6 common defaults when churches start working with young people (to try and avoid?)

It never really surprises me how often when churches, (and when i mean churches i mean, clergy & some interested congregation members) think about working with young people, that a number of fairly common defaults are evident. In this post I want to share some of these, not because they are wrong necessarily, but it might be that you if you’re reading this didn’t realise quite how much of a default it is, when there might be other alternatives to how working with young people in a faith setting might take place.

Default No 1. The best way to start any youth programme is when a whole load of adults sit in a room and have ideas about what to do and hope young people want to do them. 

How often is this repeated? There’s young people. There’s adults. Adults have a whole load of ideas, look up a whole load of resources from (insert UK wide faith based youth ministry provider) , who is trusted because (the leader used to work for them/leader used to receive them/the organisation is credible/its easier) . Then Adults use resource to shape a programme that young people maybe want , or don’t want, or are encouraged to do because they feel that the church is making an effort . But the only option for them is to opt in, or opt out. And opting out makes them look ungrateful.

Or the adults have a ‘big idea’ – now ‘big idea’ – could be a rock cafe, a worship event, a youth praise group, a choir, a football night, cheese on toast for Jesus, graffiti artist, Rap artist (yes its still the 1990’s in some churches). And its a great idea that the adults spend ages. I mean ages. shaping, promoting, deciding in meetings, risk assessing, getting an MP to praise it, organising prayer meetings for it, getting it blessed by the elders or PCC…. but yet when it happens… not a single young person is involved at any stage, and three turn up, the same three who already go to messy church, the same three who would have turned up if you have offered tea and a biscuit instead.

One of my most read pieces on this website is this one. Titled ‘what role do young people have in your church/youth group?’  The challenge in avoiding the default above, is to be brave and give young people a different role in the life of the church and youth group. One in which their role from the outset isn’t just as a consumer of an idea that is foisted on them, but that they are engaged in ongoing conversation, planning and creation. As i say often, usually 11 year old’s in primary schools have some say in small groups about spending school budgets on improving it, via a school council. Meanwhile the same young people in a different institution, church, are just given shapes of Daniel and the lions den to colour in. Or spaghetti towers to make to illustrate a moral point. Avoiding this default might require an approach taken in which space is created for conversation, and ideas from young people, and trusting in them to be able to shape and create something with adults. You never know…

Default 2. Young people who are bored in church don’t always want bigger,brighter entertainment to keep them interested and coming back.   They don’t always like it when their youth thing condescends, patronises and makes them feel like children, by just looking like a school disco. 

Avoiding boredom may well be the curse affecting most of youth ministry   so there’s constant re invention taking place, constant new song, constant new material, constant make something relevant. Making the programme more exciting might be the biggest long term turn off for young people in their ongoing faith development. Because, when the programme runs out, or they get too old for it, what then? even more boredom when the only option is real church. Sod that.

But if the signs of boredom are beginning to be seen in the groups you have, and 2 years of colouring Daniel, is going to start wearing thin, then it might not be ‘Daniel colouring plus’ that’s required. It might be to actually talk with, respect and give young people the space to contribute, to be involved, to have their say. This is linked to point one above. But its also more than that yes young people might, in many cases want to have their say and voice heard and participate. But it might also be that what they are being offered isn’t challenging enough, isn’t controversial enough (talk about ethical issues) , isn’t real enough (talk about health matters, cancer, periods, mental health, the environment) , maybe even… isn’t spiritual enough. When their friends are into meditation and mindfulness, and the church is offering a prayer spoken by an adult and a god slot- where might their spiritual awakening or curiosity likely to go?  Yes i said it…. youth groups might not be spiritual enough. Young people might be bored… but why might they be…?  Work that out with real conversations and then see… don’t resort to making it louder or bigger as a default. Deci and Ryan suggest that challenge, autonomy and relationship are key factors in personal motivation. Work out how these can be part of developing youth ministry, not just smoke machines and drum kits.

Default number 3. The God bit is the God-slot

Oldest chestnut of a conversation this. Id reveal my bias here when i say I am encouraged that there are some fabulous interesting practices of youth work around that are starting to think differently about how young people learn, engage with, form, and become involved in faith – and have moved away from a God slot. In this piece i provide 6 alternatives. In a way it says something about how we as adults view education, and view discipleship if the only part that of a youth group regarded as ‘God’ bit is that God -slot moment.  Which is a shame… because that can often be the most challenging, boring, difficult part of the youth group evening and yet that’s the bit where young people receive instruction about God. Hmm… God explicitly is getting a raw deal there i think. Its also the bit in the group where young people can often have the least involvement – even if there is an attempt to give them options in other aspects like food or games – and its also the time when the power dynamics shift – and bluntly- it looks like school. Anyway. Old chestnut resurfaced, nothing new in this paragraph. But its a fairly common default. Disciopleship isnt one way and faith isnt formed by just listening. Check out the FYT experiments resource to flip that one on its head. There’s more on the God slot stuff in Here be Dragons. See link above.

Default number 4 : Young peoples faith will develop even more if we get them involved in christian youth culture.  

This is often a parental pressure thing. The default is that once involved in church, a young person must immediately only listen to christian music, wear tshirts, go to christian summer festivals (cheap holidays for parents to send kids away on, and their ‘safe’) , and become a leader in church, volunteer in sunday school. And basically show their christian faith and discipleship through countless attendances and involvement in christian titled things.  Nick Shepherd is onto something though, saying that these things do help with a young person creating a christian identity for themselves. But its part of something bigger in constructing faith… read his book.   Though I wonder… is this what adults do as well… well of course.. . I am not sure its as prevalent – and i also know I pretty much chose to go along to all the things i mentioned there in the 1990s.. however… what might have been ‘good’ in previous generations… might not be now.. but the default remains. Especially when young people more than any other group are bombarded with messages about being distinctive from the world, about almost avoiding the world, about only being ‘in the world’ to evangelise to friends, only having friends.. so they can be invited to youth group (I’m sure this doesn’t still happen) – but what do these messages do?  Create divide. And unhealthy them and us, and put young people in the most difficult positions in schools, communities and homes.  I am sure this isn’t the default it might well have been before, but worth watching out for it.

Default 5. Working with young people is for some one else

There is a magical human out there, who is so radically different from the humans in the church, who will be able to do something magical with young people that they don’t know, but you have known since they were 3 and been in messy church or Sunday school (and got bored colouring in Daniel), and this magical person is about to be transported in under the false pretenses of needing to be innovative, creative and experienced (with the reassurances of being underpaid, under supported and poorly managed) to round up the previously bored from messy church group, the alienated from church 12 year olds, the 15 yr old daughter of the vicar (chosen specifically because they had a young family 12 years ago, and they could be the previous magic person ) – but new magic person is now needed.

This default, creates a thought that magic external person is the best person to connect with young people. The reality is that if you know the young people, and have done since they were 3, then you are. You just need to re connect, maybe apologise (for too much Daniel colouring in) ask and listen and rebuild a relationship.  Young people value relationship, authenticity and long term integrity. You’ll get that if you take the time and listen. value them and re connect. A magic person is starting from scratch. If young people are important, you don’t value them by employing a magic person to rescue them, you value them by giving them space, time and opportunities. You value them by creating a culture in a church where they are important. from the leadership, organisation, planning and decision making down. Where they are welcomed and participate. Thats value.

Default 6. Young people are all______________ – they’re just a completely different generation to us, they so different. 

This is ‘Young people are alien syndrome’. All of a sudden there’s a default position taken that goes along the lines of ‘young people have just arrived from outer space, they’re weird, unruly, into things we have no idea of, unpredictable, different.. etc’ and then someone clever, will recite a piece of research, or the bloody guardian, that talks about ‘Meellenials’ and how in order to reach ‘meeelenials’ the church has to do X and Y and Z.  An invisible ‘them’ and ‘us’ is created. Young people are all of a sudden different, difficult, hard to reach, unique- and yet no one has even spoken to any of them. Just looked at generalised research to make an opinion. Then someone will say ‘its just helpful to do research’ well.. yes it is. But if you want to do research, ask the young people in the community you are working in, and build up knowledge from actions, from conversations, from reality. There is no one else in the world like the young person who plays football in your community park, or the young person who is bored in messy church, or is a bit lost in church, but comes along with his Dad. Research and thinking of young people as alien, really isn’t going to help with listening, learning, empathy, time.  As Carl Rogers said, we cannot empathise if we prejudge, and we prejudge all the time, so lets not add to it with extra lenses  from adopted sociological research (used mainly to justify programmes that we’ve already said… perpetuate a default) . There is no such thing as a millenial young person. Can we dump the universality research, and thinking of young people as aliens. They’re just people (Christian Smith, 2003) . Like you and me. Its children, ironically who are less like adults. Think about it.

Theres 6. I could of added a few others, and yet as i thought about it, they all nearly stem from the concept of participation, and lack of – and these are covered in the post i shared in the link above. its almost as though the key default in churches, is not to give young people any involvement in aspect of what goes on, for them, or for anything at all. Or that they wont be interested if its made too difficult, challenging. For the few young people left in churches…we have to do better. For starting work with young people, churches could start from a different place, and not go straight to these defaults. Expecting different results from the same actions.  I am sure you can think of others too. But these are the ones i see, and have also been guilty of doing myself too.

Some references and additional reading

Christian Smith, 2003, Soul Searching, his 15 recommendations for christian youth groups from research of 1500 church is well worth a look.

Nick Shepherd, 2016, Faith Generation. Still one of the best critical, thought provoking, books on youth ministry in the UK.

Carl Rogers, 1972, A way of Being. On person centred therapy.

Andrew Root, 2017 Faith formation in a secular age, isnt referenced directly, but some of the links do.

Chap Clark, 2018, Adoptive church. Chap suggests churches should be places of participation where young people flourish in the whole community. Id recommend this one.

 

 

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‘In an ideal world you could just get funding for building relationships with young people’

How many times have you said that in the last 40 years? (As a youth/community worker)

Not a relationship that had to make something else happen to justify the relationship, not a relationship where the young person ‘changed’, not a relationship in which entire decades of social harm, psychological damage caused by other relationship was solved in 4 months -type of relationship. Not a relationship in which the young person achieved something, said something, evaluated something like the relationship offered to them was worthwhile. Not a relationship that was needed so that the new 3m youth building wasnt closed.

‘in an ideal world we would get funding for building trusted relationships with young people’

Just a relationship.

Just being with someone for the sake of it

Just having someone to talk to

Just . a . conversation.

Just a moment to be valued

Just a moment in which time stood still, and there was an interruption to the norm

A moment where someone stopped and took an interest and for the young persons sake.

A relationship that may lead to action, a relationship that may be supportive, a relationship that could change the world of the young person – and the adult – but not a relationship that expects and targets that before its already happened.

I am reading ‘Poverty Safari’ by Darren McGarvey; within it he notes the reflections of a youth worker, Joe – reflections that have been echoed by the youth worker fraternal for decades. Its Joes boss that bemoans the lack of funding for relationships. Joe, goes on to say:

‘good youthwork can have a profound and positive effect on young people and it is a challenging and rewarding job. But I think we are a long way from this being understood or accepted by a fairly large element of funding bodies and the public sector. There is funding out there for targets, outcomes and issues. However many are not relevant to the work we do’

(which is)

‘ we are working to combat the effects of inequality and poverty has on the lives of young people, the cycle of insecurity, mistrust, lack of resilience. low self esteem and confidence. It is holistic, long term and multi faceted work’

This may not be the space to critique all of the above. Certainly there is an element of youthworkers clinging to the darkness as their natural habitat, and not necessarily seeing all the opportunities and options for funding and developing their work, and working in a needs based, and meeting emotional needs might be already fitting of a funding or social policy agenda. However.

The point remains to be said.

None of any of these things, any of these approaches, will ever come to fruition without the basic need to develop relationships as a core focus, no not core focus, as a reason to exist. Anything else is a course, a program or a ministry.

It may only be the voluntary or faith sector that has the capacity to do this, but the culture of outcomes and targets is fully pervasive, whether that’s in funding bids to charitable trusts, outcome promises to consortiums, or even, the final result of good youth ministry, have kids turn up on a Sunday. Its outcome orientated- no its outcome defined relationships. Its fully pervasive, because the systems are crumbling and in need to justify existence. Its fully pervasive because the value for money neo-liberalism default has made anything other seem radical, seem ‘non real world’, too idealistic. And Funding, and outcomes always generate a implicit direction of travel to the lowest hanging fruit, so that funding can be justified. The nearly christian who might go to church, the nearly got a job or capable to do a course- an easy quick win. But no one (as McGarvey writes) dare say this.

Yet, as McGarvey writes. Young people can smell outcome orientated rats a mile off. Young people in poverty can attune to being projected. Being rescued for a moment by the short term saviour (p83). The parachuted in for a funding season organisation that makes promises and delivers nothing, and has no actual involvement in the real needs, real situation of the community its is meant to be there for. And no one in the community has any involvement in any of it – except to turn up, and be a number.

Things young people want; (According to McGarvey)

Value ; The adult ‘ was passionate about the work they did and made me feel valued’ (p69)

Place and space: ‘working class folks receive strange looks when their groups lofty objectives are to want a place for the elderly and a space to drink coffee’ (p49) – or – ask a group of young people what they want to do – just want somewhere to go thats safe to talk.

Participation and Autonomy: ‘Joe and his team are one of many small (and chronically underfunded – my words) organisations that are dealing with the social and cultural legacy of decades of poor planning and tokenistic consultation with local people’ (p82)

Good youthwork is more than what Joe says it is, but then youthwork is an ongoing conversation that creates new definitions in each context, what is important is that relationships where young people are valued, where there is safety, space and place, and where there is a genuine desire for participation, and young persons autonomy to be at the forefront of it. Where honest means that its not a relationship for an outcome. A relationship that’s reduced to a trade.

So, yeah, in an ideal world,

‘we would get funding for building trusting relationships with young people’

And we will have realised the inherent good that there is in every single one of these. Whilst there are some ways of writing these down – the desire that relationships have outcomes at all virtually destroys their honesty, and their goodness. The ethics of the market reigns, and as Goffman says, the closer we are the trade, the less authentic the performance we play in our interactions. (Goffman, 1960)

But we must not give up. We will keep on going. There will be a way. It may be asset based community development, it may be in re framing and using different language to describe youthwork, it may be something else. Whatever we do, its relationships with young people that matter. after all…

Youthwork is a professional relationship in which the young person is engaged as the primary client in their social context (Sercombe, p27)

References

Goffman, Irving , 1960, The presentation of the self in everyday life

McGarvey Darren, 2017, Poverty Safari

Sercombe, Howard, 2012, Youth work Ethics

In Praise of Youth works influential (often invisible) Women

A few weeks ago, there was a bit of a discussion, may be caused by me, on the number of women in youth ministry who have been able to or been involved in publishing theological or theoretical books, and whether Youth Ministry is too American and too male. Whether publishing is the way to influence, or whether there are many many reasons is a piece for another day. Not to mention ‘what youth ministry’ actually is. But it is a Friday. The end of a long week.

And this week, on a similar theme, I have been reading the following book, another free one as it was being cleared out from the Religious resources centre in the north east, they’re fabulous as they keep me a pile of any youth work books that theyre about to throw out (might start my own library)..

The best thing about books is learning something new, or in equal measure in the case of this one, learning about someone new.

And , to be quite honest with you, in this book I found a new hero. I fell in love.

I fell in love with a lady called Josephine Macalister Brew.

A woman, who I confess, I had never heard of, until i read chapter 13 of the above book. A woman who was one of many who was highly influential in the development of youthwork in the 1940’s-1960’s. A woman who was an educationalist, who was thoughtful, who it was said had a lightness of touch in her writing and yes was critical, and who held onto faith.

If we are not in youth work because of our love of our fellow men we have no business there at all. This burning love of humanity always meets with response, though not always in the ways we most care for, but nowadays as much youth work is ruined by too much restraint as by too much exuberance. Fear to exert undue influence, fear to assert authority when necessary, conscientious scruples about this and that – are all contributory factors. But young people want to know where they are and they need the friendship of those who have confidence and faith. (Brew 1957: 112-3)

I need to read more of her work to do her justice, and I’m grateful that you can read more about her in this piece: Josephine Brew and Informal education so that you can be as inspired and bathe in her profound, compassionate, yet passionate insights into youthwork. I was interested to read that the much heralded ‘Informal education’ by Jeffs and Smith (1999) was a cover.. and that Josephine Brew had already written a book with that title.. read the link and find it for yourself…

But this got me thinking, I hadn’t heard of Josephine Macalister Brew. Who else haven’t I heard of? and…. if I hadn’t heard of her, are there other significantly influential women who have shaped youthwork practice in the UK that others may not have done?

So, starting with Brew, above, here is my list of 5 other significant women who have influenced me in the history of UK youthwork, from their action that inspires, their writing and their influence, some you may not have heard of, others you might.

1 & 2. Maude Stanley and Ellen Ranyard : For anyone who has thought through the history of detached youthwork, these two women feature heavily. It was they who began, in one form or another to provide non building related health services to people in London in the 1860’s on wards. Today we might call them community nurses or matrons, they used the term district nursing, or Bible nursing, and whilst we might find issue with some of the ethics of their practices, what cannot be questioned is their dedication and heart for the poorest, most infirm in society, and the dedication to get out of the cosy building and meet people in their homes.

ellen ranyard, 'bible women' and informal education

For more on Maude Stanley and her setting up of girls clubs in soho, see this link : Maude Stanley On Ellen Ranyard, see here: Bible Nursing

3. Hannah More. If you think about the history of Sunday Schools in the UK, you might mostly think Robert Raikes, and this is pretty accurate given his role in developing them. However, you would do well to include the name of Hannah More in the development of them too. For reasons explained in this article , Hannah More used her knowledge and power, and influence within the church (albeit controversial at times, how things have changed…) and fought to encourage the expansion of Sunday schools in the UK.

Hannah More - Wikimedia Commons. Images by unknown engravers, and thus are PD due to age, per the relevant British legislation.

Her desire for them, was based upon the compassion she experienced in situations like this:

… we found more than 2,000 people in the parish, almost all very poor—no gentry, a dozen wealthy farmers, bard, brutal and ignorant.. . . We went to every house in the place, and found every house a scene of the greatest vice and ignorance. We saw but one Bible in all the parish, and that was used to prop a flower-pot. No clergyman had resided in it for forty years. One rode over from Wells to preach once each Sunday. No sick were visited, and children were often buried without any funeral service. (from H. Thompson, (1838) Life of Hannah More quoted by Young and Ashton 1956: 237-8)

In describing the nature of More, and the Sunday school she set up in cheddar, Mark Smith writes: ‘ The significance of Hannah and Martha More’s activities with regard to Sunday schooling lay in the pedagogy they developed; the range of activities they became involved in; and the extent to which publicity concerning their activities encouraged others to develop initiatives. Hannah and Martha More attempted to make school sessions entertaining and varied. We can see this from the outline of her methods published in Hints on how to run a Sunday School (and reported in Roberts 1834). Programmes had to be planned and suited to the level of the students; there needed to be variety; and classes had to be as entertaining as possible (she advised using singing when energy and attention was waning). She also argued that it was possible to get the best out of children if their affections ‘were engaged by kindness’. Furthermore, she made the case that terror did not pay (Young and Ashton 1956: 239). However, she still believed it was a ‘fundamental error to consider children as innocent beings’ rather than as beings of ‘a corrupt nature and evil dispositions’ (More 1799: 44, quoted by Thompson 1968: 441)’

Hannah More, known by Wilberforce and part of the group demanding change in the Anglican church towards social justice, and putting it into practice in Cheddar gorge.

4. Joan Tash

For me Joan Tash is one half of the dynamic 1960s duo, Goetschius and Tash, who wrote up their experiences of developing a detached youthwork/ outreach project in a london borough by the YWCA. Working with Unnattached Youth (1967) is that book, for me its virtually the Bible of detached youthwork, though I may now revise giving Tash all my hero status, (now that I have found Brew). But Joan Tash, (and George Goetschius) writing in that book alone, has i my opinion been barely superceded, in terms of detail, insight and thought in regard to the issues, challenges and scenarios of detached youthwork faced by them over the course of 5 years. They pioneered thinking about groups, values, community, supervision (ill get to that later), faith, training, and power, relationships in youthwork. When i say pioneered, it is as much that so much of what they said may not have been new, but written down in this book, with such evidence of practice included in such a painstaking, detailed way is hugely important. Many of their ideas have been used since (such as Heather Smiths work on Relationships), or values in community work developed elsewhere. Tash, like Brew, became significantly influential in the early development of the youth service. Working with the unattached is still i believe under valued in the history of youth work, and also in the field of christian faith based work.

As an educator, Tash lectured and was senior tutor at the YMCA college, and her extensive work on the supervision of youthworkers has influenced so many since. I can only imagine that 5 years of detached youthwork gave her the insight into the importance of it… im sure those who heard her lectures might agree…

Do have a read of Joan Tash, again, Mark Smith has written of her in this fascinating piece

5. The following Women, are to my knowledge all still alive. And so, their names have not yet been written up into youthwork legend status. Some of them, I know personally, some i dont so well. I have found their writing influential in my thinking about young people and youthwork, and so I hope that you might do too, there are no links for these women, just a hope that you might give their work some time and invest in it.

Johanna Wyn (& Rob White) ‘ Rethinking Youth’, 1999. If you are in any way serious about young people and thinking about them especially in culture. (Youth ministry colleagues especially, its all about youth culture, isnt it..) then to get a different view on much that is taken for granted about young people and culture, give this book a read. I implore you.

Kerry YoungThe Art of Youthwork’ 1999 & 2006. A book so influential in youthwork it has now had 2 editions. Nuff said. A must read. Its a must read every year. Covers everything from values, virtues, philosophy and ethics. Just read it.

Annette Coburn (and David Wallace) ‘Youth work in Communities and schools’ (2011) As Allan Clyne and I agree, this is one of the few books recently that has started to frame youth work in a constructive way (and not just moan about its status or give the rose tinted specs of the past) . Her definitions are helpful and theres a fair inclusion of detached youthwork in this piece as well as schools and community work generally, so, whilst Scottish based (and this makes it less relevant for some) it is definitely worth reflecting on.

Heather Smith – On relationships in Youthwork. During my honours writing a few years ago on mentoring relationships i encountered Heather smiths pieces on Infed, and then her chapter on youthwork relationships in ‘Engaging in Conversation’ in Jeffs & Smith (2011). She understandably credits Goetschius and Tash for original insight, but i use her writing on relationships and conversation alot in helping others think through these things when i deliver detached youthwork training. So, for me, influential. This article on seeking out authenticity in youthwork relationships is one to reflect on over a coffee today… go on…

There may be a number of women I have missed, there will be, and creditable mention to Tania de st Croix, Naomi Thompson and Sally Nash who have influenced me in a number of ways, in my youthwork vocation, and friends such as Helen Gatenby and Gemma Dunning who have inspired me alot in the last 5 years. This isnt a roll call necessarily and its not to embarass or annoy anyone, and thats the problem with starting a piece like this, there will be names I might miss out. Maybe thats always going to happen, I just know who the people are who have influenced my practice, their writing and their support, encouragement and it is these i give credit to. And i hope that some of these women are as inspiring and influential to you, i hope like Brew for me, one or two surprise you.

3 questions that are critical to ask of all our youth work and ministry practice.

Shall we start with a reality check?

There is no magic answer, solution, gravy train, resource, method, model for youth work and ministry. There really isn’t. Anyone telling you this is merely on the hard sell, of their particular brand, style, event or model. Anyone telling you this is is hoping that they have it, that they experienced it and they’re clinging on to keep their particular dream alive. Or organisation. And i have been as guilty or complicit in this too. Though Id hope not because id peddle my own faith upbringing as the only path for others to have..

But I know you’re probably reading this because you want an answer, a style, a method or a model to solve the current problems, concerns you may have about your youth work practice. Whether it is about children leaving messy church, or young people on the streets, or the YF being boring and running out of ideas.

And running out of ideas is one of the main issues isn’t it? A key factor in youth worker burnout. They run out of ideas.

Yet, youth ministry isnt an entertainment industry… is it..?

If you are reading this hoping for the magic answer, then you may well end up being disappointed, but well done for getting this far. The questions are coming.

Because on one hand I am slightly tired of the models and methods, the research, and the moaning, about why people leave their faith, or why a model didn’t work because it worked elsewhere (or in 1983), yet without looking at what is going on at a deeper level with young people, then models, methods are still unlikely to work. But they kept being tried… Working doesn’t mean attendance, or young people paying for something. Because.. its not the values of the entertainment industry that we’re looking for.. is it?

So, what are the 3 questions that we should ask of all our youth work and ministry practices? And ask repeatedly and all the time. They are:

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples belonging?

Does what we do/about to do increase young peoples autonomy?

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples sense of competence?

 

What you say – no  mention of Jesus?  no mention of values? no mention of ………(fill in the blank)

Yes. Agreed. No mention of those things. Because, look closely and you will find those things in these three questions.

Belonging. 

Relationships have been front, centre and under pretty much all of youth work and ministry practice. You really dont need me to pull out all the references for this. But relationships are one thing. A sense of belonging and connection is another. If we hope that ‘our relationship’ with a young person as a single youth worker or volunteer is crucial, we may be misguided, because its a sense of belonging that young people crave, (secret: we all do).  So… do young people feel they belong in the church family, do they feel they belong in their school, do they feel they belong in their public park, do they feel they belong in their town. Our relationship with a young person might be critical, especially if it helps to help them have a greater sense of belonging.

How might the whole church help a young person (s) belong? How might the town help young people belong who also want to express their anger at austerity through anti social behaviour?

So – how might what we do/ what is bout to be done – help young peoples sense of belonging?

 

Autonomy

This may seem to stand in contradiction to belonging and connection. But it isnt. Autonomy may mean that young people can make their own decisions, and as an individual, however, autonomy can also become something that our youth work and ministry should create, in order that young people can have a say in decision making processes, in decisions that affect them, affect the youth ministry/work itself and also the wider faith community and organisation. Autonomy is a key motivator for us all, we all like to be kings of our own castle. Yet at the same time, reflect on the situations where young people in the group, or organisation had any autonomy over the activity, process, style and nature of the group.

We might use the term participation, and that in a way is a graded scale of how young people do have increased decision making/autonomy.  Because after all, increasing young peoples participation is not that far from helping them to meet some of their self determined goals. Their goals about the club, group, community.. their dreams, visions, their collective passions for these things

I have written extensively on participation, some of these are my most read pieces.. its clearly a need, to think through and reflect.

Though i have suggested this one is second in this list of three. I think its the most important. Especially in churches and youth ministry.

 

Thirdly, Competence

What can your youth work and ministry do – to help young people feel that they acheieved something, they made something happen, they did well?

And it doesnt need to be personal – but it could be

It doesnt need to be social – but it could be

They did well doing the reading in a service is one thing, they did well speaking up at the leaders meeting another. They did well writing to their MP on climate change, they did well showing generosity and grace to others in the group. They did well…..

Nothing like doing well isnt it.

You know what that feels like?  probably not.

Will you only tell young people they did well at something when you get positive feedback for all your efforts, your hard work, your job? Id hope not.  You might have to give and continually give praise, even if you dont receive it.

But its not just the praise. It is the situations in which there is a possibility of being able to. When working on the streets its easy to affirm young peoples football skills, or how they ct with each other. It is their environment. So, how might the space of the youth group, club or project also be a space that encourages competence, encourages risk taking activity that stretches our known behaviours and praises the actions that are taken.

Youthwork that has craft activities are brilliant at this, if we can encouraging the simple making of things that are fairly easy so that everyone can do something well. the same with cooking, or fixing bikes, or sports or video games… its not quite the same with movies.

Its no coincidence that uniformed youthwork organisations with badges and awards continue to be very popular.

How might young people feel, if they are part of a group or project in which they leave each session feeling like they have achieved something, have developed a skill, have something to take home, have created something? Yes.. exactly…

 

 

If you need to think further about these three things through a faith lens, then do so. If you want to think about them in the context of the divine relationship between humanity and God, in terms of divine and human action, in terms of free will, prayer, and being made in the image of God, then do so. I would encourage it. It would be good to have that discussion. if you want to have a look at these things through discipleship or mission, through church then do so. You should also be able to see where these things mirror core youthwork values, like participation, empowerment and valuing the individual. Some of those reflections have already been done by Jocelyn Bryan in her excellent book, referenced below.

So, faith and theology is not my starting point for these. It is psychology.

If this all feels a bit more on the psychological side of things then it is. But thats ok isnt it. Because psychology could help us in youth work and ministry in a way couldn’t it. After all, we’ve tried sociology to death with all the generationalism surveys, and that hasn’t got anyone anywhere. Aside from selling resources.

But, you want to make a real difference in your group, your church, you organisation with young people. Don’t worry about second guessing their interests because they’re millenial. Try instead looking at the deep things that motivate them. Try looking at how belonging, autonomy and competence are part of their lives, try seeing where they find these things already. Try doing what you can to find them in the group, project and activity that you run. Of course this is hard work, of course this might require shifts. Who said this was in any way easy…

The reason these questions are crucial – because they’re the same one we ask of ourselves. Young people, are no different to us.

 

Further Reading: 

Human Being, Jocelyn Bryan, 2016.

 

Could the last remaining youth worker, please give the PM a hand with her knife crime problem?

This week, on Monday Theresa May held a conference in downing street with a number of organisations on the back of a rising panic about knife crime in London, but not just London. What this conversation didnt seem to do was start to address the deep seated issues of poverty, cuts and reductions in youth services that have created an environment where these issues have now got to crisis point. And poverty and austerity have created an angry and lost generation of young people. Understandably.

Schools cannot afford to train or employ staff to tackle knife crime.

The cuts to youth and childrens service have been savage since 2010. Under the austerity measures, it is estimated that over 600 FTE (and so with an extensive number of PT staff, this will be nearer 1000 people) youthworkers have been taken out of youth work orientated roles, on the ‘frontline’ an with a broadly youth work remit. Yes, some have been redistributed to social work, troubled families and to other agenda’d areas in local councils and statutory bodies (as my post here suggested. But savage cuts have taken an extra ordinary number of youthworkers away from the local community, and community practices where they were. Do a search of ‘cuts’ on the Children and young people now website and you will find plenty of evidence, such as this piece, written in February: https://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2006432/childrens-services-at-breaking-point-due-to-funding-cuts-charities-warn

Youthworkers have expended energy trying to keep youth centres open, trying to be innovative to keep the semblance of a youth service going, become creative in ascertaining funding, yet at the same time training organisations, colleges and courses have been cut too, as their need has collapsed. There is not then the ‘churn’ of new youthworkers entering the field, as there once was. And the same might be said in the church. The same might be said in the voluntary sector, where there are jobs, but few applicants, at times.

Yet, the social panics about young people, county lines, mental health – and this week (again) knife crime – have come to the politicians attention, and the public at large… just… (even in a Brexit toxic week) and whilst I have written before about the knee jerk reaction for the promotion of youth services on the back of moral panics young people deserve better, in terms of being thought of as creative, energising, innovative, passionate and been subject to austerity policy (rather than to blame) .

We are left with the cumulative scenario, that it is now due to the public sector to deal with a response to knife crime  which is really interesting, as I am sure the policy of education revolved around the ethics of the market is really going to accommodate a space for knife carrying education, or peace and reconciliation, in and amongst a data pressured, outcome driven school system, where PSHE and citizenship have already been slashed. Concerns voiced by teachers and unions in this piece here: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/01/knife-prevention-plan-unfair-on-teachers-say-unions

Responding to youth violence through youth work

So ultimately, the axe falls to the teachers in schools.

Because, there isnt the frontline youthworkers left, even though detached youthworkers produced resources into ‘street crime’ responses 10 years ago: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=9781447323099&i=stripbooks&linkCode=qs. The voice of youthworkers and their ability to respond has been so diminished, devalued and restricted.

Where youthworkers had an on the ground perspective of the issues, the interactions with young people on the streets and have heard, seen and witnessed it, the task is for the public sector workers cocooned in institutions- subject to education policy remit (and not specifically for/with young people) . Yes, some youthworkers have been part of the conversation – but realistically – the question has to be asked ;

Would the remaining youth workers left help the prime minister out with her knife crime problem? 

The cart and horse had bolted at the time of the London Riots, government cuts to youth services produced anger and outrage, and yet here we are 7 years later. More cuts, more moral panics, and Theresa the hero holds a conference, yet has over seen the most damaging series of cuts to youth services in their 100 year history. Young people are almost left with little choice. Anything now is reactive, being on the ground in the first place might, just might have brought about more social cohesion and community, more understanding, influence and moral guidance with young people – take that all away and a youth worker is just an informal police officer. My guess is that the police dont want this gig either. Youthwork is not their speciality, neither is it as possible in such an environment. So – would the last remaining youthworkers give Theresa a hand? would you?

And if you do – what are you saying about how this ‘problem’ is caused by, and being complicit to an agenda which places the individual, rather than society at large, and the government for its cuts partly responsible.

‘To solve the church and society’s problems; we just need to get those feral young people into church’

Or at least, that’s what we want to pay a youth worker to do.

Harsh? Or deep down is this what churches are really thinking?

Twice in the last year I have heard the word ‘feral’ used to describe groups of young people.

As many times more have I heard that getting young people into church is the only answer to solving their problems.

Forgive me for just a little over sensitivity.

But WHAT THE ACTUAL F***?

Has brexit unleashed a whole new generation of intolerant uncompassionate baby boomer/late retireds who have a compassion and humanity chip missing?

Have church leaders forgotten what love and ‘people made in the image of God’ looks like?

Has personal blame, rather than community responsibility and societies ills been sidelined?

Or is church still set in Victorian ways.. still happy to feel colonial and superior and retain this by the use of Victorian language.

So I’m bloody mad.

But if this is actually what we’re thinking as churches when it comes to working with young people, then churches and the congregations in them have got to own this.

Own that this is how they actually feel about young people. Own that working with young people is only code for ‘bringing them into church’. Own that they are scared and frightened of young people, and where these feeling originate. Often from the media, and when powerful leaders in churches use negative stories of the world outside and young people’s actions. Own it and be honest. Own it and challenge i. Own it and be collectively self aware.

I just don’t think the problem is with young people.

It’s with us.

It’s with the us who know better

It’s with the us who still believe

It’s with the us who hope that change is possible

It’s with us if we have any desire to realise that God’s love is inclusive.

It’s our problem. It’s our problem as church if this is our starting point. Or what we actually mean, but try and hide it.

It’s our problem if we believe some young people are worth more in the kingdom of God than others.

It’s our problem if the culture of church favours the behaved. Or people only like us.

It’s these expectations that cause challenges with employing youthworkers. But if it’s out in the open. We have to own it.

I may be critical and angry. But this is also heartfelt passion.

‘Sorry and We have got it wrong’ have to be the starting point. We will not provide reconciling spaces if we’ve already judged.

Whole communities do need restoring, encouraging, loving, understanding and being present in.

Those feral young people might be the key.

Those feral young people have had their life opportunities restricted by austerity policies that weren’t their fault.

Those feral young people are angry. Those feral young people need compassion not criticism.

Those feral young people are creative, determined, passionate and resourceful, and God is provoking us through them. They are the visionaries a dying church needs.

Those feral young people, and not other, they are not scum.

Those feral young people… are not other, they are us.

Maybe we do need to understand before were understood.

Maybe hearts need breaking first. Ours.

Maybe anger is a good thing.

God, please one day might there be a church where ‘those’ young people are welcome, understood, loved and cherished. And I hope it is in my lifetime and I am able to play a part in it happening.

And I haven’t started on the ‘getting them into church bit..’…

Video: Detached stage 1 1/2.. observation + visibility

Following on from my previous video on ‘Observation’ here is my latest one where I discuss what it is like to start being visible as a detached youthworker in a community:

Detached youthwork – Beyond Observation

The previous 2 videos can also be viewed on the same you tube channel –

Hope it helps!