How is the culture of British youth ministry created? 

Last week English (more so than Scottish) youth ministry was given a bit of a rocket blow, by a leading propenent of it , Mike Pilovachi of Soul Survivor , suggested that the quality of youth workers in the Christian Ministry structures and settings had gone down. There was the decree that less were able to educate young people on difficult matters and less keen to develop spiritual disciplines with young people.

The argument I proposed was that these current youthworkers have grown up in the culture of current british youth ministry, they have been immersed in its trends. And therefore it’s leaders, including Mike, have some form of responsibility of shaping it, creating it and directing it.

I admit now that I’m wrong to make this claim.

Wrong because I made an assumption that there is such a thing as British or English youth ministry culture, and that one voice or collection of voices can cause it to have a particular flavour.

Now what I’m not saying is that the stuff of youth ministry doesn’t have an influence in its shaping, neither am I saying that those who are larger players within its spaces can’t have bigger cultural influence (such as the affiliations,  soul survivor,  yfc, SU for example) and some of these have been affected by culture more that they create distinctive youth ministry and cultures of it. Some of these cultures are also said to be encouraged by uses of branding and resources.

But that’s as much the point. There is no whole culture of British youth ministry, just a vast array of locally nuanced cultures of it. For a weekend away I’ve been in London.  And mind boggled. Just how many cultures exist in one space. Youth ministry is as cultural in its locality.

So for me to argue that Mike or others have been key protagonists in its shaping in 25 yrs might be to do the influence they can have a disservice,  though it’s fair to say also that soul survivor has become a leading influence, on young people,  on youth leaders  (implicitly and explicity) on local churches (especially with local areas of soul survivor) , but does soul survivor have responsibility for creating a culture where youth workers (though to give them a technically more accurate term youth pastors) who are accused of being less effective? nope. It’s like blaming Mary Berry for the poor attempt I made at a Victoria sponge last week, or everyone’s.

British youth ministry may be shaped by a number of things, from its stuff and artefacts- its resources, publications and language, it’s people who speak of it, in it and critique it, those who research, academia and theorise. Yet as a fragmented discipline, it also sits with a culture of the broader church  (and joined up thinking that is prophetic, strategic and resourceful at a higher level might be to be desired) its local  church is the petrie dish for youth ministrys emerging culture.
Youth ministry might then be only a myriad of millions of petrie dishes of locally shaped cultures of existence, more so that being one culture where key leaders or affiliations are culture formers. Sprinkle influence into the petrie dish yes, but the local church holds keys that are far more fundamental. especially whist youth ministry has limited unversally adopted/accepted values, theories of practice or evidence, evaluation system, funding bodies or a discourse that it agees on.

Or for that matter a desire to have them and a reticence to acknowledge knowledge in its formation, this is an aspect of its culture.. ironically.

So neither Mike can be responsible for shaping youth ministry culture, not that he or others aren’t influential, especially in such a culture which if it exists is a largely watched and copied one (ie if it works somewhere else, we need one here..) but to give him responsibility for it as I wrote is not to do him a disservice but to recognise that fragmentation and locality driven nature of ministry amongst young people.

It should be a strength that it is locally driven, as should discipleship, mission and faith. That’s what might make it practical and prophetic in a universally driven interconnected global mcdonaldised world.


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