What makes a good conversation with young people?

In the past I have given many hints and tips on how to have a good conversation with young people, I have also reflected sociologically and theologically about conversations, and suggested ways of valuing them (Ie ensure they feature in review sheets) but I wonder;

‘What makes a good conversation?’

Think about for a moment, whether you were in a pub, a coffee shop, in your home, out walking the dog even, walking in the countryside or at a beach.. what was it that made the conversation you had with someone.. a good one?

A sense of sharing?

Time flying, yet every moment being precious?

Personal disclosure?

Humour?

Good body language and eye contact?

Shared understanding?

Trust?

No fixed ending?

Equal power dynamics? Or at least awareness of these but respecting each other through it with boundaries..?

What might you add?

And whether we’re 14 or 41, 30 or 60, we sort of know intuitively when we’ve had a good conversation with someone, we felt it, we learned something, we gave something away, maybe there was a spark of life, of hope and of support or care. But we just know.

So, thinking about the dynamics of the youth group setting, the club, the school group or street..

How can spaces, become places of good conversation?

The responsibility is on us, the practitioner, the volunteer to make it so.

Though we might meet a friend in a coffee shop – the conversation with a young person might be less deliberate.. only that they might be looking for the moment

Though we might pass a conversation off as insignificant (we have loads in every session..) young people might have treasured them, or felt an emptiness without one.

The culture and setting is important for conversations. I remember that the best place for conversations was on the door of the open music night, where the young people were smoking. Inside was too loud and dark.. yet, outside was good for conversation because it was an extension of the informal space inside. How might conversation be had in the space of your setting.. I’ve seen homework clubs recently where the leaders have some great conversations with the young people, whilst they’re doing their homework. But also seen very stilted conversations with young people about a theme not of their choosing. When I say I’ve seen, it’s because I led them. When urgency to educate overrides participatory culture that is for young people.

Trust. Agreed, not only being trusted people, but as Jeffs and Smith also say, trusting in conversations themselves. Investing emotionally, in the connections, relying on the conversations for learning, for themes if any to emerge, to let tangents happen, to trust in ourselves as practitioners and volunteers to hold on in conversations, to listen and ask, not try and direct or shape..

Then again, whilst we might want to fixate on the good conversations, we might do well to treasure all the conversations and interactions we have whether it’s banter or chat, or something deeper, all are important. When doing detached work I used to have different categories of the interaction, from ‘acknowledgement'(a quick hi and bye) , a social conversation (about the local context, evenings activities) , a detailed conversation (about a subject in depth) or even a personal one (where disclosure occurred or a personal opinion shared) .. these helped us to value the nature of conversations and recognise that all had value and occurred at different points of a detached evening.. the same group might have a social chat early on or an acknowledgement and later it’s more of a detailed one, once they have found a space to settle in.

I guess if we value conversations, we might do well to recognise their variety, the changes, and their nature. But what makes them good?

And whilst we might have an idea.. sometimes the most naturally good conversations are the ones that just well, happen. We just have to create the right kind of space where young people feel at home and safe.

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An Accidental Epiphany: Mirror, Body and Self

You know the feeling when you have an epiphany moment all out of the blue? well that was me this morning.

Im aware the following image might put many of you off your tea, or breakfast or supper. So, you are warned.

But after weirdly having a bath last night, i was standing in the bathroom this morning, almost naked in front of the mirror. (yeah apologies)

And yes, i noticed that i was tanned quite nicely (its only 3 weeks since im back from tunisia) and, even with an all inclusive holiday, and some disciplined weight loss last year (3 stone) so, in a way, i have some realisation, that the very overweight pale me wasn’t what i was looking at in the mirror.

Despite the weight loss and tan i hadn’t stood and looked at myself deliberately.

I stood, looked, and thought, for the first time and said to myself: ‘I actually look ok’, and then i realised how good it felt to actually look and say to myself that i look ok.

It felt good to appreciate myself physically.

It felt good, and i sighed.

I sighed because i realised that i hadn’t done this before, and yet i did it this morning without realising it.

it was as it i hadn’t given myself permission to appreciate my own body, my own appearance, the way i looked.

As if i felt comfortable in my own skin, and appreciated it for the first time. Though in Tunisia i felt alive, with water, and being submerged in it almost all week, just fabulous. I still didn’t give myself the acknowledgement of appreciating my own skin, my own body, my own skin and bones that God has given me.

I wonder why i hadn’t done this before? had it even occured to me..

confidence? shame ? fear of ego? fear of being proud? fear of the flesh? Or just not wanting to give myself the attention that i could have done, rushing here, rushing there. all excuses ultimately. But shame, fear and unhealthy body image cripples us all doesn’t it. Diets, weight, discontentment, the lies of youthfulness and hiding reality and ageing. If only we, if only I, if only we could help ourselves by redeeming our bodies. By knowing from an early age that we have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide, nothing to be embarrassed about, despite the lies. Messages of unworthiness surround, nakedness as a shameful thing, bodies that are secondary to minds, hearts and accomplishments. I might run the risk of not realising quite how unique i am in the mirror, or loving the reflection i find there, and try to make the rest of life about satisfying a body im not respecting.

Yet, we dont, the being better, younger, fitter, smaller, thinner, pull takes over. The lies make us ignore who we are, and force us not to stop in the mirror and tell ourselves that we are already beautiful. We can feel good about ourselves… as we are.. and… so can I. 41 years into life itself, I acknowledged feeling, and acknowledged being content with who i am physically, and muttered it out loud. And it felt good. It was good. Maybe its a freeing thing.

I wonder if for me, the extensive internal work, therapy, self awareness and this process has also had an effect on how i feel about myself physically. If digging deep into the who i am, the interal may, may also have a knock on effect on how i feel about myself in my own physical skin. It might be crude to say that I have fallen in love with myself, but, actually to love ourselves is important, to healthily respect ourselves means we have contentment, a virtue that a material and commercial world would do its best to help us to not have. To be able to breathe and connect with ourselves might need us to feel good internally and have internally positive feelings about our external. Maybe it’s less about self awareness and more about resisting the lies that tell us differently about ourselves. I only hope this might be an encouragement to feel good about ourselves.

But if in giving myself the space – or more to the point – having life circumstances where my only choice, was to focus on the internal me, and be confident and aware of how i think, who i am, how i am, and my energy, passions, dreams, and becoming in tune with my emotions in a way that is fabulous, then maybe all of that leads me to stand in the mirror and go. James, you look good. And to feel good about what i saw. To feel good about myself. To like what i saw in the mirror. To almost feel at peace, to almost feel embodied.

It was an accidental epiphany. But a significant one.

I hope it doesnt put you off your tea. But i hope that you can get to a point where you can look at your own body and for your own sake do the same. It might make your life so much more fulfilling.

As John Duns Scotus said, calling it the harmony of goodness;

‘true love for the self always overflows into love for the other; it is one and the same flow. And your freedom to extend love to others always gives you a sense of dignity and power of your own self. It is such a paradox’ (taken from Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance, p103)

Can introvert young people survive in youth ministry?

Over the last few months, I have made a starting discovery about myself. I am 41, and I have started to acknowledge, embrace and identify as being more of an introvert. Most of you who know me well might have known this a while, it’s like that classic scene in the film pride when one of the characters has been thought of as being gay for about 20 years.
I guess when I look back on my life, I realise the moments where my being more introverted has been more helpful, positive and an advantage, like all things, it has maybe been a disadvantage. I look back at the various aspects of my growing up, my youth ministry and work with young people and reflect through a lens of Intrivertion.. what do I find?
I find that I loved spending time with people and talking at depth (so maybe empath not just introvert) , including my youth leaders, pastors.
I often preferred the car journey to the activity, space to talk, more than the activity.
Small groups of less that 5 I remember fondly, large groups trying to learn in a classroom I felt quiet and pressured. These are just a few examples for me, and actually when I look positively back on my youth ministry upbringing, it was the quiet, not the noise where I found a place, energy and home.
So if it’s true that more than 1/3 of all people are more likely to be on the introverted side of an extrovert/introvert scale.. how might this be reflected in the way children and young people are part of education, society, and maybe specifically for here, the faith groups and churches?
One example, and although discredited, I began training in youth ministry in the mid 1990’s and so, stuff on communication and learning styles was deemed important, and how people learn.. I can’t remember that any real attempt was made to look at or focus deliberately on young people’s learning for the more introverted. Much of trying to be attractive to young people focussing on gathering larger groups, making more noise, and this could be hard work for the more introverted. It’s not that they wouldn’t do it, but it’s not where, necessarily they find energy.
Thinking about different approaches to youth ministry, schools work, detached, centres, groups, who amongst even those who lead, develop and shape youth ministry, do we have an awareness that some young people will find some aspects difficult and tiring, not because they are bored, fed up or annoyed, or that it’s rubbish (Though these aspects could be true)
But that it’s not feeding them and giving their natural Intrivertion space to thrive and be validated. Especially if noise, large numbers and energised worship is the deemed norm.
Even thinking about group work, an introvert might needs time to think about a theme or topic, how does that work if the youth worker doesn’t know themselves the theme before the Friday before the Sunday?
There may well be countless other examples, in Sunday groups and evening clubs, where the expectations that young people like the noise and competitive thinking, drowns out the quiet, the thinkers and possibly even those who do know the right responses.
By having or defaulting to the extrovert in youth ministry, if we do, well.. Susan Cain, in ‘Quiet’ would argue that for 120 years society has shifted in this way too, and youth ministry has often followed culture to be relevant, then we might be in danger of implicitly excluding the young people who are already growing up and not fitting in, not because their not intelligent, thoughtful and perceptive, but that it takes even more energy to contribute into spaces defaulted to an extrovert ideal.
Tell me, who are the usual head boy or head girl? The popular and outgoing or the clever quiet one? Which young person in the youth club gets more heaped praise or expectation of leader, than others? Just a thought..
When we show films with young people, do any involve quiet methodical thinking and working alone? I mean.. has anyone shown ‘The theory of everything’ to their youth group, or highlighted the power of individual thinking and someone’s mind, in the discussion?.. something to validate a type of young person who may feel invisible and also may not be having their needs met or validated. Most young people won’t want to be given the bible passage or theme, the week before, to give it some thought.. but I’ll bet that the 1/3 who are discovering and needing to have their introvert side nurtured and energised might do. They’re likely to love you for it.
I look back at my growing up, and I have in a way the duke of Edinburgh award to thank for giving me this kind of space. For, in doing the bronze section I had to do a skill, and as a lazy person, I chose something I knew alot about and would do easily, so I chose Bible study. And I was given 100’s of bible passages, questions and journals to write, over 18 months. And a leader to talk through them with. The work was all scheduled, and I had to work through them one to one with a designated leader. Honestly it was wonderful. For me, aged 12/3 to have my own space to develop thinking and have space to talk one to one about it.
Maybe that where my reflective practitioner stuff began. The funny thing was that I haven’t ever really thought about how much I enjoyed what I did for those 18 months, well it feels ‘geeky’ or ‘ christian’.. and its only now how much I realise that it fuelled my introverted side. Daily bible notes were one thing, but they didn’t get validated by discussion or further thinking unless I made the effort, weekly journal to write and bible study to do… well…
So.. you might do this already, the more introverted youth minister might have the lens opened and see it, but how might young people growing up lost in an increasingly extrovert world, find home in churches, groups and youthwork that gives them life, purpose and meaning? Its not just what a person believes, it’s how they are able to enact it and participate in it…
So, if 1/3 of the few children and young people, or dare I say it adults, in your church are introverts… where might they find life and a place?

How might their natural gift and character be recognised, validated and enhanced for its gift, and not swallowed up in the noise?

I’m a secret introvert.. but that’s a good thing.

I hope I’m not a disappointment meeting me face to face

That’s something I’ve said a few times in the last few years. To the people who have read my blogs or follow me on Twitter, who then do meet me. Me, hiding behind a million words of creativity and not knowing if i live up to an expectation.It was only recently that I realised something that helped me think through all these awkward moments;November 2016 might be a significant moment for me. I couldnt say for definite how significant in the rest of the whole of my life, as i hope theres alot of other moments that happen in the rest of it.

I was delivering a talk at the Newcastle Diocese office, i blogged on it here: ‘Young people as performers of the gospel’ in which i shared with a group of youthworkers and delegates from the diocese a day of conversations on developing the space of drop ins and helping young people become performers of the gospel.It was stuff that I had just finished writing up for my MA thesis that summer.

And the first, and so far, only, time that i have communicated this in public.On one hand i was significantly under prepared. On the other I though i knew enough to be able to get my way through an afternoon session after a fairly interactive morning. So, although i got some good feedback. I still felt a little raw.

A friend who was in the room met up with me for a coffee a few weeks later. In debriefing the session they asked me whether I had considered how much of an introvert I was. Saying that they had only seen me in other situations, but when they saw me in that public space, that they identified me as being more introverted.I kind of pushed back. Me. An introvert.?That was for quiet people.

I was a youthworker, I loved conversations, i loved making myself known, i loved people.But i wasnt , and still am not, one of the crazy types. Have always been perceptive, reflective and prefer the significant conversation.. to the many conversations. In the kitchen, rather than the party.

But I pushed back, also because well, it didnt really register for me what that might mean, or help, and if it did I only thought negatively, so i didnt give it any more thought.

Ministry, youthwork was for the lively, or at least that was one space that being an introvert wasnt the place to be that in.

Also…I thought i was ok.

I thought i knew who I was, even had the audacity to publish blogs on self care for others, even try and talk about stuff like boundaries, self care and management with others.

Yet realistically, I was hiding alot.

Realistically I hadn’t really ever thought about the deep stuff.

Just thought I knew. Even now I’m only just beginning.

At the beginning of this year I met up with that friend again.

She asked me whether I had done anything about being introvert. I fessed up. Keeping up with all youthwork theory and being articulate in the knowledge stuff i really had. (Don’t accuse me of not buying a youth work book post college)But take a step and look at myself? Nope.Of course. Because she knew I was an introvert, the best thing to give an introvert is a book on being one.Its popular, it’s maybe not complete.

Quiet.. by Susan CainYet at a point in my life of significant struggle.

I devoured it.

Cover to cover with at times tears in my eyes.

Cover to cover beginning to open my eyes to look at myself.Cover to cover being ready to accept the reality of who I am.

 

But also… Cover to cover and recognise my own strengths, my own gifts, and my own power. To realise my place in the world and who I am to be able to construct and change it.

Before digging wide and providing practical reflection on what being introvert might mean in the world of youth and community work, management and leadership.

That can wait.

In a way I wanted just to share with you from me, about me and how this self discovery has been helpful. In more ways that just work.

The book helped me dispel the myths, and erradicate my own fears of what being introvert was all about, it helped me to view the changing world around and how the path of extroversion is heralded and prioritised.

It helped me realise how I think, and also how others do.

To a point.I have more to learn and dig. I have more to gain by doing so. But ignoring the me and the me when dealing with the difficult stuff was negligent on my part. Self care is one thing… becoming self aware another.

Maybe we can only truly care for ourselves when we know ourselves.Maybe I had to be ready to hear my friend. To be ready to undertake personal reflection, and for that I am thankful for the circumstances that brought me to that point.. however painful.

Oh, and maybe I’m just grateful for the friends in my life who aren’t afraid to speak and share their truth to me, knowing how much it could benefit me.

I bought the book. I confess I haven’t read it again since. But I will do.Or I’ll give it away to someone else who might need it, and benefit from it like I have. The start of a process, started from whatever age or point..

No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are. (Paulo friere)

And… being an introvert isn’t that bad, in fact, it’s better than that. Much better.If you want to hear more, and just read a book on this. here’s a ted talk

Prosecco, Pizza and Pebbles – The FYT movement gathering 2019

The red kites soar overhead in the early hot summer sky. The sound of geese hooting from the lake, the chime of an ice cream van from a distant estate, the creaking sound of the wooden poles of the yurt holding strong in the breeze.

I am just back from the FYT movement gathering held at the same venue as last year’s, the rock UK centre near Stanwick lakes, Northamptonshire. And like last year, 2 stunning days of sunshine.

Every year is different. Yet every year includes copius amounts of love, of community, of conversation, of challenge, creativity and coffee. Cake, chocolate and this year, prosecco also featured, and pizza… Well, why not celebrate 10 years of being the FYT Streetspace community.

Leaders from within shared their stories. Leaders from within shared their learning, leaders from within shared their hopes and dreams, leaders from within led in worship, leaders from within created the culture. That made everyone a leader, everyone a participant, everyone included.

 

 

 

Someone new to the movement, shared the following poem, wild geese, just as the wild geese hooted on the lakes in the distance.  A poem that sums up the weekend, that sums up what the movement is about.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things. (Mary Oliver)

Sessions on developing high participation, sessions on smashing the patriarchy, sessions on developing liminal spirituality, sessions on risk, sessions on discipleship. Sessions in between the conversations. Sessions interrupting the general community. Sessions that brought mental exercise that developed the relationships, that developed the community. Prosecco and pizza set the tone, a camp fire developed it, and ending our time with home made bread, and celebration of the fruits of the community.

Someone who was new to the community shared an emotional poem, someone new to everyone on Friday contributed and felt at home to do so. Prosecco and pizza set the tone, so did the conversations, reality and honesty.

A time to ask the questions – like – what next for pioneering? what next for developing equality? what action can be taken? what might participation look like?

And pebbles that were painted to express who we are, what we contribute and what we think of the community, pebbles that caused us to think of ourselves, and.. i admit i struggled. Struggled to think of what i might contribute, and what i could paint that would make it clear. The inner child that hated art feared making a mess, so i played safe. But that was ok. We all bring ourselves the community, including the parts we dont always find comfortable. And then we hold, or held each other through it.

Its a tribe of hope and healing. A tribe of reflection, question and learning.

A tribe of depth, of reality, of respect. A tribe where humanity is prioritised. A tribe that dreams.

A tribe that inspires, A tribe that pushes, A tribe that risks.

A tribe that walks. A tribe that talks. A tribe that makes. A tribe that creates.

A tribe that doesnt have to be good, but it does love. A tribe that wants young people to head home as we head and be home too.  Wild geese, heading home.

Prosecco, Pizza and Pebbles. The FYT Movement gathering 2019.

 

 

All youth ministry is local.

No matter what the denomination leaders say

No matter what the youth ministry specialists say

No matter what the seminar leaders at the latest conference says

No matter what the trainers at Christian ministries explain.

No matter what the latest generalised view in a book is

No matter what the latest research on a lost generation of young people says.

All youth ministry is local.

Youth ministry is only effective when it is in response to local needs guided by local convictions in the hands of young people. When community convictions and concerns, financial and leadership resources, theological and moral values when tied to ministry vision and passion, shape strategies for reaching young people.

All youth ministry is local.

I bet you thought I wrote this. That these are my words. I bet , probably aside from the reaching young people comment, that you thought that I have found another youth work book that fits a ground-up, community development approach to youth work, a community view of ministry.

But no.

These aren’t my words.

Well.. not quite..

These are written by an American youth ministry expert.

Really?..( I hear the 4 of you who will read this blog say…)

Yes.

When did they say this.. when did American youth ministry realise this..? … is it recent?

Well it is ‘new’… a ‘new’ direction in youth ministry.

A new direction… in 1998.

A voice of American youth ministry, going against the tide (Mark H Senter III) . Criticising the generalised view of youth ministry, cultural assumptions and may be the macdonaldisatuon of youth ministry programmes, resources and faith. Staying that. All youth ministry is local.

In 1998.

Shame books don’t get read much. Or affect the practice of youth ministry much. Shame this book didn’t even get chance to leave the RRC in 20 years.. (yes no one took it out)

So what happened in the last 20 years.. has UK youth ministry recognised this.. ? I wonder..

Of course 20 years later.

I’d go further. Beyond needs to gifts. Beyond programmes to participation. And what does local youth ministry look like… well it looks like conversations, group work and developing and emerging from what you have.

But that’s for another blog.

All youth ministry really is local. So look for the beauty, possibility and spirituality in the young people you have.

Reference.

New directions in youth ministry. 1998. Rice, Clark, eds

Dear community – your new youth club was a pacer train….

I get ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ I really do

but in the 1980’s at the height of transport infrastructure cuts, Leyland Buses were turned into class 140-144 pacer trains in the North and Wales.

The 1980s also saw cuts in community work and infastructure.

Now, after another decade of cuts to community and youthwork structures and buildings, and 30 years since the pacers were introduced and clocked up millions of miles (all no more than 40mph, unless going down hill) – they are being eventually coming to an end of their shelf life, not because of efficiency, but because of the disabilty and equality act. Ie step free access is almost impossible neither is there space for a disabled toilet on them.

But what now you cry – how might the ubiquitous symbol of northern transport underfunding be resurrected again?

Yes you guessed it…

The Pacer becomes the village hall.

I repeat, the pacer to become a village hall.

No its not an april fool – or a really awkward attempt by me to do a youthwork/trains crossover piece. It is here: DFT suggests turning pacers into community halls

The Pacer becomes the community space.

It was ‘all the feels on wheels’ now its for meals on wheels, it used to show people the world (very slowly) it will now be a venue for slimming world. I guess that without wheels, therell be space for a disabled toilet on them…

Its not as if there has been plenty of quality of conversations on them in the past, usually

‘could this train be any more shit’

or

‘nice to see theyve updated this one with windows that actually close’

or

‘isnt it nice to join you in this sweat box’

So – lets be honest, using them as a community centre, when theyre already a community on wheels already, a community joined by mutual hatred, despair and worry, might not be too large a leap.

Honestly, as youth and community workers, how can we complain as such obvious generosity by the DFT – and funding investment to bring community back to our communities, one pacer at a time.

And if you have another use for a pacer train, you can enter a competition to redesign one here; https://www.gov.uk/government/news/competition-will-breathe-new-life-into-an-old-pacer-train

Mission: Developing gifts on our doorstep

Notes from todays sermon, at Headland Baptist Church, Hartlepool..

Todays subject is on Fruitfulness on the frontline, and based around the subject of mission, and about mission, about fruitfulness on the frontline. 22 year ago I took part in a gap year called Oasis Frontline, and they sent me to Hartlepool back then, so talking about mission on the frontline seems to have come full circle. Today is the first of them. It got me thinking, back to those days in 1996. What was unique or special about Hartlepool? Why would I a fairly middle class boy from the midlands not stick around and do mission in my own hometown? What was the attraction of going somewhere new? In another way, did moving away make mission any more possible, any more real? Granted, for the life experience and experience of culture granted.  But doesn’t it seem a bit weird – that we might often have an elevated view of people who leave somewhere and go and do mission somewhere else.

Its as if a real missionary goes elsewhere. Or a real missionary is someone who is sent to us. In my own experience, ‘the gap year team has come to do the youthwork’ ‘the frontline team has come to enable young people to come to church’ – somehow the experts are from afar. Some how someone else is the one who knows what to do.

But thinking about it – what do they know? Or more to the point – what is that we know that we negate by defaulting mission to someone else. What might we do, to be fruitful, on our own front door step.

Jesus said, love your neighbour as yourself. Love your neighbour – who is our neighbour – well maybe it genuinely is our next door neighbour and street. Not just the work colleague, interest group – but actually the family next door, the lady who is one their own.  Fruitfulness on the frontline, love our neighbour. Thats love. Not just hope they come to church and to an event, or even alpha. But love.

We are all missionaries. It is the principle purpose of the church. Of us. Forget everything else. It is to love the world, to love our neighbour and to witness to Christ in the context that we are in. So – that doesn’t matter where we are, does it, location becomes slightly irrelevant.

If we are to be true to the intentions of Jesus today we must put in the centre of our vision not the church, but the kingdom (Lesslie Newbigin) ,

‘the church can only exist as the church of Jesus Christ when it understands itself as part of Gods mission and lives out that understanding’ (David Bosch)

‘The church is missionary by nature’  mission is its essence, not just the outcome.

Because this is the first in the series, it kind of gives me an opportunity to ask and propose a number of questions, that may require further reflection, but that I think are useful, in all we do, and all the church does is about mission.

The first thing to think about – is if the church is to do Gods mission – what is the Mission of God?

The second is – Is Gods Mission is an extention of his character (and we’re not going to do a significant theological study here) – What is God like?

And how might these two things be our starting point for thinking about the mission of the church? For this church.

It would be much easier to just respond, react and do stuff wouldn’t it.

Do the things that the church down the road say, or the next great initiative from the Baptist union, or do something that we used to do, because it worked there, or then, or with them. But is this an appropriate starting point?

What instead might it be to understand that God is ___________________, and then try and act in this way in to our neighbours, to this community.

What if we held on to this, resisting all other temptations, but genuinely loved, genuinely forgave, genuinely acted with mercy, to the extent that we were doing Gods mission, being Gods ambassadors. To that extent…

It is important, not to start with a book on mission, but to start with the God of Mission.

If we start with theology – our understanding of God – and have this be the key motivation, ethic for mission – rather than our needs, or the need of the church – then what might that be like..

To start with God who is missionary in character and nature.

God who loves, God who listens, God who forgives, God who gives.. God who is… God who is community, God indeed who communicates, the God who speaks…

 

And I wonder if we don’t think of God as a speaking God very often, and for the rest of this time together I feel that as we think about Fruitfulness on the frontline, that we contemplate the communication of God, the conversation of God and how these might help us in developing Gods mission in the local community, doing so as an extension of Gods own character and actions.

Lets think about ourselves for a moment – have a think about the last or a recent conversation that you had with someone. Over a coffee, at the workplace, walking the dog, at home in the lounge.. 

For – you what made it a good conversation?

 

Now; A  question for us all to think about…. I would like you to think about a conversation that you know of that occurs in the Bible, one that exists between God (and in the new testament Jesus) and a human person.

So, it could be an old testament character, Moses, Esther, Joseph, Elijah, Jonah, or Jesus talking to a person, a disciple.. ill give you a minute to think about one such example… pick one well known..

  1. What is it you like about the conversation? Was it a good conversation – do you think?
  2. What does this conversation reveal about God?
  3. Are conversations important.. why?

I would hazard a fairly strong guess, that the conversations that we thought of, were long in nature, were ones that we know quite well, Jesus and peter on the beach, Elijah moaning after the battle with the prophets of Baal.

Yet in 2 Kings 5 there is space for a very small conversation, a very small moment, a significant conversation.

Read 2 kings 5  1-8…

The huge effect of this one girl and what she says, wasn’t a long conversation at all

What does the Girl, the servant girl say…

The essence of what is being said – I take a risk in caring about my master, enough to give him advice

I want him to get well..

I see the effect of his illness on her mistress and want that to be alleviated. In short, it is a sentence that conveys a sense of healing, a sense of risk, a sense of wanting better for someone else.

It is a sentence that from which the commander of the army, Naaman, listened to. She might well have pushed a nerve, triggered an emotion, he may have had a soft spot for her… and we don’t know this… but it carried enough for Naaman to act. And for Naaman to go to the king and for the king to commend a letter.  The voice of the servant Girl…. i mean, could that be the voice of God..?

Yet Naaman, when given the instructions by the prophet, didn’t initially take his advice.. that was a bit too weird… 

Having travelled all that way, Naaman had to take another new risk.  However, that is for another story.

To focus on mission on the frontline we must focus on the girl.

2. Another example, recently a few weeks ago we heard a sermon on Sauls conversion,  Yet, how many conversations did God need to have with Humans that day for Saul to become Paul and then to become a follower… yes 2..

Ananias – the forgotten man – let look at this one  Acts 9:10 –  disciple who has a vision

The Lord spoke to him in a vision..

‘Brother Saul… ‘’  This is meant as a symbol of Sauls healing, of the laying on of hands, but also note the risk that Ananias had to make in doing this, and the message God gave him of Saul, saying that Paul will how much he must suffer’ – suffering is part of faith. Being a witness is a sacrificial task. Paul the zealot now has suffering as part of his commission, in effect. But the conversation Ananias has with him, and with God is interesting.

What does God promise Ananias.. ?

He gives him knowledge of the situation, he calls him by name. Maybe more importantly, God gives Ananias the opportunity to talk back – But Lord – But Lord- thats Saul….

God doesn’t seem to be adverse to the push back- have you noticed this? But God…. But God… But God…

Maybe thats for another sermon.

Ananias the hearer and doer.

And addressed Saul as brother.. you are part of us.. you are with us now. Participation, risk and belonging. Healing.

 

3. The third conversation i thought we would look at it is one involving Jesus- actually, a quick question – which conversation does Jesus have is is the longest? – who does he speak to the longest in one specific conversation?

Give you a clue, Peter Hart preached on this a few weeks ago….

Yes, its the woman from samaria.

John Chapter 4.

And We wont look at it at depth, but we will look at a few of the questions and statements that Jesus uses:

Whats the first thing that Jesus says?

‘Woman please will you give me a drink’?

What is Jesus doing here? – Stating the flipping obvious – thats what… though we know that on one hand this isn’t obvious at all. This was the kind of act that wasn’t supposed to happen, yet it was a simple act. Woman – would you serve me?

Woman, this well is here, you have a bucket – could you use what you have to serve me?

Woman – you do this every day, any chance you could share your skill with me?

Woman – you have already been brave enough, to gather water in the heat of the day – would you take a risk and serve me, a man, too…

Woman – would you give?

Woman, you are standing, i am sitting, I am tired, i am exhausted, will you give me a drink..

We might get the significance easier because we know more about the situation, but thats nearly always the case after the event isn’t it.

Yes there are resonances with Elisha and asking the woman for oil. As importantly it might be a template for the conversations we could have. Jesus tired and weary asked the vulnerable to serve him.

The church tired, weary and exhausted, might need to do the same. Shift the power, sit by the well and receive from others. Sit on the wall and wait, watch and learn, and be in a place where the most vulnerable have gifts to give, and gifts to share- if only we might ask the right kind of question – or be in the right place where their offering is available..

Jesus gave space in the conversation for participaton, for the persons action, and for people to have left speaking to him in a better place than they were before.  And he used what they had. There is alot of using what they had in the New testament, from homes, to resources, to sharing of money, gifts and talent.

We can at time focus on peoples needs, but this doesn’t seem to be what Jesus does, that often, yes peoples needs are fulfilled, and a generous God gives. But I wonder if we can focus on peoples needs too much, and our conversations might reflect this, we have a desire to fix, to repair, to save what was lost, and to be the hero.

That doesn’t seem to be how Jesus operates. Remember, God is love… God is … and we are made in the image of God. So, maybe we need a different starting point. Maybe we focus not on needs, and solving these, and think about how a person might participate, might contribute, might do something that they are good at, how they are gifted.

Our neighbourhoods are full of people, young and old, who are bakers, creators, bicycle lovers, entrepreneurs and artists and more. Our streets are not dark and dangerous, they’re bright and imaginative’ (Mike Mather)

 

One of my Jobs is with Communities together Durham..(https://communitiestogetherdurham.org.uk/

And part of this role is to help churches to create spaces in which people gather, have conversation and develop opportunities to use their gifts, use their talents. Not a group of people who share a love for an interest like a knitting group, but a group of people who discover that they can learn a skill together and use it.

Mike Mather in his book talks about the story of Lucy and her flowers. This story can be found in this book: 

a copy of which you can buy here 

Read the story of getting out of the way

Amazing the significance of a conversation, of a question.

What might mission, conversation look like if we were prepared to ask the gift questions. To sit amongst the vulnerable, and ask

what skills do you have, what would you do if money was no object, and who will help you?

Moment to reflect on these questions… How might these be used by us in our everyday – what gifts do we have that we might share… – baking- artistry, what can we give each other, that we can also give to others…

Gods mission is to love the world, it is ours too.

Love so much that we see people for who they are, love so much that we build them up, we get out of the way, we sit tired by the well and let them use their gifts to serve us, we forget having the answer and be open to the wisdom of other, the person with the surprises who heals. Every conversation we have is a moment of theatre, every conversation is a moment where the ongoing drama of Gods redemption is carried onwards, is acted out. We are all missionaries, all conversationalists, even on social media, conversation is big business, everyone wants to hear from us. Sometimes the best conversation is the silent calm one. To think that we need to be ready to do the Mission of God, or professional, is not correct, we do the mission of God, from the place of our own normality, maybe our own desert place, our own reality, and have you noticed, that even in your desert place there is still energy to be generous, energy to give, energy to be used by God to love others. We are always on the frontline, discipleship and mission is a full on task of us all.

Our conversations that focus on the gifts of others might in reality be the most healing ones, our healing conversations might be those who help people to discover who they are, what they can do, and how they might contribute, not just to the functionality of the church, but the purposes of Gods mission in the bigger created world, the fixers, makers, artists and creators, the restorers, welcomers and the generous.

Reflect on the persons who don’t feel they have purpose who you meet, why not discover their passions, their interests. How might this be how we create the possibility of fruitfulness on the frontline. Its Gods world that we are all part of.  Might our fruitfulness not depend on us, but on how we encourage other to use theirs.

 

Can detached youthwork be ‘asset based’ and develop young peoples gifts?

We’ll not speak to those young people – they’ve not got alcohol on them

They appear to be ok, we’ll leave them alone

I doubt if its them who are causing the anti social behaviour calls

These are all phrases I have used on detached youthwork. Its that thing where you go out, of an evening, to try and talk with young people on the streets, develop contact and relationship, and all of sudden in the heat of the moment, a whole load of baggage arises to the surface that kind of stops me from doing what i might be meant to be doing.

In a busy environment like a city centre where i did detached youth work a few years ago, it may have been possible to make those filter judgements because it was always busy. On a smaller community estate where there might only be a few groups of young people having this in built filter might mean it could be a quiet evening.  At least quiet because all the young people we see are being normal decent young people, playing in parks, kicking a ball around, and not really need us. More importantly, that we in those moments dont see that they are worth working with.

Because they dont display needs

Because they dont show us in their actions that they fulfil funding criteria

Because they seem sorted

Because we might not be able to tick boxes in working with them

Because its not what we’re about.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of delivering detached youthwork training to a group of sessional staff just north of Inverness. The feedback from them was really positive and it was a great 2 days. One of things that shaped the planning of these sessions for me was how focussed on ‘needs’ the teams, and communities were in relation to developing detached youthwork. There were kids playing near railways (single track lines with one train per 2 hours- not intercity lines, ((and even the intercity line has 2 trains per hour, hardly busy.. however) , young people starting to gather near to some town centres, vandalism and stone throwing. Whilst none of these issues are in any way pleasant, positive and they cause significant harm, and fear and isues about safety, of course. Often detached youthwork starts off from a perspective of need. Though to be fair also, much reactionary youthwork in buildings has done the same .

Conversations about moving from needs to gifts have occured in community development practice, and in youth work generally.  Peter Harts article in Youth and Policy 117  does identify that asset and needs based approaches do run concurrently in youthwork at times, he argues that

However, I would argue that as a general framework in which to understand the differences in
approach to out-of-hours work with young people between secular and Christian organisations is
through their occupational paradigm, model of youth work and assumptions about young people,
approach to risk, and dominant philosophy of ethics. (Hart, 2015, Youth and Policy 115)

Saying that needs and gifts are both part of the equation.

One of the recent new books I have been given for free from the North East Resources centre  is the following one : ‘Dont Shoot I’m a detached youthworker’ by Inez and Mike Burgess. Im reading the first few pages and see the following:

  • The service we provide is ‘needs‘ led (page 8)
  • identify groups of young people in patch and record any relevant dialogue linked toissues and needs…….(page 10)
  • listen carefully to young peoples thoughts allows a good detached youthworker to develop a while range of dialogue, as well as gaining information about the basic picture of young persons needs (page 12)

Now,  this is one of the few recent detached youthwork books that i hadnt read, and its why i lapped up a free copy. However, I am acutely aware of how influential this book is. I am also aware that issues and needs get youth workers to the streets  (i feel its like fascists bring citizens with milkshakes to the high streets) . And Peter Hart may be on to something, and my experiences, not just in Inverness but with FYT are that detached youthwork that is not primarily funding or community police set up can have a more positive footing.  It meant that to talk about young people and their gifts, their assets and use detached youthwork to focus on their was refreshing and powerful to the group of workers in Inverness.

Yet, I wouldnt be sticking my neck out too far to say that developing detached youthwork on the basis of the gifts of young people might be rare. To start with viewing young people with more dignity and humanity. To start by enabling young people to be part of the decision making process about any youthwork provision, to have conversations with them about their passions, their dreams, their abilities and how they might contribute to enable these to occur. And that could be all young people.

Somehow sadly, detached youthwork may be stuck in a needs orientated paradigm, created by those who need it a soft way of addressing community fears ( by the police) and this, as Peter says above, will shape the approach, or at least be the guiding lenses within which to develop practice into. Have predetermined issues, discover needs and then bam!, problem solved. But it isnt is it.

It is almost as if detached youthwork really isnt caught between the two stools of assets and needs, more that it is caught between a rock of funding and reaction – or none at all. Because of this, the many young people who are just being around, who are still victims in a society which has cut services to them by a staggering amount, are even likely to be given opportunities to thrive, to participate and to be decision makers in their own provision.

I wonder if it is more difficult to do ‘asset based’ detached youthwork out on the streets, because the setting is already so politicised and deemed ‘anti-social’, ‘frightening’ – that its difficult to see past all of this when trying to talk with young people. This may be different to when young people are in buildings that are youth orientated, its only a guess or a thought. Can young people show their gifts on the streets – of course they can – it is just up to us to look and maybe intentially look and find them.

Maybe any detached youthwork in the UK is better than none, and it wouldnt take a university study to reveal how decimated detached youth work has been in the last 10 years. But, if detached youthwork is to come back – and there are signs it might do – can those of us who develop it do their level best to shape it in a way that is about not identifying groups and problems, but discovering the gifts, abilities and good things about young people, and enabling them to explore their dreams, potential and how they want to make a difference. In this case, we have to sort out our langauge, our questions, and how we start from scratch. What if detached youthwork could enable young people to develop their gifts?  What might asset based detached youthwork look like?  (and im sure its happening, please if you do this, share details below)

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