In my previous article where i revisited ‘All Joined Up’ by Danny Brierley (2003) (here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-Mf), I came across a couple of sentences in which he described that the overarching philosophy of ‘youth work’ would be a way of challenging aspects of youth ministry where it was promoting unethical practices, faith manipulation, limited voluntary participation. I reflected further on this today, I was thinking of Youth work as an ethical compass but also a lens of interpretation – for practices of youth ministry and how youth ministry might be in need of youth work, or might learn from it to improve its own practices, especially in the current context of the UK.
Youth work as Ethical Compass:
It is not just the faith sector that the ethical compass of ‘youth work’ can be applied. More often than not it is the pseudo youthwork projects that call themselves youth work – but are really youth support, youth programme, youth development. Youth work as an ethical compass, and its purists probably wield their critical sticks the most, and i know i am guilty. In a way, its not i think that those who wield those sticks just want a pure youthwork functioning for the sake of their tradition, but more so that they honestly believe that without some form of ethical and philosophical understanding that informs practice, young people fundamentally are being treated and regarded sometimes inhumanly, disrespectfully, unfairly, as pawns within an ideology that is in need of critiquing. So its not for philosophys sake, or its art form, but because of a fundamental belief that young people are more likely to flourish and develop within a youth work value practice, for there they are given space to view the world within it, and be able to make decisions within it, and create within it.
Whilst there is more to youth work than just values, it is worth re examining them again:
Voluntary Participation, Empowerment, Equality of Opportunity, Informal education, Democracy
It as hard to see these things in programmes that have a budget for advertising the size of a premier league footballers signing fee, or where activities have pre determined programmes and activities, or where the kind of young people who participate are the most likely to tick boxes. The ethical stick of ‘youth work’ can be easy to wield, but it is a stick wielded with sadness more than anger, sadness that what is left for young people in their local communities doesnt have young people as its core – less so its organisational survival and programme delivery.
However at the same time, looking through a youth work ethic is only appropriate critique to youth work organisations and programmes that even subscribe to the notion of trying to do ethical practice – after all where the programme or cost or delivery or numbers matter – why worry about ethics?
Youth work as a foundation?
Critically, surely it would be possible to build decent practice that encapsulated these values, surely from a faith perspective these values, combined with faith values of love, grace, forgiveness, human flourishing & justice, can be the benchmark for youth work/ministry practice. They neednt be bypassed, sidetracked or redefined, however it would make something far less controllable, predictable, efficient and universal – and have less power over young people. In short, thinking about these things, control, predictability, efficiency and universality. They are all markers of the Macadonaldisation of the world from the framework of business synonymous with that fast food chain as proposed by Ritzer. Are young people now just the burger filler to the state ideology, or even extreme faith practices?
The essence of Macdonaldisation stand in polar opposite to the values of Youth work.
When we look at the world , and the world of young people, which has become dominated by by so many aspects of control, predictability, efficiency and universality through a lens of youth work values, of creative, constructive, political educational practice, of social justice, equality, empowerment and global inclusion , the two seem so far removed from each other.
It is as sad to see where proponents of faith-based youth organisations turning to business ideology such as above, over and above values that frame youth work practice (which can be regarded as ‘secular’, yet business practices dont get the same categorisation? ) youth work values themselves stem from Faith organisations in the first place. If the ideology of neo-liberalism has overtaken even the business mindset of faith (not just in the business mindset of commercialised youth programmes) -then thats where at least some kind of ethics and values from youth work might act as a stemming of the flow in that direction. If Faith is an art, God being poetic even? then how might youth work as an art/philosophy help youth ministry – before it uncritically accepts a scientific or business view of the world?
Might Youth Ministry need youth work?
Where Youth Ministry needs youth work is in that it gives it the ethical base line to encourage reflective practice – and prompt questions such as : How voluntary do young people participate? , How might young people be empowered at different levels of this practice?, What kind of education is occurring? How are decisions made and what decisions do young people participate in? and ‘are we being fair and open to all? ‘ It is in responding to and asking those questions where Youth Ministry becomes a practice that allies closely with youth work further. Youth work values prod and provoke in a way that is in the interest of young people.
Youth Ministry might need youth work because at its heart is informal and ongoing lifelong learning. Education in youthwork is a two way process, where both worker and young person share in learning experiences together and these are ongoing, it requires that worker is dedicated to a learning process, ongoing reflection, the challenge of deepening knowledge through life, not just organised cpd, or a seminar at a conference. Youth work as a process of learning challenges youth ministry as an activity and received knowledge practice where this occurs. Learning is core to the Human experience and Faith discipleship is an ongoing learning process – youth work and its philosophy of education has much that youth ministry can and should draw from.
Youth Ministry needs youth work as a critique of inclusive practice. Some aspects of youth ministry have got themselves so middle class ( as they serve churches in middle class areas) or one ethnic orientated – that something has to be challenged- and yes in some areas of the UK there are predominantly only British white people. An ethic of equality of opportunity, and equality of access from youth work will provoke youth ministry to consider its acceptance of others, its programmes that alienate or isolate young people with behavioural issues, or have a middle class feel to them, or feel ‘white’. and thats before practices that have equal opportunities relating to gender or sexual orientation. Youth work has been at the forefront of anti-discriminatory practice – not just inclusive practice – Youth Ministry might again reflect on the processes and journey that youth work has been on, why, where it succeeded in being more inclusive.
Youth work might not just be an ethical stick for other practices, it might invoke reflection and a considered look at practice from a value base- but also there might be key ongoing learning points that ‘professional’ youth work has encountered, faced and is now undergoing that youth ministry might well learn from. Does youth ministry need youth work? I think so. Passmore goes further, suggesting that there might be a symbiosis between them.
Brierley, D All Joined Up (2003)
Jeffs and Smith, Youth work Practice (2010)
Passmore R, Here be Dragons: Youth work and Mission off the map (2013)