Its 2030: How might the church reach Generation C?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need to get back to the gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if we treated young people (in the church) as Human?

What is it about young people that seems to be that they’re treated as something other that human?

And, before someone in the church responds to say that they have a healthy and positive respect for young people, it’s the church that whilst it generates and maintains a good number of youth work and ministry provision, might also be in danger of regarding young people as subhuman.

My recent case in point is Neil O Boyles book ‘Under construction’ which – if you read my most recent two pieces, details and shows examples of where young people are patronised (told that sex is for having babies), given simple answers to complex problems (you’ll not become a child killer, if you don’t watch video games) , restricting their view of sin, shame and maintaining a cultural view that the individual is responsible (whatever the horror situation is dealt with) and infantalising young people (something is interactive because it has ‘puzzles’ and join the dots). On one hand I had many issues with that book. Not least its view of God. But its view of young people is equally as odd.

And if this is endemic – what does this say about how the evangelical church – and the wider church view young people?

Its as if young people are less than human people…- a few examples:

Talking of Sub-human – There can also be a view that young people (for arguments sake the over 11s- the post primary schools) are somehow a weird, alien, arrived from space species – this was picked up by Christian Smith in 2003 (p259), when he urged US churches to not hold this view, seeing that those who are over 11 upwards are closer to the adults who read or write blogs like this, or run churches or are congregants, than the children in Sunday school and messy church that seem to be viewed as treasures and darlings. All of a sudden theres a collective defeatist disempowering thst ‘we don’t know what to do with them’ yet, ‘them’ has been known for 6 years already. The challenges is the attitude fuels the approach, and approaches are often lacking. Of course changed young people aren’t going to like what they had aged 9, but they’re not necessarily going to like high energy games or simple bible stories or moral talks either. But they’re not aliens, just changed…

What they might like – is being treated as a human – not an alien

Or maybe even – not a project, or a puzzle to solve and then boast about.

These pages, articles and theres blogs everywhere on how to reach, teach, keep, pass on the faith to young people. Young people (once the church has stopped putting its foot in its mouth about sex) is also on high alert for the quick win, model, method, way for arresting the decline of young people in churches, and now that project ‘employ a youthworker’ has changed to ‘employ a resource church faith enabler for millenials’ or ‘an outreach worker for the 25-40’s’ its as if the church, worry stats included this week, has given up on trying.

However. Whilst young people (the 11-25’s) in this case are mentioned. What about the over 65s or under 11;s – are churches bursting their seams with them? No- thought not…

Then, as Andrew Root suggests, the desire for young people in the church is not for their sake anyway, its so that everyone else can feel not only that the institution may survive, its also that Youthfulness=Authenticity in todays culture – so increasing young people can help those involved in it to feel as though its up to date, its real. Somehow. (Andrew Root, Faith Formation in a secular Age, 2016) Young people then, aren’t treated as Human, but as signifiers of institutional relevance.

In few parts of these discussions – of church growth and young people , does the subject of actual young people, actual processes, mission, values, and human dignity appear. Its high reaction, responsive, soul searching and trying to do better. But what if the following…

Instead of trying to project, solve, judge , patronise or reach young people (no one talks about reaching the over 75’s…)

Because, as my most read piece, since it was published, suggests, young people are treated as human, when it has been established what role they have in it – just like everyone else – or more so.

Why not instead work on thinking about young people as humans? Fully human, fully who they are in the sight of God at this present moment- not in need of change, but as they are…

Think of them as not them – but us

Think of them as spiritual – and actually religious

Think of them as gifted – and our task to harness those

Think of them as having passions – and adding resource to enable these passions to be realised

Think of them not as without, not as deficit – but with character, with determionation – who already in the midst show a kind of resilience, resourcefulness that would put adults to shame

Think of them as not ‘the youth’ with a ‘youth’ room – but part of the church

Think of them not as tokens to be paraded, a group to have sympathy for – but like every other human – with a contribution to make within the places where contributions are made by everyone. Think of them as not done to, but those who create for themselves, and to be heard

Matt Haigs Book ‘Notes on a nervous planet’ says the following – in relation to all of us, and the state were in on the planet we currently occupy, what if we reminded young people, and we remind ourselves, of the collective humanity that we are all part.

‘Remind ourselves that we are an animal united as a species existing in this tender blue speck in space, the only planet we know containing life. Bathe in the sentimental miracle of that, define ourselves by the freakish luck of being alive, and being aware of being so. That we are all here on the the most beautiful planet we’ll ever know’

What if there was something about the very young people in your church and parish whose humanity imight be revealed to you? What if their place on this glorious planet was no more or less significant than yours – what if young people are aware of participating in something much bigger than they know yet – and they dont have those dreams and stories and actions quashed by the very adults who say that are working with them, because there’s a drive to be pure from sin all the time.

Maybe the first thing is not to talk about young people as if they’re not in the room. But they are. Not in the room about them…. and where their involvement is too purchase attendance tickets to the thing we think they might like. Hmm, some humanity there.

What if there isn’t a new model, method or idea – but what if theres just something to be said for listening, inviting, sharing space and enabling young people to belong, to do, and to be challenged, and have opportunities to flourish and make decisions.

Maybe if churches thought about young people as the humans that the other humans would like to be treated – then this might be a good first step.

Do I really need to make a theological case for treating young people as Humans, from the biblical material? No thought not, most of you youth workers recite it all anyway, and adults hear the same messages…; Created and made in the Image of God, Loved, gifted, persons who can be in conversation with God, in community, capable of feeling, emotion, intellect, generosity.. and participants in something God is calling them to – and that needs a conversation, respect and time – not a programme, a method or a model.

What if we began to reflect seriously about the humanity of ourselves, and the young people who are part of our communities, parishes, churches and groups?

And took what we might find seriously..?

Bryan suggests that ‘We understand who we are primarily through reflecting on the story of our lives. Every day we share stories about what happened to us and what we are anticipating or hoping for in our future, but each of these narratives is embedded in the broader stories of our family, the social groups we belong to , society, and beyond that to the unfolding history of the world’ (Bryan, 2016)

Locating and regarding young people as Human, and developing their true humanity is what we are to do – again, and as Bryan writes, and I conclude, with this to reflect on

‘An essential part of who we are is rooted in human beings as co-creators and participants in the unending story of God. It is the living story of God which defines who we are and who we become’  (Bryan 2016, p5)

How might young people be part of the stories of the church as they are?

How might church be part of the stories of the lives of young people?

How might church encourage the stories of young people as they participate in Gods call in the world?

And not just that, creative, quiet, loud, questioning, faithful, determined, thoughtful, considerate, loyal, you know – just like the rest of us…

 

References:

Christian Smith, 2003, Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Bryan, Jocelyn, 2016, Human Being

O Boyle, Neil, 2019 Under construction

Root, Andrew, 2016, Faith formation in a Secular Age

Haig, Matt, 2018, Notes on a nervous planet

 

 

What if parents actually read the books Christian youth ministry encouraged young people to read?

I thought I’d imagine a parent writing a letter to the local vicar about the newly published book ‘Under Construction’ (2019) by Neil O Boyle, national director YFC, its a brand new book, and a number of young people might be about to read it.

Dear Reverend/Pastor,

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, you may not know me, but I am the parent of Harry, who goes to the youth group in your church hall every Friday night. Tell you the truth Harry loves it, and as a parent its great that he gets the chance to meet up with other kids his age, and not the same ones he goes to school with, I think he goes because he fancies one of the girls but dont tell him I told you. Anyway, the church thing is new to us all as a family, I guess we’re ok about it, were not religious at all, but sympathetic to it, it’ll help Harry growing up im sure.

Actually Reverend, there was something more I wanted to thank you for. I dont know whether you realised it, but Harry went with the youth group to a camp in the summer with the other kids in the youth group, he had a great time, there was a band on and he loved the music, said it was nothing like church (hope you dont mind me saying) and there were other adults there who were being cool and friendly, and Harry was impressed. So, thank you for giving him that opportunity. Theres another thing too, whilst Harry was there there was someone who gave him a free book and said it was about developing a deeper relationship with Jesus. Now as you might imagine, Harry spends most of his time on a video games, and even though he showed me at the time, a few weeks ago, I was sure the book would stay on the bookshelf.

To my surprise, and a bit like the Bible one of your volunteers gave him a year or so ago, Harry tells me how much he is enjoying the book, if you want to give your children a copy its called ‘Under construction’ by Neil O Boyle, as a parent I wholly recommend it. The change in Harry since he has been reading the book has been amazing, he used to not have any decent conversation over the dinner table about things, just shove his food down, and be sullen, but not any more, he’s offering opinion on things like abortion, sexual assault, child killing, bullying and asking us over the dinner table about how good our prayer life is, also about watching too many video games, saying that these things are wholly shameful and God wouldn’t want people to do these things.

To my surprise he’s asked me to give his copy of Grand Theft Auto to the charity shop, when I asked why, he told me that if he played it too much he might end up killing a child on a railway line. As a parent I am just so proud that he is making these decisions based upon such diligent thinking and consideration of the facts of such high profile cases in British crime history. If this is what this book has been able to do for Harry, then I am just so pleased.

I must tell you this, The other day Harry and his older sister Matilda were having an argument at the dinner table, Matilda currently has a boyfriend and they’ve been together 2 years, and Harry quite abruptly asked her whether she had had sex with him (the book told him that sex was for having babies) and whether she was going to save having sex for her future spouse, because that’s the most important relationship. Now, Im sure Harry didn’t mean to say it in such a judgemental manner, but Matilda reacted bad to this. As a parent we tried to love both of our children, and so we’re thankful that Harry has helped us out by saying this, yes he may have destroyed any relationship he has with his sister, but as a mum I couldn’t be more proud that he’s learning a new perspective and without any critical thinking using it to help his sister be shameful about her sex life, saves her father trying to say it.

So Reverend, I was intrigued, what was this book all about? Forgive me ( are you the confession ones?) , but I kind of had to know what this genius book was all about, so one day when Harry was at school, I thought I would go and have a read, after all its just a book not a diary isn’t it.

Well what a surprise I got.

You see, not only is it a book, but it has exercises and activities in it, and Harry had filled some of them in. I thought, should I look.. but, a book for teenagers and about christianity what is it going to have in it, draw a picture of Jesus or some kind of bible story quiz, but no Reverend, not at all.

This is why you need to get copies of this book to your children Reverend.

I know I shouldn’t have done it, but there were reams of notes written, as Harry, usually not that diligent in school according to Parents evenings, had completed the activities. I bet you want to know what they were. Ill try and tell you, because what I discovered shocked me at first, but then I realised that all the information would be great to use as bribery against Harry if I needed it, you know as they say, knowledge is power.

I just started with the activities and where Harry had written, at 13 he’s already realised that he needs to make big changes in his life, he’s drawn what the foundations of his life are, he has a series of dots to draw the nature of waves in his life (any ideas what the waves of your life are Reverend?) , and on page 38 described the things that make him panic, now, Harry has always been pretty chilled and nothing phases him, but like a good boy, he managed to write a few things, Donald Trump and Climate change, they are what makes him panic, and on page 62 he’s asked the same thing again, there seemed a lot on this.

On page 102 Harry was asked to write down the principles that guide his life, now I dont know about you Reverend, but I wasn’t surprised Harry left this blank to be honest, though he had a go at it.

Harry made a good job of drawing something that symbolises his exercise (a football, what else) , and then Harry described his prayer life – do you have any idea there Reverend, that my 13 year old has been asked to describe his prayer life, he said it was ‘fine, but not as good as the leaders he met at camp’.

I was so thankful too, that on page 119 and 120, I was able to read about the internal labels of shame, rejection, guilt and other that Harry says have carried around with him, all his life. I thought I knew everything about my boy, but when I discovered how he’s felt guilty for the death of our family pet dog, and rejected because he thinks his sister gets more attention, and shame because he masturbates and there’s been conversations about girls, underwear and porn at school, but at least now I know some of the things he is going through. And Im going to tell his dad later too. If you want to find out the inner shame of your kids, then this book is amazing.

You’re going to think this book is amazing aren’t you, well sadly reverend, I think there are some not so good points. I think its great that there’s just so many opportunities for Harry to write down all the areas in his precocious little 13 year old life where he feels he is a failure, feels guilty, feels like he needs to change, there’s even a section where he is made to feel so bad about one of the things, its likened to a weed, on page 135. Harry said his weed was ‘masturbating’ and he didn’t feel it would ever go away or be removed, it looked as though there’d been tear stains on the page. Well as a parent, if Harry feels so shameful about his body now, then its unlikely he’ll end up doing anything like his sister has. He’ll probably never get married or be able to talk about sex with anyone, and as a parent, that’s far easier to cope with.

Reverend, there is a bit on page 80 that might shock you if you gave it a read, no its not the stories of sexual assault, rape and abortions, no, they’re all told as if its the woman fault, and in this PC culture, its refreshing to have some traditional women shaming attitudes, men cant be at fault for their penis at all, and im glad now that Harry can grow up thinking that he doesn’t need to take responsibility for what he does with his penis, a relief, given that now that he’s so embarrassed by what it does.

No, the bit you have to watch out for, is a little section where Harry had the chance to rate how good Dave and I have been at being his parents. And the little shit, sorry, darling Harry, gave us a grade of only 7 out of 10, and for some reason, and I looked in the text, an anticipated grade of 8? what’s that about then – what’s Harry expecting? an Xbox for christmas, is that what he’s anticipating, well not now…

When I read the chapter it was talking about abuse in the family, and men and women having sex to have families, I thought that was a bit weird, I mean Harry is 13 not 8. He was told that some couples its painful to not have children and God wants people to be together to have children. Well that’s a bit awkward for Harry as his Grandad recently remarried, if he has kids at the age of 75 there’ll be a shock. In the book I read that following Gods instructions about what to do when there’s abuse in the family or a parent leaves us. Im just so glad Reverend that in the Bible there are instructions for Harry when this happens, can you tell me which book in the bible is specifically for 13year old boys and what to do if a parent leaves, im so thankful the bible is so specific and helpful.

So, yeah, keep a watch out for the family pages, you might get a shock, especially if you’re expecting a high mark, this book doesnt have much positivity in it, so be ready for a low score.

Before I go, I am going to need to ask you for some help Reverend, as I said in the beginning, I haven’t ever been to church, but I would love to be able to discuss some of the questions that Harry is about to read and know what is going on so I can at least help him. So would you mind getting back to me, I note that you have an MA in theology, and this book is being for 13 year olds, so I guess these are standard questions. So could you give me a few hints on how I might answer these questions please?

  1. What its the Hallway of my life? – Because I am asked whether Ive left Jesus there
  2. What is the MY version of the Bible, and can I get a copy of it, I used to have a bible with weird drawings in it, think it was the good news, but what’s the MY version?
  3. What might the dry rot in the walls of my life be, and Reverend, these affect how I view my life – so as a Parent Id like to know- and Jesus exposes dry rot, so can you tell me what’s going on there please?
  4. This one is in the book, Can you understand this reverend? when the storms hit your metaphorical house (your life) does the roof leak and cause further damage by the manner in which you panic, react or stress, or is the roof watertight because you find yourself able to draw close to God, whether you sense him or not and find his peace? Reverend can you explain this one please?
  5. Do people who wear provocative clothes have no self esteem Reverend? (Thats what page 75 says)
  6. Reverend, does your life have a dining room and has Jesus walked round in it?
  7. Whats your prayer life out of 10 Reverend? – just so I can help Harry know what the vicars score is and compare, thank you.
  8. Reverend, how might I respond to the question whether I have an undeniable weed growing in my life?
  9. Why is this book all about bad things, shameful things, about introspection for 13year olds – yet nothing about God being about love – like I heard at Harry and Meghans wedding? Its almost a completely different faith to that one?
  10. Lastly – Reverend – I notice there’s a whole load of assumptions and claims made in the book- about girls having abortions, about video games and that they lead to being a child murderor – is this kind of amateur reading of society to make young people feel shamed what I might expect more of in Harrys life? If so, ill keep the real study in our house out of bounds, I wouldn’t want him to actually think critically about these things or discover research, like my own psychology degree papers to challenge it.

So, thank you Reverend, its been a long letter I realise, and you dont hear from parents very often I guess, if you could help me out with these questions I would be grateful, this whole house thing seems a bit weird but if thats the basics in christianity for 13year old then I really am going to have to pick it up quick. Oh and the sex before marriage thing, try not to tell Harry that his older sisters date of birth was only 2 months after our wedding date, keep that a secret, otherwise my score will probably go down to 3.

Thank you again, as I said Harry loves the youth group. And this book is going to really help me to discover all his hidden secrets and fears, its like a dirty diary full of sex and shame, just let me know if he talks to you about it, I can even give you a heads up.

Your Parishioner

Joanne, Harrys Mum.

PS, there’s some resources for the youth group available, I think you should get the youth group to do them. They’ll be a nervous shame-filled wreck of a group, and dead easy to parent.

Oh, and reverend, I thought id copy a few pages for you, just so that you can see for yourself how good this book is.

(after contemplating these words the Reverends response is here  )

 

Why I’m thankful for Jose Mourinho leaving Man Utd a year ago

I realised that this week upcoming is particularly significant.

Its one year since Jose Mourinho was sacked as Man Utd manager and as a Man Utd fan, these things are significant.

Theres a number of significant events in my life that I can also remember when they were… because they happened on the same date or time as a Man Utd match, I can remember the date of my first kiss, it was the same date as Liverpool vs Man Utd in January 1994, the game ended 3-3, though united were 3-0 up in the first half. I remember the kiss too, fairly innocent, naive, cute and romantic. But, back to last year, as im not sure theres any more details of my teenage years you want to hear about…

Oh yes, 18th December 2018. The Mourinho Day. I got this news in the car park of the office of the Diocese of Durham at 10am or so. And it made me smile and pump my fist in the air and happy. The Mourinho days were dark days, football was dire, manager with narcissist syndrome. For me they werent the only dark days of 2018. But I remember that day, because I was heading to an interview for the job I love, and the job I have now, and its been a year. I think i got the job, because i was good at an interview presentation – tell you the truth I imagined the interview panel as a group of youthworkers that I was training, and my material was the presentation. It clearly worked. There was just enough endorphins running through my body from the sports news to get me through. I got back home and I was shattered though. A few days later I was told I was successful.

For 2018 had been a year in which I had gone for jobs, applied for others, and not got them, or got that far, this could have been one more the pile. One more where do I actually fit in the youthworker/manager/faith/community/institution spectrum in which i hadnt found somewhere at the time. Thank fully that issue solved itself on Mourinho day.

And at the same time of going for that job, I was also outside from my family home, having separated from my wife since the September before. If it wasnt for the sheer generosity, hospitality and friendship of someone id known 20 odd years, and who could house me free until i had a job, i have no idea where id be. However, thats not to contemplate, I’m grateful. So, whist in the midst of that, I was looking for jobs, and trying to recover from alot, and support around me was forthcoming, via social media and friends.

But on 18th December, I got that job. And its been a year this week since.

So, I have now been the Part-time Team Leader for Communities together Durham for a year, a year in which i have been well supported, managed and have the most amazing team around me who are deeply committed to responding to issues of poverty across the north east. Its no easy job, but it so fits with my skills, and at the time of quite serious emotional upheaval, has given me the flexibility, but also the opportunities to have purpose, grow confidence and rebuild. And through this job, and via the diocese I was also able to access professional counselling, which accelerated the rebuild, the self awareness, the ability to think, make decisions and see things, though am still sincerely indebted to friends for this too.

Because the emotional upheaval only continued, maybe that was predictable. And cut a long story short, until the point in June (after a lovely week in Tunisia) and having been back in the family home for 4 months, that I made the decision to end the relationship.

In July, after again, being in receipt to the most generous hospitality from a different friend (and now new work colleague) for a month, I moved into my own flat, my own home, and it so feels like that, my own home. I cried as the estate agent showed me round it.  And ive been here since July. I am 40 seconds walk from the sea, have lovely neighbours in the block, and am so enjoying cooking, playing my guitar and being able to get home from work, (though i work from home for all 3 jobs i have) and sit, reflect, and often do morning or evening prayer (northumbria community – i went on retreat there a few weeks ago) , and i feel that the flat, and that life itself has been granted to me as a gift. A new gift to treasure and open, to explore, to adventure and dream.

My old family home sold this week, moving on is happening and theres a new reality, routines getting used to. Some of you reading these words have met me in the last 2 or 3 years and would have no idea, and you’re right, you wouldnt. I was good at being closed. Even though some of my posts have shared some vulnerability, some things stayed guarded, and i am pretty good at talking to other people about them. Keep me off subject.

I have so much to be thankful for in 2019, I have so much to be proud of in such a good way. The old addage, what a difference a year makes is certainly true, the last few months has been a time to reflect back over the year, and consider how I got through it all. Theres triggers and awareness, emotions and reactions, only natural, but theyre all ok. For usually i realise quite how thankful I am to be who I am, where I am, to be active in the ministry I am, and loved and treasured by God, my friends and so many people. Life is good. Life is a gift, and i feel like I’m enjoying and appreciating every minute.

Jose Mourinho leaving Man Utd… I owe you one.

I have had easier years, and though theres been despair and desperation, theres also been genuine joy and happiness. I am due a very easy year, though I cant see that happening, theres at least a few challenges around the corner to deal with, and others im sure that I dont know about. So, my review of 2019 starts with a heartfelt thanks to the board of Man Utd for sacking Mourinho, but has a deeper heartfelt thanks to an amazing set of friends, colleagues and the many people who have supported me through this year. I will encourage anyone to go for counselling by the way, i will also suggest that we make space to talk about marriages, relationships and home lives with people more often. Maybe it was only me that was guarded about this before it had hit crisis point, though im not sure talking about marriages ever crops up at youthworker conferences or in supervisions… just a few observations.

Jose Mourinho… you have no idea. Oh, and I’m so glad you got sacked… the football at united is so much better… 😉

 

The Man you’re Made to Be (Martin Saunders, 2019) – A review

Even though I met Martin at the National youth ministry weekend last week, my view of his book has increased in favour since, but not because i forgive him for not taking me out for a coffee, that boy Martin was pretty busy all weekend, and the conference was a good one… (;-))

Back to the book….

Martin has written an engaging, self deprecating at times, accessible book on 11 principle aspects of growing up male in the UK, from emotions, to sex (there was always going to be at least 1 sex chapter..) , about temptation, identity, adventure and a few other aspects, most of which are written with the christian faith in the background and sometimes foreground.

It is a book that has challenges itself to looking at the individual male, and the male in society who, if Martin is right, is almost determined to be a certain type (page xv) – and so attempts to be a counter narrative to this. Though this presupposes that young people aren’t critical of the culture they are in… and some really are.

The Man You're Made to Be

I like this book, though i think, i wanted to like it more, and yes thats even though it frustrated me at times. But i like it even more since the NYMW19 weekend.

The bits i liked

I liked it because Martin isn’t afraid to be personal, and at times real and maybe vulnerable, there’s plenty of personal references, of situations in his own childhood and teenage years, and quite crucially, if he points the finger elsewhere, its at the world of cinema, music or culture, and not a real person he knew or a real situation in a group of young people, this is to be commended. I read the book before I met Martin, though we had conversed via Social media, the book feels like he is having a conversation with you, its a casual chat about some important aspects of life, and comparing this to some of the equivalent books I read as a christian teenager (the teenage survival kit – anyone?), this is less a moral treatice on how to behave – but an encouragement to be a man, a real man growing up in the world and what that’s all about. Its not just about surviving a moment (teenage years) – but attempts to point forward – and ask – ‘what is it you’re made to be’? – and in addition, to have a gentle conversation about some of the alternative views of what being a man is all about.

I like the sense that Martin asks the questions, it is a conversation, and there’s encouraging advice (to reflect on your purpose, to give yourself some moments in silence) , and not necessarily assumptions (‘if you’re someone who, ‘if you’re the sort of person who…., ) , this may reflect that Martin hasn’t got someone in mind as the audience, or a more nuanced reality that he is leaving this a little more open, this is also reflected in that he doesnt make the assumption that the reader is a christian, or a type of christian – yet most chapters do have something about faith in it, and 99% of the time its about the Christian faith, and there’s a whole chapter about Jesus too, yet whilst this book isn’t going to achieve awards for Theological nuance, Martin brings into the conversation stories from the Bible to use as examples, in a way that he also uses his own stories, and movie storylines to reflect on, its what it is, and Martin is good at it. It makes for easy reading.

The bits I wanted to be better

The bits I wanted to be better, were that I just wanted such a book, written for young men, and as someone with a teenage Son, to have something in it that had something like an actual proof, or evidence, or even, references to places where young people could get other help. I liked the conversational tone, but if Martin had stated where such things as ‘the biggest killer of young men is suicide’ comes from, to give it weight. And that same weight, proof, evidence, could be included elsewhere, *and I know this is the kind of thing an academic would say, i realise, but if something as important as alot of what is said in this book, about emotions, about health, about then psychology and sociology, then to say ‘ this comes from research from ____’ – a point being that on a few occasions Martin references the Bible exactly (p61).. so it feels like an opportunity missed, big time.

The other thing, is that by the time I got to the end of the book (and I read it all) I started to get a little tired by the moments like this where Martin left the page and started talking to me, *if you’re reading this, its called breaking the fourth wall like this. And it just got a little irritating, maybe because it wasn’t that necessary, and then it sort of got a bit patronising, especially if i put myself in the place of a 15yr old boy reading it, definitely an 18yr old – because they might feel as if theyre not being talked to at that point..

But then thats another thing, I was trying to work out who the book is directed for…. if it was for young men who have been brought up in churches and christian homes – then theres a distinct sense in the book that each Bible verse and theme needs explaining – and yet many should be familiar to them, even a cursory look at many sunday school teaching materials and most of the stories are covered that Martin uses. Theres very little in the book about a purpose that doesnt involve God – and i will be critical here, if the whole premise of the book is whats said in the conclusion, that ‘The relationship (with God) is above all else , what you’re made for. If you embrace that, everything inevitably falls into place’ – seems quite a trite ending, and is the voice of someone who has had the privilege of now being able to look back (and recount stories of Hollywood) – but what if the young person reading this isnt feeling like ‘everything is fitting into place’ even though they have faith? – they could live in poverty, experience childhood alcohol abuse, be a young carer, and for many adults reading that sentence.. doesnt that suggest that Jesus is the answer? – yet as Martin also suggests throughout, there is work to do in life (like discovering being introvert, or reflecting on purpose, or other activities) … but then – in regard to audience.. is this said to affirm someone who is a christian (the target audience) or said to encourage someone? – given that Martin is tentative initially with faith references, he probably does have a broader audience in mind, but thats a bit confused then with the ending.

I’m glad Martin has written a chapter about Sex (which got all the attention when this book came out), im more glad that Martin has written a chapter about Women, about objectification of women, and how this is endemic (at least in the coffee shops Martin goes to), it may have been good to have a female voice included in this chapter, given that by the 9th chapter the boys reading it, might be interested in hearing it. I guess, also, there’s something Martin could say about women that isn’t said, though its to be applauded that he has written something that is targeted at boys that encourages them to think about equality, just not sure where they themselves go with this if they challenge their all male church leadership team… but hey.. that’s #churchtoo for you – and Martin steps a long way short of encouraging the boys who read the book to share platforms, or to stand aside in the youth group if there’s a girl who is more gifted..

There’s one other problem. I’m not sure whether Martin has written half of a good book. This one is the reactive one. Its as if Martin has looked at some of the issues facing young people today, rightly, and written a response to help young people navigate them, reflect and even grow as a man through them.

What would have been good, is actually, the good. I wanted Martin to suggest what might be good for young people *you mean use actual research that shows whats good for young people yes that. During the process of 2019, young people are taking to the streets in protest for good things, young people are volunteering in politics, young people are having a say- or wanting to. Maybe this could have been encouraged a bit more- and yes, even having a relationship with Jesus permits/encourages these… (As ive said in this blog, psychology suggests that belonging, competence and autonomy are good for us all, including young people, and developing these themes further may have developed the ‘what we’re created to be’ )

Though, I do, generally like this book. It is not without flaws *wittertainment reference for ‘the film podcast’ listeners, its heart is in the right place, and Martin is engaging, yes heartfelt, self depreciating and comes across real and honest. Its real and honest and tries to treat the young person reading it with respect, with a reality that life isnt perfect, and that he isn’t trying to tell the reader what to or not to do (p125) – and for this reason, easily, I would recommend it to any youth leaders who have 13-16 year old boys who might be interested in reading it, as a positive encouragement to thinking about being male, growing up male and being critical of the accepted messages about whats expected or accepted.

Martin Saunders – The Man You’re made to be (2019) can be purchased here:

I have amended my Review, in a previous version, I compared Martins Book, with Neil O Boyles book ‘Under construction’ which was given away free at Youthscapes weekend youth ministry conference. There is no comparison, Martins is light years better. However, whilst i retain an opinion that Under Construction is not just poorly written, potentially damaging and theologically all over the place, I should not have communicated this in the way I did. It does make Martins book look a whole lot better though.

 

Has the church lost its dream – if its just measuring growth?

I want to write something about church growth and people who I work for in faith organisations and churches still talk to me, and yet whilst contentious I think, its needed to be said.

Image result for church growth

Statistics about the decline of the church and anecdotal evidence have pretty much meant that church growth is the only game in town, (and this is reflected in a previous piece, on bottoms )the yardstick in which every initiative is measured, and where funding applied for has as key outcomes, and even where research by Social justice groups (CUF,Grace project) has to assess whether social justice projects ‘help with church growth’ – to inform that conversation – regardless whether they are good or not.

The same was in the evaluation reports for the fresh expressions over the last 10 years, indicating where growth (numerical) occurred and the causes of this – the key headline being where a vicar was in charge of 1 church, and the employment of a youth worker.

Image result for fresh expressions

I just wonder whether we’re measuring growth in the right way.

What about the following question…

How do you know if a country is showing signs of growth? – what statistics might you have heard of or know about to indicate this?

One is GDP and this often used and this is the measure for much of the government debate on growth – but have you ever thought about what is or isnt included in GDP and what influences it..?

The second world war had a wonderful effect on GDP. As do national disasters. Rebuilding a country after flooding in 1950s increased GDP by 2%, as the services required were utilised. GDP is also increased through the increase in Human suffering – therapy, solicitors, one company pollutes the other cleans up – all good for GDP. The families with the most poverty -and in need of services and spend money and consume- are the best for GDP.. those who go for walks and talk are worse for GDP… think about it.. yet how much we rely on GDP as a measurement – and yet probably dont stop to think about all the ways in which it is affected. Yet, its origins were for measuring an economy and its power during the time of war, in 1930. From being a yardstick of power during war, it became the ultimate measuring tool for a consumer society post war, but its prime success was in the war era – its still being used – for the sake of no other viable alternative being offered or created. Its a war time measure, still in operation and clung to. The problem, as Bergen states, with GDP is that simple rankings hide more than they reveal. He uses the metaphor of a violin piece, that if written in 1800 took 4 minutes to play, than in 2019, the same piece even with an orchestra and all the technology involved… still takes 4 minutes any adjustment ruins the tune – even if it taking 2 minutes makes it more efficient.

when you’re more obsessed with efficiency and productivity- its really difficult to see the value of education and care (Bergman)

Targets driving performance in the public sector start to sound ridiculous dont they?.. ‘we have a high graduation rate, therefore we offer good education’ or ‘the economy is growing therefore our country is doing fine..’ As Kelly suggests:

‘productivity is for robots. Humans excel at wasting time, experimenting, playing, creating and exploring’

Governing by number is the last resort of a country that no longer knows what it wants, a country with no vision of utopia (Bergman, 2019). And this isnt a political post during an election season. More to reflect on what might seem a standard measure that is uncritically accepted often – yet we rarely think about what it measures or doesnt or what it is affected by – and whether it in itself is good.

Does this resonate for you with ‘church growth’ at all?

I wonder if the warning of a country measured through statistical lenses and that has no vision of utopia – what it is dreaming for- might be stark, or appropriate. A church that statistically grows numerically – might only be increasing due to receiving new members from other churches that have closed. A church that is growing numerically – but who is attending – and are they from local estate communities of lower income – or the wealthier , not that its known – because this data is secondary often.

But then – is this in any way a real sign of growth in a church anyway? more services, and attendance – but what about faith formation, discipleship and how a church increases capacity, depth and responds to poverty locally? or – how might a church be involved in communities like school governers, voluntary groups, business and politics? Are they signs of growth too – as they impact and enable human flourishing in the world too? And not to mention funerals, weddings, ceremonies – and all the 100’s of encounters that people might have who have a moment of faith, lighting a candle, saying a prayer and feeling at home in a drop in. Then theres all the volunteering, the ‘performing’ – and the theological reflecting, growing and training that goes on..- not just for ordinands.

In a church I was in recently – they estimated that 500 people used the building each months for all its activities, yet only 100 attended on a sunday service. In another church its community work hosts more than 2000 per week, employs 7 people and receives £1000’s of funding for its community programmes – yet has less than 50 per sunday. A small church of 8 people, put on holiday clubs in one community that enabled over 100 families during the summer to have food and space to be, space to feel welcome and love and be community, in one of the most challenging estates in the north east. – are these churches growing – or being faithful – or doing good – or acting in a way which looks like the kingdom?

Just thinking about the effort, discipleship, growing that is going on in these- and then what might be measured on a spreadsheet.

Might measuring for church growth be a sign and also a pressure that creates unnecessary anxiety- and at the same time reduces the core function of churches to achieving productivity. If thats ‘the real world’ – then the real world is anti faith. The question is not just about what is measured in terms of church growth – but whether implicitly this has caused the church to lose its dream, its passion, its edge and what it is called to be. A place for spiritual flourishing, a place for goodness, and place that transforms the world. Maybe we have to dream differently about the church that is for the context we’re in- and not take measurements of churches that reflect a bygone way – does the current or future age need new measurements?

If measuring faith and virtue and discipleship is difficult – does that mean we dont bother and just measure the easiest indicator – even if its not complete? – it takes 722 pages of A4 to define GDP and yet its reduced to one figure- hiding so much through its simplicity. Church growth might be doing the same. An empty Sunday church might be a blessing after all, a place of expectation in the void, to not keep the pews full, but keep the altar empty (Craigo Snell, 2014) – a full church on a Tuesday afternoon might just be the spark of hope, faithfulness and goodness…

References

Craigo-Snell; ‘In praise of empty churches’ in Theatrical Theology, Van der Lugt- 2014

Bergman Rutger, Utopia for Realists, 2019