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Does Youth ministry need to stop trying to be innovative?

What do churches mean when the job advert says ‘pioneering & creative’ – has someone before ran out of ideas? – and its a new idea that is always required?

My previous post exposed the frequency in which youth ministry adverts require someone to have innovation and creativity within their personality and skill set. It has been quite a well read piece, with a number of ensuing conversations, especially as innovation and experience and passion and qualification might be a mix often required, but almost now impossible to find. But one of the questions from this is, what wrong with ‘non’ innovative youth ministry – and maybe more pertinently – are there risks to trying to stay innovative?

There has always been the drive for the new idea – since 100 best ideas for youth ministry, 50 icebreakers, 60 great ways to talk about Jesus, 97 stories that will make young people cry and come forward to Jesus all were published (sort of) – it seems finding ideas is tantamount to the style of education and teaching in youth ministry. And it doesnt still stop…. because the vicar is still asked to do an assembly, the youth minister is asked to do ‘a service’ or talk – the market for ideas is still there. Ideas driven youth ministry is still alive and kicking.

The risk might be to forgo the ideas, the challenge might be to develop different patterns for youth ministry. The reflection might be on why ideas are crucial, and what is this saying about what we think about youth ministry or the church and its message? Are we afraid of what the gospel requires of us and young people, and wrap it up into something quite different? Does a drive for innovation cause us to forget some of the good stuff and ways of the past that were good, and are as or more appropriate now than before. Why the trend for innovation? and its bed-fellow ‘risk taking’?  Image result for innovation

A youthworker in the south of England, Loyd, shared with me their story and reflection on ‘risk taking’ on ‘innovation’ and the effect this had on him, his youth ministry and church. His story is as follows:

A few years ago I was at Soul Survivor with my youth group.  At that time I’d been in my post for 8 years (10 now), and was feeling tired and praying for direction.  You know the sort  . . . is it time to move on? switch gears? or dig in and keep going?  I went to the youth worker morning seminar, which was being led by two prominent youthwork/ministry leaders in the UK.  The session was all about the need to take risks in youth ministry and push to be innovative.
While I think that message is needed, I left the seminar feeling very tired and wanting to hang up the whole thing.  Bear in mind, 8 years prior my wife and I felt the call to leave our home in America and do youthwork in a rural village in the south of England.  We then spent the next 8 years carving out a niche for youthwork in that specific context.  I had previously worked for a megachurch in Atlanta, GA (9000 members, 3500 in attendance on Sundays.  We could easily take over 100 kids to summer camp, to get some perspective).  We had already taken a huge risk in moving to another country, giving up all we thought we knew about youth work (at least in an urban, megachurch, American setting) and started over.  We were now reaching 60-80 kids per week, most of whom are non-churched/non-Christian, and loving life.
Fortunately for me, I had an encounter with the Lord that weekend and gained some renewal/personal revival and some clarity about why I do youthwork in the first place (that’s a story for another time perhaps), but what’s relevant for this topic is that while there is a much-needed conversation about risk-taking and innovation, there’s just as much a need for us to talk about NOT taking risks–being consistent with young people, staying somewhere for a long time when possible, building up a youth work programme/ministry in a community that is sustainable long-term, making a real felt presence in a community, etc.’

I wonder, is this some of our reaction when there’s a drive to be ‘risk taking’? In these pages on this blog, I know I have communicated ‘developing dangerous discipleship’ or shared ways of helping conversations with young people take more risks. Can it be tiring to keep trying the something new. Has entrepreneurship and ideas taken youth ministry into a specific rabbit hole of pioneering and ideas creation. with the fall out being the burn out of the youth worker, who eventually runs out, and hopes to read a book or go to a conference, like the story above, just to get a new one.

I asked Loyd a number of further questions, based on his story;

What might be the issues with innovation/risk taking? for the youthworker, for the church/agency and for young people & parents ? 
L: ​Risk-taking and innovation are really valuable tools for youth work.  However, they must not be the only tools in the box.  The youth worker who is always taking risks will risk (sorry!) personal burnout, or frustration for young people, parents and line managers.  For instance, a youth worker who is always changing programmes, or frequently taking on risky projects will lose young people or parents who cannot cope with the frequent changes, or may lose confidence in those supporting the youth work.
Why is there a fixation with taking risks and being innovative? – does it reveal something we might be afraid of? – (being settled/complacency/getting ‘old’/ our own boredom) 
​L: The fixation is driven by a lot of factors: by media/social media obsessions with anything new and shiny; by the fear/anxiety we are not doing enough (cf. Mark Yaconelli’s work on youth work that is driven by anxiety vs driven by love); and as you touched on, it can also be driven by our own boredom.  To this, I would counter–sometimes it is enough to journey with young people and lead them toward the love of God.  Sometimes (not always) boredom is ok.
What about with older young people – could actually growing ‘old’ and settled and having a youth ministry that is ‘grown up’ and not trying to be new could exactly be whats needed… ?
​I have the privilege of working in a rural setting where I often get to see young people grow up from primary school age into young adulthood.  Our youth centre has a trusted presence in the community, simply because we’ve now been here for a long time.  There are some things you can only do in ministry once you’ve been present for 10 years.  The flipside to that, of course, is that it can become ‘old hat’ and there is a real danger of complacency or a lack of self-awareness.  So there is always a need for reflection and evaluation.
What happened when you stopped trying to be innovative? (for you, for your young people?)
​I think there is a certain amount of freedom in not basing your youth ministry on gimmicks or fads.  Tools, resources, and even innovation are great if used wisely, but they will never replace the value of time spent with young people listening, offering prayer, unconditional acceptance, and offering your truest self in love and integrity.Image result for innovation youthwork
Maybe there’s something to be said about being innovative, what if the previous youthworker ‘lost’ all the young people, maybe there is a different way to do things, maybe also there’s a different way to do things that the management and church want, that a new youthworker has to do – that the previous one didn’t do. But innovation is contextual too. A drive to do something different than a God-slot, for example might be ‘innovative’ , yet a youthworker who already doesn’t do this, and has open spaces for conversation with young people, might be already doing the ‘innovative thing’ that is being suggested, already taking the risk. But from the front, from a blog piece and from the perspective of a resource, this isn’t always known.
Thinking slightly differently, what if innovation came not out from resources but from the conversations with young people anyway? What if its innovative to just be with young people in the present, what if its innovative to listen and do empathy? None of these are new, just good, solid, open, young people orientated youthwork that has been going for a very long time. But if that sounds innovative, then so be it. Maybe its innovative to value young people, not the programme, value young people as spiritual, not lead them to a spiritual place, to hope and dream with them and create provision together. Maybe its innovative to not think of the what next and just be. Innovative to slow… right.. down and offer young people silence instead of crazy busy change.
Should we take risks with young people- by doing youthwork we might already be. Sometimes we just need to stop and remember how risky working with young people already is. Sometimes we might remember that young people grow up with intensive change, one thing we can that is risky is to be the same.
Additional:  Having written and reflected on this for the last 24 hours or so, I have began to think on how improvisation might be whats required for youthwork practices, instead of innovation, for if our youthwork is about increasing participation, about conversation, about relationship (which may be the innovative step in itself) – then developing from within the space as the conversation occurs is the task of improvisation, building from where the action is. As Rev Hamilton said in 1967, we need strategy from the point of action, externally imposed ideas and strategies are not appropriate for young people who are nothing like us. So, If its improvisation, rather than innovation we need as youthworkers, then do have a look at the link on this above, and the ‘improvisation’ category tag on this site.
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Is it realistic to ask for passion, experience and qualifications in youth ministry job adverts?

 

are you the excited & passionate, qualified and experienced youthworker we’re looking for?

Being in between jobs for a length of time in Youth Ministry, and also advertising roles within the pages of various sites,  has given me the opportunity to read quite a few advertisements, job descriptions and person specifications for youth ministry roles around the UK.

A few months ago I penned a piece on the low to middling salaries for youth/children/community work that the church is asking for, and then one on the vacancies that seem to be long term . This piece is on the way in which the  expectations of a youth ministry are appealed to on the high certainty end of the scale or an appeal is made for exciting personality and a faith to match.

To start with, here is a few, current questions that are asked as openers to job roles in adverts for youth/childrens ministry in churches in the UK right now:

Are You excited about seeing young people growing in their faith? 

Are you passionate about children, young families and Jesus?

Do you have an innovative and creative approach to ministry that attracts and spiritually grows younger people?

Do you have a vision and passion for seeing lives changed by the transforming love of Jesus?

Are you a pioneer with a passion for the missing generation?

We are looking for an enthusiastic committed member of the Christian faith

 

and honestly – this is the best one of the lot – kid you not – this is being advertised right now:

Are you the creative, mission-focused, change-making, relationship-building, strategic-thinking, willing-to-roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-stuck-in Children and Families Worker ___________________  church is looking for?

 

Having said this, I wrote this article, then went and added in the job quotes – and i found this one – it pretty much sums up exactly what this post is all about – churches want excitement, experience and education – – at least this church does:

We are looking for someone who:Has a passion for working with children and families and will develop, both within the church and in the wider Parish —–, our existing ministry to children, and move us on with fresh vision and energy to create a really attractive church community for young people and their families.

Has experience of church based families work.

Is excited about working in a ——- area

(and though the salary is over 22K its likely that qualification may be required too)

 

So – a quick scroll of the current job adverts in the UK for youth/childrens/family work – and the words passion, excitement, creative, dynamic all spring to the fore. And this situation isnt new. Its not a current thing. But its still just a little troubling. Many also want qualifications, and many want experience.

Often churches want all of the above, and for someone to be passionate and excited all in one bundle. It that too much to ask?  And which one of these things might a church be willing to compromise… ? if they could only pick one..?

The reality is that for many qualified youth workers and ministers, since the dawning of professional qualifications – the process of learning, unlearning and repackaging faith through formal education can often result in increased doubt, reflection and questions – no less faith if anything more faith – but maybe the student/faith/learning process does reduce the ‘passion’. There isnt a module in many youth work courses on ‘how to be passionate’ or ‘how to act dynamic’ – 3 years of essays, learning and probably tortuous student placements gets rid of some of that.. some, not all..

And what about experiences?  How many youth workers can honestly say if they have left one church or organisation setting before time, and not with a 7 year golden handshake, watch and leaving ceremony, that how they left (and gained experience) has created in them to the ‘energetic joy’ that seems to be required for a new role. Feeling like that could feel a world away, when the PCC have just voted you out, and you have the confusion of finding a new house, job, role and places for your kids in schools miles away, and all within 3 months. Try then to be ‘excited and passionate’ – when it feels like a hard slog. Being battered by one experience – or tired or stressed by one at the very least – doesnt really lend its self to being honestly passionate about another. But if a church wants an experience- they may have to take on the baggage.. but they really wont want to ultimately.

The energetic, amazing, dynamic, almost naive youthworker – might only be the person who isnt experienced, or qualified, or for whom hasnt been involved in too many churches and got burned. Chances are then that yours might be the one, especially if you want them to do the 70+ hour a week and take up their summer holidays taking the kids to soul survivor and holiday clubs.

Churches you might have to pick one – excitement/passion, experience, or qualifications – though you might be lucky and get two…

for the sake of the profession – id suggest you dont discount the qualifications – as that learning is vital to help young people do the faith development that many churches ask of youthworkers in the job descriptions…

Joking apart, and im actually not, there is a more serious note here about faith.

What is the reasoning behind wanting someone who has an energetic/passionate/transformational/exciting/dynamic/creative faith to work with young people?

I mean – why those qualities? Why not others – like

reflective/deep/encouraging/prayerful/doubting or even questioning faith?  or coped/when/life/was/shit type faith and survived and got through to the other side? – might that kind of faith be something inspiring for young people?

Is it because the dream of the dynamic pied piper youthworker full of bounce and vigour, like a christian version of Tigger (other bouncy disney characters are also available) , is what adults think young people need in their lives?  or is that a youthful youth minister can weave his (usually his) youthful magic wand and cast their sprinkle dust over the whole church so that it can move from singing songs from the 1990’s to songs in the 2010’s, thus bring youthfulness to a church that is starting to feel old around the edges?

Lets be honest though, churches dont really want the kind of youthworker who might help young people deal with deep questions, ask deep questions or help young people be provocative do we? But wouldnt a youthworker who had dealt with difficulty, and is realistic, be the kind of real grounded person that actually young people right now in real life might just need. Someone who is honest, someone who doesnt put the church performing mask on, someone who well can empathise and listen…

The person who starts a role pretending to be the all singing all dancing joyful youthworker is going to hit the honeymoon period quick, and everyone in the church is going to know it, or will at least find out. And they themselves will realise their own pretence and struggle with it.

I know that the committee who put together the job description for the new youthworker is trying to make the role or entice people as much as possible. And words like passion, excite, amazing, pioneering are all the rage. But they all now sound the same. Maybe it is just me, but experience and qualification come at a cost, and its not that the joy and passion for young people and their lives changed isnt there, but its not as there in the way that some of these adverts seems to want it to be.

Can we do away – just a bit with the over enthusiasm- or is the market place of trying to recruit taken selling roles just too far..?

Youth Ministry as the Ministry of Young People

What shall we do with young people when they grow out of messy church?

How do we integrate young people into the life of the church?

We do really great childrens work, but youths..?

These are three of the most common questions that I hear on a regular basis from church leaders and congregations in regard to a church working with young people.

I wouldnt say from the outset that there is a magic answer to solve all of these particular questions. however I do think that there is a game to be raised when it comes to thinking about how churches think of young people, which may be a start.youth[1]

There has been notable advances in recent times at churches starting to use terms like ‘learning from children and young people’ rather than ‘teaching them’ and these are creditable. A shift to more child and young person centered education methods (though espoused in the 1960’s in Sunday school unions¹) have put specific young people at the forefront of curriculum design, rather than external programmes, again, all positive. So how young people are regarded in churches is a big deal. As you may know I have written before on the different attitudes that are had in regard to young people, from them ‘not being ready’, to being ‘aliens’, ‘scary’ or too precious and wrapped up in cotton wool – all of these attitudes are featured in this post : young people as saints of the present, not church of the future . In this post, I reflected further on young people being seen as theologians and using some of the themes within adolescent development, think about how their theological reflection changes. More often than not implicit messages like ‘you’re not ready’ or ‘you dont know enough’ are put as barriers to young peoples perception, and many of these are projections, fears and attempts to maintain control.

But, if youth ministry, is all about Ministry – why not conceive the idea, or permeate the concept, that young people have a Ministry and this is what the church is to enable to develop and flourish?

When I say ‘ministry’ , i don’t mean that they get to be underpaid, undervalued and be lumped with a whole load of initiatives and administration for little thanks…what I  mean, what if young people were thought of, not as followers, disciples or ‘a group’ – but as Ministers of the gospel? But i do mean called, and prompted and hear the voice of God in the midst towards acts of ministry.

Would churches, sunday schools, messy churches and youth fellowships be transformed if their primary task was to discover and enable the ministry of young people to occur – rather that be bent on programmes, learning, containment, safety and entertainment? 

What if each young person has a ministry to give to the local church, to the local community that needs awakening, acknowledging, and then using to its full potential? 

I hazard a guess at yes. What if, as I suggested in my previous post. Youth Ministry was about the ministry of young people – and not the ministry of adults teaching at young people?

One of the sad truths is that for many in their churches, many adults, they have pottered along in churches for such a long time and not realise or have their own ministry recognised, because it hasnt fit with the norm. Only the other day someone in a church suggested to me that they felt passionate about litter, and the environment, and they aged post retirement had discovered a real new passion for this, but I wonder even if it was suggested how ‘ the environment’ might become a church’s overall mandate – for some it does and there are eco churches – but my point is that for many even in churches their ministry goes unnoticed and they are put onto rotas, leadership and organisation.The trouble is is then to ask questions about how young people might be ministers is to do so possibly in cultures where what determines ministry is already set.

So lets open it up a bit.

Starting with Andrew Root. For, though I have on many occasions in previous blogs talked about developing young people as ‘performers of the Gospel’ within churches and communities, it is Andrew Root, in Faith Formation who put forward, for me, the concept of young people as Ministers. In Faith Formation, one of the main thrusts of of Root is to ask ;what is faith? and ‘how is faith formed’ and though not always specifically related to young people, he highlights the issues created in practices of MTD youth Ministry stating that faith it seems has been more about an addition to life, rather that , as he suggests, a deduction within life. A Calling out of the material towards the sacrificial. a discovery of the ‘in christ’ of Faith- and what that might mean to be active in the same faith of Christ. stating:

We become like God by sharing in Gods energy, which we do by joining God action and being ministers²

For young people, what might faith formation look like if it was about joining in with God’s actions and being Ministers?  Its a challenging question. I think. For so long we’ve thought of what weve done as youth ministers to be the ministry, and not think so much about how our ministry might be to harness the ministry of young people. If i was to be critical of Andrew Root, it might be that the view of Ministry that he espouses is somewhat limited, albeit probably confined to the ‘application’ section of the book. I may also want to suggest that Theodrama provides a better platform and structure to some of his arguments about divine action, but thats for another piece (or a previous one somewhere in the archives). But back to young people as Ministers.

Developing this further, if Young people are to be regarded as Ministers in churches – this becomes a question about ‘what ministry is’ and also what is the church and how is ministry part of it? All too big questions for this piece. Anthony Thiselton in Hermemeneutics of Doctrine’ brings together a number of perspectives of church, ministry and mission, and ministry and the church relate to each other. But an eccesiology question and ministry question do go hand in hand. What if the church’s main purpose as Thistelton writes (based upon Moltman, Pannenburg and Robinson)  is that the church is 1. moving towards the eschaton (ie in act 4 of a 5 part drama) , it exists to fulfil Gods reign in the kingdom and secondly the church exists for itself and its own sake, more that Christ came to save himself, It exists to participate in Gods Mission to the world³. There is clearly a Theodrammatic view of the church coming through, and this also helps. Nicholas Healy (4) urges a view of the church that sees itself as being within the Theodrama (act 4 towards act 5) , and cultivates that the church in its nature (and thus its ministry) is to be both Practical and Prophetic, being present in the moment, recognising the past and the future, being practical to humanity in Gods world, and also prophetic to care for it and challenge the idolotors and narcissists who seek to destroy it.

Image result for Ministry

Now, in a way this is not about burdening young people with all of this responsibility. However, the responsibility is our shoulders to facilitate young people as ministers within the church and within the world. There is a larger role than what Andy Root suggest for young people, faith formation might not just be ministry in the church, a ministry of sacrament, of generosity and gratitude – though all are important, but in thinking about the role of the church in the ongoing Theodrama of the world – the grander story that we are all participants of – then our task might be to discover how young people are being called and challenged by God into being ministers in the world in which the church plays its part, participating in mission- and thats mission in the grand sense, not just evangelism, which is one part. I have suggest that developing young people as ‘performers’ of the gospel is something that is required as part of faith formation before, and this only adds weight to thinking about young people as ministers, developing action discipleship might be the first paradigm shift we have to do, the second is to be looking for the ways in which the ministry of each young person is being revealed to us through their actions, communication and behaviour – and if this isnt being realised, then maybe our approaches have been deficient.

How might we keep young people in our churches? well, if psychologists (5) and a recent survey that I conducted indicates, its is community, challenge and autonomy that young people, and ourselves crave in situations – then supporting young people through faith formation through a enabling their ministry in the world might be the way of doing this. Entertained young people are not staying in churches – only those whose ministry is harnessed, so we need to harness the ministry of young people in the church and the world from as early an age as possible. If we have worked with young people and their families through messy church for 2 years, then we should know by now or at least be able to identify aspects of that young person, their qualities, passions, beliefs and spirituality to help us help them to find a place in the church and world where they can do ministry? cant we?

It will also help if they can be ‘included’ in practices of ministry – until they choose to reject them. And yes i do mean communion. As ministers children and young people need to be part of the ministry. Theyre not too young to be used by God – are they?

Let help young people be divine actors of Gods performance in the world- and see what happens then?

Might churches and Ministry be transformed if young people were regarded as ministers?

And i dont just mean the ones with ‘leadership’ potential, I mean all. I mean the example in which a young person didnt want to participate in an activity, but found real purpose in helping in the kitchen instead, the young person who wanted to raise money for charity, or the young person who wanted to use their generosity to be on the welcome team, or the young people who use the resources of the church to develop social action (something Kenda Creasy Dean is recommending) , the young people who protest against development or the reduction in green spaces, is this not prophetic?

What if young people were regarded as Ministers in the church- what kind of transformation might this cause?

And what kind of role, skills and abilities might we need to be, those in leadership in churches, to facilitate young people as ministers?  And yes that might be following Gods calling and prompting to pick up litter. To be vulnerable in the task of divine action.

 

References

¹Thompson, Naomi, Church and Young People since 1900, 2018

²Andrew Root, Faith Formation, p176, 2017

³Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 2007, p 486

(4) Healy, Nicholas, Church, the world and the christian life. 2000

(5) (Deci & Ryan), Taken from Jocelyn Bryan, Being Human, 2016

 

Is ‘Ministry’ a problem for Youth Ministry?

Image result for youth ministerI am pretty sure that I’m not going to be the first person to wade into this discussion.  There are a few aspects of why I shy away from the term ‘Youth Ministry’ where I can, but at the same time realise that its the common descriptor for working with young people in christian church contexts, so I do have to use it.

But I think there are a number of problems with it. It might be semantics (an argument about words) – but words do have power and influence, and the ‘ministry’ aspect of ‘youth ministry’ need a few questions asked of. Whilst we’re at it, the ‘youth’ aspect is awkward too, and a seminal piece by Mark Smith on ‘the problem of youth for youthwork explores this. You can find it in the link, on the Infed website. Youth is contested and often negative. Even the ‘youth’ aspect of ‘youth ministry’ has issues.

But the ‘Ministry’ aspect of youth ministry might do too.

In his book ‘The Pastor as the Public Theologian’ Kevin Vanhoozer pronounces a crisis of role identity for the Pastor/Minister. Now on one hand ‘crisis’ is strong a word and often crisis’ are used to set the scene for a major point or new perspective that deals with the issue. So I take it lightly. But in effect what he suggests is that the Parish Ministers role has diminished in society, because other people related professions have over taken the role – so the psychologists or counsellor are called upon sooner than the clergy, so might a social worker or school teacher for therapy or education, where once a church might have been the centre of these things. He goes on, but I wonder whether that same crisis that the clergy might feel, is a luxury not even afforded within youth ministry, yet youth ministry aligns itself with ‘church ministry’ oh so quickly.

The reason I think its a crisis that would be a luxury for a youth pastor/minister – is that whilst there might be a historic association with what a Pastor/Minister might be/do (sometimes a curse) and they can often find the roles that are expected – such as funerals, ceremonies, visits etc – the opposite is often the case with a youth minister who job description apart no one has any knowledge of what the role should be, (but strangely many expectations) and so much of the time the new youth minister (if minister is the right word) spends their time carving out what space there might be for what it is they are supposed to do. At least, if I look back to a time when I was based in a small town as a youth worker/minister or based in a church in the same role – much of the time was spend trying to establish either myself or the role, within the established patterns and trying to find either importance or need. Because there wasnt a defined gap for the role.

Goffman in ‘The Presentation of the self in everyday life’ says that it is very difficult for a person not just fit into the role before them, when everything is already established, so it may be easier to be the person who defines a role from scratch – ‘oh yes a youth minister is like ______ its how they did it’ – and the dye it set. But if there isnt a gap – what then? The gap might be an easier place to define a role – but what if there isnt a gap – because being tied up to being a ‘minister’ doesnt help in a post christendom world where young people arent looking for a minister or have counted out the regard for one.

Being a youth ‘worker’ doesn’t quite share this – saying that you work ‘with’ young people – as opposed to trying to do ministry with/for them – is a subtle but significant shift. Just.

So- Ministry is starting to have a problem.

The Language of ministry is barely recognised in society. Except government departments. And this conatation is probably best avoided. Or the Ministry of Sound. So, its pretty dead in the water except for an association with dominance, power and dis organisation – or a compilation album of dance music. The language of ministry as a concept is limited. But its not youth ministry’s only problem with Ministry.

do young people recognise ‘ministry’?

I’d say this was hardly likely, in a book entitled ‘Your first two years in Youth Ministry’ Doug Fields in the very first chapter uses the terms youth worker to describe the person, and youth ministry to describe the role/context . Even in Evangelical USA, minister was replaced by worker.. Maybe this is helpful, given that Arkle Bell, commented on a previous post the following:

The other big moan is the recent trend to talk about Youth Ministry – do the young people recognise that jargon, so are they already excluded. As I said to a Canadian visitor at church today – youth work is my ministry. A denomination wanted to ordain me as a youth minister, I turned them down saying God had already ordained me as a youth worker and wider society had recognised that.

Its difficult enough trying to find an establish role ‘with’ young people, but I wonder whether trying to do that as a ‘youth minister’ is more difficult than ‘youth worker’, neither is easily defined, but one at least has less association with an organisation such as a church, the other locates the venue of the profession as being where young people are. A shop worker works in a shop, a youthworker, well, where young people are. And Kerry Young has already said that youth work is defined as it is practiced (1999)

However, the main concern, i think, with youth ministry, and being a youth minister is, is the notions of power that are associated with it. Or more accurately, how through default within many churches, minister is associated with authority – the ministry of the young people is the ministry of the youth minister – young people are their ministry. Young people as a result can be viewed as little more than pawns in the activities and programmes, a number.. A group of people done to, with the youth minister acting in a way similar to the senior pastor.  With an image that looks like this;

Kids bored. Not listening, and someone talking at them.

However, It has taken quite a while, not just in this piece, but quite a number of years (150?) for someone to come along and say the brutally obvious.

Youth Ministry is about enabling young people to be ministers.

This is what Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean suggest in their recent two books (references below). Up until then, keeping young people entertained, or hearing ‘nice’ therapeutic/moral messages might well have been the order of the day. (Smith, C)

But helping young people develop their ministry?  Not only ‘what might that look like? – but what might that mean? 

For a start if working with young people to develop their ministry  makes the task more like youthwork as a process of supporting, encouraging, challenging and guiding – rather than leading from the front, so much. It has empowerment and participation as automatic bed fellows again more a youth work concept (just) .  In the next part this week, I will explore further what it might look like for youth Ministry to be about developing the ministry of young people. Given that this causes a need to understand what ministry is in the life of the church, and the churchs place in the world. Aspects that both Andy Root and Kenda Creasy Dean do touch on.

What if youth ministry was about faith shaping young people as ministers?

But i think there is more to the play than whats been said so far.

Image result for youth minister

Is ‘Ministry’ a problem for ‘Youth Ministry?’ – Well it might be if the ministry we have for young people, limits their involvement in the ministry as attenders and being entertained, than enabling them to become ministers themselves, including ministers of the word, sacrament, ministers of mission, justice and love in the world. Ministers who participate in the church and the world.

If its just a ministry the youth minister has – not a ministry that they are being encouraged into also having – then its no wonder that many young people find other places to be entertained instead. Ministry might be a problem for youth ministry in a number of ways, its even more of a problem if the youth minister is the blockage that prevents the ministry of young people thriving in a church. Or where the youth minister is employed to keep young people contained in the church, rather than enable their ministry potential be encouraged. As this picture infers, its the youth minister who is called, the ministry that they enable young people to participate in seems secondary.

What role do young people have in the church?  – maybe they should be considered as Ministers – will be the theme of my next piece.   

References

Goffman Irving – The Presentation of the Self in everyday life, 1960

Vanhoozer, Kevin, The Pastor as Public Theologian, 2016

Creasy Dean, A Root, The Theological Turn in Youth ministry, 2011

Root Andrew, Faith Formation in a Secular Age, 2016

Smith, C, Soul Searching, 2003

Young, Kerry, The art of Youthwork, 1999, 2005

 

‘But we ‘only’ have a few young people..’ – is youth discipleship better done small?

Only this, Only that, Only the other, If we ‘only’… 

It is one of my pet hates, got to admit it. As I travel around and have conversations with church leaders, ministers and volunteers. When describing their project, their groups, their young people, there is a tendency to use the word ‘only’.a painted marking on a roadway "only"

It can occur in ‘ we ‘only’ have a few young people in our church , or ‘we’ve only been going a few years’ or ‘we ‘only’ run a few sessions a week’ . And in Ministry more generally ‘only’ is something of a self imposed curse. I think, and it extends to ‘we only have _____ coming to church’ . It especially extends to when people in the same ministry get together. And have a weekend conference where each defines their group as ‘only’ compared to someone else, or that the amazing, mega large youth group is the default ministry size.

Its not about the only. Its about the who. But on the ‘only’- Is ‘only’ a symptom of both a comparative culture – where we assume that everyone else is doing far better than they really are or say that they are, and also a symptom of the dream and desire for something different or more than what is existing. Talk of ‘only’ sort of devalues the actual young people who do attend, the actual families who have taken the effort to make it to the activity, talk of only indicates that numbers not people seem to be the markers of success.  It also means that we stop looking at what is, what good, and the precious that is present. I think we do need to be careful that a desire for more, might cause young people to think that they are only valuable if they have friends and bring them.

Does the use of the word ‘only’ already mean that we have succumbed ourselves to the perils of a numbers game? If so, sadly, our ministries will undoubtedly suffer for it. And so will we, facing personal trial of our ministry by numerical indicators alone.

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Might there be something more with wanting more ?

Of course there is a problem with only having a few young people in a church, the resources dont seem to fit very well. Well guess what, thats the problem with the how of what were trying to do. Maybe because of a few young people there are questions to be asked about materials based youth ministry provision, and finally there needs to be a shift to something else instead. And thats not easy, none of this is, especially with a church only having 1 12 year old, 1 8 year old and three under 5’s. What to do then? good point. But the answer wont be found without a change in attitude and probably a change in approach. First we stop with the ‘onlys’ and probably second we developed practices of higher participation, less teaching, more conversation. Less input, more involvement. Yes a small group might be difficult, so discipleship might need a different form, mentoring, participation in faith practices, training/apprenticeship.

I asked a number of youthworkers around the country to share their experiences of what might considered ‘small’ youth group experiences (under 6 ppl) , in small churches (under 40) – and dont mishear me, I am desperately trying to resist using the word small there. These sound large compared to other churches. So, again, apologies for falling into the same comparison/descriptor trap. In such a culture of comparison, stories of the ‘small’ can be ignored, when ‘ministries’ that have large numbers can dominate and create a gravitational pull towards, and sometimes thats an actual pull. The actual pull of the small youth group thats doing something beautiful, that has to be disrupted so that they attend en masse as the audience in a large gathering which causes them to feel anonymous – just to support the ‘large’ – and the large can influence the small.

Can the small be beautiful – well of course it can be, why am i even asking the question?

Here are some of the benefits of ‘only’ having a ‘few’ young people- as said by those involved in making these beautiful things happen:

They get to know adults well, who aren’t their parents, and therefore explore a different understanding of faith. They get to know a small group of peers better. They can do social activities to form strong bonds and can do life alongside each other.  (Laura P)

They become full active participants in the life of the church. Involved in everything inc. the “not youth” elements normally reserved for adults. Which in turn adds to a sense of belonging (pet topic is small church youth work ) (James Y)

Deeper relationships, learning to rely on one another, hearing true stories of faith, loss and redemption. Intimacy that fosters trust (Kat)

It certainly means you get to know them better as individuals rather than ‘the young people’. And it’s easier therefore for their individual gifts to be used in the church. Labour intensive though!    (why is ‘having an easy situation’ preferable?) 

Interestingly when we asked our young people at __________ if they wouldn’t rather join the Deanery youth group they said no, they liked being in a small group of 4-5. It felt safe and cosy. (Miranda)

The key for me is connection. A small church provides opportunity for connections that is hard in a big church. (Aaron)

They are known and as leaders we can be more responsive. I’ve never led big youth groups as a regular part of my ministry   (Alice)

you’ve got a lot of room for growth? 🙂 i’d say if 15-25% of the church is youth (as above), getting them involved in the life of the church will have huge impact (Andy)

Our church is this size and intergenerational community feels easier. 2 of our teens pick up an old lady each week and wheel her to church. 1 says it’s the highlight of his week and he just loves being with her even if they don’t chat much. Brings my heart joy thinking about it! They always want to pray for her in youth group. (Pheobe)

commenting on the above.. I love this. This sort of community is lost in larger churches, but replaced with a community where most yp only know their peers (Sean)

we’re a small church with great youth, but only after years of perseverance and encouraging the older members of the church to believe in them. Definitely find that yp build great friendships and therefore work much better as a team and are fired up for mission! (Mhairi) 

these are beautiful, significant moments – dont you agree..?

Convinced? Can we quit with the ‘only’ talk?  It is about the who. 

On the other side of the coin, I know of large group church leaders who would swap for something smaller. So, the comparison trap is on both sides, and reading the above from a larger church might enhance the same view.

One of the key values in youthwork, is that we ‘value the individual’ – its noticeable that when we talk about ‘only’ we stop valuing the individuals, their gifts, abilities, and contributions – and place more value in the unknown young person who is absent. Small is beautiful only goes some way. Small as a word is too patronising and still emphasises size.

Having a few young people does not mean they all need to be clumped together in a large group – as the example above showed, young people themselves expressed their own desire for something homely, cosy and comfortable – and whilst I am one for making discipleship more dangerous and risk taking – it might be risk taking enough to have asked the young people for their opinion, and also to decline the strategic approach for ‘larger mixed up groups across a deanery’ . This also emphasises a participative conversation being important, and giving young people more choice, autonomy and respect for who they are  (really?…;-)). Extending this a little – culture and fear are so evident, and young people arent all extroverts – so discipleship for the introvert, thinking, reflective young people might be deeply appropriate (who knew).

What other opportunities might there be with ‘only’ a few young people?

The above examples wouldn’t work if a church wasn’t giving its young people spaces to participative , but clearly where this is happening (and I think we need to challenge the barriers where this doesn’t happen – like young people not allowed in kitchens, or near to PA equipment) . Recent;y i heard of stories of young people joining in ‘church days out’ and getting involved in local mission/volunteering practices. All far easier than trying to get a group of 40 to help at the soup kitchen on a friday night – easier when its 4…

If Sunday school, groups and activities that require large effort is the default – then we might need to change approaches to accommodate the young people and who we have – not the young people we once had (but then moan that they didn’t stay anyway). Living in the present might mean valuing the young people for who they are, what they can contribute, what they might create and the community of faith where they are part of. After all, all young people can be participants in the ongoing drama of Gods mission – does it matter the size of the production they are involved in?

Can we ban the term ‘only’ – not just stop comparing? but stop comparing in what seems an upward direction to the increased number activity?  Talking of building bigger barns was something Jesus rejected, instead being present, and valuing the faith of the woman who gave little, the picture of the mustard seed. If ministry has become a numbers game, a money game and an attraction game – then has it lost all sight of the gospel? If we need to ask the question about How did Jesus do discipleship with just a few people? – the answer is that he just did discipleship with a few people.  But he ‘only’ had 12 in his youth group, and one of them was loud mouth Peter…. 

How should a church start working with young people? (pioneering advice from 15 youthworkers)

There is a stark reality to be had. Most churches in the UK are not places where there are many young people, and this appears to be an issue. An issue so much that ‘young people’ is a strategy for some dioceses, and also probably part of the motivation for the Church of England recruiting and appointing a youth evangelist in the last 2 years. So, for many there is a church problem with young people. And it has to be that way around.

I am encouraged though. Encouraged by the pockets of endeavour happening where spaces and places of faith are being opened up with young people in communities, especially in the north east, that include after school clubs which have reflective meditative moments around the cross, or where young people become involved inn whole church activities like walks, social events, and eucharists, or where there are dedicated committed people open to learn from and journey in faith with young people. So, there are signs of hope, signs where young people are encountering and experiencing faith.

But these are the minority not the norm.

So, what advice would I give to a church – who was either thinking about, or having to think about starting work with young people? 

I put this question out to youth worker social media the other day, here are some of the pieces of advice that returned:

(in no particular order)

  1. Look at the needs of the local community and look at your own resources  (@smoorns) 
  2. Don’t be afraid to start small. But start somewhere and learn as you go. Some things you try won’t work. Try stuff anyway. (@loydharp)
  3. Talk to God about youth, before talking to youth about God (@katneedle)
  4. Stop doing Sunday School and move to all age worship 10 years ago. (@revmadbull)
  5. (host it) Not in the church (@seanusx)
  6. Stop expecting young people to come to you, go to the young people. God sends us out for a reason! (@ccwgcyouth)
  7. Find them, listen to them, be with them, no commitments or invitations, just show up consistently. (Can I get away with that as a sentence?) (@abbiebeale)
  8. Make friends with other youth & community groups- uniformed, council, sports, schools. Find out what young people in area need. Pray. See which yp are hanging around in your area, where, when & why. Invest in the children your Church has. (@helenwolsten)
  9. What would welcome/hospitality look like to a young person in your home? If positive then replicate it and make church space part of this. (@stalbansdyo)
  10. Focus on serving young people, not on growing Sunday attendance. Trust your youth worker.. (@hdschutte)
  11. Pray. Pray that God will choose one among you who has appropriate skills and lots of energy! (@relmelrose1)
  12. Gently and with love. (I agree with everyone else). What are the community saying and how do you provide for them? (@lizskudder)
  13. Listen, look and seek beyond your own needs – what is it that you have to offer? (@mizenben)
  14. Find out where the young people are, get a bunch of loving and generous adults to hang out with them, and then build from these relationships. (@the267project)
  15. Take time to listen first, what are the needs and what resources do you have. (@youthworkermike)

It is often that the ‘Why’ of starting working with young people is focussed on alot more than the ‘how’ , though there are a number of ‘how to’ books that circulate , many of which reduce the long graft of working with young people to a series of formulas and ‘quick wins’ – when there is often no such thing.

One thing to be positive about, is that if you are starting from scratch, then you have the opportunity to try something new. As, it looks like previous attempts, and previous approaches didn’t work, or weren’t right for that time. Starting from scratch might also mean thinking differently, and not just about blaming the world for not being as christian as it used to be, but thinking differently about young people, faith, spirituality and mission. A new way might need embracing – that goes beyond strategies and attractional programmes. And embraces the incarnation, the improvisation and being vulnerable. As Richard Passmore says in ‘Here be Dragons (2013); Mission and Church are two sides of the same coin, and there is need to know stories, scripts and tools – but be ready to improvise in spaces where the wind blows (Passmore, 2013)

Being prepared with tools to understand the landscape, and tools that help with thinking on pioneering might be required, and Here Be Dragons might be one resource on this, especially as its written with youth work in mind (see the menu above for how to get hold of a copy)

One of the key aspects in developing something new is the waiting, the observing and the preparing phase, and im generally not sure this is done often or well enough. It is more common that a top down strategy is needed to be implemented to work with young people, and this dictates the process. Where, as many of the contributors above said, watching, waiting, listening and learning are key. As Friere said, we have to watch, for todays flower is different tomorrow. Watch and learn on how young people engage in their local community, or dont, watch and learn about how they gather in the parks and why, watch and learn about other community resources and partnerships. Learn about the needs of young people (and any school in the land will tell you these) – but also the gifts and talents of young people that you can enhance that arent being harnessed because of lack of opportunity, access or funding.

Participation is another key, (it might even be the key that unlocks the ongoing toolkit) How might young people be involved in an ongoing process. Dont just invite them to an event with free pizza, invite them to be part of a conversation to create youth provision (with free pizza) – theres a big difference. Between treating young people as consumers, or treating them with respect and as possible creators and contributors. After all, its not like we have any clue about young people (thats why you’re reading this and trying to get an idea or two..) ., but every young person is different, and, worth being specific not general. Work with who you have, not the fabulous young people it seems everyone else seem to have.

There is nothing wrong with trying to do an activity. As i said, the after school clubs and groups are fantastic, but both were started after conversations with young people, and not just an idea that was started without young peoples involvement. It might be necessary to, as someone above said, to ‘go to where young people are at’ – and so detached youthwork might be the thing to do to learn, listen and have conversations with young people. (Further training on this can be found above in the menu) . its a big difference between opening a space where young people have conversations, are given respect and feel a sense of home and then develop faith – from an activity space of high programme, curriculum and activity where it could feel not much different to school and where young people have little involvement, other that to kick off or out.

Some of the advice above is assuming that there are at least a few young people in the church. Some is about how we might in church convey messages that the whole of church is for everyone, such as the ‘all age service’ – and reducing the moments of separation, and encouraging children and young people to participate in the meaningful acts of the service. (And if the service isnt meaningful or inclusive for families (and families who want to be there)  then maybe theres a problem, … ) .

Starting something new with young people – go on, give it a go – be pioneering…

I hope this post has given you some pointers, pieces of advice, and been helpful to you if you are in the process of starting work with young people, especially from scratch. There is plenty on this site on detached work, participation, improvisation and mission, (search via the category tabs) as well as thinking differently about young people, so do have a look around if this interests you.

How might a church start working with young people?  It hasnt got to, but with the right thinking and approaches, even an ageing church can do something meaningful to help young people. Its just not about trying to entertain, more encourage, empower and embrace (a new paradigm) – sentiments that many suggested above.

Why Evensong vs Guitars misses the point, in regard to young people and church.

How much is relevancy the reason why young people attend church?

If its about relevancy – then what does this say about what we think about young people? just carried along by a crest of a wave, but what If, and I realise only readers of a certain age will get this , that young people are thinking, ‘So you have a guitar band- that dont impress me much?’

Substance over style is also the conversation when quite a bit of research is being done that is showing that young people are finding faith in the spiritual practices of liturgy, evensong, choirs and these more traditional forms of church.  This tweet was doing the rounds:

Church army report asked unchurched teenagers what worship might attract them, the result it may surprise you, is not soft rock but candles and incense’ (Prof. Alison Milbank) @markrusselluk @ChurchArmy

One response to this on my facebook page was: ‘Somebody asked me about this just earlier today, and I referred them to the case studies in Marilyn Haskel’s book ‘What would Jesus sing?’ What I hear from young people is that you can get soft rock music at any concert, usually better music than the church version, but candles and incense take you into a different universe. I think a reason for this could be that candles and incense offer a contextualized spirituality inasmuch as they take some elements that we enjoy at a concert (lighting, smoke) but transpose them in a way that creates a space for transcendent meaning.’ (John Drane)

There is probably more to it than it being radical to be traditional, a look at culture will reveal a heightened nostalgia. Retro is in. We are living in nostalgic times, where Baking and Craft are popular, and the Churches of liturgies, gowns and choirs represent a long lasting, safe and possibly escape from a world of hustle, bustle and speed. Long live a wifi free zone.

But it could be more than this. Is it more substance over style?

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Young people in a big city told me that whilst they were interested in going to the large, new church plant in the town which for the purposes of this piece, rhymed with ‘Mill gong’ – they went along for three months, but then returned back to their home church, the one in their local area. Guitars and Drums didnt captivate this particular group of young people. What did?

It was that they felt at home in their local church.

It was where they connected

It was where they felt belonging

It was where they could make a contribution (and as volunteers in the sunday school/youth club) they were.

It was where they were significant – not just one of many.

It was as though the grass wasnt greener, or more sparkly.

There is another conversation happening, much more on a local level. It is that local churches feel that they have nothing to offer young people, in the face of the bigger churches, brighter buildings and, again, the drums and guitars. On one hand this is defeatist. The other is that there is no evidence that any young people who a local church does missional youthwork with, ends up finding a home in a church, that isnt the one that helps them find faith in the first place. The market for the bigger brighter contemporary churches is the christian young people spoonfed on a diet of consumerism and the attraction of a christian youth music scene. They may have young people – but theyre often a completely different group of young people to those who live in the flats opposite the church, or the ones you work with in a mentoring programme in a local school.

And thats half of the point. Young people are different. Breaking it down to two basic, and horrible mantras, keeping young people from leaving church, and creating an environment of belonging, hope and meaning where they want to be and stay, and start from scratch, makes for two different challenges. And these are crude. but you get my drift.

There may well be research conducted on young people attending evensong. There may be research conducted on young people attending contemporary guitar worship services. But both become a style war, when a substance war is much more complex. For both there can be meaningfulness and relevancy in bucket loads. But scratch behind the surface and theres something deeper often going on.

Psychology might help, the Psychologists Deci and Ryan propose that people gravitate to situations where there is a measure of one or all of these three things; Connection, Autonomy and Challenge/Competance (Bryan 2016). For a moment, think through then how young peoples experiences of churches as a people group, a faith community and as an organisation relates to all of these things. I would dare to suggest that these three things play a significant part in the decision making of young people and their continued attendance in churches.

When the church community doesnt know how to relate to young people – then they’ll find more connections elsewhere

When the young person feels like theyre a new person every week – then theyll find home in somewhere more familiar, and where it doesnt feel they have to make an effort every week to connect with someone

When the young person is one of a crowd and the only challenge is to try and stay standing for a long period of time – is barely mentally challenging, or involving. The same is said for the Evensong.

When the young person is not given opportunities to make decisions – about their youth provision (‘look we’ve employed youth leaders to do this provision for you’) , about faith, and about being involved, as contributors, creators not just consumers – then why stay? Maybe the rise in young people attending choirs, has nothing to do with glee culture, more to do with being part of a community that respects them, and gives them opportunities to contribute through choosing songs or the challenge of using talent.

If we think its ‘just’; guitars or evensong, we might be missing the point.

The point is, is that young people arent as superficial as we want them to be or make them out to be. Image result for style/substance

If we offer space for conversation, space for community and space that respects – and create opportunities for belonging, participation and decision making, this will be more than enough in a church for young people to want to be part of it. If we can be these things, and make young people significant, then, and there are no magic answers, it is more likely that young people will make their home there. So dont worry if this is what you’re doing, that young people will leave, it will take a huge sacrifice for them to do so and effort, given what theyre giving up on. Would they do this for soft rock? – probably not.

Substance over style matters, and I dont just mean a lengthy sermon. Substance that equates to values, community, acceptance, challenge and participation are featured more in reasons why young people stay part of churches, and an absence of these as to why young people leave, than anything else. Young people leave churches because the youthworker leaves – why ? because no one else connected with them. Young people dont go to church because theres no one from the church willing to help with the youth group. Thats a connection question. The same for autonomy- at least having some opportunity to have some decision making, and also challenge.

What about the transcendent? If worship is about helping young people connect with the grander story, this might happen in both settings, but one might create more meaning than the other, or help a connection to a grand story where a young person feels part. Both could feel alien or cold. An ongoing regular connection to the God of the creeds, the Lords Prayer and regular confession, cleansing, prayer and silence might facilitate personal and spiritual connection and challenge. It makes it tough, not boring.

How might substance over style be the conversation within youth ministry? might we recognise the complexity of young people and their increased perception of the faith community and how it is accepting, empowering and respectful of them as people, and wanting them to be participants, disciples and prophets. There is space for many styles, but can we stop assuming that young people only want one style, and focus on creating faith communities of substance instead?

if young people do value substance over style – then might we be thankful thats how God made young people in his image..?

How churches view young people is crucial. In my next post Ill be building on what a number of youth ministry specialists are saying at the moment. That youth ministry, needs to be about helping young people do ministry, not just be ministered to. So, keep an eye out for this maybe about Tuesday.

References

Jocelyn Bryan, Human Being, 2016

Shepherd, Nick, Faith Generation, 2016

 

Could churches encourage young people to become a movement of local community activists?

When it comes to planning and developing a curriculum for a group of young people in a faith based setting – why is that creating opportunities for them to participate in some kind of local social community activism is more than often outside of a default mentality? its not for you? , well at least it felt like it was for me…

I remember when I was 20 odd and running a youth group, it was about to be a residential with the whole church, and I was responsible for planning and delivering a whole weekends worth of activities and sessions, for a group of children and young people, the offspring of the church parents and a mix of ages from 8 through to 16. I was a blank. I was used to planning group work for just the Sunday evening group of 8, 13-16 year olds, but this was a different issue. What to do with a larger group and one spread out over a wider age group. And with three sessions in 36 hours. I was stuck. I tried for weeks to look for suitable material, themes and topics. A real struggle.

That is until I discovered a whole load of material at the local diocese resource centre linked to thinking about social action, charity and compassion for a cause. It may well even have tied in with an appeal at the time, i think it was Christian Aid or Tear fund, it matters not which. But it was so long ago I cant remember. And, interspersed with a few other activities. It worked brilliantly. The young people over the course of the weekend learned about fair trade, justice, poverty and some of the causes, and then as part of the weekend undertook an activity to raise funding for that cause. I think the young people kidnapped the main speaker and begged for a ransom. Don’t judge them, they didn’t have many options on a church weekend away and no planning. However. The point is that this was the first time that as part of a youth programme we had done anything on social justice, charity, and encourage the young people to think about the global world. We didn’t think about the local world. The point also was, was that this subject still seemed ‘an extra’ to what might be considered core Bible teaching that had morality, spirituality or therapy overtones.

Fast forward 8 years, and I am leading another youth group. And the situation remains the same. Education through learning about morality and some Biblical content teaching is part of the youth group programme, however it is taught. Creating and planning for opportunities where these young people give, give generously of their time and make a local contribution to local charity groups, causes and campaigns is still minimal. In fact, the most likely group to do this, I have noticed, is the open youth group, the ‘non church going group’ . Now it may be that the profile of social justice and action in churches has been raised recently through the increase in foodbanks, CAP and other valuable initiatives, but does faithful discipleship for young people and programmes that do the week by week ministry with young people profile community activism in any higher way than they did?

 

Image result for volunteering

We might stop to ask whether the moral, therapeutic, entertainment, relevant orientated ministry with young people is actually working. Kenda Creasy Dean questions this, as even in the US context the decline is occurring. Her alternative – helping young people do social action, using the church as a resource for innovative local projects. An option that may be easier in larger churches, but even smaller churches have resources that could be used to cultivate young peoples ideas. Andrew Root writes that faith formation is more akin to deduction and giving up, and giving away than the insertion of education, and though doesn’t encourage social activism per se, does suggest that forming faith in people has leanings towards social generosity and action, and for young people to ‘do’ ministry. How might young people do ministry in local communities?

It is also worth contemplating about how Young people are participants in the Mission of God. For decades in youth ministry there has been a tendency to regard young people as the UK’s most under resourced and under engaged with mission field, and this is still largely true. But if young people are not just the receivers of the mission activity, but participants in it, participants because we are all part of Gods mission plan, as Vanhoozer (and many others) describes in a drama that requires participation of it on the stage of the world.  Then might we provide opportunities for young people to consider their own participation in ways that are more than being nice to their parents and encouraging a friend to come to youth group?

When it comes to learning, we might want to re think how young people learn, and so if there are opportunities for them to do and plan activity then this means that they are gaining in experiences, and learning through planning, ideas, collaborating, team work and also the act of volunteering, learning is happening through a process of doing. Is it true informal education, possibly. Will it enable young people to reflect on aspects of Gods character such as social justice, community and poverty, maybe. Is discipleship one shaped, where games and fun is a prelude to a talk, and the grand extension of this is the summer festival which, a few exceptions aside, is bigger activities, bigger talks and louder worship? Encouraging a doing discipleship, a faith that includes ‘not giving up good works’ – and even a faith that starts by doing good works as part of its culture, might be what young people believe in, as Nick Shepherd describes, if young people need faith to be plausible, then discovering where they and God might be at work in the community doing something together might be the most plausible thing of the discipleship.

Yes it takes risk, yes it might take a dynamic change in culture. But Christian ministry that focuses on developing morality over ministry, therapy over community transformation might need a seismic paradigm shift. Our role as youthworkers might be to empower young people to be the kind of community transforming and contributing people that we ourselves might be trying to be.

Image result for social actionHow difficult is it to think, and then help to create opportunities that enable, or empower, young people to make positive life decisions that not only help themselves but also their local community.

What might it require of us as youthworkers to have? Good connections in our local community, an awareness of needs, project and initiatives locally, relationships with those who are responsible for these initiatives. As youthworkers we might need to be selective,  but if we might only need to go so far to foster community engagement in young people, because they may already have the desire to get involved. A good resource for beginning a process of active discipleship is the ‘Experiments’ resource that FYT have produced. Using 8 phrases Jesus said to his disciples, they have put together 5 different activities for each which young people decide to do collectively or individual group, and for them to report and reflect afterwards on how they felt during the activity or action and how this might have put Jesus’ words into practice collectively and individually in their family, their school or with friends, it may be the beginning to helping them pursue thinking further about acting out what the Bible says in their local situation.

There are so many opportunities for young people to contribute, many national charities have programmes, curriculums for thinking globally, but finding local opportunities might take a bit more work, but it definately not impossible, such as foodbanks, soup kitchens could really be worthwhile. But if there isn’t something that seems suitable, why not create the space in their ongoing programme to develop their own local initiative? It may be as ‘simple’ as a local litter pick, or tidy of the river, a bullying campaign, or developing a resource or social business. They might want to meet a different local need in some way, something that affects them, in their day to day, so  how might young people doing local community activism change how local communities view young people. How might local activism create opportunities for young people to flourish through empowered decision making, planning and action and even more so, how might local community activism be part of, and integral to young peoples Christian faith? Might it actually be good for young people and be good for the community at the same time?

Does it mean making our role different as youth pastor/minister? from teacher and leader to community organiser..Image result for social action

One question that might be considered is why social activism has been so absent from youth group programmes over the years?

When trying to keep young people beyond Sunday schools – why did entertainment and relevancy become the default?

When trying to attract young people is a movement of change more attractive to some than the flashy lights of a music event, or other club or group work?

We might not know the answers to these questions, but what we might be able to do is take a risk and experiment, and see what happens when as Christian youthworkers we empower young people to change their world and contribute in their local space.  Maybe we need to focus on the real rather than the relevant, and encourage a movement of meaningful ministry that young people participate in. Its not an old old story that happened, but a drama happening now for young people to do ministry in.

 

References

Nick Shepherd – Faith Generation – 2016

Smith, C – Soul Searching – 2003

Root/Dean – The theological Turn in Youth Ministry – 2016

Andrew Root, Faith Formation, 2017

Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith, Speaking Understanding, 2014, also Samuel Wells, Improvisation, The drama of christian ethics, 2004

The experiments resource can be found at www.fyt.org

 

‘Mum, Dad, I think I might have become an Anglican’

Fast-forward a few decades, Its 2050, and there’s a small family, just finished their supper and about to sit down for an evening watching ‘strictly’, with former footballer Marcus Rashford and queen of pop, now in her 6th decade Miley Cyrus trying to ear a bit of cash on the now 47th series of the programme, when the child of the house, begins the conversation with the following;

‘Mum, Dad – can you sit down for a bit – theres something I need to let you know, that Ive been wanting to say for a while ?’

A pensive set of parents sit slightly closer together on the couch, abating a deep breath

‘I am hoping that, you know, well whatever i say I am still your little boy/girl, still me in all this?’ is that right?

Parents sort of nod, slightly trying to wonder whats coming next, though Mum pipes up; ‘yes of course you are’ hiding what might be a reaction later on

‘Well its something thats been troubling me for a while, but i thought you may have guessed by now, i think I might be–‘

‘Pregnant’?  interrupted Dad, ‘I guessed it, youve been going out alot lately, evenings and al that, I knew it, youve been meeting boys down the park, thats what it is, I never thought id be a Granddad at 48 but Ill have to get used. to__’

Dad, Dad, stop it, im not pregnant, no not all all

‘Are you sure’, pipes up Mum hoping at least for scientific certainty on this matter, ‘Yes im sure’

Well then, what is it?

Slightly taken aback, the young person starts again, ‘Well ive been often wondering about who I am, especially since I started to think about relationships, and you know the being devoted to that someone, and something just hasnt felt normal for quite a while, and well, I think I might be- ‘

‘Gay?’ Mum interrupted this time ‘ Mum and Dad, looked at each other, a small tear in one of their eyes, a smile on one of them, and a deep breath in another, I sounded like relief, strangely .  Mum went on, ‘We did sort of guess, the way you didnt have a boyfriend, the way in which you were dressing quite sensibly, and of course we’ll love you, and help you through this, and help you be the person you feel you are, and support you in the relationships you have..’

Mum, im not gay’ and there was almost a gasp of disappointment from Mum…

What do you mean you’re not gay?’ if its not that what is it?

This is going badly thought the young person, she was going to have to come straight out with it, and try for a third time

‘Mum, Dad, I really hope I am not a disappointment to you, but i think I have become an Anglican’ 

A WHAT?  ‘bellowed Dad’ AN ANGLICAN? – ‘No daughter of mine is going to become an anglican, what will the neighbours think? , what will you tell grandma? it will change you life?  he sobs. 

Mum, sobbing; ‘But darling, you’ll lose all your friends, no one will speak to you, and it will be so difficult to get on in life, people will bully you, Its just not, not right, I didnt think I had brought you up this way, I blame your father’ 

Dad  Are you sure, I mean , its not just a phase you’re going though?’

‘Yes Im sure, Its been confirmed, I am an Anglican’

Dad, still trying to keep it all together; ‘Well , we’re not happy, not at all, Its going to take a whole load of getting used to, I dont think there is another anglican in the village, and we will have to get used to being parents of an anglican, and all the questions and all that, I heard of Jim down the road, he said his son was a Baptist, but they soon got over it, so I think we will just have to deal with it’

‘Is there support groups for people like you’ suggested Mum, can you go somewhere to talk about being anglican, and all the things you Anglican types do?

‘Im not sure, I think there might be, something in the next village, theres another Anglican there, and Im sorry, but, and you’re going to hate me for this, I havent been out sneaking to the park to see boys, but ive been going to church, without telling you, Im sorry, but I just had to’

A revelation to Dad, and Mum took this better, ‘Really, Church?thats so, well, so, not for people like us,  I am disappointed, and Im not surprised, theres more people, you know, like that, in the next village, but not here, no not here’ – she couldnt say much more…

So, Dad continued; ‘What about the media, they’re all against Anglicans, and people will stare at you in the street? ‘ 

I know Dad, Ill try and keep it quiet, but I will need to start telling people, getting people used to what its like to actually be an Anglican, not just what they hear in the press, and its not as if the press is true anyway, is it?

Mum and Dad, just sort of waited a while, calmed a bit and said – ‘Well we are a little taken aback, but thinking about it, we knew you were different, and acting strange for a while, but never for a moment did we ever think you were becoming Anglican, yes of course we’ll love you still, but it will be strange for a while, while we get used to it’ 

 

With the news that only 2% of young people in the UK are professing to be Anglicans, this kind of coming out might be needed. Though it might be like Tory voters, who don’t show their true colours until the actual votes and not in the opinion polls, there may well be a while load of secret Anglican young people out there.  To be young, and christian might be as challenging, might, as being young and LGBT, especially when, in the few scenarios that it isn’t the same world view or belief as the young persons parents. It could easily feel as alienating, and probably does. As Parents – what are you supposed to do, when your child have become, well, one of them, an Anglican?

Lets face the reality, and I jest. This isn’t about 2050 at all. Its happening now. So what response might there be from those who might have influence over these matters – will there be money where the mouth is in regard to teenage faith experiences in the church? Or – might an underground movement of secret anglican young people be needed to take on the world..?

Theres far too much already on this site about the church, young people, mission and youth ministry, nothing in these statistics in any way is new, the only call to make whether it stirs anyone in power, with finances to action. There are heaps of ideas in these pages on how to start connecting with young people, developing mission and engaging in conversations, by all means bookmark a few articles and come back later. All i can say is that whilst childrens and youthworkers are underpaid and thus undervalued, then a situation where children and young people do not feel valued and connected in churches is no surprise. Coming out as an anglican, might soon be as traumatic in a few decades as coming out as gay.

 

 

 

 

 

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