Can Disruptions be positive in strategic youthwork practices?

Life is like a box of chocolates

said the great philosopher Forrest Gump.

Is that what might be said about management and strategising in youth work practices? This has much more of a romantic ring to it, than the reality.

Next week, weather and travel permitting I am going to be delivering the first of three sessions on the subject of strategic thinking within faith based organisations, and so today I have been thinking through some of the material, re-reading and looking at some of the resources that I have. There is still much to be said about strategic planning within youthwork organisations – but very little on managing and strategic thinking theologically in faith based organisations. Anyway, the details of the sessions are here, and please do book at  if you want to come along.

So, why ‘life is like a box of chocolates’ – well, when i was gathering and reflecting further on strategic planning and thinking within youthwork, i came across the following diagram, and thought that in reality strategic planning within youthwork is less of a box of chocolates, and more of a series of well thought through intentions that get interrupted and disrupted, and therefore require a considerable amount of contingency and emergent thinking to accomodate and learn through the disruption. To create a new process and plan. And maybe not even to guide this to a new outcome as this diagram shows, maybe the outcome shouldnt be as fixed.

This week is a case in point. I work from home. There are disruptions enough, but two snow days has caused an imbalance as the house is busier with children not in school, theres more to do, around the place than normal. Today i thought id get a drink and then spend an hour working on the planning session, only for me to open up the postal mail, and find a letter i needed to spend time reacting to (that wasnt part of the plan). All the stuff i was going to do, hasnt been done. The same felt like the case in many of the situations I have been involved in recently in youth work. The same in other situations in a busy office. The same when young people arent ‘doing what we want them to’.

Id like to think I am good at planning, good at strategising, good and shaping what needs to happen in an organisation. But planning and strategising within youthwork practices requires something different. There could be a tendency to plan for outcomes, especially in a neo-liberal undercurrent context that shapes funding and the ‘worth’ and value of working practices. It might be better to plan for opportunities, rather than outcomes ( Jon Ord, 2012) It becomes a plan to create the right kind of space and environment- and make this coherent with youthwork practice and values.


One of my favourite quotes is this:

The situation in which the community of the Church is set, asks questions of it about the age structure, the class structure, the openness to go out into the world and receive the world. The crucial thing at this stage is that all of us who have this concern (for young people in the community) deeply in our hearts should recognise that any remedial Christian action will emerge only out of painful, searing, physical and mental acceptance, in love, of a generation which is painfully differentWhat we need to know about the strategy of action must be learned at the point of personal involvement, of ourselves or of other groups”

Lecture given to World Christian youth commission in May 1964, Rev HA Hamilton.

And so, planning and strategising occurs in the presence of young people themselves, it is not aloof, pre planning, but from the point o contact. Planning and strategising becomes a participatory activity. So, from a faith perspective, we might want to develop vison and strategy, because we have been guided to think about vision and mission statements recently – but is thought through less is the process of vision and mission strategising. For, this can become an exercise in conformity and allegiance, when mixed with power, structures and unhealthy authority. And, disruptions to coherent plans seen as divisive and said to be against God.

Rev Hamilton may be on to something. What presence based strategising involves in trusting that people want to be involved in the process as well. It demands thinking that young people are worth respecting and their opinions valid, that they are not ‘at risk’ but ‘want to shape their own opportunities’ they are not a project to be a service provision but a contributor.

The tendency to find the method in youth ministry that works – causes it to become aloof from the young people themselves. Strategising might be one area in which participation is low in youth ministry (but getting young people to choose their tuck shop food is more common) . And working with young people will inevitably mean that the ongoing emergent strategy and practice is always changing and being worked through at the negotiation and pace of the young people themselves. But that might be what empowerment is all about, creating the space for participative planning that involves young people- and becomes an opportunity in itself.

Youthwork management might be like a box of chocolates! – its more likely the ability to manage given an ongoing series of coping with emergent strategies due to disruptions and interruptions.

Sometimes, God might be in the disruptions, prompting us to think about the voice of others, the greater cause of redemption and shalom.

So, hopefully, theres no snow days and I can finish planning for next weeks sessions!

and if you want to come along and spend some time with others thinking through strategising in youth work practice, please do sign up


PS oh and apology, if this piece in itself is a distraction… hopefully it is a helpful one…



Leading and Managing youth work and services for young people, NYA, 2005

Planning for opportunities, not outcomes, Jon Ord, 2012, in Ord (eds) Critical issues in Youthwork management, 2012

Working with Unattached Youth, Goetchius & Tash, 1967




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