Belbins roles in the Youthwork team meeting

Plant, Shaper, Completer finisher, you’ve heard them a 100 times before, but if you havent, Belbin, gathered evidence from a range of teams in businesses and identified 7 key roles (not necessarily performed by 1 person) to make a team work and be effective.

Here they are, just for your information:

So for a little fun on a friday,  instead of thinking about these ones from Belbin, i wonder what genuinely and slightly humorously makes up the roles in the weekly youth worker team meeting?

  1. The Coffee maker.  Essential. Key to a good start, also helps to delay the start of the meeting whilst, making the coffee.
  2. Cake or Biscuit provider- this is the person who usually has very little to say during the meeting, but gets away with being there, because they brought the biscuits. They’re often more heralded than the coffee maker, but actually are less essential.
  3. Person mostly on their phone.  No words. There’s just usually one.
  4. Excited contributor. Gives it all, no holds barred, new ideas, recommendations, questions. To much, far too much.
  5. Critical friend (by some known as Cynic/Grumpy old man) Person who analyses the ideas from ‘excited contributor’ against previous experience/ theological reflection/jeffs & smith and usually recommends that ‘we ask young people first’ – regardless of the situation.
  6. Retreat advocator;  famous for saying things like ‘Cant decide till we pray’/ ‘have day away to strategise’.  You know the one, the person that at the end of the meeting, when all has been decided between you all, suggests that ‘we cant do any of this without praying about it’ or ‘ maybe we should have a day away to help move things forward’   you know the types.
  7. The policy protector – Thats the person who adjudges everything against the policy for it, saying things like ” we cant do it that way because of the policy, or Health and safety” this person is scarcely found in faith based youthwork, in fact i wouldn’t know what one looks like. But they do exist. somewhere.
  8. The funding opportunist – this is the person, similar to the excited contributor who has lots of suggestions, but this persons suggestions are related to funding opportunities that they know of. So all of their ideas carry with them the closing sentence “we could get funding for it”, or “comic relief will give us money if we do it this way”
  9. The quiet observer. As invisible in the meeting as the Biscuit provider, unless people deliberately ask them to be involved. They usually have better ideas than the biscuit provider. ideas Often relate to the wellbeing of young people, their families.
  10. The ideas from conference person. Best thing to do, is get Critical friend to sound them out before the meeting. tip – never send the excited contributor to conferences…. 🙂
  11. The facilitator/boss/manager – the one with the grey hair trying to keep this little lot from killing each other. Not enjoying this, but saying that it important, and planning a holiday/conference call/ funding bid/lunch appointment whilst all is breaking loose in front.

This might feel a luxury if you’re on your own in a situation, and you might then have to play all these roles in your day to day existence, or when you meet up with clergy for weekly meetings.

However, does anyone have any extras they’d like to add?





Youthwork Management Juggling

The old adage that no two days in youthwork are the same, is true, neither are any two days in a management position in a youthwork organisation.

Some days can be an ongoing juggle of all the aspects of the work, all the different areas of responsibility, all the planned activities, and all the reactive ones.

From all the funding streams, managing staff, budgeting, administration, emails (sigh!) , social media presence, planning, strategy, networking, volunteer recruitment, creating policies and adhering to them. Every day can feel like an act of juggling, juggling what might be in the diary, with what emerges in the day, juggling what to do to be effective, or important in these areas. Juggling with the daily requests and phone-calls.

Though I’ve tried to find, or created my own planning or priority system, none seem to work for me. For me using electronic organising is like Rimmer in Red dwarf and his revision timetable,  I spend more time adding things to task lists, than actually doing the tasks.

Outside of ‘just’ work, then there’s the juggling of study, family and ahem exercise. (no prizes for guessing which one of these has suffered recently)

Im not one for thinking that the roles required in these spaces are a cause of undue stress, but holding things in the air and keeping all of these things spinning around in some kind of order, seems to be the day to day existence of managing in a youthwork or community organisation setting.

Yet there are other aspects of the analogy of juggling that keep ongoing – juggling between values (of local org/national affiliation/youthwork) , juggling between maintaining the organisation via funding and maintaining values, juggling between delivering on plans and having ideas and creativity, juggling between what roles does a particular day, or team, or practice need for that day or time for things to work. Juggling between doing something safe, or attempting to be creative, juggling in the borders, between the systems and yet not implicitly endorsing the system in the work. Juggling between the ideal practice, and the reality.

As i also help to deliver the detached work, juggling between practice, and being responsible for practice. Ironically at times the nature of juggling in management can make it even more difficult to be excited about practice, yet id rather do more practice, spend time energised by and with young people on detached. But mentally this can be difficult after a day of management juggling.

Maybe juggling keeps the balls in the air for so long, on other occasions the clown doing the juggling needs to walk around the stage, needs to change the space, or take the balls being juggled in a different direction. But most of the time, youthwork management on a day to day basis is an exercise in juggling, especially in a small organisation where resources are limited, but the expectations still remain. There are some days when i have to get out, walk the dog or go and have a coffee with someone – chew the fat and get a new perspective on the importance of juggling, or a different method to juggle, or to put a whole load of new, easier balls to keep spinning in the air.





Observation is critical for being faithfully relevent

According to the online dictionary, Observation means the following;
1. an act or instance of noticing or perceiving.
2. an act or instance of regarding attentively or watching.
3  the faculty or habit of observing or noticing.
Observation is Key in detached youthwork- or any community work, its part of the beginning, as a way of gathering evidence, knowledge and understand the culture and dynamics of the groups of young people, how they are in social context, movements, activities and power.
though its a beginning process, when im training people as volunteers in detached, especially those who commit to a long period of time, its important to stress the need to continually observe, to soak up what is going on around , in the act of being out in the community, the park or streets. Things change, all the time.
Observation plays a key aspect in Practical Theology too,  in whatever reflective cycle – the sense of ‘understanding what is going on’  is a key aspect, regardless of what interpretative lens might be used to decifer this.
To observe a situation is to experience it, to live through it, to watch it unfold and to be attentive. To realise the personal bias in the observing, yes, but to observe none the less.
Heraclitus said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
For Freire; “Always we have to look, Today suddenly a flower is the reason for your surprise, tomorrow it may be the same flower, just with a different colour, because of the age of the flower”
Its fair to say that although important observation plays less of a role in activities in youthwork that occur within a building, but thats not to say understanding groups, body language and actions of young people isnt important in an inside space. Its maybe that the overall environment might play less of a unexpected role in the action ( thats unless the roof is about to cave in)
And, continuing the theme of building centred work, i dont think it would be unfair to suggest that being locally attentive and observing might not be a high priority for a local church. The building and having people in it often dictates or distances the church from its community.
It might be easy to maintain a congregation by the transferral growth of christians across the UK, as they move around and have children the church will have a critical mass. Yet research for long term stability provides patchy prospects for this.
One alternative is the project, the initiative, the national plan, new idea sent from head office/london/america, that promises to save/rescue/deliver/add 100’s to the congregation (after all it worked in London/Sydney/ LA), is this the easy way of becoming despondent quickly?  take on the new initiative, have high hopes, pray a bit, do what it said, then if it doesnt work, decide that the people werent ready or there wasnt enough prayer, and then try something again.
Does the church need reclaim an attentiveness as part of its core being ? Observing, listening, and understanding in its locality. Continually observing, continually understanding local culture, continually rejecting generalisations.
There’s a thick line between treating people as a project, a tool for our great ministry (whether evangelistic), and actually serving them. There a fine line between serving people and loving people as friends. (and im desperately trying not to use words like ‘them’ or ‘community’ where these imply us/them, or community/church dichotomies)
For the many that chose not to attend our projects and ministries, there might be many who we haven’t thought about giving time to, being attentive to the locality, family dynamics, interests, needs and gifts. And many who might want space to connect with a person who has time for them.
As a mindset to continually observe locally would mean that opportunities might be only a moment away, to observe would be to be present, to enable trust. To observe would be to develop with, and amongst, and be authentic to the reality, not hope that people might fit in.
To continually observe is to be serious in being part of a community. It changes the game.
Even on detached we don’t always adapt to what we see. Its a struggle, given the pressures of time for volunteers, and myself. That sometimes we have a number of quiet evenings or hear that a different evening is when the young people are all at a certain place. Maybe thats not observing but being in the space to hear the information, but being in the space none the less. We cant just move detached to a different night, even though our observations might indicate that we should. However, we were available and trusted to be given the information in the first place. We make other continual observations such as friendship dynamics, houses boarded up, street lights being on, and the rest, all because every night is different, every moment with young people on the streets is a different interaction, with a weeks worth of life that’s happened since the last time.
So, in what ways does your church community observe information, culture, the life of its local community?
and, how might it being continually observing enable it to have opportunities to interact, to meet with, to gather and become friends with?
What real involvement might the church have in its communities if it continually observed what was going on?
After all, What did Jesus do for 30 years?  And once he’d done that didn’t he then know what kind of people, and where they would come from to be his friends and disciples?
Might genuine community discipleship start with community observation?
Might we be surprised by what might be found, rather than what we thought we might find?
To be active in the ongoing redemptive drama, Kevin Vanhoozer (2005) encourages the church to be ‘local performances of holy theatre’ – where the drama occurs in the conversations, the present action, the dialogue, as well as embodying parables in life, hospitality and visible ceremony. The private is made public, the stage is opened, the current non participants may be brought into the action as they interact with the performers.
Without being observant of the community, performances wont be appropriate. History/tradition and Canon shape a performance that doesnt have contemporary relevance. The reverse can also be the case.
Genuine observation is imperative.
Being present in the space to observe might be our opportunity to join God already, without being there we cant find him.

Passionate risky conversations

Youthworkers, educators, community workers, Clergy. Read this book.

Over the weekend I’ve been reading it, its the transcript of a conversation between two passionate educationalists, two people who changed the lives of 100’s of people through educating in a way that enabled people to begin exploring knowledge from their own understanding. Reading it has felt like being in the room with two passionate people, passionate about people, passionate about loving people and helping people make sense of the world, and helping people to understand the systems of the world that cause them to be inhumanely treated. Its been a joy and immersive experience to feel alive, feeling like i’m the fly on the wall imagining Paulo Freire and Myles Horton converse together. The atmosphere in the room must have been magic, hearing the reflections of two soldiers who enabled societal change through education. These were to me, some of the highlights:

from Paulo Freire:

“One of the important tasks we have as teachers should be not to have the experience on behalf of the students. we cannot do that. they have to have their experience”

“I am sure that one of the most tragic illnesses of our societies is the bureaucratization of the mind”

“Without understanding the soul of the culture, we just invade the culture”

“Conflicts are the midwives of consciousness”

and from Myles Horton….

“I said its not important to be good, its important to be good for something”

“So whilst I insist on starting where people are, that’s the only place they could start”

“I think the poor and the people who cant read and write have a sense that without structural changes nothing is worth really getting excited about”

“I think if i had to put a finger on what I consider a good education, a good radical education, it wouldnt be anything about methods and techniques. It would be loving people first”

None of this is difficult to be inspired by. Spoken by two people who fought against the systems with people, to understand and educate in a way that was just, and respected people as people.

Reading and being enlightened by this conversation has been somewhat of a personal therapy during a difficult week, but also a sense of renewed insight, drive and purpose in the purpose of faith, beauty  and life in the conversations with people around. I have been more involved in at least three other conversation this week, not just the fly on the wall of a recorded conversation in 1987, which have been as passionate, as  creative and as desiring for change.

A lengthy conversation with a young person on the streets on monday, a young person frustrated with school.

Then two purposeful ideas networking meetings on Wednesday, with people in positions of power desiring community change and change with young people in the North East.  Torn between the wrestling, and the creativity, the powers of restrictions and the desire to act and be different.

Conversations this week have been the mechanism for the spark, and place of ideas, of creativity, of renewed purpose, of therapy. This week passionate conversations have inspired, have refreshed and have created the space for new opportunities.

“We are afraid of risking. And its impossible, just impossible, to create without risking. Its absolutely impossible, but it takes time to begin to risk. We must be free; we must be free to believe in freedom. yet its a paradox, as without freedom its difficult to understand freedom” (Freire)

We make the road by walking.


10 Privileges of doing detached youthwork

On Monday evening, we had a team of 5 out on detached in Durham, 2 went down to a village, and the other three of us stayed up in Gilesgate. We had wondered around having seen but not really seen to speak to a few groups, but at about 7.30pm we managed to position ourselves in a spot where two small groups (who had been playing manhunt with each other) were about to converge. And they stayed to chat to us for a while. They asked questions, so did we. As we left one of the young people decided to walk with us as she lived in the direction, and as we walked we continued the conversation, about school, education, its worth (especially RE, if she wants to be a hairdresser), and in the conversation it was possible just as we walked and talked to encourage her to think and reflect upon her education, education in general and what learning is for.

It was a fabulous way to end our detached session, and for one new volunteer to see what its all about, i often describe how detached youthwork can be an honour and privilege, and this was one of those moments; and so in a slight tradition, I wonder what other privileges there are in the detached youthwork moments?

  1. Being able to interact with young people in a space, with their friends, in their time- its a very real chosen space for them.
  2. To have moments where, for little planning, you get to the core of youthwork- moments of conversation, couched in banter, and questions and stories, but conversation none the less
  3. Its a privilege to be welcomed and accepted into the group spaces, whether thats the area ( skate park) or to be included in the groups, their groups.
  4. Its a privilege to see young people in the context of the community, how they interact socially with their peers, but also parents, other adults, to see them interact socially.
  5. To see them in honesty, ie – if they’re drinking to realise exactly how much – rather than the fabled story the day after
  6. Its a privilege to be accepted by them for being a youthworker, rather than a youth worker with a programme or an activity that makes the youth worker ‘attractive’.
  7. Its a privilege to play with young people in their space, the game of football, the swings, or other game, that they might chose for us to be involved in
  8. To be able to learn about young people from experiencing life with them in shared moments on the streets, to learn from them, and be educated about their life, opinions and beliefs.
  9. Its a privilege to be respected by the community, parents and other adults who normally are accepting of what we do ( as its in the open) and we can be people they can ask about situations.

Along with the situation above, where its just an awesome thing to be present in the space of detached to enable young people to reflect and learn in the conversation, to help them think about the future, and to be able to do this without having to construct activity or cause them to be on a course. Its a privilege.


Faithful line management for Clergy might not be line management at all

This is the fourth blog ive written on the subject of the management of youthworkers by Clergy in a church setting, or the management of youthworkers at all. Usually its easier to point out the problem, rather than propose solutions ( which is what my other blogs have done). So, this one is an attempt to start a discussion on what might faithful management of a youthworker look like?

Why Faithful? well, for one reason really. Paul Ricouer talks about role identity, and suggests that “Humans come to know themselves by attesting their power to say, their power to do, and their power to recognise themselves in a character in a narrative, and in the power to respond to a call” (Ricoeur, Oneself and another p22),

Faithfulness is a theme that runs through Vanhoozers work since 2005, in Drama of Doctrine,  as, in considering the whole grand theodrammatic actions of God, that Humanity is currently situated between Acts 4 and Act 5 (the emergence of the church, and the consumation) – with a responsibility to be faithful to the eternal insights of the whole drama, the prompting of God (as also performer), and crucially the context of the world around us, in the very immediate of performance in the present. Being faithful in following the way is what we’re called to do, and be.

One of the key reflections of Line Management from the perspective of youthworkers is that they feel as though the role of manager for clergy is secondary to the responsibilities of being a clergy- the stuff that clergy are trained to do – such as funerals, or school assemblies, wedding prep, PCC meetings – and maybe because line management isnt even conceptualised in personal leadership identity training, or advised upon, it seems to be left to be improvised by individual clergy at individual times.

What the problem with this?  well- three things – firstly that where might be influences that clergy seek for examples of management to learn how to be a manager, secondly there might be limited shared practice of it across clergy, thirdly the person who may be employed in a church by the PCC might not be being treated as well as they could be.

  1. If the cues for being a good line manager come from the WHSmith bookshelf, Sir Alex Ferguson, or Bill Gates – what comparison is there between Ltd Companies management ethics & values, and the ethics, and values, mission & organisation of the church. Is the best way to manage people the same as coaching or sports anyway?  As Foucault suggests, there is a power in normalistion, and so, even thought the weight of common sense might indicate that learning and adopting from successful managers would be deemed appropriate – is it appropriate in the church? Does actively rejecting methodoloies of business for management because of the ideologies of business  which includes capatalism, money (and as we have also seen tax avoidance) – feel like a more appropriate thing for the church to do as it seeks appropriate management methods?
  2. Ok, so i’m not privy to alot when it comes to Clergy on a personal level, however, I would wonder quite how many conversations happen between them in regard to the methods, approaches and learning experienced – not of having a youthworker, but of managing one. – over and opposed to funerals, PCC’s, diocese politics.  If Clergy aren’t talking about it, its probably likely that learning isn’t shared around diocese – or where clergy have the space to reflect on management within their practice – that’s assuming that they as clergy have opportunity to reflect on practice anyway.
  3. If Management is something you as clergy might not have any guidance on, or shared practice, then are you able to act with that new employee in a way that is appropriate for them? But what is it that you might have?

Power dynamics are at play, in any supervisory, management relationship ( Kogler 1999 in Ord , J 2012) – they might be at play in any relationship, given what Foucault regards as power (being everywhere, between the structures)

Assuming that Power is more prevalent in Hierarchical relationships, especially in organisations – what might be the examples of where a line management between Clergy and Youthworker are issues of power?

Well – 1. where does line management happen? – ive never had a line management meeting by clergy that isnt in their house/office/church or study.

2. Who sets the agenda, decides on topics of conversation

3. who makes the final say

4. how might decisions be made

5. who might be asked to do what – has a youthworker ever asked Clergy to do ‘something on a Sunday’ – usually its the other way around..

These are just a few examples, and, in a hierarchical line manager type relationship, the hierarchy and sense of subordination sets the tone, the clergy os both the line manager, and clergy- thus as Giddens argues disposing to have two roles both of which carry with them echelons of historical power ( in the hieracrchy, and default by role).

And for many a clergy – holding both positions of power humanly speaking, whilst also wanting to embody a theological model of christlikeness which could be said to be sacrifical, empowering and kenotic – could be somewhat of a conflict, especially if the role of line manager is not one that they understand or have theological or appropriate theological cues for.

The question is – does the Youthworker need to have a line manager? what is the stipulation?  employment law? policies?

Would it not be better to decide upon on what functions a youthworker needs around them to flourish in a church setting, and if one person, such as clergy have to fulfil that take on that role- does that role itself need to be known as ‘line manager’?

Clergy – think about it, you have the opportunity to help educate, spiritually supervise, guide, equip and resource someone to also help you in the mission of God in the church/parish – what kind of person might they want you to be, what kind of actions should you take? and is line manager (by title) the appropriate name for the role that you want to ideally take?

If suitable performing is an enabler to feeling like being part of the ongoing narrative (Ricouer, above) – then would replacing ‘line manager’ with ‘Discipler’ be a better term – both spiritually and theologically?

Discipler/ learner might enable a ongoing learning, working together, collaborative intention – over and above the silo streams of youth ministry in one area, that intertangles with clergy work one Sunday a year, or the odd confirmation group. Discipler might also enable a reduction in the power dynamic. Its also more Frieran, in terms of ongoing learning, as you might learn process and practices from the youth worker and vice versa. Arent you more likely to want to disciple someone than line manage them?

So, maybe for Clergy – line management shouldn’t be line management at all. If its a word from a world that doesn’t fit the church- then Learner/discipler might be  better for the ongoing values, principles and actions of performing the ongoing redemptive drama on the stage – where all are performing.


Money, Sex and what was it again…

When was the last time you heard a sermon preached, or open conversation in a church about Power?

When I was on Oasis Frontine teams in 1996, we talked in one of the training sessions about the main temptations, and some of the main issues that are prevalent in churches that cause issues, they were, in accordance with a Book title, Money, Sex and Power.

Fast forward to a sex and money obsessed culture, either gaining it, having it, or winning lotteries to realise dreams because of it. In the church too, conversations about Sex (not just because of Gay Marriage, but the increase in youth ministry mean that its a conversation that occurs regularly in groups) and Money (tithing, poverty, resources, ) are both ongoing conversations. But the other one..?

Why the reluctance to talk about Power? to think about the power that resides in church organisations, from meetings, committees, to charismatic leaders, oppressive practices, power in language, control of resources, expertise, or popularity.  to name but a few. And power issues can be so destructive as well.

We know it exists, but why it seems the reluctance to talk about it?

Whilst there might there be resources to help people deal with sex (romance academy) or Money (CAP) – for example – but not to think about Power, or more pertinently the oppression that power could cause, in community, and also self critically in the church itself as an organisation?  Is no one talking about it?

What kind of resources would be good to help explore issues of power with young people – might cans of worms be opened? well yes, but that might not be a bad thing. It might be helpful for them to have a critical eye on life and powers that oppress, or powers that help, or powers that manipulate. Might it be that then activities for young people will have to take seriously how they might be tempted to manipulate, in whatever form.

Im not going to deliver a key note speech here about theories of Power, sources of it, and authority/control. People like Sykes, Lukes and Habermas can do all that, but its slightly intriguing that the conversation about power rarely occurs, and when it does its after the event – oh ‘our previous vicar was a bit power hungry’.


A theological understanding of Power might be that Gods power is enabling, encouraging and directive in accordance with his will, which is deemed good and perfect. So, thus Power from ultimate belief is deemed good. But that doesnt mean to say that power in the organisation of the church is necessarily good though. And those damaged by the church will have a different view. What about when churches have hierarchies, manage people, roles, responsibilities – who is helping churches and people to reflect on power in these dynamics?

How might the church act differently if it didnt consider itself to be powerful any more? How would its language (about being an army, of poverty, or serving) adapt accordingly – when these hold with them an element of being able to make determinations of definitions from a position of power. Would it make judgements of people in the same way?

Does retaining a belief in the all-powerful God, cause power to be uncontested within itself and for it to consider itself as holders of power in communities still?

What about power of normalisation ( Foucault) – this occurs when the ideas (or theology) determine the ‘middle/normal’ ground (especially but not exclusively theologically)- and then opinions divergent to this are disregarded, parodied or belittled rather than engaged with and had conversations about.  Is this a type of retained power to be critiqued? or is there too much at stake in the ‘normal’?

What if the church began to unmask the powers that oppress people in local communities, yet it might have to reconcile its own plank first, but might this be a more helpful use of its time and enacting liberative freedom in peoples lives, other than what seems continually obsessing about Sex, or worrying about Money.

As Foucault said : Power is everywhere. Lets open up the discussion about it and not let it fester, and i know, i dont have the power to say this or enact it, or enforce it, but maybe cause it to be thought about.


The Emotional reality of Detached youthwork

This evening i was back out on the streets with a new volunteer, you know the type, curious of detached, enthusiastic, keen, so in an attempt to burst the bubble we headed out to have a wander around the main areas of our patch this evening. As an observation session for her, and gave her time to ask questions of what its all about and to get to know the area. During the time i was proudly giving her a grand tour of the area, including the highlights of icy roads, corner shops, CCTV cameras, and bleak dark park areas she asked me two questions, both of which i responded to at the time, but that i would also share with you. the first was;

  1. Do you find that you change who you are when you’re with young people on the streets, to fit in or be understood?

Our conversation had been about accents, and that neither she or I have the same accent as the local young people, and whether our slightly soft East midlands accents would adapt, and we’d start to use words or phrases differently with the young people. I wonder if there is a subconscious adapting, that happens over a long period of time, but not sure if that happens in the space of a conversation with a group in 20 minutes or so. I did suggest that its better to be as ‘normally yourself’ as possible, as being false, and being false to be popular would be acceptable behaviours in terms of treating young people with respect. Neither would be trying to mimic local accents. Its better i suggested to be real, and although young people might find us interesting in a limited way, its better to invest time in being interested in them.

The second question was; do you find that young people react to you like a Father type figure?

This is a phrase id hate to try and adapt to being in the space of detached, i guess for fear of paternalism. Or dependency. Yet for all trying to remain distant and professional, there is no getting away from the fact that doing detached youthwork is a highly relationship orientated activity, and as such there’s no escaping that emotional connections, and responses can occur. Because albeit we want to help, and support and educate young people, we also do this in having conversation and connecting, communicating and in that there can be emotional connections. Would it be reasonable to suggest that this is common? And hear me out, its not from ill placed desires or personal needs, its that there can be a genuine sense of care, and connection with our personal emotions that is brought about when we interact with young people. We do care, and also young people might do so too. Its why they get annoyed when workers they trusted leave, or they vie for attention. As a team in Perth we used to either walk young people to or wait for them to get onto the last buses out of town, there was something completing in the sense of them leaving the city to head to their homes, also something assuring and maybe yes slightly paternal, at times it became a routine, but in some ways it was our way of showing regular care or connection with their lives. Can, that crazy, unpredictable world of detached youthwork also be a place of genuine emotional connections, in the place and space of young people – well yes – why because its where young people are able to choose it and choose us too.

Next week we’ll quit the chatting about detached when we walk around, it’ll be jackets and ID on, and starting to have conversations with young people, hopefully real ones, and real moments to connect with young people.

Helping young people just cope isn’t enough..

I was recently in a conversation with a youthwork professional who was describing a situation where they had given young people in a church the opportunity to share their issues about life,  questions they had and to use these to plan the future direction of their group in terms of activities.  Amongst other things, such as bullying, eating disorders and pressure to conform,  the worker mentionned that the young people started to ask questions of the church and growing up in it, struggles they had and felt being there.

It was a church based group after all, for them a communuty in which they could be part of, that their parents were definately part of and involved and they were also there.
I would imagine that this is a well trod scenario, where if you give young people the open space and the trust in you to provide issues and opinion then they may just do that.

Its our responses to it that matter. For it would be the easy option, the, ‘we can feel needed option’ , if we plan a course to give young people the tools to cope; cope with being bullied, cope with school pressure,  cope with fears and worries, cope with uncertainty, cope within communities like a church or other community where they feel out of place, out of sync, ignored, unvalued or unimportant. But just cope.

Maybe this is the get out for the easy option for many of us as youthworkers in whatever setting. Maybe this is the mantra of our funding reports, aims and objectives.  We’ll support young people to x or y or z, help young people deal with their issues.

And not only cope, we could as youthworkers add to their lives by distracting entertainment,  play, group work, education.  All good skill based activities, not addressing the real issue,  the elephant never even in the room.

What would it look like for youth ministry professionals in church settings to challenge any oppressive power based organisational structures in churches as young people name and identify them?
What of the youthworker that tries to take on the system or ideology of a school that exerts a type of education that doesnt fit the young person?

Is it time to be honest with the realities young people name for us,  if theyre struggling how might change be enacted with them to enable them to flourish? . What are the systematic powers in society that are subliminally causing oppression and might these also ring true in the organisations?

Coping cant be the sole solution.  Yet coping in these powerful systems is apparently the easy way. Its especially the easy way when its the system that also pays the bills.

We have a faith and a philosophy of youthwork that can challenge the powers and in doing so liberate the captives. If organisations and churches have structures and processes that restrict, disable or inhibit then its the role of the
youth worker to critique and propose with the young people opportunities for change.

Youth ministry and youthwork has to do more that help young people cope, become resilient or play the system. Its the oppressive systems themselves that need
naming and for young people to be liberated from and within.

“Unfortunately, what happens to a greater or lesser degree in the various worlds into which the world is divided is that the ordinary person is crushed, diminished,  converted into a spectator, maneuvered by myths which powerful social forces have created. These myths turn against him ; they destroy and annihilate him… they drown in leveling anonymity, without hope, without faith, domesticated (in the system) and adjusted” (Freire 1976)

Young people might sometimes be treated like the stray cats of society,  but instead of domesticating them into systems, lets give them space and encouragement and permission to challenge, critique and be free from just coping spectators awaiting rescue but to be actors freely playing in the theatre of the world.  I feel like the youthwork equivalent of bloody braveheart. Maybe its Freire getting to me.

Coping isnt living, its just coping.

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