Into 2016: New Years resolutions for the Youthworker

Here’s a quick top 15 new years resolutions for a youth worker, maybe some of them ill need to do, especially number 10.

  1. All that coffee you drink- buy it fair trade, and if not fair trade from an independent shop or cafe
  2. Give young people more opportunities to make decisions for your club, organisation, church
  3. Resist the temptation to follow every conference on twitter, or tweet incessantly whilst being there.
  4. Restrict using theological or theoretical phrases as catch all terms that no one else knows, or dilute their meaning ( im thinking ‘Missio dei’. ‘Incarnational’, ‘person-centred’, Frieran’ ) even worse if you dont know what they actually mean, or haven’t read up on them since college.
  5. Take time to rest, especially during the summer.
  6. Read some books, yes even some youthwork or theology or sociology or psychology just for fun, itll help your practice and keep you sharp.
  7.  Find someone to have critical conversations with about your work and practice.
  8. Be yourself more often.
  9. Try something new, be brave, take risks and start making new paths to walk along
  10. Tidy your desk, tidy your office. (this one is definitely for me)
  11. Make sure you take a day off per week.
  12. Young people are not yours, they are their own, or ‘the’ young people.
  13. Realise its a marathon and not a sprint
  14. Treasure every moment and conversation you have with young people and find ways that make conversations happen, happen easily and happen on their terms.
  15. Take time to invest in the profession to encourage others, write articles, share stories, make resources. Find avenues to pipe up about the good youth work you are doing.

I am sure you can add your own. I am sure there would be resolutions for the youthwork managers out there also, or the government in regard to how it treats and invests in young people and youthwork. That might be for a different day though.

Happy New Year !


A review of 2015; inspired by goodness

Its that time of the year when the cheap dodgy ‘filmed in November’ programmes fill the TV schedule, with reviews of the previous year, top moments, clips and footage, and so in the finest of cultural traditions, but probably with the audacity of the JLS greatest hits album, here are some of mine;

Top book I’ve read in 2015 – By a long way, ‘Faith, Speaking and Understanding By Kevin Vanhoozer, like refreshing water on a thirsty theological soul, just another glorious Vanhoozer read. second, on the same theme ‘Performing the Sacred’ by Johnson and Savage, a practical building on the role of the audience in the Theatre of the Drama of Redemption. Its funny, this year I have bought and read a lot less books than in 2014, though have read a considerable number since starting uni in October. However, Im about to start reading one of Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s ‘Theodrama’ Part IV, i imagine its the Theodramatic fans equivalent to the episodes of Star Wars. Hopefully starting at IV will make sense.

Top Film: Selma. By a long way. Well almost by a long way, that is until I watched Pride a few months ago. Both redemptive tales of goodness in societal and political struggles.

Favourite place; Seaham Beach – the alien one – Ive been there twice this year, and for a long walk over the top of it too.

Seaham Beach
Seaham Beach

Top Coffee Shop; The Italian one just off Sadler street in Durham, I’ve popped in there a few times and had some great meetings and conversations, and its where I’ve gone on the way in to St Johns on a Thursday, a good place to read for a few hours. Notable mentions also include Flat white, Durham, and Tea @ Hart in Hartlepool.

Top piece of free learning; a joint award in third place between the Nomad Podcast, and the Wittertainment podcast, both excellent, but getting the chance to have two extended coffees and meals with Allan Clyne beats both of them, especially as one of these came after a day of proudly seeing Malcolm Winch graduate from ICC and then have an evening walking through a summery hot Glasgow, it was one of my favourite days of the year.

Top people I’ve met for the first time; Meeting Mike Mather was also inspirational, and I thoroughly enjoyed a Beer with Thomas Bruar, back in Wetherspoons in Perth, and I have met other people known from a distance in person for the first time; such as Tony Taylor, Pete Ward and Jessie Joe Jacobs. Though just to mention new people does a disservice to all the great conversations with other people over the course of the year, essential support, guidance and wisdom along the youthwork journey. Also,  after 18 years, great to catch up with a few people from my first experiences in Hartlepool.

Favourite road – (this one for the cyclists) there’s been a few as I’ve managed to get out and ride a few thousand miles this year. When the sun is setting and deep red, the view over seal sands, and Salthome on Teeside were pretty amazing, and a flat sprint of about 10 miles from Port Clarence to Hartlepool. The other bit of road that i have liked has been the longish sprint from Sedgefield to Sadbergh. Hopefully Ill find some new ones in 2016.

Other highs this year have included the decorating of our dining room, the beginnings of some consultancy and youthwork training work locally, helping to support some new youth work with FYT in Middlesbrough, and thinking about where more might take place in 2016, starting of an MA at Durham Uni and being out on the streets in Durham to have some amazing conversations with young people on detached. Some highs also include extended celebrations for my wife’s birthday and a day at Alnwick Castle, and lots of walks around the north east coast, especially Crimdon, Seaton and spotting the Seals at Greatham.Seals at Greatham

Going to the Semi final play off win for Middlesbrough against Brentford was a sporting highlight, only tempered by my Sons sadness of the final result.

Middlesborough play off semi final 2nd leg
Middlesborough play off semi final 2nd leg


Other good youthwork moments this year have included some productive and creative conversations at the FYT/Streetspace conference, the IDYW conference, YWAF Conference, and the Cafe Leadership days- most of which I have written blogs about somewhere on this site already. These were some great opportunities to share practice, insights, learning, trials and joys. It was great also to participate in a 2 day Supervision course at Durham Uni, a really helpful time to get back into thinking about youthwork practice, and study further.

At the end of the year, I could reflect on the low points, or challenges, and these relate mostly to times of tension, of frustration or of uncertainty, and relate primarily to funding, vision and opportunities, but i am going to leave them at that, as i have also learned and been inspired by is the devout attention to thankfulness that Becca Dean describes regularly and eloquently, and so, whilst there has been difficulties this year and much to learn from, I will try and learn to be disciplined in contentment, however difficult that may sometimes be.


So this is less a review of the year, and become a moment to remember the goodness that I have had the privaledge of  receiving from a whole host of people, whether in person, via podcasts, or books and so thank you and  I hope that I have been able to contribute to your existence and world in a similar positive way during the year, and I hope for more of the same in 2016…. and so in thinking about 2016…where will this ongoing drama take us to next and how might goodness continue to lead us on…?

Waiting for a break

IMG_5004 IMG_5007

There are some things I like waiting for. I love waiting at train stations, as opposed to bus stops, i love waiting for the time to the start of football matches, the hype, the drama. at a stadium, the filling of the crowd, the buzz of excitement, the smell of pies and grass. I love waiting for an idea to arrive, or the space to read and find them. There is something magical about waiting for Christmas day. The wait, the build up, the unknown new newness. The hype of lights, and carols and smell of mulled wine, log fires, home cooking. The wait that brings a conversation, the wait that brings people together, the gatherings for carols, the packed coffee shops.

In the fictional novel Red Dwarf: Better than Life, Dave Lister (the last Human alive) is transported to a fictional world with the aid of the simulation game (Better than Life), which could tap into his own subconscious to give him what ever he wanted. After 3 million years away from Earth, 3 million years away from another Human, the world that Lister is transported to is a world where he and his dreamed of children, and wife enjoy life in the fictional town of  Bedford Falls, it was a fictional dream world where the shops had bargains, and the smell of Christmas was all around. Well it would be, in Bedford falls, because Listers subconscious perfect world it would be Christmas eve every day. Christmas eve, because the friendliness, the build up, the crowds, the Candles, smells, and in his world, snow crusted walkways would never be over. The waiting would never end.

Maybe Dave Listers world is too shallow. But something about being away from a world of Humanity would cause most of us to want for a good season of the year to be connected with. Christmas eve, might just be a more pleasant day than Christmas. Loving the waiting, loving the expectation. Loving it so much that not wanting it to end.  The hopes and dreams of Christmas.

This afternoon I took the dog, Ruby for a walk, not unusual, and it wasnt that unusual to take her along the beach at Seaton Carew, just outside Hartlepool. Ruby is rubbish at waiting, en route in the car she’s an excitable beast. She is rubbish at waiting for her lead off. But when there’s birds to be chased, can she wait, can she stalk them, delicately paw her way near them only to then take off for a instant 40mph run.  As I watched Ruby, and as I watched across the sea I noticed the Wind Turbines, spinning furiously and constantly. They weren’t waiting for the wind, as it hasn’t stopped being windy for months, but they may have been waiting for a break in the wind, waiting for a break.

Waiting for Christmas might be waiting for a break. A break in time, a break in fortune, a break of rest. A break in the norm where the crowds, the song, and others take centre stage. A break to wait.

Dave Lister longed for such a break, a break where his dreams would take him back to earth, back to humanity and back to hope and dream again. His dreams and hopes were shattered because even in his own fictional world it could be jeopardised by a different characters crazed fictional existence.

Our Dreams are not interrupted in the same way.

Yet though Christmas Day could be, and might be something of an anti climax – (ie its alot of hype for 3 months just for a big roast dinner, the queens speech and an eastenders special)

Our hoped for Humanity is fulfilled by the intersecting within it of God incarnate, the God who redeems Christmas eve, who appears at the end of nine months of a Mary pregnancy waiting. The Christmas eve wait, is a christmas eve break. A transcendant break in the God to Man separation. A break that is Hope, and Love and all the best things in the run up to Christmas, and all the greatest of expectations, and heralding of the most glorious of imaginary worlds.

The wait is almost over, the next chapter, the next new place, the next journey and new world is yet to be created.



10 things that might make being a Youth worker easier.

I have a feeling this might be the last blog I write before Christmas, and so thank you for reading this, for reading my ramblings over the last 12 months in 2015, for contributing comments, for sharing them. I hope beyond anything else that a tiny fraction of what I have written has been useful, inspiring, caused you to think, and help you in your practise of youthwork. After a lengthy blog on Monday on the Prevent policy and consultation, this one is borne out of some of the key issues that seem to be going around the youth work world at the moment, and might make life a bit easier, fruitful or constructive for a youth worker, in whatever setting.

So, if there were 10 thing that could happen to make being a youth worker easier then these would surely rank up high in them;

  1. Having Funding that allows for long term values based youth work to actually happen
  2. Being managed according to youthwork values & having consistent management in whatever organisation or agency.
  3. Having an external supervisor- who also knows what youthwork is all about, and an organisation that encourages you to be professionally supervised.
  4. Working for an organisation where you don’t have to justify your existence all the time, especially in terms of outcomes. and that includes churches, actually that includes churches big time, and maybe not clergy, but congregations. Though as ever it starts with Clergy, Bishops etc…
  5. Having clear pathways of progression, and I know ambition or career isn’t for everyone, but some kind of career path. Scrub that, given that so many have lost their jobs, It would be easier for youth workers if there were jobs. lets not be picky or ahead of ourselves.
  6. Better networks of youth workers in rural areas. or at least outside the big centres of youthwork provision, should there be any.
  7. For people to trust the youth workers approach, philosophy or practice, after all they are the youth worker.  Ask questions yes, help and support definitely, but in the same way you wouldnt suggest to a surgeon how to remove your appendix, have the same trust in the methods that the youth worker is doing.
  8. For the youthwork centres of academia to continue to support their graduates with ongoing CPD afterwards.
  9. For youth workers, especially in church/christian faith based organisation settings  to get some kind of paid sabbatical, regardless of where theyve applied their practice over a lengthy period of time.  Would that be great..? If academics and Clergy can – why not youthworkers? after all its a valued ministry in the church isn’t it? oh…. guess its not that valued then… – and going on a conference doesnt count.
  10. For former youthworkers to get involved in Politics at the highest level, or the highest levels of the church, in the education department,  in the establishment to be able to change things, and fight for the possibility of youthwork in the future.

Rant over, there’s probably a ton of stuff to add to this one. Sometimes its tough enough just working with young people, without the hassle or worry or added stress that some of the above can bring. Oh, and i know, what could be more difficult that just playing table tennis with young people…

Happy Christmas youth workers everywhere!


Is ‘Prevent’ the beginnings of controlling value based organisations?

Following the ongoing consultation by the government in regard to regulating and registering organisations who provide after school and holiday time care, the consultation is here:

Forgive the length of this piece of work, it is based upon my MA presentation on the effect of Government policy on Organisation Governance, which doesnt sound particularly exciting, but a time when this consultation is available to respond to and critique, it might be worth trying to take a long term view of what this government consultation might cause an organisation with strong values to become, and learn from the parallel history over the last 20 years of other third party organisations.

Gann, defines Organisations as: Creatures of their times, reflecting structures- philanthropic with good intentions (1991)

Handy defines a voluntary organisation as “ living communities with a common purpose, made up of free citizens with minds and values and rights of their own (1988:21)”

Handy argues that organisations should develop philosophies of practice which would, in his view, have no need for inheriting  political or engineering references to management and governance (such as Taylorism, Weberism, Fordism), stating that a community organisation should upheld community work values of democracy and problem solving. He infers that voluntary organisations should be more akin to what Morgan (1998) describes as an organisation that Creates social reality according to values, however the metaphor of organisations as an organisms is more appropriate, given that it could be argued that many have had to adapt, and adapt at the cost of their values, identity and purpose. But why has this been the case?

Adirondack on page 4 of Just about Managing suggests that organisation governance is a term for the “big picture, long term and legal aspects of ensuring an organisation is properly run”, and that Management is responsible for ensuring that the work gets done within the governance framework- but essentially that governance and management are different aspects of the same thing.  This is in line with Cornforth who states that Governance is concerned with: “the structures, systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, control and accountability of an organisation”(Cornforth 2004:1 in Billis 2010:72)

Policies are one such aspect of organisational governance, which although helpful, have caused a shift in organisation culture, and an access point to control and regulation by the government. However, in terms of the positives:

Polices are broadly helpful in defining the framework within an organisation operates (Adirondack(192:2005), providing clarity for what an organisation does, and how it does it. They help to create stability, and a base line for good practice. Not every aspect of an organisation requires written policies, but where there might be high levels of risk, or contention/argument, or for the adherence of professional practice, policies are created; notably in areas such as; the employment of staff, safeguarding, lone working, health & safety, and in specific examples values or conduct statements. Within the organisation governance, additional policies are used to identify suitable roles for Trustees, the charitable definition of the organisation itself, such as the constitution, its objects and how it should function legally.

Hussey and Perrin (86-88: 2003 in How to Manage a Voluntary organisation)  also add that Polices bring the visions and ideas created, to life, by describing in strategic and practical terms the outworkings of an organisation.  Policies of practice should be consistent with the aims and values of the organisation, more so they reveal the vision and values through the working documents.

How an organisation makes decisions, how it sets strategy, how its work complies with the strategy, and how it ensures that its performance is effective, safe and accountable.

“A policy is a guideline for organisational action and the implementation of goals and objectives. Policy is translated into rules, plans and procedures; it relates to all activities of the organisation and to all levels of the organisation.” (Mullins, L 537: 2010)

Negative impacts on an organisation governance include: The organisation becomes less about young people/community, and more time in compliance to policy, Young people/Community has less voice and involvement (Ord J, 113:2012)

Yet despite Handys recommendations in 1985, the language of structure, of managerialism, of control, accountability and order has been adopted in the discourse of organisational governance. This is highlighted as Handy (1985) bemoans the changes afoot (in 1985) of organisations that played down the importance of an individual – the gifted leader/manager, in favour of the more impersonal aspects such as organisational structure, control systems and policies, yet he goes on to describe the importance of the person as the manager in the ongoing decisions that they have to make in terms of demands, choices and constraints. (362:1985)

Butcher in Banks (2005) argues that Organisations, especially those supporting community practitioners, need to be thought of more as organisms than machines (p59;2005 (Banks et al)), this causes a rethink of the systems as open (rather than closed structural ones) and interaction with changing cultures and contexts and of growth, and evolution.

Policies themselves are subject to external influence and cultivate a situation whereby an organisation is changed through them; as identified by Butler and Wilson (1990:29) : The overall framework of the organisation and how the trustees, members and other governing body functions, and how the organisation relates to external legal authorities such as charities commission. Yet this is also a two way process, as “the Charity commission inserts pressure on organisations to adopt central control and hierarchical structures”. (Butler & Wilson, 1990:29)

However, The External Pressures on having policies which can be adapted from a central commission, as an adaptive organisation, has caused organisations to shift into a certain direction. As it changes it may become an ambiguous culture, that thinks community and fluid, but has to be governed in an increasingly bureaucratic way (Lewis, D 1999:195)- which has an effect on Values (see above) , Values  which as Mullins (2010) argues are part of an organisation ideology and thus its culture, and thus its outworking.

Butcher in 1993 seems slightly optimistic as he heralds a new relationship between right and left wing versions of post bureaucratic public service provision and democratic accountability. Yet the 18 years since have heralded 4 governments and an increase in control and regulation of organisations, via centralised commission and centralised policy for all participating organisations, using Macdonaldisation and related effective practices to imply a universality to local organisations.

However Somerville in 2011 articulates that there is now the disconnect between the community and the services which once served it, have now been affected by changes in policy, government policy and discourse.

The Governments partnership policy which is borne out of the neo-liberal ideology that promises a reduced state involvement, but high level of control, value for money and quality improvement and as Hart (2015) argues, an attuning of young peoples (or anyones) character to the needs of the market forces. I.e Community safety and employment.

Somerville goes on to concur stating that; “There is a subliminal restructuring in process which could cause community organisation to seek less to serve the actual needs, or be accountable to a local community more than view them as part of a service driven process or a target to fulfil” and concurred with by Milbourne in her article Remodelling the Third Sector (2009)

This will be particularly challenging in the poorer areas where community organisations rely heavily on public funding such as the North east, as greater controls, efficiencies, competition will occur, all having an effect on the nature and governance of organisations.

In this example, The government policy of developing state-private-community partnerships, and doing so with conditioned funding resources, has, through local government contracting, stating of funding objectives, has a direct influence on the procedures, objectives and practice and governance of an organisation.  An organisation which now has to comply with goverment ideology- for funding, and government structures practices in reward for funding, developed hierarchical structures, policies, practices and seeks efficient ways of ensuring outcome orientated practices for young poeple.

In quoting Barnes (2007) Somerville goes on to suggest that the governments policy documents have the power to constitute the language of their policy to fit their own needs, the rules of the engagement and participation – rather than have these agendas set and created by the community, or the community group themselves. In his example; the language of the formal partnership meeting was alien to the language of the community, and that the community often receives help and a service from a community organisation, as Taylor suggests (2003;12) The Community “does not decide the game that is being played; they do not determine the rules of play, the system of refereeing or, indeed, who plays, and the cards are stacked in favour of the more powerful players. In fact they are in the wrong game altogether”

The policy framework of the government could decide upon the legitimacy of those voices and modes of expression, and thus the power to decide whether to take account of the voices expressed. It is deemed a privaledged pathway which is controlled by shrouded knowledge of the path, and many organisations are excluded.

If the organisations that have subtley allowed the permission of the government ideology to affect their very nature, very management, policy, practices and thus have not heed Charles Handys warnings in 1985, and as organisms has been so affected by external conditions that they have become more bureaucratic, more managerial and view communities and receivers of a service and for the purposes of fulfilling a government ideology.

In a move that challenges the notion of Organisations and organisms;  Millar in Jeffs and Smith 2010, akin to Handy above,  argues that  management within Youth work should be representative of occupational youthwork culture of values, virtues and principles towards what Morgan would identify as an organisation that is metaphorically creating social reality.

However, this is also now under threat.

Organisations which have thus far withheld the temptation of public money, and retained strong nature according to values; whether youth and community values, whether values of faiths or none, and attempted to create social reality, for the sake of young people in their place in the community. Yes they may have had to register as charities in central bodies or affiliations, or as charities, but most of these transactions were only for the sake of minimal compliance, or local credibility. They have thus far resisted the heavy hand of new managerialism, outcomes and bureacracy for the sake of community, values and virtues.

Under the Prevent agenda, the Government now seeks to determine in their consultation paper (as above) , that all childcare and after school providers need to register with Ofsted, so that the provider is not only known to the authorities for DBS measures, but also so that the values of the organisation can be aligned to what could be determined as British Values. Yet British Values according to whom, actually thats not the point, the point is that even the organisations that have sought to create positive places and safe spaces with young people, were even spaces that young people flourish in a broad number of ways, and defined their practices in accordance with a range of values; whether Christian values, Muslim Values , youth & community work values and principles, are now under threat from a government that want to control what these values might be. And what could be the result ? – the gradual subliminal shaping  of value based organisations to adopt new managerialism, and further controls and bureaucracy and conduits of government ideology akin to the third sectors organisations who travailed that slope over the last 20 years and the legal threat of compliance.

All done within a discourse of fear, where the reaction is tighter control and regulation for what is deemed a common necessity and common sense, or at least that is what the rhetoric around it might suggest.

Ord (2012) suggests that both policy agenda and leadership agenda- or at least their discourses need to be critiqued and challenged. The policies themselves have power to shape the language and thus the discourse about the work, and bring in the realities of the work that they have to prescribe. Ord goes on to say how this occurs in teaching. Policies including inspections and Ofsted seek to ensure adherence to government policy and this again moves accountability away from the youth and community it seeks to serve. (p64; ord 2010)

So, whilst the rhetoric of the government, and its policies have emphasised the importance of community –stare partnerships  and a reduced state involvement in its neo liberal ideology, the emphasis on control via public bodies like the Charities commission , the rhetoric of social and partnership policy and the world of funding (which accentuate bureaucratic  hierarchical organisations) and no also recommendations of values, of centralised control, regulation and inspection will have a direct impact upon organisational policies, and the nature of an organisation, especially in how it relates to its community, according to its core values.

Yet community organisations that have adapted to changes, akin to the organism metaphor, have found themselves more at risk of becoming conduits for government ideology. Ord argues that any meaningful resistance will come from how organisations such as youthwork are managed within their political context .However now even organisations that have resisted interference (with strong values culture) will be enforced to comply legally with this new policy and adapt local organisational policies and governance as a result, and how might resistance be possible within controlled British Values?



What are the common conversations in Christian youth work and ministry?

Doesnt it seem to be that there are a number of ongoing conversations about the same kind of things in Christian Youthwork and Ministry? the same kinds of things discussed over and over again, with books, articles and magazines trying to establish a new position, a new theory, a theology even, so what have been the main ones over the last 15-20 years?

  1. The Naming Conversation-  this is the ‘what shall the work be called’ and why? And most conversations start with reference to Youthwork at one end (deemed secular) and Youth Ministry at the other, yet what to name the distinctive practices in between is a big conversation, though Youth Ministry is as equally difficult to name.
  2. The Definition Conversation- Once the practice is named – it needs to be defined within that naming.
  3. The Church Conversation – How does the practice link to a church in terms of outcome for young people, or whether it should at all. Alternatively there is the type of church conversation which suggests that church might be adapted and contextualised to emerge with young people. Its still a church conversation.
  4. The Programmes & Curriculum conversation – How many programmes to use, why use them, what about curriculum, and who should set it conversations
  5. The Theology Conversation – This is the conversation about how the practice reflects, or is applied by, or an outworking of a particular (as yet undecided) Theology. Getting this right is important, it must be but the conversation still goes on.
  6. The Management conversation- This is linked to the church conversation, as usually and tragically its framed by the reality that being managed well in churches by clergy is a rarity, and that church is a space to generally cope, rather than enjoy, sadly. Yet Youthworkers in churches tend to want better and more management.
  7. The lack of decent books on Youth Ministry, Youth work and Theology Conversation. Basically its Pete Ward, a bit of Richard Passmore, John Ord and a few others. Its a myth there are none, but from a UK context there’s not many.
  8. The Proof conversation. This is the justify its working conversation, and continually battling against the notion of ‘bums on seats’ in churches. But is this reflective of the church organisation proof of success paradigm. Theres sometimes an evaluation conversation, but only if the work needs external funding.
  9. The Activity Conversation. Nothing less than a 60 hour week and 3 summer residentials counts as valid ministry. This is never linked to the burnout conversation, which is never had at conferences, because the youthworkers who have burnt out aren’t attending.
  10. The justifying the need to exist due to ‘the 300,000 young people leaving the church’ conversation. If you havent heard this one, then youve not been a youthworker long. But does the need justify what, when, and how the youthwork is done – or just that something should be done?

Do Young People themselves figure in the conversations at all? Their world, their nature, their context and environment? Its funny a profession working with young people seems to have few conversations about young people at all. More about the practices, processes, definitions and language. But Young people? hmm…

Are there any other conversations that seem to be recurring?

Or conversations that should occur more?

Advent; Joseph, the forgotten Hero

Read Matthew Chapters 1-3, go on I dare you. And try and look for the following; Angels appearing to Mary, Donkeys, John the Baptist, Zachariah, they’re not there – is that particularly surprising, well possibly not. But look a little closer to see what, or more pertinently who is;

Joseph, the forgotten Hero;

Joseph who was going to marry a girl called Mary

Joseph whose plans to marry Mary are disrupted, interrupted by an unexpected pregnancy

Joseph, the good man.

Joseph did not want to disgrace her, wanted Mary to have a future

Joseph heard the voice of the angel

Joseph who obeyed the voice of the angel

Joseph who married Mary, whilst she was pregnant, gave her security and hope.

Joseph who showed integrity

Joseph, who named the boy Jesus.

Joseph who listened to the voice of another angel , working under instruction to protect his family and this boy of 2.

Joseph the forgotten hero of the story of a man protecting his new wife, his new baby, protecting the dawning of a new age and new reality in the world.

Forgotten, as Mary takes the best lines and parts in the nativity, forgotten as there are so many other males to compete with as Heros in the Bible, Forgotten even when the Kings turn up (where has he gone in those verses?)

Forgotten as the action turns to Jesus (after Johns proclamation), forgotten as God the Father begets Christologically, so Joseph it but a bit part in the conception, but a surrogate father who protects the family none the less.

Yes, the story is about Mary, and its about the coming of the Messiah, but that’s the point, Joseph is the forgotten Hero for this short space of time. The faithful, loyal carpenter who acted with integrity, in conjunction with angelic voices to protect, to star in the beginning of this story, to allow for Mary, and Jesus to shine.







Management culture and the church

At the present moment I am in the middle of my MA in Theology and Ministry at Durham Uni, for one of the courses I am doing a Practical Theology Reflection, one of the other modules I am undertaking is Youth work Management. So at the moment I am knee deep in thinking about Theology, about Mission, and about Management, and as ive spent the day reading today on the Management side of things, am contemplating a few thoughts about management in relation to the church.

In Managing Voluntary Organisations Charles Handy describes that “the new language recognises what the voluntary world has known all along- that organisations are living communities with a common purpose, made up of free citizens with minds and values and rights of their own”, and from this grow a better understanding of organisations, built upon philosophy, and theory, and values for organisations.

In Morgans seminal piece on Images of organisation (1998) he describes the trajectory of organisational culture, and management – from post Industrial, Taylorism, and Fordism- a mechanical functional organisation  – through to Organisations as organisms, Organisations as cultural- creating social reality, Organisations as learning organisation, Psychic organisations, organisations of flux and organisations of dominion, all of these are metaphors of organisations- and more than one can exist within an organisation.

The question in my mind is, what sort of organisational culture is the church (ie what organisational structure has it inherited), and what should the church seek to be?

And, is there a clash between the dominant culture of the church, as currently operated, and that as experienced by those who work within it – under the authority persons such as Clergy and voluntary PCC?

It would be obvious to suggest that different denominations of the church operate with different organisational structures, but id reckon most are hierarchical to some degree or another. Yet what kind of organisation, in terms of culture does the church attempt to be?

And how is its organisation shaped by its values and intentions?  Given that at the start my reference is the world of voluntary organisations which seek to listen to and respond to the voice of people in community, meet needs, build on gifts, develop partnerships – in accordance with community development/ youthwork values and principles. It is why writers like Butcher (2012, in Ord) suggest that community and youth workers need to challenge the dominant discourse around policy and leadership and to create their own based upon values and principles. This sense of pioneering, challenging structures and discourses of inherited management seems alien in many inherited church management structures.

Might a reason that youthworkers, and Clergy – as managers- struggle to make that relationship work is that the management models at work are at odds with each other? How often does the Youth worker despair at the politics of the management of a church for example- and not saying clergy don’t either. But the discourses and expectations of management between the youthworker and Clergy might be vastly different. Is it that Youthworkers operate in what Coburn identifies as a ‘border pedagogy’ and thus is more acutely aware of values, of education and the spaces between the structures. And so the structures can represent dominance, power, hindrance, to the worker, and the young people they seek to represent.

So, maybe the system is more at fault than the personalities, but if the management structure of the church was reformed according to the values of the organisation- what would it look like? what would it emphasise? Or have the adopted models of church management run their course, and, like community organisations its time to move beyond mechanical or transactional or macdonaldised modes of management to management cultures befitting of the values of the mission of the church and the values of the Christian faith.

Lewis D (2001) argues that organisations may operate within an ambiguity paradigm, in that they are caught between beaurocratic worlds of management on one hand, and intentions to be operate with more flattened egalitarian, face to face, associational world of management. This may have some resonance Theologically when beliefs about social or hierachical trinity are used to re shape church structures, but that a bureaucratic mode might be too hard to let go of. Especially if power is attributed and held within it. The space within is the ambiguity as change occurs or where there are incoherances between what is idealised, but what is actualised.

Is there hope in that emerging church developments have adopted more equal management models? well maybe – but that only goes so far in determining the culture of a new organisation, how might they be shaped around creating social reality, or learning culture , or something else befitting the values of a new organisational group. its obviously easier in smaller groups and networks.

What is the current mood music in the church in relation to management – has it adopted business models too quickly – when christian youthworkers might feel that this emphasis is too numbers driven? Has the church adopted a universal strategy for management culture that doesnt take into account the complexities of local contexts? Might each church seek to develop its own management culture to fit its own communities local needs, ministry and mission? what then…. So could it shape itself according to values – not dissimilar to the emphasis of community and youthwork, after all – we’re all in the transformational ‘business’.

Maybe my head has been in books too long today to make any sense of considering the church and its management culture (s), where it derives them from, and what influences the way its structures are today.  But maybe there is something in here, some nugget for someone somewhere, Thoughts on my random thoughts as ever welcome…


Empowerment, Jesus Style – being Salt and Light

Over the last few weeks, and building up an opportunity this morning to preach at Headland Baptist church on the subject of Salt and Light ( Matthew 5:13-17) ,

 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

I have been continuing to reflect on Jesus’ way with the disciples, the crowds, and the sense of empowerment that he ushers in with them, and how this is a call for those who follow to continue.

Thinking about management in a youthwork setting, and values of youthwork, Empowerment is a fine line to seem to balance, when, on the one hand its great to have discussion about issues and ideas, and make collaborative decisions, yet on other occasions the decision has to rest with someone, usually the manager. But managing in youthwork is about passing on the value baton, being an example of good practice, so that those who are being youth workers can perform. Its a fine line, and one that I can find difficult. For the youth worker, Paulo Friere would appear to be the Godfather of Empowerment, yet Friere’s own inspiration might likely have been from his Christian faith background.

Last weekend I went back up to Perth to do a days training with a group of clergy and volunteers about how they might go about starting right with ministry with young people ( in a broad sense), in my introduction, given that its what I’ve been thinking at the time, we read the same passage and we reflected on the salt, and the City on a hill – the source of the image of the light. Over the course of the day, I hope that I was able to empower the group, to think differently about the involvement they have or could have with young adults, to reflect on the possibles, and enable others to be empowered. We also had a conversation about enabling people to use their gifts, rather than fill need gaps, to identify people as with, and as friends. It felt that in a 6 hours of talking, of getting to know people, their situations, their gifts, their ideas, that an element of empowerment was occurring in the room – starting from their own desires to want to do creative work with young people – maybe all that was needed was a room for them all, and someone to light the spark paper.

So, today I preached on the same passage, and whilst I wont bore you with the details or the transcript ( the full sermon will be uploaded on the Headland Baptist church Facebook page), the following points in regard to empowerment struck me again;

  1. Jesus gives the people, the disciples a clear indication of their importance as people from the outset. Well before they do anything, even before they hear their instructions for ethical behaviour, missional commands, or tasks post resurrection – virtually the first thing that Jesus, and Matthew the narrator, commands is that they are something. “You are….”, that “You are…” only appears once more by Jesus in the whole gospel (except the If you are) , must mean that the chronology, and imperative is important.  Might it be that they were to be something, before they became something?
  2. To be salt as a preservative, means that it attaches to the meat or food, and the same for adding it to flavour something. Yet without the meat, or the flavour of the meat there would be no need for salt, salt only enhances what is already there.
  3. To be light. Light encourages action and movement. Without light people find it difficult to see, difficult to move. Light shines from the city on a hill so that people can walk along well trodden, or newly created paths.
  4.  Jesus describes the crowd, and the disciples not as a fixed item, a timebound item, but as an eternal, universal metaphor. One for all generations, all ages, all cultures, all races and all situations.  Can you imagine a world without Salt, or Light? To be a follower, is to be eternally empowered, eternally a metaphor.
  5. And, if we’re not salt in the situation, not sustaining, preserving the goodness in the world, acting make things distinctive, will people give you a second thought, no they’ll reduce you back to the ground you came from, trampled underfoot. If we’re not enhancing and guiding – what use would we be?

NT Wrights description in Virtue Reborn  is that “Jesus invites his hearers to something more radical, stating that Gods people will serve and love him, will live out the genuine humanness of which the ancient Law had spoken, and do so naturally, and from the heart, it will be a God given ‘second nature’ a new way of being human. And this can be practiced now, difficult as it might be, because Jesus is here, inaugurating Gods Kingdom. Its as if Jesus says; follow me, and authenticity will begin to happen”.

In his book Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer, describes the Christian as the ‘little Christ’ who’s purpose is to follow the way. The Christian who has a continuing responsibility in acting according to the Kingdom.

It feels like following the way of empowering others gifts, others strengths, others ideas, passions and visions is part of the Kingdom, part of being Salt and Light. Jesus first role it seems was to empower others to become followers, to announced upon them a new identity in which they had to connect, had to guide, had to preserve goodness.



Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: