In safety first cultures; risk taking is more required in youthworkers than ever before.

It comes as almost no surprise that there has been a backlash to the cultural messages of safety, harm and avoidance of risk that have been prevalent in culture, and also I might add the church over the last few decades.

Talk now in youth ministry is of taking risks with young people. 

Or maybe more pertinently, talk is of ensuring that risks are important in the relationships with young people.

It was the focus of last years Youthscape conference in which 1000 youth workers attended. Its been the focus of FYTs resources also. But – is it ever the subject of clergy conferences?

This risk provoking goes against one of the key principle cultural and organisational implicit drivers of organisations, notably church based youth ministry, which has, as said by Pete ward in 1997 – been more about safety and conformity within the church, than the kind of radical discipleship offered by Jesus. (Ward, 1997, Youth work and the mission of God, p16)

It is a theme I have spoken of before in this post ‘Young people will go elsewhere if youth groups are too safe’ and Why a risky church might be the right one for young people?

Taking risks was a key aspect of Jesus’ ministry – don’t you think?

Taking a risk with us as humanity was a risk taken by God overall – don’t you think?

Pushing the disciples to risk taking – and even exposure to difficult situations- was a key element of how Jesus pushed the disciples- agreed..?

At the end of this piece I will refer you to a resource which has been collated by Frontier Youth Trust to help you develop risk taking in your youth ministry, do take a risk and have a look at it – the link is here: (and no I don’t get any commission)  101 Risky Ideas for your youthwork

But before you do that, Id like to offer a short reflection on risk taking within youth work and ministry, basing this on two principal ideas. The first is a chapter in ‘Youth work Ethics (YE)’ by Howard Sercombe, the second is the 9 stage process of youth work as developed by FYT a number of years ago. I hope you find both useful.

In ‘Youth work Ethics’ Howard Sercombe identifies 19 areas of youth work practice that he gives insight and reflection to, on the basis of suggesting that youth work itself is an ethical endeavour based upon itself as a profession, and a definition of youthwork as a ‘professional relationship in which a young person is engaged as a primary client in their social context’ ( YE, p 27, 2010). What this does, is form the basis of youthwork as a negotiated, limited, yet professional relationship – that transcends the plethora of activities, venues and delivery agencies- but frames it as a relationship. Something i think that is music to the outcome bleeded ears of the youth worker.

Before going further with Sercombe, here is the 9 stage group work process that once and still is core to the FYT Streetspace community, note especially the element of Risk, that its needed and where it is located.

You can download the whole document here: http://www.fyt.org.uk/downloads/

The logic being that, over a period of time developing the relationship that you as a youth worker (especially as a detached worker) will be able to take a risk with the relationship that you have with a group (as you may by then have developed small group work, gained their trust etc) and been able to make suggestions to enable them to do something they maybe wouldn’t have done other wise. A push too soon may indicate that the relationship has been perceived differently from youth worker and young person/group. But note, that from the process of developing spirituality – a ‘test’ is whether ‘risk’ can be taken with other maybe easier concepts – like travelling to watch a football match, trying to raise funds for an activity, undergoing a personal change like quitting smoking (as an example) – gauging how risks in these areas might be seen as some kind of indication of how risk taken to think spiritually might be perceived. For more explanation of these – you might want to buy the Here be Dragons resource, in which all 9 stages are explored further. This is here: https://wp.me/P2Az40-4t

But lets just say from this example that Risk is needed in the youthwork relationship, and possibly even that Risk is needed for faith.

Back to Sercombe. Helpfully in a chapter on ‘taking care and managing risk’ , Sercombe identifies that in the main there has been a confusion about ‘harm’ and ‘risk’, but also that a number of risks are needed in youthwork, more so, there are a number of hidden risks that we would do well to help young people avoid.

A few summary thoughts from the chapter:

· Because we want to develop, transform even, the lives of young people through the relationship we seek to have with them , and they to some extent put themselves in our hands– this is an engagement that is inherently risky because we could get it wrong, create defensiveness, create exclusion or be a disappointment

· We expose young people to other relationships with other adults, professionals or services – there is a risk here, as these too may end up being destructive.

We are as youthworkers responsible for the intervention in other peoples lives and have a duty of care, and Sercombe goes on to describe the influence of a number of legal decisions and oaths that have an impact on how youthworkers are responsible, and ultimately states that:

‘The first responsibility of the professional is to make sure that nothing worse happens to the person than has already happened’ – though this is obviously difficult to promise – especially in medicine.

This is key ‘we need to do the best we can to help a young person in their journey. That may involve harm. It may involve greater harm. We don’t know that our assessment of that, even in consultation with the young person will be accurate’  We might want to avoid it, but harm is almost always a possibility in any intervention we might take, whether its helping them across the road to the ‘safety’ of the bus shelter on detached, the football or table tennis match, the cookery group, or game of pool. All can be harmful, and minimising harm is key, but it cant be avoided completely.

Whilst a few high risk activities have reinforced a tendency to avoid risks due to fear and litigation (such as PGL disaster over 20 years ago), and insurance companies dictating which activities youthworkers can and cannot do, there has become a tendancy, as i stated above, for risk avoidance. The real issue is being sued and avoiding harm to the organisation. 

often it is our job to increase risk’ (YE, p110)

Whilst the risks that get banded around for young people are the usual list of subjects; drugs crime, unemployment, homelessness etc and these get the usual attention. There is a range of risks for young people that don’t: passivity, resignation, fatalism, cynicism, low expectations, isolation, and you might add a few others here. Like lack of political engagement or community participation. Our role, according to Sercombe, is to help the young person assess the risk as best they can and help them decide through the possibilities. In the short term there might well be harm for the young person, a better life might, controversially, not be a safer one. (YE p110)

The role that Sercombe suggests we take in this risk manoevering profession is that of a guarantor. We manage the risk, think about it, we assess it, and consider it. But what we also do is hope, believe and project. We want to believe that young people can do, will do, and might just rise to the risk, because we see them as capable, confident and want to give them the opportunity to be the adults that they want themselves to be. By treating them as adult – they become adult. Right? Isn’t this a risk in itself? – but not an entirely non altruistic, positive one?

For despite the best interests at heart, best support and best conditions – there is still a chance at ‘failure’. This is the guarantor, and our role. We hope and help to provide the best conditions, resources and buildings in the hope that this will help young people develop agency, confidence, to be adults to make decisions. This is why this puts us at risk.

Thats why we take risks in youth work – because we still believe in the possible, we still have faith in the potential, we still dream. We take risks, and need to receive good management on their risks. ‘Risk is a key resource in youthwork’ (YE, p111).  It frames the logic of our intervention. Without it there would be no change, no transformation, no improvement, no new reality being explored. Whilst young people ‘at risk’ can be seen as an issue. Many of these occasions are when young people themselves do not have the capacity or resources to prevent being exploited, exposed or manipulated, by populist politicians, tabloids, sexual predators or extreme faith groups.

It is our role to defend young people, and take risks in preventing what might be a default pathway into these risks. Yet, risk is not the same as harm, it is not our role to decrease the risks, as arguably young people need risks so that they can exercise sound judgement, and we need to push young people to new experiences for their learning. We take responsibility for the process, we might consider ourselves lucky at times for the risks we have exposed young people to and the lack of assessment thought through. When young people enter into a relationship with us, it is a risk in itself, they entrust us, the information we give, and for them to push back on it. We might do well to recognise where we might have failed young people and their development because of our own reluctance or avoidance of taking risks, we need to be skilled enough to know and make the possibilities open, and resourceful in encouraging young people to take the risks. We might need to take risks to challenge barriers in organisations which hold young people back, we need to be as brave and courageous. We need, as this suggests, not to be content in only bringing young people to our beautiful place – but pushing them through the barriers we create to the somewhere new.

We have to take risks. Faith is about taking risks. Life is about taking risks.

Whilst the section above is less about faith, and more about risks in general. It is not difficult to make connections about barriers in churches and providing the support for young people to develop an adult faith.

As a reminder: Those 101 risky ideas for faith based work are here

At random – these are numbers 41-50 on the list and are aimed at helping to develop spirituality in young people, if you like these, why not download them all..for free. i mean what kind of risk is that, even…

41. Rewrite a parable and base it in your local context. Tell the story to young people without revealing its biblical origins. What are their interpretations?

42. Get up early to watch the sunrise and pray for the day ahead.

43. Ask young people to write a new parable.

44. Go to a cathedral or ancient church. Do some research about the the faith communities that have been there over its history.

45. For an experience of awe and wonder, sleep out under the stars.

46. Identify some of the metaphors used to describe God (ie Lion, Teacher, Tower, Rock). Ask young people to come up with some new metaphors based on the local context.

47. Cancel youth group or church in order that young people might find God outside the spaces you can control.

48. Arrange a visit to the building and community of a different faith. Use the time as an opportunity to dialogue about what values are important to you all.

49. If you meet with young people to explore and discover God start calling it church rather than Bible study or youth group. How do young people react? When is church, church?

References
Sercombe – Youthwork Ethics, 2010
Ward, Pete, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997
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Ideas for future youthwork for the ‘Indoor generation’

I was delivering some training for a group of volunteers just before Christmas, on the subject of developing pioneer youthwork. After talking through a number of theories, processes, ideas and stuff like values. The question was;

Well, that’s all very well – but what if the young people are ‘stuck’ inside their house?

And so, all the best theories, the best processes, the best methods might be ultimately faced with a barren brick wall, if the majority of young people are stuck inside. When I say stuck, i mean that as far as an outsider is concerned, they may be playing video games, on screens, doing homework, being escorted to organised activities (like after school clubs with Parents). But they are definitely not allowed out to wander, to go to the park, to ride a bike even. Some might be seen walking the family pet. Some might not want to go out. When bedrooms are the sanctuary from the horrors of school, family life or other stress, then why go out at all.

On one hand, some of this might be the feeling we have when ‘numbers of young people’ and not ‘quality of youth work’ is what we want to try and do. It could be as if ‘only a few young people’ isnt good enough, beneficial enough, or valid enough. See my post ‘But we only have 6 young people’ where thinking about the ‘only’ of numbers should be banned. However, this is only one side of the coin, probably. Its the side of the coin in which value for money might only take breadth and reach into equation, not depth and meaningfulness.

What is quite a challenge is that the young people some groups and organisations want to work with are the ones who are inside, who are generally diligent, who are doing their homework. But the ones who are disruptive and challenging, who are out and about, are the difficult ones that the groups dont seem to have the same enthusiasm for… strangely. Its as if the 30 kids in the park, arent the right ones…

Nevertheless, what if there isnt any young people around at all?

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Some of this may be true as well. Talk of a sensible generation isn’t new. A generation adverse to risk taking, and trying to ‘get on’ might just mean that they don’t want to ‘ruin’ things, be disruptive, or be on the streets, to find identity, belong and community – when this is online instead. Or where fears of the outside world are overblown. But its not that new that the majority of young people aren’t ‘outside’ or at Youth clubs.

In 1939, 50% of young people were uncontacted, (not in contact)with any youth serving agency. (Circular; Board of Education). This included, faith/non faith groups, sports, club work and uniformed groups.

So, in 1939, only 15 years after young peoples clubs had hit a boom, things were on a decline. And in 1962, the ‘large numbers of young people’ not attached to any youth organsiation were a principle reason for a small scale, but 5 year funded + research project starting in London with a YWCA (More of which can be read in Goetschius/Tash 1967 Working with the unattached, a summary of which is on http://www.infed.org) . So the moral panic, or more accurately, desperate need to react to young people not attached isnt new. But maybe then, a good number were unattached and outside. I would say that since 2010, if a project doing detached youthwork in one particular area for 2-3 years sees 15% of the youth population in a suburban area it is doing well. Its probably only 10% of young people in an area who might be seen and contacted outide, and if the youth club (if such a thing exists) has 10-15 core young people then this is often the most it can manage and develop into a deep and meaningful experience long term for them.

In many areas, there are still the sports clubs, uniformed groups, faith groups (who may be the only ‘open youth club’/detached work left’) – church group like a ‘Messy church’ – dance, drama and music groups.

And so – whilst it may be that there are no where like 50% young people attending these things, it might be unlikely that they are doing nothing at all. Even the secondary school/Primary schools in many areas are delivering later evening activities, sports, etc.

That being said – the hard to reach might still be hard. And not every young person is the same. Screen time is one thing, home work another, but what if young people (aged 14) are caring for younger siblings until their hard working parents get back from shift work or a days work at 6. As a young person they are having responsibility – so what might a youth agency do to help them out? – what about a young carers and children session? (one example)

It could be dispiriting that the open youth group cant compete with all the technology of the childs bedroom, and there has been a tendency to try and fill the youth club with the same kinds of things. Or try and be relevent through making a you tube clip.

What is interesting is that young people like to feel at home in the spaces of the youth club – that doesnt mean that it has to replicate home. It could be ‘home +’ – where is feels like home, but they are trusted more, or given more responsibility, that they are cared for and listened to – not assumptions made. Where they are challenged even and enjoy social relationships. Having an Xbox in the youth club might be nothing at all really what young people want. Maybe its is something completely different, its time, its attention, its could be escape from the headache and stress of it all.

If young people cant come out of their houses – then why not go to them? – Could we do some door knocking and do a survey in the local area – find out actual information – rather than make assumptions? If they are hard to reach – then at least we make ourselves available… – this is happening elsewhere. Meet them where they’re at – how easy is this when they’re in their home?

We might think that starting the conversation with young people in a different space might be the thing – but doing schools work might not be practical if no one in the youth club or church is available all day, and the vicar turning up to do an assembly is no real incentive to come to the church youth club. Not really. Only for the already attending church kids.. probably… (its why i dont think vicars should do assemblies… 😉 ) – but trying to find a starting point for interaction seems to be one of the main questions – and something then that your group, church, organisation could spend seriously thinking about, especially if there is no natural footfall. But theres nothing new there…

Questions like these might help:

  • Where do young people hang out in their leisure time?
  • What are the routes from schools, from the school buses?
  • Do any young people spend time in the town centres at weekends? (i have tried detached work on a saturday afternoon before)
  • Where might young people find us? – How might they opt in?

There may be a realisation that we are heading into a space where we might want to think about ‘digital youthwork’ – and this will bring up a whole load of new scenarios, issues and practices to consider, in terms of values, engagement, confidentiality, individual/group work, participation. I am not sure what the latest guidance on this is, but i know that the NYA did produce some guidance a few years back ( in the age of Bebo.. ), which must have been updated since. However, if you think moving to digital youth work is the future for developing youthwork for the future indoor generation, then there is much to think about. I would suggest that there are enough young people who do not engage on social media 24/7 and there is evidence that young people are switching off. We might want to think about interest groups – how might we help young people be part of a movement – rather than a club… could the church be the space that helps young people change their local world, or a national issue ( like plastic, litter, energy, pollution, poverty, justice- the things young people care about…) .

If we offer something that is meaningful, that starts with young people in mind, offers a hand of participation, ownership and involvement, then it is more likely that this will create good youth work practice.

On the other hand, it is highly commendable that we want to reach as many young people as we can, the sad inevitability is that this may not be possible, but that doesnt mean that a small group of young people who we do spend time with is not worthy or unimportant. Maybe we are given a few first, and then opportunities to grow come more organically. Whilst we might not be in need for numbers for funding bids we can rest easy. Though if we have young people and are losing them thats a different matter – then we might have a different challenge on our hands- thats for a different piece.

Future youth work for the indoor generation? nothing new, but it might mean we have to raise our game…

If you have any suggestions – do put them below:

Last post for 2018 – reviewing a year of blogging in youthwork and ministry

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Its that customary time of the year, to look back on the year, its highs, lows, drama, challenges and achievements. As this will be my last post on ‘Learning from the Streets’ in 2018, I thought it would be a good time and interesting to look back over my year of ‘blogging’ about youthwork and ministry and share a few thoughts on it. In context 2018 was my 6th full year of blogging on these subjects, and overall i think i expanded writing into a few new subjects and titles. Some of this reflected my own situation, books that i was reading or conversations I was having at the time with other youthworkers around the UK.

Firstly some of the raw data for 2018:

2018, in Numbers

This post that you are reading now is the 124th I have written this year – which in a rather coincidental round about way, that makes on average 2 posts per week. Its less than 2016 (228) and 2017 (168) , but still….

My posts have received 179 ‘likes’ that’s the ‘like’ button on the bottom of them, that no one really uses…

And, not including this piece, I have written not far short of 169,000 words over the course of the year. This is less than in the previous two years, and but not by much and so, generally my posts have got longer. This could reflect my own studying and reading, the style or writing, the ideas covered, who knows..

Facebook (by a long way) , Twitter and Google search attracted most people to the site. The most searched phrase that caused people to visit was ‘the role of youths in churches’ and this is reflected in one of my most read pieces of the year.

I received alot of traffic from three other blogs, Thank you to In defence of youthwork, Thrive youth ministry and St Albans Childrens ministry for sharing my pieces or linking to them in your own. I know a few other people also did this, and special mention to my friends in Australia, the Ultimate Youthworker team, who regularly comment, share and publicise my pieces down under, thank you.

This is the first year in which more than 1000 people have viewed this blog site each month, and there have been 27,500 views of it over the year. Over 10,000 more than 2017. Thank you big time.

The blog has been viewed by people from 133 countries, with the top ten views from countries after the UK being;  Australia, USA, Ireland, Canada, India, Philippines, Germany, South Africa, Singapore and New Zealand, and as wide afield as St Kitts and Nevis, Burma, Andorra and the Kayman Islands, quite incredible, thank you.

So, beyond the views and reads, what was popular, and in the interest of balance, what actually wasnt..?  Starting with the more popular in 2018:  Heres the top ten, starting with the most read piece of 2018….

Top ten posts: 

  1. Posted at the end of November ; 35 Experiences that every youthworker has done  was a sympathetic yet reassuring and humorous piece (so i was told) that many many youthworkers enjoyed, agreed with and could reflect on their own practice joys and failings.  This piece went a bit ‘viral’ for a few days, and thanks mainly to the community in the ‘In defence of youthwork’ facebook page for sharing it around the country.  This became my most read and viewed piece in 2018 after 24 hours of being published.
  2. ‘Where are the UK Church employed Youthworkers’  This was posted in June, and was an idea to try and collate a map which would give a snapshot of where the church employed youthworkers were in the UK.  I am not sure that it was filled in by everyone who knew information about all the youthworkers in the UK, but if it has been then, there are about 300, and they are mostly in the South East.  Probably a classic tale of revealing a reality most of us already knew. However, this got shared as clergy and diocesean staff around the UK passed it around (thank you)   To note that 811 people clicked onto the map from this page.
  3. In January I spent some time preparing a seminar for the Cumbrian Diocese on ‘Participation and Empowerment’ and this meant that I read a number of books on these subjects. One of the key questions that I discovered, and used in the session was this one: ‘What role do young people play your youth group/church? ‘   This became the title of a piece. This has been the slow burner of the year. It got a few reads when published, and a few people read it over the next 6 months, but its gained traction since August, to the point where i think at least 1 person has read or viewed this post every day since the summer.
  4. Coupled with my own situation of being unemployed, and looking for work in youth work and ministry myself, and therefore looking at job adverts constantly since April, I wrote a series of pieces in June and July about recruitment and employing youthworkers. My 4th read piece of the year raises the delicate question about the pay of youthworkers . And I took an angle of looking back in old copies of youthwork magazine (yes i keep everything) and comparing advertised salaries down the ages, from 1999 onwards. And it is a bit of a quiz, so if you felt the urge to take part or have a go, see how you get on…
  5. In November, I followed closely and did some social media contributing to the National Youth work week, in the UK. Towards the end of the week I thought it would be good to collate some of the pictures, responses and opinions from youthworkers about : Why is youthwork good for young people and society? and the 50 reasons given are included in this piece.  It was another collaborative piece in the year, and again possibly a good reason why it was well received and circulated. Thank you for those who did contribute.

Before continuing I want to remind you of the additional platform that I will be launching in 2019, I will be starting a Patreon Site, at this link: https://www.patreon.com/JamesBallantyne  My first post in 2019 will appear on there, so do keep an eye out for it. 

Other pieces that made up the top ten included

6. Church with no young people – heres 3 ideas for starting – without employing a youthworker

and with a similar theme, but another post that had a number of contributions from pioneers:

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

I did do a bit of critical moaning about the government, education and youth work policies (or lack of) in 2018. When i visited a number of regions of the UK there was often stories and examples to reflect on and share about. My 8th most read, on that theme was how the question raised to the Prime Minister about the state of young people due to austerity and budget cuts was laughed off. 8th of the year goes to : Nice try doesnt cut it Mrs May, not when youve lived with austerity for 8 years’

9. My 9th most read post this year, was one that Id written over 3 years ago. I am thinking there must have been a seminar/conference on it somewhere, however, for those of you involved in church based childrens and youthwork, its a critical question: does the future of the church rely on how young people leave messy church?    Though I didnt answer the question at the time with too much practical (and three years ago, my writing was very different) I have done so since, and this post does start to think through this, to think about helping young people become ministers not just learners.

10. And finally, my 10th most read piece of 2018 is……. one from 2017.. I wrote this piece because it is so easy to use negative and ‘not’ phrases when thinking about young people ‘ theyre not this, theyre not able to do that’ and was keen to try and start to use langauge about strengths, about gifts, and change this, from nots to strengths. So this, on strengths, not not’s – was 10th in 2018

Thank you to all who read, shared and enjoyed these pieces. Because they were the most read, you probably havent re clicked them, to read them again. (whats the point) – but if you havent or want to share them then do have a look again at them.

As a contrast – these pieces all published for more than a month ( ie so not this weeks) were read by the least people in the year. Many of them so convoluted, deep and theoretical that there’s no wonder, but some really werent that either. However, it might be worth reflecting on why some of the longer deeper stuff doesnt get read and what this might say about the time we have for doing this, the desire to think critically or whether I am actually usually just barking up a particularly crazy tree that no one really wants to participate in… so – my top least read 5 this year are: 

5th Least read, published this year was one that I really though might stimulate discussion, and was on how churches might help create a movement for young people to join in with, rather than view themselves as entertainment to attract young people to, I am still convinced this is a shift that we have to make in youth ministry, and how we view the Bible as a guide for social justice, and be something young people can believe in. Oh well… maybe thatll take time.. or maybe that already happens…

4. One of my longest pieces and most theoretical was this one, on Discipleship and Performative pedagogical. And whilst I drew from Giroux, Freire and others to make a well reasons sound argument, it didnt draw many of you in to think critically about discipleship and education. Still, its there if you want a read… but i dont blame you, mostly it was a jumble of randomness and reading..

3. My third least read of the year was thinking about how churches and organisations need to create spaces and opportunities for young people to grow into, using the analogy of seeds and plants needing to be replanted in gradually increasing sized pots. Yeah, I thought it would be interesting… 😉

2. Big surprise, I honest thought this would be a popular one : ‘No ones every given me training to do mission before’   A piece on the helplessness and disempowerment of people assuming that mission activity is somehow just a natural given. (maybe it is)

and the most least read best of the unpopular posts for 2018 was….

  1. The Drama of the last supper – a piece on on what it must have been like for Jesus to ask each disciple individually that question.

So, clearly not everything I wrote hit the marks, or was really popular,  even if all of it was well intentionned to stimulate, advise or reflect. And as the Film Critic Mark Kermode says, just because a film is popular doesnt make it good. And the same in reverse can be said for some of what I and others write. Popular doesnt = good, neither does upopular =bad either. I am aware that there are temptations in this world to provoke using titles or images, and I have fallen fowl to that, yet at the same time, titles with theoretical words seem less received. I would hope I strike a balance but veer closer to trying less to be controversial and popular, but speaking from some experience, speaking from trying to make sense of stuff and trying to be helpful, and yes that may mean it needs to be provocative or probing.

Best of all, is that people have genuinely said to me over the course of 2018 that I have helped them rethink or do their youth ministry differently because of reading one of my pieces. That they have thought differently about young people and wanted to develop something in a way that treats them with respect, this is my hope all along, and so, beyond every view, like or share, this has brought me the greatest encouragement. Thank you for those who have took the time to feed this back to me. 

So, it leaves me to genuinely thank all of you for reading, sharing and contributing to these pieces over the past year. I have really enjoyed contributing to the many conversations in youth work and ministry in this time. I wish you, your teams of volunteers, staff, students a happy and restful Christmas, and all the best for your youth work and ministry practice in the new year.

Thank you

The 12 days of Christmas (The youthwork cupboard clutter version)

After some ‘careful’ research via social media, and some willing participants, who might need counselling after disclosing, it time for the annual 12 days of Christmas song, this year its the  the youth work cupboard clutter version.

So, if ‘your true love’ had found their way to the youth work/ministry cupboard, and gave gifts according to what they might have found, these might be on the list. Own up, you know it could easily be you, Easily because weve all done the ‘we’ll use that again one day’ or ‘thatll come in useful’ another day thing. And its left to rot or waste space.

Some of these items were found by the ‘next project’ to use the building, after the previous one left suddenly – or left the items on purpose. Either way, these are all genuine articles found, discovered or are lurking currently in the ‘youth cupboards’ in the UK. Bought because of a funding bid so specific the equipment was never going to be used again, bought for a talk or session so bad never to be repeated. Now this christmas, it is their chance, once ignored and beaten up to shine…

Now, for brevity, I will not be rewriting the lyrics for each ‘day’ but im sure you get the drift, and thanks especially to those who made contributions that fit the original song, and poetic license required for when there wasnt quite the right number…

 

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All together now (you know the tune)…
On the first day of Christmas – my youth worker gave to me.. An Ann Summers (rubber) penis hoopla and a sachet of lube (‘credit’ Jenni Eleri & Zoe Cumberland)
In the second Christmas clear out the worker gave to me.. Several ceramic tiles and an Ann Summers……etc etc     (Thanks Naomi Thompson)
In the third Christmas clear out the worker left behind… 3 garden shovels, several ceramic tiles… (hasnt everyone tried an allotment project..?)
On the 4th day of Christmas, discovered at the back; (a) full-size arcade dance mat  (circa fitness project 2004, thanks Shannon Hart)
On the 5th day of Christmas my youth store gave to me, 
5 golden toilet-seats
(‘which funding bid did this require..?’  thanks Pamela Campbell for this one, there was only 1 but its gold and it fits the tune)
On the 6th day of Christmas the youth store shared with me.. 6 wooden clothes pegs  (thanks Liz Skudder)
On the 7th day of Christmas, the youth store gave to me;   7 inflatable rhinos (there was only 1, and its a rumour, but still, really.. why even need one of these? .. again Mark Tiddy..)
On the 8th day of Christmas, the youth store then revealed ; 8 Rubber turkeys (thanks Kirsty Thomas) 
On the 9th day of Christmas the youth store then revealed ; 9 miniature garden gnomes (Lucie Hutson, any ideas why?)
On the 10th day of sorting, the cupboard then disclosed, 250 rub-ber ducks  (thanks Mark Tiddy (and ‘two-fifty’ does fit the tune) )
On the 11th day of Christmas, the youth store then embellished; 11 defunct PC cables (or monitors, keyboards, ‘mice’, cables etc etc, from when the computer room was last redecorated, in 2007)
On the 12th day of Cleaning, the youth store shared with me, 12 brown monk outfits (credit Liz Dumain, and yes, 12 of them.. )

sadly,, the list of things that didnt quite get given away this christmas also couold have included; 14 copper kettles, a roll your own ‘joints’ kit, a box of rubber foetuses, and an box of chlamydia testing kits.

 

Well. What can I say. There’s a number of stories to be told about many many of these. And that’s hopefully before any of them might have been young peoples lost property. Does your youthwork store have a number of secrets, just by the junk that has been left behind? waiting for the project to come back again in full cycle. Or the time to tell that ‘story’ that needed 250 rubber ducks, or game that needed a toilet seat. Yes its a game.. apparently……. Maybe its none of that at all. Maybe its that everyone else is chucking out their rubbish and thinks ‘could i donate this ‘rubbish’ to those creative youth workers to do something with it, and the youth workers feel obliged to take it instead of saying no (because we like ‘free things’) and now the cupboard is full of rubber ducks, monks outfits, golden toilet seats and a box of lube. Tell you what, I’m glad Ofsted doesnt inspect youth work cupboards…give a gift this Christmas, but maybe not from the back of the youth work cupboard.

And if anyone needs counselling after reading this… or maybe just a serious tidy up…

 

Early announcement

in January I will be starting a Patreon site in which, for a small membership fee, you will be able to read and enjoy my articles without the advertising and do so a little earlier than those published here.  To see a preview of the site visit https://www.patreon.com/preview/7fe77e87f2864f06adc06aa58e6151cd . Ill keep you posted on when the new site is launched. Before then, any donation please click the ‘Donate’ tab above. Thank you

 

A practical prod to help churches be places where young people flourish, my review of ‘Adoptive Church’ (2018)

I have had a copy of Chap Clarks ‘Adoptive Church’ for over a month now, sent to me to write a review of it, for this blog, its a bit of an odd book to try and write a review of, that’s not to say that it is without merit, some very interesting points, but I guess for me, a book that only has a few references, and only 12 Authors are listed in the Index (though they do include Barth, Bonhoeffer and Calvin) then you might understand why this is a book that I have struggled with. I had hoped in one way that the last three books I had read on youth ministry were bucking a trend somewhat ( Nick Shepherds ‘Faith Generation‘, Roots ‘Faith Formation in a secular age‘ and even the ‘Theological turn in youth ministry’ by Root and Dean) towards attempting more thorpugh examination of youth ministry practices. This book makes no mention of these previous pieces (or Root/Dean/Shepherd/ as influences) In comparison this is skin deep, and possibly why I have struggled with writing this review.

However, that’s the pre amble for the review, and possibly reveals my own prejudices. As I said this book is not without merit.

Adoptive Church (Chap Clark)

 

Chap Clarks ‘Adoptive church’ is the third of his ongoing series on developing family orientated churches in which young people can flourish. Previously he has written in two publications the importance of family for the nuturing of young people[1], and in Adoptive youth ministry this approach was developed further. In Adoptive Church, Chap Clark changes the focus from developing a nurturing youth ministry, to providing guidance for the whole church as to how it be adoptive in doing so be an environment where the nuture of young people occurs. This book is squarely for those youth ministers who are working in a church context, little is mentioned of mission activities and outreach work, but despite this it does ask pertinent questions and gives practical suggestions on how a church, a faith community might develop an adoptive way of being that can be of benefit to all, and not just young people.

Outline

In part one Chap Clark explains what he means by an adoptive church, in addition he suggests three crises that he identifies are befalling the existing programmable approaches to churches working with young people , chapters three four and five describe further the requirements for creating an adoptive church including what this means for discipleship, and how a church might develop a strategy for being adoptive, and then the goal of what an adoptive ministry might mean for young people and the church itself. The implementation of an adoptive church is Chaps main concern in part 2, a number of case studies, questions and processes are considered and primarily these relate to the nature of leadership required , with two different styles considered. The final section describes the characteristics of an adoptive church and how to encourage churches to develop an adoptive approach. The main shift for chap is that he directs most of this conversation to the whole churches rather than the specifics of the youth ministry departments. His passion is that the whole church is the soil for the nurturing, empowering and participation of young people and a culture of family who adopts young people is what is required for this to happen.

Strengths

Universality of context – Chap suggests that an adoptive church approach can be considered for churches in ‘Atlanta, Ontario and Nairobi (p21)’ and in the main I agree with this sentiment. Describing how churches to have a better environment for nurturing young people in the faith community is critical for all churches, yet I cant help but think that the setting of a large church and the challenges that this proposes shape Chaps thinking and concerns in the main. Its almost as though Chap is responding to the problems in large church youth ministry where young people might well be cyphened off into age groups and never to be seen again by other supportive adults in a church, almost.

That discipleship is described as a process, rather than an end game, is another strength (page 49) – and Chap challenges the notion of ‘a mature’ disciple – when as he says, it is a movement and trajectory towards maturity that everyone in faith is undertaking. It is from this sense of movement that Chap orientates the solution to the three problems he suggest that are at the root of the issues in youth discipleship (stated below).

His solution to the three problems (and which encourages the movement of discipleship) to use a biblical analogy, is to focus on the soil.  The solution isnt the programmes, professionalism of youthworkers, the excitement of the residential. It is the culture of the church. For Chap, the solution is that the soil – that is the culture of church, which all of us are part (whether paid, clergy, laity, congregation) is in need of a rethink.

we need to create environments where seeds can grow and shoot down deep roots that will last a lifetime (Clark p50)

For Clark, creating the right environment for the flourishing of disciples (the seeds) – involves cultivating the following:

  • Knowing Christ leads to following (p51)
  • Love for God increases knowledge (p51) (Quoting Tozer)
  • Knowing about God so that they (young people) can know God personally (GF Hawthorne) (I might critique this ‘knowing God personally’ relationship notion, and Root does this already in 2007 Revisiting Relational youth ministry)
  • Keeping the content about Jesus, using every opportunity to use a Jesus phrase..(p52)
  • Loving God/Christ back – in how young people express love back – ‘Teaching young people to love Christ is not about introducing more content, but rather providing environments and experiences that enable young people to slow down their lives and receive Gods love. Instead of taking prayer requests devote more to times where young people can be drawn into a tangible sense of Gods care and presence’ (Clark, p53, last sentence paraphrased)
  • Following Christ – Helping young people use their gifts, helping young people be generous, helping young people do Gods work in the world

Student leadership may be fine for the youth ministry but rarely actually leads young people to feel like they are contributors to the body. (the main church) The same goes for singing and teaching four year olds. Whilst these are sound expressions of using a gift in the body, to truly feel important and valuable contributors, the young need to connect to adults while they are following Christ as he brings in his kingdom (Clark, p55)

Whilst I can agree with the sentiment, I am not sure practically how the latter might occur, if as in many churches, there might be a discipleship deficit amongst adults, who spend more time maintaining churches through meetings, that being as active in ‘following Christ as he brings in the kingdom’ – young people might in effect be doing more of this themselves than adults are anyway. The learning might need to be the other way. Though the sentiment of greater participation/contribution is definitely valid, but in the UK, talk of participation and contribution is barely new. Neither is using the gifts of young people in Ministry – in fact this is the crux of Roots Faith Formation (2017) – though the repeated call for cultivating a better soil, for the seeds to grow is one that is particularly important.

Before moving further into the book, and developing Clarks key theme – creating an adoptive church. I want to mention critically the assessment of the state of churches that Clark identifies in Part 1. Not unlike many youth ministry book, there has to be a stated problem in part 1, to then be given the response and solution in parts 2-9. Where many youth ministry books have focussed on MTD, and the UK happy ‘Midi-narrative’ – (Root & Shepherd respectively) as the problem, Clark avoids both of these issues completely, and puts no work into thinking about the contexts in which the churches find themselves. Clarks focus is purely on the church as a whole. And church that is existing almost without any recognition of the context around it. On this basis, this is why the three issues that Clark raises as the problem with church youth ministry are:

  1. We (the church) is losing young people
  2. Students are unprepared for secular society
  3. There is more hurt than we realise. (pages 25-30)

He is right on one hand to suggest that strengthen what is broken is a good way to start. However, I cant help think, that from a UK perspective, barely any church in the UK would be immune to the hurt in the students that they have, or the students/young people it is doing mission with, given the effects of austerity, young peoples mental health, etc etc – a church that doesn’t get this, especially in the UK must have its blinkers on. And to think that its own young people aren’t facing these, well…  On the point that Students are unprepared for secular society, then again, this possibly represents something of the culture of a type of youth ministry that in the UK might only be a dream.  Yes, there is much to be done of creating flourishing youth ministry and churches so that they balance a distinctive following of Christ, whilst ensuring that young people are world ready too. But not many churches in the UK offer the kind of 5 nights a week youth ministry that might shield young people from culture and the world around them. Yes preparing young Christians for following Christ in the long term is an ongoing real task – but in the UK im not so sure that many of them are non-world ready. However, giving them tools for mission and doing Gods work in todays world agreed, this is almost lacking. Especially if MTD (Christian Smith, 2005)  is still pretty much the order of the day in regard to teaching, hearing and attendance is the one thing valued. For the US audience, these 3 issues probably ring true. Though there is minimal research into the causes of this problem given by Clark, albeit reference to some research by Fuller institute, one example of a young person, and a reference to David Elkinds work as a total sum of source material for making these three statements of the problem. Whilst they may be accurate assessments of a problem, and many might agree, they do lack the rigour of an academic piece. I guess in a way thats part of the problem with this book, where Root asks the question ‘what is faith’ and how might faith be formed in a secular age/world? Thinking about the nature of the secular world and its influence, Clarks finger is pointed more towards the church without too much of a deep diagnosis of the secular world that the students will be trying to face. Its as if the church on its own can sort out the problem. It will help no doubt, but if you’re looking for a stronger argument about the nature of the secular world, and how faith and ministry can be meaningful in it, then its Root that gives the answer to this, and not Clark. 

The response by Clark is for church to do better, and be better at enabling, encouraging and supporting young people to flourish. I can get this, I honestly can. But if churches arent made more aware of all the issues that this is about, including the effect of the secular age on young peoples faith, then its only a one-directional solution, to what is a complex problem. Fixing discipleship is going to take more than creating good spaces for discipleship, though there’s no doubt (and dont mishear me) that this is definitely a step in a right direction. Because its complex, i might suggest that this is why Clark largely ignores the issue, compared to Faith Formation, Adoptive church is definitely a practical book.

And a practical book, Adoptive Church continues to be, in Chapter 5, Clark begins to address the ‘church’ with a number of questions: ‘Is it a warm or a cold place’, is it a place where young people are given eye contact? is it a place where adults know the names of young people? (again i think the majority of small churches in the UK, this isnt an issue- well maybe not the warm/cold issue) , and then chapters 6-8 share further the practical ways (a process not a programme) of being an adoptive church. In chapter 6 this feels like using a business model of using ‘outcomes’, ‘intentions’ and ‘goals’ to create adoptive churches, and this is translated into sharing vision (p71), communication and training and creating opportunities where people can outwork the commandment to ‘love’ . Analysing the context is seen as important, so that churches intentionally work harder at being more welcoming (nothing worse than a church that says ‘all are welcome’ when actually no one is aside from those who know people already) – yet Clark is right in that even the most welcoming church that seeks to be ‘youth friendly’  rarely reaches out to young people, walks alongside them, or actively seeks to adopt in community young people as siblings in ministry. (p73). As he says, every church is unique, and every church might describe themselves in a certain way- but in analysing the context ‘how are churches for young people?’ . Clark then goes on to talk about resources, structures, reflection and evaluation- and much is useful, though it is worth being reminded of the American church context in which much of this is directed.

Clark then looks at the leadership style required for developing Adoptive churches, and whilst I can picture the kind of ‘Im in charge’ type leadership he describes (to avoid) – I think, generously, that many UK church leaders (whilst there might still be ego etc) are closer the the partnership models that he describes, given the rise in ecumeicalism in the UK and profligate attempts to share resources across churches for a variety of mission and community practices. Though what Clark is also getting at is trying to encourage an ongoing learning partnership approach to discipleship within a church instead of ‘hear me I have the answers’ , is the alternative ‘thanks for joining in this great and glorious effort, we’re all in this together’ (Page 86) – this might appeal to the ‘High School Musical’ generation who have, through Disney been exposed to the miracle of team work thanks to Troy, Gabriella and co, there is a deeper sentiment here, that developing adoptive churches requires an ongoing humility and respect for each persons worth, value and contributions (Ministry in the whole body). (p87) Clark then considers how a journey might be made from a managerial style to a partnership style. I can see the benefits of this, and wonder personally whether community approaches might be increased in clergy and ordination training to enhance partnership and educative approaches to leadership. However, that is not for today.

In the final section (pp129-176)  Clark describes the ‘fundamental practices of adoptive churches’, these are said to include :

  • Nurture and the Ministry of going – Chap describes a sense that Ministry occurs between the programmes (even though its a programme leader that most churches want to employ as a youthworker) , and that Ministry is as a result of the programme. Stating that ministry is to be relied on to help with young peoples participation in Gods work/ministry and his Family. Adoptive church is also about Going, about following God in the travel, the journey and the mobility of God, the kind of mobile, travelling ministry evident in the Biblical narrative (p134-135)
  • Nurture is about Familiarity – creating a place where young people feel at home. It is gentle, caring and loving, involves sharing the gospel of God and sharing life experience (p137), it is also Communal, therefore more than a mentoring (121) approach which is sworn by in many situations (p137) an adoptive approach is a community one and is akin to the family and all need to nurture each other (p138)
  • Nuture is strategic. It does require effort and intention, as though Clark doesn’t admit it, the default is not necessarily communal but individualistic (because of wider culture and individualism) so, some strategy is required to create communal nurturing spaces, to use language of community, sharing and encouragement.
  • It is about building trust, building warmth and gathering to explore the gospel together. But lets do this, as Chap Clark says, to build community and family, not just to ‘hear one person tell lots of people something’ but to create places of warmth that encourage learning together and learning spaces that encourage warmth. (p141)

Chapter 10 is about the Golden rule in most of what Youth Ministry has been all about in the last few years, at least in the UK (and the last three books mentioned above virtually say the same) – Youth Ministry, and in this case Adoptive churches, are all about participation. Or at least, Empowerment, which is beyond participation according to Clark, and in the main it is – for Clark it is about participating and contributing, and going beyond the ‘just getting the kids to do something’ type of participation.

‘Adoptive churches seeks more than minimal participation’ (Clarke, p146)

However, this is the sting (for many) . As Clark says, Empowerment is about realising that young people have a wealth of gifts, abilities, resources themselves that currently churches (and I will also argue schools) are not making the most of or are overlooked. Empowering contributing young people (in the task of Gods ministry) will enable these gifts to be used in ministry, and be ministers themselves. ‘Empowerment is the goal’ states Clarke, ‘we want teenagers and emerging adults to be embraced not only as younger siblings but also as valued ministry partners’ (p147). To achieve this, Clark suggests that churches need to be intergenerational, particular, incremental and intentional. Im not going to elaborate here on these, as they make sense. Though each of these might be counter cultural to what has gone on before, and even against attempts for universalism & quick fixes. However, his one idea of a ‘Youth Advisory Board’ is pretty weak as an idea, though not because having young people form a group to guide and advise in the ongoing preaching styles and content wouldnt be a good idea, but that it feels like the participation and contributions are merely to be Gods ministers within the institution. This is something he himself has argued against earlier in the book, and something Root certainly does, however, it would be a bold first step in many churches as to give power away to young people to help shape the preaching rota and content does require initiative, courage and risk taking. Its a step beyond creating a committee to help run the youth club, its participation and making contributions in the whole church. (I guess where there is a lectionary, this is going to be a challenge…)

Clarks final chapter considers the resistances and challenges awaiting those who take hold of these ideas and want to make steps towards creating adoptive churches, especially in organisations like churches who can be notoriously resistant to change, even in the face of decline. (if anything this brings about more fear and an entrenchedness). And do you know what, there are some gems in this chapter about language, persuasion and confronting the need to change in a church, and the effort it takes. So, again, on a practical level, Clark gives some sound advice, even in a UK context, the stuff on history, ownership and belonging is relevant, as is trying to be an agent of change even if you’re not in charge, youth worker and clergy might be united in this common cause. Clark does suggest that experimenting, and taking risks on the edges is one way, including family or community meals (something popular in the UK) . He contrasts family meals as a time for being together and sharing, and the deemed ‘inter-generational’ trade of having drums in the service, something that strategically doesn’t bring people together or relationally connecting people, its almost a trade off to ‘keep people happy’.. His tips for experiments, and cautions are worth a read. Its why change might be incremental, and working from the edge inwards might be key.

In effect that’s how the book ends. There is an appendix and a few bit n pieces in the index. But there isn’t really a conclusion, a final rallying cry, or some lengthy stories of how this worked in a few situations. Its a curates egg of a book, good in parts, an idea that has appeal, and a few practical hints and tips as to how to make it happen. His ideas are described simply and accessibly and will appeal to many, and I think for churches who want to do better ministry with young adults, and children, thinking through the culture of the church as a place of nurture, flourishing, family and learning are important, especially if the end goal is to help them be participants and contributors in Gods ongoing ministry. For me it lacks some of the depth and rigour, and even research that other recent books has, but thats probably unfair to judge it in this way. Overall I would recommend this book to the UK audience, even if there are aspects in which might not apply, there are churches who might not want to answer some of the questions truthfully that Clark asks, and this might not be a bad think, for the sake of young peoples ongoing discipleship.

You can buy a copy of Adoptive Church (2018) here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adoptive-Church-Youth-Family-Culture/dp/0801098920/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1544093694&sr=8-1&keywords=chap+clark

[1] Starting right, 1999, four views of youth ministry, 2002

Also

Shepherd, Nick Faith Generation, 2016

Root, Andrew Faith Formation in a Secular age, 2016

Youthworker: Are these your 20 superpowers?

Fast on the heels of last week’s piece on the 35 experiences of youthworkers comes this reflection on the superpowers that youthworkers are expected to possess, given the range of questions, reflections and comments about the last piece, it figures that youthworkers are expected to be superheroes? Doesnt it.. well at least they might have to at times possess all or some of the following:

1. To live off adrenaline after 3 60 hour weeks and a weekend residential at the end of them

2. To only take school holiday holidays but be able to find holidays they can afford without a teachers salary. Oh and plan 3 holiday club weeks and summer trips for the other weeks. And take that weeks holiday and switch off…

3. To become the manager of your own management group who may have 2 weeks youthwork experience between them. To manage upwards with no management experience (often)

4. To work with a smile even when there’s only 3 months funding left (a requirement for some funders who won’t fund projects with long term reserves)

Image result for youth worker superhero

5. To be able to take young people off the streets. Or get them jobs when there arent any.

6. To help young people like/persevere/cope with church* (*could also mean school) – or as one contributor suggested: ‘Be capable of fully explaining the reason why young people don’t attend church and fixing it without changing Sundays one bit’

7. To divert young people into being part of the capatalist system.

8. To be the only people left in the society who want to talk, sex drugs and alcohol with young people.

9. To provide young people with the tools for resilience, when they themselves might not be coping

10. To be able to retrieve information from every movie, song or sports event in the last 30-40 years and use it in conversation or for a session

11. To find the magic funder, that no one else has found , who will fund good youthwork and fund good salaries and core costs

12. To be amphibious and chameleonic – to be able to work in a number of settings whilst trying to be facilitative and almost invisible.

13. To be eternally youthful – even though they grow old – to never give up the fight for equality, against injustice and to maintain a view that transformation is possible – and not be resigned to fate.  (though that doesnt mean trying to be like young people’)  To keep pushing for something better…

14. To be ready to listen, to be ready with questions, to be ready with suggestions for conversations with young people – but maybe not ever ready with solutions and the ‘fix’

15. To empathise with those in structures like teachers and clergy who trust you in conversations – without thinking – ‘yeah I wish I had your problems that involved job insecurity and funding… ‘Image result for youth worker superhero

16. To get stuff for free on discount, like trips and activities – be the great convincer or bargainer – then the great apologetic when the young people trash the venue.

17. To have the endless time to commit to your own ongoing CPD, further reading, studying, career development and fund your own retreats.

18. To be able to say no to a young person without offending them and maintaining the relationship

19  To do all what you do that young people and volunteers see, with next to no need for any planning (at least thats what your timesheet says)

20 To manage other peoples expectations of what you’re actually able to do

and an extra…

21. To have the ability not to get caught reading this blog during your work day

 

What ones do you have? Which ones do you need right now? Which ones might help see you through this weekend? 

You are a superhero, regardless if you dont think you possess all of these things, as what tends to happen if that you’ll find a way to be able have these superpowers and grow into them. Its just sort of what happens. You rise to the next level, in the new situation you find yourself, whether that’s managing volunters, staff, funding, or strategising, or working in schools or developing a project. Thats the true mark of the superhero youthworker, you rise into the roles, and well, as Freire said, make the road by walking them.

what superhero powers would you add? 

 

 

Because Im not a superhero, and do my writing and reflecting as a hobby, I would appreciate any gift or donations to this ongoing site and my consultancy work. if you are able to make a donation towards this work, please do so, either by donation directly to my UK account  click here for the details. Or you can make a donation via Paypal, just click the button below.

Thank you in advance, and thank you for sharing and reading these pieces.

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35 Experiences that (probably) every youthworker has done:

We’ve all seen them, the ’20 things everyone from your city must have done’, or the bucket list of 10 things to do before you die, so just for fun on Friday, here are 35 things that I’m pretty sure many of us as youth workers of one sort or another have either done, or had experience of in our role or career to date. And if you haven’t, it probably because you haven’t yet, but probably will.

Enjoy, and do add a few more in the comments below…

 

  1. Every youth worker has worked in a cold office
  2. You have been one funding bid away from charity collapse, redundancy and the end of an entire 10 years of work   (thanks Dave Walker for this apt cartoon..) Image result for youthworker
  3. you expected too much from one young person, expected too little from another
  4. invented a game on the spot
  5. Used a ‘ready to use’ material, changed every part, and basically just kept the title
  6. Ruined a session because of an accidental innuendo
  7. Ruined a session because of a deliberate innuendo
  8. Hoped that nobody would turn up for a session (or hoped that the streets were quiet)
  9. Hoped that somebody would turn up for a session
  10. Interrupted/sat between two young people who were getting too cosy with each other
  11. Had someone ask whether you’re too old to be a youthworker anymore
  12. Have found something good even in the worst of sessions
  13. Have found something traumatically dreadful in the best of sessions
  14. Have secretly wished for a teachers salary and security but not their job load, pressure or expectations.
  15. Have secretly been glad that you’re not a teacher
  16. Have had the mini bus break down
  17. Have resorted to bribery to keep the attention of a young personImage result for youthworker
  18. Have found solace in coffee.
  19. Have wished they had more time to do reflection and supervision well
  20. Done detached once.
  21. Lived in a place with the second worst teenage pregnancy in the county/country/world.. or isnt far from it
  22. Wished that someone would understand them
  23. Have screamed in frustration at every news piece on the state of young people post austerity (this week its mental health again, last week it was school isolation (see previous post)
  24. Have been in a situation of not been able to explain why something went well, but it just did, and replicating it doesnt work
  25. Been at a conference just for the networking.
  26. Been economical with the truth on a funding bid.
  27. Had to change your entire practice because someone else was economic with the truth on a funding bid.
  28. Wished you didn’t have a team or work in an organisation because of the team meetings
  29. Wished that you did work in a team and that you did have team meetings
  30. Been distracted by this blog.
  31. Had the best idea you’ve ever had idea torn apart by management group/trustees or governance and then had the worst trustees in the world.. yet..
  32. Forced to do the ‘great’ idea of the management or governance even though you know it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
  33. You couldn’t wait to leave college and get back out in the real world.
  34. You wish you were back in college.
  35. Been asked ‘when are you going to get a proper job’

dare i say it.. 36. lost a young person…. ?

37. Been barred from somewhere, to the extent that a mini bus, consent form and 2 hour trip is required to go to the only macdonalds that will serve you all.

Hope you enjoyed these,  Thank you to the many who made a contribution to this piece with your own suggestions for what it should include, there is a variety of experiences for all of us, but many of us will have, or are about to have a range of similar experiences, in whatever part of the country or world that we do youthwork.

Youthworker; Are these your superpowers? is the follow up to this piece….

A reminder that all the work of this blog is done for free. If after reading this, or having had a look around you have found these resources or articles useful and you would like to make a donation or gift towards the work of this site, then you can do so, either by donation directly to my UK account  click here for the details. Or you can make a donation via Paypal, just click the button below in the menu on the right. Or to receive my posts earlier and without ads, become a member for £3/ month at my patreon site .
Thank you in advance, and thank you for sharing and reading these pieces.
If you want to keep up to date click ‘follow’ or subscribe. Also, if you would like to write a guest post, or have a story to tell or issue to raise about youthwork or youth ministry that you would like to share here, do let me know.  Thank you.

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Does Jesus’ question shape our mission and ministry with people?

This was Jesus question to the blind man, Bartimeus, as Bartimeus sat by the road begging for money as the people passed by. The full story is in marks gospel chapter 10 verses 46.

After the crowds told the man to stop shouting and he shouted louder

Jesus said ‘tell the man to come here’

Bartimeus threw aside his coat, jumped up and came to Jesus..

Jesus asked him a question;

It wasnt;

  1. What do you want?
  2. What do you need?
  3. What is wrong?
  4. What do others think you are?

Or

5. What do you all want, need or desire?

Or

6. Can I help you? Or

7. What strategy do I need to accomplish for church growth before I can help you?

8. You need help, let me help you?

No, to the blind man begging by the road. The homeless outcast waiting for the pennies to drop, as Jesus walks by, Jesus places himself at the choice and decision of the other. He asks

What do you want me to do for you’?

‘Heal me Jesus, I want to be made see’ is the response.

A response that the blind man has full freedom to make. A choice bartimeus can opt into. A moment of passion, of desperation, but also one that he is being given and granted by Jesus.

In the brilliant blog I linked to above Cormac Russell suggests that the desire to help can override the value of respect and the much over used/contested concept of empowerment. Cormac contrasts four approached within community development , working for,at, with and alongside persons in communities (they are not others but persons). As a youthworker, working with values like human dignity, respect, participation and empowerment, I see all of these things in Jesus question.

We might want to aspire to be all the greatest ministries in the world, and be known for many things, but I hazard a guess that if we stop thinking and asking and responding to the very question Jesus would have us ask, and embody this in our community, youth or families work, then we might only be, as Paul wrote, a clashing cymbal or resounding gong.

Jesus asks ‘what do you want me to do for you?’

We will always be in bereft of what Jesus might give us if we ask this question to ourselves, especially when we undergo the most vulnerable of times. But its a question not just for ourselves, it’s a question to share and give away.

Notice that we know the blind man, who has a name. Not many who Jesus heals were given names, Jarius daughter, the centurion, even the woman bleeding. But Bartimeus is remembered and has a name, we think because he became involved in following Jesus later on. But even so, that cannot be our focus, to have an outcome as the motive for our present action. Jesus asks it to the person who was taking the shit left right and centre, whose circumstances put him on the lowest of planes, and who was being virtually trampled on by the crowd who followed Jesus. Jesus asks and gives choice. Asks and gives respect. Asks to a person with a name and gives dignity to the individual.

Jesus cuts through the crowd and finds faith in the individual. And asks that trampled on individual a question that we might do well to be reminded of.

‘So _____________, for we all have names, the families in our communities have names, the person begging outside the shopping centre you walk past has a name, the young person in the inclusion unit has a name…. ‘what do you want me to do for you? ‘

Are we prepared to ask, or afraid of the answer…

Is Death a conversation that the church and youth ministry should be having more of with young people?

Youve outsmarted the young people this time, or so youve thought. Over the summer and the proceeding years you’re beginning to build up a range of resources for every given topic that they might want you to talk about. Sex, Relationships and Sex, all covered, all newly resourced, all ready, you even went ahead and got hold of the new PODS resource from FYT  on Sex education for the under 12’s,  then theres stuff on ‘other faiths’, evangelism, and ethical dilemna that are up for discussion, abortion, marriage, war and conflict and homosexuality, and with Mental Health in the news so much recently, you’re genned up on this as well; so you’re all set, ready for the beginning of term open planning session that you’re about to do with the youth group.

So the evening of activities and chat goes well, and theres the usual comfortable atmosphere, people connecting, chatting and getting along, after all the group has known each other a while, and last week even you had asked them to think about what they might want to do this term, so they, for the first time are a little bit ready. They may well be excited as they also get the chance to pick the outing or trip for the term, but that is by the by.

And in the main you are right, a number of them did want to talk about sex, or homosxuality, or mental health, a few even wanted to talk about evangelism and church stuff. But the one thing that united them all, was a different subject altogether. They wanted to talk about Cancer. Not only cancer, they wanted to talk about death.

This is not a fictitious story. This happened to me and our group of youthworkers at Durham YFC. The young people wanted to talk about cancer, and more importantly they wanted to share, and talk, in a group about death.Image result for death

Finding resources to talk about death and cancer with young people doesnt seem to be easy in ‘youth ministry world’ – theres not much about this, more about morality than morbidity. Even as youthworkers in a team we wrestled a while with actually doing the session, how it would be done, and how we might deal with the consequences and emotions. But young people trusted us, to talk about death. And, if there is one thing that the institution of the church could do, more than other – is to help young people, all people, be more prepared for dealing with death.

The reason that this subject has been brought home to me today is that I was at a funeral this morning. But unlike any other funeral I have ever been to, it was a funeral of someone that I have absolutely no connection with, aside from the person being a fellow human on this earth. I was there to help out with some of the technical aspects and to help out a friend who is the vicar leading the service. So it was a rare experience. A rare experience that outside of being clergy, organist, funeral director and church warden might be a rare one for any of us. It caused me to think about the funerals I had been to in my life, and also realise that even as late teenagers my own children have never been to a funeral, they havent had to (and its not that we prevented them) , and maybe thats not uncommon. But neither had anyone talked with them about death before either.

So – where are the opportunities to talk about death and where young people get the opportunity to talk about it? and by whom?

Death is a pretty real occurrence in the lives of the many young people, especially from estates where low life expectation due to poverty is a thing. One vicar I know had done three funerals in the last 3 years of 40 year olds who’d committed suicide relating to mental health and drug abuse. But that kind of thing isn’t confined to the challenging estates is it?  A number of schools have experienced teen suicides. Tragically. And what if it is their best friend is the first funeral a young person has to go to, or their 40 year old uncle. There is much to be done for after the event, sure, counselling and therapy, and none of this would prevent sadness, shock and mourning – but at least talking about death before hand might help a little, surely.

Young people drink alcohol like the rest of us. The young people i see drinking do so for social reasons, rebellious reasons and because of escapism. Yet ask a number of them what their other trigger points are that ‘its the anniversary of my best friends death’ ‘ or ‘it would have been my best friends birthday today’  a trigger point for many young people (and undoubtedly ourselves at times) is that drinking is about remembrance, about raising an underage bottle, about making a moment special because the person meant something. But as well, this might also tell us that young people have no other outlet to work through and remember this person, death is to be dealt with through drink.

Im not in any way saying that helping young people deal with the realities of death is going to prevent the tears, the desire to go and get drunk, but neither will it do any harm either. A number of churches and schools have worked together over the last few years to do mock weddings, in order to help young people talk about relationships, commitment, love, sex and also the process of the wedding itself in the sight of God. But what about doing mock funerals? Could all souls day, could halloween be the ready made opportunity for churches, youth ministers and schools to work together to provide a space where young people can experience the emotions of a funeral, can experience the emotions of death and can have done some kind of preparation. Now i know immediately that this might be insensitive where young people have already experienced this and there is a conversation to be had about specific situations. What might the church do that no other organisation can do? – help people prepare for death might be one of them.

Yes I know this is depressing. Yes i know this is not ‘good news’ and not the talk of the gospel, and making church and youth ministry exciting is the game in town. But so is relevancy, and there is nothing more relevant for a church to do that help young people prepare themselves for a guaranteed experience. That one day they will mourn, grieve and cry. That one day they will confront morbidity.

That one day there might be a reality to death that is hinted at in Disney cartoonsImage result for bambi mom death, with the exception of Bambi, or where characters overcome it immediately in video games, or where there is a heroic death for the character like Boromir, (Lord of the Rings) whos death saved many.

Yet amongst these examples of death we find various perspectives of dealing with the death of Jesus. The heroic death, the quick death who was mourned only momentarily, and even where death is only hinted at – and ‘life moves on’ – and ‘we cant focus on good friday too long’.  That a perspective of Jesus’ death must ‘include both what the cross says on its own, what the resurrection says on its own, and what each of them say in light of each other’ (Trevor Hart, 2014, p227). And yet, Tolkeins word ‘Euchatastrophe’ fits is is goodness emerging out of tragedy, Jesus death is a tragedy because of what proceeds and succeeds it and their relation to one another. It was no shallow grave. Death was beaten, but death and mourning was experienced it is short term fullness. The tendency to only talk about good news, or to have a happy ending in our testimonies might only extenuate a sense that we are the ones that cannot cope with death.

The sacred story that the church plays within, and where Christ plays in 10,000 places, is one that includes death as part of its life, the two go hand in hand. The reality of death counters any temptations for constant unreal celebration. It is in this reality where many young people might want the church to find them, and be with them in.

I would like to make a number of suggestions for helping deal with death.

  1. Get the young people to bring stories, films, and other TV or video game examples of death, and share what is going on in them, in regard to human life, feelings, and emotions.
  2. Could small groups of young people in years 6,7,8 be given the opportunity to sit at the back of churches at funerals (of people they do not know) as a part of talking about death
  3. Have special all souls services for the under 18’s in the parish. Where they can remember all under 18 who have died in the area, for pets, or even the celebrities/role models that mean something.
  4. Have mock funerals, and maybe arrange to have visits to funeral parlours, or the crematorium (that can be a real shock)
  5. Have death cafes, or evening groups where this subject is advertised and where young people can spend time thinking through death, dying and preparing themselves for what mourning and grieving might involve.

I am sure there are a few other examples too, and some of these might already have been tried. Whilst youth ministry has been often about ‘the life, and life in all its fullness’ a full life might need to have a healthy dose of reality in relation to death in it too, and if this is suppressed, ignored and avoided that might be an issue.  We might set up young people for greater trauma. We might have such an under realised notion of death that the now of the present becomes only all consuming. Life is not lived but consumed, without as much greater purpose. Facing death head on, and having a healthier place to mourn, celebrate, grieve and commemorate might be, and could be one of the key significant aspects of faith based ministry with young people. And the week of Halloween, might just have been the perfect opportunity. (but then we avoid it by having light parties instead..?)

 

References

Trevor Hart, Between the Image and the word, 2014

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