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.






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