, drinking alcohol, having ‘relationships’ in that space), we must also consider how the context in a wider level may impact upon this interaction.

The role of the worker, and the agency, is that of an outside resource person who helps to create a situation in which learning can take place, and who can pass on skills and help them to take effect in the life and work of those who are learning to use them. This kind of social education can take place in any circumstances, at any time….

In all the examples the common factor is the attempt to help individuals, groups and social institutions understand, accept or reject, use and affect, their social environment.”

(Goetschius 1969: 184-5, taken from

For example, will the way in which we interact with young people in a detached way be affected/shaped if it occurs on the streets, just outside an off license, in a rural, suburbian, town or city centre environment? what about in a community setting in a small town, or urban?  How might links in the community be a positive or challenge in these different settings, and do they have an impact on detached work there?  what of the role or influence of the church? or at least its perceived influence?  or in a place where it has realised it needs to change and adapt to being contextual and missional, rather than blindly or clinging onto the influential christendom status quo.

At least the Christian faith through the incarnation, is by definition a contextual faith process of kingdom, this is no doubt recognized by the growth of the church in the ‘rest’ rather than just the west. I guess as a Christian detached youth worker i wouldn’t want to throw the incarnational baby out with the ‘relational’ dishwater (and i am not saying anyone is) , given the flexibility and strength, and translatability that being incarnational helps us embody,  in the variety of contexts, schools, streets, urban, rural.

Jesus Christ both identifies with a particular culture, time and place and transcends it. Jesus was in the world but not, finally, of it. His life and work may thus be seen as a series of contextualisations of the Kingdom of God. Not only did he tell stories about the kingdom, but everything he did served to bring  the Kingdom of God into clearer situational focus: the kingdom of God is like this (Vanhoozer 2005)

Yet its worth considering the effect of the context on detached work, and what this might mean for the encounters we have with young people, the time and regularity, the vulnerability and power on our or their part, the effect of the changing landscape of ‘green spaces’ , urban sprawl, new developments, or even when a supermarket takes over a car park where young people used to ‘hang out’. Context and community are important for us to consider, as they are important for young people, just that they might label them differently.


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