The 10 Alternative Youth work awards

This week has been a ‘mixed feelings’ kind of week. This evening i have found myself inspired by stories of how a youth work project has had significant effect on young people even in a short time of being open, of how creating a homely environment has given young people a safe and inclusive space, just great. This week has also seen the end of the acoustic cafe, a voluntary youth work venture that had undergone a number of guises in Perth over the last 12 years (i wont put up the photos, but theres a fair few on facebook) and as you know, in my day job i have had my last day of being the centre director of DYFC today in the process of its closing. And so, as i was driving back from the youth club this evening, a journey of about 25 miles along the slightly misty, atmospheric roads of teeside, it struck me how much of the really gritty moments in youthwork practice go unnoticed. Yet, if we ever get the pleasure of having a ‘successful’ work or ministry, this has been through the blood sweat and tears of challenges, insults, trials and errors. And, so, because these things will hardy ever get a mention at the ‘end of season awards for youthworkers’ if there should even be such a thing. Image result for trophySo, I wonder whether these should be the categories for the alternative youthwork awards for 2017:

  1. Services to the Motor Industry award. This award goes to the youthwork volunteer who has had their car trashed from the inside our outside the most by young people. So replacement wing mirrors, wings or bumpers, to upholstery, seats or spillages. Could also include Minibus repairs. Image result for beaten up car
  2. Night club award – This award goes to the best bouncer on the door of the club. You know the person, the one that endures the cigarette smoke for the sake of a decent conversation, the one who gets bruised arms for preventing some young people from entering, the one who is happy wearing the 3 layers of jackets, the one who us happy to miss out on the action inside.Image result for bouncer
  3. Not reacting to obscenities award. This award is for the youthworker who not only takes the obsenities head on, knowing they’re not usually personal, lets the young person vent, and then by the end of the evening has been able to have an amazing conversation with them. What a hero!
  4. Appreciated in front of their mates award. We all know what its like. Put blood, soul and energy into appeasing the little brats  enthusiastic young people on a weekday evening, and they respond with a great evaluation and thank yous. Yet when you meet them in town the following week on a lunchtime they blank you completed, and you feel all of half a millimetre tall. So, this award is given for the youth worker or volunteer whom a young person acknowledges when theyre in front of their mates. It might just be an awkward wave, or nod, but it counts.
  5. Patience of a Saint award. This goes to the youthworker who has to deal with, and still goes to the sunday morning service, even though the main talking point every weeks revolves around the ongoing expectation from the church congregation that their really great youthclub might only be a real ministry when young people go to church. Or that their ministry is only a stepping stone to being a vicar. Deal with all these questions week by week over the coffee, and its patience of a saint award heading your way!  Image result for saint
  6. Finding Magic in the Mess award. This goes to the youthworker who will find something positive, significant and meaningful in a youth group night when windows were smashed (at least the young people were burning energy) , people were insulted (oh look at them trusting us to vocalise their anger), graffitti penises on the wall (oh HOW CREATIVE the young people are). Yes it is the award for finding magic in the mess, for spotting the moment of goodness where the evening was a write off, but they (probably the person on the door) has a GREAT conversation. How flipping marvellous…  yes, give them the award…
  7. The David Brent award. No not for being the most inappropriate youthwork manager, but an award for the youthworker who has thrived, survived or just coped bravely when managed really badly. That someone who has put their work with young people over and above the lack of credit, feedback, support, direction, inspiration or acknowledgement by their manager (if they ever see them) . It could also be known as the self determination award , or management selective blindness award.
  8. The Aldi Award. This goes for the youthwork project, club or session that has ran the longest on the smallest of budgets. Its whole programme for a year has functioned on generosity and sacrifice alone, and a small annual trip to walk to the park to play football and get an ice-cream. It might be low budget, but it has been high on creative use of free resources, recycling old material, and gets young people to make contributions to pay for drinking water so they can empathise with people on comic relief. However, low on budget neednt mean low on quality, not by a long shot. And just for fun;
  9. The One story youthworker award. This goes to the Youthworker who only has one set of stories, they may only have one story. Its about when they were in Bath, or when they met this young person who’se life was rubbish but I saved them. Their one story is told everywhere. Their one story validates their whole ministry, work, platform and resource. So, the one story youthworker. Last seen on a platform, last seen touring Britain with only one story.
  10. The Admin wizard of the year. Nope, i dont know anyone like this. There are good administrators. AND there are good youthworkers. They are mutually exclusive. If you find the youthworker who is ACTUALLY good at admin, then they’re clearly either not really a youthworker, or theyre a youthworImage result for youth work officeker who is doing it because they cant really admit to being an administrator, after all no one really grew up wanting to be an admin person. So, if you find the youthworker who is also the admin wizard of the year, then nominate them, until then, this trophy is staying in the cupboard. with all the rest of the paperwork and mess from last weeks youthwork session, and the dvds, and a half used resource material.

So, there we have it, for 1/2 way through the year, the alternative youthwork awards. Some of the real, and not so real heroes of the youthwork stage, who battle through, with minimal resources (or just one story), who endure and who make something different for young people in their local community. Its not the most used resource, the online platform, or the largest ministry that is going to stand out in the lives of young people up and down the country, its the person who takes it when insults fly, knowing that behind that young verbal rally, really is a person needing someone to say that something can be different and that they have a spark and a gift or ability that they recognise.

 

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Managing in Youth Work: Reflecting Spiritually, Closure and Endings

As I write this it is Saturday afternoon (though not finished until Monday), and I have 1 week left being the Manager of a youth work organisation. The organisation itself is also about to close down during the summer. So if there was anything i would be able to reflect on right now it writing from the midst of the process of managing a personal ending in a role, whilst at the same time also managing the closure of an organisation. Obviously it would be dead easy to write this piece in a few years when things were rosy and I had moved on to bigger, greater or more fruitful youth work opportunities ( though the climate for these is pretty scarce) . But that could be ‘after the event’ hindsight, tainted by new positivity.

So this isnt that, this is writing about closure and endings in the midst of the final few weeks of an organisation and the final week in it for me.

If it was just the youthworker leaving a post, then this is quite common, say goodbye to the young people, parents, church leaders and clergy, or  young people, volunteers, sessional staff, manager and office colleagues (depending on your context) . That is difficult enough, as they stay in the same situation as we as the youth worker move on, for whatever reason. And, not making light of any situation, but it feels different to also be closing down the organisation of which im also managing, (along with the trustees). So i have had the dubious honour this week, because I’m the only person left in the office, to raise the final payment of the salaries and include my own redundancy payment. Its weird, and to others it might be odd. But in a way being a manager in a small organisation has meant just doing everything a little bit, not everything brilliantly, but trying to stay afloat by keeping the show on the road. So paying myself has been the norm (the treasurer has checked the payment- dont worry).

The other thing within small organisations of a few trustees, small managerial group and then projects and face to face workers, is that unless there is large amounts of active involvement from volunteers in the governance, to do admin, or fundraising, or publicity, then paying for this role within an organisation can be a large drain on resources. However, more than that, causing it to be the manager who is responsible for finding funding, through writing grants, communicating to donors and events (if there is resources to do such things), it also means that taking on the responsibility for these, along with the other responsibilities as a manager, comes at a price, the price of what happens when these things dont work out.  In a way assuming the responsibility for finding funding for my own role is one thing, finding funding and being responsible for others is another.

The other things to manage is also the ending.

Or at least, the process of decision making towards the closing time. For on one hand it would be hopeful till the very last day, and hope and pray, beg and plead that funding or resources arrive, so that the work of an organisation can go on, week by week. Is that blind faith? But this is also quite an ongoing stress or pressure, and not really fair on young people in groups and projects. ‘oh by the way we wont be here on monday’ . Of course even with all the spreadsheets, projections and knowledge of funding, making difficult decisions about redundancy, closure and notice is about making judgements based on time, and what is likely. Worry about funding and money can easily set in. My previous post on Hope, talked about status anxiety. This could be common in the youth work organisation, especially those for whom have too many barriers to guarantee funding from one source, or are set up with limited local knowledge or pledges of support. Making a too early decision helps people to plan ahead, to communicate with schools and partners and for employees to get new jobs. Clarity of decision making is crucial. The opposite problem might occur, a decision too far off could encourage resentment, or lack of faith. Or be seen as a ‘business’ decision, not a ‘spiritual one’. In a way, decisions about organisations and management are also about trying to respect the needs and dignity of employees, so that ending isnt a shock, neither is the effect this may have on peoples rents, families or stress. So, its intensely practical, but it is also spiritual.

There wont ever be the right time to begin the process of closing an organisation, making sure it is done with the right information to hand though is important. Assessing how the governance feel about taking risks, or making changes to innovate are key, as is the local support for the work. These are all factors in making decisions to close something.

Either way when this kind of change happens, there can be alot of managing and reacting to the Bees. The must Bees and the Mustn’t bees, the must-be”s like:

You must be excited going to a new job, or

You must be disappointed the way its ending

You must be feeling pretty rotten

That must be tough

or theres the must’nt bees

You mustnt be losing your faith over this

You mustnt be letting this affect your ministry

And what happens, is that people sort of try and read how you might be feeling about changing jobs, the ending of a project, and the upcoming change, without actually giving you chance to say exactly how. Its as if they have an idea already and you have to kind of ‘defend’ or contradict their pre supposed view. And this isnt meant to be harsh, as its natural to do this. But when in the firing line of being in the middle of it all, it can make conversation awkward. Of course, conversational support is better than none. And people can give you a wide berth, especially if they had dreams or plans for something that you were meant to be enabling to happen. Or that wide berth reflects actual lack of support, or them being awkward about not knowing what to say. It could be a difficult conversation remember. And difficult conversations about reality of ministry are hard to find in churches. arent they?  It might be that its easier to keep a distance and think ‘what a shame its happened’ but actually not have ever supported the project or venture. And deep down, we in those projects and ventures know who supports us.

So, this week, its about sorting through the piles of paperwork, its about clearing an office space, its about the final staff meal. Its about clearing the emails, closing down passworded accounts and ending the mobile phone contract. Managing the ending of an organisation, its a tough one as its only a practical task, of difficult monotony.

Someone said to me that it could be a spiritual task. And so where might i go to reflect on this spiritually and within the context of the Biblical drama?

And like a bank holiday monday, there is a therapeutic element to getting rid of the rubbish and boy does admin pile up. There are so many bits of paper with to do lists on…

There are Biblical endings. There is tension is every dramatic scene change. The ending of each age is frought with fear, promise and uncertainty. The 400 years of quiet before Christs arrival, the confusion of the disciples post resurrection, and pre crucifixion. And there are specific endings relating the old age of key people like Moses, Abraham and Joseph.

It is interesting that in Ministry Jesus commands the disciples to shake the dust off their feet whenever theyre not in a place of welcome, and to move on. Now thats not a presumption on a projects part that everyone has to like it, but reading the context and culture and being in receipt of hospitality, especially when a ministry needs it is important. For the disciples sent out, there wasnt an issue about staying, it was to find a place of welcome elsewhere. Don’t over commit in an area, move on and out. Make endings swift. Not sure how that translates in a world of rents and mortgages, of family life, schools.

Of course, all of this doesnt take into account the final ending. As Julian of Norwich said, “Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time—that ‘all manner [of] thing shall be well.‘or paraphrased; ‘All will be well in the end, and if it is not well its not the end’. The church of SS Andrew and Mary - St Julian of Norwich - geograph.org.uk - 1547398.jpg

And as i said in a previous post on ‘Hope’ – the final act of the whole drama is a hopeful one, it is not the end.

I read this this morning from the common prayer:

 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — ​and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”

Yes, there is an imperative to end well, and sometimes that is through gritted teeth. Sometimes its to hold back the tears. Sometimes its relief, on other occasions its a mutual reality from both sides that it is time to move on. And so, Managing an ending in Youth work and ministry is hugely specific, obviously. It occurs in the midst of the lives of young people, their parents, a local community, the church leaders and congregation, and involves obviously emotions, relationships and dealing with these. Managing and attending to relationships is tricky and delicate.

A post from the heat of the fire, not that we’re buring down the office, but the heat of the moment of closing and of managing an ending is this piece, one of a number I have written on management and youth work. For the others see the ‘management’ tab in the topics.

 

A solution to Youth Ministry’s identity crisis.

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: http://wp.me/p2Az40-S5)

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…  

 

References

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

 

30 scenarios in Christian youth work or ministry that are impossible to avoid

I am sadly, in the process of moving from one role and job within christian youthwork, to a period of ‘between jobs’ , though there are a few things on the table as it were, but not confirmed as yet. And its not an easy time, but it did cause me to reflect on the fact that being at the end of a job, or being asked to move on is one aspect of christian youth work that is in the ‘difficult to avoid’ category. In fact, many messages of support to me recently have been just that, that this kind of situation happens to us all. But i wonder, what might be other aspects of christian youth ministry that are as difficult to avoid?

  1. Its impossible to avoid ever being asked what a youth worker is, or does, and then replying back with what a youthworker isnt.
  2. Its impossible to avoid the gravitational pull within christian youthwork to the practices and all its pulling power (lights, branding, culture, stuff) of evangelical youth ministry. This might be in the form of influencing local leaders or directly to young people via advertising in ‘other ‘ stuff. This is important, as what is happening is that young persons spirituality is up for grabs.
  3. In the same way its impossible to avoid being told how someone elses youth ministry was successful because they did X and Y better and have a ministry of millions and a multi million pound book deal, and a youtube channel. When a persons ministry has left behind young people a long while ago.
  4. In youth work it is impossible to avoid the panic of a few no showing volunteers 10 minutes before a session. It will happen.
  5. Its impossible to avoid being short of funding.
  6. Its impossible to avoid trying to convince a church of your worth – via the numbers game. Equally its impossible to go through youth ministry in the UK and not be told of that ‘300’ statistic of young people leaving the church back in the 1980s.
  7. Its impossible to avoid being in the middle of the conversations when young people are absent, or talked about, and being the representative for the young people, their voice being absent.
  8. Its impossible to avoid poor management by clergy. Sorry, but itll happen. Expect it and work with them.
  9. Its impossible to avoid power struggles in the church or organisation. Power is everywhere.
  10. Its impossible to avoid the rise smile when those in youth work tell new volunteers how amazing and exciting it all is, when you know its not like that all the time.
  11. Its impossible to avoid the pressure to have the worlds most eclectic DVD or Ipod selection.
  12. Its impossible to avoid being told by experts who dont know your context how to do ministry with their resources in your context.
  13. Its impossible to avoid the ongoing navigation of personal and professional time, and how to be faithful in ministry and keep work-life balance. no it is pretty difficult.
  14. Its impossible to avoid the need to say no to people, to delegate and give others back their jobs and roles, but in reality the easiest thing to do is to say yes.
  15. Its impossible to avoid nowadays the need to be online, and be part of the conversations in youth ministry practice that emanate from blogs, articles and magazines. Though sometimes it is better to read an actual book.
  16. Its impossible to avoid being compared to the previous youthworker in a post.
  17. Its impossible to avoid feel impatient when the busy season is over, long for the quiet periods, but thrive when its busy and crave it.
  18. Its impossible to avoid the church you work for asking you to do the thing the church down the road is doing without thinking that its what the young people actually want to do.
  19. Its impossible to avoid getting into an argument with someone about keys and cupboards, or about milk, tea and use of the church fridge or office, tidyness of desk, or communication with the admin or church comms department about the notice sheet.
  20. Its impossible to avoid thinking that you might have failed when young people stop coming to your group- you havent, probably,  But it is worth asking the question and why and reflecting on the group, not just blaming the individual.
  21. Its impossible to avoid trying to be the entertainer for a while, but you soon get out of it, once you realise you cant keep it up. Though you can manage to keep it up if you only ever encounter different audiences of young people, but that isnt youth work, thats an itinerant preacher to young people.
  22. Its impossible to keep up working at over 60 hours a week for more that 2 or 3, so avoid it.
  23. its impossible to avoid being in a time when people share stories of ministry where someone isnt embellishing the success/numbers/influence of their ministry.
  24. Its impossible to avoid ethical decisions about good practice versus the kind of ministry that people can see ( ie that young people come to an event)
  25. Its impossible to avoid being asked ‘when are you going to get a proper job’
  26. its impossible to avoid being one of these stereotypes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5zumMQSwHo
  27. Its impossible not to resist the temptation to use a funny clip when you’re communicating something, just ram the point home. But then your words feel a little boring in comparison, after which the (young) people just want more funny clips.
  28. It is impossible to avoid an ethical issue about the way young people communicate via social media and your church or agency who dont understand it.
  29. It is impossible to avoid a situation especially in a church setting where paperwork and contracts seem haphazard, yet they have been ready for you, but paperwork is lacking.
  30. It is impossible to avoid thinking ‘but its not about getting young people into church‘ – but not always saying out loud.

So here are 30 i can think of, many of which have happened to me, or youth workers that i know and have spoken to over the last 10 years, yet I imagine there might be other ‘impossible to avoid’ scenarios in youth work and ministry. Please do write further ones here in the comments and share. What else in youth ministry is difficult or impossible to avoid?

Losing Hope in Youth Ministry

Since I gave up hope I feel alot better!

This was a lyric in one of Steve Taylors songs back in the 1980’s. It was christian satire set to music, and performed with flamboyance. More details of his can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Taylor.

The Song itself pokes at the academic education system within the USA, and a humanist belief that a person can achieve and have knowledge of everything, and by doing so is able to feel alot better. The irony is not difficult to find. But this is not a post about irony, neither is it a post about humanism or the education system. I mentioned in my previous article on Drama, that an understanding of the whole christian narrative is important. not just for a young person, the story from creation to eschaton,. Not that each is needed to be explored in depth, but hey why not ( making the gospel meaningful, now theres a slogan to believe in) .  What is important within the drama is that as persons we know our place.  And that place is in the 4th act, heading towards the 5th. In the age of the church, before, and always looking before the final act.

However. What happens when we have or transmit, or dont even teach on the future, or the end times?

The temptation is that there is too much focus on the here and now. The present is wallowed in, and we become our own heroes at the end of the story. The present age is not the end. I rarely hear anything about eschatology in youth ministry, except for the cliche about starting the Bible by reading how the story ends. What i mean is that it rarely informs the resources, the conversations, or becomes key to an understanding of young people, destiny, humanity and above all hope. it barely informs our strategies for ministry if we are concerned about meeting the expectations of funders or marketers. If we give up on eschatology, we have given up on hope.

Kenda Creasy Dean says that Youth Ministry is suffering from ADD, Ascension deficit disorder. Which is a horrific play on words for a diagnosis rife amongst people, but if that kind of wording sells in youth ministry academia.. , regardless of this, the point she makes is that anxiety is rife in churches, in youth groups and in the wider world. This is backed up in the UK even by YFC’s own research recently which i reluctantly reference. Worry is everywhere, and its why helping young people theologise in the crisis moments is significant. However, what Dean also suggests is that young people have an over realised sense of Hope (Dean is writing in pre-trump context in the USA- worth remembering). Some of them are extraordinarily hopeful, despite also being in a culture of anxiety. But their hope is found on ‘God seeing them through exams’ or ‘God wont let me down’ – it might be God helping through circumstances at best – most of which is cheerful optimism, that might not last high school, let alone university.

In the same way young people get anxious, so do systems. Most research pieces on Church attendance in the west permeate a narrative that leads to status anxiety. Missiologists in describing the ‘Posts’ or secularism, modernism and christendom permeate a view that there is a new world out there, the times may be a-changing – but anxiety is systematically rife. What happens when systems are anxious? they retract. Investment on risk taking pioneer youthwork is down, investment in the young is reduced, taking risks within the church has been sidelined to ‘proving the worth of the church’.  When survival mechanisms take over, there is reduced capacity for empathy. thus it becomes harder to listen to the voices of the world, less do what isnt risk averse and protectionism, and this at the moment is rife. From fearing the EU, to immigrants, to the world ‘outside’, to fearing the future, fearing change, fearing failure, or embarrassment, or fearing closure.

Giving up talk of the future, is a rallying cry to give up the possibility of long term hope that (young) people might innocently already have, but pressures and fears created by the immediacy of the culture they are in drain it quickly away.  Kenda Dean turns to the construct of age to illustrate how youthfulness and hope and uses Jurgen Moltmans description of future hope to make the point that : ‘It is not that the future belongs to the young.. the future makes us young’. What might make us young is not age but hope. This is what Paulo Freire said:

“The main criterion for evaluating age, youth, and old age cannot be that of the calendar. No one is old just because he or she was born a long time ago or young just because he or she was born a short time ago. People are young much more as a function of how they think of the world, the availability they have for curiously giving themselves to knowledge. The search for knowledge should never make us tired, and the acquisition of it should never make us immobile and satisfied. People are young or old much more as a function of the energy and the hope that they can readily put into starting over, especially if what they have done continues to embody their dream, an ethically valid and politically necessary dream. We are young or old to the extent that we tend to accept change or not as a sign of life, rather than embrace the standstill as a sign of death.

People are young to the extent that they fight to overcome prejudice. A person would be old, even in spite of being only twenty-two, if he or she arrogantly dismissed others and the world. We gradually become old as we unconsciously begin to refuse novelty, with the argument that “in our day things were better”. The best time for the young person of twenty-two or seventy is always that he or she lives in. Only by living time as best as possible can one live it young.

Deeply living the plots presented to us by social experiences and accepting the dramatic nature of reinventing the world and pathways to youth. we grow old if we believe, as we realise the importance of what we have gained in our environment, that it is of our own merit” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the heart, p33-34)

Being Youthful is not about age, then its is about not clinging on to past glories and achievements. Being hopeful isnt not a distant dream, or having the attitude that ‘one day, someone else will rescue us‘. Neither is hopefulness found in knowing  the information about how the story will end. If I understand what performing the doctrine of eschatology might be about, then our task in church ministry and youth ministry is to perform hope. As youthworkers we might , and i hope, see signs of innocent hope in the young people we spend time with,  a church in anxiety needs to become as youthful again. But it is more than that performing hope, as Pope Benedict said:

The christian message was not only informative, but performative. That means: The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. the one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of new life

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An example of the recent knit-work from the Hartlepool Yarners.

What enacting hope also means, is a call to improvisation. It is also in the unbridled desire to bring about change by enacting a reality that doesnt exist in the present world. Hartlepool is blessed with its hope enacting subversive knitters who parade their work along fences around the harbour and headland areas. They interject into the present world, colour, humour and bring life.

The knitters have a message of hope, and enact it out. And there are others who are doing the same in other small ways. Young people i know are performing hope in the way they volunteer and raise money for charities as they themselves want to change the world for better for others. The enacters of hope, it seems are not the church, and the church might learn from them. The church is trapped in its own anxiety loop.

Improvisation means to enter the present situation assuming there is a different game to be played in human time than the one being scripted. It is playful, it is hopeful. It is plot changing. Image may contain: outdoor

Since I gave up Hope i feel alot better, of course is ironic. Nothing can be more desperate than a loss of hope. If the transcendant beliefs of old are reducing in their half lives, and people have to make up their own or find their own stories to live by (McAdams, 1997). Finding someone to believe in is rife, the religiosity that now befells political leaders, from Farage to Trump and notably to Corbyn. From left or right, saviours are promising Hope.

To find the resources within the world to cope with the world, in short resilience. Meaning will be found in personal gains, personal goods, the present, in work and busyness, and a whole host of things that might not provide enough to be hopeful when these things start to fade away. Old age is a time when self esteem plummets. Its not just in those who are young. But if the stories that provide meaning are less accepted and told, less enacted and performed in real time. To not be the Hero of the story, should make us less anxious, it is not our job to save the world. Hope is found when we realise our place in the broader story, and that there is an end game that isnt the present game. As Youth Ministers, as church, it is our job to perform acts of hope in it, and to catch on to the hopefulness that young people themselves innocently perform as theologians in their own right. For the rest of us improvising hope might need to be deliberate.

Has youth ministry (and the church) given up on Hope? – and does it feel alot better..?

References

Kenda Creasy Dean Ascension deficit disorder, in The theological turn in youth Ministry, 2011

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart, 1997

Wells, Sam , Improvisation, 2005

 

Why is attending church the be-all in youth discipleship research?

Research in youth Ministry over the last few months is painting a varied picture. Many Youth organisations are saying that less than 5% of young people are in regular contact with a church, fewer than that might be regular ‘church goers’,, this is Scripture Unions thing at the moment , but others have aluded to similar. These surveys are great as they play into the mindset and myth that youth ministry organisations can perpetuate being ‘ the only christian influence’ on young people. Then a survey is produced that says that larger numbers of young people show signs of faith, through buildings, cermonies and rituals. And, given that There are more links between churches and primary schools, there are prayer spaces, messy churches and also cermoines like weddings, baptisms and sadly funerals (which all seem more accessible to teenagers than they were 20 years ago, ie they may see their parents marry, or young step siblings be baptised, or early deaths in families). A link to this report is here: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/new.stats.say.1.in.5.teens.are.active.christians.but.do.they.really.add.up/110054.htmImage result for church

Today the church times published this piece which brought together a number of responses to that original research: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/23-june/news/uk/survey-results-cause-disbelief-among-researchers,  

It concluded this from Ali Campbell: “We’ve got to stop doing research projects,” Mr Campbell concluded. “We are doing that instead of work­ing with young people. . . My ques­tion is: how is this supporting a volunteer in a parish church in the middle of nowhere, working with young people in their community? There is too much research being done when we could be focusing on equipping people locally to get on with it. I don’t think it is rocket science.”

The Barna institute recently published a report that suggested that attendance with church, a morally ‘right; faith and conformity to social norms were some of the key motivations for Parents as to why they wanted their children and young people to attend to church, this differed from even the youthworker or minister in a church, who cited discipleship, learning and participation in the life of the church. A copy of this is here: https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-parents-differ-youth-ministry-goals/

And even a much quoted piece of research (on these pages) by the fuller institute did a survey on 1400 churches in the USA that young people attended and were regular church goers, they concluded that ‘a healthy space’ and ‘meaningful challenges’ were key contributers. The point being made was that an ‘easy’ faith wasnt worth bothering with, and it needed to be practices of challenge and depth and educated in a healthy place.

However, for me the question that arises, aside from issues about sample size for these pieces of research, and so, are not about their validity or their reliability. It is whats behind them. Implicit to them is the thought that ‘attending church’ is the measure of christian adherance, of faith and of discipleship. Church attendance might be the simplest way of measuring this, just count the people inside the building and guess the number of people under the age of 18.

Could it be argued that research is now becoming influential in the objectives of the discipleship of young people in the UK ? And not only that, are gatherings the place to really discover that youth ministry is ‘working’? For – ultimately how does a young person get to church – via their parents, or school, it is rarely ‘choice’ .  So, in most cases, youth ministry might be less effective that parents anyway, its parents that should get the credit.

Fundamentally, the question asked, is What is the point of forming young people into disciples?  if the only measure, or scale of success is in their capacity to attend a service, then youth ministry is serving young people short. These pieces of research get the headlines, and attendance in church has become the political end game. But why not measure other aspects of discipleship for young people and these then become part of the discourse of youth discipleship, such as

  1. Young people who participated in leading others in groups
  2. Young people who developed a social enterprise to help others in their community
  3. Young people who wrote their own worship song
  4. Young people who stood up against oppression in their school
  5. Young people who became part of the church governance
  6. Young people who volunteer in a local social action project

And i am sure there might be other indicators. Whether we should be so transfixed with research and the counter arguments about research into youth work and ministry is Ali’s very valid point. But research might be dictating the terms more than it should. It is also researching whether young people have a conforming faith ( which is legitimate) because people develop faith within the structures of the status quo, and not those for whom discipleship occurs outside of the structures, in faith organisations, or young people for whom changing and transforming the world is their act of worship and their call to follow God to do.

 

Thinking theologically about youth ministry – does a 3 way Drama help?

Much is made of Stories in youth Ministry. Lets get it out there. Stories communicate a message through appealing to imaginations. We connect with character, with script and with narrative arc. Jesus told stories. Story telling is key in the communication of the Gospel, often stories illuminate when proposition disengages. From a theological and philosophical perspective Paul Ricoeur, the french philosopher, is credited with bringing narrative interpretation of the Biblical text into the conversation, although using narrative to understand the Biblical text goes back further.

Image result for storyWe understand story, because stories are everywhere, from Disney to Doctor Who, Breaking Bad to Big Bang, in Books, comics and magazines. Stories invoke passion, provide an empathetic outlet for us, and cause us to relax about our own circumstances for a little while, or be inspired by another.

Story comforts and settles, like the bed time story, the camp fire story or the primary school story time. They might distract, and they take us away. They are also abstract, the story is some elses, some one else has lived it, written it, and all thats being done is reading it out aloud. And no one reads a story that hasnt been finished, or do they?

The problem with story as it gives no clue. It is a pretty neutral word. It needs a descriptor, such as ‘poignant’, or ‘long’, or ‘childrens’.  If you asked me to a tell a story, i could regurgitate about my trip to tescos, my holiday in the cotswolds or about how I saved a young persons life, all might be correct as all are stories, as there was no way of gauging what king of story it would be from asking about story.

Back to youth Ministry, the Gospel story might be one that is told.

Theres many ways of doing it, some that relay its complexity better than others. And we tell a gospel story so that young people might believe it. Adopt it, and cause it to be the ideological story that they shift their personal life narrative to coordinate around. So it forms their identity. Which is great. Job done. Marvellous. And we can go home then.

But if story is just about telling, and belief is just about accepting, then what happens next? Believe in the story of God, seems to make light of participating in the ongoing mission of God. It doesnt seem much, to opt God into our story. Feels a bit, well short changed doesnt it?

In Short – we need to change the metaphor from story to drama. But not throw out the ‘story’ out with the rest of the bath water. 

Regular readers here will know a little about Theodrama ( Gods Drama) but if this is the first post you have read from me, then heres a bit of a reminder. In this post I asked the question: What does Theodrama mean in Youthwork? (and this is kind of a part 2 to this):

Various Theologians, Von Balthasar, Vanhoozer, Sam Wells, Trevor Hart and Wesley Vander lugt have proposed that the metaphor of theatre and drama is a suitable, if not vastly illustrative and informative lens to use for the Gospel, a eucatastrophe, a tragedy that brings about Good. They, and NT Wright, make the proposal that drama, rather than story is helpful.

Lets go back to basics, what Drama there is in the Biblical narrative!Image result for drama

In each moment of the Biblical narrative there is tension and drama, from Act 1 where Creation breathes life, Human made in Gods image, expulsion from the Garden

The Covenant and ongoing communication of God to Moses, Aaron and Joshua, right through to David and the prophets, Kings, and just before the arrival of the Christ, there is silence. Nothing.

Then Christ in Flesh. A life of drama, unease in his surroundings, the rabbi who asked others to follow, the leader who served, who listened, included and healed. Who voluntarily went to Jerusalem, died, and then rose. The greatest story ever told, the most dramatic of drama in 33 years.

Then emerged the church, foretold in Peter, and emerged from the Resurrection, the organisation of the disciples, yet God still spoke, prompted and gave cues for the action, from Philip on the road to Gaza, to Paul in Jerusalem, and the disciples deciding their routes. That God spoke in creation, and to Moses , as Jesus and in the church is key.

Story might mean that Gods story is finished, and that there is no intersection with ours. The metaphor of Drama, allows Jesus to play alongside, all the way. But it is not finished. It is not a 4 act play, but 5.

For the last part has yet to be played. It may have been predicted, and illustrated in the last book of the Bible, but is yet to be played. There is an immediate tension. There is a Drama in the Drama. Yet knowledge of what might be, even metaphorically in the future, is enough to give hope. As Kenda Creasy Dean says, often in Youth Ministry we have an ascension deficiency disorder. Without Future hope, the present is more anxious. Without a concept of the future, and the imagination of the future Kingdom, how might we enact hope with young people, how might they be hopeful themselves without purposeful metaphorical direction?

So, Drama helps to describe the Story. The Whole story. That bit is fairly easy, thats a framework von Baltasar created. The Biblical narrative is dramatic. The Human plays parts, God speaks and directs. Yet that is not all.

The drama above helps us locate ourselves in the story. Helps us, and young people know our place. As Sam Wells says, we are not the Hero, the church is not the hero. It is merely the vehicle and witness, the place of the saints, not to be heroic. The flawed but gatherer of community, the one who projects the action onwards, the wise sage.  (see this post for more on Heroes and Saints in the Theodrama

Drama also secondly describes the ongoing search. For the current action might take place on the Stage of the World, and we might be in the middle of participating in Gods ongoing story of redemption towards the final fifth act. But within the performances, certainty, control and consistency are often absent, instead even the search for God, in a world of distractions is dramatic itself. It is hard work even to communicate with God at times, that is drama itself. This is where story really doesnt help does it?  Story might give us the impression that discipleship is like Disney, when the reality is that it is more like a live ongoing play that takes place every day of the year with different challenges , distractions and cul-de-saqs that prevent even resting and meditating on God a challenge. So, not only is the Gospel Narrative a drama, the search for God is a drama too.

But thirdly, and maybe more importantly, Drama and Theatre appeal to our imagination, just like Story. Drama is live and present and unique – often unlike story, which may be read with different voices, or shown in different cinemas, but the story has a fixed element. Drama is open, creative and responsive. Our part might be to respond to the offers of others, or create performances for others to participate. For young people as theologians, (see previous post) it is that they are attuned, like us, to hearing and responding to God in the midst of the everyday situations, and to not perform a moral play, but a hopeful, intuitive one that loves the world. And yes, Drama rather than Story envokes performance. Story might just seem to cause God to fit into our story (and we do what we want), Drama implies that we participate in Gods and perform it, whilst still retaining human freedom. 

Theodrama is an adventure into the unknown scenes with God speaking and where we might fit ourselves into his tasks to walk humbly, love mercifully. A dangerous prophetic act of rehearsing and practicing acts of the new kingdom. Not just see where we fit God into our lives and story.

Theodrama causes us to have an imagination to see God , hear God and make a response to God in the Midst of the action.

Maybe in Youth Ministry we need an imagination shift, a metaphorical picture of God continually at work, of ourselves a humans performing along with others ( for it is not a lone performance) on the stage of the world. It is a performance that is inclusive to all to perform to the best of their formation. (Forming performers is what ill write on next). In wanting to help young people make their story connect with Gods, we might omit that they might already be performing, and how they might continue to do so. Salvation might be to hear that ongoing call.

So, some of that might make a dramatic difference for young people. Drama gives us the expectation of what discipleship is like, what the story is about and what we are tasked with doing, once we begin to participate. It is story in need of improvising and acting, with a hopeful but dramatic ending, present and past. Drama is what it is. Disney is what its not.

References

Hart, Vander Lugt – Theatrical Theology, 2014

Ricoeur P – Figuring the Sacred, 1995

Root, Dean, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, 2011

Von Balthasar – Theo Drama – the Prolegamma, 1980

Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005

Vander Lugt  Living Theodrama, 2014

Wells, Samuel,  Improvisation, 2004

 

 

 

What if young people are viewed as Theologians?

When it comes down to it, language is a powerful tool. How the church, amongst other organisations constructs practices and policies is often due to the implications caused by the descriptive language of people, from disabled people ( people with a disability, thus need ‘special help’ to be ‘able’), people deemed poor, or specifically Young people. In a previous post here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-Np I critique the more common language descriptors that young people seem to have inherited in churches, these include ‘learners’, the ‘not there yet’ and the ‘deficit’ or ‘development’ theories. I conclude in that piece that young people should be considered as Saints in the present church, not only heroes and leaders for the future one.

What descriptors like ‘anti- social’ or ‘adolescent’ do is provide the church and youth ministry with a whole host of descriptors or views of young people. From Sociological, educational, psychological, social, economical, generational ( Gen x, that sort of thing- sigh), these seem to be common in trying to understand young people, or be common disciplines to draw from in the pursuit of trying to find the next best strategy, model or method for youth ministry and endless search to find the one way to keep or prevent young people leaving the church.

Much from a faith perspective is made of creation verses like Genesis 3, which describe the making of man in Gods image. But that seems to be regarded in substance and soul, rather that it inform the practices of youth ministry, which seem to use the above disciplines as the starting point. Within youth ministry also, there are a whole host of task orientated descriptors, when it comes to tasks that are expected of them, they are often to ‘evangelise’ to their friends, to go on ‘mission’ trips, to ‘attend’ groups, to ‘lead’ sessions, to ‘learn’, to be ‘disciples’. Yes often they are to be ‘disciples’. And this can be contentious. The discussion about the order of  salvation & discipleship is tiresome, but relevant, as it often just means that young people are subject to shallow messages to reaffirm a conversion, rather than experience something actually deeper. Discipleship is a complicated concept, one to leave for now. but one that can often appear absent in the drive to reach and connect with young people. Or even in the pursuit to enable them to conform in christian practices.

What i want to suggest is that a theological view of young people, might conclude that young people are theologians. 

Whoa, hang on a bit, am I serious?  Young people as Theologians? 

Theologians are the geek guys who do dull sermons, theyre the book writers and the academics. Image result for theologianThats who the theologians are, and we dont need them, ‘we just need a simple faith’ , the easy stuff, something relevant, attractive… and theres no way young people want to be theologians, no they want to be nurses, sports physios, teachers and artists, not theologians… 

the trouble is, young people are already theologians. Its too late. 

Thats the problem. Theology is deemed to be for the experts and the geeks or clegy and academics. Theology is in everything we do in churches in youth ministry, we operate as theologians, we speak theology, it is in the every day.

But not only from a creative point of view are young people made in the image of God, but those made in the image of God, as part of the human condition is a continual striving for searching, finding out and curiosity, this is borne out in Pauls speech in Antioch, in Acts 17;27, where Paul reiterates that there is a continual searcImage result for theologianh after God in the hope that he might be found.

A person is on a continual search. They might not study God, per se, but be consciously and unconsciously studying the world to find a source of meaning, a crumb of comfort. Or a way to make sense of the purpose in their life, to adopt a story that enables everything they know to fit together, and this might be a God story ( a sacred myth) or a different one. It is where sacred myths are helpful for young people. But what it means is that young people and all of us, are on the look out for something to believe in to help us make sense, or in a continual state of denial of the need for a story, and be possibly deeply troubled, confused and be struggling.

So what I want to suggest is that it might be more helpful to reflect on the possibility of young people, not as disciples, or converted or evangelists, but as theologians. 

If in working with young people in our churches and organisations we consider young people to be theologians, what might that mean to how resources, programmes and practices are for and with them? How might they be treated differently as a result? If nothing else it means that forms of youth ministry are a theological, and practical task.

It is worth breaking it down a little bit, when I suggest that young people are theologians, they could be one of or all of the following, and what I plan to do over the next few weeks, is to expand further on these concepts of young people as theologians, some I have mentioned above. They might be a combination of the following, rather than these in linear development.

Children as innocent theologians, for whilst age might be a social construct, there is undoubtedly an innocence to the curiosity and intuition of a child in their spiritual awareness, it is from their pure heart that often truths flow out of innocent connections with God.

Curious Theologians, This might be all of us, but maybe most notably in those who deliberately search, who ask questions, who find God in the process of the search, the depth of the soul. This ties in with the references above, but curiosity is part of being human, ongoing life long learning, ongoing life long theologising and being brought into new understandings and expansive understandings of God. Image result for curiosity

Intuitive Theologians;  This thought is common in youth ministry, and my next post will develop this further. So, in the mean time, it might be worth thinking about the creative spaces where young people are intuitive, make intuitions and interpretations, and have the desire for deep meaning, of sense made in the world, for something to believe that might be true. But also that it is in the ‘how’ of something being done that young people might discover the ‘why’.  Anyway, this is a teaser for a post on young people as intuitive theologians later in the week.

Practical Theologians. Young people not only want something to be true. It needs to be Useful. Faith mot just a crutch. But also a hope. Not a self help guide to doing anything ( MTD, Christian Smith, 2005) , but the daily encounter with God in the midst of the ordinary that directs, guides, prompts action and is in dialogue. Its not in the arguments over truth and apologetic where God might be found, but in the everyday spaces.

Performing Theologians. This is part of my subject for my dissertation, and ive written about this previously, follow this link: Helping young people perform, not just learn theology. But it might be worth exploring more, the concept that not only might young people be intuitive theologians and practical theologians, but that how might we enable them to perform theology. For what i am convinced we are good at in youth ministry is creating a whole load of christian practices, such as services, youth events, festivals and concerts, yet often these entertain, reach and make faith relevant. When it comes to performing the kind of life Jesus asked of us, and young people, what might that be like to perform, to perform acts of sacrificial love, mercy , justice – performing out of love for God and in the world to transform it. To be hope in communities, not hope in holy spaces. Young people as public performers of theology. Again, ill develop this further in the next few weeks. But safe to say, that performing theology is not the ‘end game’, performance enables intuition and formation and vice versa.

So, this might be teaser or a turn off. My concern is that even in Christian faith based youth ministry, a theological understanding of personhood, and young people is rarely talked about, or even the starting point for developing approaches to mission, church or youth ministry. Context often rightly does, cultural studies (less rightly), church growth ( less said the better) or ‘what we used to do, or have always done’ , and so the writing a few posts on these in more detail in the upcoming weeks will be to look at them from a range of angles, and consider their implications for working with young people. Thinking theologically about young people, might just enable them to be viewed as theologians. I think this is a better starting point. And lets develop language and ministry, mission and practice around the ongoing belief that young people are theologians first and foremost, and that spaces and practices are created to form them as theologians, who find, interpret and perform out of the faith in the everyday, in the practical and the prophetic. Young people as Theologians first and foremost in youth ministry, a starting point.

 

References

Von Balthasar, A Reader – (his reflection on Persons as searching)

Dean, Kenda (et al) Starting right, Thinking Theologically about youth ministry

Dean, Kenda, & Root A, The Theological turn in youth ministry

Shepherd, N, Faith Generation

Smith C , Soul Searching, 2005

Vanhoozer, K  The Drama of Doctrine (2005), Faith Speaking Understanding ( 2014) 

 

 

10 subtle signs the time in your job as a youthworker is nearly up

Often we might wait for flashes of inspiration, or for the heard voice from the divine, or a calling that shoves us into a new direction within youth work and ministry. Every summer, there are stories of premiership footballers who have not been included in the new team photograph, or the new strip launch, or even airbrushed out! see this article on wayne rooney: http://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/man-utd-scramble-after-appearing-to-airbrush-rooney-out-of-club-4185979

In youthwork is just the same;

And we often want the BIG signs, we want the dream of the name of the new place we’re going to, that is then confirmed on a roadsign we pass ( theres a coincidence)

Or as we were walking along the beach and reflecting on your situation as the tide drew out it left a configuration of shells on the shore that spelled out ‘GET A NEW JOB’ .Image result for shells on the beach

But more often than not the process of leaving a place of work within youth work is more subtle than this, but there are some really key signs, moments that you’re time is nearly up in your current role. Or that a shift is needed within it to enable you to stay. when i say shift, i mean miracle. They are pretty subtle these, and you would need at least 4 or 5 of them to really grasp the mettle that your time might be up, but ill present them to you anyway just to see if you can or have spotted them.

  1. There are leavers meals out planned for you. I know, why management would go to this kind of trouble, for someone who is loving their job and hoping to stay is remarkable. But take it as an important sign.
  2. You’ve not been asked to write that really important but really boring report to be presented at a meeting of governance. They give you the excuse that they know the information, but id say its a sign of something else.
  3. All of a sudden, when the there is no invitation to the 5 year vision day for the organisation.
  4. Your photo disappears from the ‘church staff members’ section of the noticeboard. Or your rolImage result for organisational hierarchye is ceremonially removed from the organisational hierarchy document, leaked by one of your contacts in HR.
  5. Well, your role isnt removed from the hierarchy, but instead of in education section, it is now in parks and gardens and entertainment. Could be worse, could be in ‘environmental waste’ section.
  6. People keep leaving open copies of the jobs pages in CYP now or youth and childrens work magazine on your desk, or your manager sends you links to jobs elsewhere via the internal server. Image result for children & youth work now
  7. Once you did youthwork, now you do admin for other youthworkers because someone has to and you grew into it.
  8. In a moment off guard, someone in the office, asks you ‘so what are you going to do next?’  and they give you that look. The puppy dog, sorry for you one. Its a sure sign that everyone else knows that your time is up, they may even know the end date, but you havent realised it yet, or been privy to that information.
  9. One of the really key signs that your time might be up is when your final salary, also contains a line that says ‘redundancy pay’. If you needed a clearer sign than this, it pretty obvious by now. Its even more certain when due to point 7, that it is you who issues your own redundancy pay, and then there is the clincher….
  10. The Milk rota: To top it all off, you are taken off the milk buying rota. Thats the clincher, if other people in the office arent expecting your milk for the fridge any more, you know that time to call it quits.

I know I know, you cant thank me enough for spelling out such insightful wisdom on youth work and ministry. It is important to be on your guard for these subtle signs that other people in your organisation are already preparing for life after you, and that you have been written out of their plans. It might take a whole load of deep discernment to pick some of these up, but often your gut instinct is right on these things. If you have to wait till you are written out of the milk rota, you probably havent got time to empty your desk.

 

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