Youth Ministry : ‘it was the future once’

Youth Ministry: from the 1950’s was a movement of young people, that started in churches, student unions that created the youth fellowship movement, and paved the way for new forms of worship, guitars, the creation of alternative cultures and expressions in Music- from Cliff, to Larry Norman, to alternative festivals – Spring Harvest, then Soul survivor, and i was in it. I bought it. I went to all of these things, except Cliff.

Then theres the resources and ministries that inform it, inspire it and academia that has professionalised it. Did a youth led movement become a leader led- ministry led movement, and whats the cost of this?

It was a grassroots movement once – it was led by young people once, when young people were dissatisfied by the church – they created the alternative, they led the movement. That is until they became the leaders of the movement.

It was the future once.

Now young people are led through youth ministry – the groups, the festivals and the culture – do they go along to the thing because the thing is there, or because the thing is for them and therefore they must.

Its not their thing, its thing made to be relevent for them.

When there was nothing, and there were many young people – there was space for the ‘thing’

Now there is no space – the thing is already pre packaged, like it, be part of it, follow it, have it, be led to it, attend it, to busy in it, consume it, grow tired of it, rebel against it, and hopefully find your way back  to find it – but the it is still the thing.

but dont create it, shape it, lead it, grow it, and challenge the already it. That might look like a fight against it.

If youth ministry was the future once, then it once looked like a grassroots movement that changed church from the inside, and took its lead from culture, the youth culture of its time.

Now youth ministry reacts to culture and creates ministries to be relevent in culture to attract and keep young people in the same cultural forms of ministries. But where is the gospel in that? where is discipleship? where is Mission?

What if the church, and youth ministry took seriously the practices that it has dallied with – that of informal education and youth work?

The values within that ironically stem from the Christian foundations of their time in the 1950’s – voluntary participation in methodism, and democracy in the baptists, Social justice in the Salvation army, Valuing the individual as created and made by God to be in community.

If youth ministry and the church – re-thought through values, not to mention christian values and community education and practice – not just what kind of youth ministry would that create, but how might it challenge the culture of the church that youth ministry is often swamped by?

A good youthworker would build on the capacities of young people to create something new, a new piece of music, a new artistic moment, a new game, a new way of interpreting culture, or even the Biblical text (dont go there regarding the involvement of the Bible in youth ministry) . Or empower young people to create based on their abilities, their gifts and their realised potential – beyond what is already known.

A good youthworker- might let young people get on with it themselves, stand back and let some kind of magic happen.

and spend time creating a culture where that might be ok to do in a church.

What kind of young adults do we want in a church? people who lead, challenge and create, or people who follow, passive and are entertained?

And what if there are no young people in a church – well that doesnt look good for the success of national youth ministry for 50 years does it. – and there will be young people who live near to your church who dont go or who have been put off by the activities, community or culture of the church in which they occur…

Then the work of developing new forms of church with young people starts outside, and the church lets go to let it happen. Especially where the church is dying, its role should be to encourage the new, learn from the new, and support it, not be challenged or defensive by the new.

Youth Ministry – it was the future once.

Asset based Community development, using its own values,  for the whole community including the church and its culture – might just be the future.



Recruiting for NCS might just kill detached youthwork for good.

So, in a bid to increase the numbers of young people attending its Flagship youth citizenship programme (NCS), the government has issued a rallying cry and investment for those professionals who are doing youthwork amongst ‘hard to reach’ groups to participate in the programme. CYP now has an article Here.

What the article calls for is for NCS to be able to be deepened into communities, amongst those young people for whom would be interested naturally.

There are key problems with this. The concept ones ill deal with later.

But on one hand it’s difficult to work out how NCS is any different from schemes like the Princes trust, which has 12 week programmes. At least the princes trust scheme has as its aim to work with young people more at the challenging end of the spectrum (to use such a phrase) – and yet even with the best intentions, environments and staff – the most chaotic disengaging, disorganised young adults are deemed and doomed to fail because of rigidity of programmes, structure and need for some kind of discipline. If young people were too at risk to cope with school, an enforced 12 week programme is another form of structure to cope within let alone thrive within.

When i was in Perth doing the detached youthwork, whenever there were these schemes being run by the various providers in the town, we would be asked to promote them to young people, especially if there were ‘gaps’ that needed to be filled, in a not too dissimilar way to the call for delivery agents in amongst the more marginalised groups to work with NCS.

One of the challenges for using detached as a signposting tool is that it gives the young person or group the impression, a true one, that the reason for being in contact with the young person is for a reason determined by someone else, outside of the relationship or the space. Especially if that is the sole reason for the youthworker to be in the space, is to inform 30 young people about a product, a service or a programme – it on that basis is no different to being an advertising arm of a local under age disco or pub, the people who are often seen handing out flyers.

I once took out an ‘outreach’ worker for a local advisory service, on the premise that they could talk about their service with the young people in the conversations on detached, but the condition was that they could not manipulate a conversation to talk about their advisory service, the only conversations they could initiate about it were from the logo on their ID. In a way this example showed the difference between improvising the conversations in the context – yes armed with information that might be useful – such as from the advisory service, or education/employment programmes – and solely being there to give information and recruit to the services.

Even when the information is given away in the conversations and is appropriate, because young people mention that theyre looking for work, or on benefits, and they could participate in such a scheme if offered, is it better than the activity emerges with the young person and youthworker as a legitimate part of their relationship and grows with the young person who has an active role in the process – rather than it be an already determined, pre organised programme that they have to fit into, with others, and have to be in a group (usually of 12) and cope in a situation that might not fit them, even if the education and skills offered might do. If the young person wants a chat about opportunities and options, then spend more time with them, follow up a street based chat with a phone call or meet for a coffee in a cafe to have a conversation – all more beneficial in the short term than referring them to a course as a next step. And if its a group wanting that kind of opportunity then again, create it with them.

If detached is only outreach, then it is questionable what kind of youth work is actually being done in the space, and if signposting to other programmes is part of the deal for a detached youthwork provision, then the integrity of the relationship, where some kind of honesty, valuing the context, challenging the structures and long term relationship is also to be questioned.  If youth work is about building a relationship with a young person as the primary client (Sercombe 2010) in their context, then the young person being the primary client is diluted when the youthworker is tasked with recruiting them for a pre existing programme, the client is NCS in the above case. The young person is a number.

At times on detached we give stuff away, maybe it is information about phone numbers for support services, or agencies, and so if young people need them they have them, and young people take these up as they need them.  The critical question is whether those who deliver detached youthwork are able to resist the incentives to be recruitment for NCS and buy into the ideologies that NCS represents, and be one of a long arm of attempts to individualise youthwork, target it and view young people as individual cases. And what happens if detached workers arent able to fulfil the targets? what happens then. what has failed – detached work? the young people? thats likely to be the story, not that the government sponsored NCS is a failure. Though by admitting it needs other agenices who work with young people at risk it is admitting that it has cherry picked thus far to make itself look half decent. What it achieves is debatable in the current climate, especially in cherry picked young people who were likely to get jobs, go to college or university anyway.

Detached youth work was never about recruiting young people or taking them off the streets, even if detached work has been one of the few consistent approaches to contacting and building long term supportive relationships with young people outside of structures of groups and organisations, using it as a recruiting tool misunderstands its practice, and reduces, dilutes and devalues the young people and the process of critical education and building community with young people.

Maybe im a purist? or Maybe detached youthwork just hasnt been used to its full potential in community development, and community flourishing with young people.


Faith development and young people (1)

Understanding faith development in young people a little bit more, might help us realise how faith and the community in which faith is discovered is a process of development. For those of you reading this who havent come across it could provoke further thought in terms of youth ministry that you are delivering. So, What is Faith development and why is it important?   Well,  there are two popular thoughts around young people and how they develop in their faith adherance, and the studies of them are from children and young people who have been brought up within the culture of a faith, usually Christianity, and usually in a western context. (so as you can see there may be limtations already)

The two are Westerhoffs, and Fowlers. Which can be read along with a few others in brief Here: Faith development in People

From the above link here is Westerhoffs:

Westerhoff presented two separate theories of faith development in his writings. The first, a four-stage theory, was printed in his exceptional volume entitled Will our Children Have Faith? (1976) and was later reduced to three stages in A Faithful Church (1981). The following is his original four-stage theory. According to Westerhoff: Faith grows like the rings of a tree, with each ring adding to and changing the tree somewhat, yet building on that which has grown before. Therefore Westerhoff offers a tree analogy and proposes four rings which are involved in the growth process.

1. Experienced Faith
At the core is the faith which we experience from our earliest years either in life or, if one has a major reorientation in his or her beliefs, in a new faith system. We receive the faith that is important to those who nurture us. The way it molds and influences their lives makes an indelible impression on us, creating the core of our faith . . .This level of faith is usually associated with the impressionable periods of life when a person is dependent on others, such as during early childhood.

2. Affiliative Faith
As one person gradually displays the beliefs, values, and practices of one’s family, group, or church, there is another ring formed. The individual takes on the characteristics of the nurturing persons and becomes identified as an accepted partner, one who is part of the faith tradition. Such participation may be formalized as in membership, a rite of baptism or confirmation, or may simply be understood, as might be the case with regular participants who do not join a church. This phase of a person’s growth is recognized as a time of testing. It is a matching of the person with peer expectations. Where traditions, values, and practices are similar, there usually is a good match and the individual merges his or her identity with that of the body. There is little room for personal differences dud to a strong emphasis on unity and conformity in belief and practice . . .The concerns for belonging, for security, and for a sense of power (and identity) that come from group membership are the key drives in forming one’s faith concept during this period. This level of faith is expressed, at the earliest, during adolescent years.

3. Searching Faith
Faith development reaches a crucial junction when one becomes aware that personal beliefs or experience may no longer be exactly the same as those of the group, or when a person begins to question some of the commonly held beliefs or practices. This occurs as one naturally recognizes that his or her faith is formed more by others (parents, peers, congregation, etc.) than by personal conviction. The decision must be faced whether or not to develop, express, and accept responsibility for a personal interpretation of one’s religion as over against accepting that which may be viewed as a group’s interpretation. Often there is experimentation in which persons try out alternatives or commit themselves to persons or causes which promise help in establishing personal conviction and active practice of one’s faith.

4. Owned Faith
The culmination of the faith development process finds expression in a personal, owned faith. This best could be described as a conversion experience, in which a person has reoriented his or her life and now claims personal ownership of and responsibility for beliefs and practices . . .Characteristics of this phase include close attention to practicing one’s faith as well as believing it . . .This level of faith, according to Westerhoff, is God’s intention for everyone; we all are called to reach our highest potential.

Source: Westerhoff, John H. III. Will our Children Have Faith? New York: Seabury Press, 1976.

Our lives as people of faith can best be understood as a pilgrimage that moves slowly and gradually through ever-expanding expressions.

1. Affiliative Faith
The beginning, typical of children through the high-school years, I have characterized as affiliative faith . . .it comes through feelings or sensory experiences in the form of interactions with others and our world. The foundations of faith are found in experiences in which we learn to trust other people, ourselves, and our world, not because we are told we are of worth and the world is trustworthy, but because we experience it as such . . .our actions with our children influence their perceptions and hence their faith much more than the words we speak. Our actions frame what our children will experience . . .Affiliative faith looks to the community and its tradition as its source for authority. We depend on significant others for the stories that explain our lives and how our people live. Belonging to a community is very important in order to fulfill our need to be wanted and accepted.

2. Searching Faith
Begins during high-school years and extends through early adulthood. It is characterized by questioning, critical judgement, and experimentation. It comes in the form of doubt and the struggle to frame philosophical formulations. Through a personal search for truth, we move from dependence on others’ understandings to autonomy and independence. To find a faith of our own, we need to doubt, question, and test what has been handled down to us.

3. Mature Faith
. . .which integrates the seeming contradiction of affiliative and searching faith. Possible for adults who have passed through the earlier stages, mature faith begins in middle adulthood and develops until death. In this final stage we are governed by neither the authority of the community nor our own intellectual authority, but by personal union with God through free acts of the will. Interdependence integrates the dependence of affiliative faith and the independence of searching faith. Belonging is still important, but people with mature faith are secure enough in their convictions to challenge the community when conscience dictates . . .We all grow by being with others, who affirm where we are and share with us lives of more expanded faith. So it is that we adults need to concerned first of all about our own growth, and we need always to remember that even mature faith has at its core a childlike faith.

Source: The chapter entitled “A Journey Together in Faith” in John H. Westerhoff’s Bringing Up Children in the Christian Faith. Minneapolis: Winston Press, Inc., 1980.

And then Fowlers, from the same source is Here:


1. Primal Faith (infancy)
This first stage is a prelanguage disposition (a total emotional orientation of trust offsetting mistrust) and take form in the mutuality of one’s relationships with parents and others. This rudimentary faith enables us to overcome or offset the anxiety resulting from the separations that occur during infant development . . .It forms the basic rituals of care and interchange and mutuality. And, although it does not determine the course of our later faith, it lays the foundation on which later faith will build or that will have to be rebuilt in later faith.

2. Intuitive-Projective Faith (early childhood)
Here imagination, stimulated by stories, gestures, and symbols and not yet controlled by logical thinking, combines with perception and feelings to create long-lasting faith images. These images represent both the protective and the threatening powers surrounding one’s life. This stage corresponds with the awakening of moral emotions and standards in the second year of life. It corresponds as well with the awareness of taboos and the sacred and with the struggle for a balance of autonomy and will with shame and construction in the child’s forming self. Representations of God take conscious form in this period and draw, for good or will, on children’s experiences of their parents or other adults to whom they are emotionally attached in the first years of life.

3. Mythic-Literal Faith (elementary-school years through early adolescence)
Here concrete operational thinking–the developing ability to think logically–emerges to help us order the world with categories of causality, space, time, and number. We can now sort out the real from the make-believe, the actual from fantasy. We can enter into the perspectives of others, and we become capable of capturing life and meanings in narrative and stories.

4. Synthetic-Conventional Faith (middle adolescence)
The emergence of formal operational thinking opens the way for reliance upon abstract ideas and concepts for making sense of one’s world. The person can now reflect upon past experiences and search them for meaning and pattern. At the same time, concerns about one’s personal future–one’s identity, one’s work, career, or vocation–and one’s personal relationships become important. These new cognitive abilities make possible mutual interpersonal perspective taking. Here in friendship or the first intimacy of “puppy love” young persons begin to be aware of the mirroring of self provided by the responses of persons whose feelings about them matter . . .These newly personal relations with significant others correlate with a hunger for a personal relation to God in which we feel ourselves to be known and loved in deep and comprehensive ways.

5. Individuative-Reflective Faith (presumably, young adulthood)
One the one hand, to move into the Individuative-Reflective stage, we have to question, examine, and reclaim the values and beliefs that we have formed to that point in our lives. They become explicit [consciously chosen] commitments rather than tacit [unexamined] commitments . . .now one maintains that commitment and identity by choice and explicit assent rather than by unconscious formation and tacit commitment . . .By the time we are adolescents, we have a number of different characters we play in the drama of our lives. The task of the Individuative stage is to put in place an “executive ego”–the “I” who manages and “has” all these roles and relations yet is not fully expressed in any one of them. It means taking charge of one’s life in a new way. It means claiming a new quality of reflective autonomy and responsibility.

6. Conjunctive Faith (mid-life or beyond)
This stage involves the embrace and integration of opposites or polarities in one’s life. . .Here symbol and story, metaphor and myth, both from our own traditions and from others, seem to be newly appreciated . . .Having looked critically at traditions and translated their meanings into conceptual understandings, one experiences a hunger for a deeper relationship to the reality that symbols mediate . . .In this stage it becomes important to let biblical narrative draw us into it and let it read our lives, reforming and shaping them, rather than our reading and forming the meanings of the text.

7. Universalizing Faith
Beyond paradox and polarities, persons in the Universalizing stage are grounded in a oneness with the power of being or God. Their visions and commitments seem to free them for a passionate yet detached spending of the self in love. Such persons are devoted to overcoming division, oppression, and violence, and live in effective anticipatory response to an inbreaking commonwealth of love and justice, the reality of an inbreaking kingdom of God.

Source: James Fowler, Weaving the New Creation (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), 102-15.


Now the good thing about both of these theories for Youth Ministry in the church is that they provide a clue as to what is going on the lives of young people for whom they have been part of the culture of the church for a while, and how their faith it is said is in need of different focusses as it in itself develops. The Sad thing is when our approaches as church, and focusses of actions seem not to take into account the faith conflict being understood in the life of the young person, as they are making sense of their world and faith community, identity, peers and sexuality all at the same time. Often trying to own a faith and challenge it, with a church that wants control, and limits, belittles or is fearful of the critical questions.

Maybe it is full of people who have been too afraid of asking questions, since the last time Steve Chalke or Rob Bell did, look what happened to them.

But is there any wonder if exploring the edge of faith isnt accepted as part of the conversation with young people, if doubt is seen as wrong or to be avoided, and certainty and adherance the only path to follow. Young people might even be wanting to ask the questions of the realities of youth ministry- and not just the actions of the local church – and is there the space for them to do this, and stay part of a community that continues to walk with them.

If young people want to be critical where do they go? or more to the point, if they are going to want to ask questions how can they stay and be accepted?



The implications of the knowledge of faith development theory in Youth Ministry is huge. But aside from presenting all this information to you im not that interested. Though like everything the pathway through is not linear,  there may be severities, and theories are not always useful, each young person may travel at different points and speeds, expressing them in a number of ways, space might be important to reflect on things with a young person.

Youth Ministry need not reform because of these, but what might it mean for a one size fits all approach to group work, or even age groups in festivals. Will every 12-18 year old interact with the large worship event at soul survivor in the same way? not because of faith tradition, but faith development stage – what of those who stand and find more questions of God in the space than desires to be carried away with the experiences and worship offered. Can that be a faithful act too? Because its part of a natural process, and even God given to think about such things in a way, and emerge with something that might be considered deeper, owned and for the long haul, yes deeper than singing in a large group of people.

If this is the introduction, then the question i have is based upon the reality that as i realised a few months ago, i haven’t worked vocationally with christian young people in a church cultural setting for over 10 years- and so my question is – what happens to faith development for young people who find the initial awakening of faith at an age such as 12, or 15?

What happens to faith development then?

When they find faith new – in a personal stage of critical thinking? and how might their faith development then be undertaken as they have an infant faith but teenage body, and critical mind?  When its fresh?  Thats for the second part.  Your thoughts welcome, as what are the impacts of faith development in missional work with young people?



Can children be too young for informal education?

I have realised that its been a while since i wrote about youthwork or informal education, and over the past few months we have had a bit of a challenge at DYFC ( see above page) which has provoked the above question – can children be too young for informal education?

when you think of the following; Childrens work, Junior work, After schools clubs, these can be high energy affairs, lots of programmes, activities and games, with teaching as another aspect of the programme. Especially, but not exclusively in faith group settings. At Durham YFC we have taken a different approach with our after school club – which has raised some unexpected opportunities and challenges.

The setting of the after-schools club is in the community centre at the heart of an estate in Durham, a traditional community centre which now also hosts job clubs, cafe, social enterprises and is, because there are no other spaces, at the heart of the community. The club exists in this space one afternoon a week  in a place that anyone in the community is welcome and comfortable in.

Informal education is a way of working with people that values education through conversations, is part of the daily round and requires a kind of skill to be attentive, observant and improvise as situations emerge, and importantly to create a space that allows this to happen. (for more see

The content of the DYFC after-schools club is to set up a table to one side of the community centre, and have 2-3 craft based activities on the table for anyone who attends and as they are there they can learn to do the craft, make something and then have conversation.


That’s all there is, for 90 minutes. No games, though there is a table tennis table if young people want to use it, no computers, no songs, or teaching slot. It is a space that is open to all, and open to give those attend a safe space, in their space, and to do something whilst being in conversation.

And conversation does happens.

Despite or even in because the nature and needs of the children (sometimes as young as 6, as old as 12) who drop in.

Conversations about school, future, politics, fashion, art, faith, local issues, family issues all happen, as provoked and promoted by the young people. Other times glimpses of conversations are had with the young people as they often give away snippets of their lives, and move on to something else. In the conversation we can ask, and listen, and make things together, sometimes it is just about being there to hear, and provide a space.

The opportunities for diverse conversations, to build relationships based on trust and interest are obvious. However, the question for us is whether providing this type of space in

However, the question for us is whether providing this type of space in childrens lives – ie the 6-9 year olds that when these ‘children’ become 11-12 year olds and the young people who have journeyed with us who are now 12-13, and in many situations they might love the ‘space to chat’ thats open, safe and hopefully friendly. But they have been part of this environment for 3-4 years already and so its almost as if theyve grown out of needing it.

Could it be that there is a younger age for ‘Informal education’?  Or whether this type of approach should be reserved for ‘non children’?  for the time at which they most desire an open/informal type space?

What this proves to us is that an informal space approach does work with children, the most chaotic appreciate the simplest of activities, the attention and being respected and having the chance to be listened to. Having less preciousness over programmmes mean that participation becomes less of contention. But unintentionally has this caused challenges for using similar approaches, with the same people in the project, who are now older.

Informal education with Children- is it ever too young? are there other challenges that you have? or advice you might give us?


If you would like to give to the work of DYFC, or find out more please click the link above.


Youth Ministry : Challenging the Cultural Practices in the church

Martin Saunders gets this spot on in his article Here, an almost tribute to ‘I love 1991’ and all its glory and the shifts in certainly British culture ever since. A shift that Youthwork Magazine has manfully tried to keep up the times with, to help or inform the christian youthworker of the cultural shifts that may be occuring generally, that might be ahead or behind the local context in which they are working.

Youth Ministry as Pete Ward recognizes (2008) became attuned to cultural studies, as it became a work of Mission and Missiology, or as in other cases to maintain relevancy so it could proclaim a message in an evangelistic way.

The question should be asked, and a 25 year anniversary of Youth work Magazine, or dare I say a 35 Year anniversary of Peter Brierelys well known data on Young People on the church (300 leaving every week)- has turning to general culture been a positive move for the long term success of youth ministry?  And if it hasnt what question or focus should youth ministry take in the next 25 years?

Wait, before we go further- what I mean is not the sustenance of youth ministry as a product, a practice or a profession, or even a technology – any church can have a youth group that lasts 30 years… – I mean the long term discipleship of young people in forms of church (be it new, fresh expression, or inherited). A culture that as Martins article and our own experience is shifting so quickly that even Politics now is dating quickly.

Culture has, as Youth Ministry has, had an effect on the Church too, there is no escaping cultural influences in the church as the churches have either backed away from, adopted uncritically, or sought to replicate aspects of contemporary culture. From Powerpoints, to Management policies, to Summer festivals, Music, Policies, Websites, Social Media, forms of church (cafe church, emerging church) all have some influence of or from culture. The church has shifted in 25 years too. But what hasnt changed in 25 years?

The church, if it could be grouped together, for as Tanner argues, it is not uniform, it acts and responds differently in different contexts (Tanner, 1997, 153), whilst it has changed adopting practices to attract new people ( through mission and changing its form ( ie messy church, emerging church etc) Has the church, even in a local context, changed policies, or constitutions or practices when challenged by youth workers about inclusion, participation and decision making?

Are there systematic and Cultural shifts required in the church that are needed in order that young people have opportunities for discipleship, belonging and supported participation in the ongoing community of church?

Heres a question for you:

What is the Minimum age that someone can be to be a Trustee in an Organisation in the UK? 

Go on have a guess…

21? 25? 18?

Before I answer this, have a think about the constitution of your youthwork organisation, or your church – and think about the age restriction, or belief restriction there might be for someone to become a member – again – is it 18? or is it ‘when baptised?’ or confirmed? or is there not a membership scheme at all?

Especially feel awkward if one of your organisational aims or values is empowerment or participation of young people.

If in your youthwork organisation or church there is a requirement that a person is 18 for them to become a member, or even 16 – then this is a decision that is made to restrict young people over and above that which is required by the Charity Law. You can read it here: Charity Law 2011 for;

There is no legal restriction on the age of a young persons participation in decision making in a UK charity – yes they have to want to take on the responsibility, etc etc, but age is not deemed a factor in this. They can be a trustee legally from any age.

And that’s for them to be a trustee – the equivalent of an Elder effectively. Not just a member.

So, Has the church actively prevented young people to participation in their constitutions? well that might be slightly unfair,  a crime of ignorance more that deliberation possibly. As this change was only made in 2008 and unless you have someone in your church or organisation who is an expert in charity law (and that’s assuming your church is a charity) .  There may be very good reasons why only over 18’s can be Trustees or Members in your church. But to comply with UK legislation isn’t one of them. And it’d be difficult to find a biblical reason either.

So for Youth Ministry it has had to move with the times outside of the church – its spent its time finding its space within the world to be incarnate or relational or intentional ( depending on which decade of the last 25 years it is in) , but what it has only been able to do is create alternative forms of similar churches in the main, because the youth worker, Youth Ministry has been unable to do is to affect what a cultural systems in the church that act as barriers for young people. It has gone to the communities in the margins to provide opportunities of faith, or acceptance and grow indigenous faith community, because thats often the easiest but more painful way of having to love young people, and be church, but almost keep them away from church in its current form knowing that as a culture it is too removed, different and exclusive at times.

It has been easier for youth ministry to move with the times to follow young people into the culture – leaving church behind to a degree, acting on its behalf missionally in the world.

Maybe the next 25 years of youth ministry conversations will happen the other way, that instead of youth ministry serving the church, the church learns and listens from its missional youthworkers, and reflects upon either systems and boundaries that exclude, or where they are lacking systems that inhibit. Yes the times have changed, and the church has to some degree, but it’d be hard pushed to find actual legislative change in 25 years that has had a positive inclusive effect on the participation of young people in the church. Youthwork magazine can talk all it wants to its own youthworkers, but where is the voice of youthwork, or young people in the Church Times? thats the space to engage critical thinking of these issues by clergy, diocese and affiliations.  Youth work magazine could become Youth Ministry’s its own echo, the curse that befalls Twitter.

And yes whilst not every young person wants to be involved in the organisation of the church or in doing so will increase discipleship, that is not the point, at the moment they cant. A youth worker in that church might be risking their job to challenge this. But it needs regional and synod, cultural and sytematic change, or whole affiliation change where this is deemed then an appropriate move. So at least then young people can. And its an option and opportunity afforded. Then the church might change when it hears the voice of young people in its decision making processes. And if they need to change to accomodate, so be it. Because its difficult to prove that another 25 years of youth ministry is going have an effect without cultural and systematic changes in the church.

How to stop losing young people from the church.

Is one of the oft cries of the Clergy and Congregations. Its also the key outcome of Youth Ministry. Trying not to lose young people. Thats what all the resources, festivals, cultural icons, activities are all for. not to lose young people.

We have great childrens work, messy church, Sunday schools until they get to 11, but when they get to secondary school we struggle to keep them.

At its at this point when the conversation turns one of two ways.

  1. Give up
  2. Appoint a youthworker
  3. Hope that the young people go to church or CU in a school/ or a different church.

There possibly is no magic cure to this one as every young person, in every family and in every church is different. But what might be the questions to ask ourselves before a young person, or group of them get to that ‘tricky age’..

  1. Are they in a settled peer group in that group – ie of 9-10 yr olds? how might we develop group work with their established group (not our predestined age demarkation)
  2. What do we expect them to do at age 11 – at the same time school demands the same change? even schools dont make an 11 year olds sit in a group with a 15 year olds- from the age of 11. no wonder some 11 year olds might struggle in that kind of environment – and that’s on the assumption that there is some kind of youth group to ‘move up’ to.
  3. Who are the people that these 9-10 year olds have connected with at ages 9-10?  can these leaders stay being the leaders of this group as it moves up. So that they all continue this connection & relationship – instead of moving groups.
  4. What about opportunities for the 9-10 yr olds to also have responsibility and leadership roles in the church.

The other thing is it depends on who the 9-10 year olds are. If they are the traditional ‘church’ sunday school young people then yes they might drift away from a point of being ‘in’ the culture.

If the 9-10 year olds have only recently arrived through more community work type approaches such as messy church, and maybe dont have ‘christian’ influence at home   (yes both of these categories are generalisations) – then maybe the space of belonging for them such as messy church is also the space thatthey find faith, belonging and continued responsibility as church through their teens. Or youthwork approaches used with them to develop their faith as they continue. referring them to a different group, time, event – will almost certainly lose them. or make it harder for them.

I guess the key is relationship over activity. Investing in young people through the long haul, and being consistent in discipling them from what-ever start point.  If you do lose them, then dont think of as lost. Think of it as a process of having begun, and find ways of staying in contact with them, but not expect attendance but conversation instead.

We need to build on what we have, and if that is actual relationships with young people though 8,9,10 then we need to be wise as to how we keep them. leave the school to do difficult transitions.

What is your churchs pathway for children and young people from 0-18? and where are the most challenging jumps that they as young people have to make?

And what kind of faith do you want them to have at certain points?

What kind of disciples do you want them to be – world changers? faith challengers? and leaders equipped to minister to others?

And no, there are no easy answers, and there are no right answers either because the situations are all different, but treating young people as disciples and young adults who are important in the faith community is a good place to start. It might involve culture change within the church.

Detached youthwork and pokemon go!

Whoo hoo! Young people are not inside playing on xboxes! !!

They’re now outside wondering around wiggling their phones around, meeting at points and buildings finding pokemons and spots. Collecting items and having battles, and playing Pokemon Go! a game that is using the public space as the landscape for a series of challenges and interactions.

At least they’re outside.

So, what to do on detached?

Find the spots and wait for the young people to arrive? – could do

Set up a mobile Charlie brown like lemonade stall and give out drinks at the spots?

What it means is that young people are as much in the space of the streets as the driver is who is only following sat nav. The world is a game to be guided in by GPS, 4G and a camera.

For the detached youthworker we might see young people who wouldn’t normally be around or used to the outside space. Places that have their own cultures , rules and territories, being momentarily taken over by a new phase.

Given the conversational nature of detached, we get to hear the fads and fashions as young people tell us when they adopt them, yet this feels different in that its taking the game to the streets and reshaping how the street is viewed.

What about interrupting the pokemon players.. is it advised? , I guess we have to be even more conscious of stating who we are to them which we should anyway. But we would be interrupting and is this wise?

And if we’re aware of being strangers to young people finding the space, it’ll be worth being vigilant of those who might take advantage of the space and contact young people who might do harm. But then there’s always an element of protecting young people on detached so this is no different.  Maybe we help them when they can’t find locations, or walk into lampposts…?

The good thing is that young people might be out and about, yet they’re not really bored in the space or even showing the body language to be approached in cold contact so engagement is likely to be limited. Unless of course we can help them find their next spots or zone, and Detached youthwork has always also had that element of helping people find their way.

Maybe if we can’t beat them, join them.

Remembering that not every young person is playing and can have access to play. And conversation with the regular young people might still be more appropriate. Will the gamers just be part of the outdoor culture for a little while. Effectively what Nintendo wii was for serious gaming. Just a hobby or passing interest.

How long might it last, can we really see young people playing in cold northern cities in November?  Maybe, but the summer might be interesting..

Following Jesus’ Education methods for youth ministry & Discipleship

So, what might it mean to follow Jesus educational examples in Youth Ministry? or the church at all as it disciples people?

It struck me today that one of the principle differences between the episodes in Luke 24 (Emmaus Rd) and Acts 8 (Gaza Rd) was that unlike Philip who was encountering a stranger, Jesus on the road to Emmaus was talking to his friends. And then it dawned on me that in a way thats a key difference between detached youthwork and the centre based youth work, in that there is space in the group work context of youth ministry to consider people as friends in a more coherant way than detached. Or at least the relationship is somewhat different. and so, If this is how he educated his friends…

It could be argued that meeting young people that are well known on the street is as like the emmaus road experience, but im going to bench that thought for the time being, and reflect on Emmaus in a different way, and consider the question- what if youth ministry was like the Emmaus road experience for young people, and followed its trajectory in terms of process and learning?, of revelation and responsibility?

Firstly is it a relevent question? Well on one hand, the period of the Emmaus Rd is after Jesus resurrection, in the very early part of the fourth act of five in the Theodrama, the awakening of the church, the same period we are in now, albeit Jesus was still on the scene, the scene was about to change. Also whilst its not always great to model church practice on the early church ( due to blueprint ecclesiology and thus never matching up, Healy 2001), its rare that youth ministry attempts that same ecclesial modelling, instead thinking of itself often as ‘evangelistic’, ‘educational;, formational or missional – i can’t really remember times when the processes of faith communities were held up as models for youth ministry. However, maybe thats not the point – what if we know all we need to know how to educate young people in Youth Ministry from the Emmaus Rd experience?

A few pointers that might lead the way:

  1. There was space for the two followers to talk – without intervention

the two disciples were walking along to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, as they walked along they were talking about everything that happened”  (Luke 24: 13)

Of course, those who know me are going to realise im going to pick up on the informal education aspect of this interaction, given that Jesus’s actions, largely through speech, are the key focus of much of the Gospels. In many cases it is in reaction to a proposal from others, a question, or actions (Luke 20: 22, 18:35), other times Jesus instigates it. In Luke 19:28 the disciples were walking, but Jesus walks ahead of them and speaks, as a contrast on the Road to Emmaus, he gives space for the intent conversation to occur.

The question is, how much space might we give for the conversations to occur naturally in Youth Ministry? – before we interject, sometimes intervene into them? Clearly here it was given- and would it matter depending on the subject. What’s the difference between relevant and irrelevant conversation – and who makes that call?   I used to hate it when the programme or the expectations of the volunteers were that the programme dictated the interruption in natural conversation, especially as that was often for an ‘ice breaker’ game that was barely needed. Often thats about letting go of needing to wrestle back control.

2. Jesus hears their conversation, but doesnt join in. Yet.

Not too dissimilar to the Gaza road experience in Acts 8, the audible noises of the conversation, or the man reading aloud from the scroll are heard by the new visitor to the situation. Heard first.  If Calvin is right; the not only does a ‘church need to become accustomed to hearing men (& women)’ then it goes without saying that work with young people in churches is to do the same. during the space, its important to hear.  What might young people be talking about intently as they walk along?  Yesterdays Call of Duty game is todays Pokemon Go!, or relationship issue, or celebrity news. What can we hear as youth workers, in what is said, they way things are said, and what is meant by what is said in those conversations. Hearing is much more revealing than we realise.

3. Jesus was so part of the moment that he wasnt recognised. Yet how often does the Youthworker want to be distinctive (insert typical ‘look’ of youthworker here _______ ) , or make their move to announce themselves in the moment. Instead Jesus is barely recognised. He becomes part of the conversation without adjusting the conversation going on them. Even as highly valuers of conversation, its so tempting to disempower the conversation between young people to make it all about us, or the setting, or the activity. Even phrases like “i remember when i was at school… ” or “when i had a girlfriend….” can be ways of being recognised as different. But Jesus only asks them the following question:

what are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” 

Jesus has heard their intent, their dismay, as well as the content of it. Fast forward to July every even numbered summer, and the conversational dismay of the England football fan as they’ve been knocked out of a football tournament. Or the conversations in August as young people receive exam results, fail/pass driving tests. Intent conversations. In the situation it’s the appropriate thing to ask, because although Jesus walks with the disciples they don’t realise he is there, he hears them. It’s not about copying like to like what Jesus said, but being as appropriate in the space we’re in. In this question Jesus gives value to how they are talking, the feelings being spoken, that are evident. There is genuine interest to give more space to reflect on more or talk over the same incident again.

If this was about setting a programme or theme for the session, then it is being made in the space of the conversation, albeit the events they are talking about on Emmaus were of Jesus’ making, their conversation guides the interaction. If Jesus actions over that weekend were the subject of the conversation then what does that reveal about where the subject matter goes, in our educations and programmes.  Its at the beginning. Not the end. (Insert obvious comment about youth groups with closing God-slots)

Setting curriculums is a tough call, equally not having them, or having open space takes being brave and having the interaction skills to cause it to happen. Often the space that young people want is the conversation in the appropriate space, in the situation of Emmaus, it was also what was needed.

I wonder, beyond the programmes, whether growing churches and youth ministries might be also the ones that have genuine spaces for social conversations, and its not about music, powerpoint screens or relevency, but hearing, responding and adaptablility.

Jesus question to those disciples does interrupt the flow of the conversation. It’s like someone arriving in the UK today and asking- “so whats been all the fuss about recently?”  The disciples the same , their sadness, written across their faces, saying ‘you must be the only one that hasnt heard…. ‘ – but even then Jesus asks ‘what things?’ as if to say ‘tell me more’. Giving them the chance to describe again. Even though Jesus may have already heard them in and their feelings of intent. ‘What things’ doesnt place and perjoritive on the content, though Jesus would have probably known where the conversation was heading. In our Youth Ministry conversations, the ride to any destination is more Southern rail, than Rollercoaster. But thats not to become involved in the process of joining with the young people to explore whatever it is further.

And thats what happens, along the road, the story of the Jesus own crucifixion & resurrection is told by the disciples back to Jesus, not for his understanding, but for their emotions of the experience to be revealed in the retelling, and where the gaps of learning & understanding might be.

However, as his friends, he also calls them fools. or at least unlearned, fools may be strong. Fools that they didn’t connect their Jewish roots , stories and prophecy with what had happened. Yet for the disciples their culture had prevented them, or they themselves were only just digesting everything so hadn’t made the connection. Jesus then does something new – connects the old with the new, bringing the whole story into immediate focus.  Taking them through it, explaining all things concerning himself. describing how to make sense of the recent events.

Ok, so here we’re getting ahead of ourselves, They may feel like God, but the youth minister really isn’t. Yet in the conversation Jesus is able to reappropriate the history of the old story with the recent events, putting everything in a grander perspective, but at the same time not belittling the disciples experience, feelings or reactions.

Jesus showed the disciples how to understand, not what to understand. Giving them a new tool, a way of interpreting the situation using existing frameworks and now in light of a new situation. The whole all fits together, from Isaiah to the Resurrection. For Jesus he shows them how to read it, not what to read, or what to believe, but how to read the signs, read the times and how to believe. Do we in a similar way give young people the tools of understanding or tell them what to understand? there is a difference…

When they got to the disciples house, yes there was hospitality, but it was in the Actions of Jesus that what he was trying to educate made sense. And so, in the moment of our educating, what might be the appropriate actions that cement it in the here and now, as well as long term integrity, works of social justice, grace and forgiveness. For Jesus it was an act that communicated, reassured and revealed himself. An act that took education to revelation, and passive acceptance of truthes, to a type of dialogue that promoted immediate change and action, the disciples then ran back the 7 miles. 

The principle challenge, is that if this is the way ( and other post resurrection scenarios are similar) that it is recorded that Jesus educated his friends after the resurrection, how might the education processes that occur be ones that shape the way we as youthworkers, educate young people? Is Emmaus a programme for how to do youth ministry amongst friends of the church? And not just youth ministry – what about education in the church as a whole – church as a body of friends..?

In a way it was a kind of informal education that changed not the individual disciples, but also help them to transform the world. I see no better example of what youth work and ministry should be all about. It is acted interpretation, not just cerebral.


Investing in volunteers is better that employing a professional youthworker

Yesterday i wrote a piece about what a church needs to do, if they were thinking about employing a youthworker as a member of staff within a church, to help with the designated need and work required. However, during today i have realised that this is a luxury that many churches have absolutely no hope of even thinking of, given tight resources and budgets. Having no young people is not an excuse however, as id argue that a youthworker should be employed to do mission work in a local community amongst young people whom the church doesnt yet know in a pioneering way, more so than in situations where their role is almost solely within a church & groups setting. But thats another discussion. So if its resources that prevent you from being able to employ a youthworker, or some other reason, then there are a number of alternatives open to you, that as a church should be done and are probably being done, with a few hints & tips that might be of use.

  1. Invest in current volunteers by giving good supervision, training and opportunities for challenge, growth and reflection. In effect disciple them in their current roles. If you have no volunteers- see point 9.
  2. Develop opportunities for training for current volunteers, like a rat in London, you’re probably not more than 10 miles from an unemployed or youth worker in need of a small extra job to deliver some training for your volunteers.  In house training in the context is ALWAYS more beneficial than sending volunteers to conferences, dont believe the hype about conferences. Get training you need specific to you and ask a youth worker about what they can offer, many should be able to lead sessions on group work & dynamics, ways of using the bible, reflection, conversations, young peoples issues. Yes you might have to pay for a days training, but itll be worth it. and more value for money than most conferences. and specific.
  3. Use some of the latest books on youth work & youth ministry as study materials in home groups for the leaders, yes its not the Bible – but neither were Nooma DVDs. As a start, ‘the art of youthwork’ by Kerry young, or ‘youthwork and the mission of God’ by Pete Ward are accessible and informative.
  4. Use the resources available from affiliation staff, Diocesan youth advisers those sorts of people.
  5. Facilitate ideas and vision days for the work with young people, and again arrange for someone to help you with that.
  6. Develop leadership skills with the children and young people so that they take on responsibility and decision making as part of the groups, as part of their discipleship – surely you dont need a youthworker to do that..
  7. You may be able to find a year out type youth worker locally depending if an organisation locally has them, but be aware they often take as much managing and will arrive with little training (regardless of what the leaders tell you) and may take a while to fit in. They also usually leave after less than a year. (this isnt the time to do a pros-cons of gap years, but getting ‘one’ is no walk in the park, but its an option)
  8. A similar option might be a placement student from one of the few university courses doing christian youthwork/ministry. This will depend on your location, and on resources again, its an option. You could ‘share’ a student with another local church, again an option.
  9. You, if you’re clergy reading this, might have to lead in discipling the young people, and thats maybe not your calling, but if taking a lead disciple role in discipling others isnt the role of clergy..? Maybe the young people currently in the church are too important to not be given the professional spiritual guidance that you are equipped to offer. For their sake, building a supportive relationship with a member of the clergy might have a much more significant impact on them, than effectively outsourcing it to dare i say it ‘ a youthworker’ or a one year gap yr student. There’s plenty of help around if you want it, see points above.

Sometimes the best option isnt to get the external person in, invest in who you have already. Especially as these people might be less likely to leave, and be able to support the young people for longer. It’s then about finding ways and approaches of working that enable both the volunteers and young people to be discipled. It’s not about running groups, but about discipling young people, so find ways that work. If its movie & sports nights with prayer, bible chat and lighting candles, then do this. And not unlike the

And not unlike the emmaus road, sometimes joining them in that discipleship, and other times be prepared to allow them to walk alone to discuss, think and reflect, question and react. If the group work model requires too many helpers, then find another one. Be Creative and consult with the young people. Let them lead you in this process.

The alternative to a youth worker, might not be a youth worker at all. it might be a church with a culture that all are disciples with responsibility to disciple everyone else. Young people might not be so different- just need time, space and respect, theyre not so separate or distinctive in any way.



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