The Teeside problem of Youth Ministry

Growing up in some would say, ‘middle-class’ Market Harborough – no one knows where it is, but i did grow up knowing that my Town was in a County (Leicestershire).

I moved to Hartlepool in 1996 to an area, known from the outside as Teeside or Cleveland in those days, and today on BBC Tees, for the umpteenth time they’re discussing the state of the identity of the area on the Map stretching from Hartlepool in the North, to Middlesbrough, Stockton in the south and Darlington in the west. Some of which used to be in County Durham, some in Yorkshire, then none in any of them as in 1997, 5 unitary authorities were set up for the big population areas. And for business purposes the name Tees Valley was used as a collective for all 5 unitary authorities. Yet Most people south of Hartlepool would say they were in Teeside. Most People in Hartlepool would say they were from Hartlepool, and possibly ‘county Durham’. And then theres the issue of the Airport, nearer to Darlington, than Middlesbrough, used to be known as Teeside Airport, now Durham/Tees Valley, but 20 miles from Durham. But not a single person would identify themselves as being part of a foisted on brand identity of Tees Valley.

So, at the moment they’d be no county names used when posting letters around here, but where people are from, and how they define themselves is important.

It got me thinking, does youth ministry have a similar problem? . Not unlike this region that i love, which has many claims to identity; tees valley, cleveland, teeside, county durham etc – #

You might be doing an open youth club in a church on a friday night, or a bible study with a group on a sunday morning, or mentoring work with young people in a school. Then some bright spark says ‘ you’re doing youth ministry’ – or ‘this looks like christian youthwork’ – or in Job descriptions for various posts the words ‘youth leader’, ‘youth worker’ and ‘ministry with young people’ can seem to overlap, or at least they seemed to a while ago. What is the identifier?


All the while you were happily doing a Bible study – which to you was just about helping a small group of young people to learn about the text of the Christian faith. Or you were mentoring young people to talk with them to help them to deal with anger, health or attendance issues in a school.

Not unlike the Teeside problem, we can fairly easily label the nature of the practice were doing – ie its a youth club, its a discussion group, its a music event, its a weekend residential, in the same way i know i live in Hartlepool, the town level fits, its obvious. But delve a little deeper – and what collective identifier might we use, who is able to make that claim, and why might it be important?

Some might say that Christian youth work has adopted more closely the values/principles/philosophy of educational/liberation that shaped youthwork since the 1940’s – of democracy, informal education, value of individual, empowerment. And use the resources/methods and thinking from the ‘youth work’ profession and adapt them to working in what might be termed the ‘christian faith’ sector.

Some might say that the Youth Ministry has developed with a range of literature, resources and industries, and often works with young people who belong or closely linked to the faith tradition, using themes from within the tradition such as evangelism, discipleship, mission to equip/educate young people within it. It generally has more of a local feel as each space, group, are different, yet at times is resourced by a huge range of standardised materials to be adapted.

People far cleverer than me will go on to tell you how and why and where some of the demarcations lie.

I might ask- does it matter? – well if you were to ask the people of ‘Teeside’ they would say that it does. Maybe there are causes to youth ministry’s identity problem, and the words ‘youth’ and ‘ministry’ are difficult to define anyway. Some people recently have said that they’re leaving ‘Youth Ministry’ – but thats like people from here saying that theyre driving south from Teeside. People know roughly what they might mean, and people use the term alot, but it might be hard to pin point what or where ‘Youth Ministry’ is, in the same way.

Because its ministry it often seeks to ‘serve’ the local church. Whereas ‘youth work’ should seek to serve young people and put them first. Neither are mutually exclusive.

On Saturday i was due to go to the Teeside Airshow. (its been cancelled). I was due to travel from Hartlepool, in Tees Valley, via Middlesbrough (in Teeside) over the County Durham border to the Tees Valley Airport to the Teeside Airshow. Confused, yes sometimes the identifiers of Christian youthwork & ministry could leave us feeling the same.






Every young person should be given access to a youthworker

Its an incredible thing, and outside of the way in which the system operates in Britain, but in Sweden, every family is given the name and contact details of a social worker, so that the family can contact them, without the stigma attached to ‘having a social worker’ that currently exists in other countries, often played out by the narratives of the media, though challenged by programmes like Tracy Beaker.

Its an interesting concept, one that puts the onus on the family to use the resource, but know that the resource is there, and can be contacted for a range of family concerns, relationship problems, but is primarily a dedicated person that the family can access.

What would happen if we translated this, to youthwork and to a British context.

On one hand we hear about the plight of young people, both hyperbolic in the media, researched in surveys, and anecdotal, and even more valid from youth & community workers in specific contexts.

Equally the resources of youthworkers is sporadic across the country, whether voluntary, christian or statutory sector, the spread is varied, to do with wealth, statistical social need, local council priority, size/ethos of church/christian community. Some young people could access two or three people who may be involved in schools, in centres or on the streets. Others none, and that’s not because they don’t or wouldn’t want or need them.

So, what if every young person – to the age of 18/21 was assigned a youthworker?

In a combination of the swedish social work system and the English parish church system. Split up the country into area of so many population/schools/ young people – and give every young person the social right to have a youthworker, assigned to them and for them. What would that look like? what would that be able to help young people with, locally, socially, personally and in their communities?

If young people could access a youthworker, in a confidential way, and that youthworker was able to collate stries locally – would this stop horror stories in the future aka Rotherham?

what other possibilities would there be for this?

The purists would probably say that this reduces youthwork to individual support, and yes that may be true, if managed incorrectly, but being a youthworker assigned to young people in an area wouldnt negate group work, detached work, schools based work for young people in groups. Just that they also had a jurasdiction for many more young people, and the young people knew it, than those they directly worked with.

No it wouldnt solve problems like employment – this requires jobs for young people to go to, but to give young people the opportunity to be in contact with an adult who had their best interests at heart and on their terms might be able to help young people through personal concerns or be that first point in conversation about bullying, abuse, family issues.

So, lets do the maths. There are 650 MP’s – thats 650 constituencies.

650 x £50,000 – for salary, building costs/rent, management etc of an ‘area constitutency’ youthworker = £32m. double it for two of them.

Thats less than 50p per population member in the UK. And i dread to think what its costed to pay for a slightly expensive train line between London and Birmingham.

or Trident. Or the refurb of the houses of parliament.

I dont think its a radical suggestion. Id say it was a social imperative.


10 things detached youthwork is very good at

In response to the 10 misconceptions about detached youthwork of a few weeks ago, here are 10 things that detached youthwork is very good at:

  1. It build relationships with young people that have the added bonus that both parties can walk away.
  2. Because the youthworkers go into the space that the young people are in, detached workers dont have to worry about equipment or buildings, and just focus on the actions, conversations and body language of the young people
  3. Detached youthwork gets youthworkers out of buildings, and seeing something of the real lives of young people, how they interact with peers, in their chosen space, maybe with their families nearby, its sees them in their chosen context, not just spaces that are socially orientated by systems, adults and structures.
  4. Detached youthworkers will nearly always become in contact with young people whom have gripes with other services aimed at young people, such as schools, job centres, social workers, or even other youthworkers – and give young people opportunity to negotiate building a more effective relationship with someone who meets them on their terms.
  5. Detached youthwork gives adults an opportunity to dispel fears about young people.
  6. A Detached youthworker might not be able to meet every need of every young person they meet, but its often because of the nature of the voluntary relationship that a young person may have the first conversation about it.
  7. Detached youthwork allows for the adult to be a learner in the space with young people, to share space with young people in the outside, to be involved in the activities of young people whether swings, football or skateboarding.
  8. Detached youthwork provides the opportunity for great conversations with young people – even on the first time of meeting a young person.
  9. Detached youthwork starts the process of enabling young people to see adults differently in the same way that it gives adults & youthworkers the chance to see young people differently
  10. Detached youthwork is possible in a range of contexts, city centre, town, community estate and parks.
  11. A detached youthwork session can be successful seeing lots of young people and having many conversations or one group of young people and spending an hour with them, all of these moments are about building conversation, continuity and rapport with young people.

Oh yes theres, 11. Detached youthwork goes beyond the boundaries, sometimes of time, of number and mixes in the margins where other people often fear to tread. Its where Friere would say that it starts with young people and asks them to cooperate in personal, social or community reflection & action, rather than invade their culture to take away their power.

Theres probably a few more….


The Government is right, young people just don’t need youthworkers anymore

Apart from ones that are in contact with youthworkers, know one or have been helped by one – most young people get on fine in life without one.

For one thing now, most young people have the internet. And thats where they can message people like Childline if they need to contact someone, or the Samaritans. They can contact services for mental health, eating disorders and depression, housing, budgetting and careeers, all on the internet.

Also, young people are doing so well at school, all of them are. Look at this weeks results, or last years. Or university intake levels. That just down to the teachers (if you believe the news). There would never have been any youthworkers in that school, or community over the last few years, oh no.

Young people statistically are drinking less, because they have to do better at school, because there is more pressure to go to university, because of lack of jobs and austerity. So good old austerity it means less young people are drinking alcohol, or getting caught drinking alcohol. And good old austerity too this means young people are consequently doing better at school.

If young people are doing so well at school, and have access to all the help in the world, via the click of a button, then theres no need to pay for a luxury that is a youthworker in a local community.

Because less young people are drinking, thus no young people are drinking? or because grades and university entrants are increasing (despite the reduction in grants- especially for the less well off) – then is every young person going to university, and coping well in school?

Young people dont need a youthworker, because as long as they have the confidence to contact a stranger in a call centre acting on behalf of a national charity, theyll be ok, for everything else just speak to a teacher or a parent.

Its lucky actually that young people can rely on their teachers and parents, and no one else. They cant need mental health services either, otherwise the government would be keeping the funding for them too. They cant need houses or services beyond the care age of 16, or housing benefit, or education maintenance allowance, or a decent minimum wage, otherwise the government would make sure that they could get them if they needed to. Young people in Rotherham had youthworkers, youthworkers who listened, but because the system didnt validate the voice of the youthworkers nothing was done. But no, young people dont need youthworkers, they cant do. they have so many people who are already acting for them, just for the interests of them who are wholly trustworthy, wholly reliable, and wholly going to listen to them.  You can tell that because young people cant accept that thats what a youthworker would actually do, without needing something in return.

Its funny that when the local government pulled the youthworkers in areas, the government have pulled services for young people, and thus ergo, young people dont even have the people who might listen and fight for them anymore. Or give them advice to cope within the cuts they have to deal with, but no, neither these, nor any young people need youthworkers anymore.

Young people dont drink anymore- not just because of austerity, but because of law enforcement and bye laws restricting it,  because of better education. And because its expensive compared to legal highs, who might be aware of this? However, the young people who are still drinking, they’re drinking more. It’ll only be the people young people will trust, usually people who’ll listen and not judge (often youth workers) who young people will be in contact with who theyll tell why they drink. Young people from the wealthier areas of Durham are struggling with mental health issues, and who are part of the diagnosis and the solution?

Its ok, because the load will fall on teachers. Who arent under pressure. Who are regularly told by the education secretary that they are to focus on the vulnerable young people, on providing pastoral support, on meeting young peoples needs. On trying a variety of methods to keep challenging young people in the school.

Its not looking that good for the young person, but hey, they never had it so good, not as good as us? Maybe not in the little things, like technology, but the system they’re growing up in is not in their favour. Its still in ours, in our parents. Especially when it comes to political decisions, pensions, taxes, house prices, jobs, benefits.

Maybe its better that the government doesnt fund youthwork anyway – its been argued many times that its seems a contradistinction that a service that might enable critical action of the government by local young people might actually be paid by them. Probably best to leave such a whistleblowing, annoying little voice in the corner to shut up. Disperse the profession into voluntary groups and agencies, into churches, charities and companies. That’ll dissolve their power. And keep them so busy trying to maintain sustainablilty from funding that they cant really take on anything other that what funders suggest that Government tell them to – such as employability, sports & fitness or lifeskills.  No collaborative voice, barely a union, no funding.

But no, the government must be right, young people just dont need youthworkers anymore. 11 years ago when i started in youthwork i found it difficult, especially in some circles to see young people as oppressed, Now there is no doubt that they are being disproportionately penalised & unsupported. Maybe its just the government that have no need for youthworkers anymore, and paradoxically young people have even more need than they have ever done.


10 Misconceptions about detached youthwork

Just for fun on a friday,  heres a few that come up on a regular basis:

  1. That we physically remove young people from the streets
  2. That we’re like the Street Pastors
  3. That we get sworn at by young people (its far less than teachers do)
  4. That its busier in the summer
  5. That we’re mavericks – only sometimes
  6. That we only see homeless young people
  7. That we have to tell young people about an activity going on somewhere else
  8. That its necessarily any more difficult than club work
  9. That the relationships we build with young people arent as real
  10. That its a only something to get experience in but not do for a long time.

Theres probably a few more out there, i some of these often,

Please add your own…..

Electing a new leader – is Jeremy the answer?

Before I continue, a caveat – I know very little apart from what ive read about the inner workings of the labour party, and – similarly I know as little about the inner workings of the church. However; id like to venture into the muddy waters by offering this thought;

Is electing Jeremy Corbyn to be the saviour of the Labour Party, akin at the moment to trying to get, for example, your most favoured theologian/philosopher/vicar/Bishop to save the Church of England? or your local church.

At the moment my local church is in the process of trying to find a new minister, and though its not been an easy time for the church in this process, its a repeated conundrum across the country, in that often different groups/ideals of people seem to befall age-groups , and the age groups have to compromise. Yet the person who is elected has the expectation of making huge change, of growing the church, of saving communities etc. As ive thought about this on a local level, realising that its often the largest demographic group in the church that is often the most conservative when it comes to changing the systems and methods of the church. Because the recent past of the church is oft forgotten, but the distant one (where 100’s of people came to church on a sunday post war) remains a memory.

Is Jeremy not only the unlikely saviour of the Labour Party, but with the cronies of the recent past, and memories of the distant past to haunt the party, is he able to be the Saviour at all?  Is the political system and political population of post academic politicians able to stand behind almost the purist, philosophy of hope.

The danger of trying to appoint the superhero to any position of leadership is rife across the board anyway, whether its in the church, sports or politics – so maybe this is an easy comparison to make. Alot of hope is placed on those who maybe cant enact change from within a group or community to effect change for those on the outside.

Detached Youthwork – the last remaining outpost for pure youthwork

Today i paid a visit to a detached youthwork project in County Durham (Consett detached project) to meet their team, discover their history, and find out the things that energise and frustrate them. One of their staff had been doing detached work in the community for over 20 years, in fact had done detached work for the parents of some of the young people currently out on the streets, it was a fascinating insight into long term detached work, long term investment in an area, in groups of young people, in young people individually and yet despite all the work that they had done, trying to make this level of quality work, fit the criteria expected of funders was a desperate and heartbreaking challenge. It reminded me of the recent issues surrounding Kids Company, not the issues, but the lack of funding for good work.

Despite this, it was the same volunteer that said in passing, that what he was doing was the ‘pure youthwork’ – this was said to me by a council youthworker in Perth ages ago, and that was to me working for a voluntary/christian detached project. The commendation and labelling of detached as ‘pure youthwork’ still rings true, and to those of us who ‘get detached’ and also ‘get youthwork, for its philosophy/values and education, we are maybe in a privaledged position, a dangerous challenging one ( to meet ‘scary’ groups of young people on the street) to be the first point of call, to work in the margins, to do irregular shifts, to work outside – all sometimes in the name of realising that these fleeting, but momentous, voluntary, educative and inspiring moments with young people can occur. Its pure youthwork, its maybe the only place left for it, on the streets.

Maybe detached was always this anyway, and now given the reduction in attention given to young people (because people are on phones all the time), and the stretched nature of specialist services for them, detached youthwork because of its relative cheapness, might bridge the philosophy gap in practice from the closure of the youth centres to the hoped for new youthwork of the future, detached keeps the youthwork dream alive.


Improvising incarnate communication in the public sphere

Do we see in Jesus someone who went beyond the confines of the establishment to create a new world order?
Do we see someone who taught from outside the establishment to those outside yet it was the establishment that a) didnt accept or b)not the intended explicit target.
Maybe we do, and that’s why as the church  it seems that our communication seems to start from within the establishment, be shrouded by it, and has limited resonance to those outside. Its the wrong way of doing and being communicative in mission.

So, maybe, I have a few issues with the communication techniques of churches, that are in the name of ministry, or communicating a message, but those whom insist on using whatever medium (posters on train stations, church notice boards, or even billboards) to use an image to go with a verse from the biblical text are to be pretty irrelevant.  Despite the almost abhorent use of the text, out of context, (both narrative, literary and historical) but also that the poster using the bible text is a known text from within a faith community, being communicated with no reference point or guide to the public, who in theatrical space terms, are outside the fourth wall, outside of the text being familiar, readable or congruent, making the faith community of the text seem clique and aloof. And its not what Jesus did.  Theres no improvisation in using a bible verse like this to an unbelieving public, that hasnt engaged with the story of the faith community for many generations. The metaphors of sin, world, flesh, body, dont make sense. let alone descriptions of God.

In Jesus communication to the public he didnt often assume the knowledge of the historical traditional faith,  least not to the religious leaders. If he was on the tube hed talk about the journey, maps or groups, in a field talk about the farm.
Recently during detached one of the young people asked about wanting a candle to use so she could pray, like what used to happen, now im not against young people praying, but as I said to her, why did she need a candle? If the candle helped her be reminded about God, what else could there be, that we werent carrying in the detached bag?
What could we or you improvise with in that space, in a park in a housing estate to help young people see an image of God?
When the people asked for a sign, what did Jesus say to them? When they asked to see God what did he say?
What might God be like for young people? Who might he be like?
Maybe we cant be everywhere, but does Jesus need the advertising that requires christians to have to apologise on behalf of the church, church ‘ministries’.
To go beyond the wall in our communication might be to leave behind the literal text, and re-enact a new improvised performance of the story. And like philip be ready to guide (if the text is accessed) or give young people the opportunity to encounter and join in the performance. Is it better to encourage rightful performance, rather than judgement by words? When i was about 10 i borrowed from a friend the publicised scripts of Monty Python, which as they were taken from the Theatrical TV performance, yes were funny- because of the language gags, scripted actions, and atmosphere created by the literal script. But at that time, i could only picture some of the acting, as though the show had been on TV repeated, i could not equate what i was reading to the actual performance, and there wasnt enough context given in the script for me to do so.
I contrast this with the Novels that accompanied the Red Dwarf series. By the time i had read these, i had watched all 6 series of the programme, and though the novels did contain some of the dialogue, word for word, they are set within the context of the novel, whereby each character is described and detailed, where time and space is captured, and thus the humour, and essence of the story is easier to follow.
However, on neither account, would it be possible to take snippets from a Monty Python script, or a Red Dwarf script, put them on a poster, and see how many people take up an annual subscription to the red dwarf fan club. Especially if the line does involve kippers, breakfasts and smeg for brains. It just wont happen. So if it doesnt work for funny shows, or stories, or probably even shakespeare, – why might it work with the Bible?
The word of God was incarnate, he dwelled, pitched his tent and was amongst us, not just the words of God, it was as Vanhoozer would say (2014) Jesus, the whole communicative agency of God indwelt. He was present, like we are to be, not just a word out of context, a phrase on a bumper sticker or fridge magnet. To be present, means that we can improvise the text, not replicate it, we can act for the good in that context, listening to the other in the space, being with and encouraging exploration. God is present in incarnate communication, its where he is alive.
To be wise, acting and communicating appropriately with the matter in hand. (Vanhoozer 2002) Wisdom in using words in the right way at the right time with the right people in the right space.

County Wide Ecumenicalism in Youth work

Given the assertion by Martin Saunders in this piece regarding the collapse of Kids Company, and the need for the church to occupy the spaces. (you can read it here)

And the oft said, and reasoned argument that working with young people does not necessarily mean that they come to a church, but at the same time resources in the local church seem to be very stretched, especially in rural areas.

This pioneers the way to think about financing the gap in working with young people from an ecumenical perspective, and i wonder – are there examples in the UK of the following?

a) a county wide partnership between 3 or more denominations which all actively fund, manage and resource youthwork?

b) Areas that have a collaborative intention for area workers ( ie DYO/ Methodist/ Baptist youth specialist etc)

c) A deliberate pooling of regional / interdenominational resource to enable town specific community youthwork to happen in the UK?

im not just talking about 4-5 churches in one town forming a partnership for a local worker, or a centre like a YFC/SU type centre, but where its a national/regional denominational resource thats in partnership across a county to fund/resource quality community/youthwork?

Where local churches are funding local centres this might only last a short while – unless workers are expected to generate their own funds/work voluntarily or seek grant funding. So if a solution is in unity/partnership/ecumenicalism, cant this start with regional youthwork focus?

What walls would need to be thinned to enable this to happen, for the sake of young people in communities, for community flourishing for faith to be explored in more areas?

Maybe its not pioneering for local projects to start, be developed so small that they start with church money, then need grant money- then both run out – but would it be pioneering for wall breaking, shared ecumenical resources to be put into and maintained for a region, so that good youthwork, emerging community, and faith is embedded across areas, and across denominations.

However, in my limited knowledge, or ignornace of this already happening, Please send me some good examples below.. thank you

would better ecumenical thinking and collegiate resourcing enable better youthwork on the ground?


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