13 details about a youthwork practice that are never requested in Funding Bids

I have been writing and sending off funding bids on a weekly basis for the last 4 months in my current role at Durham YFC, and before then was responsible for finding funding for the detached project i was working in in Perth, if memory serves me right i was applying for funding there for 2-3 years, so all in all, maybe i haven’t been involved in applying for funding that long in the grand scheme of things, but in a way it has been part of my role for about 60% of the time i have been involved in faith based youth work. Some of the recent grant holders make me laugh, or at least the expectations of what they require of a project or organisation to be able to provide.

There’s one particular funder whose maximum grant is £2,000 and it feels like they want the blood type of every young person reported in their forms, or at the very least, the blood type of the trustees, it is that demanding for a relatively small amount. There are funders who request that an outcome for young people is that they are in full time employment – Hello people? have they seen the unemployment figures for the North East – and how many people are queuing for jobs let alone young people. For others it is to justify a ‘faith’ position, or outcomes or targets, and we know that lots want innovation and experience – which is very difficult to navigate.

However, it got me thinking, having had to respond to 100’s of questions in funding forms and applications, what are the things that are never requested from the key funders to us as representatives of projects, organisations and youthworkers- and maybe we wish they would …., what if the funding forms had these questions instead ? :

  1. Please detail the experience and qualifications of the key workers. (it might be in some bids but ive rarely seen it)
  2. Tell us how you will enhance a young persons well being?
  3. Describe how young people will develop better relationships and values towards their local community?
  4. Tell us about the integrity and values that you try & adhere to?
  5. Describe how you might encourage the young people you work with to take political action seriously as part of their citizenship?
  6. Tell us how the time you spend in conversation and building supportive relationships with young people is worthwhile for them in and of itself?
  7. Describe how your work with only a small number of young people is valuable without finding the need to expand or increase its number, sell a franchise or disseminate this to other areas?
  8. Describe how you plan to increase and support the well being of the staff and volunteers as they deliver this emotionally challenging work with young people
  9. Describe how your project works and is good for the young people without it needing to identify increased school attendance, employment or even reduction in crime, smoking or drug use as part of this.
  10. Tell us about how your project helps young people discover a passion for music, philosophy, learning, sport, drama or history even though School has already expelled them.
  11. Please show us you have a track record in delivering work in this field without having to have large accounts, staffing or a £500,000 turnover.
  12. Tell us about the long term process and strategy of your work in the culture that you are in and we will fund it for 5 years. (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha)
  13. Tell us about the young people you work with in a way that doesnt emphasise their needs, criminal behaviour, risk factors, postcode poverty and school attendance – what you as an organisation believe and think about young people is more important that the circumstance and life chances that their upbringing and societal barriers have given them. So – tell us about their gifts instead…

Im sure there are others, and it might be quite amusing to come up with a longer list of ‘things we’d like to have in funding bids, but there isnt a hope in hell right now’ list.  In the meantime, we have to fulfil rigid outcomes agendas, or targets, or comply with the ideology of government policy on young peoples destinations (if small organisations ever got anywhere close to government commissioned grants), and as funding from personal funding in some areas is on the wane, the funding bids just keep on coming.  We know what we dont like having to jump through hoops to get, but what would be the alternative questions of application?

So maybe if a few million pounds came my way and i could give it away to youthwork practice, these might be the kinds of questions, or non questions that id put on the application form.

 

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Will a church’s local prophetic songs shape a revolution?

It has surprised me a little that I have written so much this week in relation to songs and sung worship. It probably not been as surprising to me to realise the reaction. From tweets, comments and questions, something hit a nerve when i suggested in this article: http://wp.me/p2Az40-G8, that in regard to the Mission of God that the church partakes in, in loving its local community, whether individual or collective, the songs it sings are largely unimportant.

As a massive detour here I have a confession to make.

Not only did i grow up pretty Evangelical, i bought it hook line and sinker. I became immersed in the created christian youth sub culture of the late 80’s and 90’s. It was a subculture that had its own music, in reality its music shaped its culture, at a time when Christian Music, even in the UK, included stuff that tried to be contemporary, and not ‘just’ worship. Yet the biggest stages at that time were the Worship arenas, Stadiums, even Wembley, was tried to be packed out to Sing worship songs. It was a culture that tried to sing unending songs of how Jesus saved people and sing of these songs forever. These songs emerged out of the prevailing culture of the church in a renewal age, and hoped that generations of people singing these songs would transform the world, possibly one song at a time. It maybe created a worship culture, and a culture of worship. And I was in it…

When I stood at Wembley, on a cloudy day in June 1997, it was a transformative experience.

For, over the course of that year i had been working in Hartlepool on a gap year, trying to work out how to do ministry with young people, some of the most challenging, and disruptive with limited education or knowledge to help, just raw enthusiasm and an experience of faith existing in a christian culture. At Wembley, in 1997, it was meant to be an event to change the world. It held within its advertising and narrative during, a belief that during a process of a variety of worship leaders were to perform, people would sing and lives would be changed. As i stood there, amongst many things i thought, one was, this culture, however relevant it is trying to be, is a million miles from those young people in Hartlepool. Yet this culture tried to do through music was to bring about change and revolution, it could only do that if you could access the stages of its performance, its language, and its culture. Yet the songs that shaped it we’rent about a revolution but about personal faith. The songs that continue to shape church today, developed from that same culture are still largely about personal faith, about personal worship, and the love of God to a person, or songs about singing. Sung with the gusto of being relevant/contemporary in style – but are they prophetic in tone?

Yes, we go to church to reconnect and align our lives to the God of our faith, and connecting poetically through song is one way of doing this, as are other expressions. Yet one purpose of church also,  is to reorientate towards, and rehearse being a church in Mission, to the ongoing performance of the Gospel in the world. One of the ways that Church should consider itself is to be both practical and prophetic (Healy, 2000), and i wonder if the call for  worship to be practically helpful in worship (i think it ticks this box), and socially prophetic (hmm not sure) is one to be thought through further.

It makes me wonder whether the soundtrack or Psalms of the culture are being created outside of the church, as prophetic statements against personal struggle or the systems that enforce this- one being through movies (see I, Daniel Blake– as an example), as even politically charged music in ‘pop’ culture is largely underground. Politically motivated songs in BBC6 music were derided as ’80’s fodder’ on a recent programme. And so , if politically charged music, or the prophetic psalms of real life are sidelined to the margins, the student music nights – (or as we found in Perth 10 years ago when we gave young people the freedom to play their own created music at the accoustic cafe)  – what might the response of the local church be in its music, its liturgy, its worship – to the plight of those for whom it stands alongside. How might songs of the gospel reflect Gods heart for the real poor in society?  for example…

Do we have a prophetic song for the state of the benefit system that causes people to need the foodbanks we as a church advertise?

Or a prophetic song for the students who dont have EMA to help them in further education?

Or a prophetic song for and with those suffering within a system that has created Mental Health issues?

Or a prophetic song about the culture of its local area – it local needs and gifts? (*insert name of town here)

If various cultures in world history have benefitted from the truth of the Gospel and Gospel songs to propel their cause, ie Apartheid, the civil rights movement, where and what now might the church sing in being subversive, prophetic, challenging and provoking, gritty even- to aid and fight for and with those in real need in society? (whilst the church imports its worship from outside its local culture- will it ever?) something that is real and reflective.

Its possible that the young people playing their own songs, in their pubs might have got there first, the psalms of the culture, psalms of fight and hurt are becoming the soundtrack of local cultures of young people. Maybe churches might upset people by the songs they sing, upset establishments, and create movements of and for change. But would Jesus not join in with these songs?

Can the churches worship be socially and politically, as well as spiritually, prophetic? Could a gospel song become the soundtrack to a whole culture that reflect the needs in society? What might be the songs that shape a revolution for good in the UK today?

Blogging about these issues, wont change the world. The power of the poetic, and the song that unites and gathers momentum will do. If a practical and prophetic church is what the world needs, then its songs might become a sung voice for change in the world. A dangerous revolution.

How might churches develop loving community work?

In my last post i made a simple point that, in a way, in mission the songs of the church matter little (though at times sadly we, and i mean we , the church place alot of emphasis on the relevancy or contemporaryness of music/singing as mission imperative) , and that our love for a community matters so much more. 

Having been challenged to think about what this might mean by a few comments via social media, i wonder then whether it would be good to explore further what it might mean for a church in mission to love its community.

Firstly lets start with Love.

This should be easy for the Christian.

Love is costly, Love is the cross, Love is hard. Love is Kind, Love is Faithful, Love is forgiving, Love keeps no record of wrongs, but delights in the truth, Love is Patient. In a way – we know all of these things, Its love that is the good news, its love that is the call to the corinthian church. Love from a quick skim of the Biblical narrative is easy to know about and theologically contextualise.

So if Love is the imperative and the practice, and the action for a church involving itself in community – what might be good community work that loves?

If you have been reading my previous articles on community work, you will know that i have referred to ABCD, or asset based community development a little bit. I was taken by an article on the Nurture development website this week, it is here is you would like to read it: http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/can-i-help/ . It is an interesting one, in which the question is asked by the agency – to a community – ‘Can I Help you? ‘ In the blog Shaun Burnett discussed the now well-known actions of the Brownlee Brothers at the recent triathlon world championships, and suggest how they embodied help to the weaker and struggling of the two brothers at the time. And though a patriarchial, single dimension of helping was a common theme in the definitions of help that Shaun found, he challenged this by saying that the help that the Brownlee brothers gave each other was because of the relationship that they had with each other – it was not patriarchial, neither was it charity, it was help out of brotherly love.

Shaun concludes his piece by saying:

“And is this not the key point? Here we have a rare glimpse at what a person / helper can do when they are in right relationship with another. The good news is that though it is an unusual occurrence, it’s not the only example. At a time when our world desperately needs such examples, we need to be tenacious enough to actively rummage around to discover them because they are there in each of our lives but they are invisible against the backdrop of classic forms of Helping. We miss them in the randomness of their expression, but if you have a mind to search them out, they actually are quite abundant, and if we’re a little more careful and carefilled we can cultivate a lot more.

At a time when our world desperately needs such examples, we need to be tenacious enough to actively rummage around to discover them because they are there in each of our lives but they are invisible against the backdrop of classic forms of Helping.

At the moment, i see no better way to start thinking and launching ‘loving’ community work for a church than to think about developing relationships with the community. Developing the kind of relationships that breaks down barriers that we, as church, might easily have erected.  As i suggested previously in an article titled ‘The Hearing church’ – one of the first ways of doing this is by listening, by hearing and by being present to hear in the right kind of spaces, the spaces where people are mostly themselves. Its in the non official spaces, to hear, but also to find opportunities to get to know. To form the kind of relationships where help is more of an equal footing.

If as a church we can be unconditional in the love we have for a local community – what might that mean in terms of the relationships we create with people? the opportunities we offer?

the spaces that faith is explored? , of even the right kind of opportunities opened up to meet people where they are at?

doing community work that is constructed with being able to act lovingly (as the christian definition above indicates) towards people – and not just say it. Where opportunities are to build relationship, not just help, or serve (which retains power- but gives it away) . And that’s not to denigrate serving. Serving has enabled the church to be practical and fill a chronically open void created by the system regarding benefits and thus thrust foodbank use into the limelight. Helping as Serving is good.

But if this is only to tick a community work box, or in and of itself – then where might be the sense that the church is acting out of love with its community to help, or to ask how it can help? Or if helping isnt needed – how else might a church love its community?

It could love – by creating community- community around groups of people who have shared interests – like food, or film, or sport, or a hobby.

It could love its community by praising it, supporting it, endorsing it, and recognising its positives.

It could love its community by locating the powers that restrict its people and challenge these.

It could love its community by supporting local charities already involved in it.

It could love its community by responding to community crisis well, and community celebrations too

What might it mean for the church to be faithful, kind, forgiving, rejoicing – with and for its community?

The rise in community work that churches have done has taken a rise in the last 15 odd years, some of it has been more unconditionally loving toward a local community than others. Serving a local community first is one of the key themes that Pioneer groups have undertaken in the exploration of new expressions of church (Moynagh, M, Church for every context) – but what might it mean to ‘love’ a local community – yes it might mean serving, yes it might mean helping – but its more likely to mean getting to know – somehow – recognising interests, strengths and gifts, and developing opportunities to share moments of community, of relationship together. Does todays culture crave authentic community – well in your local community you might need to find out. I havent a clue from sitting here typing this. But it and yours might.

There are countless more than the above – but as Christians who believe in what a deeper, prophetic and practical, sacrifical love is – it is about how we find ways to show, and act this out in our local communities – starting probably with their permission to do so, or be trusted to have that space, and i think in many areas we’re over that, the church is far more trusted (thanks to foodbanks and other initiatives) than it used to be. It has now that task of going from being trusted locally, to loving locally. To act in the interest of others, to act in hospitality to the least likely at the wedding feast- to use Biblical imperatives & parables.

It might not be – ‘How can i help you?’, neither ‘How may i help you? ‘

but ‘you are worth getting to know’ and what do you want us to do for and with you? – once i know you. (not before)

Asset based community work (ABCD) is definitely a start to viewing a local community differently – with gifts rather than needs, and so please do click the nurture development link to the right of this piece to give you ideas, thinking and resources. Yet if a church is to love its local community – asset based community development might just be the start. Doing community work, to be involved in peoples lives whom it doesnt yet know might involved creating spaces and being involved in places where it connects on a human level. For young people this might mean on the streets – where they are comfortable. For others it is in the pub. Or on bus journeys, or toddler groups.

Loving community work is to love people first and foremost. How might a church love its whole community?

 

The songs don’t matter, love does. 

In the church we’ve believed a bit of a myth for the last 50 odd years. That the way we sing on a Sunday matters. So pews have been removed, guitars have been inserted, projectors included, songs shortened, shortened in their lifespans. The myth is that how the church sings affects our effectiveness in mission as a church.

It doesn’t.

The only people who this matters to is the other local christians who are looking for a church which is to their style.

What matters is not how a church sings. It’s how a church community loves. loves unconditionally it’s community and creates spaces where it can show it.

I would imagine, and I know a church where this is the case, when a church loves a community and acts out God’s love in it, people who receive this love want to find out what the source of that love is.

And so, if people are attracted to genuine love and community then it’s values and the performance of those values that are important, and an authenticity on a Sunday to those values. And that could as easily be an Anglican service, or something more contemporary. How it sings, is less important that how it loves.

It’s love Monday to Saturday and connecting in God’s love on Sunday that might make missional sense. Be a theatre of God’s gospel love. How songs are sung and what is sung is almost, almost irrelevant.  How a church loves and builds and creates community in its local community is.

Do young people care about youthworkers? (probably not)

I wonder if it is a good premise to start from in youthwork, even youth ministry, even if its a painful realisation to come to.

That young people dont care about youthworkers! 

As youthworkers we might hope that young people actually like us, want to spend time with us, and we hope listen to what we might have to say. But fundamentally they dont actually care about us. 

Looking at this on the basis of street based youthwork this isnt particularly controvertial. At least at first glance it might not be. In most regular discussions about meeting young people where theyre at, in dealing with various forms of conversation, including challenges, questions or humour, boundary testing and provoke that young people give during the conversations – one of the easiest ways to deal with such questions is not to take them personally and to realise that if a young person asks a personal question ; usually a have you ever…..? type question (ie have you ever got drunk, gambled, had sex, that kind of thing) it is not usually a personal enquiry to discover something about the youthworker- it is more to find approval, to find acceptance, to assess consistency and tolerance of the youthworker for the young persons benefit. Fundamentally, even if it was that a young person, or group of young people did ask these types of questions more seriously, the meaning behind the responses, the purpose of sharing a personal give away response – is not usually to reciprocate an element of care – reality yes, authenticity yes – trust also. But not care.

Why might this matter? – In a way it means that the interaction we have with young people becomes less about feeding our ego with personal acceptance, and thinking about the young person, their dreams, interests and being interested in them for who they are – if young people really arent interested in us, then neither in the interaction should we be interested about us too, neither our story, our past, our experience – Young people , especially when we meet them where theyre at, just dont care about us! They care firstly about themselves, their friends and countless other things… 

Young people, especially, want to trust people, the youthworker – they can do this without actually caring about them.

They might care about the youth club – more that the youthworker, the programme that helps them get a job , more that the youthworker, whose job might be on the line because of the end of the programme.

This, i think, isnt a reality check for those of us on the streets – we know young people dont care about us- though when they do- or we give them chance to it can be an incredible moment. If we run the open youth club, the employment programme, the project – again it would be fair to say that the young people have their future prospects, their achievement is a higher priority that building up a real connection with the worker – though they might respect, listen and respond to them.

I wonder if the reality check for this is in the church and youth ministry.

Or if this type of working with young people gives young people more opportunities to actually care about the people that they trust. Is there an assumption in youth ministry situations, or Ministry, that young people default some kind of care or respect to a youth worker in a church setting? , which means that it becomes possible to inspire because young people in a church actually care about what a youthworker says to them in this context.

However, I wonder whether in churches, or in clubs, or on the streets, we can spend alot of time trying to be important and significant with young people and hoping that they might care about what we say because we hope they find us fun, interesting, relevant.

Often we’re imported in to a situation (church/club) in a paid role, and when this is the case we’re the professional come to help, to run the show. As volunteers in the church this might fundamentally be different, it becomes more of the family dynamic, friends of friends helping friends- there might be more intuitive care.

We probably shouldnt want young people to care about us anyway, thats not our role. But how often do we hope young people like us? find us interesting? or hope they follow us because of our likeability? – more so than who we stand for, our views, or our acceptance of them?

If we thought young people actually care about us, we probably need to get over it and realise the care we might have for young people is a one way street. It is probably better that way, after all we wouldn’t want to encourage dependency or favouritism – and even these moments could be determined as young people acting in ways to get what they want rather than to actually care about the youth worker.

When we meet young people for the first time, there is no rapport, there are few commonalities or shared experiences they have no reason to think anything of us at all. So if, as or when, young people give us space in their space to talk and give an opinion this is  semblance of respect – if they still give us that opportunity when they might have got to know us then even better. But in reality, and it is a reality – and it might be hard to take, young people don’t really care about their youth worker and what they say.

We dont do youthwork for young people to care about us – so maybe we should act as though its true that they dont – but continue to be interested, to educate, to inspire and to help them challenge the oppression they face anyway. How we enable young people to care about us to the point of reflecting, thinking and being respectful of what we say and do when we communicate with them is part of the respect building game – our well being is not the young persons game, neither is the respect for our opinion, our past, our story, our beliefs, or hopes – this is earned in stages. Young people, can be very respectful, and generous and considerate to us on the streets – they might even give space for conversation, but in the main, and rightly so, it is often about them.

 

10 gentle reminders for every youth minister to help look after themselves.

Over the last few weeks i have been re-reading and thinking about the notion of ‘Self care’ in Youth work and Ministry, revisiting some of Stephen Coveys work on effective leadership, other resources and also hearing from stories of ministry. The reason that ive been thinking about it is because Ive been asked to deliver a personal development module, in collaboration with others for a group of students on a gap year programme over the course of the year (see Equip NE above). During the course of yesterday delivering the course, and overnight i have been reminded of a number of key tenets to help in ministry, and thought it would be worth passing some of them on.

  1. You are more important than your work or ministry
  2. A healthy ministry is not about numbers, its about depth of relationships
  3. Work on building capacity in others, and value the few, even if it is a few.
  4. Not having the youth activity/club/group for one week to focus on you, your staff development is a good use of time.
  5. Find a hobby or a list of things you like doing and do at least one a week.
  6. Even if you’re the youthworker – you can still say no – manage the expectations of time people have of you.
  7. Protect your time, and your time off
  8. Find key people to help you with the four key aspects of your life – emotional (friends), mental (supervisor/someone who inspires you), Physical (a friend who takes you to the gym!), spiritual (pastoral/theological support person) – in addition develop ways that all of these things are sharpened every now and then – because often in ministry they can drain at times too.
  9. Ditch all the off the shelf or ministries from ‘successful people in ministry’ – the best resources you have are the people who you have. Ditch the blueprints! – work with the reality and whats appropriate for you.
  10. Setting boundaries for yourself also protects other people.

These are just what I’ve read, heard or reflected on over the last 48 hours or so. I am in now way trying to say i do these things, in fact saying no to interesting and challenging tasks is a huge problem for me, as is managing my time. But I thought it would be unfair not to share these things in case, you like me, need to be reminded of them from now and again, so that you can if you want to last the long haul and last still in one piece.

If Young people exist in community – should youth workers develop positive community approaches?

In  a few weeks time im delivering a workshop at the Federation of Detached youthwork conference, the title of which I am yet to finalise, but in readiness of the conference and its theme, i have asked around a few places to get a few definitions of ‘Youth work’ as well as gather some from the resources i have to hand on my bookshelf, or recent articles.

One of the themes of the Conference is – ‘Is community back on the Agenda?’ for detached youthwork, with the brief that aspects of partnership and community work seem to be more common place in detached youthwork at present, with the reason being that it might be other agencies, such as the police, that are in effect funding it, and so there has to be a community, or at least a community agency partnership focus to the work. The question i want to ask is

Why did ‘Community’ go off the agenda for (detached) youthwork practice? and as it has done – has the consequence been that young people have become isolated from a wider community in youth work (and youth ministry) practice?

From a historical perspective, the plight of the individual young person came to the attention of the philanthropist or voluntary organisation in the 1870’s or earlier. The Urban poor terrorised the streets, finding their way to the church – who provided Sunday schools, or for the rougher ones, the Ragged schools, where they were educated, and that is why this provison existed (it was never creche for young people who didnt stay in the service..) then organisations formed, such as YMCA, and Barnados. District nurses found the young people on the streets, as did Thomas Barnado, and services formed from this early detached work.  In its history therefore, the act of philanthropy was directed to the young person who was isolated from the community, and to be found in need on the streets, or bedraggled at a local church.

Where club based work had a natural bent towards spending time with young people away from their family community in the building – detached less so – still the primary interactions are with the young person first and foremost – though for detached it is not as if other people are on the streets in the evenings, dog walkers, pub goers, people who need stuff from a late night off license, people waiting for a bus. In a way the argument could be made that young people in all of these situations sought out provision and spaces where they can socialise, and be apart from others in the community. Though at times this might be a decision they dont get to make when they are asked to leave their home for an evening. They might have isolated themselves, so did youthwork focus too much on the young person as an individual distinct from community? , rather than as a social being constructed and in context of their community – and make means to develop community approaches..

Some of the isolation of the young person from their community is reflected in the small scale sample of definitions people have given about what youth work is:

Youth work is a way of giving young people the opportunity to feel valued, accepted and heard. (comment on Facebook)

or

Youth work seeks to meet people where they are at, engage them, identify their wants and needs and support them to achieve this. (comment on facebook)

or

‘Youth work is a professional relationship in which the young person is engaged as the primary client in their social context’ (Sercombe, 2010a:27)

As young people were considered as a distinctive demography in society (Griffin, C, p 18,1997) so then did the prevalence of practice that isolated them as an entity became common & justified. As the ‘problem’ in the society, they were the entry point, because they could be found, to help educate, to help transform the wider community (as some of the definitions above allude to) . Detached youthwork in the 1960’s realised that the community plays a significant part in the nature of the practice, Goetschius and Tash determined that The borough of London played a significant part in the setting for its detached work, and the young people they would be in contact with, yet though they specify a ‘work with community’ their predominant role in detached was to educate young people in the services that the community offered and suggest which to “accept, need or reject” (Goetchius & Tash, 1967;209), but they do recognise the need for good community work, which takes time, in conjunction with the detached youthwork they were offering.

Thus, the community of the young person is recognised as playing a significant part of the young persons life, and there is attempt by these pioneers of detached to enable the young person to retain a critical and yet close appropriate connection with it as part of their identity and development, they in this practice unintentionally it appears, developed community practice thinking in detached work, even though they met young people on the streets, often isolated from the community geographically.

What of the church…..?

Last week there was an article which suggested that Young People in churches should be more included in the congregation and services. I referred to it in a previous blog. And so, but from a different perspective- retaining the separation since the early Sunday schools back in the 1850’s – the church in its style of youth work (am not going to go into the definitions discussion here) has retained a separation. Not only that, it has adopted language based on adolescence, and sub-cultures, or generationalisms, that enforce through language the separation of young people. If young people arent in church its because they are different, they need understanding, and they need something separate/relevant/’fresh’, they might be, but in all of those conversations the culture of the church retains normative. They as young people are the distinctly different, and therefore need isolating or treating different distinct from families, or the wider faith community, (let alone the community of a young person who doesnt attend the church). Isolating so that a youth worker can work with them.  The language of ‘family and childrens work’ and ‘youth and community’ work has become more common recently in job titles in faith settings where youth work/ministry once dominated, but that might be due to restricted finances than because of a shift in approach to develop whole community practices of faith – though i stand corrected where this occurs. But in the main the separation is retained.  And ministries are formed, conferences are had and conversations occur which maintain the distinctions, the differences and view of young people as isolated units- separated from the people of the organisation of the church – in the main.

External factors in Youth work have determined the shift to isolation, as Mark Smith identified, the problem of individualism and case study approaches to working with young people is not a new one  http://www.infed.org/archives/e-texts/individualization_and_youth_work.htm , and in this government policy context, talk of resilience, personal development, employability of the individual became second nature in the conversations about youth work – fitting neatly with person centered therapy approaches of Carl Rogers, and taking the political sting out of a Freirean approach to education. The individual young person became valued and respected – and appropriately so, and this is reflected in some of the definitions, there is barely a mention of the young person as a social being or their social education in a community. But did they then as young people only become even more isolated from their community – as they became worked on. They formed new community in a club, a programme or a project – such as a YMCA or a Princes trust course – not knocking these, but thinking of how the young person is isolated from and it is not the whole community educated through such a process – they are individualised further with development plans or evaluations.

The question then is;  has Youth work isolated young people from their community too quickly?  did it narrate (was it forced to narrate) a discourse about young people that serves its own reason for existence as a practice. The government are reducing statutory youthwork, the church and voluntary services retain an element of youth provision. But how that youth work provision, and how young people are segregated from the wider community where it occurs is to be questioned. And critical questions of viewing young people in their community context remain.

So, what could be a solution?

Maybe the shift is first in the thinking around the language of young people, of young adults to start off with. As Sercombe identified- youth work might be able engaging with young people in their social context’ – A community approach to youthwork might consider that young people are to be engaged with, with their social context, not isolated from, but deliberately with those around them, in local groups and communities. Richard Davies writes that

At the heart of youth work as an activity is the development of young peoples ability to live better lives and in part this requires a grounding in community

Maybe this is a start, as often its not only that a young person is isolated from a community. But how the community is viewed is also important.  Not unlike the situation that befell the churches in the 1850’s, the community is often blamed for the state of the young person who then turned up bedraggled, but who now might be rude, loud, or displaying other behaviours. So, its not just that the young person is isolated by agencies away from the community, but that the agencies have a negative view of the community itself. Young person is the victim of the community  is a common mentality.

If you have got this far, (and you deserve a medal), then can i point you in the direction of this article on the Nurture development website: http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/weve-tried-isolation-hasnt-worked-politics-communit/  . What Cormac argues for is that an isolated approach of Asset based community development is risky without a whole community approach, where a community is needed for its gifts, its resources, and its strengths, and to be a contributor over and above that of agencies.

In a way it is a picture of how an approach has isolated people to itself from a community and expected change to happen as effective without it. I wonder if forms of youthwork suffered the same. When individual approaches, or even group approaches with young people that provide distinction from a wider education (be it personal, social, spiritual) of a community, have occured, when community approaches, or the recently popular, intergenerational approaches have been whats required for long term understanding & change. Maybe it has been easy to isolate young people and work with them to enable them to a different future despite their community, but surely a whole community approach where gifts and resources are identified (circa ABCD, or Goetchius & Tash, 1967)  makes this a distinctly better path to travel?  The same could be said for the church as an organization – youth still feels a problem to be solved. 

Maybe community is back on the agenda for detached youthwork, given its proximity to a local community it never went away, but in addition maybe asset based community development & education should be on the agenda as a pre-requisite for all meaningful youth work.

References:

Davies, R , Places to go, things to do, people to see, in Kraft P, Horton J, Tucker F Critical Geographies of Childhood and youth, 2013, pp 79-91

Griffin C, Representation of the Young, in Roche & Tucker, Youth in Society, 1997, p17-24

Sercome H, Ethics of Youthwork , 2012; p28

What might be good for young people vs What they want

I received one of those emails this morning. It neednt have been an email, but today it was, sometimes its a poster, or a verbal request. It was an email that told me about a ‘Youth worship Event’ taking place somewhere, and could i take some young people to it, after all it would be good for your young people to attend. 

Before i carry on, this isnt an bash at the youth worship event- more the process of it.

The email went on to tell me how the adults in ministry who are organising the event have spent a while praying, and being concerned about young people and thought they would put together a youth event for young people in an area, so that young people would have somewhere to go to worship in a safe and relevant way.

As i said it needn’t be an email, as these crop up week on week all over the place. It could be a church Sunday event, an affiliation event, a tour by a large affiliation (to get young people to to ‘hear the gospel’ )  the list goes on, and you get the gist.

In the past I’ve been involved as a youthworker based in a church in partnership meetings where the plan is to ‘do a worship event’ for young people in churches, once the momentum of this sets in it becomes difficult to be the hesitant voice. The usual planning involves people acting on behalf of their groups to plan something that young people only get a chance to be involved when it gets to its ‘performance’. The assumptions of what young people like vary, but DJ music, loud bands, even a band full of young people, a good ‘speaker’ all appear in the ‘this is what young people will like’ category. Without even asking them.

It might be good for young people to go to these things. They might really enjoy it.

They might really enjoy it. Its especially easier to take them if the event is free.

But as young people in local churches, theyre pretty passive in the planning, suggesting and creating it – and yet they’re then expected to bring their friends to it.

Sometimes, if i was really critical, i might suggest that these events are for the church, for a ministry which often includes a band, or christian DJ, more than the young people who attend. Who is the event actually for? 

In thinking about the image of the Theatre – would theatre occur without an audience? probably not, but audience at a performance might be a crude way of describing such events. Maybe not too dissimilar to sunday church, but a loud, higher beated, more relevant form. But only a different form.

It might be good for young people to go to such events – and no one knows, and if it was about having research about these things then this is somewhat patchy – ie proving these types of things are longitudinally good for young peoples discipleship might be open to debate. Yes they might have always happened – but are they helping long term discipleship….however…

This is not about the ‘youth worship event’ necessarily, but the sense anywhere- especially in churches,  where decisions, activities, events, ceremonies are decided on behalf of young people – that might have ‘young peoples good’ at heart. The problem is the continual lack of ownership, or participation of young people in the process of the decisions that affect them, let alone their future discipleship in a local church. Yet it is in the local church where discipleship happens and this could be a participative arrangement.

The activity might be ‘what might be good for a young person’ but is that how young people perceive it? and if they are just consumers of it, they can as equally be non consumers of it, as entertainment aside their attendance (especially if they travel a distance to get to it) will be the only factor that keeps them.

Giving young people what they want..

On the opposite side of the discussion is the ‘giving young people what they want’ argument. And, in the main its where I would sit, especially where young people haven’t been given the opportunity to create and shape their own ‘destiny’ whether in a church setting, or in a community setting and you’re starting with them from scratch. So, find out what young people want by asking them, and where feasible work with them to cause it to occur. Which might not be ‘giving it to them per se’ because that might be too easy. But giving it to them might be what is needed in the first instance, such as an open youth club to socialise, or some other activity, but its what has been actively found out that they want to happen.

If this approach was taken in church in regard to worship, bible reading, discipleship and faith – what might the result be… – can we trust in the open space and allow young people to fill it with a form of discipleship that they have created?

What about creating a structure that young people might fill with ideas, suggestions and plans – how would that sound?

The danger is that in a consumerist world, young people become even more spoilt by their own wants, and if not getting what they want occurs – what happens then? are they too spoilt…and would this make things worse..?

what if what ‘we’ want for the young people and looks like what we experienced faith growing up, is different to what the young people actually want?

How brave might we be to recognise this and travel with them – but does this mean that they always have their way..? Yet in reality it might be that young people in churches might be so concerned with saying the right thing to please people that they suggest what they think they should be saying anyway, the trick in doing all of this would be to create the right kind of environment where young people in their groups trust in a participative process to suggest and be honest about those suggestions.

Is there Somewhere in the middle? 

If the first scenario as an extreme it breeds uninvolved young people who become passive consumers,  and the second gives them involvement but could produce demanding or even spoilt young people – is there an alternative?

Compromise, possibly, and balance – maybe more recognition of their purpose…

A question might be to think about what discipleship is that young people undergo, and how their discipleship is a collective experience in the life of a local church – which in turn is a group of people who are seeking to respond to God in their midst and perform the gospel in and with a local community. I could use a drama analogy, but wont, but is it fair to say that young people in their discipleship might be needed to be given the tools for themselves to assess what might be appropriate for themselves in the discipleship task that they are in?

It may be that neither what appears good for them, or their wants are particularly helpful – and that their call in discipleship is to use their gifts and give them opportunities to give to the worthwhile cause of transforming the world, the Mission of God.  Their discipleship might be more active, but probably only if we give them opportunities to share their passions, frustrations and what they would like to change. So after it isnt about them at all, but how they might seek to love the world that they are part of.

 

Being Radical church; a Church of prophetic improvisation

In Church, the world and The Christian Life, Nicholas Healy makes the point that the church should define itself through its actions – rather than through its being- (see my previous blog here, on developing a practical and prophetic Youth Ministry) and by doing so suggests that the church should not only consider itself as being both practical and prophetic – it could also view itself as being part of an ongoing drama – one in which it is improvising its way in its current contemporary , and local, culture, where it acts both practically and prophetically in it. Consequently, He suggests that church is an ongoing experiment. And so, i wonder what might be actions of the church that cause it act in an experimental way, that is both practical and prophetic during its week ahead.

Earlier this afternoon i was listening to an interview with Adam Curtis on BBC 6 Music, in which he was talking about the normalization of the Internet, what it offers, what it doesnt offer, and what would it mean to be truly Radical today. His response that to be truly radical, it would mean gathering a community to respond to the crisis in Alleppo by resourcing food, water, aid and a lorry, driving all that way, unloading all the equipment, and then returning. Without tweeting, live blogging, instagramming the ferry crossing, facebook ‘live-ing’ it and keeping it an underground movement not exposed to what he described as the restrictive and creative hindering domain of the internet, and its craving for story, comment and recognition. I havent watched the documentary which is right now being played on BBC, but it should be on iplayer.

What he said , whilst i was making the tea this afternoon, did cause me to think and reflect further on the above question:

What would it mean for the church to be actually radical today?

So in the best of traditions i opened this up to twitter; here were some of the responses, arriving back to me in chronological order:

  1. “Get rid of ALL the buildings. Such a drain of time, money, energy and life. Such a distraction from living out the gospel”
  2. Ordain thousands called and endorsed from their own communities.
  3. Become truly inclusive
  4. Collectively, fundraise to buy The Sun from News International. Take over editorial control & speak truth to the nation.
  5. Cancel most (all?) mid-week groups/activities. They mainly just mean church folk spend all their time with other church folk.
  6. Stop worrying. Focus on 2 commandments. Trust God. See mission as sacramental. Disestablish.
  7. Make meetings for worship longer, richer, foodier, to deepen faith/build relationships, then all go out and do non-church stuff
  8. Sell a cathedral or 2. Buy many houses when councils sell them for £10 or so. Move in, build community, renovate, grow stuff.
  9. Offer daily prayer/a v simple monastic rule of life, to those who would like that stuff. Learn and teach skills.
  10. Stop meeting on Sundays and go out and meet people at car boots / sports meets / shopping centres / wherever people are!
  11. Families share homes and give other homes to refugees.
  12. Give up its buildings and structures, and get involved in the community instead.
  13. Become one body in Christ. No more divisions, factions, walls.

Thank you to all who contributed to this most unscientific of polling, and feedback. There would be plenty to agree, disagree with and discuss further.

I wonder in addition, if the call is to be prophetic and practical – this might be distinctive to being radical- though being radical is only relative to local context, as might prophetic and practical also. If being part of an ongoing drama of the acts of God in the world (according to Healy above), is about a multiplicity of improvised experiments that are practical and prophecy to and in the world, of a Kingdom that is in the now and not yet – not only will each local context need different improvised actions, every week might do to.  Many actions the church does could be considered both practical and prophetic, but what might make them culturally or socially radical as well? Is this a place the church needs to be also?

Yet amongst this, as was suggested above – this call to be practical and prophetic becomes more radical as the church interacts more closely in the world. As Baltasar recognises, the church is in and amongst the weeds in the drama, not in some perfect field aloof from the nasty bits, its in amongst the reality of the world where God is at work and involved in the so called, but horribly determined, ‘margins’.

It isn’t enough to be practical and prophetic within its own walls, those walls need to be bulldozed, and the performance of the church as practical and prophetic is to involve new guests into a performance that connects them with, as what Ricouer argues, is the sacred, in a world where technology now dominates.  Maybe ‘the church’ needs to stop internetting for a while…

And maybe, the church does all this without live tweeting, blogging or facebooking it all. Its new movement is prophetic and maybe doesn’t actually exist on the internet. It might be how it does what it does in as an improvised action of prophetic radicalness- not just what it does.

A church of radical prophetic improvisation… now wouldnt that be fun.

 

 

Healy N, Church, the world and the Christian life, 2000

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theodrama II , 1988

Ricouer, P – Figuring the Sacred, 1995.

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