Life in the scenes – not just in the journey.

A couple of articles have prompted this reflection. The first one is here, a slightly typical Guardian article posted at the end of the Olympics and the start of the football season. It highlighted that the Olympics, and most sports apart from Football, and probably Cricket and Golf; there is the need for the Sport to educate, to reflect for us, the audience to be inspired by the journey of the athlete, for the athlete, usually still dripping with sweat to tell us their story;

“These days, fewer and fewer sporting moments are permitted not to be a learning experience, as though enjoying them purely sportingly, and for their own sake, would be a waste of time or a lesser experience. There must be hugging. There must be learning. Post‑event interviewers are always effectively asking the person who has provided the sporting moment what we’ve learned from it. We get the long view while the athlete is still out of breath.”

The need for the Olympian to be narrated into having a journey- or a back story- has become a priority for the broadcaster, the sport might not sell otherwise- unless it can be a personal narration. Life is a Journey- and individual sports – and even individual athletes in team sports ( like the womens hockey for example) are key to drawing us into that journey.

Did the phenomenon start with Big Brother? – In the broader sense of ‘Reality TV’ the journey of the individual became/is the story. Every Big Brother contestant was asked to reflect on their Journey, every X factor contestant gets asked the same. And if they dont get asked – then they’re told “what an amazing/incredible” journey theyve been on, by the presenter. Are we still interested about what people bake on bake off, or sew in the sewing bee – as much as their back story?

Life has to be a journey doesnt it.

Has to be ‘moving forward’ – has to be ongoing progression – and whilst there is always growth – is Journey always an appropriate way of thinking about life?

The second article i cant find, i did read it, it is somewhere on the excellent Threads website ( and posed the question: ‘Whats wrong with thinking about life as a Journey?’ A race of sorts with a beginning, a middle and an end. Does Journey – do life a disservice?

Is it not easy then to think of speed when thinking of journey – of life ‘in a slow lane’ – or feeling like ‘life is passing you by’ – If we consider life to be a journey – then it would be easy to use the analogy to make those comparisons of others, and then naturally ourselves. What if we become motionless or stuck, or struck down by illness- how does this metaphor measure up? and does it promote winning and participating?

Maybe as Christians- we have the apostle Paul to thank – when on a number of occasions he uses the word ‘race’ as a metaphor for the Christian life –

You were running a good race. – Galatians 5:7,

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race- 2 Timothy 4:7

The Christian life as a race, as a physical movement, a Journey. Maybe this had something to do with the culture of the day, the pastimes of sport, of olympia, of shows of strength in battle, of winning, of achieving:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:24.

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Achievement does play its part, as rewards in heaven are described. But what does the grand race of life consist of? And the predominant narrative – via the media, and often becoming of the church, of life as a Journey, is it fitting for the purpose of conceiving our place in the world, our place as humans in discipleship, in relationship with God or is there a different way?  Where is God in ‘our’ journey? in ‘our’ race?

In the beginning of existence a voice acted upon the empty space, a word broke the silence, a universe created ; the world dawned. The stage was set for the action to occur.

To be or not to be is not the question, it is not our choice. We are “thrown into existence” (Heidegger) We are Here on stage with many others (Vanhoozer, 2005). We need guidance to play parts, prompting as we grope for the next lines, being cast into a context to play a particular scene. But we are on the stage, principally actors with scenes to play.

Instead of the Journey – what of the scene?

For Shakespeare: “When we are born, we cry that we are come, To this great stage of fools” (King Lear)

It is difficult to conceive of every moment in life as part of a journey – but they are scenes in and of themselves, a scene in the home when washing up, a scene in a lift with business colleagues, a scene in the supermarket, a scene at Church, a scene in the youth club. Not only are we thrust into the scenes of the place, but we play alongside others too, in that same scene. Taking cues from the moments, combining them with our memories of actions, our emotions of actions, the voices, values and attitudes. Scenes that we thrust ourselves into, scenes that others are thrusted into by surprise – like the new person at the checkout, the visitor at the door.

But in the scene also contains the voice of God – known or unknown – prompting the action – God incarnate on the stage (John 1:14) drawing us into the action,  The God who speaks in the Earthly space (Exodus 3:12-20), who prompts the action with Humanity (Genesis 18: 22-33), and who cues the action, and knowledge of action by the Spirit (Luke 4). These are scenes already enacted, yet it remains a relational drama that is played out – between the divine and the human.

In a way, it is less of our Drama that we continue to play as Christians, but Gods Drama – a Theodrama. This, it could be argued, is somewhat more of a conversational construct – than to see life as our Journey that we choose to involve God in- or that he is the destination. Does the Journey represent a monologue where we take the reigns – and Drama an ongoing conversational dialogue? (Vander Lugt, 2014) – I suppose it depends on who does the speaking and listening as the ongoing scenes are enacted. But collective drama, that involves God in the ongoing scenes that we are thrust into during our every day, every 10,000 scenes of every day are part of on overall Theo drama.

Being on a Journey – and Pilgrim and his Progress, the Chronicles of Narnia all narrate the importance of the journey – or at least they might do – but the journey would be nothing without the scenes. Not every day feels like a journey – but today , tomorrow and the next we are thrust into action upon the stage of the world – in Gods ongoing drama, and how do and should we play our parts?



#gb16, #notgb16 & following conferences via Social Media

This weekend its Greenbelt or #gb16 as its known, for those of us at the alternative Greenbelt its the #notgb16 festival, where we can through the virtue of twitter receive in our timeline – and retweeted by other attendees, snippets and highlights of the inspiration they have from the conference halls, tents and stages of the weekend. Its the same for all of the conferences during the year- especially in the week after easter rush of them (cant christians just go on holiday??) , there’s times on a monday that i head to work and have to remind myself that i actually wasn’t at the #suchandsuch conference for the weekend, it just felt like i was.

And from the comfort of my lounge, not in a muddy tent, or clinical conference hotel, i can relive the best moments from the festival that all my carefully selected twitter followers want to tell me.

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Its a bit like the difference between actually going to a football match for the whole 90 + minutes, and just watching the highlights on Match of the Day (or the football league show)- all carefully edited to 3 minutes of goal mouth action, and if there isnt this in a 0-0 draw, the corners and a stray mouse that ran onto the pitch. And not unlike match of the day, this too now has the benefit of twitter (#motd), so that people can join in a conversation, about people having a conversation on TV about highlights of football matches, that theyve only seen on a TV in studio, only the commentators are actually at the matches, and they dont participate in the analysis.

So, as the meat and drink of #gb starts for the weekend, mobile phone signal & 4g will dictate the flood of twitter conversations- either to the audience watching on from outside, or internal communication on the site.

What Twitter does to a conference is broaden its audience, albeit it is able to speak to those who dont attend, and have influence amongst the friends and followers of those attending, in almost real time, yes it means the post greenbelt/springharvest/soul survivor ‘debrief’ need not happen, and the mystery is somewhat gone ‘yes we saw the picture on twitter’ , but real time audience brings watching world into the live performance. Or it does at the discretion of the present guests. Though its hardly warts’n’all – very few tweets from conferences include stories of preachers drinking their water, or the blissful time moving from room to room, they are the projected highlights in the main.

What does it mean to be active in the process of communicating – or as words carry actions- performing to the watching world? words and actions from the conference stage are replicated through another. How does the thought of a wider audience shape the story we project to it – does this mean that everything is a missional endeavour online?

In a way, the guest is not invited to the conference to be in and amongst it, they are receivers of its communication – they are spoken to – (and can communicate back) – but they are not participants who can affect changes in the performance – merely watchers and commentators of the social reality projected through the language. The live performance of the church is a truly interactive one – for those present in the local setting, where the local audience becomes part of the performance. Watchers on are to be intrigued and brought into the drama as it continually unfolds in its scenes.

12 things to be thankful for at the end of a few challenging weeks. 

This week wasn’t meant to be this way. Our original family plan was to be away for 10 days from last week to this weekend, but the bringing forward of my wife’s hysterectomy operation changed those plans. She had the operation last Wednesday (all successful by the way) after we swiftly rearranged a weekend away in Devon , camping, just so that we could have something of a family holiday during the school holidays. 

So this week has been one of being off work but looking after Lynn in recovery and also my teenagers at home. 

As I was walking the dog earlier I was thinking that it would be easy to maybe moan about not having a holiday or about having to stay in for a week, but instead I realised quite how much for these two weeks I’ve got to be thankful for, thinge easy to forget in the busyness of balancing lots of things … and so, in no particular order they are; 

  1. NHS Staff and Nurses- for 7 days this summer we’ve felt the benefit of the dedication, competence and attitude of the NHS doctors, consultants, nurses and support staff at North tees hospital. See here for my wife’s reflections of her stay. But much to be thankful for, even if they’re all doing their jobs, they do it under a huge amount of stress and stretched resources. 
  2. A rerranged trip to Devon and the weather. It was an indulgence of food (aside from the camping cooking) and stunning weather. My only ever British camping experience with no rain. Quality time with the family and a visit back to our former home town to catch up with people we left a few years ago. A few personal fears were exorcised to. A short evening on the beach at Salcombe regis, a hidden gem of a beach not far from the campsite. It was just great to swim in the sea for 15 minutes. 
  3. As i walked my dog today, the parakeets in burn valley wood were cawcawing. A gentle reminder to me of how even the sounds of tropical birds in an urban park is out of context and incoherant. Subversive but also beautiful.Of how things out of their context can be a blessing. 
  4. Blogging, its kept my creative mind from going a little insane, i know im not as interesting or as funny as i think i am but sometimes its just thearpy for a confused, thinking soul. Thanks to those who read, ask questions and comment, for those who share my posts well, your treasures are due. For the people who encourage me to blog more thank you. But I love the process more. 
  5. Cycling. Even with everything going on I’ve managed to get out and do a few short rides, about 30 miles this week. Not wanting to be too far away from the house as my usual form of rescue is unable to drive. Even George has joined me on the cycling and tolerated cycle geekiest.   Quality father-son times out in the teesside lanes. Deep Joy. 
  6. Last Friday, whilst Lynn was still in hospital I took the dog out for a walk down crimdon beach. At the end of a week of driving 1000 miles and Lynns operation. I felt the fresh air. Took a deep breath.. and breathed. Epic space. 
  7. Flowers & visits. Thank you to those who’ve visited Lynn in hospital over the summer and at home. For the comments on facebook and the 5 bunches of flowers I’ve collected from the front door. It’s been nice to be remembered and we have run out of vases. Fortunately I’ve not had to arrange them!  Thank you. 
  8. This summer has not been about me, and rightly so. But a few people have asked how I am. Those people, you know who you are. Thank you, it means a lot. 
  9. Blackberries that grow in my garden. Next door have a blackberry bush, which we share the fruits of. So since last Wednesday I’ve picked a daily small bowl of blackberries. A daily supply of blackberry goodness all for free. Last year we made blackberry wine and Jam.  It was so nice we might do the same soon. But, along with the produce we planted deliberately, like spring onions, lettuce, potatoes, beetroot and herbs it’s just such a great feeling eating my own grown food. 
  10. Thank you to a few people I’ve met this week who care passionately about young people in their village. With the right support and prodding it’s the start of some amazing work hopefully in a needy area. 
  11. For evenings watching films. From the shire to the lonely mountain and back again, watching the hobbit & lotr with George and sheffields finest dancers , laughing along revisiting The Full Monty a film lynn and i hadnt seen sInce 97… Not forgetting a day out at Tyneside cinema (a lovely place to be) to have lunch and watch ‘the BFG’ with Anna. Just a magical film and time with her. (It was a few weeks ago, I might add)
  12. Finally, I have been able in and amongst all of this get a few hours studying done, and revisiting 3 of Vanhoozers seminal texts has been the usual refreshing worshipful moments and of learning. 

It would be easy to complain, and yes at times tiredness and impatience has taken over, when I’d hope people might be more helpful around the house.. but in the big scheme of things some of those things don’t matter, instead there’s a lot to be thankful for. And stopping to appreciate these things whilst walking the dog was a blessing in itself. 

(Thank you to Becca Dean who writes blogs about thankfulness every week and challenges me everytime to have that same attitude) 

    The Christian youth group league table. 

    Schools, hospitals, you name it there’s a league table for it under the neo-liberal agenda of post Blair-ite Britain. But why should youth groups and clubs be exempt? Shouldn’t there be national league tables for youth provision, and if so what would be the criteria for it to be assessed by. For the faith-based youth group, what should the critetia be so that the public know whether its good, improving, outstanding or in need of special measures? (What would those special measures be..? ) i wonder though, what could the criteria be to measure the youth group;

    1. Annual amount of healthy food been chucked away vs amount eaten

    2. Numbers of youthwork magazine ‘ready to use material used’

    3. Numbers of young people converted at soul survivor.

    4. Numbers of young people not converted at soul survivor

    5. Numbers of young people who didn’t return from soul survivor.

    6. Cumulative purchases of christian music downloads by youth group.

    7. Actual bible verses exegetised that aren’t John 10:10.

    8. Movie clips used that aren’t Lord of the Rings.

    9. Numbers of young people who become leaders in other areas of the church

    10. Number of relationship break ups, but gain points if both people stay in the group.

    11. Number of youthworkers who have left the  group in the last 5 years – the burnout turnover rate.

    12. Number of young people who’ve joined the group and stayed longer than a year.

    13. Times per year the group is expected to do a drama at the front of church.

    14. Trips to fast food places per year.

    15. Number of times the elders or leaders of the church are present getting involved.

    16. Number of windows broken by footballs

    17. Number of congregation complaints about anything to do with a young person

    18. Number of tables tennis balls lost.

    19. Injuries during chubby bunnies.

    20. Injuries during chubby bunnies actually recorded.

    21. Number of training sessions for the volunteers.

    22. Number of young people who slept through end of session God-slots.

    23. Number of relationships started at soul survivor that lasted until October.

    24. Yes or no, is the annual budget for the youth group more than £100.

    25. Annual number of times played ‘spoons, empires and mafia’

    With all these things in a neatly organised national league table it’d make it easier for youth ministers, parents and young people to have Choice in the type and success of the youth group they can be involved in. After all if it works for schools….

    10 responses to ‘hey youthworker, when are you going to get a proper job?’ 

    As a youthworker, or even a manager in a youthwork organisation, I still get this question. From a few responses on facebook to a previous blog it sounds like the age question of a youthworker hasn’t gone away either. Often in faith-based youthwork the question relates to the deemed process of a youthworker becoming a member of the clergy, but what would be suitable responses to the question. Albeit probably not to parents as they’ll be less up for the irony…

    So, getting on a bit person who is a youth worker, when are you going to get a proper job? 

    1. When the young people start to run out in the world and their problems all disappear.

    2. Why would I want a different job when I can be paid to (accentuate prejudice) play table tennis and have fun with young people.

    3 . Tell me why my job is less proper. Go on.

    4.Is my job less proper than someone who does the same kind of work but with people who have been alive a bit longer..?

    5. Are you saying that being a minister, pastor, support and encourager to young people is inferior to that of adults and ministry?

    6. If people like us didn’t exist would you be up for volunteering to work with young people instead?

    7. So, how old do you have to be to be a youthworker then?

    8. If you’re feeling particularly grouchy, what about- ‘I’m letting all the boring people do the proper jobs..’

    9. You, want me, to get a proper job.. its only young people who can cope with me. The rest of the world wouldn’t be safe…

    10. Just sigh, and walk on, knowing that you are doing a worthwhile job, having significant moments to educate, support and empower young people. A proper job…

    Youth work and Mission in a land of Digital visitors and residents

    Image result for digital natives

    Young people are all Digital Natives arent they?

    Not necessarily…Dr Bex Lewis in her article here ( ), just after she published her book Raising Children in a Digital age, commented on her blog that the term digital native, first used in 2001, gave the impression that a whole generation of people might in some ways be different from previous people – just because they have been born into a time when they might have only known the internet. In the article, she distinguishes between the Digital resident from Native, as this then is an approach to technology that is shaped by its attitude to it, rather than an age determination.

    As i was reflecting,  this summer started, just before the end of the school term, with the emergence of Pokemon Go! to the UK. – my thoughts on it are here;  ‘Detached youthwork & Pokemon Go!’. With anecdotal evidence of a shrinking of visibility of users in the local parks, and backed up with this Data from the BBC: ‘Has the Pokemon Fad worn off?’. This current digital phase might well be waning to be restricted to the mainstays of the gaming world. 

    The question is how should we be, as youthworkers and missionaries connecting with young people in both physical and public spaces, that include digital interaction, distraction and community?  – where or how does Youthwork and Mission reside in the current terrain? 

    It would be relatively easy to talk about the Digital Culture and refer to Niebuhr’s 5 aspects of Culture in relation to faith – above, below, against, for and transforming, and think about how work with young people had adopted these principles. Whether this is promoting alternatives on You Tube, or educational videos – and YFC have produced a number of these. Using games like Minecraft to create nativity scenes, using technology at events such as Greenbelt. For each of Niebuhr’s 5 aspects there will be at least one way of someone trying to use technology in a deliberate way, and there will be those who are pro and against each of the methods. But do we need different approaches for (young) people who might be digital residents or digital visitors ?

    However, What might it mean to think about Technology Theologically? or from a Theodrammatic view. Healy argues (2001) that there is Godly and Human in every human agency, including even the church, which is prey to acts of power, manipulation and weakness as what can appear a human insitution.. but going back to the agency of technology – what might it mean to think about the online/digital space of the world in terms human- but also and divine? – Is God in Pokemon Go for example? not just is it good – but is God to be found there too? 

    And, what kind of faithfulness is needed in a digital world, to discern the God that resides in that space, and the human that provokes the need for faithfulness and this kind of tightrope walking? 

    For, If God is a communicative agency (Vanhoozer, 2002) and is Supreme over all (Colossians 1)- Might he be present to be heard , and communicating in the digital space?

    Its not as simple as saying, what makes the digital world ‘christian’ and what makes it ‘non’ – this isnt the point, ‘Christian music’ might not be any more christian than music that doesnt define itself in such a way (there is divine and human in every agency)  

    The point being is that ongoing discernment is what is required, the easy route would be to only use the ‘safe’ alternatives – and almost create christian ghettos on the online space – the same kind of fearing the world that can be said from the pulpit at times. Is it the Christian ghetto that brings about initiatives like ‘churchlive’ where services are broadcasted online- but who is watching them- christians mainly.

    One danger is to make assumptions about digital nativity.  The Pokemon Go! thing was this. Even though it went mad in the media, blogs, TV was all over it. not every young person was playing it. not every young person could, not every young person wanted to. Whilst the parks of Hartlepool were swarmed with 14-18 yrs olds, in Durham it was university students, but in parts of Durham, no one was. And other areas, and young people were the same. Not every young person was playing it, and so as a youth worker, it was to look tragic to ask young people who werent playing it if they were, because the media, and the Christian world had infiltrated the thought that this is what young people are doing and how youth ministry stays relevant. 

    Staying relevent via the mass media, however is to look foolish without hearing the reality from the local context.

    Vanhoozer asks the question; ‘What has the church to say and do that no other human institution can say and do?’ (2005:3) which links to Healy also who argues that the church is to be both practical and prophetic (2001). In a land of Digital residents, visitors and natives – what has the church to say and do that no other human institution can say and do, and for us as those who work with young people specifically as an age group – what might this be?

    There is no point in suggesting the things to do from this blog, because, as in the case of Pokemon Go! – each situation of youth work and church is profoundly different across the UK, and globe. To be prophetic might be to help people find residency in other spaces that counteract their residency digitally – spaces of quiet away from information overload, or spaces of physical community, of physical risk – to counteract the types of interaction digitally.  To be practical.. well id hope that was easier – but what effects of too much residing digitally having on us all and what could the church do in this space…

    How might youthwork as mission, even as church, be both practical and prophetic in the online space, not just use it, view it, participate in it- as much as the online church expressions be equally practical and prophetic?

    But as much as this- how might our role as youthworkers and dare i say it parents to provide the theological tools, for us all not just to make moral decisions, but also theological decisions about connections, communities and interactions as residents online.

    What tools do we need to navigate in this digital world – do we take young people with us to explore as youthworkers, do we take them away, do we make unhelpful distinctions between physical and virtual -when young people dont see the world in the same way. What of youthwork and mission in a land of digital natives, residents and visitors? – which we- are also part…

    Does the church benefit from youth ministry Gap Year students?

    Talking about the very popular, and they are in many shapes and sizes, the Church/youth ministry Gap year.

    Let me put this out there. I was one of a long line of young people from my church in Market Harborough who participated in the Oasis Trust Frontline Team, Gap Year scheme, which ran for most of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. It’s 20 years this week that I left home and was sent to a Hartlepool church with 3 others.  In the main, it was an enjoyable experience, in fact it was more than enjoyable, and one that set me up and ignited and desire to be involved in missional youthwork that has barely been dampened since. During my time in Perth, i was involved in a project which was able to take on Placement students over a period of 3 years during their time of studies at ICC, and in my current role and situation I am involved in training or supporting people on Gap year type schemes too. I am also in the process of trying to start up a gap year scheme with a number of partner organisations in the North East (See Launching Equip NE EQUIP)

    So, there’s my experience stuff out of the way, you’ll be glad to hear, what want to share are my thoughts on what situations make for a good gap year experience for a student especially in church type situations, some of the issues about Gap years, and also where the positives are. I realise that my last post was a tongue in cheek list of reasons why Gap year people are often put upon to work with young people when adults make excuses for not doing so, but as this is a reality, its probably worth giving the whole Gap year programme situation some further thought.

    1. Gap Years can cost a lot of Money for the individual Student – even if they get some of it back in ‘pocket money’ – mine for example pretty much wiped out my savings at the age of 18. And if they are expensive – what does this say about the access of future ministry for those for whom finances might be a barrier. Some Gap years do offer the options of PT work during the course, but the equality and access issues remain, especially in a team situation. let alone a burnout situation during the year, and is a year of burnout a good starting point for a ‘taster’ time in Ministry..?
    2. If a church is lucky to have a team of gap years, then as they are able to create lots of new opportunities, groups and clubs, because there are more than 1 of them – then how might a church sustain this new work? or more importantly not just the work, but the hopefully positive relationships that have been started between the workers and young people. Not letting gap year teams ‘just get on with it’ in the course of a year would be beneficial for a church in the long term.
    3. Gap year people are trained during the year – and not always on the most immediately useful aspects of youthwork, or mission, or ministry. Ill let the Oasis 1996 guys off this one, as Youthwork/ministry was still relatively in its infancy even then, though the book list and reading was impressive, it did include Ashton and Moon, David Watson and Jim Packer – the latter two being evangelical theologians, all of only some use for community work amongst (oppressed) young people in Hartlepool. But the point being, the gap year person may only have a small bank of reference (personal experience & theory) to draw from in their development of groups, activities and mission locally. And, thinking about point 2 – in very few occasions might gap year people be able to increase local capacity of volunteers by training and supervising them, when their own practice is in a formational stage. It can happen, but unlikely- this is still the churches/agencies role.
    4. Will taking on a Gap Year person/team – diminish the role of your current volunteers, or disempower them? Does the ministry of your church need to ‘grow’ with new people. or deepen with the equipping of existing people, including the young people as junior leaders for sunday school, or leaders at all. Would i as a young person be given more or less opportunities to serve in a church if there was a group of ‘strangers’ imported to do some of the roles? Is it better to be a sending church of young people on gap years elsewhere, or a receiving one.. and how can you enable this to happen…?
    5. What long term strategy do you have as a church? And how is a gap year person/team part of that strategy? Is a critical question – for then at least they and you will know what they are needed to do as part of their role.
    6. Will having Gap Year people for youth ministry in a church reinforce the notion that working with young people is a young persons game? what does this say about how a church values young people – that they’re not worth personally investing in, but paying for potential outsiders to deal with..? And people who pay for the privaledge at that. Are there different options available for a church if they dont have resources to maintain current youth provision, that a gap year person? Will your young people benefit from ministry from people in the congregation of experience, from faithful disciples, or… emerging adults who are in training?
    7. Having existing work with volunteers will enable the gap year person to settle in, but for them to be challenged they might need space to develop and have volunteers ready to help them, so its worth having a pool of people ready.
    8. Give the Gap year people the chance to be thought of in their own right, actually this is the same for youthworkers, and ministers. No one likes being compared to the previous team, minister, youthworker, what they did/didnt do. These Gap year people have this one year that might help form them into a future vocational calling, help them to make it work for them too.
    9. There will be a culture shift and shock- especially if the student is new to the area and just left home. Maybe not so if theyre older, or have been to Uni – but your context will be different to what they know. And it will take time for them to understand, settle and be able to be effective in that context – some say, and id agree, one year isnt long enough for this to happen. But no one wants to do a gap year for 7 years.
    10. If you’re in a situation where you host a gap year student or team, and they have signed up to a charity/organisation to do this, and they send the team to you – is there a ‘serving a poor’ area power imbalance, and might you be in danger of being a CV filler for a young adult on their step to a university education who need to show ‘compassion’. But seriously – are you wanting to be viewed as a charity case? or your young people as needy, underprivledged (compared to the ‘rich’ gap year person, from X place where they can afford to pay for the gap year) – is this a power imbalance that you feel is appropriate for you, your church or the young people?  Nothing worse than being on the receiving end of charity for a long period of time, or the place where people are ‘sent to’..?
    11. Saying all this, The Gap Year, is often highly beneficial for the person participating in it, and that is a good thing. Many develop new skills, life experiences and even stay in ‘the ministry’ in a number of forms. If they can do a gap year that has decent qualifications, like level 3, diploma or degree then all the better. If they have good supervision, management and support than better still. However, i do wonder whether the gap year person stands to benefit more than the church at times, in the long run.
    12. Oh, and lets not forget the young people again. This is a relationship, relational orientated type of work. Yes, gradually if more and more gap year people are involved in a church the young people might become desensitised to the emotional connections that could be made, ie ‘theyll get over it’ or ‘we’ll get another one’ but that means that young people are having to cope with another potentially emotionally difficult situation, caused in churches, at the same time as all the other emotionally challenging situations in their lives already. Young people and new, ‘even for a year’ gap year people will make some kind of emotional connection. It happens, so be ready for it, and think about the effect of this on the young people you have in the church. There is nearly always a leaving moment for gap year people – even if they do 2-3 years, they usually leave. If your youth ministry in a church is based upon a relationship strategy, then will a gap year student help with this? especially if they will only be able to connect with young people for a year?  Different if its a programme or ministry strategy where they don’t connect in small groups with young people, and just preach or do assemblies or lessons.
    13. On a positive, I have found that being a youthworker in an organisation and having a gap year student alongside can be really helpful to start new work, or maintain activities, the questions over whether this is in the long term helpful for upskilling existing volunteers and young adults in a church is still valid though. But in an ecumenical type organisation this is a very helpful resource.

    Yes taking on gap year people or teams, can be a great way of increasing ministries in churches, existing groups, giving volunteers an extra hand, and meeting new people, sharing your ministry and work with them, and educating them, discipling them as part of their time with you would be of critical importance, and they use the time to build on experiences and knowledge of your setting, and so it is then less about what they can do for you, and what you can do for them in practice, knowledge and life experience. Will a gap year person light sparks, yet – might they be disruptive – yes – will they realise it… probably not!, Will they be keen to learn, hopefully, will they transform your church and save a lost generation…only if you as a church are already in that business already and not leaving it up to them to do on your behalf.

    So, my year on Oasis Teams was a hugely challenging, formational and informative one, some things ill never forget, some things ill want to but cant. Im still involved in youth work and mission, as are a few others in my year, and others before and after. Undertaking a gap year, in the current economic climate is a risk, or an opportunity for someone who wants to have experience in ministry before academic qualification. Its a risk for a church too, and young people, and also an opportunity. But undertaking it without thinking it through for the student, the church congregation and more importantly the young people is crucial.

    What can the church learn from Rio 2016? a list of 10…

    So, the curtain has closed on the most recent of Olympic Games, in Rio, Brazil, the GB team have had their most successful, and congratulations to them by the way, especially the late night cheering for Jason Kenny, Bradley Wiggins, Laura Trott and Mo Farah. Various blog posts have been written about the legitimacy of the Olympics, and the cost of each medal- from essentially public money via the lottery (a lottery that most Christians who wrote these blogs probably hardly plays) , but the questions and reflections from the Olympics might be those that the wider church might reflect on.

    1. Not investing and planning for what looks like its weaker event is an embarrassment. Apologies for the suggesting that the Paralympics is ‘weaker’. But not investing in this has been a critical weakness and legacy for Rio 2016 and the IOC, an embarrassment. And , if the world is looking at sport and criticising it for this fallacy, then might the church, in thinking about its so called ‘weaker’ churches,. or weaker communities want to think about how these are people and areas that need not to be forgotten but built up.
    2. Investment in Sports in junior levels takes many years to find national recognition. And even this involvement is nothing without the support of parents. But from the days of GB ‘just pleased to be there’ at the olympics (even i remember when we won just one gold) A culture shift has been needed, and investment and strategy in Junior sports, just so that the Laura Trotts have the platform to be successful at the very highest level. Investment in sports may have made the nation healthier, but only 67 people at the top will adorn the newspaper coverage.
    3. Whilst the GB team and funding prioritised sports it knew it could win Golds in – ie the more successful sports effectively got more money, to get better exposure, and more sponsorship.. and at this olympics the GB team won medals in more sports than ever (more than the USA). Might a strategic approach to the next generation of the church be appropriate and one that has long term impact in mind. Can new cultural church be grown in forgotten communities, like the athletic coach find the next super star.  And good coaching is important – like good discipleship.
    4. The Media shows us that culture is still anti female, even in the most successful celebrated females in society. What does that say to a church that might be hell bent on being relevent and taking the media as one of its cues?
    5. Really important aspects of society are too much at times to keep focussed on forever, the distraction of sport in the olympics has been welcome, but that doesnt mean that important aspects like Syrian boys lifted from rubble, Brexit and other important stories are forgotten. The church has responsibility not to be distracted from its mission, of providing hope in dark places, in a way that the olympics has been able to do so.
    6. The Olympics is set within a specific culture, and this has had a huge effect. The blame of the empty seats in the grounds has laid squarely with ‘the hosts’ but even with a huge population is a ticket to an olympic tennis match, or swimming competition really a priority for someone who is struggling with food, shelter and daily survival. Churches are too in local contexts, national, and imported marketing and franchising of essentially the cultural products of Christianity – a ministry event, however good, is limited by culture. If the church buys the notion that ticket sales maintain ministry – then which settings is this going to appear to be successful?
    7. Real cultural legacy in Sport involves more than money. It involves people like me, and you reading this to be more involved. Involved coaching local sports teams, involved going to the gym, involved creating opportunities for our children to play sports, and not moaning that a tennis racket costs £20, but we shelled out £400 for a PS2. The church and its future is a similar participation activity.
    8. There are people that dont get sport but like the Olympics. There are some people who dont like sport and dont watch the olympics. There are people that love sport but hate the olympics. Humanity is a complex bunch when it comes to Sport, its a similar complex bunch when it comes to faith, religion and participating in it.  Does the variety of the Olympics lend itself to be inclusive, is it a personal connection to an olympian, is it the drama of glory, or the national pride. Or the story of the ongoing glory, the 4th gold, the triple triple. Without the narrative, man running for 10 seconds isnt that important.
    9. The Montage at the beginning of last nights TV programme was pretty lengthy, detailing the clips of all 67 GB medalists, their best bits. If there was a Best bits of the church montage for the last 4 weeks, or 4 years – what would it say?
    10. Finally, during the Olympics, (those of us who watched it), we dreamed, we hoped, we scored every hockey penalty, every Mo Farah step, every Liam Health Row, every Peaty Swim, every Daly and his partner (who the media also forgot) Dive. When we think of the church – what dreams, hopes and encouragement do we on the inside give it, do its spectators give and have of it.

    What might be on your list of what the church could learn from and be prophetically challenged by the Olympics?




    10 reasons young adults make the best youthworkers

    You’re getting on a bit to be a youth worker aren’t you…

    Is a common statement. As is the joke about being a youthworker and getting a proper job. Yeah as if being a vicar is a proper job… but why is age such an issue in youthwork as a caring profession?  No one say the same about teachers, nurses or social workers, none of these have age as an conversation about effectiveness. So let’s examine it further… why do make younger adults between say 18-30 make better youthworkers? A few reasons*

    1. Because older adults have better things to do all of a sudden.

    2. Because those adults who saw it as something to help them in their progression to another career don’t want to do it anymore. That baton is now yours.

    3. Young adults are in the same confusing state of identity and student debt and this is a great place to add the emotional and spiritual responsibility of young people too.

    4. They need to have the experience of working with poor young people on their CV’s.

    5. Young people will relate to young adults better. If we keep saying this over and over again well believe it to be true. And flatter these 18-24 yr old volunteers.

    6. Young adults have the gift of being young. Adults have developed the non gift of youth work. In fact the gift of coffee rota is proclaimed and prioritised.

    7. Young adults are still more like the young people, in fact some of them are so cool that young people are bound to love and relate to them. And if young people relate to them because of coolness than that’ll be great for youth work.

    8. Young adults will be great to work with young people as if they do make mistakes they’ll only be around for a year till they finish their gap year, or university. Young people in groups in youthwork will really benefit from having someone around just for a year..

    9. Young people aren’t going to benefit in any way from spending time with people who are over the age of 30, because people over the age of 30 have nothing to offer.

    10. Adults have worked with young people once, in 1980’s. And this means they never do it again.

    So yes young adults are definitely the best people to sustain the work with young people. Or are they?

    *or excuses given.

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