20 alternative commandments for zoom worship services

After the proliferation and emergence of zoom worship services this weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to issue a set of guidelines for anyone who attends a zoom church service for the first time, just so that these service are appropriately respected for all.

  1. PDA (public displays of affection) is particularly awkward if you dont appear on the same screen, and the vicar can still see if you’re making extra glances at the person you fancy even if you’re not in the same room.
  2. The eucharist problem is now solved, agreed, whether it is the real blood or not, is less of an issue because you can now choose the drink of choice, so ribena, red wine, Bloody Mary, cranberry juice, whiskey with added raspberry, are all options, you can now choose.
  3. Yes you can sit in the same seat every week, its your couch.
  4. The welcoming team consists of the oldest son shaking hands with the whole family as they sit down on the couch
  5. alternatively type ‘welcome’ and ‘yes ive had a good week’ in the text box, as you sit on the couch- just to make it authentic.
  6. Commenting on the service needs to occur in text ‘private mode’ (preferably so that the vicar can’t see it) , mistakes here could be awkward, and rely on there grace of the vicar which at this time shouldn’t be tested.
  7. By all means when the vicar is preaching you can play your own background music, suggestions including comforting jazz or instrumentals are advisable, it is less so to use death metal or the eclectic somewhat underrated music of Eminem to accompany the exegesis of this weeks passage.
  8. During the grace, please all stand with your hands wide to look like we’re holding hands, then move your head to look around the room at no one in particular, dont ask why, but this is what we do during this.
  9. If going to the bathroom- please respectfully use the mute button.
  10. Please note; we can all still hear you snore.
  11. If you would like to wear provocative, suggestive or even no clothes; for the benefit of other parishioners, please select the ‘no video option’, you are all welcome to come as you are. Or do wear respectable upper clothing and select video, be mindful of the needing to get up and toilet option, and dont forget to select no video. The church, even on zoom, probably should not have to deal with that.
  12. Please no pets , we have some people, who even on zoom have allergies.
  13. Songs that require a round, please participate as your box turns yellow. Songs will soon be written for the requirement of zoom speaker view. So do join in, one screen at a time, maybe even take one line each. We are inclusive, and do sing loud at the back, give it your best. Family rounds will be the new thing.
  14. Please be mindful of the background that you decide to sit in front of, not everyone needs to see your drying laundry on a radiator, or the slightly awkward family photo on the book shelf. Sitting in the study is probably slightly too pretentious for many congregations, just a simple sofa in a conservatory overlooking a pond, and the birds, gives a perfect backdrop to worship it also mean the vicar who can see you all, has actually something interesting to see on the screen.
  15. During the talk, the children can especially take part in a range of activities on the kitchen table, and we do hope that they can show these pictures at the end of the service showing them to the screen, we would like all to use the reaction button to indicate whether you actually can tell what any of them are.
  16. Do turn up on time, although we do realise than even with one less car jounery some families will still struggle to get to the sofa on time, after all its always the nearest who are late, please refrain from marital argument on the couch, during the service, it was both of your fault that you were late, no, actually, both of your fault, no not the devil either, but both of you. If you cannot refrain, then zoom marital counselling can be offered, and please do indicate this using the ‘help me button’
  17. Do drink coffee, tea and eat snacks during the service, we would prefer that you have non noisy snack, so not crisps or nachos, preferably a soft roll with cheese, or meat, muffins, cakes, no noisier than a noise of a soft biscuit , such a Jaffa cake, or garibadi, but not a rich tea, or cream cracker- and be mindful that you may have sing soon and we do not like singing with your mouthful.
  18. There is no notice sheet during the service, so do check the website, but we realise for many of you the notice sheet acts as distraction from the sermon, so on this basis, feel free to instead of focussing on the sermon do click a link to the latest veggie tales instead .
  19. At the end of the service to replicate the movement of the church to the back, each person must stand synchronised, and then walk 5 times around the coffee table, as Mum waits at the front door, and thanks them all for coming as you all proceed out of the front door, and drive to the local coffee shop (take away only) – alternatively head back into the kitchen.
  20. After the service there will be a faith lunch, to take part all you need to is move the laptop or phone onto the kitchen table, where we will participate in zoom fellowship, zoom sharing of food, zoom quiche, zoom sausage roll ministry followed by zoom comparing who has made the best desert this time. Yes its often the pavlova do join in the chat , have a lovely time.

I am hopeful that adherence to these guidelines will significantly aid you in the ongoing worship during this difficult time for us all. This post is in no way to discourage zoom worship at all.

25 things for the youth and community worker to do during the Coronavirus outbreak

By now, most of you reading this will have probably cancelled youth group meetings, youth clubs and detached sessions, today I have suspending normal operations and trying to organise responses to this crisis. And it has crossed my mind, that as someone who is used to a youth work office, the regular face to face contact of young people, the delivery, then removing this, and there energy that this brings is likely to feel like a loss, a grief. Face to face is what we do, mostly isnt it.. but not now… not for a few weeks – so – what can you do now – assuming that you’re now working from home – should this be possible. Heres 25 suggestions:

  1. Make a list. No seriously. Make a list of all the things that you are going to do, things you have been putting off because its been too busy.
  2. Take a moment. Breathe. Now look at that list, and think – the most important thing right now is to look after myself. Yes, youth worker reading this, who gives countless hours of physical and emotional time, this is time to stop. You are human like everyone else.
  3. Maintain some contact with young people via other methods, though ask their permission first – also ask how regular they would like to be contacted – might be a time to be creative and set up a youth club WhatsApp group or something…
  4. Think about the other equivalent people in your role in the local community, youth workers, community workers, clergy even, and suggest keeping in touch and support each other, and check in now and then.
  5. Maybe even suggest that you could have local response meetings via online video software
  6. Have lengthy chats with other youth workers on the phone, share ideas, reflect and build community and networks – time to help each other out a bit…
  7. Read a book. No. Read many – and a tip – read books on youthwork that you usually put off or might be for a role you dont do, like supervision or management – read ahead of the direction you might be going in. Now may be the time to read – maybe even set up a virtual reading group as youth workers
  8. See all that admin that you were putting off? well..- not going to tell you how to suck eggs – but now is the time to reflect on your practices – and you have the time to do so in depth.. think about:
  9. The plans, planning, aims and objectives
  10. The values, principles and purposes of what you do
  11. How you record and monitor the work – do the session reviews need updating? (now might be the time)
  12. Is this the time to consider the training needs of staff and volunteers?  and do something about this, by writing up some guidance or training
  13. What about evaluation?  are you doing this ?  is this a time to think about this process more?
  14. Think about how you support others – what needs reflecting on in terms of volunteers, supervision, recruitment and their involvement?
  15. Basically, now might well be the time to look at what you do, and some of processes of the planning, reflecting and evaluation can be thought through and developed.
  16. Is now the time to update the website? – yeah possibly..
  17. Funding reports? yeah I know… – but a funding strategy might be worth developing now – develop streams of funding, and get things set up
  18. Maybe its time to think about the overall approach of what you do – have you started to see the signs of boredom in young people – have you started running out of ideas- are you drained?  – then maybe there’s an approach shift required – and this might be the time to give it some thought
  19. It could be a good time to have one to one conversation with young people – if you call them, then you might be able to ask them some really interesting questions, feedback on the youth activity agreed, but also about how they are, what they perceive the needs are locally – it might be an opportunity to recover some listening/research into the project – that you might have lost
  20. Read a book – yeah – honestly, saying it again as its worth saying twice. – Suggestions of mine below.. do add your own…
  21. Write a guest post for this blog? – youve been putting that off? – but go on share your story, case study, question – it might help others
  22. Whether planned or accidental, if you can, stop a bit, and do what you can to make the most of the time, it could be an opportunity, and yes I might not be saying this in three weeks time..
  23. Im sure there’s an admin task you hadn’t got around to that’s lurking around at no 23 of a 25 point list, insert it here______________
  24. Although no one quite knows when normality will return – but making some of the good use of this time may at least prepare you for it.
  25. And you. Again. Look after you, busy, stressed, youth and community worker – yes, keep doing what you can, and maybe even get involved locally with supporting neighbours and friends… but… you are important – focus on you. Maybe take some time and seek out someone to have a deep chat with – more than practice supervision – but to share and get stuff off your chest, maybe this is a time to focus on the personal you, the you and your self awareness, and who you are – this crisis might be the making of you. (no trust me on this)

You probably have a billion and one other things too… its weird that when some of the urgent stuff about delivery leaves the task list, its hard to focus or remember about the rest.. and that’s partly why I’ve written these above – they might be useful for you as a gentle prod. Most of the time we dont do these important things because were too busy – but when were not busy they can still be forgotten…

Official guidance from NCVO on the coronavirus is here: 

Oh and – book suggestions here please – to encourage others… my recent favourites include:

Poverty safari – Darren McGarvey

Utopia for Realists – Rutger Bregman

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Out of Control- Natalie Collins

The man you’re made to be – Martin Saunders

Notes on a nervous planet – Matt Haig

Critical issues in youth work Management – John Ord

please put yours below:

Its 2030: How might the church reach Generation C?

In this unprecedented time, I thought it might be an opportunity to do a little forward planning, especially for those of us involved in christian mission, youth ministry and church.

We need to start making preparations for the state of youth ministry in 10 years time, where there will be an emergence of a new generation, from Baby Boomer, Generation X, Y, Millenial and Generation K, all neatly diagnosed into generalisations, hubris and condemnation, and no diagnosis really helped anyway, but flick the digital clock forward 10 years and there’ll be a new generation emerging. And although Rick Bartlett wrote in 1997 about reaching millennials (and 23 years later nothing has changed) , Its pertinent to start thinking about Generation C.

So- what will be generation C? – well they’ll have the following characteristics…

Unlike previous generations that have a time span of 12 -15 years (1945-1970, 1970-82, 83-2000) Generation C are more specific, for they are born between December 3rd and December 25th 2020, by virtue of being conceived, at precisely 10.30pm on Saturday 14th March 2020, when there was an additional early bedtime in the TV slots due to no Match of the Day being shown.  (and who stays up to watch repeats of Mrs Browns boys). And 3000 babies as a consequence are now due to be born in the early part of December 2020.  Whilst there are a number of additional children born later into early 2021, it is these March 14th conceptions that are the spike in the demographic. Since 2021, there have been many conferences to ascertain whether ‘Generation C’ covers all of them, and if there’s a Generation C, and Generation C+ for 21/03/2020 onwards conceptions.

The early pregnancies of the Generation C babies are affected by the combination of heightened anxiety caused not by a bacterial virus that started to take hold, but by the narcissistic incompetence of the two main leaders of the free world during that time, and this fear transmitted through to these babies, and so, they became empaths in the womb, detecting emotion, and a desire for comfort and security.  (in case you hadn’t noticed every generation is produced under fear or mourning conditions, WW2, Cold War, Diana death,,,)

An internal resilience underwrites the capacity of Generation C, they have an inner resolve, for as they are born, their first few years are affected by an international community and make do attitude. The Virus, has raised the bar of humanity and the great waves of decadence that fit the previous 50 years and 3 generations is over. These children become loved. Loved because love has become more important than entertainment, money or ego (that, is after the two world leaders have been removed). These children are raised in shared clothing, have reused chairs and accessorises, and are raised in larger communities who have created bonds and stuck together through the 2020 outbreak. Neighbours help with baby sitting, like they’ve shared food from the garden during the pregnancy.

Unlike some generations, Generation C children have a craving for the outside world, to explore and be in the countryside, this is as a direct result of the self isolation of their pregnant mothers in 2020, who were unable to experience this, as soon as the wind hits the face of the baby gen c, it awakes. Nature is craved by Generation C like no generation before.

Like every generation before it, and so, this is probably a statement of the human condition, (or the call of many youth ministry leaders who seem to decry this as an ideal, yet barely fulfil it), its a generation that not only has a high value for authenticity, but so much, that as babies they can detect extreme situations of bullshitting. This is in part due to the visceral reactions of Generation C parents to the television when either of those unnamed world leaders appeared during the crisis.  The term Baby Bullshit detector is coined for Generation C babies who develop an acute vomit reflex when they spot a fake, or a narcissist anywhere close. It is the first generation where emotional capacity is passed through the womb, and evident in them as babies.

Unlike the Millenials, and the Generation before Generation C (B?) – this is not a generation who are able to receive the full nutrients that world wide commercialism has to offer in their growth. It takes 5 years for Generation C children to undertake the basic taste of avocado on sourdough for breakfast,  (some Generation B are weaned on this), quinoa is later, 10 years, and the luxury of fragranced toilet paper during potty training is something only afforded to the few (those who live so near to a supermarket that they see the delivery arrive). Generation C are not blessed with variety and choice, there is still rationing in the shops as they grow up, they navigate a weird dichotomy of their parents queuing up for toilet roll, whilst at the same time being able to have electric power cars that have internet connectivity.

So, reaching Generation C, the 10 year olds in 2030, is going to take some monumental efforts. Luckily by then, there will be other resources published like ‘mourning the end of baby boomer church’ , ‘leading as an Xer on your own, and pleading one millennial to pop by the avocado toast faith breakfast’ and ‘theres so many generations can we just not agree this is all a bit generalising’  by then. But this group of 10 year olds will attract significant interest. Channel 4 film makers will follow their progress for decades, sociologists will ask them questions for research, and YFC will find one who might be a christian and develop a resource.

This sense of community and limited spoiling means that Generation C are not clouded by materialism in a way that previous generations are usually said to have. They have a big regard for community and relationships, because they experience them, and not just in the immediate family. They are inclined to nature and spirituality, and value things that are more important that objects and things – such as personal connections and touch.

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…

Why practice supervision should be an essential for youth and community work/ministry roles

I sometimes think I just get paid to drink coffee. But I dont. Well, actually I do.

Actually I get paid to be a practice supervisor with community and youth practitioners and do this mostly in coffee shops around the north.

And sometimes I think i’m the only person that’s doing this, or thankfully working with organisations (or self employed) who also value this. Though im probably not… but..

In the main, usually, I supervise practitioners on a 6/8 weekly basis, and I hope, at least, I think, that this is deemed valuable for those who receive it.

For those of us who have had a high regard for practice supervision, that its deemed a luxury can be a tragedy, and real inhibitor to the encouragement of good practice, why?

Well, because supervision that’s non managerial, helps a person look at what they do, with an outside view, gives them the opportunity to describe to someone else what it is they’re doing, what their ideas are, what the issues might be, what the challenges or joys are – and in good supervision be reframing this as they talk.

Be already working out the response the issue, without much input.

Other times, the story, the situation provokes a question from me

On other occasions I might refer to a theory, a book or the example of someone else – so that the practitioner connects with another

Or they’ll talk, and ill listen, and ill just let the conversation keep going, until the practitioner has worn themselves out… and the issue isn’t the issue at all.. its something else, and we got there in the end…

I might ask : ‘so.. what are you learning?’

or ‘are you sure?’  or

‘is there anything else going on?’

or just ‘ keep talking..’

‘what theory might this remind you of’

or

‘how might your theology inspire you here, where are the resonances’ (to the faith based practitioner)

The whole aim of supervision, in this way, is to encourage, to affirm, to help the practitioner reflect, to give them space to realise the new themselves – and I know sometimes I might want to share an idea, and I probably do too much, but am learning to stay quieter for longer.

I do despair that so often this kind of reflective space in supervision isn’t deemed essential for roles – sometimes management is barely adequate to be honest, sometimes practice reflection might highlight the need for better management…

But if management is about helping a person set and then meet designated goals, then supervision, for me, if the roles are separate, is more open, set by the practitioner, with subjects, content in what they want to talk about – reflect on, share – and yes the conversation might wander…It’s the space of the practitioner, and this, I think is the crucial bit. And it is safe. It is a place to do real if need be, if it needs to be a space of wallowing, of heartache, then it might need to be – but then it is also a place where the rebuild might occur, through the conversation.

Because its tough out there in ministry, community work, youth ministry – isn’t it?  really tough.. pulled in all directions, managing up and downwards, delivering and planning practice, trying new things..pressure to keep organisations going, worry, stress.. and so, whilst supervision might not be the only answer… its a place to step out and reflect. To breathe….

are you telling me that this isn’t essential?  no though not…

I have had to be manager/supervisor to a few people, and id almost have to pre empt a change in style to go between the two saying ; ‘you know im not often like this, but,  I will say that you need to do_____’ – and be more directive in that moment- when the rest of the time I might be more reflective.

Its as if they are improvisatory conversations, within which there’s reminders of the tools already available, reminders of the resources that are within grasp and reminders that the person genuinely isn’t alone.

And its great, in the main, to hear of the progress of a project,  the learning of an individual, the change a person might make from one supervision to another, and not everything happens to plan, ever, and not everything even happens at all – but if its taken seriously, then the process can be valuable, I hope through reading this you can tell that is.

So church – if you value your youth workers, clergy even – creating and purposefully including non managerial supervision (and its different from spiritual director/retreats/management) as part of their role might be the best thing you could do for them.

So, yeah, I get paid to have coffee, on one hand. Maybe I get paid to increase the longevity, creativity, support, learning, awareness of community and youth workers, and do this through conversation- helping community and youth workers discover that they can do this themselves..and that they’re ok…  Though I might need shares in the many local coffee shops in the north….

10 years of austerity; is mission fatigue creeping in?

I am just sitting in a cafe in Newcastle, having a bit of an unexpected time to myself, it was a day when I could have met and had three conversations with different people, work related, and in the end I only had one. But that’s ok.

For I think its ok to stop. Every now and then stop.

Its 10 years since Austerity began, 10 years since the big society, 10 years since the gaps began to appear, in a bigger way than there was before, 10 years since faith group began an onslaught of activity motivated by compassion, anger and even a desire to be respected. There has been a serious amount of ‘doing’ in the last 10 years.

Its street pastors, youthwork, community lunches, transport, cafes, food banks, community centres, family work, dementia care, financial responses, child care, and the list goes on…

Mission fatigue may well be creeping in. It wasn’t going to take long, an ageing church 10 years ago filing the cracks, was going to tire, and no manner of additional support and training is going to help when the next crack is revealed, by the latest organisation wishing to fill it with the latest need for volunteers. The next new thing might be the thing that energises then exasperates the collective empty tank.

Are you with me?

Anyone else feeling it?

Maybe no amount of concerted resilience and determination is enough, one more session, one more activity, one more need to fulfil, it is sometimes incessant.

It might have to stop. You might need to stop.

The wheel of need keeps turning, so maybe, if your programme or ministry is young, its worth projecting ahead, before the burnout kick in

‘one strength of this project, is that I haven’t thought about quitting this week’

said a youthworker to me in the last year

‘we’ve been doing a holiday club every year for the last 6, we’re just tired’.

was a response to an email this week

Maybe missional tiredness is kicking in, because not only the need is great, but also its twinned with a responsibility that its more relied on than ever. 10 years ago there might have been suggestions that the church was one of the catalysts of the end of the welfare state, mission that was social action became a reason to exist. Now.. ? what next?

Because the church that aged 10 years is not going to exist in the next 10. No really. And look around, there aren’t many 40 year olds in churches, except the very few. the very few that exist in university towns, or those who went hard at attracting young families.

And I wonder whether its not that mission fatigue might cause a case of serious reflection. For its not good enough that the same warn out people jump into a different ministry. They need a break. They need a proverbial cancellation of two appointments to catch a break.

But what if the reflection causes a time to think about approach.

What if Mission fatigue is caused because the church has assumed a giving role.

Think about it..

Think about all the conversations in the streets,  the foodbank, the lunch club, the activity… do you as the ‘church’ take the role of the giver, the provider, the server of the community – and so then- what is expected of you?

For all those involved to keep giving, serving and giving and serving of themselves?  And that tank has only so much left in it. You are expected to give, to listen, to serve… and possibly even hope that the divine God might back fill your giving by restoring, strengthening and tending to you, though the means that you find restoration in.

But what if there was a different way?

Because that just feels exhausting… and if you’ve read this far, you’re already thinking of all the things you do and realising how much it takes out of you…

What if you stopped giving, and started receiving, instead?

Yeah, stopped trying to solve, fix and serve – but instead listened, received and built together?

But we’ve always done things this way, you might say, but for how much longer….?

I wonder whether there might be a greater energy in creating community and developing more mutual approaches, so that rather than a serving giving model, its more a mutual community participation and collective model, one where giving occurs as well as receiving,

And yes that means that the power dynamics shifts, but that is no bad thing.

One thing I notice is that the places where there are mutual conversations, where community grows through the sharing of gifts developing these, there feels more energy, compared to a purely serving approach.

If working upstream is another response, then we might need to proverbially stop in the cafe and consolidate, and realise that not only can’t we carry on as the church filling the gaps, but do more, significantly more at challenging the system, and the ideology that creates the gaps. If the church continues to have a reason to be because of horrific cuts , then it could be seen as complicit. But a reason to be, is only lasting so long, its bloody tiring.

Im glad there are those that can hold this government to account, bishops for one in the house of Lords, and challenging local authority decisions has been done is the many acts of social action, political action  that have been taken, and developing community organising has been one approach that has done this, challenging low pay, racism and other systems.

So, there’s not only a call to sustain ourselves, but also to look through the fatigue and tiredness and reflect on whether actually we can keep the way we do what we do sustained forever, and contemplate a different response that could be more sustaining. The food bank cannot carry on forever, neither should it. Can we do Ken Loach out of job in terms of making real life films about poverty, however good they are. If we’re serious about solving the problems in society then our burnout isn’t the solution.  But, reading, thinking and reflecting on poverty, social justice and community actions, development and education might be. Sustaining ourselves is key, but sustaining ourselves in roles that consistently drain (even with good support and management) might be to be reflected on. Its not that churches need more time to argue with each other about practices or theology or sex – but that being prophetic is to be in tandem with being practical.

If you are missionally fatigued – might it be that you have given too much, tried too hard, and missed the reality that its not just faith that might sustain you, but that there are gifts in the community that are there and can be given… you can take a break…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young people; What would you like the church to do for you?

The original title of this piece was going to be ‘The Future of youth ministry..who decides?’  because it was what I was thinking about as I was reflecting on a number of conversations, conferences and meetings that I have been involved in the lot few months. They all seem to go like this:

We need to decide on our Aims and objectives and go from there

Young people aren’t attending churches, we need to ensure that there’s more faith taught at home

its great to gather a whole load of professionals into a room to decide how we might reach _______ people

Maybe our next step is to raise some funding for a role

We need to get back to the gospel

And however, worthy these conversations are, and they are many. Far too often, far too regular, the decisions about the future of any faith based ministry are conducted by the gatekeepers of the faith, rather than the participants and receivers of the provision themselves. The future of youth ministry is in the hands of those who benefit from it, survived it, became leaders within it, and are now invested in it maybe financially, or those who represent the agencies of faith – the church.

This occurs in the local and national levels. A charitable organisation, that delivered detached Youthwork in the north east of England only governed by church volunteers/clergy (organisation now closed btw) , a charity deciding on its future direction has only clergy making decisions, all influenced by other factors, and not the 1000’s of young people whom it has met with in the last 20 years. By the way, this isn’t new.

As Naomi Thompson illustrated in her expensive book, Young People and the church since 1900, churches made decisions on the future of Sunday schools based on a number of factors, but not one, was on the effect on the local community, or the long term of legacy of closing the door on swaths of the local community. Largely it was based on a retention statistic. If only 2% of attendees of Sunday school kept going to church, then Sunday school itself needed to be adapted. And, individual churches made a change. That statistic increased to 4% over the course of 30 years. Why? because Sunday schools stopped being available to everyone on a Sunday afternoon, and moved to Sunday mornings to be ‘creche’ for the church going families.  Churches didn’t change and adapt to accommodate the 2 million chidden in Sunday schools in 1900, Sunday schools changed to try and improve a statistic. And largely, this was achieved successfully, 🤔;

If an element of disharmony did exist between churches and Sunday schools, then the move to the ‘family church’ model provided a way for then church to seize power or even to sabotage or bury their affiliated Sunday schools. Cliff emphasises that Hamiltons observation that 80% of Sunday school members were from non church background were reversed when Hamilton died in 1977 to 80% from church backgrounds. This was not due to any growth and thus highlights the failure of there strategy to retain non-church young people. Cliff attributes this to the failure of the church members to become mentors (to non church families/young people) that Hamilton proposed. A church of England report (1991) report acknowledged, if viewed as an evangelistic tool, ‘family church’ was unsuccessful. However it argues that it helped to retain young people in churches longer (7 1/2 yrs from 6) and doubling the % of those children becoming church members 2.3% to 4.8%. Arguably these changes in figures were more likely due to the decline in numbers of non church scholars in Sunday schools, than any growth in actual numbers of young people attending church. (Thompson, N, 2018, p49)

A few things to note here. Family church was a reaction to a statistic and was catastrophic in changing the dynamic of Sunday schools, it was also strategically implemented by the church with no consultation to the Sunday school and… damningly, done to bury Sunday schools which churches wanted rid of. The Statistic was improved, but at what cost…. and did it focus the church on spending more time with the most likely young people… ? Though if in 1977 young people spend 7 years in Sunday schools… I wonder how long this is 43 years later…

The example is particularly telling in that for Sunday schools we could replace this with ‘faith based youth work activities’ that exist today. The gravitational pull can be exactly the same ; ‘how many of the 1000’s of young people do you see in school, ever come to church’ and if there are decisions to made about funding – what part might the same statistics play. Recent church attendance statistics have formed the basis of many a blog post and discussion recently.

Who decided the future of youth ministry /faith based youthwork in the UK?   – the reality is that the same culture of statistics and church attendance affects the decision making today – still 50 years or more on. The thing that has barely changed is the church. (there were guitars in churches 50 years ago- as if that makes a difference)

So – might we ask a different question – from who decides on the future of youth ministry – and leaders within holding the proverbial keys – might there be bravery and ask instead:

Young people ; what would you like the church to do for you?

For- the future of UK youth ministry is barely going to reside in the organisations and colleges, neither is on twitter on blog post clicks. If the church is actually serious about young people – it will bend over backwards to not only hear their voice but also make changes and receive young people as contributors. Maybe also the future of youth ministry is less about service to the organisation and its numbers – members – but about young people.

Its also the Jesus question. If the begging man, bartimaus is on his knees, and Jesus asks him this question out of respect – then maybe surely , if young people are cast at the powerless party in their provision- then maybe this is a better question, that trying to do something, and keeping doing the same something, or doing the same something but trying to be bigger than last weeks something. Without actually giving young people the same dignity and respect that Jesus actually would. Come to me he said.

What might young people want the church to do for them? 

And if they say to **** off, then fine. But why might they say that – what’s the hurt? 

And if they say – we want a safe space… then… create it with them?

And if they say – we want you to help us with changing the world – then develop this together

And if they say- can we just sit and chat – then bring out load of activities, games, talks and ……. no just sit and chat….

But what’s the point you say? will it preach the gospel? will it bring young people into church?  

Im just not sure numbers and statistics and strategy have the greatest of track records in their influence of youth ministry, and neither church as the destination or presiding decision maker in the process.  Maybe those that hold power need to give it away…

Dear Young people – there’s a few thousand empty church buildings in the UK, and a group of people in churches who have no idea that you even exist at times, and presume a whole load of things about you. But they do often mean well, and would love to begin listening, and have a building, and sometimes a heart and time – what would you like us to do for you?  Could you tell us what we could do, with you, to help your life be better, to develop your passions and gifts, to build a community where you and we feel safer, to respond to the things that you’re struggling with? 

We might be small – but could you trust us with your answer and be part of making it happen together?