12 conversation themes that churches/youth groups are (generally) afraid to have

For the second time in my life I attended Domestic Abuse/Violence training this week, because, rightly the CofE have now issued compliance and awareness guidelines on this subject for parishes and congregations to be more aware – if you want it, its policy is at this link  And on the same subject Natalie Collins runs a programme to get this subject takes about in youth groups/community settings – do find her at GLW website

But it got me thinking – what are the subjects that seem to be absent from the prevailing church culture – and don’t happen anywhere, let alone in youth groups? – aside from Domestic abuse which I flag above

  1. Marriages. Nope. Think about it aside from at crisis point – most marriages are only talked about in church when there’s a bit of comedic banter – usually the man on the stage saying about ‘He and his wife – have this ____ (usually weird) thing’- or a story.  But actually – really – talking about marriage – not just the fix, or the crisis, or paying someone to do a talk on ‘communication’.. and in youth groups- what do young people hear, see, have evidence of healthy relationships (if marriages are actually that at times)
  2. Periods. – 50% of the population have had them, or about to, or used to… – but talking about them.. barely part of a ‘sex’ talk in youth groups? thought not…
  3. Debt and money – and the recognition that credit cards are debt.. not just see it as a poverty thing for others – but things also like budgeting, rent, spending, options, ethics, and poverty. (Which isnt just money by the way)
  4. Closing ministries – when things end – not everything in church is on a continual growth – i raised the questions here  when I was making people redundant and had very little reference to it, or support…
  5.  Love. Yeah go on – think about it – when was human love explored (and not just the ideal of Gods love, vs the ‘incompleteness’ of Human love)  – Sex is the hot topic -and youth ministry has been at the forefront of ideal/shame/wait till marriage culture – but what about love?
  6. Yourself.  At times church, ministry is a giving culture – we could lose ourselves in forging an identity in giving to it, on one hand. The other side of this is that our human frailty is often portrayed, which is unhealthy if its not accompanied by the space to consider the strengths of each human, focussing on ourself isn’t selfish – and I mean more than self care. But taking time to understand who we are. Should youth groups do enneagram? maybe not – but discovering qualities and awareness of them, in a healthy way is a non conversation.  Who we are as fully human, in faith might be a healthy place to be.  We are more than what we give, what we do in church – in the same we are more than what we do in jobs.
  7. Mental Health – what it is- misconceptions, reality, types and diagnosis, – the resources are beginning to be out there, causes
  8. Management – you can buy truck loads on christian leadership – but management and governance from a faith perspective seems a non conversation. Yet managing resources, staff, volunteers, funding, vision, power is what also goes on in the activities of churches- and causes a lot iof issues – and why my blogs on this subject get a lot of reads…
  9. Thinking. At times its as if discipleship is about compliance and adherence, not thinking – when ‘you just need a simple faith’ is pronounced- then thinking is disregarded and devolved to someone else, and that isnt healthy either. It certainly isnt good for faith construction, discovery and exploration. That we think – and this, our brain,  is God given seems absent. As my previous post said, if we spent more time thinking and reflecting, we might not go head long into mistakes or just buy the latest fad…
  10. Feelings. Yeah. see also thinking, and substitute feelings. If the Toronto blessing awakened some of these, then post Toronto fear shut them down.  Leave feelings at the door and we’ll not talk about them. Its just about learning a faith. Fearing feelings, cant do emotion here…. and then they’re seen as a weakness, not part of the humanity created by God… But Jesus had feelings that what made him human..right?
  11. Death. – unless there’s a funeral or tragedy- its reactive..? and the process of dying, bereavement, again, emotions, questions , suicide
  12. Separation and Divorce – again, part of the marriage conversation – (and maybe this is because where im at), and of course I don’t want to be talking about it all the time, but its barely an open conversation generally or thought through faithfully- and thinking about this – if sex and marriage still shapes one view of teaching in youth groups- then separation and divorce must also do as well, if we’re being realistic…

As I said, I dont think its right that these should just be ‘youth group’ subjects – when the general population in churches barely talks about them, or has thought about them in one way. I can imagine the post sermon coffee time would be interesting if debt, periods or management were discussed, and churches can as often be afraid of dealing some of the real, as they are the political. Its only recent that churches were viewed as only the spiritual place in society – and more and more what we offer is for whole communities and holistic – as one curate I know talked about periods in her church recently and within weeks men in the congregation were buying sanitary products to be put in the church toilets to give away – we might be surprised what happens for good when the lid is off a bit. It might build community from real. And yes,  some will happen as they emerge- some conversations might need prompting…

Add your own below…

Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust (www.fyt.org.uk) and Communities Together Durham (www.communitiestogetherdurham.org) , though this blog is my own personal views. I am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

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