Trying to survive after falling off the evangelical cliff

I grew up Evangelical. There I said it.

I actually went to a church called __________ Evangelical church. The label was pretty much die-cast into my being from a child. My parents had been to and then escaped brethren roots. So, I was evangelical in identity, but in a way, aside from a continual statement that it meant a ‘belief in the Bible’ it was difficult to pinpoint what actually being evangelical meant, as I was, as they say, ‘growing up evangelical’. I was part of its culture, from festivals, language, ceremonies, adherence and regularity of church going, bible reading, prayer and rites like baptism, this was my world growing up. Being part of church meant, and only meant being ‘evangelical’ traditions were to be followed, or others derided, being kind of right was important. But discussion about what couldn’t be right didn’t happen, it was just what other people thought, and they weren’t right. However.

Sociologically theres a few challenges the church, especially the evangelical one needs to consider. For, what it has a tendency of doing is using language as a powerful force to have the twin ability of on one hand talking down the faith/beliefs of another church, in the hope that this builds up and strengthens their own. Ive heard it often, like in small groups when someone says of another church in the town; ‘they dont really believe in the Virgin Birth at that church’, as one example. It reinforces a rightness within the group, a security, a group dynamic, and shuts down potential discussion of beliefs, in order that only one is deemed right. Ok this is a little extreme, but i hope you get the point. But leaving it accompanies with it the rejection of those claimed truths.

The tragedy with this is that people then within the tradition become less able to hold in tension a variety of theological opinions, or cope when questions about such held opinions are put to them, like for example stuff about the validity of Jonah, ethical dilemmas, leadership, sexuality to name just a few. Now, that’s not to say that these discussions arent had over social media, via articles and blogs, they are, but do they happen in the local church in open forums to discuss them? and with young people who might be asking the questions…

A few months ago I was working with a young person within a well known evangelical organisation across the UK, the young person was struggling, but was being supported by their church and others around them in quite a difficult pastoral situation. What was quite interesting was that the opinion in the prayer of the youth organisation was that the person needed to be prayed for so that (and i quote)  ‘they didnt lose their faith’ . I found this an odd thing at the time, and only now have begun to reflect on this. Because the person had in a way no intention of losing their faith, their ministry and calling – just that an evangelical organisation was not able to continue to facilitate it. So – what was communicated was more well intentioned that i am suggesting here, but there was something in the sentiment that leaving the ‘evangelical’ world of a ministry could mean losing their faith completely, and there were prayers that this wouldnt happen. What was implied by this was interesting. Can a person be rejected by the ‘evangelical’ tradition and not have to have a complete faith overhaul? or was something else implied…

Maybe leaving the evangelical arm of the church – might only result in a dramatic cliff jump to certain liberalised death splatter below… or does it…?  After all, from within it the dagger of liberalism get pointed at those from within whove now apparently turned ( Steve Chalke, Rob Bell to name but two)

In a conversation with a fellow youth worker recently, we discussed what it was like to fall off the evangelical cliff.

Or more to the point, to know what resources there are for maintaining faith when you think that you’re falling off it, what rungs there might be on the cliff face, or platforms half way down.

What it feels like at times to have different aspects of your life trying to gravitationally pull you back to the cliff and to the green grass at the top.

In a way the same resources are there for surviving in faith when falling off the cliff, as they are before. God is still God, but the safety of the box he might have been in has changed. And so, this still includes prayer, and ritual, and reading the bible from a different perspective, church feels different (but i am still there most weeks) but people who have been through the same will be friends. Its hard not to be bitter, really hard, actually it is so easy. The same other resources include reading theology, and philosophy, sociology and politics, as The Bible often demand not just a spiritual response, but is all of those other things as well, not to mention drama and literature. God is in all of these things. There can be many clinging on times though. Because theres a hurt that we were once connected emotionally and socially to the people of it.

As importantly, the key resource is that you are not alone, many others before have began to reflect on the evangelical culture of their faith and, not just especially now due to the perception of evangelicalism in 2016 as Trump voting & immigrant hating, but because of a number of other things.

The easiest thing also is for the evangelical world to label you, you successful cliff leaper who didnt lose their faith. You’re now a ‘liberal’ or a ‘socialist’ or ‘not as Biblical’ and the trick here is that is that it does that thing of earlier, maintains their own deemed strong position whilst negating your own, and any argument you put forward if you try to is discredited, being from the ‘fringe’. Or that your faith is in some way inferior. What is failed to see is that because of having to maintain faith outside the evangelical culture, faith might actually be stronger because it has gone broad, or deep.

I write this because the two different conversations or incidents recently highlight what has been a personal journey for me, and countless others. Maybe in my 20’s and 30’s I had to find an ‘owned’ faith ( as James Fowler would say)  or that faith in God continually is changing. For the more I delve deeper into theology, into knowledge, into different practices of rituals the more I deepen not just in knowledge of God but experience God communicating and worship him in challenging new ways, the simpleness of a complex God doesnt add up anymore. Discipleship involves learning and having to learn from different positions.

In a way what I would think I was now is being more evangelical than i was then, as this belief in the truth of the Bible means that this includes acts of Social justice, the dramatic acts of God communicating to his people, a belief in God who gives Human freedom, God that asks people to follow his way authentically, a Kingdom that is near, graspable and far, is now and also to be sought. An evangelical that acknowledges that knowledge of God might not actually be God, a graspable God might not be God in majesty at all. I still believe in a God that transforms societies and individuals, who Loves unconditionally and gives. Actually what I still believe looks like the creeds of old.  Falling off the evangelical cliff means shifting the how of the faith, but not necessarily losing the heart, soul and spirit of that faith, and searching continually for God who finds us on our search in the craziest of places.

Losing my evangelical faith, or faith in practices of evangelicalism is more accurate.

Regardless, Being a disciple from within or outside the evangelical borders involves as Vanhoozer suggests : ‘becoming christlike and doing more than learning lines, disciples must develop their characters, disciples must do more than go through the external motions of saints, they must also be sanctified, sanctification is ultimately Gods work, yet God works not simply ‘on’ but ‘with’ his saints’  (Vanhoozer, Faith, Speaking and Understanding, 2014)

Even having fallen off the evangelical cliff, christlike sanctified discipleship is a possibility as a response to Gods ongoing call and direction.
(Examples used with grateful permission)

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Reflecting on 2016 and the most read articles

Self indulgent article alert, but everyone is doing it at this time of the year….

I started 2016 with the thought that I wanted to do a bit more writing in the course of the year, 2015 I had had about 3,500 people read my blogs, and so I thought that I would try and at least match this in 2016 and write at least one or two articles a week, and match that figure of 3,500 views in 2016. I have written over 150 blogs this year on a range of subjects, linked to either what i have been studying at Durham University, reflections on work, culture, local church or conferences. I have covered themes such as Youthwork Management, Self care, detached youthwork, Mission and a few, but not many on Theodrama and the work of Kevin Vanhoozer – which is going to take up alot of my attention in the next 6 months as it is the subject of my dissertation.

Over the course of the year a few things have been noticed.

  1. Nobody reads top 10 articles anymore
  2. On a general basis people in youthwork (the deemed secular) side of it are up for more discussion, reflective learning and thinking, its is from people in this domain where more shares, comments and feedback is given. Quite what this says about the ‘youth ministry’ world that seems not to engage with voices which might be on its fringe might be up for debate, however, at the end of the year it is fascinating. Probably only articles that Mike Pilovachi writes, or that appear in youthwork magazine get any traction, unless…
  3. The Title is important. Tragically my most read piece was a 5 minute throwaway article – but it had a good title.
  4. Articles that are deep, challenging and critical only get traction with a good title, or have alot of effort put into to distributing them.
  5. The timing of when blogs are published is important, as is whether to actually respond to a latest policy initiative by the government, or a controversial piece in a newspaper, blog or journal.

So, in the spirit of everyone else looking back on 2016 with a mixture of gathering in the best bits, chewing them over and hoping to forget some of the more despairing moments, here are my top 5 most read articles for 2016.

at Number 5 is ‘Recruiting for NCS might just kill detached youthwork for good’  http://wp.me/p2Az40-y3  in which I suggest that if those running NCS use detached as an outreach service for NCS then detached is in big trouble.

straight in at number 4 is ‘13 details of a youthwork practice that are never requested in Funding bids’  this was the only ‘list’ blog that got any wide readership, as it struck a chord with many many youthworkers and managers who have to battle with funding application forms. I only wrote this one in October so it really did sneak into the top 5.. If you want a read it is here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-GN

Number 3 is a familiar one, ive probably written two or three similar to this, suggesting that in the current government policy climate, the open universal provision of youth services that has been decimated has opened up such an opportunity for the church (and voluntary sector), a return to the historic beginnings of youthwork provision in the UK – and so ‘youth work; church its over to you (again)’ http://wp.me/p2Az40-tQ

A long way off the top spot, but in number 2 is ‘Proposing youthwork in schools shows that the government doesn’t understand youth work at all’  Casting your mind back to pre brexit britain there was a call for youthworkers to provide wrap around care in the afternoons for pupils as they finished school past 4pm. Ie to be pseudo teachers. to have large groups. To be employed by councils on a grand scale – just after theyve all been designated the scrap heap/self employment route ( as per the above blog).  Anyway, this one got about 400 views, if you want to bump it up to 500 it is here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-oF

Drumroll not required, there was only 1 top spot this year, and ‘Clergy, if you want to disciple young people, quit doing assemblies’ was it.  It was probably the title that got it shared, or the questions, or the right time. It was the only article ive written that i would say was ‘youth ministry’ orientated that received any kind of ‘going viral’ moment, probably because it got the attention of clergy and schools workers alike. Since it was written in May, nearly 3,000 people have done so, ie as many people as read my entire writing in 2015. Like a good repeats show, and best of, if you want a reminder it is here; http://wp.me/p2Az40-t3

All that remains is to play out some up beat music, and herald in the new year, by the way this blog is live, I am writing this now, its not been pre recorded in June like most of the between Christmas and new year TV. It is also to thank you for reading, sharing, commenting and providing feedback for my writing efforts, i probably cross the line at times, but i do try and be constructively helpful for youth work, youth ministry, mission and the church and so some of what i write might appeal to distinct groups, but it is the between the gaps world that i locate myself, its why the streets appeal.

Thank you again, and Happy new year of reflecting and creativity in youth work, ministry and the church in 2017.

 

Mission in the edges; developing a Sidewalk Spirituality

Following on from my recent reflection, in which I considered the possibility of decorating St Francis of Assisi as the Patron Saint of Detached youth work ( see http://wp.me/p2Az40-KD if you understandably missed it in the pre-Christmas festivities) , I was reflecting on one of the phrases that Richard Rohr used to describe St Francis and his way:

Franciscanism is truly a Sidewalk Spirituality for the street of the world (Rohr, 2014;4)

In the remainder of the book Eager to Love, Richard Rohr describes the life and considerable impact of St Francis, and how the franciscan movement derived from St Francis himself. As someone who has spent alot of time being a detached youthworker over the last 10 years, even working for a project called ‘The Sidewalk Project’, its seems wholly appropriate to glean some of the principles from St Francis in the honing of a Sidewalk Spirituality.

The Infinite in the Finite

Francis believed that the finite manifests the infinite, and that the physical the doorway to the spititual, then all that is needed is right here and now in the world. Heaven thus includes Earth. Stating that there is no Sacred and Profane, places or moments, there are only sacred and desecrated places, where humanity has caused the desecration.  The mystery of Christ becomes specific, because everything is a revelation of the divine – from rocks to rocket ships, or on the streets, grass to graffiti.

Within this space of seeing God becomes mutuality of the one who sees and what can be seen. The ones who see Christ are those paying the right attention. Francis regarded the dignity of others he was in proximity with, and included also the animals, because he honoured his own dignity as a son of God. As Augustine said: what you seek is what you are (Augustines confessions).

As Francis commended to his followers; ‘we must remain in love’ for, it is only when we are eager to love that we can seen love and goodness in the world around us. The same for peace, hope, and beauty. To remain is not to remove, or to isolate, it is to encounter and to see.

I wonder what this sense of love for others compares with current faith based youthwork practice – thinking specifically of ‘values’ that are often retrieved, such as empowerment, and individual dignity. These are as inherently Christian, as they are professional, yet might any of them matter if there is not ‘love’ than is eagerly sought. On a personal note, I am so aware of the times I have felt that deep compassion, call it love, for young people on the streets, it caused me to take volunteers the extra mile, (literally) or to the next hour, because the conviction was there from feeling compassionate to young people, to want to be in proximity with them. I say this because I also know when i have felt like i was performing values but not that deep compassion or conviction.

As Francis Schaeffer said; “Our conscious relationship with God is enhanced if we treat all the things he has made in the same way he treats them”

One Sacred World

This follows on from the previous. In only a sacred and desecrated world, everything is potentially sacred if ‘you allow it to be’ . ‘Our job as humans is to make admiration of others and adoration of God fully conscious and deliberate’ (Rohr, 2014) . There becomes no centre if God is everywhere, and most paramount at times as far from the centres created by religion, in the weakest, in the fugitive, the frog or the freak, it is about looking for God. Its is how to look and be attentive in the searching for God.

Francis began to divert from the Bishops in removing from the dinners and gatherings, instead preferring to stay close to the ‘cracks in everything’ in the day to day social fabric of the proximity of people on the streets. As Rohr suggests ‘not only were we Franciscans not to be prelates in the church, but we should not hobnob there too much. you tend to think like those with whom you party’ 

Proximity Spirituality

Francis emphasised the identification with the suffering of the cross, solidarity with the poor, and with human suffering in general, this is the starting place for his spirituality – not the private introverted search or self help. Francis recognised that Spirituality without service of others was a prelude to ego inflation and delusion. The Franciscan Spirituality recognised the possibility of the divine in the everyday encounter with the other person, in the hard, soft or broken edges of life, and that suffering and tragedy might be the quickest doorways to encountering God, depending on honesty.

Image result for francis of assisi walking

It is the kind of Spirituality which allows commonality of suffering to be the human leveller in the travelling on the road. like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), the Disciples on the boat ( John 21) , Sidewalk spirituality places itself on the road, respects the other, and asks those it encounters to begin to recognise God at work. Starting by being in proximity.

As a result of holding , reflecting on a living in the reality of Christs suffering in everyday life in costly discipleship, the consequence will be to be much more compassionate and patient. ‘A spiritual leader, writes Pope Francis, who lacks compassion, has almost no power to change people, because people intuitively know he or she doesnt represent the divine truth’ (Rohr, 2014) A powerful Christ is also a weak one, and only those who join him there and come out the other side will understand, like Francis and his followers, for they ‘rule’ from the edges and reign from what is no longer the bottom. It is just where God already is.

Holy extreme disorder

‘He’s Wild you know’ So those who knew of Aslan described him to the children in CS Lewis Narnia Series. As humans we like order, things not necessarily simple, but ordered, systematic even. We even require or revert to order after Christ himself promised disorder post resurrection. Yet we like faith to be controlled, ordered even in the buildings and be able to locate Spiritual and Sacred in easily definable points. A Sidewalk Spirituality is chaotic, it is improvised, it is disordered. As GK Chesterton put it ‘what Benedict stored (in monastries), Francis scattered’ Francis approach is riskier, led to little discipline, clear direction or proper boundaries. This disorder is both a strength and a weakness, clearly. Gospel freedom is always a risk. There is vulnerability in the risky travelling, a cost to personal order, monetary possessions and security.

The Heart of a Sidewalk Spirituality

The Franciscan evangelization principle writes Rohr, is

‘not to preach at or to people, but just to make the truth beautiful, attractive and warm’

And this can only be done if we are eager to love, and look for God in the world, in proximity with others. We dont take something we take ourselves to find God amongst others in places. Jesus becomes someone ‘to imitate’ and not just to worship. Francis took prayer onto the road and into the activity of life itself. The whole world was his cloister! and the message of love and the medium of its message was the same thing.

Image result for francis of assisi

A Sidewalk Spirituality starts with the heart, a heart that takes feet to the places of people, is one that seeks God in all he created, respects those broken and builds community in and amongst them. That’s what Francis did, his communities developed from the roads, from the deemed edges.

What of a Sidewalk Spirituality for faith based detached youthwork – who’s up for this costly pilgrimage?

 

References

Rohr, R Eager to love, The alternative way of following St Francis of Assisi, 2014

 

Happy Christmas to the youthwork community. 

A short note to say Happy Christmas to all those working with young people in churches, projects, clubs, groups, schools, councils or colleges. You do a great job investing in young people in what are difficult social, structural or financial situations and the profession is in debt to your struggle. 

I hope in a small way the writings in this blog have been helpful to you, inspired, challenged or aided your reflections. 

So Happy Christmas from me to you,  youthworker to youthworker, ongoing learner and reflector to another. 

 Thank you for reading, commenting, listening and being patient with my ramblings in the last year. Thank you if you’ve shared and publicised my work.  I am humbled and thankful. 

Thank you all and Happy Christmas to all the youthwork/ministry community. Lets keep on learning from the streets into 2017! 

St Francis of Assisi: The Patron Saint of detached youthwork?

He was always new, always fresh, always beginning again

Is what one of the recent biographers wrote of St Francis of Assisi, one of the early proponents of the order of the franciscans in the 13th Century. (Aside from the extract below you can google yourself his life plan) . Last week I picked up for £1 in a charity shop a little book on this most celebrated, but also sometimes forgotten about saints in the movement of the early church, and as I read the book, and have since looked up a few articles I began to wonder whether St Francis in his actions, his temporality and attitudes possessed something in order that the righteous title of Patron Saint of detached youthwork might be bestowed (assuming I have the right to bestow such an honour)

Image result for francis of assisi

Francis (and his wife Clare) had an agenda for Justice which was foundational, living outside the society of production and consumption and a continued vow to identify with the marginalised in society, they chose to live a life of peace and justice and not just do acts of peace and justice. 

Thomas of Celano wrote of St Francis ‘Towards little worms even he glowed with great love.. he picked them up from the road and placed them in a safe place, lest they be crushed by the feet of the passerby’ St Francis picked up even the worms from the road, because he was known for his travelling, walking, and journeying, it was said Francis was more at home in the yard than in the sanctuary. Maybe a methaphor of the (faith based) detached youthworker that is more at home on the street than in the church perhaps..?

Writes Richard Rohr; Franciscan Spirituality – that which formed from St Francis- is a ‘sidewalk spirituality’ for the streets of the world and the paths of the forest. Francis spent most of his time on the road and in the dwelling spaces between the towns in the small gatherings, his own life was further outside the walls of church, than the Franciscan orders that succeeded him. As GK Chesterton said’ what benedict stored ( in buildings) , Francis scattered’  Francis was risky, little discipline clear direction or boundaries – where life in the orders maintained these.

From his life span we read that these events happened:

Year 1208: Francis is back in Assisi; during the spring he listens to an Apostolic Mass inside the Porziuncola, and the evangelical, apostolic vocation grows up inside of him. In the same year, the first followers (Bernard, Peter Catani, and Giles) start gathering around him, building the first embryo of the first Franciscan Order.

1209 He writes a first version of the Rule. He goes to Rome with his 12 companions to ask the Pope for his approval, receiving an “oral” acceptance. On the way back to Assisi they stop in Orte for a while, then they arrive at the Augustinian hovel in Rivotorto. Francis and his companions are friars (“brothers”) rather than monks, because they continually travel from place to place, living among the very poor.

They walked in small groups, yes three small communities (orders) were formed, but Francis spirituality was honed from the walking and formed through the experiences of life there. For those sympathetic with faith and detached youthwork; Francis it was said ’emphasised an imitation and love of the humanity and suffering of Jesus, and not just the worshipping of his divinity’ . This was how he acted to the poor he encountered on the roads. And his faith underpinned what we would now define as empathy:

‘In seeking peace through right relationships with God and others, we become much more open, non-judgmental, and inclusive with those who are different from us. Francis admonished his followers not to look down upon or judge others but to look down upon and judge themselves first. God sanctioned judgment, and therefore, he seldom referred to damnation and did not condemn anyone or any particular belief (L3C, 58). In a modern sense, seeking peace means moving out of one’s comfort zone to understand a perspective and way of being that is different from one’s own. It means to be comfortable enough with one’s differences to try not to change or condemn them. True peace cannot occur without opening oneself up to the differences of others.’

and Murray Bodo (1995) writes of St Francis:

There he [Francis] embraces another kind of leper, a young nobleman who has been excluded by the other prisoners because of his constant bickering and complaining. By his cheerfulness and patience Francis is able to bring this person out from behind those walls of his own making. And this becomes a bold pattern in Francis’ life: by love he helps people to find the opening through their walls; then the gates of the cities begin to open. The lepers, even symbolically, always live outside the walls, and you have to pass through armed gates to embrace them. That is Francis’ formula for peace: You have to come out from behind your defenses and risk embracing what is seemingly repulsive and dangerous.

Rohr again; ‘Francis created a very different classroom for his followers, sort of an underground seminary if you will, where you had to live faith before you talked about faith, our rule was initially ‘tips for the road’ an itinerant lifestyle’ We might call that correct ethics or personal conduct – what it also was how to connect with those on the road in accordance with the beliefs, and a classroom which emphasised the doings not the knowings – informal education – well definitely experimental….

St Francis of Assisi – the faith filled, non judgemental, walker across Europe who identified with the poor whom he met, who found home outside the walls, yet still recognised from within. Maybe he was the patron saint of detached youth work. But if not, still an inspiration none the less.

 

 

References:

The leadership story of St. Francis of Assisi: Toward a model of Franciscan leadership Holbrook, Peter J.Author InformationView Profile. Cardinal Stritch University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2008. 3313852.

Rohr, Richard; Eager to love, The alternative way of Francis of Assisi, 2014

 

Re-dramatizing Christmas

Its that most wonderful time of the year! when Michael Buble sings!

When tea towels are in short supply in schools, when donkeys get a winter task, when the story of Jesus’s birth is told and told and told. And acted out with children as narrators, actors and parents gushing, hoping that their precious doesnt forget their lines, and everyone does that cute thing.

And the mythical story of Christmas is sung, interestingly the church celebrated christmas for 300 years without appropriate carols – that might have been fun, now we sing of the stillness of Bethlehem, the meek Jesus, star of wonder, the bleak mid winter, songs that herald and worship Jesus. But is Christmas something that is told, read and sung?

The Story of Jesus is undoubtedly the greatest story ever told, but is it the actual story that is told and how is that actual story meant to be told?

If there are questions provoked by articles that Santa should be banned in churches (John Piper I am looking at you) – then the question is though the forces of commercialism thrive on the retelling of the ‘santa narrative’ which is magical, generous – is it not that the Santa narrative needs reducing, but that the church should revitalise, remythologise and reimagine the incarnation in new dramatic scenes. The church shouldnt worry about how everyone else celebrates Christmas, neither should it worry about analysis the facts of the story ( ie was it in a stable) – the true drama of Christmas is in its ongoing performance.

The question is not how is the Christmas story to be told – it is how is the Jesus story to be lived and acted – made dramatically real, dramatically magical, dramatically generous.

Yes the drama in the Jesus story is about homelessness, displacement, murder, vulnerability and obedience – it is also about a God that speaks, directs and asks tasks of those who will participate – and it was in a particular time, and place, and yet even then to rediscover the essence of the narrative is not to engage the current world in the same story. For it might be the greatest story ever told, it also needs to become the greatest drama to continually participate in. It needs to fuel the imagination in particular spaces – yes in live interactive productions- but Jesus was not consigned to history, yet was historically real. The present ness of God in the world, and yet might not of been poor, was born in reality in a situation of terror and fear.

To live the Christmas story is to re-imagine it in the new context, tell the old old story but in its reality, realise that God spoke and intercepted into human existence, and his drama is of goodness (Baltasar), a drama that will threaten the status quo, it will exist in the side streets and back alleys of the world, it will rest on those who can hear and respond in freedom to the call.

Image result for mary angel

We need not a re-imagining of Christmas for a better telling of it, but a re-imagining that causes a better performance of it.

Do Christians just worship this historical event in Jesus, and profusely thank him for it, – instead of setting out on that same journey themselves? (Rohr on St Francis of Assisi in Eager to love) 

 

Finding glimpses of inspiration during 2016

I must admit, I have got to the end of the year feeling like I am stumbling across the finish line. The year has felt a long one, though as fair as always Christmas seems to have crept up on me slightly unawares. For many people it has been a tough year, news is always tough, both local and national and international. Dramas are made out of crisis and the world seems to have reclaimed elements of darkness that had felt lay dormant. In the world of youthwork, shrinkage in a variety of ways – reduction in universal youth work provision in council areas, reductions in conferences and training, shrinking of intakes for courses, JNC validation review all provide adequate ammunition to a youth work profession that can look for comfort in its own dark spaces. 2016 doesnt rank up there as ‘favourite’ year for many.

As i was pondering an end of year article, and the challenges this year has posed, It struck me that during the year, despite everything, there have been moments where i have been inspired throughout 2016. Moments that have provided hope, creativity, and a space to reflect and evaluate the deeper truths that exist in the world. I challenge you to reflect on what has inspired you during the year, but here are mine.

  1. A week ago i picked up Richard Rohrs book on St Francis of Assisi ‘Eager to Love (2014) and it was only £1 from a charity shop! , and , oh my word.  Like refreshing water to a needy dry desert, what an inspiration. Rohr describes his own experience of being a Franciscan, and illustrates the inspiration of St Francis and Clare his wife. They walked a simple but adventurous life together in communities with and amongst people. A few glimpses of inspiration:

My Brothers. God has called me to walk in the way of humility, and showed me the way of simplicity…The Lord has shown me that he wants to be a new kind of fool in the world, and God does not want to lead us by any other knowledge than that – Francis of Assisi

A Spiritual leader who lacks compassion has almost no power to change other people, because people intuitively know he or she doesnt represent the Divine or big truth -Rohr

mysticism is not to lead people to just inner experience but to the possibility of daily and regular experience in the depth and beauty of the ordinary, especially because it incorporates the seeming negative and moves our life to its hard edges, thus making things like failure tragedy and suffering the quickest doorways to the encounter of God – Rohr

(anyone else found those doorways almost paper thin this year…. thought so)

2. The Refuse Cafe in Durham – Actually all the Re-f-use guys and girls. From a seedling of an idea about 15 months ago to being chased down durham high street for publicising Icelands waste food, to being ‘regulars’ on BBC tees for providing wedding reception food from food that was about to be thrown out, and now well on the way to funding a recycled food cafe. Truly amazing. Proud to know them. They’re an asset to the North east.  10 people being up for detached youthwork training in the North east

3. Although I have watched alot more films this year ( we have introduced ‘family movie night every saturday evening, choice on a rotation) The film of the year, most inspiring and challenging, raw and captivating by a country mile was ‘I daniel Blake’ just a must watch. But take tissues. And be prepared to get angry

4. 16 People this year have begun to travel the journey of being involved with FYT and Streetspace, they are either involved in a North east based steering group, are employed in a local project or, and most incredibly of all, have volunteered and participated in detached youthwork training and are readying themselves for being out on the streets in the North east, not only to engage with young people in their space, but following the call of God to go and follow him at work. Just a huge inspiration and its been a joy to be able to be part of this with them.

5. I listen to a number of different podcasts. This year I have discovered the Ultimate Youthworker podcast which has made for a fascinating conversation on youthwork in Australia. The Ted Talks podcast, again the same length as my commute, just oodles of new perspectives. And The Nomad podcast, interviews with those whove practiced faith in challenging spaces.

6. Each week i hear in the staff meetings at DYFC at least one thing that has been inspiring about their week, either that they have done, or what a young person has said, or done, or not done. As determined staff they are inspiring in themselves, but they go out into schools, communities and clubs and invest in the lives of young people and they are regularly inspiring.

7. We make the Road by Walking. By Myles Horton and Paulo Friere. Its an old one, but it only crossed my path this year. Easily book of the year, almost for this quote alone when it comes to educating and involving our selves with young people in the everyday moment:

Always we have to look. Today suddenly a flower is the reason for your surprise. Tomorrow it may be the same flower, just with a different colour, because of the age of the flower

everyday involves looking deeply and intently, hearing, feeling and being. More quotes and inspiration here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-lc

8. Brendon Cox. What a hero.

9. The Awesome people in the FYT/ Streetspace movement. Their creativity is astounding, their determination to live and work amongst young people incredible and their infectious enthusiasm and support has been very inspirational this year. As have the In defense of  Youthwork community, and i thank also the Federation of Detached youthwork conference for their invite to ask me to lead a seminar at their recent national conference, an inspiring bunch all of them, for giving faith perspectives of youthwork a platform. All these communities challenge and provoke, as well as support, listen, lead, pioneer and encourage.

Mention also to the reflective and provocative youth workers on social media, the bloggers on youth work and young people (nurture development amongst others) 

10. The fighters and survivors this year. My Family for putting up with me being busy most of the time, and not stopping much, but as they also undergoing various health concerns or operations this year, its been a tough one, but moments of inspiration through it, like fun nights on the beach, sunsets, days out. Others have inspired as they have had to fight to stay afloat or sane this year because work, ministry or health has dealt a pretty bad hand. For those who stand on the side of the broken and pick them up, and stand with them.

Here is my list of the things that have inspired me the most during 2016, i will have missed a few people off, and i havent mentioned many names, but thank you all of you.

5 New years resolutions for Discipling young people

I am going early on this one, as its not quite the new year – but there has been so much talk on blog and journals recently about trying to discover a true type of discipleship for young people in the church that i thought it might be good to share a few suggestions for the coming year, that i hope are applicable to the resources you have in your church, the young people and enable discipleship that might be authentic, life and world transforming.

  1. Give young people the opportunity to shape the curriculum, from the week to week, to content and its delivery, where things happen and who is involved. See my previous post here http://wp.me/p2Az40-JK – which I talk about one way I managed to do this. If they dictate and decide, they also filter resources or develop their own..
  2. Shape ministry and mission activities around their natural gifts ; so if they are musical then this might be obvious, but if they are warm and hospitable create opportunities with them that play to this as a strength in the local community. Actually, not just in the church or its mission, but if they have specific groups use their gifts there too. – for more on developing gifts in young people – see the nurture development link below.
  3. Cause Faith to be dramatic for them! Let them find out and research the Scriptures – dont give them answers before they’ve even thought of questions!  Find ways of them opting in to or being curious about the Bible so that they read it for themselves – it might not be daily reading notes – but tasks, challenges, games, competitions. Then give them opportunity to see how they fit into it all – not just that they need to apply it – but that they have a continuing part to play, something important. I find young people outside the church more excited about the Bible than those supposedly inside- this cannot be right…
  4. Give them opportunity to practice responsibility, and have an environment where they can be young adults of faith Let them create the right opportunities and structures that they would like to have, so if its house group type with coffee – rather than games night with coke – then this is a sign they want to probably ‘grow’ up… things need to adapt as they lead and create them. Let them move to the thing that suits them, regardless of age, if they are ready let them go or let them create the thing for themselves.
  5. Let Spiritual experiences be both broad and deep. There is no such thing as alternative spirituality, give them opportunities to connect with the natural world or sensory experiences, from stones to candles to walks, and yet at the same time revive liturgies, prayers and something old, thought provoking – like an early church father, saints or creed. Maybe even meditiation of a type. But experiences of God in worship neednt ‘just’ be charismatic and guitar led.

Theres just 5 early resolutions for youth discipleship as we head into 2017, you might want to add a few below in the comments below to share with other people. I have found that Nick Shepherds new book faith generation a good new resource, theres details of it here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-HN – but some of the links below might be helpful. In reality discipleship with young people is best done when we give them as much opportunities as possible to decide, to create and lead themselves.

The emotional reality of the exits in Youthwork and Ministry

Sometimes i wonder if the way in which young people are treated we think that they are some kind of alien species. Often it is because various institutions and maybe even youthworkers to justify their own existence and specialism, have created a narrative about young people that gives them special status, using terms like transition, or identity, or others to describe the age group. However, i wonder whether in the treating of young people as an alien species – we forget that their capacity or the effect of the actions or youth work & ministry on their emotions. Forgetting that they have them.

Why do i say this?

Well in the world of the street based youthwork, most people will talk about how it can be unpredicatable, and the connections superficial, irregular even. That the young people who are ‘most in need’ of detached youthwork might be said to be at risk, disadvantaged (and im only using these words as examples) , that they might act in certain ways, believe certain things – but what about the young person we meet on the street who might be a person with emotions?  (and im not ‘just’ talking about anger.)

But even these young people, a year or two later ask after previous workers, ones who ‘meant’ something to them. Ones they connected with, ones that left them after a year, or two. Even if there was only a few conversations a few shared memories, a few moments over a year – these meant something, two people connected in the public space. There was an emotional connection.

What of the youth group?

Might we stop to think about the emotional connections that young people make in their groups, clubs and churches with peers, workers and leaders?  Yet, when we think about young people as having emotional connections – how does this affect the styles of youth ministry that they experience?  So, not unlike above – does the church give young people temporoary connections with year on year workers? Or does the education structure of a church mean that young people are asked to move up to different classes and not maintain a long term connection with the same person for a long term ( in effect copying school) – so that one or two people develop deep connections – rather than young people making connections group by group.

Of course then there are situations where the youthworker is only around for 2-3 years. Again – does the church think about the emotional connections that could be built up – then affected when the 3 years is up..?

In Jocelyn Bryans book Human Being (2016)  she describes how that emotions are an important source of information and communication, and in addition the emotion displayed is linked to the cognitive appraisal of the situation. So for example, two different young people will react differently to the same mark in an essay paper because for one person it is evaluated against a need to have got a higher mark, the other by a personal desire to have passed. Their evaluation of a situation, in line with goals ( ie to achieve) or thoughts affects the emotions that are displayed. Then as obviously as our evaluations of situations change the way we react to the situations emotionally does too.

The problem occurs when the result of the actions we have taken in youth work and ministry has created hardened fearful and untrusting young people. There is much talk about resilience in regard to young people – the key factor in resilience isnt being able to cope – it is having connections and support structures that are meaningful in order that decisions can be supported or endorsed. Someone doesnt have resilience because they have it, it is a community factor.

So what kind of community does the world of youth ministry/youth work present to young people if it acts in a way that prevents depth, stability and inconsistency? If young people become hardened – because they once emotionally gave and trusted, and were let down – then has the person who was meant to be for them let them down even further – after all the teacher/social worker even Parent might be subject to their own agenda – but the ‘youth’ worker…

When our practices and Ministries promote the gaining of experience by the participants, gap years, college placements, short term projects, rather than thinking ‘this is about young people and they have emotions… how will this affect them, how will this help them.. how am i taking care of them..?’

There is lots of research done on youth Mentoring projects – whereby most of the data suggests that in a one to one mentoring relationship there needs to be a minimum of one year for real benefits to start to take place! A year – thats often 3 times longer than most student term placements! But there are even more benefits when this time is extended. At Durham Youth for Christ, I am so proud that we have been able to mentor young people for anything up to four or five years, with consistent staff in part, and even students who have volunteered for 3-4 years, and the effect on the young people – who now want to become mentors themselves is quite amazing. The young people have been treated in way that their whole persons, not just ‘attending school’ or ‘behaviour’ transformation, but that they are people with emotions who need to be tended to, respected, understood and to a point taken care of. Most young people leave being mentored with us in their own choice, again when they are ready, not when a programme ends, it is when they feel confident, independant. Sometimes, we as youthworkers find it harder to let go, and thats not an emotional crutch thing, but that we also feel emotional, and have invested in young people, giving of ourselves in the process, often giving and giving again. For neither should we be robots either.

It would be odd for people to not care when someone leaves the scene of their lives. In a Biblical context – the Easter story contains many occasions where the Disciples were full of grief, or wept at the death of Jesus, or theres the desperation of Peter – where will I go Lord? – when the pending leaving of Jesus was announced. There are entrances and exits in the ongoing drama of redemption (Vanhoozer 2005; 39). Yet when some of the methods of youth work and ministry exacerbate the leaving, then what might that say about how young people are thought of – just for someones experience? just a step on a professional ladder? a person whose emotions dont matter – theyll get over it… but thats just the point – should the institutions and organisations expect that of young people?

Maybe the best leaders arent the ones that are paid. The best are those that stayed. Who stick with young people. And that is where i know i have failed. Knowing that being paid in youth ministry is so temporary it becomes hard as a worker to give, for their sake or my own. Fear or self protection. But if i feel it, what of the young people themselves when they experience may workers, projects, volunteers – why would they invest again – except to show anger against the systems and structures.

I hope its not a patronising thing to suggest that working with young people has got to recognise that it is an emotional experience, it connects people, it involves them, and in active choice young people will choose experiences, like we all do, that would seek to create the best emotional experience for them. If a young person knows that they might get hurt again – why would they bother? – unless of course they are forced to participate.

 

 

 

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