Rethinking learning styles in Youth Ministry; Helping young people have an active faith

In Youth Ministry – How might we use Learning styles? 

I know, there has been some talk recently about the validity of learning styles and whether they actually exist and are of value. there are some fascinating thoughts here:   But for the sake of what might be an interesting read, stick with me on this one. It not that kind of re-think that i am proposing. I am suggesting when it comes to faith- learning styles might be helpful.

Lets start from the beginning. When i was doing voluntary training in youth ministry and education back in 1996 and even work based training courses in the early 2000’s, the principle learning styles were the following, as it was said that people learned in one of these kind of ways:

Activist – they needed to ‘do’ something to learn it

Pragmatist – ‘it needs to be ‘useful’ applied to a real life situation

Reflector – ‘they need time to process the information and chew the cud of it’ 

Theorist – ‘ they need to know where it came from, that it is proved and validated’ 

(Of course, any theorist is switching off now, as none of what i have said is proven…. ) – and so, in Youth Ministry, especially in ready to use guides and in most session plans, there has become an implicit need to accomodate these learning styles.   Theres a game (with a reference), a piece of information, a way of reflecting on it (through prayer usually) and then ways of applying the learning to real life. The same might also be said of the anglican service, aspects of which are active, reflective, theory (the sermon?) and pragmatic- how it all applies.  For those of you that like to be known as millenials, which is none of you, these old fashioned learning styles have been updated, they are now VARK, and include:





though a look onto the worlds most popular search engine, and theres images like this;

Related image

So Learning styles are pretty complicated, because, by the looks of things, each of as humans are pretty complicated.

I am aware that Nick Shepherd, in his excellent faith generation (2016) suggests that young people need to be considered as more than learners, and i completely agree. What i am about to say backs this up. The question that I have pondered is;  might learning styles help in faith & discipleship more broadly?  And this is not just for young people. Nothing ever is.

If I could use the older learning styles for the purposes of what I am thinking. Just to save a bit of confusion. So for example, in the ongoing process of discipling people how might

  • faith be an active thing
  • faith be a pragmatic thing
  • faith be a reflective thing
  • faith be a theoretical thing

Because, what it can seem to be, and going on with what Nick Shepherd suggests, is that a large proportion of the activities of the church and for young people especially, they are regarded as learners, and so a huge amount of energy is spent on increasing their knowledge of the faith – through games, activities, sessions – and even for them, going to a worship event, is still to a point a learning experience that is largely cognitive, and thus reflective. If I used the newer learning styles, then I might be suggesting that young people need to ‘see’ faith, to ‘act’ it out, to ‘feel’ it , picture it and use their imaginations’ and so on.

As an addition, if we conceptualise what young people are as disciples as ‘actors’ who are on the stage of the world, needing to be trained to act in a myriad of situations the fullness of the gospel. Then as actors, we wouldnt expect Matt Damon, or Kiera Knightly to only learn their lines. That is only reading, not acting. An actor in most productions, especially theatre, needs to use their whole selves in the productions, to read the cues, to memorise, to improvise, mind, body, spirit.  Church might be a great place for young people to rehearse, but that shouldnt minimalise the encouragement that faith and discipleship might be a complex thing, encompassing action, reflection, usefulness and theory. All of which is key in how it is seen, heard, pictured, felt and imagined. Young people as performers of the christian faith – how how might the forming of them change as a result..?

Here might be a few examples for each

How might young people act out their faith? 

  1. If the play is about goodness (not being good- Balthasar, 1980) – then they need to see that the goodness they do is part of their performance, and then this ultimately translates into acts of justice, reconciliation and hospitality to their friends & enemies
  2. They act out their faith when they speak up against the oppression of others
  3. They act out their faith when they use their ideas and initiative to solve a community problem – like litter, or food waste, or poverty,
  4. They act out their faith when they get chance to lead, decide and speak, being given the opportunity to how others their learning.
  5. They act out their faith when they are tuned to hear God prompting them in the everyday decisions and decide to follow.

In a way the reflective and Theorist aspects of faith are pretty well covered. From Prayer to bible studies. Reflection and theory takes up a large proportion.

What is interesting is that recent research shows that young people want faith, not to be ‘true’ but to be ‘useful’. Now, there are dangers with this, a faith that provides only usefulness for young people seems to stack faith solely as the problem solver for young people, and only an individual young person will know how ‘useful’ faith is for them. And Christian Smith in 2005 highlighted that a faith that ‘helped young people do what they wanted’ permeated in aspects of youth ministry. Leaving that aside, what might it mean for faith to be ‘useful’ for young people, and be something that on one hand might be ‘pragmatic’ .

It might be useful because it helps a young person conceive of a way of shaping their life story

It might be useful because it can help them answer some of lifes big questions, like personal purpose

It might be useful because it offers hope – the end of the drama, has an ending! 

It might be useful because God offers presence throughout all of lifes activities

On the other hand, useful discipleship might be like doing the things that Jesus asked of the disciples, like find out iif anyone has food, finding the donkey or preparing the upper room, or catching fish. In the every day usefulness, God is at work and needing things to be done. 

Practical young people might need a practical faith.

Yes, young people ‘act’ out their discipleship in the mid week – like the rest of us do (!). I am just wondering about whether re thinking learning styles for ‘faith’ not ‘just’ the content of a session might be appropriate. If we have child actors in the kingdom, what might be the methods of ongoing formation that encourage active performances of faith, of following the ‘way’ of God in the world. Of course, it will help, if in using the other learning styles, that they ‘see’ faith, ‘feel it’ and understand it logically. – Where do young people ‘see’ faith?  or be in a place where they see ‘God at work’? and join in.

What i dont have is the imagination to provide all of what might be creative ideas to develop this thought further, however, if i put the concept out there of young people as performers of the gospel, not just hearers, lets shape how the church might work with young people in a way that has action and usefulness as as much of a priority as reflection and theory. Image result for action

After all we want young people to have an ‘active’ faith. So – let them perform…


Harnessing the power of young peoples ideas; the future of youth ministry? 

What if the role of the youth worker was to harness the power of the young persons ideas?

Whenever there’s discussions about young adults conceptually we might put them in sociological context, as teenagers or adolescents, in a victim or voiceless context such as ‘youth crime’ and innocent/precious context ‘young love’ . Two others are young people as deficit, somehow distinct from society (as determined by adults) or gifted and contributors in social change (abcd, see nurture development site in the menu). Often youth workers might say we’re working to address needs, create safe spaces or  develop their interests.

But what about being catchers, harnessers, and facilitators of young peoples ideas?

As Friere said “There is no change without dream, as there is no dream without hope”  this isn’t about dreams, though dreams & ideas are similar.

As Ted Robinson said in a TED talk on education, from an early age children have divergent thinking that due to more controlling environments in school and other structures like church (sunday school classes) their divergent thinking contracts and becomes convergent. Converging on expectations and the boundaries in formal education settings.

What if the role of the children’s and youth worker is to provide spaces and opportunities for young peoples ideas and the environment to follow them through? To try not to waste them.

Ideas that might be about;

The structure of groups,

Leaders roles,

Content of teaching

Responses to their problems (eg bullying in school )

Responses to faith community issues

Responses to local community issues (food poverty, obesity, limited exercise opportunities, literacy concerns, social inequality)

Residential planning or special events..

The list could go on…

I often hear youth leaders say, ‘we ask young people and they don’t know what they want.’ Then it’s a question of how young people are asked, what the process is to gather ideas, ‘brainstorms’ aren’t always best. Neither are consultations when the plan is already set.

A youth worker friend of mine said that they once took 3 months talking with a group of young people to help them plan their programme. They loved it, engaged with it, led and shaped it. The church hated it. When the worker moved on , new leaders used predetermined programmes. The young people left soon after. A healthy space where ideas were realised was created. When it was shut down. Young people voted with their feet.

What if working with young people was about seeing then as persons with ideas. Ideas that might change their local world. Ideas that it is our role to uncover and help them make them happen.

I was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of young people as presented by Kenda Creasy Dean (see previous blog), where young people developed food kitchens and resources. But young people can often find a way to be entertained with just a football and a kerb. They have ideas. And if they don’t then it’s because we’re not trusted to be in receipt of their ideas, yet.

We might hear ideas in conversations, so we need to have conversations with young people and listen.

What this might mean is that young people and children become creators of their own provision. The skills of the voluntary or pro youth worker are then in negotiation and creating mechanisms for accepting or reluctantly blocking the offers of the ideas. In short to be attuned to the skills of improvising in the moment and having access to resources to be part of the acceptance.

If the question is what might the faith based youth worker do that no other professional might, yes support or education or faith imparting might be in there, but a person that seeks out, accepts and realises young children and young peoples ideas might make the role unique.

In a room of 3 young people how many ideas might there be that they have? 30, 300? How many times have these same young people attended the group or club or event and all those ideas for local or group transformation have laid dormant? What a waste.

Oh and if persons are made in God’s image, then so are imaginations, dreams and ideas. It’s our responsibility as youthworkers to create the environment to receive them, to work with young people & children to realise them.

You might never need a ready made programme again.

7 not-so-Deadly Sins in Youth Ministry


The film Se7en came out in 1995, I watched it when i was 18, i think, just. Or i may have been nearly 18. And it was pretty graphic and shocking for me at the time. Unlike Trainspotting or Aliens it isn’t a film i have given a re-watch to ever since. If you’ve not seen it, IMDB describes it as “A film about two homicide detectives’ (Morgan Freeman and (Brad Pitt) desperate hunt for a serial killer who justifies his crimes as absolution for the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins. The movie takes us from the tortured remains of one victim to the next as the sociopathic “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey) sermonizes to Detectives Somerset and Mills — one sin at a time.” Whether the film is in any way successful at telling this story is difficult for me to remember, but throughout its main story line is the effect of an ignorance of the 7 deadly sins:  pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

So, for some strange reason over breakfast I was wondering – probably because theres two conferences on youth ministry happening this weekend- is to think about what would be ‘the 7 deadly sins of Youth Ministry’ and focus on these 7 original sins, and i think there would be some merit in doing this to highlight areas of ministry that are prone to envy ( the successful ministry down the road), wrath (after the leadership meeting) , gluttony ( too many cream cakes during YF tuck shop) or Pride (‘its all about my ministry’). But I thought that would be a little obvious, and its likely that in the depths of time that Youthwork magazine probably did something similar.

So, instead of focussing on these 7 original sins, as I was out walking this afternoon, I thought about a different sin, linked to them all, ‘Ignorance’ and wondered if Youth Ministry, in part, or more in full, has been found to be guilty of ignoring the following aspects that have a real impact on the nature of youth ministry, the depth of engagement in young people, and how youth ministry might be threatened by what it accepts from the culture around,  in 7 key ways.

  1. Ignoring Theology for pragmatism. – Good theology helps give young people connection with a world story that they can assimilate as their personal story (McAdams 1997), Challenging Theology is what helps to keep young people in local churches so says recent research here: .  Settling for an easy night, of fun and distraction from the concerns of the world, might only be so helpful. Neither is settling for what Christian Smith calls is Moral Therapeutic Deism (2005) – connecting young people with a God who is ‘there for them’ to give them confidence, however, as a personal myth to believe in it will go so far, just it might need changing when it is tested.
  2. Ignoring young people. This seems strange as youth groups are full of them, but how many youth group evenings are judged as successful by the quality of conversations between youth leader and young person, and not by who and how many turned up? Young people can be ignored if they’re just to take part in the activities. What they need is a healthy place to be where adults take interest in them, listen and shape activities around their needs, interests and gifts. And that is on just a local level, and the local church.  Where do young people feature in the shaping of area strategies, of national programmes. Its also apparent when young people are counted as just numbers.
  3. Ignoring History. A bit like the Premier league, which only provides statistics of games back to 1992, as if football didnt exist before then. An understanding of History reveals christian youth work practice that nowadays would be seen as innovative, more risk taking and politically active. Meeting young peoples needs was core philanthropy in 1830, for example. Its what Sunday schools were developed for.  What might be one persons innovation might only show a blind spot for history, or good practice down the road.
  4. Ignoring the effect of culture.. What I mean here, is not the effect that culture has on young people. This is extensively researched, and if not the Guardian usually has something on ‘Millenials’ to reflect on most weeks. What I mean is the effect of the prevailing culture on Youth Ministry itself. The Sociologist Wolfe said:

In every aspect of religious life, American faith has met American culture, and American culture has triumphed… the faithful in the USA are remarkably like everyone else (Wolfe, 2003)

An example of this is in the marketing and programming of youth ministry resources, that are described as ‘almost Fordian’ (ie representing the process of making one size/colour fits all, mass produced motor cars) by Danny Brierley (2003) – It is an example of where the influence of Managerial theory and practice is inserted into the church. The same could be said for any youth ministry programme that claims to be efficient, calculated, predictable and be able to be controlled, for these are dominant tenets of the business model of Macdonalds. Without realising it, the prevailing culture wins, if a youth ministry seeks growth and transformational leadership to do this, then this again is from the management guru handbook, more so than Theology – however biblically justified. Youth Ministry is undoubtedly involved in the culture, it creates culture, but is also subject to it – it is worth being critical of the sources, methodologies and ideologies of practice – having filters set to ‘on’. Being predictable and efficient – might give 4 spiritual laws, but maybe not the complexity of a deep faith, and young people exploring difficult questions. Keeping up with culture isnt making Youth ministry more theological or relevant, its possibly only turning it into efficient organisations that are cost effective.  Managing a good youthwork organisation or it being managed well might not actually be having the best effect on young people.

5. Ignoring Youthwork (& Education) philosophy. What the Values and practice of Youthwork can bring to Youth Ministry is an increased focus, not only on young people and their needs, but processes shaped by values that are in their favour, such as empowerment, voluntary participation, inclusion & anti-oppressive practice, and informal education, what it also can provide, again according to Danny Brierely, is an ethical yardstick for youth ministry. Youth Ministry will only be improved by encompassing more of the discipline of youth work. Not only that but a refreshing of different concepts of education especially as young people participate in youth ministry in a voluntary way would be critical.

6. Ignoring Pioneers. For too long the biggest conferences are sponsored by the same people who select the same people to be the experts. Critical and Pioneering voices, generally are put to one side, unless they have been youth ministry flavour of the month in the past – and can still retain ‘Hero’ status. But in the main, those who are known for good, solid local practice are ignored. Those who lead ministries and have several lead responsibilities in organisations are the heralded experts. Some are the pioneers, but others are selectively ignored. Organisations, cultures and practices are only developed further through critical thinking, questions and dissent. Yes people will only keep the hamster wheel turning, critical thinking will ensure the hamster is travelling in the right direction. Pioneers are what the Disciples were, lest not forget, improvising in the new spaces what they had been taught.

7. Ignoring ourselves. Not unlike the film, the final twist is played on the main character and the audience. The final ‘deadly sin’ in Youth Ministry is when we forget about being honest and kind and generous to ourselves. We help define youth ministry and youth work through our very actions with young people, our communication with churches, partnerships, agencies and schools, we also define it as a practice through the cultures of the settings we create, the young people we invest the most time in, creating healthy spaces for young people also starts with being healthy ourselves – not perfect- just healthy, self-care is important, and probably the most ‘deadly’ of them all on an individual youth ministry level.

Could I have included others, possibly. But what might be yours? Excluding obviously ‘critical blogging’….


What makes the Christian Youthworker distinctive?

At the moment, amongst a few other books, I have been reading ‘The Pastor as Public Theologian’, by Kevin Vanhoozer.  Within it, he asks the question: ‘What is the distinctive role of the Pastor’? describing that there is a problem of identity not just for pastors, but all associated with a Christian vocation, such as Youth Ministers, worsh
ip leader and so on.I’ll come to his responses in a bit but it might be worth exploring for a moment, some of the identity and role challenges that a Christian Youthworkers might have.

This is not a new query, the God-fathers of modern theoretical Youthwork, Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith, wrote in 1987, in ‘Youthwork’  that Youth workers not only have to conduct a number of roles, but also, because ‘what a youth worker is’ is such an ill-defined term that they often use these following as a guide or starting point:

  • Youthworker as Caretaker (puts the chairs away)
  • Youthworker as Red-coat (entertains)
  • Youthworker as Social Worker (1:2:1 support)
  • Youthworker as Character Builder (resilience improver)
  • Youthworker as Community worker, and finally
  • Youthworker as Educator

And so- this plight to not only understand the role of the youthworker, using more well trodden paths of understanding is not new. A youthworker might need to use another profession to define themselves against, their role might even encapsulate all or some of these others, but in a distinctive way. When Jeffs and Smith were writing this, it was very much to and within what might be considered the statutory youthwork sector. Kerry Young (1999, 2nd ed, 2006) expanded this list somewhat, by reflecting on Youthwork as an art form, in The ‘Art of Youthwork’, suggesting that

The Art of Youthwork is the ability to make and sustain such relationships with young people. In so doing, youth workers themselves develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to engage with young people in the process of moral philosophising (Young, 2006)

So, adding to the list, of the roles of the youthworker became self-awareness, examination of their own values, critical skills and enlargement of their own capacity for moral philosophising.Product Details

In addition, she also suggests that Youthworkers do not just deliver youthwork, they define it, interpret and develop it. She argues that youthwork is a ‘distinct practice’ – not unlike what Jeffs and Smith were suggesting. So, the question is, for the Christian faith based youthworker – if indeed, this in itself is a distinctive practice – what is it that makes it distinctive?

We’re 30 years (ouch) since Jeffs and Smith’s ‘Youth work’ Book, above – I wonder if there might be other additions that could be made to their list? That youth worker could be defined as. I guess I am waiting for a different professional to say – ‘Im a bit like a youth worker, but less structured’ or ‘if you imagine a youthworker, then I do such and such’ – as if there is a profession that defines itself as one step from youth work – 30, 50 or 70 years into youth work as a distinctive practice – it hasnt captured the public imagination in the way, teacher, nurse, police, social worker or redcoat might have done… (‘hi-de-hi’ has alot to answer for in the latter of these)Image result for butlins red coat

Because there hasn’t been new people-orientated professions I cant think of another new profession to add to this list. Though one of the oldest professions could be – The Priest/Vicar/Clergy? In a way this is not that different to what Kerry Young is suggesting. The Youthworker as Clergy is one who has a sense of values, of practices according to values, is someone who would guide to moral decisions, maybe even challenge some too. Now, probably a few of my clergy friends might dispute that Clergy have time to do the kind of pastoral work required for this, but thats not the point im making, for the youth worker, a nod to the role of Clergy might at times be appropriate.

The slightly worrying thing about this, is that if Vanhoozer is to be believed, Clergy might be in the same kind of identity predicament. What he suggests is that there have been a series of images and metaphors that have shaped the understanding of ‘Pastor’ which were created in the social context/culture, been retained and have held the role captive – such as ‘The Pastor as CEO‘ , as ‘psychotherapeutic guru’, as ‘political agitator‘ , (all of these could easily be transferred to youth worker)  – different times in history shape the nature of the role of clergy and models, and so ‘master’ (of theology), ‘Builder’ (of church congregations), ‘Revivalist’ (in the 19th C) , and ‘Manager’ (of programmes, buildings, people- a 20th Century concept) – additions in the 21st Century include ‘Social media mogul’ and ‘community activist’ – and thats before others such as life coach, agent of hope, story teller, midwife (Vanhoozer, 2015, p7-8)

A look to clergy might not be that profitable, in this sense, though there is an element that Clergy are able to shape their practice in a way that defines it, interprets it and develops it, the many examples of books on the role of being a pastor are testiment to this, but this also occurs in the local setting, as clergy encounter people through visiting, groups, wandering around their parish, in schools. There are times when Clergy are as much the youthworker, as vice versa, doing assemblies, being governors, leading groups. The fluidity of role definement remains.

It is not a semantic question to try and define the ‘Christian Faith-based youthworker’ – or at least suggest how this is distinctive as a role and in practice.  Carole Pugh locates ‘youth work with a spiritual content & ‘youth work based on Christian (or other faith) principles focussing on a social action/youth work values approach’ in between the deemed extremes of ‘youth work with no spiritual content’, on one side, and ‘Christian youth work adopting an evangelical approach’ on the other.  (Pugh, 1999) This is similar to that of Danny Brierley in All joined up ( 2003) or Richard Passmore (and I) in ‘Here be Dragons’ , in which we argue that at the heart of Symbiotic youthwork are the core principles of education, equality, participation, empowerment and group work within an understanding of Mission, of improvisation, of ‘valuing culture, traditions and the Bible’ (Passmore, 2013, p60)

So, if Core to ‘Christian faith based Youthwork’ is Youthwork and its values – how might a developed understanding of Christian vocation help. For, as in ‘Here be Dragons’,’ Youthwork and the Mission of God’ (Pete Ward, 1997) and others – one of the key attributes to the Christian youthworker has been a mission prerogative – to ‘meet young people where they’re at’, to ‘be incarnational’ and so, as a result ‘understanding the culture’, and forming practice around Mission has been essential, and has in many cases driven practice; often with Vincent Donovan ringing in our ears. Mission may have taken the youthworker thus far in their thinking, Fresh expressions and emerging church is developing new avenues for youthwork ( see also Here Be Dragons again..), but if Mission becomes swallowed up and synonymised by Evangelism, as the church in ‘Status Anxiety’ might cause it to be, and the Church of Englands national youth person has ‘evangelist’ in their title, (one example amongst many) – then the Christian youthworker, may become even more distinct, but not only that Mission becomes reinterepreted as ‘church grower’ – leaving the Missional christian youthworker without a theological discipline to call home.

Enter, metaphorically, stage left, Kevin Vanhoozer again or at least a paraphrase of him, as I ask ‘What does the Christian faith based worker do, that no other institution can’?

On one hand they might be the only living remnant of youthwork practice soon – much to the thanks of the Conservative government slashing local council funding and with it universal youth service provision – so that might be one distinction- with a youthwork underpinned practice – this might be a future distinction.

But what else – at least from a faith perspective – what might the Christian youth worker be called to be and do?

Vanhoozer suggests the following:

  1. A Theologian- ‘To be a Christian Theologian is to seek, speak, and show understanding of what God was going in Christ for the sake of the world’- theology is not just a job for the professionals, the qualifieds or academics.
  2. A Public Theologian- This is someone who reacts against the privatisation of the faith, restricting it to individual salvation – it is someone who is able to discern truth and justice, able to discern how and where in the world the traces of truth and justice may be unveiled, it is to be communicative of the story of God in the public domain, to be as Volf suggests a ‘witnessing presence’ or as Sam Wells (2005)  ‘Saints’ (See my post ‘Theodrammatic saints..) –
  3. To be in Public: It is to be involved with the public, being present, working with people to have conversations, to raise questions, address big issues of life, death, hope, fear, meaning and despair. To have much knowledge, and but also have general knowledge, to encourage places of connection, and environs such as homes (see my previous post on ‘home’ here:

Now these three things are directed by Vanhoozer, firmly and squarely with the role of Clergy, and in his words the ‘Youth Minister’ – and he has Christian Smiths (2005) research on Youth Ministry in the USA in mind as he makes this point (2015, p116-117, 154) and so this might have more resonance or direction with the ‘Youth Minister’ role in the UK. But what is interesting is that the ‘Christian faith based youth worker’ is probably more used to be doing these three things, as they have an adopted language of youthwork (universal), are involved in conversations that invoke witnessing, are discerners of truth, justice and equality (even if youthwork values drive these) and also value space for conversations.

Maybe ‘Christian faith Based youth workers’ might be Public Theologians after all…  



Passmore R, Ballantyne  Here be Dragons, 2013

Pugh, C Christian Youthwork or Social Action, 1997 in Youth and Policy 1999 no 65

Smith, M, Jeffs, T, Youthwork, 1987

Ward, P, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997

Vanhoozer, KJ The Pastor as the public Theologian, 2015

Young K, The Art of Youthwork, 2nd ed 2006


Renouncing second hand expertise in Youth Ministry

I had been guilty of fake-reading Soul Searching. I think it is a common curse. A friend of mine was telling me about the book a few years ago as he was I think just starting his Phd, and we had a great conversation about it, he even put some quotes up on facebook, when putting ‘notes’ on facebook was a thing.

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But I didnt read it myself.

Fast forward a few years, and I am reading a Vanhoozer book, on the place of doctrine in Ministry, and in an article, he refers to the key conclusion of ‘soul searching’ and considers ways of overcoming this.

Oh well and good I think, Vanhoozer is much more challenging to read than Christian Smith, and he knows what he is talking about, so I neednt bother reading it myself. I even write a great blog on it, well i say great, a few people thought it was great. But I still hadnt read the source material. I had fake-read Christian Smith then proclaimed to be a trusted source myself to talk about it.

I wonder often this occurs in aspects of Youth work and Ministry. Somebody else reads a book on something, then uses the idea from the book to be an expert on a thing, and those receiving it only hear an interpretation and leave trusting that the person has represented it right. That person becomes the expert on Freire, or Jeffs and Smith, or Vanhoozer, and then its the few snippets or quotes that are circulated. I must admit, I still have a few of these blind-spots in my literature closet, but having now read Christian Smith, this is now not one of them. 

There is a task in the ongoing practice of youth work and ministry to be maintaining integrity to what we say we base our practice on, if we do have notions of doing so with theory or theology in mind. The pain of the personal hard graft to read it ourselves is worth it, we are changed through the process of reading. 

It is not enough to be on the bandwagon of someone elses expertise, yes be inspired when someone refers to a book or article – but then get hold of it and read it. This is what I did when Helen Gatenby refered to ‘We make the road by walking’ by Friere and Horton a few years ago in a conference, and what a book it was, to read the whole thing. Deeply inspiring for practice and a view of educating humanity presented in conversation very inspiring. But i could have just taken Helens word for it.

Oh – but when have we got time for reading you say? Its not a matter of time, but a matter of priorities. A conference or lecture might give us a dip into an authors perspective – but in reading it ourselves are we opened to new possibilities and use our skills of interpretation to bear further fruit on and in it. As reflective practitioners we can consume contemporary culture and learn through it, and contemporary culture includes publications in sociology, psychology and theology to inform , shape and bring insight to practice, and to ourselves as persons.

What i found in ‘Soul Searching’ was considerably more than the headline of it that has been oft quoted. That of MTD, (Moral Therapeutic Deism) – and as I am reading it, I am reflecting on whether it is significant 10 years after its publication, and in my context the world of Christian youth work/youth ministry in north east England. Especially in light of two pieces of research regarding the faith of young people and their engagement in churches. What i can use the detail of the book for, and reflect on is far more than the headline, and ill be posting some of the highlights from Soul searching in the next few days, but this post isnt about the content of Soul searching, though what it does say is that young people arent given the critical skills or deep theology as part of their faith, thats ironic – because unless we as youthworkers develop a love of gaining ‘first hand’ knowledge, and the critical skills to go with it, then not only might we sell ourselves short, its likely we’ll do the same for the young people.


Tools for developing a Youth Ministry Youth Strategy

In a way i wish this was a post I needed to write more often, and in a similar way it a post i hope that i didnt have to. Why, well, sometimes i would like to think that churches would have some kind of plan/strategy/pathway for thinking about the discipleship of their children and young people (beyond them just attending groups). In another way there is often talk from a more regional level about developing a ‘youth strategy for a diocese, or deanery, or affiliation’  in which then someone outside of the jurasdiction of local churches is making plans, shaping ideas and practices for a local church to implement, be guided by, and how it might be resourced.

The reason that i wish i didnt have to write about this kind of thing is that because there are so many factors involved in the implementation, impact or outcomes of such a strategy that they can be little more than well merited & intentioned and thought through broad brush strokes. They might focus the mind, but they can often breed disillusion, false hope, and unreal expectations. However, they have become a bit of a trend. So what might a good youth strategy take into account?

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What might be some of the key factors to consider before developing regional youth strategies.

  1. Whose strategy is it?  So – is the young peoples and they are shaping it, or is it for the leaders and the bosses of the affiliation or organisation…
  2. What is the strategy for?  Can it be more than a paper excercise, heralded at a launch event, but nothing has really changed..?
  3. How might it take into account the cultural shifts required for empowering discipleship to occur in a church? If young people are to go from learners to deciders and then creators as part of discipleship (see this ) – what might be needed for a culture shift to allow this to happen in a church setting?
  4. What might a regional strategy look like that might suggest that local practices need to take their cues from their local context, resources, partnerships and demographics- not to mention theology? and culture…
  5. How might the success of a regional strategy be realised – in terms of long term discipleship – or short term initiatives – and does short term thinking prevail so that quick wins are garnered..
  6. How might young poeple be intrinsically involved throughout the process of resourcing, developing and implementing such a strategy and for making it accountable?
  7. Are the people making the strategies the right people to make the strategies? What methods of youth work/ministry might they favour and how might this shape a strategy to the detriment of other work with young people?
  8. How might a strategy be implemented if local culture might just as they say ‘eat strategy for breakfast’ ?
  9. Is there more resource put into making a strategy than being on the ground to enable good practice with young people to happen?
  10. Does youth ministry use good community youthwork strategy and evaluation tools to create strategies, processes and objectives and develop ongoing communities of learning and practice, or is it just a piece of paper to be signed off.

So, just a few thoughts from me on the things to consider when developing regional strategies in youth ministry, generally id argue that without creating cultures of learning, of empowerment and of collaboration that the strategy might only exist as a paper exercise. Developing culture might be more difficult, but its from within this that young people and those who work with and for them are more likely to be able to thrive.

Beyond self-care; what else is a youth worker/minister responsible for?

In my last post, on the need for youthworkers (and their managers) to take an active role in their self-care, i intimated that it is mostly a youthworkers responsibility to do this, despite their better passionate instinct. What tends to happen is that, especially in youth ministry type roles, the individual youth minister is seen to be ‘at fault’ if they cannot cope in a situation, rather than the culture of the ministry to have any responsibility for their well being and satisfaction in a role. It can become more difficult to challenge a structure if it can be deemed a faith one, and ordained one, one steeped in theological history.

However, thats a bit of a tangent, the point is that regardless of the culture of a workplace, a youthworker is responsible for their self-care, for looking after their social, spiritual, physical and mental well-being, albeit with hopefully some good supervision (and thank you for this comment on the article steelcityman) to hand to help.

I wondered: what else youthworkers are responsible for in their role and profession? – beyond their job title and description.

  1. Their Self care-, looking after themselves (obviously)
  2. Finding their own support system, practice supervisor type role for them
  3. Developing their own career path – there are limited straight pathways (thanks to Ultimate Youthworker Podcast for this one), they may have to make a choice to leave somewhere  Image result for responsibility
  4. Developing secondary work when funding starts to decline in their paid job
  5. Depending on their role, they could be responsible for all the NEETs in a town getting a job, all the anti social behaviour being reduced, or all the young people going to church. (;-))
  6. They are responsible for filtering out and discerning the right kind of training opportunities, and also for ascertaining them in the first place.
  7. They are responsible for trying to manage purposeful relationships with young people that are difficult to quantify, and treating them with care. Image result for responsibility
  8. They are responsible for maintaining reading, learning and being up to date with policies and theories as it as an ever changing practice
  9. They are responsible for managing a smooth transition in themselves from worker to manager or supervisor with often limited support to do so.
  10. They are responsible for holding and keeping alot of information about young people through conversations with them, with other agencies and hoping to still treat young people with fairness, equality and respect.
  11. They can often be responsible for finding funding for their own role.
  12. They are responsible for their own priority setting, where they have the power to make priorities of their tasks, and time management.
  13. They are responsible for finding their own pension scheme, usually.
  14. They are responsible for maintaining a position of trust in the middle of other agencies and be trusted by young people.
  15. They are responsible for defending themselves with no union.
  16. They are responsible for the table tennis table and trying to continually act 21 with young people.

I am sure there are others, and not to say that youthworkers are unique because in other practices of work these things will also apply. It was just as i was thinking about what youthworkers are responsible for, that are implied or extra beyond their job description, or like number 5 or 16, its what people expect a youthworker to be able to do, or only do.  It is a hugely self determining role – in terms of decisions a youthworker has to make, ethical decisions, practical decisions (about pensions, or jobs) – and this coupled with the high levels of emotional output, it can be undoubtedly draining without looking after ourselves, So maybe getting number 1 right is the best first thing.

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