Vulnerability as the starting point of community transformation

“But that might mean we have to be vulnerable”

I was at a gathering of people this week, mostly clergy, and the subject within it was about conversations, and creating opportunities to have conversations with people. The kind of thing that detached youthwork is pretty much uniquely and solely about. Ideas flung across the room, such as chatting to people who were waiting at the bus stops, or travelling on the same bus. It was recognised that people at first would think this was odd, but after a while there would be a process of acceptance, rapport, trust and then the capacity for conversations to occur. Again, its the kind of process that is visible in detached youthwork. It was suggested in the meeting that Clergy ‘just dont have the time to do this’  which is fair enough, though is only an excuse and realisation of other priorities. What was more revealing was the comment given, and said with more feeling:

‘But that might mean we have to be vulnerable’

On the positive, the statement recognised that vulnerability felt difficult. And that as a member of the clergy their role came with it many associations of power. But in a split second of a statement, the light dawned – for real conversations, to be trusted by people, and to really connect authentically in unusual spaces, meeting people in theirs, requires vulnerability.

Detached youthwork, and even to a slighly lesser extent open access youth club work that I have been involved in in the last 10 years has given me a regular experience of vulnerability, or at least giving me the possibility of vulnerability, as at times I choose not to let go, not to commit fully, protect myself. Though for others looking at it, it is risk taking, unpredictable and requires vulnerability. Yet in a different way, I have felt even more vulnerable in the last few months, one to many family related health scares and worries, which include a fair dose of fear and worry – and vulnerability – combined with the dawning reality of redundancy from my current job at DYFC, these have, if im honest, caused me to feel a different sort of vulnerability, to just a vocational vulnerability, a vulnerability of not being in control, a vulnerability of emotions, even though I am used to trying to give others power, and meeting them where theyre at, having almost no power in situations gives this a new meaning. I wonder whether at the heart of genuine mission is that same sense of lost it all vulnerability, or leaving as much of it behind to not just go, but be present in the space. What might it mean to be vulnerable?

  1. It takes vulnerability to realise that we might be wrong. Everything we know about a community, about a group of people is one form of knowledge, but it is only one perspctive. It started to blow my mind when after only a few weeks of detached youthwork, that young people were choosing to drink alcohol, it wasnt because they were bored. It was choice. ‘Bored’ was what i was told was the reason. Escaping other realities was another truth. Paulo Freire said that after he had started talking to people in a community in south America, describes it like this: “that was my second learning experience, but i still didnt know what i knew. Just like they (the community)  didnt know what they knew, I didnt know what i knew. The question for me was exclusively to understand what were their levels of knowledge and how did they know. It was a beautiful experience. I learned how to discuss with the people, i learned how to respect their knowledge, their beliefs, their fears, their hopes, their expectations. It took time, and many meetings” (We make the road by walking, Freire, Horton, 1990, p56,p67) It takes vulnerability to be truthful about the prejudgements, the preknowledge and to listen to the knowledge of someone else, to have these challenged.
  2. It takes vulnerability to give. Over the last few months I have witnessed the slow processes of collaboration taking place, small tentative steps between people of different organisations trying to work at something of bigger goodness. Each collaborative moment of conversation is vulnerable, requiring either trust or faith, and vulnerability to leave something behind. Heading out on the streets to talk to young people, leaves alot behind, but in the moments of conversation and connection there is vulnerable giving of time. A Spiritual leader who lacks basic compassion has almost no human power to change other people, because people intuitively know he or she does not represent the Divine or Big Truth” writes Richard Rohr, change that requires law “does not go deep, nor does it last” (Rohr, R,  Eager to Love; the alternative way of St Francis, 2014, p28)  It is not that people don’t associate a representation with divine truth, they just smell a rat. If it looks forced, manipulative and quick- its not likely to be deep, heartfelt and lasting. Image result for vulnerable
  3. It needs vulnerability to take risks. Because this takes us out of our comfort zones. Even on the streets, which could be always risky places, actually its possible to ‘go through the motions’ and be almost blaze about being there, the street becomes a new comfort zone. Kevin Vanhoozer uses the metaphor of theatre to describe the church (as do others) and in Faith Speaking Understanding (2014) suggests that in the great theatre of the world, the church in its mission is to break through, nay, collapse the invisible fourth wall that exists in the theatre between stage and audience, and often between church and its own view of the world outside. What this calls for is less of a prepared script for performing the Godly script – but an interactive one. (Vanhoozer, 2014, p34-35) 
  4. Vulnerability to trust in interactive conversations. Trusting in conversations as a source of education is one of the bedrocks of informal education – or youthwork ( See ‘Here be dragons 2013, or ‘Informal education, by Jeffs & Smith, 1998) , yet it might seem just a ‘waste of time’ to chat with people at a bus stop ( when there are 101 other things to be doing instead, like arguing with Ian Paul on Twitter, for example). The reason it takes vulnerability is that it breaks all the moulds, it is not a programme, a service or a pre ordained script.Image result for vulnerable It is interactive trusting, of listening and letting the conversation flow, with tangents, stories, warts and all, by letting it flow, its in the hands of the other, yet this will take time. Because people tend to expect that the vicar, or youthworker might be ‘doing conversation for a reason’ ( theres probably an event on to be invited to.. sigh) Being vulnerable in conversation is to trust it, nuture the relationship that develops from it, have faith in it and the genuine sense of humanity that might exist in it. But its vulnerable, because ‘vicar has conversations about peoples gifts’ doesnt write its own poster, neither is it social media friendly. PTL. Image result for vulnerable
  5. It takes vulnerability to invest in the ignored. It is always easy, it is part of Human nature to be liked, to seek people out who might like us, who might fit in with people we also like. Who dont upset the apple cart. So in this way, being vulnerable to connect, and actually invest in ( not just give food to) is a vulnerable step, and one that others have to be educated about in the church, worship might have to become a collective journey to a place of welcome for all – but it takes vulnerability to connect, converse and provide space to the usually ignored by church in society. Even on the streets, I know i have ‘favourites’ the young people who might be chatty, easier to talk to than others, even those I know from youth groups – far far easier than those who might give nothing except crudeness, so its not easy to be vulnerable, yet no one said vulnerability was easy. If theres relationships to build from scratch then nothing structurally sound gets built on the first assessment of the site.
  6. It takes vulnerability to provide opportunities for those perceived with needs, to enhance their gifts, use their strengths and develop what they have that’s good. Image result for vulnerableFrom community gardens, to Sharing food, to bike recycling, to forums and groups, many are examples of using and sharing gifts, strengths and being in receipt of the goodness and beauty of others, the almost least expected. But theres a vulnerability to let it happen, when usually those who have great power find it difficult to relinquish all the responsibility.
  7. It takes vulnerability to resist conformity. An interactive Theatre production might have a theme, and the sense of the director or authors intention, but how it gets there, using what props, and finding its feet along the way, as offers and gifts are accepted into the story and others are rejected – its is less of conformity and more genuinely about faith, faith as process, faith in process. The message is in the performance. Some conformity is good, conformity to the overall story of Gods redemption, Gods giving grace, yes, conformity of how this is enacted in the interactive theatre might be challenged in all vulnerability.
  8. It takes vulnerability to invest emotionally, truthfully and authentically. Yet people orientated presence is akin to Jesus heading to the well at noon. We go to where there are people who might be lost looking for conversation, and leave it at that, no strings or expectation. Just to be in the space.

As i was thinking about this theme today, I encountered this awesome article by Wendy McCaig, someone doing asset based community development from a faith perspective in Richmond, Virginia. I nearly wrote a piece entitled the same quite a few years ago, when i was sensing that people not programmes were the order of the day in youth ministry back in the 1990’s, but Wendys article below, spurred me to think further about vulnerability, and how this is core to the start of deep missional practices, also deep & real understanding of others, and a recognition of our own power. Here it is, as a reward for reading all of my article, heres a real treat:

‘But that might mean we have to be vulnerable’ – well, yes. Its not something the disciples or apostles had to do, it was their core practice, they barely stood still enough to regard comfortability as the norm. “For he made himself vulnerable… even to…..what was it again…?’ 


A follow up to this post is here:; and entitled ‘ does status anxiety prevent the church from being vulnerable’. This was in part after the various questions, comments and feedback this first post generated.


10 Tips for creating a Healthy Youth Ministry

For a moment, stop and think about what it is like for a young person in the present day. If reports are to go by, then incidents and reporting of anxiety amongst young people are on the increase, as a result, young people may just have their self protection antenna switched to a firm on. But then again thats the same for most of us adults, for it is usually in our own self protection to avoid situations that are unhealthy, or damaging, if we can help it. In the recent report from the Fuller institute, 1400 churches were interviewed who had kept young people from the age of 14. One of the key findings was that young people stayed when church was a healthy place

Healthy churches are the subject of Peter Scazzeros books, it was also what Rob Bell was talking about on a recent Nomad podcast – it seems that burned out ministers are now making ministries out of preventing others from burning out too. Cynical or not, the questions about the health of our churches, and ministries have to be asked. Would it be possible to say that the church space where young people go is emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy place to learn, to become responsible, to flourish, to be accepted in the church community, to be treated as an adult at the appropriate time. How might we work towards this?

A friend of mine, Jenni Osborne, saw my previous post on the Fuller research and asked a colleague in a local church for 5  top tips to keeping a church based youth club healthy and thriving, and came up with these:

  1. Plan in advance. I know, we youth workers are all fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants types (I’d bet we’re not actually) and love to plan on the fly because there’s just not enough hours in the day! Well….Image result for plan
  2. Look after your team. Invest in your team, find out what makes them tick, uncover their strengths and encourage them to play to them. DO NOT EXPLOIT THEM…
  3. Look after yourself. If you are going to be in this job for more than a metaphorical 5 minutes then you absolutely MUST MUST MUST look after yourself. Eat well, sleep well, rest well, manage others well, be managed well, go on training for the latter two, ask for some help with managing your diary for the middle two, learn to cook for the first! It’s too easy to give in to the stereotypes of late night eating of mostly brown food, burning the candle at both ends with Friday night youth club and Saturday morning Prayer Breakfasts or whatever your picture looks like! It’s too easy to allow the thing that yp have said to you or about you to prey on your mind, refusing yourself sleep or rest. Much harder but much more worthwhile to learn how to cook, to rest, to recharge, to say NO. You’ll be around for many more young people!
  4. Don’t be afraid to challenge your young people. Youth clubs are not all about eat-as-much-as-you-can with a side ordering of table tennis/Wii Sports Resort/pool/Jungle Speed. OK maybe they are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also make room for challenge about how they live their lives: use fairtrade fortnight to challenge their consumer habits; use a ‘sleepover’ activity to highlight homelessness; get them raising money for a local charity or one that sponsors a child/village/cow (providing a cow for a family rather than sending the cow to school!); give them space to ask Big Questions about the existence of God, why things happen the way they do, or what happens when loved ones die; sit with them while they try and process painful stuff. Pray with and for them, the effects will surprise you!
  5. Invite your Church Leaders onto the team or along to a regular ‘Q&A’ time. Young people want to be listened to, not only by you but by others who say they care. If your church leadership has invested their time and money into you to work with their young people, then they are saying they care and yp will want to see that in action and be listened to by them.

I might add a few others to this list to make it a total of 10; which relate more broadly to the culture of the church, and the youth leader themselves:

  1. Working at 80% might give you the energy for 2-3 more years. Strategise the odd session off to train and supervise volunteers. Not every week has to be youth club night.
  2. Provide yourself with the kind of opportunities to be challenged that you also give the young people – so do a course, study, write or read
  3. Delegate. ‘Wait’ is an acceptable response to a request, delay a yes or a no, if you can.  ‘Yes’ might add to your ‘to do’ list, it might also take the opportunity away from someone else. It might also take you away from family time, time off or doing something that actually was important. like phoning a young person or spending time with someone. Image result for delay
  4. Ensure as much decision making about the nature of groups, curriculum and events and activities is given to young people. A healthy place is one where there are no sudden shocks, that might affect them, like all of a sudden their younger sister is allowed to join the group. (what a night mare!) Young people will opt out if they smell a rat, a fake or fear. Though this doesnt mean that risks arent taken.
  5. Balance space with activity, activity is space. Leave spaces for conversations for young people to have conversations with themselves but also with the leaders that seem as young person directed as possible. Every week neednt be 100% high energy, high adrenaline mega programmed to its final 2 1/2 seconds.  Trust in conversations, and keep trusting them, its a basic human need to be listened to, listen intently to your young people. Just give space. Have a weekend away, just to be on a campsite, no talks, no activity, just space to walk, cook, explore, spend time together. Brave. well why not?

So – develop the practices of a healthy youth ministry, be aware of your health, spiritually, emotionally and physically, and then also regard the health of your young people. Challenge practices in the church that become of high anxiety, stress and pressure, whether this is the ‘numbers game’ the ‘success’ game or the growth one. Cultivate health, depth, gifts and participation instead. You never know, it might produce longer lastingness.

any other suggestions? – please share them here for others:

The Youthwork Northern Powerhouse

Are you fed up of the youthwork world regarding Birmingham as ‘the North’?

Do you find yourself taking 1/2 a day to get to London (and not on Southern rail)?

Ever find yourself thinking – yeah that resource might work great in a oxfordshire suburb- but with real young people on tyneside – are you mad? Image result for the north

Then what you have got is a real sense of Southernitis. Its an allergic reaction to whats going on south of Birmingham and mostly in London, that doesnt appear in the north. Or more to the point- yet.

In London, theres Head quarters galore!  Think tanks by the dozen! Conferences, and resources and ministries and the list goes on.. and in the North East? – well we have pacer trains and about 5% of all the paid youthworkers in the whole country.

moan moan moan… yes, and actually some of this might also apply to the south west (also a bit distant from London) and Scotland (outside the Central belt) .

So, Whats the solution?

Probably a large vat of coffee, a meeting room and a space to chat through options with a whole host of northern based faith based youthworkers, get it off our chests and start gathering ideas, and harnessing the possibilities!

What about the following criteria to be included?

  1. You might be further north than 1 hour drive from Birmingham
  2. You deliver, or manage, or coordinate christian faith based youthwork of some description, either in a local church, for an organisation.
  3. You are interested in developing a conversation about some kind of northern based ‘think tank’ or ‘association’ or ‘gathering’  for the whole sector that equips, resources, pioneers approaches for the context.

Image result for the northIf you’re interested, and already a few people are, then cure your Southernitis, and start talking to each other and gather some momentum to get something going. If you’re interested, then please reply below and we’ll see where it happens. The last thing to do would be set up an event and no one be interested. Far too much of that going on… We need to start shaping the conversations, making and directing programmes, processes and approaches in the North within our context, doing what might be effective, relevant and appropriate to the needs and interests of young people, organisations and churches here in the north.

Anyone else up for a coffee to start this ball rolling?


‘that the young people in church wont leave’ and 9 other expectations when the youthworker arrives.

My last two posts have created a bit of interest. In each of them I have described and discussed some of the challenges, and solutions to aspects of the line management relationship between Clergy and Youthworkers. What has become clear, in the dynamic of the relationship, in the context of the local church, is that one of the most significant contributor to issues in it is expectations. Quite obviously there are not just expectations between Clergy and Youthworker for the relationship between them, but also thrown into this the expectations that the local church (or churches in an ecumenical project) might also have. So, in the best of traditions, what might be some of the implicit and explicit expectations of the arrival of a youth worker to a local church.

10 Expectations from the Church congregation of the Youth workerImage result for congregation clipart

  1. That the young people in church wont leave.
  2. That the young people in church wont leave
  3. That the young people in church wont leave
  4. That the young people in church wont leave
  5. That new young people joining the youth group wont cause the young people in church to leave.
  6. That the young people in church will now become great leaders
  7. That the youth group will grow, without causing any upset
  8. That the youth group will grow with adding to it young people from the local housing estate, after all, all the young people are the same, they all know each other, and this should be all great mission work.
  9. That the youthworker will be busy during the term time and wont mind using their annual leave to take the young people to soul survivor (whilst parents get a week abroad without the kids)
  10. That the young people in the church wont leave the church.

For those of you who thought I am just being anecdotal or humourous – a recent piece of research from the Barna Group also highlighted that safety and discipleship were top priorities for parents, the full report is here:

5 Expectations that the Church Congregation have of the Clergy line managing the youth worker

  1. That the Clergy can deal with the youth worker without any help
  2. That the Clergy will not allow this new youthworker to make any significant changes
  3. That the Clergy will ensure that everything that normally happens will now be able to have young people helping at it – thatll be nice
  4. That managing the youthworker wont take any extra timeImage result for clergy clipart
  5. That the Clergy will be able to use their authority to ensure that the youthworker fulfils the congregation’s expectations.


12 expectations that the Clergy have of the youthworker they now manage

  1. That they need little day to day managing
  2. That they will be honest about challenges
  3. That they can start working miracles with limited resources and volunteers
  4. That they wont upset the apple cart
  5. That they will be able to deal with & be satisfied with the congregations expectations
  6. That one day theyll also be in ‘real’ Ministry
  7. That they will give them more time to do other things, as they used to do the youthwork themselves
  8. That they will be able to get the young people to do the ‘odd’ service
  9. That they will be able to reconcile difficult relationship with the local school
  10. That they will be able to inspire the congregation to participate in mission activities with young people
  11. That the youthworker will take responsibility for their own self care.
  12. That the youthworker will be able to keep up and be relevant in every form of technology all the young people are using. Image result for expectations vs reality


10 expectations that Youth workers have being managed by Clergy

  1. They will gain Spiritual insight, direction and be guided by a ‘wise’, gentle hand
  2. They will enjoy having lots of space to get on with things
  3. They will have someone on their side in PCC meetings
  4. That itd be a relief compared to being micro-managed with targets and numbers in the old job at the council
  5. That their new line manager wont change as often
  6. That the Clergy will have lots of time for them, give constructive, wise feedback
  7. That they might be contributors to the churches ministry, vision and strategy
  8. That the clergy might be a shield from the congregations expectations.
  9. That the clergy will stick up for them when they decide to be creative or develop new strategies or approaches for Mission
  10. That they’ll drink alot of tea and eat cake.

Im sure I have missed a few from here, because there are expectations Youthworker have of their role ( ie that the Job is what was presented to them, and they can actually do it), and that the timescalImage result for expectations vs realityes of these expectations are not prohibitive, unrealistic or controlling.

Im fairly convinced though that there is no point talking about clergy line managing youthworkers without also considering the wider community of the church, neither is it to consider the whole dynamic without acknowledging the expectations, and strength of those expectations in all the directions. And thats before there might be expectations from the young people (of the youthworker).
It might be good to have some expectations, rather than none, but suggesting in the role description one thing and actually implying and expecting another could be tantamount to very difficult relationships ahead.

The previous posts on ‘we need to talk about Clergy Line managing youthworkers are here: (part 1) entitled ‘does a youthworker need to be managed?  and here is part 2; on negotiating the expectations and management relationship.

In a response to this post Jenni Osborne wrote the following excellent piece, on where these expectations come from:


We need to talk about Clergy to Youthworker Line-Management (part 2)

We dont need to worry too much about Management, im sure we’ll be fine


Im meant to be your line manager, theyve asked to do it, im sure we can work it out as we go

Are words that I have heard on at least two occasions during the induction process (where there was an induction process) from Clergy in their role as line-manager to me, there might be other good introductory statements made by Clergy in their role as line-manager, though  I have a feeling these might be common.

Simon Davies argues that ‘Christian youthwork Management suffers from too little management, rather than its secular cousin which suffers from ‘too much” (Davies S, in Ord, Jon, 2012). Management within faith settings can often be the reactionary type, or ‘to be fitted in’, and without seeming patronising, I can understand why this is the case. For, its not often that Clergy are themselves given regular positive line management themselves, they dont see it in practice. The kind of management that might inspire them, educate, offer support and appropriate direction in the ministry they do ( as opposed to the plans of the affiliation to enforce as a county wide ministry) – so then for Clergy to attempt to be good Managers is to go outside not only their training ( see part one) but also possibly their experience of faith orientated Management. So of all the styles of Management, the one that becomes default can be ‘laissez-faire’ – ie leave the youth worker to it – when what might be more fulfilling and motivating for the youthworker is be give more management, direction, support and education (Davies).  Good supervision and thus line management has to have a clear focus the personal and pastoral needs of those to be supervised, and to highlight the development of faith commitment and spiritual expression. Image result for negotiation

What it sounds like is that it is important to establish a good Managerial/supervision relationship from the outset that entails some kind of contract. In Part one of this series I suggested that both the youthworker and the Clergy bring something to the relationship, it makes sense then that some kind of negotiation from the outset begins a process from which appropriate Management can occur. In one way, because both the line manager and youthworker give something to the relationship it can become something of a negotiated collaboration. This in itself can be a source of challenge as often the youthworker and clergy operate (dangerously) as the ‘lone wolf’ , collaboration, and working together might not be in their mindset, neither practice or value orientation. Related image

In the collaborative relationship between Clergy & Youthworker what needs to be negotiated? 

  1. The Style of Management – Kenneth Blanchard ( Management Guru) describes 4 styles of ever changing management/leadership style – and its less important what they are- more so that the context of the situation might dictate that a certain style is important. This is the ‘contextual’ leadership style.  (Leadership & the One minute Manager, 1986) The four styles are: Delegating, Supportive, Directive, Coaching. Depending on the level of support & direction given.  Without describing all of the 100’s of styles of management/leadership, it is probably enough to say that all of these 4 actions might be required at some point from the line manager. It is how these are done…. 
  2. The Practicalities of Line Management – It might seem irrelevant or trivial, but the venue, time & frequency of Specific line management are crucial. They all communicate to the Youthworker how valued they are. A once a month meeting might be too much for some, not enough for others, the reverse might be case for every week. How long is important, if line managers are checking their watch, or waiting for a phone call. Venues can be spaces of power, neutrality is good, but this would need to be balanced by the need for privacy for delicate conversations. 
  3. The Content of Line Management – So, when the allotted hour arrives at the decided time and venue – There should be negotiation from the outset of the relationship as to what the appropriate and expected content should be, so that both parties are prepared. Is it to report the weeks events? To talk through ideas and plans? to talk about personal/spiritual challenges? is it receive direction/guidance? to ask for help? to talk about what is not happening? Again, the content can change, but some kind of agreed pattern that can be negotiated ongoing might be a positive helpful. It is worth then negotiating what is expected of the line manager when they hear the report, suggestions or crisis – is it merely Support (high support/low direction), Direct (high direction/low support), Coach ( high direction/high support), or even Delegate ( low direction/low support) – because a line manager that ‘just listens’ might not be whats required – but neither might be a line manager who just delegates new tasks. Negotiating the Content and form that line management takes is crucial. 
  4. Handling Feedback, Criticism & Conflict. From the very beginning the clergy to Line Manager relationship needs to build in what will happen when there is both positive and critical feedback to be given. There is nothing worse that only being praised for everything, or either only being criticised for everything. But as the line manager the Clergy will have to bring to the table, and should bring to the table, the positive and critical feedback, and complaints that might be being aired about aspects of youthwork practice. Image result for criticismWhat is to be negotiated is how these will be communicated, and what the appropriate responses should be to them. To think that there wont be is ‘pie in the sky’- or that the youthworker is finding things too easy, and might be in a safe/comfort zone – where being challenged and making ‘mistakes’ due to inexperience might not be a bad thing.
  5. Expectations; When the Job role & Strategy says one thing, but culture determines another. They say that ‘Culture eats Strategy for breakfast’. If the following is true:

At its worst Christian youthwork is a context where innovation, creativity and diversity is being crushed because of the weight of established tradition and culture (Davies p154)

Where there is an avoidance of a church engaging politically -and youthworkers can have a political switch set to on, like often young people arent given credit for also do. Churches intend to be safe places – or even far too comfortable places – to find healing, hope, meaning and purpose – so they become places where peoples own needs are met. At worse to be exciting and attractive they can become safe and easy to go to – More ‘Moral Therapeutic deism’, than sacrifical, costly, challenging discipleship.

Image result for strategy eats culture for breakfastChurches tend to be places of nostalgia, reliving the past, and its glories, as a way of shielding themselves from the dangers of the present – a reality that youthworkers find themselves in throughout the week and ‘do mission’ in. But these desires for Safety within the church, transmits to conservative and safety culture being the key motivation for education and young people thus youth ministry. It is the culture of the church that might dictate the strategy of the youthworker, more so that the job description or hoped-for strategy – and so negotiating the culture is a key aspect of the Line Management relationship – especially as the Clergy have a role in challenging, conforming to, or educating the culture to create new ones.

6. Spirituality and Formation – If one of the unique contributions to the relationship that the Clergy bring to it is their awareness of Spirituality, Theological education and Experience- its would be a strength of this Line Management role to negotiate how ongoing spiritual guidance, direction, and learning could become a feature, in order for increased challenge, for learning. It might be appropriate for this to be a two way thing, up to date theological underpinnings, readings and thought that the youthworker may have just received might also be good to share with the clergy – again so the relationship is collaborative and shared. The reason this is to be negotiated is that within a line management relationship there are issues of power, and so theological thought and disagreement or discussion might be inappropriate in this context if other matters and its dynamic are unhealthy from a power or control perspective – ie how might a youthworker learn spiritual discipline from clergy if the clergy are perceived as a ‘control freak’…. where a breakdown in relationship might put spiritual advice to the back burner, and so its worth establishing where pinch points or conflicts of interest might be, and how to attend to the relationship itself, in context with other relationships in the church setting. 

Im sure there might be additional aspects of a Clergy-Youthworker line management relationship that will need attending to, especially as it progresses. Whilst I am all for creativity and improvisation, I’d recommend that there be some structures and agreement in place within the line management relationship, especially as this is one of the key reasons for a youthworker to be unmotivated and thus where they are likely to leave a post. There is more information on Management in the links above, or where training could be provided further. What kind of Management did Jesus do with the disciples? Education, Support, challenge, direction? , only he left did he ‘leave them to it completely’ And that was as a group of 12, not the lone worker.

Part one of this series is here:


Davies, S ; The Management of Faith Based youth work in Ord, J – Critical Issues in Youthwork Management, 2012

Blanchard K; Leadership and the one minute Manager, 1986

Smith; Christian; Soul Searching, 2005 ( on Moral Therapeutic Deism)


We need to talk about Clergy to Youthworker Line-Management (Part 1)

Does a Youthworker need to be Managed?

Reflect on that question just for a moment. As you do, think about why they need to be managed, what about them needs to be managed – and what is ‘management’ at all?  Because one of the most pressing issues, that just does not go away is that of managing youthworkers, and in particularly the role of the line manager as taken by a member of the clergy in a church setting. Simon Davies, writes the following:

One of the key factors to youth workers prematurely leaving church posts is the relationship between themselves and clergy. Clergy whom in the main are their line manager. (Davies in Jon Ord, 2012, Critical issues in Youthwork Management)

This issue does not seem to go away, and possibly does not seem to have a straightforward set of answers either. Yet it might be worth reflecting on further.

Solution 1, Increase training on Management for Clergy. 

This puts the responsibility of the issue with the lack of training on Management for Clergy. After all, from anecdotal evidence, many Clergy do not receive training in ‘how to be a manager’ during their ordination processes, education and formation. They may discover their leadership style, their personality traits and even a million and one other things, but often management, let alone community & youth work management is unlikely to be included. If it did something else would have to give in the formation process, and does every future clergy need to know about management – after all its only those who need to be line managing a staff member who needs it, isnt it, the rest of the processes, resources, structures, time, finances and vision neednt be ‘managed’ appropriately either need they?Image result for line manager

Even on this site, in the Menu above, theres opportunities to develop further knowledge or receive training on Management should this be a requirement. In a way any training is going to help. But this is only one of a few solutions. If you’re interested click the menu page and fill in the form, 1 or 2 days on this might be really helpful.  (heres a link to more info:

Solution 2; Decrease Youth worker expectations! 

Your line manager is going to be a leader of a church… so – Professionally accredited, JNC qualified, Theologically and practically knowledgeable youth worker – reflect on what the expectations might be that the youth worker has in the management relationship.  In a way this does apply to the ‘newly or academically’ qualifieds amongst the Christian youth ministry fraternal, especially the ‘hoping for the ideal setting, ideal practice and perfect line management relationship’ type ones. Because, it could be a reality that experienced and voluntary youthworkers might have lower expectations ( they might also be paid less) of the relationship, or might be more tolerant if the relationship has occured as a natural progression in the persons home church setting. So, for the ‘professionally qualified’ youth minister – maybe they have to lower their expectations. However – how low should they lower their expectations of the line management relationship with a member of the clergy?  So low that they expect nothing and get something?  What it isnt going to be is perfect so this can be chucked out of the window. What it isnt going to be is particularly hands on – though on other occasions the vicar could be ‘too’ hands on. So, one issue might not be expectation, but an awareness that in different places within the church the vicar might have to act with different interests and this isnt always deliberate, or a personal thing, just that in the PCC meeting and in your line management meeting he/she might have to say and represent different things. I guess ‘because’ they’re the vicar and consistency might be an expectation, this can be a more difficult pill to swallow, than in a purely statutory hierarchy of youth work.

Solution 3: Create a negotiated line management relationship

I think something might just have to give on both sides of the discussion. Yes there might be some Clergy who are atrocious line managers and no amount of training is going to help them, theyre control freaks, inconsistent, aloof or display all the pastoral support of a juggernaut hurtling down an icy incline towards a wooden cabin. But at the same time there’s youthworkers who consider themselves to be as perfect as Mary Poppins, and have the expectations that being managed by a clergy might be like akin to being managed by a combination of Jurgen Klopp, Florence Nightingale and Charles Spurgeon. motivational, pastoral and theologically inspirational. (depending on your view of football team or evangelical theology) . No help might solve these extremes, but fortunately these extremes arent often in existence….

What a Qualified youthworker might bring to the relationship might be, especially if they have had good training on it, knowledge of management & leadership – given that any 1/2 decent academic course is preparing a youthworker to manage others and lead future projects, organisations or dare i say it government departments. So the youthworker might be a step ahead knowledge wise on management,, but is subordinate in the power dynamic of line-manager to youthworker relationship, and have less experience.

The opposite might also be the case. A Panicking clergy is flustering trying to manage an over qualified and knowledgeable youthworker and yet is expected to be able to and have legitimate power over them.

Obviously on one hand it depends, and this does depend, on either the strength of the youthworker to suggest it, or the empowering and adaptive style of the clergy – to create between them a negotiated Management relationship.

In my next post, I am going to put together a list of aspects of a line management relationship that should be negotiated from its inception, in this way it becomes something owned by both parties, agreed by both, and also can be created in a way that can be adapted over time, depending on where tension or pinch points or changes occur.

For now though, it has got to be said though that the Issues about line management havent really gone away. Whilst theres been a few books written to help churches and their employment of youthworkers. Very few aspects of Management make it into the psyche of theological texts or practical theology case studies and examples, its almost ignored, feared and belittled – when ‘leadership’ and ‘visionary’ might be preferred. So, the issue of management, it isnt sexy, it feels ‘secular’ and boring is sidelines, and so its a blind spot for clergy – but neednt be.  After all , no one really thinks that ‘Great Managers , Grow great churches into new waves of church growth’ do they – its about transformational leadership – but thats another story. 

Yet, recently I heard of a youth work colleague who was having to address management issues with a member of the clergy. I also heard of someone who had been a youthworker with limited formal training trying to find out about Management as ‘it felt as though they were winging it’. There are gaps in Management education & training, within christian organisations to churches and probably at senior level in affiliations.

On the flip side. What Clergy can offer in the role, potentially, is the pastoral, theological and even local knowledge, all of which is going to aid in the relationship, it might inspire and inform within the relationship. Theres a good case for viewing the relationship as a kind of discipleship, that at times might need direction, support and coaching – as well as inspiring through faith exploring, all of which i would make an assumption that clergy could be well versed in. I could imagine that a faith based youthworker might want Image result for line managera member of the clergy as their line manager to push them in their thinking theologically, provide tasks, reading or questions, it could be a fruitful part of a relationship – definitely an aspect that could be negotiated anyway. Davies also identified that an ‘unnourished’ soul is another reason for a youthworker leaving a ‘church’ post (Ord, as above, p153). Thats fascinating, surely Clergy might be ideally placed to offer spiritual challenges, for long term youth worker nourishment.

So, to coin a slightly well worn recent phrase, we need to have a ‘grown up’ conversation about Line Management. The mustard might probably be cut on both sides and whilst training and expectations might be issues, as no doubt power, consistency and conflicts of interest could also be – they way forward is negotiation. For that – see the next post.

6 Aspects of a Clergy-Youth worker line management relationship that require negotiation is here:

Part 2 is here-

7 not-so-Deadly Sins in Youth Ministry


The film Se7en came out in 1995, I watched it when i was 18, i think, just. Or i may have been nearly 18. And it was pretty graphic and shocking for me at the time. Unlike Trainspotting or Aliens it isn’t a film i have given a re-watch to ever since. If you’ve not seen it, IMDB describes it as “A film about two homicide detectives’ (Morgan Freeman and (Brad Pitt) desperate hunt for a serial killer who justifies his crimes as absolution for the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins. The movie takes us from the tortured remains of one victim to the next as the sociopathic “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey) sermonizes to Detectives Somerset and Mills — one sin at a time.” Whether the film is in any way successful at telling this story is difficult for me to remember, but throughout its main story line is the effect of an ignorance of the 7 deadly sins:  pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

So, for some strange reason over breakfast I was wondering – probably because theres two conferences on youth ministry happening this weekend- is to think about what would be ‘the 7 deadly sins of Youth Ministry’ and focus on these 7 original sins, and i think there would be some merit in doing this to highlight areas of ministry that are prone to envy ( the successful ministry down the road), wrath (after the leadership meeting) , gluttony ( too many cream cakes during YF tuck shop) or Pride (‘its all about my ministry’). But I thought that would be a little obvious, and its likely that in the depths of time that Youthwork magazine probably did something similar.

So, instead of focussing on these 7 original sins, as I was out walking this afternoon, I thought about a different sin, linked to them all, ‘Ignorance’ and wondered if Youth Ministry, in part, or more in full, has been found to be guilty of ignoring the following aspects that have a real impact on the nature of youth ministry, the depth of engagement in young people, and how youth ministry might be threatened by what it accepts from the culture around,  in 7 key ways.

  1. Ignoring Theology for pragmatism. – Good theology helps give young people connection with a world story that they can assimilate as their personal story (McAdams 1997), Challenging Theology is what helps to keep young people in local churches so says recent research here: .  Settling for an easy night, of fun and distraction from the concerns of the world, might only be so helpful. Neither is settling for what Christian Smith calls is Moral Therapeutic Deism (2005) – connecting young people with a God who is ‘there for them’ to give them confidence, however, as a personal myth to believe in it will go so far, just it might need changing when it is tested.
  2. Ignoring young people. This seems strange as youth groups are full of them, but how many youth group evenings are judged as successful by the quality of conversations between youth leader and young person, and not by who and how many turned up? Young people can be ignored if they’re just to take part in the activities. What they need is a healthy place to be where adults take interest in them, listen and shape activities around their needs, interests and gifts. And that is on just a local level, and the local church.  Where do young people feature in the shaping of area strategies, of national programmes. Its also apparent when young people are counted as just numbers.
  3. Ignoring History. A bit like the Premier league, which only provides statistics of games back to 1992, as if football didnt exist before then. An understanding of History reveals christian youth work practice that nowadays would be seen as innovative, more risk taking and politically active. Meeting young peoples needs was core philanthropy in 1830, for example. Its what Sunday schools were developed for.  What might be one persons innovation might only show a blind spot for history, or good practice down the road.
  4. Ignoring the effect of culture.. What I mean here, is not the effect that culture has on young people. This is extensively researched, and if not the Guardian usually has something on ‘Millenials’ to reflect on most weeks. What I mean is the effect of the prevailing culture on Youth Ministry itself. The Sociologist Wolfe said:

In every aspect of religious life, American faith has met American culture, and American culture has triumphed… the faithful in the USA are remarkably like everyone else (Wolfe, 2003)

An example of this is in the marketing and programming of youth ministry resources, that are described as ‘almost Fordian’ (ie representing the process of making one size/colour fits all, mass produced motor cars) by Danny Brierley (2003) – It is an example of where the influence of Managerial theory and practice is inserted into the church. The same could be said for any youth ministry programme that claims to be efficient, calculated, predictable and be able to be controlled, for these are dominant tenets of the business model of Macdonalds. Without realising it, the prevailing culture wins, if a youth ministry seeks growth and transformational leadership to do this, then this again is from the management guru handbook, more so than Theology – however biblically justified. Youth Ministry is undoubtedly involved in the culture, it creates culture, but is also subject to it – it is worth being critical of the sources, methodologies and ideologies of practice – having filters set to ‘on’. Being predictable and efficient – might give 4 spiritual laws, but maybe not the complexity of a deep faith, and young people exploring difficult questions. Keeping up with culture isnt making Youth ministry more theological or relevant, its possibly only turning it into efficient organisations that are cost effective.  Managing a good youthwork organisation or it being managed well might not actually be having the best effect on young people.

5. Ignoring Youthwork (& Education) philosophy. What the Values and practice of Youthwork can bring to Youth Ministry is an increased focus, not only on young people and their needs, but processes shaped by values that are in their favour, such as empowerment, voluntary participation, inclusion & anti-oppressive practice, and informal education, what it also can provide, again according to Danny Brierely, is an ethical yardstick for youth ministry. Youth Ministry will only be improved by encompassing more of the discipline of youth work. Not only that but a refreshing of different concepts of education especially as young people participate in youth ministry in a voluntary way would be critical.

6. Ignoring Pioneers. For too long the biggest conferences are sponsored by the same people who select the same people to be the experts. Critical and Pioneering voices, generally are put to one side, unless they have been youth ministry flavour of the month in the past – and can still retain ‘Hero’ status. But in the main, those who are known for good, solid local practice are ignored. Those who lead ministries and have several lead responsibilities in organisations are the heralded experts. Some are the pioneers, but others are selectively ignored. Organisations, cultures and practices are only developed further through critical thinking, questions and dissent. Yes people will only keep the hamster wheel turning, critical thinking will ensure the hamster is travelling in the right direction. Pioneers are what the Disciples were, lest not forget, improvising in the new spaces what they had been taught.

7. Ignoring ourselves. Not unlike the film, the final twist is played on the main character and the audience. The final ‘deadly sin’ in Youth Ministry is when we forget about being honest and kind and generous to ourselves. We help define youth ministry and youth work through our very actions with young people, our communication with churches, partnerships, agencies and schools, we also define it as a practice through the cultures of the settings we create, the young people we invest the most time in, creating healthy spaces for young people also starts with being healthy ourselves – not perfect- just healthy, self-care is important, and probably the most ‘deadly’ of them all on an individual youth ministry level.

Could I have included others, possibly. But what might be yours? Excluding obviously ‘critical blogging’….


The 10 phases inolved in Christian event planning

We booked Steve Chalke. We Managed to get a discount on the FE college to host. We did crazy things like wheel a sofa through the town to use on the stage. We sent a press release. We booked a band. We took our own PA system. We thought we had something on cool. We created a half decent programme. We put posters up in several churches.

And what happened?

Images of queues of People lining up to get in early were somewhat dashed. An FE college, with a PA system to catapult a crescendo of delirious covers throughout the hall, and town, didnt experience much extra traffic in its car park that evening. In fact, probably less than 40 people were there. Even if there was 100, it still would have looked empty. A day of getting everything ready, wasn’t over when Steve Chalke had finished, there was still a sofa to return, a PA system to dismantle and a debrief to take place.

It felt, at the time like a crushing blow. The success of our Ministry in the town being represented by about 40 people who we already knew. It must have been Steve Chalkes fault (he was only controversial for social gospel then..:-)), or our posters, or the press release being too late, or other people not galvanising the troops in all the other churches.

Or. we. didnt. pray. enough. Image result for christian events

This week is this first time, almost since then, that I am organising an Event, for 20 odd years since 1997, my youth work practice hasnt needed events, and i have avoided the organising of them. But some of the feelings are flooding back, and I wonder if Christian event planning and organising follows a similar cycle. Right now i am at point 3.

  1. The Excitement & Ideas Phase: This is the time in which the principle thought is: ‘the bigger and better our event is, the more people will come to it’ – and so every idea grows and arm and leg, every possibility is excavated. This same principle is applied to the content, the guest list, the food, the publicity – and then sometimes the cost.
  2. Then the ‘ignoring the criticism’ phase. This is the time when the voices of reason, of critical thought and objectivity are usually removed from the planning team. They start saying things like ‘ who is this for?’ and ‘have you budgeted for if no one turns up’ or ‘ have you personally actually invited people’  or ‘you will only get christians who like this sort of thing coming and trust you to this’ – So the best thing to do, is ignore these nay-sayers, cast them out. 
  3. Then theres the Fear phase. Its about a day before the event. And whilst a few people have let you know that they may come along, you’re beginning to doubt whether booking Wembley arena was wise. Usually, in your Christian event planning team, there will be ‘the enthusiast’ he used to ‘do this sort of thing all the time in the 1980’s’ and lets you know that people are ‘so last minute’ and even more so that ‘If God is in this, therell be people there, its what he wants, after all’  Image result for empty church events
  4. The on the day Panic. In the middle of the day, the person who was lead guitarist is ill. There is always one added stress on the day, usually so that the pre planned schedule of events, Image result for to do list stressorganisation all written down hour by hour is out the window by 10am. Theres an hour to go and you’re ringing round local churches for a mixing desk and the band are yet to rehearse. Hmm, all good prep for a time when you hope revival might be the minimum you expect from such a large event.
  5. The ‘brave face’ phase – This is as people start arriving, and you’re putting on the ‘brave face’. Things will be alright on the night. The band are currently playing to welcome people (it isnt their only rehearsal), It will be full of exciting activities and being modern there wont be a preacher (he is stuck on a train 100 miles away), and you’re letting people know this as you’re counting them in, hoping that you’re breaking even as people pay the really cheap entrance fee of £2, at least. Or the catering can be paid for, or the band, or the train fare for the preacher. Just one.
  6. The justifying that it was meant for only one person phase. Yes, thats it. Its the moment half way through the even when it becomes so obvious that it wasnt about the event at all, it is that one person is having a good time at it. The realisation that it is the same one person that has a good time at every event it irrelevant.
  7. The avoiding an argument afterwards phase. When the crowd has gone, everyone is tired and packing things away and holding a post-mortem on the death of the church, on young peoples lack of spirituality and the ‘hardness’ of an area to warm to such events, and discuss why the PA equipment didnt turn up, and why the guitarist played ‘Did you feel the mountains tremble’ was in the key of ‘C’ and not ‘D’.
  8. The Debrief see above. Usually occurs a week later, if people can bear spending any time with each other.
  9. The Repeat. but only when youve decided whether scaling up to be more attractive- ‘eveything louder than everything else’, or scaling down and focussing on smaller groups is the next step, realising that only christians who are free on a saturday evening will actually be there.
  10. Find a different way to connect with young people who aren’t Christians, because its only christians that do attend events, its somehow part of the evangelical make up.

Theres so much riding on something that is so unpredictable, and what happens when as leaders and workers we invest emotionally, spiritually and psychologically in the success, in numerical terms, of events. Or more minutely, success looks like people who have taken time out of their schedules and routines to do something different and be present in a space. To me, and looking back, and forward to this week, its such an unhealthy perspective to have, but in ministry events and people at events seem to still be the order of the day. Yet in many cases- do we ever ask people who might be a ‘target’ audience what they would like to do, where, when, how and what it could be? Not usually – because after phase 1, people are stopped listening to, event planning mode takes over.

Oh, and theres some free training for youthworkers on the subject of refugees taking place all over the UK on Thursday, please do book….

What makes the Christian Youthworker distinctive?

At the moment, amongst a few other books, I have been reading ‘The Pastor as Public Theologian’, by Kevin Vanhoozer.  Within it, he asks the question: ‘What is the distinctive role of the Pastor’? describing that there is a problem of identity not just for pastors, but all associated with a Christian vocation, such as Youth Ministers, worsh
ip leader and so on.I’ll come to his responses in a bit but it might be worth exploring for a moment, some of the identity and role challenges that a Christian Youthworkers might have.

This is not a new query, the God-fathers of modern theoretical Youthwork, Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith, wrote in 1987, in ‘Youthwork’  that Youth workers not only have to conduct a number of roles, but also, because ‘what a youth worker is’ is such an ill-defined term that they often use these following as a guide or starting point:

  • Youthworker as Caretaker (puts the chairs away)
  • Youthworker as Red-coat (entertains)
  • Youthworker as Social Worker (1:2:1 support)
  • Youthworker as Character Builder (resilience improver)
  • Youthworker as Community worker, and finally
  • Youthworker as Educator

And so- this plight to not only understand the role of the youthworker, using more well trodden paths of understanding is not new. A youthworker might need to use another profession to define themselves against, their role might even encapsulate all or some of these others, but in a distinctive way. When Jeffs and Smith were writing this, it was very much to and within what might be considered the statutory youthwork sector. Kerry Young (1999, 2nd ed, 2006) expanded this list somewhat, by reflecting on Youthwork as an art form, in The ‘Art of Youthwork’, suggesting that

The Art of Youthwork is the ability to make and sustain such relationships with young people. In so doing, youth workers themselves develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to engage with young people in the process of moral philosophising (Young, 2006)

So, adding to the list, of the roles of the youthworker became self-awareness, examination of their own values, critical skills and enlargement of their own capacity for moral philosophising.Product Details

In addition, she also suggests that Youthworkers do not just deliver youthwork, they define it, interpret and develop it. She argues that youthwork is a ‘distinct practice’ – not unlike what Jeffs and Smith were suggesting. So, the question is, for the Christian faith based youthworker – if indeed, this in itself is a distinctive practice – what is it that makes it distinctive?

We’re 30 years (ouch) since Jeffs and Smith’s ‘Youth work’ Book, above – I wonder if there might be other additions that could be made to their list? That youth worker could be defined as. I guess I am waiting for a different professional to say – ‘Im a bit like a youth worker, but less structured’ or ‘if you imagine a youthworker, then I do such and such’ – as if there is a profession that defines itself as one step from youth work – 30, 50 or 70 years into youth work as a distinctive practice – it hasnt captured the public imagination in the way, teacher, nurse, police, social worker or redcoat might have done… (‘hi-de-hi’ has alot to answer for in the latter of these)Image result for butlins red coat

Because there hasn’t been new people-orientated professions I cant think of another new profession to add to this list. Though one of the oldest professions could be – The Priest/Vicar/Clergy? In a way this is not that different to what Kerry Young is suggesting. The Youthworker as Clergy is one who has a sense of values, of practices according to values, is someone who would guide to moral decisions, maybe even challenge some too. Now, probably a few of my clergy friends might dispute that Clergy have time to do the kind of pastoral work required for this, but thats not the point im making, for the youth worker, a nod to the role of Clergy might at times be appropriate.

The slightly worrying thing about this, is that if Vanhoozer is to be believed, Clergy might be in the same kind of identity predicament. What he suggests is that there have been a series of images and metaphors that have shaped the understanding of ‘Pastor’ which were created in the social context/culture, been retained and have held the role captive – such as ‘The Pastor as CEO‘ , as ‘psychotherapeutic guru’, as ‘political agitator‘ , (all of these could easily be transferred to youth worker)  – different times in history shape the nature of the role of clergy and models, and so ‘master’ (of theology), ‘Builder’ (of church congregations), ‘Revivalist’ (in the 19th C) , and ‘Manager’ (of programmes, buildings, people- a 20th Century concept) – additions in the 21st Century include ‘Social media mogul’ and ‘community activist’ – and thats before others such as life coach, agent of hope, story teller, midwife (Vanhoozer, 2015, p7-8)

A look to clergy might not be that profitable, in this sense, though there is an element that Clergy are able to shape their practice in a way that defines it, interprets it and develops it, the many examples of books on the role of being a pastor are testiment to this, but this also occurs in the local setting, as clergy encounter people through visiting, groups, wandering around their parish, in schools. There are times when Clergy are as much the youthworker, as vice versa, doing assemblies, being governors, leading groups. The fluidity of role definement remains.

It is not a semantic question to try and define the ‘Christian Faith-based youthworker’ – or at least suggest how this is distinctive as a role and in practice.  Carole Pugh locates ‘youth work with a spiritual content & ‘youth work based on Christian (or other faith) principles focussing on a social action/youth work values approach’ in between the deemed extremes of ‘youth work with no spiritual content’, on one side, and ‘Christian youth work adopting an evangelical approach’ on the other.  (Pugh, 1999) This is similar to that of Danny Brierley in All joined up ( 2003) or Richard Passmore (and I) in ‘Here be Dragons’ , in which we argue that at the heart of Symbiotic youthwork are the core principles of education, equality, participation, empowerment and group work within an understanding of Mission, of improvisation, of ‘valuing culture, traditions and the Bible’ (Passmore, 2013, p60)

So, if Core to ‘Christian faith based Youthwork’ is Youthwork and its values – how might a developed understanding of Christian vocation help. For, as in ‘Here be Dragons’,’ Youthwork and the Mission of God’ (Pete Ward, 1997) and others – one of the key attributes to the Christian youthworker has been a mission prerogative – to ‘meet young people where they’re at’, to ‘be incarnational’ and so, as a result ‘understanding the culture’, and forming practice around Mission has been essential, and has in many cases driven practice; often with Vincent Donovan ringing in our ears. Mission may have taken the youthworker thus far in their thinking, Fresh expressions and emerging church is developing new avenues for youthwork ( see also Here Be Dragons again..), but if Mission becomes swallowed up and synonymised by Evangelism, as the church in ‘Status Anxiety’ might cause it to be, and the Church of Englands national youth person has ‘evangelist’ in their title, (one example amongst many) – then the Christian youthworker, may become even more distinct, but not only that Mission becomes reinterepreted as ‘church grower’ – leaving the Missional christian youthworker without a theological discipline to call home.

Enter, metaphorically, stage left, Kevin Vanhoozer again or at least a paraphrase of him, as I ask ‘What does the Christian faith based worker do, that no other institution can’?

On one hand they might be the only living remnant of youthwork practice soon – much to the thanks of the Conservative government slashing local council funding and with it universal youth service provision – so that might be one distinction- with a youthwork underpinned practice – this might be a future distinction.

But what else – at least from a faith perspective – what might the Christian youth worker be called to be and do?

Vanhoozer suggests the following:

  1. A Theologian- ‘To be a Christian Theologian is to seek, speak, and show understanding of what God was going in Christ for the sake of the world’- theology is not just a job for the professionals, the qualifieds or academics.
  2. A Public Theologian- This is someone who reacts against the privatisation of the faith, restricting it to individual salvation – it is someone who is able to discern truth and justice, able to discern how and where in the world the traces of truth and justice may be unveiled, it is to be communicative of the story of God in the public domain, to be as Volf suggests a ‘witnessing presence’ or as Sam Wells (2005)  ‘Saints’ (See my post ‘Theodrammatic saints..) –
  3. To be in Public: It is to be involved with the public, being present, working with people to have conversations, to raise questions, address big issues of life, death, hope, fear, meaning and despair. To have much knowledge, and but also have general knowledge, to encourage places of connection, and environs such as homes (see my previous post on ‘home’ here:

Now these three things are directed by Vanhoozer, firmly and squarely with the role of Clergy, and in his words the ‘Youth Minister’ – and he has Christian Smiths (2005) research on Youth Ministry in the USA in mind as he makes this point (2015, p116-117, 154) and so this might have more resonance or direction with the ‘Youth Minister’ role in the UK. But what is interesting is that the ‘Christian faith based youth worker’ is probably more used to be doing these three things, as they have an adopted language of youthwork (universal), are involved in conversations that invoke witnessing, are discerners of truth, justice and equality (even if youthwork values drive these) and also value space for conversations.

Maybe ‘Christian faith Based youth workers’ might be Public Theologians after all…  



Passmore R, Ballantyne  Here be Dragons, 2013

Pugh, C Christian Youthwork or Social Action, 1997 in Youth and Policy 1999 no 65

Smith, M, Jeffs, T, Youthwork, 1987

Ward, P, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997

Vanhoozer, KJ The Pastor as the public Theologian, 2015

Young K, The Art of Youthwork, 2nd ed 2006


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