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  )

 

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.

 

#NYMW19 – A weekend of great conversations – but which important questions does youth ministry need to ask?

Its almost 48 hours exactly since I got back from Youthscapes (www.youthscape.co.uk)  National Youth Ministry weekend and so I thought I would put pen to paper on a few reflections from it, with a few added and notable caveats.

The first is that this was the first time I had attended an English Youth Ministry conference. yup. Well aside from YFC’s own staff jamboree, my own youth ministry journey was too embryonic to go to the early incarnations of youthwork the conference back in 1997, and from 2004-2012 I was in Scotland (and why travel to england..) and since being back in England I have largely gone to conferences that i have prioritised in terms of learning and specialism, or where i felt it would be important to have an input from a faith perspective, such as In defence of youth work, Federation of detached youthwork and a few others.  Though I did attend Deep Impact a few years running in Scotland.

The second thing, in terms of reflecting on the NYMW19 is that i spend the great total of 0 (zero) minutes in any seminar, talk or workshop. With the exception of three workshops that were being presented from the room that i was part of with my lovely colleagues at FYT. Ill include only a small part of this , as they will show more of these on the FYT website soon along with a few graphs and pictures (http://www.fyt.org.uk) 

So – what have I actually got to say about the National youth ministry weekend, if i wasnt at a seminar and didnt hear a single thing from the stage. Well maybe thats the point, what is the essence of a conference? How much is it directed by whats on the stages, or what happens in between?

The bits in between were fun.

Thats all i can say really. I was tempted to wear a T shirt that said

yeah, i did write that blog – sorry if it upset you

But then i realised that actually, though a number of other ministry leaders, organisation leaders, and twitter followers knew of this little blog of mine. 750 people at the NYMW really didnt. And i already knew this.

For, whilst the twitterati of christian youth work, some engage with these reflections, the reality for me is that i get far more responses from the more critical, more open spaces in ‘secular youthwork’ than the youth ministry world. If such a world exists.  Thats not to say that this has no impact – but bring 850 people involved in youth ministry into a room for a weekend, and id imagine that the echo chamber of those who engage in theory regularly, theology even, or who have the time to read the stuff i write, or know about it, or search it out is few. But that didnt stop the fans of this blog searching me out. (blushes) .

The other reflection – is that there are many people who i would regard as being important in the conversation about youth ministry – who were absent from the conference, and some are very important – whether DYO’s, Clergy, Bishops even, representations from other denominations, and not many people involved in christian charities such as YMCA’s and very few from YFC – two from different ends of a youth ministry/work spectrum, but largely absent in the conversation.  Is youth ministry so confident in itself that it has any clout to speak to power, and those who make powerful decisions that will affect the future of churches working with young people in the UK. Because, if it isnt doing that, its merely speaking to itself. (which i know is also a criticism of the echo chambers of social media of which this blog is a part)

But what of the question… what of UK youth ministry in 2020?  or the long term 2030?

What is it going to be able to do – if the organisation it serves.. the church is 11 years further into the decline its currently in – and youth ministry itself hasn’t got much of a track record of stemming this overall tide – and churches themselves are recruiting family and youth workers, community and youthworkers (with more of a missional/outreach focus),. Has the church given up on youth ministry or young people? And if not – what is the core of youth ministry and what has it got to say? – if its discipleship.. have we even thought about what this is, and how this occurs? And – what about youth ministry and theology, and worship, church, mission, spirituality, poverty and faith, and then – what about thinking about youth ministry and other disciplines like sociology or psychology, all are important. At least I think they are.  These conversations need to happen not just in the centres of academia. Young people are far too important to not do this.

Having a conference next year is one thing. Systematically putting young people right at the heart of the UK church’s focus is another, and not just to save the church – but to enable communities to flourish too.

However, It wouldnt be unusual for me to get sidetracked down a rabbit hole of reflective purposeful questions, and yet at the same time say that I really enjoyed the weekend, but thats probably because I love having conversations with people, and there were 100’s of them in the FYT room and in the market place area, conversations that went deep, conversations about critical aspects of youth ministry, conversations where I learned things, conversations with others who are in the midst of the challenge, the midst of trying to do some great youth work, conversations with other ministry leaders and friends, and these conversations are completely life giving, energising and positive.

Honestly – I genuinely loved the weekend – it was great to catch up with and meet so many people – far too many to name. But does having a fabulous weekend, mask some of the difficult questions, and conversations that need to happen?

And gathering 850 youth ministry people – what conversations do they think need to happen – is there space to hear and listen as a process?  or are they to be sold ideas too?

Ultimately youth ministry (like youthwork) itself is a conversation anyway, shaped by those who experience it, see it and narrate it, so did NYMW open up new conversations, or shut them down, do the difficult ones need to be asked in the next few years, and work towards the responses. So, yes i loved the weekend, yes i love the conversations, but then again, you know i love a good conversation, whats important is that the conversations continue, and not just on twitter….

Mental Health and Young people in the Church – Guest Post by Jenni Osborn

Mental Health and Young People in the Church

If you were to send a message to your younger self to reassure or encourage them or even to tell them something that you think they need to know: what would you say?

I start my training with this question because it’s important to look back at the way life was when we were a young person and remember just how uncertain and chaotic that time was for all of us, even if we didn’t have additional struggles with our mental health at the time!

Scientists define adolescence as the period of life that starts with the biological, physical and hormonal changes of puberty and ends at the stage when an individual attains a stable independent role in society. We often define adolescence as roughly 11 -18 but this definition makes a good case for including ages up to roughly 25!

There’s a lot happening in the teenage body and brain. It used to be thought that our brains were fully developed before adolescence kicked in but since the use of functioning MRI scans (that is the ability to scan the brain whilst performing various functions) we are finding out more about the adolescent brain in particular, discovering that there are significant differences in the functions of the adult brain. It used to be thought that the reason teenagers didn’t weigh up risk or pay much attention to another person’s point of view was because of a flood of hormones, now we know that the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain which helps adults make decisions, plan for the future, inhibiting ant-social or inappropriate behaviour or speech and take another person’s point of view into consideration, is not yet fully developed in the adolescent brain meaning they are simply unable to do these things. Adolescents have to rely more on impulse and pleasure seeking because these are the functions of the parts of the brain – the limbic system and the amygdala – which ARE fully functioning.

Throwing these challenges of brain function together with hormonal surges and the keen feeling of peer pressure, we begin to see the unique challenge that adolescents have to deal with.

Add to that the backdrop of the 24-7 news cycle, environmental issues that threaten natural life as we know it, increased awareness of the need to live healthily whilst being presented almost daily with contradicting messages about how to do this, the distorting lens of social media and the pressure to maintain an online presence, global political upheaval including the rise of the far right, the Austerity agenda which has led to family chaos, increased reliance on foodbanks and a whole host of other factors and it’s no wonder we are in the midst of a mental health crisis of epidemic proportions.

The good news is that belonging to a loving, caring community of people is a significant part of the answer for those struggling with their mental health. A church and/or youth group that encourages young people to be open and honest by providing a safe space for them, that discusses emotional health and the impact our emotions can have on our faith and our overall sense of wellbeing, that shows love and care through listening carefully and talking about deep issues of faith and life, these are the spaces our young people need in order to navigate this difficult time of brain development, identity formation, fluctuating hormones and potential poor mental health.

I ran a survey recently asking young people from within church groups what they had to say about their faith and their mental health and it was so interesting to see a really wide range of responses about how their church or youth leader had supported them. Some said their youth leader was amazingly open and honest, encouraging them to talk openly about how they were coping with life. Others said that they hadn’t ever talked to their youth leader about their diagnosed mental health condition because they didn’t feel comfortable enough to be that open or that they had a difficult experience because the church had not tried to understand the problem they faced.

Many of us in churches feel out of our depth when faced with statistics that say 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health struggles in our lifetime and the actual numbers of young people, which is likely to feel like more than 1 in 4, in our care who are either diagnosed with, talking about, or showing signs of a mental illness such as depression or anxiety. We need to equip ourselves to do the best we can to support our young people, recognising that we are not all psychotherapists or counsellors.

I have written a Grove Book with this aim, to help those who work with young people understand a bit more about mental health and the impact this can have on our young people. You can order copies on the Grove Book website here.

I also offer training in a number of areas of youth work, mental health is one area that is particularly popular at the moment and my latest training session on Mental Health and Young People is in East Sussex on Thursday 14th November. You can buy tickets for this here. If you’d like me to deliver training to your church or organisation then get in touch in the comments.

If you’d like to read the story of someone who struggled with depression and anxiety as a teenager then I can recommend Rachael Newham’s ‘Learning to Breathe’.

If you’d like a resource book which gives you, the youth leader, a set of sessions you can run with your young people on emotional health then I can recommend Liz Edge’s ‘Exploring Emotional Health’. (in the north east a copy of this is in the Religious resources centre)

Thank you to Jenni for writing this piece for this blog, If you have a burning issue, a challenge, a question or a reflection you would like to share, please do so using the details above. Youth work week is upcoming, so if you have something youd like to tell with the regular audience of this blog, then please do get in touch.

12 of the inhibiting myths that prevent churches from starting to work with young people

These still kick about a bit, so maybe its worth stating them, once for all, getting them out in the open and realising not only how ridiculous some of these are, but more damaging how inhibiting they are, for churches, congregations to work with young people.

None of these are true, and if you think they are, think about what you’re trying to say about young people;

  1. The building is a barrier for young people coming into the church – no it isnt, its that people from inside the building havent created a welcoming atmosphere, or that its only open for things that young people havent created or wanted.
  2. If only someone could play a guitar, and do modern worship songs, that will bring young people in to the church. Heard this one recently, not going to respond. Might implode.
  3. No one here is young anymore, young people wont want to talk to us – actually they will if you find a way to be interested in them, and create a place that is welcoming, supportive and for them.
  4. We’ll never get young people, theyll all go to the big mega trendy church with lights and guitars. Really, all the young people in your town go there? you mean, the few christians will go, theres more than those 6 though isnt there.
  5. Therell be a safeguarding nightmare working with young people – no more so than any other group
  6. We used to have young people here but they trashed the place. Shame then that a different group of young people 30 years later are being tarred with the brush of their grandparents. Maybe reflecting on new approaches might do it
  7. Theres no material to work with young people like the ones in our town. Agreed, but the resource of being yourself, listening and asking positive questions may be all you need. Or questions like ‘were from the local church, and have no idea about working with young people, can you help us out, what would you like to happen for young people here?’
  8. Were too busy. Only if young people arent a priority.
  9. Its a job for a youthworker. Nope. See point 7.
  10. Attraction is greater than significance and meaning. Because a facade of entertainment wont eventually wear off. It’s not just millennials that crave authenticity, every young person in the history of young people does.
  11. They just need a simple message; strangely young people might be up for being challenged, involved and co creators of their faith journey. Challenge and risk are needed more than ever.
  12. We dont have the space to do it. Create an environment where people are loving and interested, and young people participate and are respected. Then the venue is irrelevant. (Unless ministry with young people is still considered as entertainment)

Theres also the ‘we dont know what they’re into… ‘ myth.. it’s as if young people are a real mystery.

Its only because I still hear these being said that I thought I’d put them together, so yes, this is unashamedly passive aggressive, I admit it. But there are two factors in play that mean that the church is needed more than ever to develop working with young people. The demise of statutory youth services, and the general acceptance that there are less church family young people in churches or staying per generation. The opportunity and determination should or could be there – but the opportunity is written off before the adventure even starts…

Church, you have the resources, the people and the connections with local communities, you can make this happen, if you really want to.

10 things you’re unlikely to see in Christian youthwork.

This almost feels a bit like the endgame on mock the week, when ‘unlikely things you’ll see…or hear’ is the opening strapping for which then the comedians are then tasked with completing. Today I was chatting to a few youthworkers about a youth work project that had a very similar name to another, and had used a bible verse number as their name. You know the one. It’s the life to the full one. (10:10). It got me thinking, if 3:16, 10:10 are commonly used, and there are some other common things in Christian youthwork.

What might be things unlikely to see or hear in Christian youthwork?

1. A project that has the name ’23:20′ after the profound words of Ezekiel.

2. A large worship gathering admit that financial reasons, and the need for advance funding, or internal poor partnership working was the reason for its demise. Far easier to say that ‘ the Lord is calling us to something new’

3. An all female worship band.

4. A Christian youthworker stay long enough in a church based role to be eligible for a sabbatical. And then to get one.

5. A youth pastor not use an analogy from Star wars/Lord of the rings or a U2 lyric in a youth service.

6. Young people involved in creating their own youth provision. Especially any collective worship space that’s apparently for them.

7. A job application for a youth worker that asks for a quiet, reflective, critical theological youth worker.

8. A youth work not have expectations that the Sunday school will be as full is was in 1890, after they’ve been in post 4 weeks.

9. A youth worker without 9 different coffee shop loyalty cards in their purse or wallet.

10. A commissioning service for the arrival of a new youth worker in post.

Here are 10 of my ‘unlikely to see’ in Christian youthwork, what might yours be?