All youth ministry is local.

No matter what the denomination leaders say

No matter what the youth ministry specialists say

No matter what the seminar leaders at the latest conference says

No matter what the trainers at Christian ministries explain.

No matter what the latest generalised view in a book is

No matter what the latest research on a lost generation of young people says.

All youth ministry is local.

Youth ministry is only effective when it is in response to local needs guided by local convictions in the hands of young people. When community convictions and concerns, financial and leadership resources, theological and moral values when tied to ministry vision and passion, shape strategies for reaching young people.

All youth ministry is local.

I bet you thought I wrote this. That these are my words. I bet , probably aside from the reaching young people comment, that you thought that I have found another youth work book that fits a ground-up, community development approach to youth work, a community view of ministry.

But no.

These aren’t my words.

Well.. not quite..

These are written by an American youth ministry expert.

Really?..( I hear the 4 of you who will read this blog say…)

Yes.

When did they say this.. when did American youth ministry realise this..? … is it recent?

Well it is ‘new’… a ‘new’ direction in youth ministry.

A new direction… in 1998.

A voice of American youth ministry, going against the tide (Mark H Senter III) . Criticising the generalised view of youth ministry, cultural assumptions and may be the macdonaldisatuon of youth ministry programmes, resources and faith. Staying that. All youth ministry is local.

In 1998.

Shame books don’t get read much. Or affect the practice of youth ministry much. Shame this book didn’t even get chance to leave the RRC in 20 years.. (yes no one took it out)

So what happened in the last 20 years.. has UK youth ministry recognised this.. ? I wonder..

Of course 20 years later.

I’d go further. Beyond needs to gifts. Beyond programmes to participation. And what does local youth ministry look like… well it looks like conversations, group work and developing and emerging from what you have.

But that’s for another blog.

All youth ministry really is local. So look for the beauty, possibility and spirituality in the young people you have.

Reference.

New directions in youth ministry. 1998. Rice, Clark, eds

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LGBT and the Christian story (Part 1) -On growing up evangelical and the damaging silence

The short term prompt for this post is Peter Oulds piece in Christianity today, in which the title reads ‘why evangelicals need a better story’ which you can read for yourself here , it is a response to the conversations from a variety of high profile publications from prominent christians who profess to identify as LGBT,  his published piece includes the lines:

And this is something the evangelical church simply fails to do time and time again. Even today with so many gay conservatives being open about their sexuality, it is incredibly hard to stand up and say ‘I’m gay’ in the middle of an evangelical church teaching traditional orthodox theology. There is still too much suspicion, too much assumption. There is the fear about how you’ll be received, whether you’ll still be able to do the ministries that you were involved in. It’s getting better in many places, but it’s still a problem and needs to be addressed. You see the problem in the way that the tragic suicide of Lizzie Lowe (which might have been avoided if the church in question had taught clearly from the front that being gay was not in and of itself sinful) is currently being weaponised by liberals as a tool to promote revisionist teaching.

This is the point. The reason why Vicky Beeching couldn’t continue her ministry wasn’t because she came out, it was because she came out and accompanied it with a particular theological position. When Beeching chooses a title like Undivided she is actually playing a very clever game, because revisionists want to so conflate orientation and activity that in society’s (and the church’s) inability to divide them we find ourselves defending both because there is no other possibility.

And I think he is right, I think a different story needs to be found within evangelicalism, one that is more expansive, and takes maybe more into account. That will feature in part 2 of this two part series. This first piece is on the silence of the story, or shall i say the silence of the LGBT position within the story, that I and i think a whole load of people experienced growing up evangelical in the 1970,80s and 90’s.

Yet in the interests of self disclosure, I have begun to reflect on my own personal journey in thinking, believing and opinionating about the issue of gender inclusion and the church, or more so, gender inclusion and the evangelical church.

Questions that I ask myself have been like – when did i hear anything about LGBT as a young christian?  Where did i get information? when did i think or realise even that people could be ‘gay’?

In terms of my story, it was a post brethren evangelical church that I grew up in. One in which had a relative position of strength, at the time, it had built its own building locally and was becoming influential locally. But growing up, conversations about gender inclusion and sexuality were fairly low down on the list of regular sermon topics, or youth group chat, and all a bright eyed teenager like myself really had the tools to deal with it was to ‘look at what the bible said’ . Even Steve Chalke in his ‘lessons in love’ videos which we watched in youth group,  didnt mention that Boys and Boys could be in a relationship. So, when dangerously right wing Ken Ham and his creationist brigade turned up, and talked about Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve, and the literal reading of creation, i kind of wished i hadnt but, i kind of lapped it up. After all, it felt like, or i wasnt encouraged to, critically think about what was being said and the perspective being offered, at 15 I thought that being compliant with a perspective was what was required, what was needed to be accepted in the church. Only the compliant survived, or so I thought.

Teachers at school were bullied for being gay. I dont think i joined in at the time, i hope i didnt. I might even have thought that they were evil for being gay. forgive me.

In early 1994, a trip to see the film ‘Philadelphia’ and being moved to tears, even as a 15 year old caused me to think about gender, and relationships, and how this seems to be at odds with an evangelical faith that i knew of. Or at least scenes in it where the church  is represented by those who protest against someone, who may have life/death decisions to make. Whos side would i be on?

I have my A level English department to thank for pushing this further.

I had to read ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ by Jeanette Winterson, as one of the key texts in the A level course. It famously tells of the powerful story that was based on her own experiences of awakening sexuality, lesbian attraction and how this was met with the full fury of a ultra conservative Pentecostal church. Where deliverance and prayer was being enforced whilst the young Jeanette was being pinned down on a chair to receive healing and the removal of demons. It seemed like the worse crime in this story was of spiritual abuse, and childhood neglect.

These children have fallen fowl of their lusts’ – said the preacher to the girls (including Jeanette sitting in the pews)

These children are full of demons’ 

and as the girls protested verabally

Listen to Satans voice’  (Oranges are not the only fruit, 1991, p102)

Could I ask about this story in church, should I- did I – no. The stories stayed separate. Two competing messages were going through my head, the adherence to evangelical beliefs and a story that seemed to ignore, or not engage with homosexual identity, relationships and faith – and on the other hand a growing awakening of the oppression in society and in the church against those who professed to be. And brothers and sisters within a faith who caused damage to others. Call me naive, but that was what i was exposed to and culturally grew up in. Honestly, that two of my relatives were in a same-sex relationship actually was never said to me, just implied.

I could have dismissed the experiences of Jeanette this at the time written it off in class as something that representing the 1960’s or 1970’s. But, unaware to the real world of my A level english class, , there was something of a movement of spiritual renewal happening in churches in the UK at that time. And healing and demon possession removal was back in vogue with the various ‘blessings’ that were being caught, shared and distributed around. So, the practices of ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ were back in vogue. But we’re they coupled with a greater compassion? Ill get to that a bit later. What certainly wasnt happening was conversations about homosexuality and faith. For me they were happening, at least a little bit in school, in A level English. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Though what i will say at this point was that conversations about same sex relationships were tentatively explored, though fairly quickly shut down at conference Q&A’s at Soul Survivor, the one i went to in 1996, and not much mention of it as a conversation at any of the youth meetings i ever went to at spring harvest, on 5 occasions as a teenager (again dont judge me) .

I might not be alone in some of this. That sense of growing up evangelical, I have talked about before, trying to cling on to it or find a way of leaving it that doesnt damage faith, what I hadnt necessarily thought about is how an evangelical upbringing, in the 1980’s/90’s provided little in the way of tools, discussions or conversations around human sexuality, and, as a teenager, I was picking up snippets from a whole host of directions, without the building blocks or frame work, or even culture to meaningfully work through these things. It was a subject of too much cloak and dagger. To complicated to try and establish a perspective, to easy to ignore. A subject given the silent treatment. Left for the young person to work it out.

An example of where I was was as follows. Between 1996-1997 I was a team leader of a team of 4 on the Oasis Frontline teams, and sent to the north east, Hartlepool, to work in a team of four in a church doing childrens and youthwork for a year, if anyone wants to know with what i did with 2 years savings from retail work, thats what i did, spent it all on a gap year scheme in the north east, anyway, part of the deal was to undergo training, and this occured above a christian bookshop, the now closed Bridge books and music. I guess this is where i also discovered a love for learning through reading, as many of the sale books ended up on my bookshelf. And, having lived through and now being in what I would have said was the back end then of the renewal movement, I was keen to read more into it, or even to learn of its originators and the theology behind it. So, one of the books I read at the time was ‘Power Healing’ by John Wimber.

Everyone sort of knew who John Wimber was at the time. And if i was to go into Christian Ministry, at this time, knowing about Healing and Renewal seemed to be not a bad way to spend a few quid and give it a read on my next long train journey home. Tell you the truth at the time, it did open my eyes. At the time, only 19, i was sort of impressed by use of the Bible, and the stories in the book, and felt that Wimber talked about something that wasnt really what had been happening in the UK, its as if the movement had shifted from its original intentions.

At the time I probably thought that this section in the piece was fair game. On demon oppression, the following was stated;

‘The presence of one of more of these symptoms indicates the possibility though not the necessity that the person is demonised; contorted physical reactions, addictions to drugs or alcohol, compulsions such as lust, pornography, homosexuality, masturbation, stealing,  murder, lying, suicide, eating disorders’ (Wimber, Power Healing, 1985, p136-137) 

In a way this backed up what I had seen in Oranges. So i didnt question it.

Also it backed up some of the talk about deliverance and the Holy Spirit that had been evoked in the previous 5 years in the UK. Spiritual renewal was back in vogue, and it stemmed with Wimber, and others via Vineyard. Nothing about this caused a reaction to me then. I was part of the evangelical bubble, and with limited  other conversations about homosexuality, this was still the only one in the show in town. Being Homosexual might/might not be a sign of demon possession. Being Homosexual meant that you were a project to try and deal with through deliverance. And as it was said by Wimber, and he was influencing David Pytches and others in Chorleywood (so says the forward to the book), then it stands to reason a bit that this is where some of the UK learning about renewal might have come from. Add this to the sense, that no one is actually going to read this stuff themselves in the evangelical world, just hear about it from others, and the great divergence even from what was written takes place. If Wimber says ‘may or may not’ but see deliverance of homosexuality as a demon possession thing, then what will they go with?

It is only as i re read Wimbers Power Healing last week, on the back of Vicky Beechings experience that I look at what Wimber wrote, and the influence of it, and him, that things make sense. In that bubble, I hadnt questioned this aspect of what Wimber had said at the time. I do now. Why couldnt I then – what was the teaching on homosexuality? Did anyone share or engage in one? In an evangelical bubble where homosexuality is a non conversation, the only conversation that seems to resonate is one of fear, continued ignorance and distance the evangelical community from the deemed impurity of anyone who might be considered homosexual. It all made sense, as did the stories of evangelical parents who kicked out their children as they ‘came out’.

As I said, this is me reading this back 20 odd years later, and recognising the non conversation growing up evangelical about homosexuality. Realising that Oranges was not an extreme case. Realising that permission was even in print to do this. Realising that a silent culture on a subject could allow for positions to foister without challenge, or alternative. And Wimber wasnt as far right about it as Ken Ham was he..? Wimber was, in the evangelical world an established leader, success was following him around.

In Gemma Dunnings excellent chapter ‘Integrity and Imago Dei’ in 4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers (2018), Gemma talks about how unprepared she was with doing ministry with young people in a variety of settings who had been excluded from communities because of profession of or being found to be LGBT, She found that in developing an awareness of informal education, and anti-oppressive practice, she was able to find a method, or at least a view of humanity that helped, as undoubtedly being in the presence of and with her local LGBT community to hear stories will do as well.

And that probably is a similar place to where I pick up the story, for myself. In the mid 2000’s. Talking about anti oppressive practice and equality within youthwork and theology degree course at ICC ( Now NTC, Glasgow). Discovering, because I had ignored, the issues that LGBT identifying young people were likely to experience in society, families and schools, and how youthwork practices could, should help, and create safe spaces for conversations. And not only that, thinking for the first time about how equality is a faith issue, and theology is for those who are oppressed.

This is only the part of this blog in which i have personally looked back at how homosexuality was the big non conversation in growing up evangelical. There was no conversation. LGBT was given the silent treatment within evangelical churches, families and culture, for at least towards those who didnt profess to be LGBT there was no conversation about it that would help create the possibility of a good story about it. The dominant voices were negative, cruel and damaging, and only had one version. One version that was powerfully communicated, one version in which compliance and power to it was rife.

I would like to think that a conversation on LGBT is not as silent in churches for young people today as it was for me 30 years ago. I would like to think so, and Gemmas book, would certainly be a help for anyone wanting to begin a conversation on it. Young people professing LGBT need community more than ever, as churches we have got to normalise 100% acceptance. The silent treatment is just not good enough.

This is part one, of two, the second to be published later in the week, this is a little of what was for me, the LGBT conversation and growing up evangelical. For the many young people in churches in the UK today, there needs to be a different story. One where the two cultures are not separate, and where the stories are more coherent. At least where there is conversation. We owe it to young people to offer spaces of conversation, of listening and place to learn, have question and consider a number of views on LGBT and the christian story. Silence and putting it off isnt going to help anyone.

References

Winterson, Jeanette, Oranges are not the Only Fruit, 1991

Wimber, John Power Healing, 1986

Gemmas resource, Pastoring LGBT teenagers can be purchased via this link: 4 Views on Pastoring LGBT teenagers

This is a powerful read too: http://www.unadulteratedlove.net/blog/2018/7/29/evidence-of-shockingly-prejudiced-attitudes-to-lgbti-people-in-the-church-of-england

Lets get Theological! On making Theology, not models & strategies first in Youth Ministry

You wont read this post. I guarantee you, no one will read this post. Even with a sneaky reference to an Olivia Newton John lyric in the title, you wont read this, because its got Theology in the title as well. I should have put sex, or masturbation, or something witty, clever or clickbaity, but no, in the spirit of honesty this piece is what it says it is. It is about theology and youth ministry, and I am aware no one will read it.

So, in that case I am going to go full on, deep and thoughtful, safe in the knowledge that it wont be read. I know this because nobody attends seminars on youth ministry and theology. Or conferences on theology and youth ministry. Very few people talk about theology when it comes to solving the problems of young people ‘leaving the church’. Instead its about practices, making practice better, trying to find a missing piece, a magic formula, a new way, or method. It can be that there isnt a conversation about theology, that doesnt only exist in place of formal theological conversation, the college. And for many others thats where it often stays.

So, because there is no grafting, searching and desire from the ‘top’ to do theology about youth ministry, there can be very little appetite from the ground to see it as being worthwhile. Its easier to drag a resource off the shelf, or do what we think works, or uptake business models like ‘develop strategies’. If you want to read the part one to this post, it is here in which i suggested that youth ministry needed to turn to performance theology, rather than business strategy. This is the long awaited, and probably grossly under-read, post that follows that one.

We have inherited a practice of trying to get things right to save and keep young people, and this puts practice and strategies first over and above theology.   Image result for theology?

Youth Ministry needs Theology first. – and that takes work.

However.

The first thing to say is that we are all theologians. Thats every volunteer, youth pastor, helper, leader involved in youth ministry in a church/faith setting. We are all theologians already, because, and this isnt the only reason, young people are reading us and our practices to glean theological insight through them. What we do is a theological act – it is being performed as youth ministry is done. Theology is transmitted in the way we operate.

So think about that for a second. Everything? yes…

In the way we talk about young people behind their backs, in the way we give responsibilities, in the way we decide, in the way we hold or give away power, in the drive to the bowling, or how we stay in the kitchen and dont get involved, in everything to do with youth ministry, every act is theological already. Our beliefs are already affecting our behaviour, but regardless of those beliefs, young people are reading us as if we’re the book. Our Theology is implied in what we do.

We are already in one extent performing it.

But that doesnt mean we get away with just acting it out. For, how do we know we’re acting out theology appropriately, or fittingly?  (its not about effectiveness, effecacy is a reductionist business term that we should ban in churches)

Thats where at least ‘thinking theologically’ about youth ministry also is important. If we’re in the ‘business’ of doing theology. The two go hand in hand. Theres also the theology within our institutions… however,

So, what do we need to thinking theologically about?

We need to think theologically about young people. Who they are in the sight of God, how they are created and loved, accepted and made in his image. And so much more besides….

We need to think theologically about discipleship. If this is the game of the church – to make disciples- then its not a bad idea to think theologically about what being a disciple is all about, and how a disciple is ‘formed’ and what a disciple does ‘performs’ .  What kind of discipleship? Action first or learning first, or both? So we need to think theologically about learning, about study, about actions (and the actions of God in our actions) Theres some stuff of discipleship in the categories section, and resources below.

We need to think theologically about Culture. About the place of the church in the culture, and what the role of young people is participating in the church in the culture – for, against, within, above or to transform it (Neibuhr) or something else – to offer an alternative, creating something new… What is Christ offering young people in discipleship? (and how might the church follow this)

We need to think theologically about Mission – and what we do and what young people do, what is Mission, What is God like if she is missional? How might young people play parts in mission, and who decides whether they can or cant?

There needs to be thought around theology of worship – what is it? Is only ‘christian’ worship worship? What worship doesnt need a band, a stage or a PA system, what worship is pleasing to God? What worship creates opportunities for young people to transform the world? Is worship a gathered experience or an emerging one, a public one or private one?

We also need to think theologically about how young people have faith; What is faith, how is it tested, how do they use it, act on it, and practice it in the every day, – where do they do faith?Related image

We need to think theologically about sex and relationships, about gender, about LGBT, about mental health, depression,  about drugs and alcohol, about education and ambition, about power, greed, globalisation, about politics, about technology, communication, about inclusion, money and fame. Because young people arent looking to us for the answers anymore, because half the time these are difficult subjects that we leave to one side. It is not and never enough to pick stuff up on these subjects off the shelf. Young people also dont want us to give one answer, and presume that culture has another answer, theyre far too clever for that. We need to know how to answer these things, and give tools for interpreting and navigating. There is no ‘one thing’ the bible says, or ‘one thing’ the world says about these things. To say this to young people would be patronising. But that doesnt mean to say we dont have responsibility to think theologically, biblically and ethically about these things to help young people share in and lead us in that exploration of learning.

What about what we do with young people? Might we stop and think about the activities and think theologically about these? About Residentials, gatherings of worship, games, gap years, funding, about festivals and the like, about group work, if everything we do implies theology, then what kind of God is being transmitted through these – what kind of church is? God of attendance and watching? God of large groups (where God is communicated as ‘always being’) God of challenge and risk, God that is ‘felt and experienced’ away from home, away from the local church – Thinking theologically about these things might mean that taking young people to an experience might create a view of God that might actually be unhealthy or even unbiblical. But then, if theology isnt important, then it doesnt matter..does it?Image result for theology?

Thinking Theologically about youth Ministry, might mean more than being motivated by the faith. Though its a good start. Working out how Faith and Beliefs motivate us in youth ministry is definitely a first step, we can spend too long busting a gut to get this bit right, and in reality, we’re never going to get this perfect (theres no such thing). What we need to do in youth ministry is live with the imperfection and the ongoing drama of it, but theologically thinking about youth ministry, given that as youth ministers, volunteers, pastors, workers and leaders, we are urged to be both theological and practical, reflecting and active. Part of the tool kit for us is Theology, our story, our church’s story, and the story we are called to live, the story which we perform and encourage others to. It shouldnt just motivate us like a bad head teacher with a stick (thinking Miss Trunchbull in ‘Matilda’) – but well at us from the deep, call us to something higher, take us (and others) to the margins, where likeness of Jesus is an ongoing task.

Theology emerges from the deep, from the margins. Theology might emerge through conversation between friends (Emmaus), might visit unexpected to give peace, might be present in space of the unlikely. We dont need to try and think theologically if what we’re doing is already good, loving, kind, faithful, generous, and working towards peace, wholeness and restoration – these marks of the kingdom need no law. But we might need to develop new theological language, reflection and resources for the road on which these travels take us. Theology from the streets, like St Francis’s ‘Sidewalk Spirituality’ or Ignatius, or other Saints of the Past. Thinking theologically about ministry might itself call us in new directions, new learning, new faith, thats where we might need to take risks, having experiences of God in the space of the margins, might cause us never to go to the gathering to find God – and thats ok. Youth Ministry is, like any ministry, an ongoing dramatic act. And in the drama, what kind of God is needed for the ongoing walk? One that Speaks and Acts – one that is present and urging, as Kevin Vanhoozer describes – is the holy author in our midst. 

Always speaking. Always giving us reference points. Always giving us things to relate to. Always prompting and provoking.

Image result for theology?

Where is the space for the Holy Author in the Midst of Youth Ministry? In every conversation – possibly, in every approach – possibly, in every action – maybe. The truth is we cant model our Youth Ministry on God – we’re not perfect enough for this. God isnt a model to be copied. God is a mystery who speaks, a creator who does as he pleases (Daniel 4:35) and is not restrained. We need to think and act and listen theologically. Its that Holy Author who will communicate and save. Its that Holy Author who is happy for an ongoing communication, whether this is ragged or poetic, praiseworthy or problematic. Its that Holy Author who is present in, with and amongst. God who might, just might not be white, distant and male – and that might change everything.

In conclusion, Theology needs to go first. Not just because we’ve tried everything else, but because thats where it should be, and not even because by doing this ‘it will work’ – no- because ministry is a risk taking endeavour not an exact science. We dont need to just ‘get on with the job’ of youth ministry, and neither is theology ‘just for the college’ and no one can avoid being theological. Putting this off does a disservice to young people, it does a disservice to ourselves. We can try and find a perfect method, strategy, model, process and practice. And that could consume us (and we can nearly always ‘do’ better) but that search is a painful one and full of frustration, comparison and frailty. Lets ditch the models, and have meaning, mystery and mission first.

Oh and some of this is only the tip of the iceberg….. directions to start, not journeys of discovery along the way hence some resources below:

References and Resources

Talking about God in Practice (2010) by Helen Cameron

Youthwork and the Mission of God (1997) by Pete Ward

What Theology for Youthwork?  by Paul Nash (Grove Booklet Y8)

Faith Formation in a secular age by Andrew Root (2017)  

When Kumbaya is not enough by Dean Borgman (1997)

Models for Youth Ministry by Steve Griffiths (2013)

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by Andrew Root (2007)

Starting Right – Thinking Theologically about Youth Ministry by Dean, Clark et al (2001) 

Remythologising Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer (2010) (more on theodrama in the categories section)

Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer (2014)

The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry by Kenda Creasy Dean/Andrew Root (2013)

Faith Generation by Nick Shepherd (2016)

Here be Dragons; Youthwork and Mission off the map by Lorimer & Richard Passmore (and me) (2013)

Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf (2007) 

 

Nothing more, nothing less, love is the best…What if ‘love is the way’ in Youth Ministry?

Theres a madness in the air and its all about love, this evening its the remembrance services and commemorations of the one love, Manchester concerts to mark the year since the tragedy at the concert. But its love that caught the imagination on Saturday lunchtime, yes the love between Harry and Meghan, their looks, glances and lip-read comments (thanks ITV for this detail). Though the media might want the story to be about the dress, the gowns, the crowds and the dance (their first dance was Witney, apparently they did want to dance with somebody), the stand out performance on the day was of the sermon given by Bishop Curry of the US Episcopalian church.Prince Harry and Meghan Markle listen to an address by the Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, primate of the Episcopal Church, in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle during their wedding service in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018

By now you will have surely read the transcript of Bishop Currys address, if not a link to it is here, and highlights are:

“That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centred. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.

“If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

“Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighbourhoods and communities where love is the way.

“Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.

“Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

“When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

“When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

“When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

“When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

…Dr King was right: we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.

 

One of the points that seems to have been made subsequent to Bishop Curry, certainly by the few comments on social media by the ‘non christians’ is that he made Christianity look attractive, sound passionate, and mean something, and be about love that changes and transforms, love that frees and love that creates a better world. It appears a surprise to many that this is what Christianity is all about. And maybe theres reflection to be done on why this message hasnt been heard before, or been allowed to be heard. Its not as if the church hasnt talked about love, but maybe it hasnt done in public, maybe a message of love and social justice has become too separated, or maybe, its the only time a 14 minute sermon is heard in its entirety in the public stage and so, it can be more than a soundbite or the interpretation of the news reporter (ie ‘the pope used his christmas message to say X, the archbishop Y’) .

However, this blog is about youthwork and youth ministry – and where is the love in that? Well quite. We could be mercenary at times, but more rarely that we might be passionate, dedicated and over committed, usually going beyond the call of duty to accomodate, help, support, and journey alongside a young person. But has the language of love, passion and dedication gone a little out of fashion?

A glance through some of the recent youth work & ministry books, and there are models, methods, ideas, theologies. processes, practices, thinkings, approaches, philosophies and venn diagramms, how tos, not to’s and go to’s. But little on feelings, on emotions, on compassion, on love. The greatest of all. Dig a little deeper and thinking theologically, or philosophically about youthwork and ministry and love, compassion and respect figure. And undoubtedly many youthworkers and ministers burn out through over commitment and passion. And leave posts potentially because their respect for young people might not translate into strategies of growth and attendance – where views of love differ.. Love does seem to motivate youth workers, more than calling – dont you think? 

In ‘Starting right; thinking theologically about youth ministry’ Dave Rahn writes:

These words of Jesus ( Mark 12: 29-31) provide the definitive and final job escription for the youth worker, and for anyone in christian ministry, we are to be guided by love, and only guided by love. What is our role with our students to love as we would be loved (SR, 2001, p379)

going on to say; ‘in response to this rush and passion and longing, we are invited into the intimacy of the trinitarian fellowship, we allow ourselves to encounter the incredible love that God personifies’ (p381) God is love. Love, in a roundabout way also features when we talk about incarnational relationships in youth ministry, but without love this can just mean being in the location of where young people are. Love requires action that involves, interacts, empathises and is compassionate. Incarnationally present is not vulnerable and love if it is just a statement of kudos, and as Root suggests, developing relationships for strategic purposes is not love either. (Root, 2007)

But what if love is the way in youth ministry. Well, there is someone who talked about this a long time ago, someone, outside of these pages who is largely ignored- stating that;

“The situation in which the community of the Church is set, asks questions of it about the age structure, the class structure, the openness to go out into the world and receive the world, The crucial thing at this stage is that all of us who have this concern (for young people in the community) deeply in our hearts should recognise that any remedial christian action will emerge only out of painful, searing, physical and mental acceptance, in love, of a generation which is painfully different. What we need to know about the strategy of action must be learned at the point of personal involvement, of ourselves or of other groups” (Lecture given to World christian youth commission in May 1964, Rev HA Hamilton, taken from Working with the unnattached, a review is here: )

We, the church, really has at times messed up with young people, not loved them enough to be more inclusive, to be more patient, to ready ourselves for the challenge of youth ministry (thinking it was easy, or about keeping things simple), and on other occasions we ban, prevent, exclude the kind of young people for whom love might be absent, yet the plea for a searing compassion, a love for young people who are intrinsically different to the many in the church, or the adults in society is still to be sought for. Love plays its part in thinking theologically about youth ministry thats for sure, for God is love, and this must be the motivation. Yet love might be hidden behind so many of the things that we talk about , that it might be hard to find – especially when talk is growth, strategy and institution – where is the love?. 

If we love young people – would we judge them?, would we clump them together as a generation?

If we love young people – would we talk about them – without them? 

If we love young people – do we blame them, shame them, or find a way to exonerate them? 

If we love young people – are we with them, for them, and alongside them? 

If we love young people – do we fear them, or hear them? 

If we love young people – are they trusted? 

If we love young people – do we challenge them, push them, prize their gifts open? 

If we love young people – what might youth ministry be like with them? 

 

I would hope that in the vast majority of situations young people who encounter youthworkers leave feeling more positive, different and changed for the better, and this surely is the case. But talk of love has been thrust square and centre this week. Maybe its time that love became more central to even more of what youth ministry is all about. Maybe on another hand, young people might know that the church is about love because of the actions they have experienced from a youthworker, the time, effort, energy and space provided, given at personal cost. Maybe its just the community at large and the media that didnt realise that christianity was about love. Maybe, love is what youthworkers have been sharing with and telling young people about for years and decades. Maybe that ‘loving relationship’ with Jesus, hasnt been made meaningful enough through transforming actions that change the world – and many young people would be up for world changing (often its parents and consent forms that prevent it). When love is the way… who should stop young people? When love is the way, young people might need to be participants of it, not just recipients of it. When love is the way, it needs to be given away.

 

References

Clark, Dean, 2001 Starting right; Thinking theologically about youth ministry, 

Goetschius and Tash 1967 Working with the unnattached

Root, 2007, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

 

Is our concept of participation, in youth ministry, too small?

Why is it that young people are often involved in committees at schools, as young as primary school, given responsibility in ‘anti-bullying’ campaigns, tasked with being peer mentors, and encouraged to have their view on school councils within school – and yet in churches they’re often just given a picture to colour in and an activity to do? 

Thats a statement I say alot. And it is not completely true of course. Sometimes children and young people do have some responsibility in a local church. But it must be dis-orientating for them, and or the rest of us, that they are respected and given space to have participation in one space, and then a group of adults in their social gathering ( who aim to be even more righteous/holy) close the spaces down. It must feel weird. Thats just the introduction, and if you havent thrown your device against the wall so far, then great, the rest of this piece asks whether our view of participation in youth ministry is too small – or at least- there is a view of participation that encompasses something mysteriously large to fathom, that has been chosen to ignore.

The situation above one of the key moment in youth ministry where we might have a conversation about the role young people have in the faith community, I have written extensively on this before, (just search ‘participation’ in the categories) and the common framework for this theoretically is Harts Ladders of youth participation, (again not to be repeated here – see other posts), in which the sliding scale from token participation (or non participation)  to ‘young people decide, adults follow’ is at point 9. But this is classic and basic to the practice of youth work, and so these other posts might be worth your time (theyre in the references below). Its when only token participation is repeated and young people find meaning they can participate in elsewhere, that they leave any form of non-participatory faith group/event for something more meaningful elsewhere.

But I wonder – is our view of participation too small?

For, its one thing thinking about the way in which a young person ‘participates in’ the culture, structures and process of an organisation, to the point in which they are influencers, creators and contributors (in no particular order)- but is this enough?

Andrew Root puts the nail on the head when writes this, in faith formation in a secular age (2017): 

‘we seek strategies and practices that plug the drain in the sink, hoping that there are pragmatic actions we can use to keep young people from subtracting church participation from their lives’ (Root, 2017, p98-99)

In short, the dilemna faced in the church is to prevent the leakage by keeping young people involved, helping young people not subtract church, leaving it. For the church is that these strategies enable us to experience less loss. Yet in reality, the issue is not, as Root says, that people have a God-gap that needs filling. Participation has become the plug, the ultimate aim of all the faith forming programmes and activities – get them in, belonging and so they can be involvedParticipation becomes the end game of a strategy, (if it exists). But as Root discusses, what does this say about Faith – and for us, here, has this made participation too small? 

There used to be a book (its still around) titled is your God too small? – I wonder if this is the same with the use of and concept of participation.

From the very beginning, the human person was a participant in the actions of God. Tasked with naming the animal and tending to the land, creation pictures involvement in the divine action and a need that God had, or at least space within the action of God for human to be involved. This continues throughout – from conversations between Abraham and God, then Moses, David, Ruth, Mary (spoken to by an Angel no less), and then the ongoing participative requirements that Jesus gave the disciples. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the drama of the Biblical narrative is about the ongoing participation of humans in it, to the point in which they may be involved in as a fourth person in the trinity. But these thoughts are not new.

Both Pete Ward, and Danny Brierley pick them up in their work, Youthwork and the Gospel (1997), and participation in ;Joined up, (2003). An attempt to understand participation theologically is not new, but it might be worth reflecting on further if it is new for you reading this. What might be new is to think of faith as participation, and develop what this means for young people. (and us all)

A way of thinking about the ongoing narrative of the Christian story, is that of a drama, and as continual ongoing performances within the closing act (4) of a five act play that has the prophecies of revelation as the fifth act to be played out. Again I have written on this before, and the resources for this are in the ‘Theodrama’ category, but unlike story which only has tellers, drama has participative performers – who in word and deed perform interpretation and improvisations of the gospel in the every day, doing so along with God who participates in the ongoing act. Drama ‘just’ adds a encompassing level to the ongoing need to be involved and participating.

Roots view of Faith, is taken from emphasising Paul who emphasises not subtraction, but deduction of a personal nature to participate ‘in Christ’ – Faith is an act of deduction, of giving up. It is not just about participating ‘in’ the activities of a local church, (as these culturally have been negated, (p134-140) , faith is about being a participant in the ongoing story of God (Root, p145).

Participation then, is something far far bigger that institutional involvement.

Faith, true faith, for young people is not sufficient if it is about an add on to their lives (back to MTD)  It is that they become deducted of their own life, giving up, to become performers and participants in the actions of God in the whole world. 

In a way, this is no different to what Pete Ward was saying in 1997.

But what we’ve tended to focus on is how to keep young people in church through participating activities – and not think for a moment what faith is about, and how this has a larger view of being a participant in Gods ongoing actions.

So – what might all this mean? – If young people are given the keys to unlock the stage, and realise their role and ongoing performers, what might this look like for being faithful in those actions. For Root, this about helping people be ministers and be ministered to. And this then includes, for us, about how we might help young people be ministers in the kingdom, how we might help them ‘reduce’ their reliance on the stuff of daily life (and fasting/monasticism/meaningful faith is becoming more popular), giving up prophetically in a world of stocktaking and increasing – and ministering to others – all activities planned or spontaneous being prompted to by God in the midst. Faith formation and participation is about recognising the voice of God in the midst, who has the ongoing speaking part, and acts alongside. We participate in, as God participates in us.

Young peoples acts of social justice are not an aside to faith – they are faith. 

Young peoples response to God in their context might mean risk taking and be dangerous and prophetic – and who knows what it might look like. 

What would it be like to give this away – to help young people see themselves as meaningful performers in Gods drama, and that their participation in the world (and the church in the world) is the task of faithful meaningful performances of the gospel?

Its not enough that God loves young people, but that God might also think them worthy of participative parts in his play- and for many young people, they might not have had the opportunities in school to be ‘special’ or involved. Our task is as acting coaches to help young people find their parts, to find their location in the drama, and to recognise the voice of God prompting in the midst. Faith is about participation, and Gods drama is mysterious and massive, and young people, all of us, are invited into it as participants.

If our view of God is too small, then the stage needs to be expanded,

If our view of participation is too small, then young peoples faith suffers as a result.

Theres an expansion of Godly participation required in Youth Ministry.

 

References

For all my other posts on participation click here  if you’re interested in Theodrama click the category above.

Root, Andrew, 2017 Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Shepherd, Nick, 2016, Faith Generation

Ward, Pete, 1997 Youthwork and the Mission of God

Brierley Danny, 2003 Joined up; Youth work and Ministry

Vanhoozer Kevin, 2005, The Drama of Doctrine, 2010 Remythologising theology, 2014, Faith Speaking Understanding.

 

Where does God act in your youth Ministry?

It sounds a bizarre question doesnt it, after all, youth group may have just finished, it occured in the place of spiritual activity, a church, was led by christian leaders, often involved activities with young people who were keen to be there, and occupied for a short period of time, so its inevitable that God turned up – yeah?

Have you ever thought or felt  that youth ministry, as a leader can be a bit of going through the motions at times, maybe we feel like that about church too- if we dare admit it – but the ‘motions’ and ‘routines’, ‘programmes’ and ‘activities’ of the youth group – do they leave room for God to be involved? and if so – what might be a relationship between what we do (as leaders), what young people do, and also how God might be involved in being present and active in the space? 

Does God show up – when the young people cry at the end of our purposeful emotional talk? , is that God? 

Does God show up – when the young person participate in ‘real church’ on a sunday, after being involved in ‘not real ‘ church on a sunday evening for 3 months?

I only ask provocatively, as is it worth asking the question – where, and how is God active in youth Ministry?

To begin an answer this, it might be worth referring to a few of the prominent theologically reflective youth ministry writers over the last few years, both from a UK and USA perspective. In the USA, the discussion regarding Theology (the knowledge of God) and youth ministry is potentially slightly more advanced in terms of writing on this theme, however Pete Ward, Sally Nash and a few others might disagree, as I suggested previously, Youth ministry as a field within practical theology is barely a discussion, but that might change.

So, Where is God acting in Youth Ministry – what has already been said?

Pete Ward says this:

It is God who seeks young people and chooses to call them to himself. Encounter with God is a spiritual event shrouded with Mystery. Despite all our efforts, training and experience, we are powerless beside the sovereign work of God (Ward, Pete, 1997, p35)Youthwork and the Mission of God: Frameworks for Relational Outreach

Going on to say that the desire to communicate also carries with the desire of simplification, reducing the gospel to simple messages (because of a myth that young people have short attention spans, not that they deserve better methods of education, discipleship or given the chance to raise their game and treated with more respect than a universal myth). The Otherness of God who is to be feared and respected is played down, writes Ward, The mystery of faith has been debunked, unpacked and demythologised and illustrated into non existence, creator God has become friend, and prayer is ‘like a telephone’, worship a ‘rave’. It feels, as Ward goes on to suggest at the end of the book, that creativity, artistry and imagination are clues to the moments of God acting, as they respond to a knowledge of God as creator God and instilling in the person a Spirit filled imagination.

In a way, God is active when young people are creative – and how creative are the young people allowed to be in your youth group? 

A Second response to this question is arrived at by the American Theological and youth minister; Andrew Root, his knowledge of Bonhoeffer is well known, and four of his last publications refer significantly to Bonhoeffer and Bonhoeffers own experiences as a Youthworker. However, that aspect is not for now. What Root does in ‘Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry’  is to square the location of the presence of God within ministry as within the experiences of Community – ie in Relationships. This in part is counter to a prevailing culture in youth ministry to see relationships as a strategy for something else (and reducing them ethically and humanity). Relationships therefore are, according to Root (referring to Bonhoeffer) are the location and source of the presence of Christ within a Youth group.

The Meeting of I and you is the place where we encounter the living presence of Christ, because this is the place of transcendent otherness  (Root, 2007, p114)

Whilst this flies against using relationships as a strategy (ie to bring young people to a thing) but as intrinsic itself, and locates the very presence of God in the relationship itself, and meeting Christ in the person. As a reality, meeting Christ in the otherness of persons within youth ministry, this is worth reflecting on, or reading the book further. As we are made for relationships and interactions, there is a need that this is costly and vulnerable, it is about community, seeing them as part of our being in ministry, not just a strategy. (Root, 2007, p121-122)

This might help the ‘where of Jesus’ in Youth Ministry – but does it figure and help us in thinking where Divine action occurs.

However, in a later publication: The Theological Turn in Youth ministry (2011), Andrew Root suggests, and I concur, that whilst the justification of youth ministry as a theological practice has gained significant ground in the last 20 years (and Pete Ward, and Roots own pieces above are part of this), especially to construct links between practice and theology, and practical theology has been helpful in this, little attention, according to Root, has been given systematically to

‘how divine action and human action relate to one another, to how and where they associate…we have not yet sought to articulate  how to go about discerning the activity of God from the place of Human action or how human action is participation in the action and being of God in the world’ (Root, 2011, p219)

Roots response in The Theological Turn, is to briefly overview three positions in regard to Divine-Human Action and his new publication Faith Formation in a secular age develops clearly one of these, the role of being a minister, and in so doing this is where God acts. Stating; ‘To be a minister or to be ministered to is the vehicle into divine action‘- (Root, 2016, p201) it is here where divine action may be experienced in a secular age.

The problem  I see in this, is that it reduces Divine action to predominately Human Action, and though Root is more concerned with ‘Faith Formation’ in this book, his response to Divine action, leaves me underwhelmed. Its as if, as Pete Ward said in 1997, Divine action is demythologised – reduced to something humanely tangible, and by doing so this reduces God in the playfulness of his/her action.

It is at this point where Theologians like Von Balthasar, Vanhoozer and others come in, when they relate the Overarching narrative of Gods action as a Theodrama. (references below)

For what we have in the Theodrama, that they propose, is that we as Humans are co-actors, acting, with God in the ongoing drama of world redemption. In the 5 act Theodrama that Wells proposes, God has already acted in History in four key scenes – Creation, Covenant, Christ and the Church – and is about to act mysteriously in the eschatology, (oh and save your time working out whether we live in a secular age, just focus on living in the church awaiting eschatological age)Image result for divine action . The Bible gives us a clue, or a script, of how God and Humans have already acted in their ongoing relationship. Faith has been found in the generous gift of the widows mite, the touch of the desperate, the faith of the centurion, God spoke through prophets, and to people in covenant, also in surprising moments (such as the road to Emmaus). An expanded view of God, according to Vanhoozer, one remythologised, is one who Speaks and Acts in communicative agency. With the Bible being full of God speaking in and through, God presents himself in mysterious, yet consoling, commanding and promising ways (Vanhoozer, Remythologising Theology, 2010 p3). 

In Contemplating Theology as Theodrama, and the Christian life, and pursuit of God as a drama itself, then for Vanhoozer, the Drama of Redemption, God is in the business of ongoing dialogue as the author and director of the Drama, in this expanded metaphor for Divine Human action – ‘The dialogical author is the new paradigm of a new kind of agency, one suited to neither examining dead things nor to manipulating objects, but rather to engaging the living consciousness of Human heroes’ (Vanhoozer, 2010, p333) To be human is to live in dialogical act, to live is to participate in the give and take of question and answer, call and response. Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine)

‘This drama itself is the story of how the creator consumates his creation into the whole that is true, good and beautiful as it is meaningful; a renewed and restored world, an abundant garden city characterised by everlasting shalom’ (Vanhoozer, 2010, p327)

So, How might Theodrama help in the awareness of ‘divine action’ in Youth Ministry?  (or any ministry)

On one hand, it is not to reduce God to one favoured form of action, to say that God is creative is to negate the incarnation, to discover him in relationships through the covenant is to reduce the power and mystery of redemption and repentance on the cross, and what , as Root rightly says, Death, might mean in ministry. The whole Theodrama reveals God in communicative act, and within this Drama our ongoing scenes occur. The Divine Author is in our and the young peoples very midst, prompting and provoking in call and response. The Divine author is calling his creation towards the work of the kingdom, that is to love, hope, give and to feed, clothe and liberate. God is calling, metaphorically, from the stage of the action those who would continue to participate in a dangerous journey of continued call and response. Yet it is a call that respects the Human person, a requirement for obedience, and continued choice, it is an interjecting call, not an interferring or intervening one.

Where might Divine action occur in Ministry?  It might just be where those called, respond to the call and begin to perform the Theodrama – even if they dont know it yet.

References

Baltasar, Hans Urs Von, Theodrama, Vol 1-5

Root, Andrew, Revisiting Relational youth Ministry, 2007, IVP

Ward, Pete,  Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997, SPCK

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Remythologising Theology, 2010

Vanhoozer, Kevin The Drama of Doctrine, 2005

Vander lugt, Wesley Living Theodrama, 2014

Wells, Samuel, Improvisation, 2005

 

 

Should Youth Discipleship be regarded as performative pedagogical practice?

One of the dangers, writes Giroux, of modern educational practice set within a global economy that has economic growth as its driving force is that it has involves even more so a

‘narrow pedagogy, memorization, high stakes testing and helping students to find a good fit within a market -orientated culture of commodification, standardization and conformity’

Giroux wasnt writing this that long ago. As a result; Young people, writes Giroux further, ‘are treated as customers and clients rather than a civic resource, whilst many poor young people are simply excluded from the benefits of a decent education through the implementation of zero tolerance  policies that treat them as criminals to be contained, punished or placed under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system’. (Giroux, On critical Pedagogy, 2011)

Over the last few weeks I have written a number of pieces on young people and participation within the church, and I am thankful to the few of you who have read and shared them widely. Quite expectantly, one of the key tools to think about participation has been Harts Ladder of youth participation, which i have now shared twice, and i do so without apology again here.

Image result for hart's ladder of youth participation

However, whilst participation is a key aspects to how young people interact with agencies and establishments, from Giroux, critically young people can be little more than consumers in their role in the school, and probably barely on rung 2-3 at all. Developing a culture of youth participation in schools can only be achieved if it is part of what drives to actions of a school towards its funding expectations, including its Ofsted reports and league tables, none of which barely mention young people as participants in the overall ‘Good/Outstanding scale’ – So if its not measured and idealised as an outcome, it will barely feature as significant, in the rigorous testing and managerial culture of the school. Being run as a business within the global economy and with spending targets to boot. However, this is a sidetrack to a question about young people and participation, and more so about discipleship as a pedagogy.

I wonder, when reading the quotation from Giroux above, did you think about how young people are discipled in church and youth ministry?

Last year, I heard a seminar by Jo Dolby who had done an academic piece of work on Discipleship. Within it she referred to the definition of discipleship that arrived from the greek word ‘Mathetes’ , which literally means, to be involved in the process of ones own learning. Discipleship seems to involve an ongoing process that involved the learner and teacher as an ongoing process. Jo pointed to a number of aspects of discipleship based from the culture of discipleship in Jesus’ time that were provocative and counter cultural. She shared these things at last years Streetspace national gathering, a write up for which and the flipcharts on discipleship are here: Streetspace Gathering 2017

But Mathetes and discipleship as an ongoing process of learning. Interesting…

One definition of Pedagogy is :  The method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept. (From The online Oxford dictionary) , Pedagogy is often used in educational practice as seen above. It is less well used in Faith Based discipleship conversations. Discipleship is less seen as educational, and more formational. At least that is the common language within churches in regard to discipleship, formation and authentic practices.

 Though forming, as Root goes on to say, has been thought of in not a neo-liberal vacuum (Root doesnt talk about this at all) but in a secular age, which values Authenticity. Formation has become another buzzword for educational group work that hopes desperately to keep young people within an institution (pages i-xiv).

Churches have become no better or different than schools. Where the schools curriculum is bent towards the market. Churches have been hoodwinked into reductionist programmes of survival. Reductionist in that they hope to keep young people, having only avoiding worst case scenario to hand. If Root is to be believed, though i think the British context is different, churches have turned to youth to keep their own authenticity intact, for being youthful is a sign of authenticity in todays western culture. What Root lacks in his prognosis is the effect of neo-liberalism, power, control and education within his analysis, though what he strives for is a rethink of formation, doing so without a huge mention of discipleship, though with one that calls for increased awareness of divine action, and young people as participants beyond just the institution (p191-194)

Will an understanding of Discipleship as Pedagogy help? Again, Root will probably say no, i think. Though in an age where youth participation is lessening in schools, then at least the church might offer something distinctive if discipleship was a process of ongoing collaborative learning. Discipleship as ongoing learning that also including aspects of divine action, and also performance might be closer to what is required. A quick aside, when Vanhoozer diagnosed American Youth Ministry and the church as a whole with the MTD disease that Smith Identified, his cure was to uphold Theology and also the Drama of doctrine in the ongoing actions of Human performance ( Vanhoozer, 2014, Faith Speaking Understanding) for him, limited doctrinal knowledge was the pre-curser to the God that makes me feel good attitude prevalent in MTD. How might a performative pedagogy that enabled the ongoing learning of Christian doctrine help within Youth Ministry?

Wesley Vander lugt suggests that Formation and Performance are intrinsically linked. There is limited use for one without the other, performance reveals formation, and vice versa. (Vander lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014). The process of learning, of formation within youth discipleship might benefit from how its ongoing pedagogical practice is performative and in doing so reveals, and helps young people embody theology in the world, being more that participants within faith institutions.

In the same way, Giroux and Root have at their heart the sense that pedagogy and discipleship are for the same ends, the flourishing of humans within the flourishing of local communities, Root suggest that the church is the only collective society that is for personhood itself ( p207), and as Giroux above indicates pedagogy of persons is, at its most ambitious :

‘is to educate students to lead a meaningful life, learn how to hold power and authority accountable and develop the skills, knowledge and courage to challenge common sense assumptions while being willing to struggle for a more socially just world‘ (Giroux 2011, p7).

Discipleship as prophetic pedagogy? It may be that the church, if it can think of youth discipleship as a process of helping young people lead a meaningful life (and not just conformity to institution) then it might have something to give and contribute in society with young people who do get ‘left behind’ but also who are in the system and struggling to cope. But discipleship as a pedagogical practice, that forms disciples to lead meaningful lives for the greater good, and gives them keys to understand their place in the world, to enable it to flourish, and challenge structures of power. How might churches do this – let make them places of welcome, and places where young people create hope, and places where young people are ministers of it in their world.

References

Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy, 2011

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age, 2017

Smith, Christian, Soul Searching, 2004

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014

Van der Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014

 

Growth in winter

Over the last few years I have begun to do a bit of gardening. Yes the dreaded 4-0 is heading my way soon. I can’t remember how it started, but I knew I couldn’t grow anything or plant anything in the garden as the dog would destroy it. So I decided upon getting a whole load of plastic planters and filling them with compost.

I didn’t realise the satisfaction of eating stuff that I had grown. The first year I managed to grow tomatoes, though most were green, the second and third years I have planted salads, spring onions and lettuce, herbs, betroot, and enjoyed the season of planting out in the spring to see how things would take shape over the summer. Last year I was given a chilli plant cutting which, in my sunroom yielded over 100 chillis and from them

Made chilli jam and sweet chilli sauce, as well as chutney from the apples on the trees. This autumn I wanted to keep the process going, instead of waiting until spring to try and grow from seed I’ve planted bulb instead. And so, over the coldest of winter days, darkest of days, there has been signs of movement and growth, as two stable crops in my kitchen have begun to grow. Garlic and onions, (to go with the now cut back and ready to grow again chilli)

In the darkness and cold, life can still occur, it’s hardly least expected on one hand as the instructions said to plant them in autumn. But there’s been growth in the winter, and 19 onion shoots are taking effect, as are the shoots from 3 garlic bulbs.

There are parallels here. Of course, I have been reading Leonardo Boff reflections on St Francis, who says that the place of the periphery and small is the place where Jesus is to be found. More likely dancing in the darkness and pointing towards the light. With the marginalised. Faith in unexpected places and growth from those encounters.

It is possible to plant in autumn and winter, it just needs to be more hardy a bulb and not a feeble seed. It is noticeable that Jesus farmer did not sow bulbs, bulbs that almost guarantee growth, (Though I’m not a gardener so don’t assume any real knowledge here) at least growth in winter. The talk of the town is of a difficult place, a cold place to be christian. In that case, it’s bulbs that need planting in winter. Faith that has a hardiness to cope. Seeds on the surface are unlikely to survive. But growth is possible in winter.

How might Youth Ministry be evaluated beyond the bums on seats?

Image result for bums on seats

‘Then Jesus saith unto them, go to the villages, take nothing, and wait for the man of peace to give you a welcome. Then set up an event for people to come to and count people as they arrive. Then, loadeth photos of the full event to the internet’

It has been an interesting week. Various articles have been circulated that I am going to tie together in this post. First David Goodhew wrote this insightful piece on developing a theology for Church Growth, its a piece that stops short of playing up the issues around purely numerical growth in churches. However, at a time when the church has announced that £24million is going to be spent on Mission, Evangelism and ‘church growth’ over the next few years, this report is here: http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2018/01/church-of-england-unveils-24-million-pound-national-investment-in-new-churches-and-evangelism.aspx.  The critical question, one that has plagued church based ministry, including youth ministry, is how can growth and success be measured in any other way than Bums on Seats? 

Image result for bums on seats

Numbers is the easy way to measure something. It hides alot too. But Bums on Seats, and theres no cruder way to put it, has felt like the key driver for many ministries, the key expected outcome. Often this equates also to bums on seats on Sunday. For some aspects of youth ministry counting is important, counting is what determines value and success; how many conversions, how many resources used, how many ‘recommitments’ (whatever biblical justification for this) , it becomes an ongoing task of recording numbers, and recording the faith of young people ‘by numbers’. Even worse it could be ‘how many young people ‘heard a talk” – as if hearing a talk is a measure of faith. Hearing a talk might be as much because there was free pizza involved, or parents forced the young people to be there, but if the number was 20 whos to know how it was done, or care.

However, Youth Ministry in the UK is suffering. Theres no two ways about it. Sorry to be the bearer of this at the beginning of the new year. But countless quality reflective and strategically pastoral youth workers across the UK are in the process of losing their jobs, having them changed and mostly on the basis of costs, and of value for money efficiency savings. (And, its the non clergy posts to go first) I have heard a few people say things like; ‘youd think the diocese would know how good what we do is, weve been doing it for ___ years’ , in other situations, those who are youth workers, or who employ them have become fixated with a promise or myth that having a youth minister has been a sure fire way of increasing the numbers of young people attending a church – this myth often continually conduced by over enthusiastic youth ministry activists who have grown a youth group by 5% elsewhere. Either way, Youth Ministry is stuck playing a numbers game it cant win, and being judged in a culture where success has become synonymous with physical attendance, the beloved bottom on pew. Without another way of justifying itself youth ministry is on the path to extinction. Without a new way of measuring the activities of faith in ministry many are stuck playing a success by numbers game that will lead to stress, pressure and disappointment.

I find it interesting to look at the 7 churches in the book Revelation. Not one of them is criticised for being small.  In fact one of them is commended of its smallness in-spite of challenging situation. They are praised for good works, for holding on, for not giving up, and criticised for blandness, losing heat, and giving into consumerism. If these were the prophetic warnings that evangelicals like to say that were Jesus’ warnings for the church, then size seems to play very little part of it.

But youth ministry has put itself in the numbers game. Because its main servant is the church, and therefore, either keeping young people within it, or adding new young people to it has been its dominant trajectory, since the dawning of groups post Sunday School, and the emergence of evangelical youth ministry that arrived in the UK from the 1960s with Billy Graham Solving the church’s numbers crisis has been the fanfare of Youth Ministry, come to save the church through evangelism from the ground up through relevancy, events and music. The warnings have been there, and its critique has been lengthy, especially from those who began to think seriously about young people, faith, theology and ministry ( See Pete Ward, 1997 and much more). The Key Issue is that because of its own over egged pudding of significance, numerical bums on seats has become the only game in town for evaluating youth ministry. The church lapped it up.

Image result for bums on seatsSo What might be the alternative? 

Firstly, there is a sense that playing a numbers game fits within a culture of Christianity that has adopted its own Macdonaldisation process, hook line and sinker. Ministries have been reduced to universal programmes (to save costs) and resources splattered around the country without a thought as to whether they are culturally or contextually appropriate. Faith has been pre packaged to have a number of pre-existing indicators, attendance at already prepackaged alpha might be one. But Macdonaldisation means that faith is reduced to what is efficient (not what is difficult or complex), what is controllable , (not what might help people have autonomy), what is repeatable (no what might be unique or creative) and what is predictable (not what might be surprising/dramatic). So in this context, and a value for money context that is at the heart of neo-liberal ideology and management, ministry cannot be viewed in such as way, yet often these influences create expectations around it. Especially when organisation survival is a task that meets efficiency savings in the church. Is it too late to put the bums on seats jack back in its box and start all over again?

What if there was a Theology of Measuring Ministry? in the same way that there might be a theology of church growth (see above)- and if so – what might measuring ministry look like from the basis of Theology?

In my previous posts i suggest that performance might be one way of young people engaging with Theology , in addition to this, maintaining the Theatrical metaphor, Wesley Van der lugt describes the relationship between the formation of the actor, in a performance, and their performance, suggesting that both are intrinsically linked ( Living Theodrama, 2014), on one hand it might be thought of as experiential learning, or forming through performance. Behind this is the sense that participating in the Drama of God, as a christian is a way of life, an ongoing drama of participating in the actions of God in the world, acts of participation that have human and community and world flourishing in mind.

It is therefore that within theodrammatically understood youth ministry, that it is measured not by what the church gets young people to do for itself, but how it forms young people into a way of life in the world that loves it and cares for it. Social justice might be a start. Local community activism might be another. How young people act out of love for God in the community they are placed is what is required, not just whether they turn up and play games. Youth Ministry has the opportunity to be the acting coaches in the drama of redemption that give young people acting parts to try, try and persist with, in the pursuit of goodness in the local area. Of course all us are formed through a variety of aspects of faith, from Eucharist, charismatic praise, bible reading, and also, critically to be aware of the ongoing nudges from God in the midst, during time on the stage of the world (where discipleship really occurs).

Then bums on seats is only the start, if at all, its the action that young people that forms them through performance that could be what counts. It might be in performing the gospel that young people find the gospel. Performing goodness might be part of performing the good news. Love is what matters and that is a verb. What might a theology of measuring ministry look like? It might start with causing people to live simplicitly (in a worldview of abundance), to learn to love the poor, to be inclined to generosity, to act with gentleness on social media, to cultivate community. Its not about leadership in the church, but it could be, only if thats also matched with loving the world outside it.

How might youth ministry be measured beyond bums on seats, and can theology help? Possibly, but it should do, and theology should be our starting point. Might it still be a numbers game even then? Quite possibly, but one in which young people are the world changers in a movement of the gospel that is dynamic, exciting and dangerous.

References

Brierley, Danny, Joined up, 2003

Ward, Pete, Youthwork and the Gospel, 1997

Wesley Van der Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014

Smith Christian, Soul Searching, 2004

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation, 2017

 

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