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.



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