Its the new academic term, and my guess is that you’re beginning to think about developing new programmes, topics and activities for youth work for the new term. Excited much? probably, tired of the same old ideas and need a spark? possibly. You could pick a resource off the shelf, like every year. However, why not do something different, why not try developing reflective practice instead?
This is the first part of two, maybe three, posts on developing reflective practice in youth ministry. For the simple reason that i have a feeling it is something that is given lip service at best in practices of youth ministry.
Yet, Characteristic of all courses in youth & community work is the ongoing prerogative to get into the habit of reflective practice. There are rumours that go around that students pick courses on the least frequent reflective forms that need to be submitted. Yes its that popular, usually. especially as many students are die hard activists.
However as Characteristically, many many conferences that appeal to volunteers, student and non academic youth work/ministry people is the lack of any time devoted to reflective practice. Seminars are on action, programmes, experts appealing on behalf of their chosen ministry, or ethical subjects like lgbt, diversity and gender, which in themselves are all perfectly good and needed. But ‘developing reflective practice’ as a seminar topic at a youth ministry conference? maybe the odd one, and is it ever well attended? Something this important requires more than lip service.
But as a volunteer, as someone who attends youth work conferences to get some training and refresh skill or get some new resources – when was the last time you had the option to go to a seminar on ‘developing reflective practice’ ? when was this a tool or resource in your youth ministry ‘kit bag’?
There might clearly then be a gap.
The gap might clearly be felt when the new youthworker turns up at the local church group or youth project and suggests that all the volunteers start filling in ‘review forms’.
or when the professional youthworker suggests that in regular supervision that a volunteer ‘reflects on the situation’ – and theres a blank response back from the other side of the desk.
Up until now the volunteers had got on with what they needed to do. Up until now the youth worker had possibly presumed that facilitating reflective practice would be welcomed with open arms.
However, often ‘reflective practice’ is not always part of the culture of the church in which the settings of youth ministry occur. And without it being featured at conferences, in youth work magazine – where else might volunteers begin a process of this- with personal external help.
The question is ‘ whatever happened to reflective practice?’
If the concept of reflective practice is something new to you, then I am afraid I’m not going to write a long piece to educate on what it is.
Instead here are a few links for you to explore yourself, developing your own knowledge and resources on reflective practice:
A beginning page on reflective practice, for you then to explore further is here: This is on the excellent encyclopaedia of informal education site ( http://www.infed.org). In the piece i link to there is a discussion on reflection in action, and reflection on action. It is worth looking at the difference.
Grove books have produced a couple of dedicated pamphlets on reflective practice. which are here.
Theres also brief descriptions of some of the key aspects of reflective practice and professional development in their ‘Ten essential concepts for Christian youth work’
And, whilst there are only a few dedicated books on the subject, what you will find is that many core titles on youthwork, informal education, supervision have reflective practice embedded within them.
The problem with this is that for many of us, we want something instant and a ‘how to do reflective practice without having to work at trying to find the resources to do it’. It is also faitrly evident that it feels like in youth ministry we are borrowing from other disciplines like education or social work, and ‘borrowing’ from other disciplines seems wrong, if its not in the bible, then why do we need to do it?
Of course, the other thing about developing reflective practice, is that it is counter cultural, it challenges the way of the thinking & acting already established in the culture of the church, in the organisation, and even, sometimes in the vague overarching umbrella that is ‘youth ministry’. Stopping to think, ask questions, might be provocative. It is so much better to just keep the ‘hamsters on the wheel’ and if the hamsters fall off, well its only their own fault. Just get on a different wheel. That the wheel is faulty…
On one hand, doing reflective practice is part of who we are. We make interpretations of all the information around us all the time. As the philosopher Paul Ricouer argues, we are interpretative beings. So on one hand we are making assessments and reflecting all the time. We will have some intuition during the time that something isnt right, something is, or that there is something under the surface that needs pinning down. So, to talk about ‘reflective practice’ is only, on one hand to give space for these questions and scenarios to get an airing, as they are thought during the time spent with young people.
Reflective practice done badly, it to reduce it to scientific pragmatism, and reduce the practice of youth ministry to ‘sessions’ , ‘activities’ and ‘programmes’. It will become a consultation exercise for volunteers on the ‘programme’ on the ‘activities’ – and this leads to questions like ‘ what do you think the young people enjoyed’ or ‘what went well’. It can lead to merely endorsing the leaders. And it is worth reflecting here on the power dynamic of the lead youthworker leading times of reflection on sessions of youthwork that they have themselves been involved in. Dare a volunteer speak up? Power within the room is worth reflecting on.
This can happen when there is no flexibility for the reflection to make any difference, the culture, style and nature of a programme is set, so reflection merely acts to conform volunteers to the way of thinking within the practice. At worst. This rigidity is the main inhibility for nursing, teaching and possibly social work to develop reflective practice. even if its recommended as such, the main issue is that the market drives practice. It is not from the ground up with practitioners.
My next post will provide a few helpful hints for developing meaningful reflective practice in youth ministry. The remainder of this one will suggest 6 reasons why reflective practice is needed in faith based youth ministry.
- Reflective practice acknowledges that we are on a similar learning process that young people are. Although we might want to define ourselves as ‘leaders’ or ‘ministers’ we are also ‘disciples’ and ‘learners’ too. Imagining what we ‘do’ in youth ministry is a ‘performance’ then we also need to cultivate space to ‘form’ as actors. We ourselves are on a process of similar formation, even an old dog has to learn new tricks. Youth ministry might seek relevancy, but it is only in the specifics of the young people that we are connecting with that we can be truly relevant, learning of their culture, needs and interests, groups and social dynamics. In youth ministry we need to be open to learn and reflect in the context we are in and maintain this.
- Reflective practice helps us to stop and recharge ourselves. It validates that youth ministry practice is not just about activity, it is about education, about thinking and learning. And that needs spaces in conversation to be cultivated. Time for us to splurge out stuff thats on our minds. It helps identify training needs, gaps, opportunities, and also with building a team out of ourselves as we reflect together.
- Reflective practice might help us develop new ways of practice, through new ways of being. We might spot things, acknowledge needs and gifts of young people and adapt accordingly. It isnt always about change, but it might be part of it.
- Are you seriously telling me that Jesus didnt do reflective practice? For a good amount of time, what might have Jesus and the disciples talked about on the roads, in the upper rooms, in the fields – we only get a snapshot. Helping the disciples to learn from the parables, helping them develop similar ways of ministry would have required asking questions, thinking about experiences, and developing other ways of being.
- If reflection is part of our being, and we believe that we are created in the image of God, then we need to attend to the space where our imagination, where our questioning being, where our interpretations get an airing. In the same way we create interesting spaces in working with young people to help them learn, we also create suitable spaces of reflection in youth ministry for ourselves to reflect in an appropriate way. God might be speaking to us through the conversation with young people, and this needs space. We should expect God to be speaking to us all the time. Reflection gives us space to collectively acknowledge this, share it and discern.
- If poor reflective practice is to focus on ‘the tasks’ – then developing Theological reflective practice is in order. I will expand this in a later piece this week. However, if we’re serious about theological reflective practice, and also enabling youth ministry to be actions that reflect God, his mission and the faith we hold to, then the question will be less:
how do we make this activity even more exciting so that young people tell their friends?
What is the Mission of God, and how do i embody Jesus’ call to minister to ‘the least of these’ in this work with young people?
Where do young people encounter God in our youth ministry?
If Jesus is here, what role is he playing in the action?
Good theological reflection prompts us to start with our Theology. The God we shape in our own image can always be fitted into our own practice. And that goes for ‘just praying’ about something. It doesnt make it theological, just becomes an abuse of power. If you’re serious about Thinking Theologically about youth ministry then try these books, theyre not cheap, and the questions within them are similarly not cheap or easy either.
Without giving time to reflect, and do this outside of the power structures of organisations, of churches, where we need to distance ourselves from ‘outcomes’, ‘power’ and ‘money’ then we might miss the glorious riches of God speaking to us through reflection, our imaginations and young peoples intertwining on something amazing, on developing practices that embody Gods call for us in the world.
The alternative is the hamster wheel.
Whatever happened to reflective practice in youth ministry?
Its probably worth reflecting on, and make time, in our new season of youth ministry, starting in August and September, to give it priority.