Its the time of the year for the Summer festivals, some to take young people to, some camping, some creative, some evangelical, some like big fun church services, some a creative space of energy, art and politics.
All appearing after an academic year full of conferences, network weekends, gatherings and summits, most of which have been disseminated in 140 characters to on twitter or less to the wider public, some independent, some aligned to affiliations, some academic.
And then there are books, not alot, but a few that have been published this year, youthwork magazines, journals, and articles, as well as blogs, online articles and news.
But what are the biggest influences in your youthwork? – is it any of these at all? and can ‘general’ information disseminated to a wide, and thus anonymous audience be directly influential to you, in your particular space, with your particular young people?
Does the universal – ie conference, network, and resource – help to act as a benchmark, or model to copy and follow but does this cause us to relate the young people in their group who we work with to expectations we create for them based on others? (i wish we could be as creative as so and so, or as musical etc)
If the large corporate is setting the tone- creating the narrative and shaping the discussion around a national space for youthwork/youth ministry – then what might that cause the small, isolated group to feel if its not got access to or able to challenge this. Its as isolating as it might be ignorant. I guess at the summer festival this year, think about who isnt here, and what kind of voice is being represented in terms of youth ministry.
One of the challenges of youth work is that the local is often the driver, the motivation, it sets the scope of the project or work, employs the worker or trains the volunteers, and also has shaped the theology & ministry of the local church in which the youthwork occurs. This is all hugely influential. Its is not dissimilar to the ‘ecumenical projects’ which can be borne within /or counter to, the prevailing culture in which they sit – but are influenced by it none the less.
In the same way does the conference for the youthwork act in a similar way to the large gathering/festival for the young person? does it have the potential to give the young person an amazing summer experience , almost holiday romance with Jesus, which causes the rest of their year, and the rest of your work with them to seem invalid, boring and like the longest break up until the next summer. I know, I grew up evangelical and did Spring Harvest and soul survivor..twice. So, is it influential? should it be so influential?
But what are the biggest influences on your youthwork and ministry?
And how influential are the large-scale, universal resources, publications, events and festivals – maybe not directly, but significantly indirectly too?
It would be really boring if these resources included sections on doing good youthwork method, or a ‘what is the theory of youth ministry’ session at soul survivor, or – how to do mission in contexts that your local church cant cope with like, ethnic minority young people, LGBTQ young people or sofa surfing young people, or dare i say it – the people who cant afford to go to the festival itself. Yet the problem with the diversity of contexts of youth ministry and i, and the influences of local theologies upon the context is that youth ministry is locally defined and thus there is no ‘one method’ or ‘theory’ for it – its just been morphologically translated into a variety of spaces – with some influence, maybe from a visionary person, some academia, some local research, maybe even the needs of the community. And because of its limited definition, everyone is able to shape it as they like – from putting evangelism/social action/discipleship back into youth ministry it has no argument against itself to defend it.
Should we have the space to critically interpret the influences on the life and ministry of the church, and the youthwork that sits within or in the margins of this influence, and at the same time make an active choice whether to accept, reject, choose or use the culture created by the national players in determining its culture – who have an influence on youthworkers, ministers, churches alike.
So, is the local – or the national that has the biggest influence on your youth ministry? – honestly- deep down?
And how does the culture of a ministry affect its local performance?
In the 1960’s and 1970’s there were lots more case study story books in youth work, from ‘working with unnattached’ (1967), to Jude Wilds tales of detached work in Toxteth, Liverpool. In those episodes, the local was celebrated and given the space to be celebrated as a process – in a way those case studies was something we had hoped to put into the ‘Here be Dragons’ book – but they didnt have the length or narrative feel, or give the fuller pictures that some of those more ancient texts did. In an age of wanting instant success, models that work, and something universal, the story from the local context, the small group, the pioneering worker, has been lost somewhat in the universal theory on one hand or how to resources on the other.
What does influence your youthwork, or your young people the most, within the practice of youthwork that you facilitate?
how might you go about channelling, challenging, reflecting, or navigating your way through those influences to enable young people to explore life, faith and hope, interdependently together in community?
And anyway, the correct answer is Jesus, or Jeffs & Smith, or The Shawshank Redemption.