25 things for the youth and community worker to do during the Coronavirus outbreak

By now, most of you reading this will have probably cancelled youth group meetings, youth clubs and detached sessions, today I have suspending normal operations and trying to organise responses to this crisis. And it has crossed my mind, that as someone who is used to a youth work office, the regular face to face contact of young people, the delivery, then removing this, and there energy that this brings is likely to feel like a loss, a grief. Face to face is what we do, mostly isnt it.. but not now… not for a few weeks – so – what can you do now – assuming that you’re now working from home – should this be possible. Heres 25 suggestions:

  1. Make a list. No seriously. Make a list of all the things that you are going to do, things you have been putting off because its been too busy.
  2. Take a moment. Breathe. Now look at that list, and think – the most important thing right now is to look after myself. Yes, youth worker reading this, who gives countless hours of physical and emotional time, this is time to stop. You are human like everyone else.
  3. Maintain some contact with young people via other methods, though ask their permission first – also ask how regular they would like to be contacted – might be a time to be creative and set up a youth club WhatsApp group or something…
  4. Think about the other equivalent people in your role in the local community, youth workers, community workers, clergy even, and suggest keeping in touch and support each other, and check in now and then.
  5. Maybe even suggest that you could have local response meetings via online video software
  6. Have lengthy chats with other youth workers on the phone, share ideas, reflect and build community and networks – time to help each other out a bit…
  7. Read a book. No. Read many – and a tip – read books on youthwork that you usually put off or might be for a role you dont do, like supervision or management – read ahead of the direction you might be going in. Now may be the time to read – maybe even set up a virtual reading group as youth workers
  8. See all that admin that you were putting off? well..- not going to tell you how to suck eggs – but now is the time to reflect on your practices – and you have the time to do so in depth.. think about:
  9. The plans, planning, aims and objectives
  10. The values, principles and purposes of what you do
  11. How you record and monitor the work – do the session reviews need updating? (now might be the time)
  12. Is this the time to consider the training needs of staff and volunteers?  and do something about this, by writing up some guidance or training
  13. What about evaluation?  are you doing this ?  is this a time to think about this process more?
  14. Think about how you support others – what needs reflecting on in terms of volunteers, supervision, recruitment and their involvement?
  15. Basically, now might well be the time to look at what you do, and some of processes of the planning, reflecting and evaluation can be thought through and developed.
  16. Is now the time to update the website? – yeah possibly..
  17. Funding reports? yeah I know… – but a funding strategy might be worth developing now – develop streams of funding, and get things set up
  18. Maybe its time to think about the overall approach of what you do – have you started to see the signs of boredom in young people – have you started running out of ideas- are you drained?  – then maybe there’s an approach shift required – and this might be the time to give it some thought
  19. It could be a good time to have one to one conversation with young people – if you call them, then you might be able to ask them some really interesting questions, feedback on the youth activity agreed, but also about how they are, what they perceive the needs are locally – it might be an opportunity to recover some listening/research into the project – that you might have lost
  20. Read a book – yeah – honestly, saying it again as its worth saying twice. – Suggestions of mine below.. do add your own…
  21. Write a guest post for this blog? – youve been putting that off? – but go on share your story, case study, question – it might help others
  22. Whether planned or accidental, if you can, stop a bit, and do what you can to make the most of the time, it could be an opportunity, and yes I might not be saying this in three weeks time..
  23. Im sure there’s an admin task you hadn’t got around to that’s lurking around at no 23 of a 25 point list, insert it here______________
  24. Although no one quite knows when normality will return – but making some of the good use of this time may at least prepare you for it.
  25. And you. Again. Look after you, busy, stressed, youth and community worker – yes, keep doing what you can, and maybe even get involved locally with supporting neighbours and friends… but… you are important – focus on you. Maybe take some time and seek out someone to have a deep chat with – more than practice supervision – but to share and get stuff off your chest, maybe this is a time to focus on the personal you, the you and your self awareness, and who you are – this crisis might be the making of you. (no trust me on this)

You probably have a billion and one other things too… its weird that when some of the urgent stuff about delivery leaves the task list, its hard to focus or remember about the rest.. and that’s partly why I’ve written these above – they might be useful for you as a gentle prod. Most of the time we dont do these important things because were too busy – but when were not busy they can still be forgotten…

Official guidance from NCVO on the coronavirus is here: 

Oh and – book suggestions here please – to encourage others… my recent favourites include:

Poverty safari – Darren McGarvey

Utopia for Realists – Rutger Bregman

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Out of Control- Natalie Collins

The man you’re made to be – Martin Saunders

Notes on a nervous planet – Matt Haig

Critical issues in youth work Management – John Ord

please put yours below:

12 conversation themes that churches/youth groups are (generally) afraid to have

For the second time in my life I attended Domestic Abuse/Violence training this week, because, rightly the CofE have now issued compliance and awareness guidelines on this subject for parishes and congregations to be more aware – if you want it, its policy is at this link  And on the same subject Natalie Collins runs a programme to get this subject takes about in youth groups/community settings – do find her at GLW website

But it got me thinking – what are the subjects that seem to be absent from the prevailing church culture – and don’t happen anywhere, let alone in youth groups? – aside from Domestic abuse which I flag above

  1. Marriages. Nope. Think about it aside from at crisis point – most marriages are only talked about in church when there’s a bit of comedic banter – usually the man on the stage saying about ‘He and his wife – have this ____ (usually weird) thing’- or a story.  But actually – really – talking about marriage – not just the fix, or the crisis, or paying someone to do a talk on ‘communication’.. and in youth groups- what do young people hear, see, have evidence of healthy relationships (if marriages are actually that at times)
  2. Periods. – 50% of the population have had them, or about to, or used to… – but talking about them.. barely part of a ‘sex’ talk in youth groups? thought not…
  3. Debt and money – and the recognition that credit cards are debt.. not just see it as a poverty thing for others – but things also like budgeting, rent, spending, options, ethics, and poverty. (Which isnt just money by the way)
  4. Closing ministries – when things end – not everything in church is on a continual growth – i raised the questions here  when I was making people redundant and had very little reference to it, or support…
  5.  Love. Yeah go on – think about it – when was human love explored (and not just the ideal of Gods love, vs the ‘incompleteness’ of Human love)  – Sex is the hot topic -and youth ministry has been at the forefront of ideal/shame/wait till marriage culture – but what about love?
  6. Yourself.  At times church, ministry is a giving culture – we could lose ourselves in forging an identity in giving to it, on one hand. The other side of this is that our human frailty is often portrayed, which is unhealthy if its not accompanied by the space to consider the strengths of each human, focussing on ourself isn’t selfish – and I mean more than self care. But taking time to understand who we are. Should youth groups do enneagram? maybe not – but discovering qualities and awareness of them, in a healthy way is a non conversation.  Who we are as fully human, in faith might be a healthy place to be.  We are more than what we give, what we do in church – in the same we are more than what we do in jobs.
  7. Mental Health – what it is- misconceptions, reality, types and diagnosis, – the resources are beginning to be out there, causes
  8. Management – you can buy truck loads on christian leadership – but management and governance from a faith perspective seems a non conversation. Yet managing resources, staff, volunteers, funding, vision, power is what also goes on in the activities of churches- and causes a lot iof issues – and why my blogs on this subject get a lot of reads…
  9. Thinking. At times its as if discipleship is about compliance and adherence, not thinking – when ‘you just need a simple faith’ is pronounced- then thinking is disregarded and devolved to someone else, and that isnt healthy either. It certainly isnt good for faith construction, discovery and exploration. That we think – and this, our brain,  is God given seems absent. As my previous post said, if we spent more time thinking and reflecting, we might not go head long into mistakes or just buy the latest fad…
  10. Feelings. Yeah. see also thinking, and substitute feelings. If the Toronto blessing awakened some of these, then post Toronto fear shut them down.  Leave feelings at the door and we’ll not talk about them. Its just about learning a faith. Fearing feelings, cant do emotion here…. and then they’re seen as a weakness, not part of the humanity created by God… But Jesus had feelings that what made him human..right?
  11. Death. – unless there’s a funeral or tragedy- its reactive..? and the process of dying, bereavement, again, emotions, questions , suicide
  12. Separation and Divorce – again, part of the marriage conversation – (and maybe this is because where im at), and of course I don’t want to be talking about it all the time, but its barely an open conversation generally or thought through faithfully- and thinking about this – if sex and marriage still shapes one view of teaching in youth groups- then separation and divorce must also do as well, if we’re being realistic…

As I said, I dont think its right that these should just be ‘youth group’ subjects – when the general population in churches barely talks about them, or has thought about them in one way. I can imagine the post sermon coffee time would be interesting if debt, periods or management were discussed, and churches can as often be afraid of dealing some of the real, as they are the political. Its only recent that churches were viewed as only the spiritual place in society – and more and more what we offer is for whole communities and holistic – as one curate I know talked about periods in her church recently and within weeks men in the congregation were buying sanitary products to be put in the church toilets to give away – we might be surprised what happens for good when the lid is off a bit. It might build community from real. And yes,  some will happen as they emerge- some conversations might need prompting…

Add your own below…

Why practice supervision should be an essential for youth and community work/ministry roles

I sometimes think I just get paid to drink coffee. But I dont. Well, actually I do.

Actually I get paid to be a practice supervisor with community and youth practitioners and do this mostly in coffee shops around the north.

And sometimes I think i’m the only person that’s doing this, or thankfully working with organisations (or self employed) who also value this. Though im probably not… but..

In the main, usually, I supervise practitioners on a 6/8 weekly basis, and I hope, at least, I think, that this is deemed valuable for those who receive it.

For those of us who have had a high regard for practice supervision, that its deemed a luxury can be a tragedy, and real inhibitor to the encouragement of good practice, why?

Well, because supervision that’s non managerial, helps a person look at what they do, with an outside view, gives them the opportunity to describe to someone else what it is they’re doing, what their ideas are, what the issues might be, what the challenges or joys are – and in good supervision be reframing this as they talk.

Be already working out the response the issue, without much input.

Other times, the story, the situation provokes a question from me

On other occasions I might refer to a theory, a book or the example of someone else – so that the practitioner connects with another

Or they’ll talk, and ill listen, and ill just let the conversation keep going, until the practitioner has worn themselves out… and the issue isn’t the issue at all.. its something else, and we got there in the end…

I might ask : ‘so.. what are you learning?’

or ‘are you sure?’  or

‘is there anything else going on?’

or just ‘ keep talking..’

‘what theory might this remind you of’

or

‘how might your theology inspire you here, where are the resonances’ (to the faith based practitioner)

The whole aim of supervision, in this way, is to encourage, to affirm, to help the practitioner reflect, to give them space to realise the new themselves – and I know sometimes I might want to share an idea, and I probably do too much, but am learning to stay quieter for longer.

I do despair that so often this kind of reflective space in supervision isn’t deemed essential for roles – sometimes management is barely adequate to be honest, sometimes practice reflection might highlight the need for better management…

But if management is about helping a person set and then meet designated goals, then supervision, for me, if the roles are separate, is more open, set by the practitioner, with subjects, content in what they want to talk about – reflect on, share – and yes the conversation might wander…It’s the space of the practitioner, and this, I think is the crucial bit. And it is safe. It is a place to do real if need be, if it needs to be a space of wallowing, of heartache, then it might need to be – but then it is also a place where the rebuild might occur, through the conversation.

Because its tough out there in ministry, community work, youth ministry – isn’t it?  really tough.. pulled in all directions, managing up and downwards, delivering and planning practice, trying new things..pressure to keep organisations going, worry, stress.. and so, whilst supervision might not be the only answer… its a place to step out and reflect. To breathe….

are you telling me that this isn’t essential?  no though not…

I have had to be manager/supervisor to a few people, and id almost have to pre empt a change in style to go between the two saying ; ‘you know im not often like this, but,  I will say that you need to do_____’ – and be more directive in that moment- when the rest of the time I might be more reflective.

Its as if they are improvisatory conversations, within which there’s reminders of the tools already available, reminders of the resources that are within grasp and reminders that the person genuinely isn’t alone.

And its great, in the main, to hear of the progress of a project,  the learning of an individual, the change a person might make from one supervision to another, and not everything happens to plan, ever, and not everything even happens at all – but if its taken seriously, then the process can be valuable, I hope through reading this you can tell that is.

So church – if you value your youth workers, clergy even – creating and purposefully including non managerial supervision (and its different from spiritual director/retreats/management) as part of their role might be the best thing you could do for them.

So, yeah, I get paid to have coffee, on one hand. Maybe I get paid to increase the longevity, creativity, support, learning, awareness of community and youth workers, and do this through conversation- helping community and youth workers discover that they can do this themselves..and that they’re ok…  Though I might need shares in the many local coffee shops in the north….

10 years of austerity; is mission fatigue creeping in?

I am just sitting in a cafe in Newcastle, having a bit of an unexpected time to myself, it was a day when I could have met and had three conversations with different people, work related, and in the end I only had one. But that’s ok.

For I think its ok to stop. Every now and then stop.

Its 10 years since Austerity began, 10 years since the big society, 10 years since the gaps began to appear, in a bigger way than there was before, 10 years since faith group began an onslaught of activity motivated by compassion, anger and even a desire to be respected. There has been a serious amount of ‘doing’ in the last 10 years.

Its street pastors, youthwork, community lunches, transport, cafes, food banks, community centres, family work, dementia care, financial responses, child care, and the list goes on…

Mission fatigue may well be creeping in. It wasn’t going to take long, an ageing church 10 years ago filing the cracks, was going to tire, and no manner of additional support and training is going to help when the next crack is revealed, by the latest organisation wishing to fill it with the latest need for volunteers. The next new thing might be the thing that energises then exasperates the collective empty tank.

Are you with me?

Anyone else feeling it?

Maybe no amount of concerted resilience and determination is enough, one more session, one more activity, one more need to fulfil, it is sometimes incessant.

It might have to stop. You might need to stop.

The wheel of need keeps turning, so maybe, if your programme or ministry is young, its worth projecting ahead, before the burnout kick in

‘one strength of this project, is that I haven’t thought about quitting this week’

said a youthworker to me in the last year

‘we’ve been doing a holiday club every year for the last 6, we’re just tired’.

was a response to an email this week

Maybe missional tiredness is kicking in, because not only the need is great, but also its twinned with a responsibility that its more relied on than ever. 10 years ago there might have been suggestions that the church was one of the catalysts of the end of the welfare state, mission that was social action became a reason to exist. Now.. ? what next?

Because the church that aged 10 years is not going to exist in the next 10. No really. And look around, there aren’t many 40 year olds in churches, except the very few. the very few that exist in university towns, or those who went hard at attracting young families.

And I wonder whether its not that mission fatigue might cause a case of serious reflection. For its not good enough that the same warn out people jump into a different ministry. They need a break. They need a proverbial cancellation of two appointments to catch a break.

But what if the reflection causes a time to think about approach.

What if Mission fatigue is caused because the church has assumed a giving role.

Think about it..

Think about all the conversations in the streets,  the foodbank, the lunch club, the activity… do you as the ‘church’ take the role of the giver, the provider, the server of the community – and so then- what is expected of you?

For all those involved to keep giving, serving and giving and serving of themselves?  And that tank has only so much left in it. You are expected to give, to listen, to serve… and possibly even hope that the divine God might back fill your giving by restoring, strengthening and tending to you, though the means that you find restoration in.

But what if there was a different way?

Because that just feels exhausting… and if you’ve read this far, you’re already thinking of all the things you do and realising how much it takes out of you…

What if you stopped giving, and started receiving, instead?

Yeah, stopped trying to solve, fix and serve – but instead listened, received and built together?

But we’ve always done things this way, you might say, but for how much longer….?

I wonder whether there might be a greater energy in creating community and developing more mutual approaches, so that rather than a serving giving model, its more a mutual community participation and collective model, one where giving occurs as well as receiving,

And yes that means that the power dynamics shifts, but that is no bad thing.

One thing I notice is that the places where there are mutual conversations, where community grows through the sharing of gifts developing these, there feels more energy, compared to a purely serving approach.

If working upstream is another response, then we might need to proverbially stop in the cafe and consolidate, and realise that not only can’t we carry on as the church filling the gaps, but do more, significantly more at challenging the system, and the ideology that creates the gaps. If the church continues to have a reason to be because of horrific cuts , then it could be seen as complicit. But a reason to be, is only lasting so long, its bloody tiring.

Im glad there are those that can hold this government to account, bishops for one in the house of Lords, and challenging local authority decisions has been done is the many acts of social action, political action  that have been taken, and developing community organising has been one approach that has done this, challenging low pay, racism and other systems.

So, there’s not only a call to sustain ourselves, but also to look through the fatigue and tiredness and reflect on whether actually we can keep the way we do what we do sustained forever, and contemplate a different response that could be more sustaining. The food bank cannot carry on forever, neither should it. Can we do Ken Loach out of job in terms of making real life films about poverty, however good they are. If we’re serious about solving the problems in society then our burnout isn’t the solution.  But, reading, thinking and reflecting on poverty, social justice and community actions, development and education might be. Sustaining ourselves is key, but sustaining ourselves in roles that consistently drain (even with good support and management) might be to be reflected on. Its not that churches need more time to argue with each other about practices or theology or sex – but that being prophetic is to be in tandem with being practical.

If you are missionally fatigued – might it be that you have given too much, tried too hard, and missed the reality that its not just faith that might sustain you, but that there are gifts in the community that are there and can be given… you can take a break…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘How was your experience of youth group today?’ Evaluating Youth work in an evaluation culture

‘How was your experience in Tescos today’

‘please tell us how you feel about the cleanliness of the toilets today’

‘share your experiences of the airport security today’

‘your opinion matters to us’

How satisfied were you with your experience today?

In case you haven’t noticed, its as if we’re living in a culture where opinions and where evaluation is all around us. I was travelling to Canada last week, and at each airport (3, Newcastle, Heathrow, Montreal) I had the option to rate the toilets, the security, the check in experience, and virtually in real time on screens I could see the current percentage of how people felt about their toilet/security/check in experience. It’s the same with Google maps, though I do quite enjoy rating my restaurant or hotel experiences, maybe on the hope of getting free food or hotels, but its good to share a photo or comment where its due. And if you want a laugh, some of the google reviews of churches are funny. But they’re often short.

Image result for how was your experience

But it really does feel as though we’re living in an age that’s saturated by evaluation. Our opinion matters.

But it wasn’t ever the same was it, and certainly not real time push button evaluations.

So the questions this pose for me are; what does it feel like when so much of culture is open to evaluation – when some isn’t, and secondly – what might it be like to grow up as a young person in a culture that is almost at evaluation saturation?

Please rate your experience of church today’

‘your youth group really appreciates your views- do give us a rtating’

‘share how the youth club made you feel and leave a comment so that we can improve our service to you’  

These sound awful in a way. And we might baulk at churches, youth groups or clubs aligning themselves in a service provision/entertainment way – but when a lot of the time, relevancy and attraction (rather than meaning/sacred/participation) are the drivers for an attendance, then it could be easy to forgive those who attend for thinking theyre being short changed because they aren’t given an opportunity to rate the sermon/games/activities/coffee/chat/atmosphere/friendliness – in a way that the same people can give an opinion on their travel, school or shop experiences. Yet Evaluation culture is all around, and whilst for some people it might be a relief not to have to give an opinion of everything – having no mechanism for giving an opinion, that is validated and sought for, means that there is no response, no way of sharing reflection, that doesn’t seem like wingeing in the coffee time, or over lunch a few hours later. Having no mechanism, apart from not being present – ie walking with your feet – seems to be reactionary and possibly avoidable.

I once made the mistake in one youthgroup a number of years ago, of giving out a 3 page end of term questionnaire. Don’t do this. It really wasn’t a good idea, but I was full of the dreams and ideals of a college course. And trying to see what young people thought of their youth group sessions of 3 months previous really wasn’t a good idea, and I took too seriously the requirmnent to do an evaluation for an essay, too much. I guess that’s why they have push button instant evaluation in the airport toilets, no one really wants to fill in a survey then. Evaluation has to be appropriate. And not having any – is that really an option?

But what does it say when an organisation doesn’t have any mechanism for this, when so many others do, and are open for it- peoples opinions are valued in airport toilets – but not in churches – is sanitation a place where peoples opinions are more important than sacred?

I am about to run a session on developing evaluation in detached youthwork, and it crossed my mind, the extent to which young people have grown up in an evaluation culture – where so many things in their lives have   an opportunity to give an opinion. Though, if shops, cinema, travel, toilets (!) are all open for evaluation – do young people have the same afforded to them when it comes to things that matter? Can they rate the maths lesson as they leave, or the careers talk, or even, rating how uncomfortable parents evening was for them – however there are other aspects of a young persons life that are important, such as faith, as voluntary groups – and these can offer scant opportunities for a response or opinion. It could be argued that young peoples attendance and achievement is more important than whether they enjoy what they’re doing at church, swimming club or scouts – but if google is valuing young peoples opinions (for whatever reason) then surely it makes some sense that if evaluation culture is part of a young persons life then the youth organisations might acknowledge and realise this so that they can hear from young people to. And, don’t use an end of term survey… a few tips for evaluating:

  1. Make it relevant to the audience and appropriate to the group
  2. Keep it concise and easy to do – single words/emoticons/post its – and – especially in conversations – note any feedback or comments there too!
  3. Realise the power dynamic – young people won’t want to be honest to offend you or challenge the relationship – so bear this in mind
  4. Use the information for reflection and to have a conversation with young people – to create new from within- and not just kept in a cupboard or filed away.
  5. Its an opportunity for young people voice to be heard, value and treasure it!

Remembering to Breathe

Its a module at Bible College, how to tell someone that they need to breathe

Said one of my close friends over the last 2 years. In the midst of the chaos, remembering to breathe, when there’s emotional trauma around, when there’s confusing relationships to react to, when there’s employment situation to work out, when there another house to live in or not so, when you’re unsure where you’ll be eating your next meal, let alone if..

Remembering …..to……. breathe….

I breathe a lot at the moment, the days of forgetting to breathe seem a long time ago. But in the midst, breathing is, well, good, isn’t it?

letting it out…… breathing it in

taking the time….. slow down…

Yesterday I had another, and I mean another, conversation of hopefulness, of shared life, with someone whom I’ve had more of a professional relationship with before, whom I had helped (or tried to) whilst hiding, or trying to hide, much of the chaos within. Yesterday, because it was just a beautiful conversation, I let some of it out, a conversation about Youthwork and management, then lasted nearly 4 hours…

This morning the person I was chatting with shared with me this song/poem that she had written, and has given me permission to share it with you.

Before I do, I would like to share also an extract from Matt Haigs book, which I read a few days ago too.

You’re ok, remember to breathe….

We need to carve out a place in time for ourselves, whether it is via books or meditation or appreciating the view out of the window (for me this was long walks, and is now, just everything) A place where we are not craving or yearning, or working, or worrying or over thinking. A place where we might not even be hoping. A place where we are set to neutral. Where we can just breathe, just be, just bathe in the simple contentment of being, and not crave anything except what we have already; life itself’

(Matt Haig, Notes on a nervous planet, page 260)

My Friends song:

 

When you feel that Hope has left you
And you cannot carry on
Remember what you’ve been through
Remember where you’re from
It’s strength that got you through it
You’re stronger than you know
Hope is but a breath away
Breathe in and let it go

Oh oh oh oh oh
Bre-eathe life
Bre-ee-eathe life
Breath speaks to the darkness
Bre-eathe life
Breathe in,
Breathe hope
Breathe life

‘here I go again, I’m down on my knees and I’m still free falling.
A bird with broken wings cannot fly’

At times one step is too much to take-
it seems like journey’s end
Hope has slipped away again
The world is closing in
Don’t think about tomorrow
Don’t think about today
Think about this moment
Listen to the breath
As you
Bre-eathe life
Bre- ee-eathe life
Breath speaks to the darkness
Bre-eathe life
Breathe in
Breathe hope
Breathe life

Theres nothing lost by slowing down, breathing, taking your time. Taking control of you and your time starts by breathing in and out and listening to your heart, listening to the very soul you have, breathing in, breathing out.

‘I stare at the sea…… and ……it…..calms….me’ (Matt Haig)

 

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