Gift Encouraging Youthwork

Last week I had the undoubted please of having Lunch with Mike Mather, a Methodist Pastor from Indianapolis, USA. Beforehand I had read the article about the way in which his church community had shifted its focus, largely from focussing on community needs (and acting to serve) to recognising the gifts in the community (and seeking to encourage), in terms of approaches, shifting from needs focussed to Asset focussed. (thanks to Val Barron at Communities Durham for setting this up) – the article is linked above.

It got me thinking, as youd imagine it would, about whether predominant trends in youthwork & ministry have an encouraging gifts as a main focus?

As we discussed over lunch, we shared some theology about where gift encouragement is Biblically and theologically; from the feeding of the 5000, the sending of the 72 into welcoming hospitable houses, ‘you are’ (salt and light). Then thinking about the work of Friere, Boal, and Boff, as encouragers in community to use the resources already there- to liberate.

During the conversation i shared a story about a young girl we’d met on detached the evening before, and whilst it was a powerful experience in and of itself, Mike used the story to name the gifts that this girl naturally had.

It caused me to realise that at times I get caught up in the amazingness of the interaction itself, (ie; isnt it great that we’re in their space and they want to talk) and how i might make a intentional and conscious change to use the space of the interaction to identify positives about the natural gifts that the young people are displaying. Id be challenged if i could do this in real time, ie in the moment, but I imagine that’s what building good habits are about in the space of the streets.

And so, on a broader note, i reflect on the values on youthwork; such as empowerment, valuing individuals, democracy, informal education – and reflect that these can , just as ‘incarnation’ can be for Christian youth ministry, as definers of the approach, not necessarily what it we actually do with young people.

When we value young people- for example- yes that means treating them with respect, listening and empathising – but how might we value them by encouraging and facilitating their gifts and abilities in their families & communities?

The same could be said about empowerment- yes dissolve power in our actions, but for what purpose? to give young people a chance to get a pre determined job? or genuinely empower them in the natural gifts that they might have – person gifts, artistic ones, intellectual ones.

So often the powers of organisations, and university departments, churches and funders will determine that people, compared to themselves have deficits. and thus have needs have to be addressed. But might there be a better way to develop community, instead of focussing on need. It’ll take a mindshift change, but including myself, we have much to learn, about people and learn to build from what they already have. We have power to lose and share.



A night with Milton Jones, and reflection on interactive Theodrama

Last Friday night as a very late Birthday present (my birthday was in March) I went to see Milton Jones at Middlesbrough Town Hall on his Temple of daft tour. The first time I have been to see live comedy. The first time I have been so close to the front of a live show (fourth row) and in the middle,  the first time I have got to my seat with some trepidation, thinking that the likelihood of being picked on by the performer.

Fortunately I escaped, the people that returned from the interval late, weren’t so lucky.

However, what struck me, and the reflection I have of the evening takes me back to my thinking about Theatre, performance and the ongoing stage enlargement of the redemptive gospel.  But first I contrast this performance with a musical I saw only 8 weeks ago, at Edinburgh Playhouse. It was a performance of ‘The Bodyguard’ which I bought tickets for my wife Lynn, as part of her Birthday.

This isn’t the space to critique the show, its performance, style, music. But the role of the audience was minimal, and the role of the stewards, was to inhibit the involvement of the audience in the process of interrupting the live performance, maybe rightly so. Aside from the ‘sing along’ of a dance tune at the end- where incidently no men participated, sitting mostly uncomfortably as their partners danced to cover versions of Witney ( well what did i expect>!)  , the audience participation was as staged and controlled as the performance itself.

Thats not to say it wasnt real, a distinct performance, in the present tense. But the actions of the audience, especially after alcohol were somewhat more dramatic.

Fast forward to last friday. A night of live comedy, a night where the vastly talented Milton Jones’s script was interjected and interupted by the audience, and actively done so, even encouraged at times. It was a managed collaborative comedy night, where lack of laughter, pauses, and contributions were reacted to. A night where a script was changed to be made contextual (yes there were gags about Hartlepool & Newcastle), a night where reactions to the contextual were acted upon.

And yet the drama of being present was that at any moment there was a possibility that to stand out in the crowd would invoke a response, so, mobiles off, and blend in. But that doesn’t mean that the audience wasn’t involved, shaping the performance, adjusting the script and direction, and causing new actions and improvisation.

So, the question is, how is does the role of the audience affect the ongoing script of the church in its performance? are there times when ‘the show goes on regardless’ , like a tightly performed musical, or where audience involvement in local theatre production is actively sought and encouraged?

To dance the tune of improvised mission, and improvised church in community surely the scripts should act as openings for audience and community participation, and the community beyond the walls.  As Vanhoozer suggests; “The Missionary (as opposed to the crusading) task of the church- the discipling of the nations, playing Christ’s in ten thousand places- is essentially a matter of interactive Theatre” (italics mine). (Vanhoozer 2014: 183)

Let just hope that it can be comedic, creative and life giving.


7 Tools to develop youthwork from scratch

So, back to a list of practical top 10’s, this one if you’re thinking of developing a piece of work with young people from scratch. And i get this one a few times from Vicars or churches, and so especially if you’re a faith group or voluntary group. What are the jigsaw pieces in the creating process for starting youthwork from scratch?

  1. Spend a long time researching, not just the area, the culture, the gaps and the gifts of the young people – but find out their interests, their skills and how they want to develop the group, what they want to do, where, when and how they want it to occur.
  2. Think about the legal stuff like policies, safeguarding and risk- and get help from an established group nearby.
  3. Consider doing some training with the volunteers on conversations, reflection, and the legal stuff above
  4. Think about reflection, evaluation and recording the process of the work, the interactions between yourselves and young people, and how the work is progressing
  5. Give yourselves space to discuss the challenges, questions and values of the work you’re experiencing. Put in supervision for you all. Build a good team, model these relationships with the young people.
  6. Think about developing links to an affiliation to help in most of the above – such as FYT/streetspace.
  7. Do good networking with other agencies especially those you met in point 1, so that others can help, and have knowledge about what you’re doing.

This isn’t in the best of orders, and though it seems that working with young people is a complicated – behind the scenes type of work ( ie points 5-10) however, to do these things well means that the interactive, creative and group flourishing work you’re hoping to develop can happen with more skilled, resourced and confident people. It takes time to build up trust, in that getting young people to trust you depending on the culture, might take time. So the clearer you are about the aims and intentions, and have confidence in your intention to be there the easier it might be that you are trusted.

If young people are in context, then its important to think of them as being part of families and communities and schools, and so how might you involve all of these people in the creating process?

what might be the gifts of the young people and not just their needs?  how might they help, and how might you use them?

Might you need some funding – and if so for what? – getting trained in the youthwork bit?  – to get a consultant in might cost £30+/hr, but might this be cheaper than paying for a youth worker to do it all for you…(yes)

Think about the social space and how this is important both for you (where you feel comfortable) and the young people (where they do) – where’s the best place to start? and why should it end up somewhere else?

Build in contingency in case you end up finding healthy distractions along the way – ie like a self harm issue with a young person, or that they all like fishing , or they have learning difficulties – might you need to adapt your approach to fit them and how? how responsive can you feel you be?

Speaking of questions, give yourselves the opportunity to ask yourself them, critically think about the work, and give the young people the same opportunity.

There will be a few more, and I can feel the breath of a number of colleagues or academics on my shirt as Ive forgotten a couple of clangers probably, but here are a good few dead certs to start you on your way. The situations i have been in where these things haven’t occured very well, or where the youth worker is expected to do them as I’ve arrived, have been the situations that generally haven’t gone particularly well. Especially in point number 1.

Spending £31 Billion. On Trident or 1 million youth workers?

Is the conservatively estimated cost of Trident – with a contingency of £10 Billion. Which is likely to go over budget- like every government costed scheme, such as HS2 (waste of money).

Is £31 Billion the price of safety? Safety from what or whom?  As it isnt going to have any effect in the current enemy of the western unity – that of the Daaesh (IS). And, as the anti-IS countries unite – would they turn on each other with nuclear bombs ever again?

So- if £31 Billion + £10 Billion is the price of safety – what is the UK losing out on in the pursuit of Camerons so called insurance policy. What else could it be spent on?

  1. would £41 Billion do wonders in the NHS – I would think so –
  2. Not to mention teachers & schools
  3. at £30,000 wages it would employ 1 million youthworkers for a year – with the right training, thus enabling many young people to develop better understanding of themselves in the world, support, inclusion and long term economic prospects (even if as youth workers we’d hate to say it)
  4. Probably keep open a vast number of youth centres & libraries
  5. Build better cycle lanes and sports facilities for young people
  6. This list could go on.

Its just so lovely that during the #benefitscuts debates we heard about how these were needed to balance the books in the times of the deficit. This is not the same rhetoric about Trident and spending this kind of money. Maybe i haven’t made that good a case for the national benefits of resourcing work with young people, however i’m not sure there’s much of a case for spending it on trident either.

Something is seriously wrong.

The quagmire of creating genres in youthwork

Driving back from dropping my kids off at the local church youth group, and listening slightly obliviously to BBC tees, the country hour. Now im not into country music really at all. But as I was listening it got me thinking and wondering about whether the descriptive genre could be utilised within youthwork. And if so, what would they be, and how might they be defined.

In 2008, The Scottish government published a document, ‘Moving Forward’ in it the then government started to consider the role of the ‘use’ of youthwork to fulfil the needs of the government. Also, within it, proponents of youth work were keen to spread the use of youthwork into other agencies, such as schools (curriculum for excellence), police, probation and social health.

In some way, there’s possibly two ‘genres’ there. Youthworkers using youthwork skills to fulfil set aims and agendas, and non-youthworkers using youthwork approaches to fulfil the needs in their professions, reducing youthwork to ‘having a conversation’ without an understanding of the social & power environment of that conversation.

What other genres could there be?

In Cockburn and Wallace (2010) they describe then Scottish youthwork to have three main threads or streams, Liberal (open club type/ value orientated), functional ( with a change intention) and Critical (using the space to challenge status quo’s in society that doesnt favour a young person)- they go onto consider that most youthwork contains more than one strand/theme.

What about activity based youthwork – such as in outward bound activity centres? or Arts/ Drama/Sports focussed youthwork? – might they be considered a different Genre?

Then theres non purpose building – building focussed youthwork – ie that occurs in a faith building, or a school.

Or the youthwork that occurs in the remit of a specific charitable aim, such as youth clubs within mental health charities, Barnados, or equivalents. are they similar but yet different again?

And then Detached, or Outreach type youthwork that occurs not in a building – and depending on its aims or values could be considered another Genre.

Many words have prefixed ‘youthwork’ over the past 20 odd years, some more helpful that others; Rural, Urban, Detached, Faith-based, Christian, Muslim, Voluntary, Jewish, Symbiotic (Passmore 2013), Sacrilized (Nash 2012), Street-based, Centre/community -Based, – have any of them become so clear that those within the profession know what they are? well detached maybe.

And does it depend who is using them? – hence a good amount of confusion.

Whilst there is blurry space around the edges, and in a period of time where clear defined genres for film & music may be hard to find (except repeated ballads on X factor, or Michael Baye movies) , does it matter anyway, and what might be the deciding factors in trying to create genres in youthwork anyway.

After all, to say that a genre of youthwork practice is one thing, might only set it apart, but infer that a practice of youthwork isnt doing that thing. So to say for example that a practice of youthwork is ‘values led’ would infer than ‘non’ values led would have no values, where this might clearly not be the case.

In the past the prefixes have focussed on the setting (centre-based) – the belief of the worker or sacred building( Christian, Muslim) , the approach (detached) , its alignment to a faith perspective (Symbiotic/Sacrilized- which enable a contrast between youthwork done by people of the Christian faith and the much easier to recognise ‘youth ministry’) or whether people are paid or work for the voluntary sector (as opposed to state- thus ‘Voluntary’)

To start off with here’s a few;

Liberating youthwork –  regardless of where it is based upon helping young people be free from constraints, to become freed from aspect of personal, community, educational, social life that act as a hindrance. Based on values of liberation (of the oppressed & liberation theology, and acts accordingly. )

Political youthwork- goes one step further than the above- but challenges at a higher level, in politics &  governance

Mandated youth work with young people – where a youthworker is using youthwork to fulfil mandates of funders/programmes., or have preset programmes.

Youthwork approached ______________ (policing/probation/pastor/church) – where youthwork is a tool in the box within a predefined space in a different profession/vocation.

Might there be others?  or might the top two be considered ‘youthwork’ and the bottom two not anyway…

Heading to Jeffs and Smith (2010) , the aspects that characterise youthwork include; young people, welfare & association, education, voluntary participation and being friendly and acting with virtue & integrity. Most could be complied with every setting – with the exception of voluntary participation. 

So if all of these factors are included then would it be better to not confuse things by using youthwork in situations where all five of those factors arent in play. work with young people yes – youthwork no. But what about young people in a school lunchtime, or in a voluntary space but in a Prison? – would that be youthwork.. i fear im treading into a mire….

I guess going back to the original thought, a movie, book or music is very easy to define as a substance, and then have derivatives from in terms of genre. Is youthwork itself as definable- being as its is a way of working with people in accordance to a number of young person centred values, philosophies and ideals. Might youthwork itself a genre of liberating practice in communities anyway? as a thought to ponder and reflect on.

So, youthwork can be creative, liberating, political and contextual and with the young person, – shall we stick to these. Anything else isnt youthwork at all, its working to or for young people.











The power of ‘If’

Questions beginning with If are great on detached, when you have the chance to get beyond the banter, but get to an ‘If’ question, and all of a sudden the young adult, or even if we’re asked it, we, need to stop and change gear. Our minds, thus far full of process thoughts and next steps in conversation, are transported to a world of ideas, of community gathering and exploration.

The power of the ‘If’ – it transcends the present into a realisation of a future- so – here are 10 If questions that ive either been asked by young people, or have asked young people on detached. Most of them have had pretty amazing results.

  1. If you could belong to any religion which one would it be?
  2. If you could change something about this community what would it be?
  3. If you left the person alone, instead of reacting, what might happen?
  4. If you could chose a perfect partner what qualities would they have?
  5. If you imagined 10 years into the future, what would make you happy?
  6. If no young people were here, would you still walk around?
  7. If I was boring you would you leave?
  8. If you could live anywhere where would it be?
  9. If you could be an animal for a day or a night what would it be?
  10. If you had a £1m what would you do with it?

The If, is a choice question, an ideas question, a proposition for thought.

Apologies for the shift from Detached youthwork to the world of 1st Century Galilee, but over the last few weeks i have been re-reading Matthews Gospel, primarily as im preaching on a part of it in a few weeks time. But I was struck by the ‘If’ questions of Jesus to the people around him.

For example;

“If you love only those who love you – what reward is that?”  – Chapter 5 verse 46

“If God cares so wonderfully for the flowers …he will certainly care for you – why do you have so little faith?” 6:30

“if you had a sheep that fell into a well on the sabbath would you work to pull it out?” 12:11

“If i am empowered by Satan, what about your own excorcists?”  12:27

then there are three big statements

“if you want to be my follower…. if you want to hang on to your life….. if you give up your life for my sake” Chapter 16)

They’re not questions, they’re propositions, they’re suggestions. They require faith to participate in making that choice. Its not an enforced moment, but choice. If you want to find out what Jesus requires if you want to be a follower, hang onto your life or what would happen if you give your life, then you’ll have to read it yourself.

The power of the If questions, to make us stop and imagine. give young people chance to discuss opinions, values and attitudes, and challenge ours as well.


Lumiere Durham

The following piece of Art really caught my attention at Lumiere Durham on Sunday night;

To me it caused me to reflect on identity, change, masks and the complexity of Humanity.

After a week of learning and dialogue in one profession (youth work) across faiths, denominations, beliefs and positions within specific faiths contrasted with this weekends events in Paris and other cities, have caused me to consider inter faith dialogue with a profession to be a culturally and politically counter cultural and subversive, but also a starting point for a common dialogue and changed landscape across the UK.

First we need to lose masks and be real. not just change between them, however colourful they are.

In a weekend when humanity hasn’t fared too well as a species, art has shown itself, in the light art of Lumiere and the art of critical youthwork to embody beauty and life. Lets do beauty together, Lets dream together. Lets imagine a better place and make that path by walking there.









Finding common ground at #ywaf15

I have an hour at York station waiting for my connection back to Hartlepool on my way back from the youthwork and faith day at Bradford university hosted by youth and policy with some input from the In Defence of youthwork and other practitioners in the variety of fields of youthwork across many faith positions.

In this hour and the time it takes me to get back to Hartlepool, I hope to reflect on the day and pose a number of questions for further thought which might be of use. We ended the day wondering about shared commonalities across youthwork that transcended or encapsulates all faith positions.
From the day there seemed be a number of these;
Values of youthwork- that is critical and pedagogical (cf Cockburn/Wallace 2010)
Youthwork that has young adults as the primary client (cf  Sercombe 2010)
Human values and ideal motivations for action, such as love (as a verb), peace, justice, kindness, goodness, ( – these might be espoused within many faiths also)
Understandings of moments in human story that shape personal narrative; birth, tragedy, celebration, identity
Young people and ourselves in social context , community context and political context

Youthwork is about a relationship of trust, respect, integrity and authenticity.
I wonder also that if the texts of religions can act as separations, what of the commentators of these texts, the philosophers, theologians, sociologists and psychologists, can these be withheld as common ground and be shared languages? so Gadamer, Ricouer and Foucoult for example.
Would the writings and practice of others with faiths/ non be also common ground, from Franciscan monks, scientists, anthropologists and social geographers for example.

My wish would be, and I’ve written about this here, is that themes of liberation would also be common. And it would be for those whose youthwork understanding, and also faith understanding is based upon the educational thinking of Friere and further theological practice subsequently in Boff , Gutierrez and others in the pursuit of liberation theology. This could be more shared and it would be good that a Western Christian faith-based youthwork had developed with more transformational, liberative ethic and practice than it has.
However, back to shared and commonalities, from the philosophy and approaches what about practice; A continual respect for and desire to reflect and further depending of reflection in and on practice.

That young peoples voices, as well as those who represent their interests should be heard
That no one should be viewed through socio and economic lenses , their economic capability.
That institutions, such as the church, chapels, mosques, school and governments can hinder and hold power that controls divides and inhibits young people.

That Art, dance, drama, music, theatre, film and creativity are political, subversive are contingents of a present improvisation and usher in a potential reality in the now.

The propensity that doubt, questioning and critique are healthy positions inside and outside of faith, for curiosity to be encouraged. Does certainty promote exclusiveness and an unreal position of any ideology anyway? ( nb, even Christians are encouraged to look through a glass darkly 1 Cor 13)
There were and are more, but these were the things I’ve reflected on and remembered from today. It was helpful today to consider the range of spaces within faiths, from agnostic to adherent, and each of the faiths has it’s more closed, more open, fundamental, institutional, conservative, moderate , liberal positions, which if I’m honest this possibly wasn’t considered in the conversations today , but it probably wasn’t going to.
Just a thought, and the painting of the position of faith youthwork from the position of non faith seemed a little assumptive. Yet maybe this proves that there is ground still yet to cover. Ground from which longer held operative views have yet to disintegrate beyond.

Questions that i have (added a day later) are: what would be the process, and validity of the conversation & dialogue that was the deemed requirement for the next step? whose voices are heard – and who contributes?
I am aware that Nigel pimlott talks about most of these commonalities in his PhD anyway… Anyway, I’m nearly back in Hartlepool. Your thoughts as ever are welcome…

Thinking about Church & Mission from the Ox-bow lake

IMG_4199 IMG_4288 IMG_4290 IMG_4305 2014-01-09 15.21.44 2014-01-11 16.28.44


The above photos were taken over a period of about year as I took my dog , Ruby, for walks along the River Otter in Devon, when i lived there for a while. The Otter had a number of twists and turns, initially it was possible to walk beyond the post in the fifth of the photos, and right around the island. A year later and it was cut off.  In fact you can see the same post on the second and fifth photos.

It was a very slow process, however, the final act of breaking through the shrinking barrier was pretty quick happening in a weekend when the South West experienced a not too irregular bout of torrential rain & flooding.

What was spectacular was that the River immediately became faster and accelerated. And the Water left around the Bend, became stagnant.  (though a haven for wildlife.) Slowly the Oxbow lakes will dry up, being filled only by the rain.

The situation of the Ox-bow lakes or Billabong (for thats what those new lakes are called in Australia)- causes me to ponder a few questions;

How many metaphors of the Christian life like River occur when we don’t realise that the church might have changed in its shape, so its no longer part of the connected river

ie; we might tell young people to ‘go against the flow’ – at least they’re in the flow.

  1. What about working with young people and in communities – how might the church provide places of stagnation that are still alive – teeming with wildlife that are attracted to a slower pace of life?
  2. Does the Oxbow lake satisfy the needs of its occupants, those attracted to it, yet the river runs past?
  3. Can the church if its the metaphorical lake connect with the river (if the river is culture)- and should it try to?
  4. If the church is the stagnant lake, and the river is the Spirit of God hovering and moving over the moving waters- how might the church reconnect or follow again with the rhythm of a moving, acting, sending God?
  5. What is going to happen to the fish? Trapped in a smaller lake, swimming round in circles. More susceptible to prey? Hence the herons and Egrets just visible on one of the photos.
  6. The River will never connect with the lakes ever again, at least not in that direction. within 2 weeks a beach had formed- what might this say?

The good think about the Ox-bow lake above, is that it is fed by a small river from the upland farm land, just outside the village of Ottery. So it is unlikely to dry out completely. There will be some life left in it. Enough to maintain its existence as the river passes by. Maybe there are other metaphors for you in this scenario, relating to your work with young people, in your practices, or the practices of churches and organisation, and ill leave you to reflect on these today.


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