An article has just been published in Youth and Policy in which Andy du Feu from Moorlands college asks whether there needs to be a larger table for youth work and youth ministry could sit and converse together in dialogue. It is an interesting piece and builds on Allan Clynes article in 2015 on the professional narrative in youth ministry. To read Andys piece have a look at this link: A Table for youthwork and Ministry . Do have a read.
Andys article didnt get me agitated. But it did cause me to think of two questions:
- Havent we been here before? and
- What would that dialogue look like, and how would we know this had happened?
Both of which I explore later in this piece. But first it got me thinking about the levels in society in which Youth Ministry and Youth work operate, in the UK, at least and what is going on (that i know of) around collaboration and the opening of this dialogical table. NB this piece does use terms like secular and faith, to make points, I am uncomfortable with using ‘secular’ myself, but in the context of this piece i think it helps to quantify the discussion.
So firstly youth ministry, it has:
College courses (cliff college, NTC, CYM as examples)
Charitable Organisations /Affiliations (YFC, Youthscape, Urban Saints, SU – and all scottish equivalents, BB/GB)
Magazine (C&YW), Journals (Journal of youth and theology, IASYM) a few rare books. The Bible as a sacred text
Practitioners, that include professionals, gap year students, volunteers.
On the ‘other side’ of the coin, Youth work operates via;
National occupational standards
Some Third sector organisations – significantly increasing since Austerity as CIC/CIO orgs take over the running of youth clubs in communities.
Charitable organisations – Barnados, YMCA, Princes Trust, Uniformed scouts/guides
Magazines (CYP), journals, Articles, a few books.
Practitioners, including professionals, trainees, apprentices, volunteers.
I note that I think there are a number of colleges, organisations and practices that straddle these – with FYT, YMCA’s and NTC Glasgow being ones that spring to mind. There is possibly a spectrum. But I couldnt fit a spectrum on this page. And theres alot more to both than above…
So the question is – how are either youth ministry and youth work currently undergoing dialogue- and where?
From the bottom up. Practitioners on the ground do often connect and collaborate. There arent the resources to go around to stay in silos. Partnerships locally are common. Not everywhere, but where there can be. Strangely the places where there are greater resources, the partnerships tend to be less across faith, more the faith groups and the secular groups separate. Possibly. Just a hunch and especially in evangelical areas.
There have been some opportunities in the last few years for christian youthworkers to be in conversation with their secular counterparts, especially via the ‘in defence of youth work’ campaign, one example was the ‘Youth work and Faith Conference in April 2015’ In which faith and non faith groups were participants. The Federation of Detached youthwork conference often hears from faith based contributions in seminars, articles and reflections (my own and Naomi Thompsons included) So, from this direction – where dialogue is a key component of its practice there seems a willingness to hear and listen. But maybe thats because individual who believe in the dialogue push to be heard within the spaces- though being fair- there seems always a table at the FED or IDYW for a range of faith based voices. It was Naomi who edited with Mark Smith and Tom Wylie – Youth work and Faith – which brought together a number of voices to discuss faith and youth work, including Nigel Pimlott, Jon Jolly, and those from Jewish and Muslim youthwork. – Is this the kind of dialogue and perspective that could be included at a YFC or NYMW conference? – is that where there might be a ‘table’ ?
It is noticeable that Youth and Policy ( ‘secular’ journal) has opened its table to hear the voice of a prominent evangelical youth ministry person. Again, does this replicate in Youth and Childrens work – a length piece from ‘secular’ youthwork?
But – do non faith groups get a hearing at youth ministry conferences? – Ie does the dialogue on professional youth practices get a platform in youth ministry, at the YFC conference, at the NYMW or YWS or equivalents? I wonder…
Im not sure terms like inclusion, empowerment, participation and community development got any hearing at a YFC conference in the last few years, not by much anyway. It is interesting that YFC themselves have strategically decided to lump their eggs into youth evangelism basket, and turn away from youthwork. So what might that say about dialogue? Is it dead in the water, sacrificed for serving churches and national programmes of youth evangelism? hmm… or has organisational survival (something everyone is suffering from) is playing its hand..?
I dont know how Urban Saints, YMCA or Scripture Union connect with ‘youthwork’ or ‘youth ministry’ – though FYT have in the past suggested that their approach has been to be at the connection between youthwork practice and emerging church and develop pioneer youthwork that has its value base in detached and value orientated youth work. It is notable that FYT representatives have largely been attenders or contributors to the IDYW conferences, blogs and discussion pieces.
There are a number of ‘christian faith based’ courses that include rightly youth and community work processes, practices, history and approaches. I wonder if the youth and community work course at somewhere like Durham university or equivalent used to include a session on ‘youth ministry’ just for dialogue purposes? Again, is the dialogue at this level only in one direction? but the other way? Where is the table in ‘secular’ colleges for the faith conversations? – im sure there is an its my blind spot to this… As there are christian youth and community workers all around…
So – at an organisation and conference perspective – is there still a way to go. Yet dialogue even between youth ministry organisations, and their collaboration is to be questioned too. The battle for organisational survival, kudos and significance rages, with many collaboration projects aborted for the sake of individual significance. At times.
The last significant published collaboration within youth ministry was the five book series that included ‘Joined Up’ by Danny Brierley in 2003, that collaboration included youthwork the conference, spring harvest, salvation army, yfc and Oasis. Since then, a few collaborative ventures have been had across youth ministry organisations for the odd conference, but none that would be noted for providing material in the discourse of itself at least that which is published. (whether publishing via books is the only discourse influencer is open to another debate, but this is about collaboration even in youth ministry)
However, overall, the problem with trying to do collaboration and dialogue, is that there is no ‘one’ representative of ‘youth ministry’ in the same way that there is no one representative of ‘youth work’ to the dialoging. There are a myriad of fragmented conversations, occuring on blogs, books, chats calls and conferences, with pleas, urges and desires to do a kind of collaboration that seems to be impossible to ascertain or know what it would look like if it actually happened. If Kerry Young (1999) is in any way correct then Youth work itself, and youth ministry its counterpart, both exist as conversation in themselves – they occur as people determine what youth work or ministry is – as although attempts have been made to ground youth work in theory ( Jeffs and Smith) this hasnt happened in the same way in youth ministry – its practice that is determined more by its serving of local agency and church values and motivations – rather than common human values. (*which themselves emerged out of the faith context of their day).
In the same way that talking about youth ministry and youth work in itself contains both generalisations and universalisms of understanding, that actually are only realised through the actions of those who perform or enact it. In these pages i have talked about youth ministry but that could be directed at whole organisations, leaders of organisations, values/motivations of organisations, churches, affiliations, or even the youth minister themselves. ‘Youth Ministry’ not unlike ‘youth work’ is a catch all, and a ‘none of all’ term. It kind of hasnt been pinned down. Even if National occupation standards kind of know what aspects of it might look like. Whereas everyone kind of knows what teaching, social work or Police is. Mostly.
So, a dialogue between youth work and ministry – it has been said to be being done before. Andys plea mirrors that of Naomi Thompson in Youth and Childrens work magazine of 2016 What is possibly significant about Andy, is that he represents one of the leading evangelical colleges in the UK, and it has often been the evangelicals who have avoided the ‘collaboration with youth work party’ . Though as he also says, his course has had to include the NOS standards, often the evangelical leaders have been absent from being part of the narrative and discourse on youth ministry, and the conversations about collaboration with youthwork from a practice perspective. It has been left to the academic practitioners to sit at the table. So, from Andy, from an evangelical perspective, this is significant as a leading influencer within youth ministry, the course and vocational course of Moorlands. That CYM and CMS as other faith based youth work & ministry courses have already been part of the table, and Moorlands possibly seen as too evangelical in the past might also indicate a shift on his or his organisations part to open up that dialogue or a desire to join in with the discussions already occuring. At a time when the doom bells are ringing for both, but hope around the corner with labours pledge to refund statutory youth services.
But then again – what are these discussions if they are discussions and conversations about conversations, about approaches and approaches about conversations. Seems like the table might end not in a food fight but much noise.
There are debated, dilemnas and delights with the ongoing dialogue. Is Youth ministry as open to this? as youth work is?
In my piece on the back of the #ywaf15 conference, I suggest that there were a number of common grounds that faith and non faith youth work could easily share, that piece is here for you to peruse.
Collaboration for the sake of young people in the UK is i think crucial. The problem is that Neo liberalism and survival of the organisation fittest is affecting the potential for that dialogue to occur. It was noticeable that a paper presented to the government this week that highlight the effect of poverty on young people came from charities- with little mention of youth work or youth ministry organisations being part of this. If nothing else joining forces might help with the prophetic or critical edge needed to have a voice in these debates. For too long possibly though no one else has worried about the existence of youth ministry or youth work in society, both have also been as concerned about themselves than the young people they exist to serve for.
If everyone is starting to agree that dialogue is what is required… how might this be made to happen, when and where? some kind of young peoples conference that includes many approaches? collaborations on practice, journals and publishing? could it happen?
But who is going to make it happen? and how will we know when it is… 😉
Kerry Young 1999 The Art of Youthwork, RHP, Lyme Regis
Brierley, D 2003, Joined Up. SU publishing
Thompson, N (eds) 2015, Youth work and faith, RHP, Lyme Regis