Detached youthwork- An A-Z Guide

I have written a number of pieces on detached youthwork, most of which are on the archives on my site , many top tips, top tens, and pieces on specific issues. But I have never tried to write an A-Z, and do so with the aim of collating a definitive guide to detached youthwork. Image result for a to z

So, at the beginning of 2019, I have tried, with mixed success on some letters to write one. wondered what an A-Z of detached youthwork would look like. So, here, with a sentence or so for each, is my A-Z of detached youthwork – see what you think:

A. Available. This is one key essence of detached youthwork, that workers and volunteers make themselves available in the spaces where young people are. Its obviously but its key. 

B. Bravery, and courage, is required for detached youthwork. Bravery is required, not because of young people necessarily, most most young people are chatty, lively and amiable. Few aren’t. There’s bravery in being in the public spaces in the evening, often drunk adults or dog walkers can be more abusive than young people. There’s bravery in trying something new. We didnt call the book on detached work ‘Here be Dragons‘ for nothing… 

C. Context is key. Every context shapes detached youthwork, a housing estate with a park causes detached youthwork to feel much different to a city centre, as does a rural space or village environment. All have an impact on the background of young people and their social interactions, it makes every context different and important when it comes to detached.

Another ‘C’ is Cold Contact, this seems to be the key marked difference between detached and other youth provision, and the aspect most likely to provoke fear and trepidation. Its an important aspect of detached – that first meeting with young people, and where you ‘warts n all’ try and engage in conversation with them.

D. Dialogue. I would have said conversation, but i think C should be context. Dialogue is conversation that leads to action. Most times on the streets conversation is the aim, beyond banter, where there might be some disclosure, some amiable chat where a transfer happens.

E. Education. Much youthwork, but i think detached more than most is about constantly learning. Also there is education involved constantly in helping young people understand our role, and the dynamics of this, in the informality of the space of the streets, there is transferal of knowledge. it is an educative experience. (its also why R= research)

F. Freezing cold nights. Its a fact of detached life. Yes there are pleasant spring afternoons, but some of the best chats are at evening, and in autumn, and these can be cold.

G. Groups of young people. Its the meat and drink of detached. Detached is about finding, identifying, listening to, learning from, groups of young people. How they operate, what they do, what they like, the leaders, the core and the purpose. The task of detached is to find a way of gaining rapport and acceptance with that group, to have conversation and develop group work.

H. Hopeful attitude, is what is needed at the beginning of each session, and every conversation, to try and be positive and help young people towards an individual or collective dream, to ask the ‘what if’ question.

I. In their spaces. Detached youthwork happens in the context of young people. it changes the power, responsibility and duty of care issues considerably. It changes the nature of the relationship created. Improvisation is another I that is part of detached work, it involves thinking on your feet.

J. Jousting. Sometimes the conversation is more of a jousting match of random banter. You might just be present whilst young people are in their zone doing their thing communicating with each other in the contextual codes of banter, grunts, comments and expressions. Detached youthwork gives you this insight. It also gives an opportunity to be questioned and be challenged, it can be a joust. But that might be the kind of adult/adult conversation that is possible where the power dynamics are so different.

K. Killing time. Or Keeping up morale on quiet evenings. Quiet nights could be opportunities for doing informal supervision and training with staff, to learn about the context, to take a breather.

K is also the Kit bag. After all: what do you take on the streets with you?  – This could include, games, toys and activities, torches, first aid kits, hand warmers, hats gloves, bottles of water, confidentiality policy, referral sheet, organisation business cards (ie ‘the project’) , spare change,  and probably a few other things besides. All neatly packed away in a small kit bag. That now weighs a ton.

L.Long term. Detached youthwork is a long term game. It requires patience, it is counter cultural to the quick fix mentality operating in much of support services. Detached is a long term venture that when done well requires time, time to learn, identify and work with groups.

M. Money is tight even if the budget is low. Because it can be difficult to get funding in the first place, because although usually very needed and worthy, fitting detached into outcomes and funding requirements is still tricky.

N.New. Even though its been around for 100 years or more. For many people who have orientated their youthwork or ministry around buildings and institutions, detached youthwork always seems new. Strange. 

O. Opportunities. Most youthwork is this to be honest. But detached youthwork gives you opportunities to

  • see young people in their chosen space, doing their chosen activities, with their chosen people
  • to converse with young people where they may be more at ease
  • to be in a place where young people have more opportunities to deny adult engagement & conversation
  • to work with and develop conversation with young people not in other provision (not that there is much other provision)
  • Opportunity to have conversation with young people without worrying about buildings, materials and equipment.

P. Policies. You must have them, even if they need to be specific to detached youthwork. And another P, planning. Detached youthwork still needs it, its different planning, but it involves getting volunteers trained, observing in the local area, identifying which area, contacting and discovering other agencies, creating ID badges, safeguarding, team building, contacting the police (possibly). There is planning involved, it just looks different

Q. Quiet. It can be. But not always.

R. Research & Reflection . Detached youthwork hones the skills in a really good way. Its as if you start to develop young people awareness goggles, trying to observe, listen, and discover them, how they react in the community context, what the community is doing, what might be learned through the context, research is continual as groups change, activities change and communities change. Then of course, from research comes reflection, thinking and asking the critical questions of those observations. R for ‘risk’ also works, young people might be doing ‘risky’ behaviour, young people might provoke us with risky questions, we might push young people to new actions which might be risk taking on their part. Risk is unavoidable – but lets do what we can to minimise actual harm… 

S. Supervision. Either you need it, or you need to give it to your team, volunteers and staff. Some good guidelines and ideas for it are included elsewhere on my other site. 

T. Team work. Even a team of two is a team,attending to the relationships between the team is crucial as you will almost always need to work together and trust each other in decision making large and small. All activities that enhance team are worth it, from before and after session reflection, conversation and debrief , team meetings, end of year dinners out. All build team. And young people see that a team is doing stuff for them. It may reduce dependency. And help young people develop relationships with many supportive adults, not just one.

another T is Training. Some get out there try stuff, and then develop it, some people prefer the before the starting training to allay fears and give staff and volunteers a sense of whats to be expected and how to deal with things, both are valid.

U. Undervalued well yes,  detached may be cheapest, and be often able to reach some of the more difficult young people, but its hard to define, measure and manage, so because of this it gets undervalued and chopped easy.

Its also Unpredictable – and that’s a beautiful part of it. But no youth club night is the same anyway.. is it?

V. Visibility. A detached youthwork team needs to visible (and distinctive) and is different to the general public and other public space adults like police, street pastors or sales people for under age nightclubs..

W. Walking to where theyre at. Not just walking a drive might be needed. Yet alot of walking is often required and repeatedly so. We make the road by walking…

X. Hmm. Poetic licence required.. exit strategies? Detached youthwork is as much about being self aware (like much youth work) as it is being spatially aware, knowing where you are, the dynamics of the route, the cul de sacs, and alley ways are critical for knowing how to leave a situation if it starts to get out of hand and you need to extricate yourselves. Its a strategy and action, not just a reaction, leaving says something about how you might be being treated by a young person, you can leave, and so can they.

Y. Ymca/YWCA If i might be personal for a moment, Perth YMCA was where I cut my mustard as a youthworker doing detached work, and YMCA’s have in the past been good at doing detached work and sticking with it. It was a YWCA where Joan Tash and George Goetschius developed detached youthwork and researched it at the time and wrote ‘Working with the Unattached’ for me the Bible of detached youthwork. A review is here .Other organisations may have done detached work to. But Y standing for the Ymca seems to fit quite well. 

Z. Zealous. Were a zealous bunch at times, us detached youthworkers, making ourselves out to be unique, ‘the only true youthwork left’ and defending the practice of it to the hilt. But then again, if youthwork itself it maligned then detached.. Someone might have to stand up for it..

There you go – an A-Z of detached youthwork… enjoy.. oh and I know that..

Even with a list of 30 or so aspects, this is probably not conclusive, i havent talked about outreach vs detached, or referrals and signposting, about partnership work or schools, about alcohol, sports or specific interest detached work, or faith based detached work. So there are more to add, definitely. Neither have i mentioned the few writers and theorists, like Graham Tiffany, Richard Passmore or the Federation of detached youthwork, or organisations like FYT which do alot of detached work too.

But then again, theres always more to add…



Church; Be thankful that being young and trendy isnt the starting point to developing good youth work

Which is quite a relief. Isnt it.

The amount of times I hear, ‘but we’re just a bunch of old people, no young people will relate to us’ – or ‘we’re just too different from them’ or ‘we’re too old’  … And it makes me sometimes want to scream.

The fact may well be that unless youv’e been blessed with an eternal youth or maybe even decide that you didn’t want to grow up since being a teenager, then the chances are that in a number of ways you will be distant from the exact goings on in the lives of young people. Even this year all the exam grading changed again, so yes, GCSES are 1-9, not A** to F. Not to mention that they don’t buy singles anymore. (i know..) They use words like woke, and sick. Image result for trendy

So, when it comes to working with young people an ageing church could feel like it is unable to , because it feels out of touch, only ‘in touch’ because of the ad hoc moments with grandchildren, or ‘what they see on the news’ about young people. That distance keeps widening. And at the same time as young people are into well, who knows what they are into, you’re more likely to be found in the garden centre than the shopping centre.

There have been two competing strands in youth ministry, and they seem to be at loggerheads. The first is that youth ministry has strived to be relevant. Which can mean trying to keep up.

The second is that there is a call for those who work with young people to be authentic.

I dont think it is possible to have both. And young people normally see through the former, and ultimately prefer the latter.

The problem is that in churches we have convinced ourselves that the former is more important, trying to keep up, trying to ‘entertain’, trying to ‘keep’ and ‘attract’ young people will take a certain kind of youthful looking energy driven relevancy. But will it? Of course the problem with this thinking is that the numbers of 20-30 year olds in the church has dropped so significantly (because the previous generation of young people in the church escaped by 1/3) – then its left to the few 40-60 year olds to do youth work. Including the retired teachers, the clergy, the volunteers, the mums and dads. And there is no point in all of them trying to be cool. Because for them cool was wicked. Cool was the 80’s. Cool may have even been the Beatles. And so, if this generation of people thinks that they need to be cool, trendy or relevant to work with young people – then frankly there wont be any youth work done by churches in the UK. or at least not soon. And trying to be trendy is hard work and counter productive, because its fake. Its also not hugely respectful of young people and the space they might be trying to create for themselves.

Image result for trendyFortunately, and thankfully, there are ways of making youth work not about those who lead it. Its not about us, thankfully. Its about the young people. (and its about God, but thats for another piece). Very early in my youth work vocation i realised that the sooner we realise that youthwork is about being interested in young people, rather than them being interested in us, the better. We do have to be interested in the lives of local young people. That just takes some hard work, listening, learning and being present. What is going on?

What is going on with young people and how they communicate, how they travel around the local area, how they use local facilities, how they cope with situations, how some have access to opportunities compared to others…

What is going on in regard to young peoples mental health, well being, fitness, spirituality?

What is going on in regard to pressure, expectation, fears, dreams and ambitions?

What is going on in regard to helping young people use their gifts, skills, abilities not harnessed elsewhere?

If we can re-tune our thinking to think about young people and be interested in them, have empathy with them, connect with them then this causes any youth work to be about them, not about us. And ask – what might we be able to do to help young people? to be practical in their situation? What if the church can provide spaces and resources for young people to develop their own space, activity and community action? Rather than be ‘leaders’ of it?  Running a youth group is tiring, energy sapping and sometimes feels a lost cause, but – from the outset why not develop a participative approach where young people gather to make it happen using the safe welcoming space that could be in the church hall or main building.

If were interested, and have a desire to do good, and desire to show empathy – a desire that might be counter cultural in todays polorised generational society where young is pitted against old, and vice versa- this isnt Biblical its the Daily Mail remember. Then this might go a long way to trying to be authentic. It may well also be relevant, but in a more meaningful way that ‘just trying to be trendy’.

You dont have to be trendy to empathise, or trendy to listen, or trendy to walk alongside a young person, or to help them flourish, or to build rapport with them, or to mentor them, disciple them.

Maybe we do have to be youthful though, a kind of youthfulness that believes that young people can dream, can hope, can make something of themselves in the community their are in, a youthfulness that has hope for the future. A youthfulness that wants to still make a difference, however corny that sounds, and accompany that with a state of mind that doesn’t want to be the person who takes the credit for being that ‘difference-maker’. If we’ve given up on youthfulness and a that state of mind, then it might be argued that we’ve also given up on God and his redemptive transforming power, and lost sight of the eternal goal.

Be thankful you dont have to be trendy to start working with young people. And there are countless ‘un-trendy’ people who are being the saltiest salt and brightest light in the light of young people across the UK, but by providing places of welcome, conversation, listening and hope. Someone to talk with, a person who is there. Something this seemingly insignificant to our large ministry or weekly activities is hugely significant to every single young person, lets not forget this.

That doesnt mean to say you might not need advice, or guidance or support in trying something new – remembering that you may have survived the type of youth ministry you were subjected to – but others didnt and that might not be the best starting point today. But start with young people now, not history, or programmes, start by listening and learning in the local and the present. Shake off the shackles of falseness and attraction thinking and build from the ground, and build with young people not just in mind but present from the outset.


In Christian youth ministry – is God conversational?

‘Conversation is central to our work as informal educators, yet we often undervalue it’ (Jeffs and Smith, Informal education, 2001, p27)

I appreciate sometimes that keeping up with my trains of thought is a little on the random scale. I do sometimes think I say the same things over and over again, on other occasions I jump from one serious topic to another without too much reasoning. A few weeks ago I published a piece that gave 10 ideas for developing conversations with young people in the youth club , before that I wrote a piece that showed how using reviewing and evaluation, conversation could become more meaningful and encouraged,  turning the activity space of a youth venue into a place where the magic of youthwork can emerge from . I have recently led a few seminars with volunteers on developing conversations with young people. Conversation is clearly on my mind.

I then thought. If I want to develop thinking and learning about conversation in youth ministry – where do I turn to?

I began to look.

I confess, I dont have many books that I would say are on youth ministry, probably no more than 10-15. With the addition of some grove booklets, a few journals.

In ’10 essential concepts for christian youth work’ (Grove booklet Y40) – is one example where conversation is not mentioned, not even as an essential concept.

In ‘The Theological turn in youth Ministry’ (Root, Dean, 2011) there is a small section that contrasts the conversations between people as the space where theology develops – rather than the ‘God talk/epilogue’ (p79-82) But its hardly valued as concept in itself, more a reality of ministry.

Ashton and Moon suggest that communicating is done through relationships and shared experiences (1996, p54) Which i kind of get as it, like Root below, contrasts to the evangelist who communicates like a scatter gun (their words not mine) yet conversation is not explored further.

I could go on. And I know there are gaps to my survey, I am not sitting in a university library right now, but scanning the books on my bookshelf… What is promoted instead, and pretty much all the writing in youth ministry is about is on ‘relationships’.

I wonder whether in youth ministry we have fixated our glance on relationships because for many that is the heart of the gospel. Dont mishear me, there is undoubtedly a relationship aspect to salvation, but the question is whether in youth ministry fixing our eyes on relationships has meant a neglection of something other. For example; Steve Griffiths ‘models for youth Ministry’ (Learning from the life if Christ) is almost pained to go against the flow of relationship thinking when he says; ‘ it is clearly a myth that Jesus spent three intensive years with his disciples. He did not’ (I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth now). Its as if there needs to be a justification that there is an alternative to ‘relational’ youth ministry, given it prominence. To have a look at why it became prominent, have a read of the first chapter of Andrew Roots, Revisiting relational youth ministry , whilst having an american emphasis its is worth engaging with.

So, where does that leave my thought process. Where might I go to next to contemplate, from withing youth ministry, something about conversation.

Before thinking theologically,  I must disclose that I have managed to find two references to ‘conversation’, the first is in ‘Joined Up’ by Danny Brierley . On pages 89-91 he at least, gives some reference to Jesus being in conversation with many people, 125 recorded incidents, in which other people he claims initiated 54% of these, he then goes on to reference Maxine Greens work on the Emmaus road episode as a classic example of conversation and informal education. I quite agree, But I think it deserved more than 2 pages. But maybe more than 2 pages on this is enough in a book of 200 words for the youth ministry audience. And given that Brierley has been provoked by having to think about conversation as he is dialoguing with ‘youthwork values’ its almost though it has to be included.

I discovered also that there is 4-5 pages on developing conversations in ‘Here be Dragons’ (Youth work and ministry off the map) – which isnt surprising as a) its all about detached youthwork and conversation is a key focus, and b) because I wrote them. (you can buy a copy in a link above)

Instead, what if I looked at the theological writing within youth ministry, again, from the books that I have – could there be some hidden gold dust on the subject of God and that he/she spoke and continues to speak, in conversations?

With the exception of Brierley above, there are few.

In Pete Wards ‘Youthwork and the Mission of God’ God is many things missional, is incarnational, crucified, immanent and transcendant , God is all knowing, – but when it comes to God speaking – the only mention of this is that Jesus spoke Arameic (as an example of being incarnational, being ‘with’ the culture) and so whilst Ward is right to suggest that our faith is based upon our revelation of God in Christ (p34) – that God written in this piece is relatively mute.

A similar pattern is repeated in  ‘Starting right’ (Dean, Clark, Rahn, 2001) and a few others, including Griffiths (above) – Developing an incarnational youth ministry, or a relational one, that follows the path of Jesus, seems to be all about being located in a space, like Jesus was located in a space, At least in ‘Starting right’ there is reference to the disciples ‘listening’ to Jesus – therefore he did at least speak. (p130-131), but that Jesus spoke, seems to be a rare event.

It is as if youth ministry focuses on methods of trying to do ministry, or places greater significance on other aspects of Gods nature and character, promises and blessings, such as ‘God is there to forgive young people’ or ‘God is urging young people to develop eyes of the kingdom’ all phrases I have read in these books above, though cant remember which ones. Or whether its assumed that communication and conversation was happening, and so this is undervalued, or ignored. What does seems to be is an inclination away from communicating outside of relationships, as though it was done a few times, Jesus ministry seemed to be recorded as being more about the few, the individual or small groups of conversations. But there is a reluctance to focus on conversation itself – because its as if there has to be something more.

This is a pretty lengthy piece, I realise, that is a bit of a splurge of my thought processes so far, and a little bit of research. If you think I have missed something somewhere in a youth ministry book, that I havent got, then do tell me. From where I have got to, it appears to be that the speaking God doesnt figure much in the formalised accounts of what youth ministry is all about, and yet, for many young people and ourselves – I repeat the addage that Kevin Vanhoozer exclaimed – ‘Only the speaking God can help‘ – and it is from this point that I will be focussing this week on a few pieces. For, I am wondering some of these questions:

  1. What might a theology of conversation look like?
  2. How might a speaking God, a conversational God, be needed in Youth Ministry?

These are fairly large questions, and so not for a Saturday morning (today) – they will be what I am going to try and write about over the next few weeks. A warning, they will, or they might go deep. So if you want to raise your game, click the ‘follow’ button so you can peruse these pieces as they are published. We have a responsibility to think theologically about our youth ministry practice, as Pete Ward has urged for quite a while, and unless I am much mistaken, an understanding of the God who spoke, who speaks and communicates seems to have been maligned in youth ministry, and valuing conversation as a result has been as undervalued for the sake of relationships. Which kind of seems odd, doesnt it, for i know that relationships do not always need conversation for them to occur – but some kind of communication, affection and connection is required (outside of family bonds).

So, thats my thinking process, how I have got the edge of the pool, ready to dive into thinking theologically about conversation, about God who speaks and communicates in conversation with humans, created beings. As you might imagine, these might take a bit of time, so be patient with me on these. I am also aware that theres a part 2 on the LGBT story piece to write. It is on the way, but taking a bit of time.

Whose up for a conversation about faith and conversations?

10 tips on starting and developing conversations with young people in the youth club

In my recent piece I wrote about how good conversations with young people turn an activity venue into a space of youthwork. Maybe this is a stark claim to a degree, and usually one of the more difficult aspects of working with young people, and frequently asked questions to me is ‘How to developing the conversations?’ , and often that issue resides in us, ie it is our fault young people dont talk to us. Especially if we fear young people or believe the negativity around them.

Whenever I do detached youthwork training for groups and organisations, ‘starting conversations’ in the cold contact moment on the streets is something that we spend ages on. If we’re just setting up activities for young people to do, whilst we stay to one side, or in the kitchen cooking for them, then its no wonder young people leave. On one hand conversations on the streets could be seen as one of the more scary aspects of that type of youthwork, on the other it makes it easy. Why? because Good Conversations happen in an environment where young people feel at home. It is a space that they trust, and we are people they can trust. Young people choose the streets, therefore they’re more likely to feel at home, the youth club or group.. thats a different matter … 

So – in the youth club environment – How do you start conversations with young people?

  1. Good conversations happen when young people feel at home, this includes safety, but it also includes participation, can they treat the place like home, can they make themselves a drink of coffee? Do they trust leaders who stick around (for longer than 6 months)  The environment is key. Giving conversation space is important. How many times do young people ‘just want a space to chat’ whilst we want to make it a space of activity programme and distractions?  What if we heeded this request… what are young people saying..? Image result for conversation
  2. Rely on the context. Starting a conversation with whats in the room and what a young person has brought to the room is a good place. So, What is already happening, what are the young people talking about? Whats the local news, gossip, whats the craze? But also – what might be different about the young person, have they changed their hair? try and notice. The context in the moment is a good key starting point.
  3. Get them involved in a task (not just an activity) and spend time doing that with them, helping set up, deciding on the food, setting out the games, in a club environment the resources themselves can be the setting for the conversation, it helps as it does make it too intrusive or personal.
  4. Opinion Questions;  Try and get an opinion on something – recently this has been easy ‘who do you think will win the world cup’ is an opinion creating question, generating answers and also detailed analysis or a ‘dont care’ – but ‘who do you think’ or ‘what do you think’ type questions are great at getting a response, and giving young people space to share their thoughts and ideas about whatever topic – whether its a local community issue, about an ethical issue, about faith, about future, about something topical. Finding out their opinion and listening to it and using it to reflect on is crucial. Image result for conversation
  5. Dream questions. These are the ‘If you could……..’ type questions. so ‘If you could run the country – what flavour ice cream would be banned’  or ‘if you could have a special power what would you do with it’ or ‘if you could only have cheese or chocolate in the future, which would you keep?’  yes some more open than others, but you see what i mean – questions that pose a possible scenario, or captivate a dream, such as rule making, money spending, world changing – are all positive ways of developing conversations. And hearing about young peoples ideas through these dreams.
  6. Resources can help. The FYT starter cards with pictures and quotations on them might help – used in a way that create conversation and develop thinking. Pip Wilsons blob trees  also work well.
  7. On the Nuture Development site, they have uploaded 25 questions that could be used in a community setting to help develop conversations, these include:

What do you do to have fun?

What would you like to teach others?

if you could start a business what would it be?

Some of these might be more appropriate than others in settings with young people, but I would recommend you have a look at the whole list at this link The good life conversation , there are some good ones like ‘ if you and three friends could do something to improve the lives of others in this area, what would it be’ – and from these types of opinion/dream scenarios the group could develop and make plans.

8. The activities help, of course they do, board games, table tennis and craft are what solid youth clubs have orientated around for decades, all with the triple aims of helping develop competance and achievement, develop skills and social development and also to be a space of conversation in the process.

9. Follow dont lead. Let the tangent happen if thats where the young person has taken it, they might have taken it to that tangent for a reason. Follow it through. If its heading personal and personal for them then thats ok, its being directed by them. If its avoiding issues, then again thats where young people want to go with it. Young people in other settings get used to directed conversations, this may be a space where they can develop their own with adults and be more in control. Let it happen, and then see where it takes. Prepare to improvise, and prepare to listen and hold back. Image result for conversation

10. Phrases like ‘tell me more’ , or ‘describe what that was like’ or ‘you must have been ______ (excited/scared/worried) when that happened’ and other similar ones can be helpful as they take us out of questions, and into listening and trying to give more opportunity for the young person to use the space to talk about something and recognise their feelings in it.


So, there we go, much of this stuff is interchangeable from the streets to the clubs, with resources easier in a club setting. Id say that there are a number of things that we may be should try and avoid like, talking about school (if its out of context) , or even talking about ourselves ‘when i was 15 this kind of technology didnt exist’ type of thing as usually young people dont want to talk about school (unless they mention it) or are that bothered about us as adults at all. It takes a bit of guts to really do this conversation thing, because sometimes natural instincts get in the way like ‘how was school today?’ or interrupting or trying to control the conversation, yes maybe avoid subjects unsuitable, but on other occasions following and not leading will help no end.

So, 10 tips to help conversations in youthwork practice- anyone else out there want to add their own for others to share and develop practice? – use the comments below… thank you


Other Resources to help:

TED talks on conversation:

Valuing conversation in Youthwork;

Developing Cold Contact conversations is in two chapters of ‘Here be Dragons’ – Link above.

Whats the point of youth work?

A pretty easy to answer question- isnt it? However, I was asked to do a 5 minute presentation on this question, and could have probably expanded it to a 150 credit module length of study. I imagine, knowing what the point of youthwork is is worth knowing so we know how to justify it and plead for its continuation. Here is what i think the point of youthwork is:

Youthwork is about young people, first and foremost, it makes it different from school, from social services and other institutions as young people are and should be placed first and foremost as the point for and at which the activity exists.

As a definition i would say that youthwork is a professional relationship with a young person who is the primary contributor in their social context.

Youthwork as a philosophy is geared towards and biased towards young people, being with them, not just for them, and has young peoples education, welfare and community as its core. Youthwork is about developing positive purposeful relationships between young people and adults, and learn, and create opportunities through these relationships.

Youthwork exists within the local community as it is affected by it, as young people learn to use, accept or reject the resources in their community, as youthworkers our role is to help young people navigate through these choices and also remove barriers that prevent them from participation.

The point of youthwork is to believe in young people and to work with them to use their gifts and accomplish dreams they may have for themselves and their local community.

  1. Youthwork is about values – empowerment, inclusion, participation, valuing young people
  2. Builds on what is already – turning open activity sessions in young person led and developed spaces of participation and empowerment
  3. Youthwork opens the opportunities for young people and their participation, from attenders and deciders to creators (and challenging the barriers that prevent this)
  4. Youthwork trusts young people and raises their game to take risks
  5. Youthwork is a place of fun, social relationships and creativity.
  6. Youthwork creates a safe space, a home for young people, where they can belong.
  7. Youthwork values young people individuals and groups in their community
  8. Youthwork challenges the narratives about young people and is inherently political
  9. Youthwork recognises that young people have needs, but focus on their gifts and positives in order to overcome them
  10. Youthwork creates a space for innovation and improvisation
  11. Youthwork is a space to help young people reflect on their place in the world and contribute within it
  12. Youthwork is also what people who do youthwork say that it is, it is an ongoing conversation. It continues and is future orientated.

The point of youthwork is that it strategises from the point of contact, it involves young people and believes in them to be better than what they may have been told about themselves. Youthwork changes young people, it changes all of us in the encounters we have.

You will notice a variety of influences here, from Howard Sercombe, Kerry Young, Jeffs and Smith, Goetchius and Tash, all deep thinkers and practitioners who have shaped the conversation so far and its our job to keep the conversation going. And help the conversation about young people be integral to other agencies and institutions.

What do you think – whats the point of youthwork?

‘No ones ever given me Mission training before’; Should mission training be for everyone in church?

No ones ever trained me for Mission before, I have just asked to bring friends to event, or its been assumed i know what to do

This was a comment I heard when I was delivering a session of detached youthwork training to a group of volunteers in a church setting a few years ago, and it has stuck with me. This was a person who had been involved in church all his life, he was and still is in his late 60’s, a church elder. And yet in his lengthy church-life experience, no one had ever sat him down and gave him instructions on how to do mission. At the time we were thinking through developing conversations with young people on the streets. But it neednt have been.

It is worth a reflection – dont you think?

Should there be deliberate training for ‘ordinary’ church goers in ‘How to do mission?’ 

I note with positivity that a local theological college is doing a ‘theology for everyone’ seminars in the north east. Maybe Mission needs to be for everyone too.

Its not always a given that people know what mission is, from the pews/comfy conference seats, either, unless there is a special mission week, or event. It can be that mission can be about attracting people to events, or being there to serve them in food banks or toddler groups, and these things do provide a structure and purpose for missional activity, and theres nothing wrong with these. But i am saddened that the activity is seen to be important and getting people to it. And the leaders then just spend all their time in the kitchen avoiding people. sounds awful doesnt it – well it happens..  Its times like this, and others when i think how easy it is that mission has been equated to being present in an activity, and the hard work has been done. No the real work starts when people are talked to and in conversation.

But some of the rest of it is implied, isnt it.?

Many a good sermon has an element of application, though this is usually moral and personal, rather than practical, and series’ on How to do Mission – might be rarer in a sermon planner than a week without a church of England controversy. Being Called to Mission, and being a witness – might require more than imperative and deep down vocation- actually thinking about how mission is done, and how mission needs to be translated in todays communities that are working class, digitalised and distant from the church, (though not not spiritual) is one to really get our heads and actions around.

Its not appropriate that one person might feel this calling, and then receive vocational training to be ‘in ministry’ leaving many others behind. Mission, like theology, needs to be for everyone, and part of the life of the church. Its not as easy as ‘how do we do mission’ we just do mission! ( Wittertainment reference)

It might be that you completely disagree. That training people to do mission in a local setting takes away all the spontaneity, mission would become forced an unnatural. And that would be a downside. Yet as i do detached youthwork training, there are many skills and practices to harness, but not actually use – the skill is in improvising, not repetition, being prepared to use and be informal in the moment, with some readiness of what might happen. Agreed, no one wants artificiality. But what is more likely is under-preparedness and fear. One of the good things about a gap year, is that there’s some training alongside it, that is usually practical, but not everyone does a gap year, and young people themselves shouldnt necessarily wait till they are 18 until they have participatory skills in the kingdom. And most people on a gap year, do a whole load of stuff, and then reflect afterwards..

It was an interesting comment, that does need further consideration. Much of the church discipleship internally is the enlargement of fat christians, fed on faith formation and head knowledge – the bible study for example. Less is on the practical getting on with and doing mission – and thinking through and being prepared for it. And it is hard work, undoubtedly. But that doesnt make it wrong. Its just hard. Bible studies and prayer meeting are ‘easy’ and also the lifeblood at times, but mission is what the church is called to be.

So – might training for mission, the actions and behaviours of it, – might churches invest in training people for it – before it is assumed that they know what this is, or what is expected of them. Maybe it was ok to have 60 year olds in churches who werent trained in mission. But I am not sure whether that ‘luxury’ is available to churches now. If the church doesnt grab hold solely its missional purpose in every community, for every context and culture within the UK, then there really are going to be issues. Doing what we’ve always done is yielding the same results – we can re arrange the deckchairs on the titanic – but what if we put those deckchairs to better use? making mission part of the culture of the church. The dangerous risky stuff.

Maybe training for mission should be for everyone?  We need to invest in the people the church has even more. Should the lay/clergy mission training divide be removed?

Most of the time its about maintenance, but if we could shift the conversation to be more about mission, and give everyone a clue about what to do, we might be onto something.


(NB, I mention detached youthwork training, if this interests you, or even, if training for mission is something you’re interested in, see the menus above and contact me, thank you)


After Gaza; What happened when Philip returned from the desert?

What if Acts chapter 8, had a longer ending? Have you ever wondered what happened when Philip returned from the desert and back to the other disciples? Well wonder not, here is one version, scribed from nothing other than my weird imagination;

Surprisingly, the Spirit of the Lord lifted Philip from the desert plain, straight into the meeting of the apostles in eastern Samaria that evening. They had been fraught with worry and about to ring the missing persons helpline, though Barsabbas was there with a set of straws hoping that he might be the replacement disciple this time. And Philip who heard the commotion inside the room, was led by the angel of the Lord to walk through the window, no reason, just something to distract them all. 

And the disciples sat there stunned as Philip , full of desert dust and frazzled sweaty hair, appeared before them, no one moved except , Barsabbas, who chucked his straws to the floor. Well it looked alot like Philip, apart from that he was now white skinned: Image result for philip and the ethiopianAnd Peter said to them, ‘Do not be afraid,  It is I Philip, and I have had an amazing exciting pioneering trip out into the desert!, I am not sure why I am white, I was tanned before and have just been in the desert, but if thats what i need to be in this version of the story to fulfil the subtle racism in the 21st Century images of this part of the story, then so be it, but yes I am Philip, I am back’

And he then proceeded to tell them what happened in the desert on the road, with the Ethiopian. How he read to him from Isaiah and Philip has helped him understand where Jesus fits into the story, and how the Ethiopian was baptised and went away rejoicing.

‘What, You Baptised him?’  exclaimed Peter, ‘You didnt refer to the apostles handbook?’  

‘err No’, said Philip

but you’re not licensed to do baptisms’, said Paul, (smug that he had just finished his training) you didnt get permission from us all. 

‘I know’ said Philip, ‘but it was amazing, you should have been there, God was so real, the Ethiopian felt something and it was just like Jesus baptism itself, the one John, other John, used to talk about..

‘look what youve done now’, piped up Barnabas, who was usually encouraging, but today wasnt on record, ‘Up to now weve always worked in pairs, just like Jesus said so, what youve done today Philip is dangerous, and we cant have it again, one of us will now need to write a lone working policy’ 

‘Its more serious than that, said Bartholomew, quiet for 7 years but now given his chance to say something and get noticed somewhere in this whole episode, ‘Philip, what you have done is given the green light for anyone to do Baptisms, and ceremonies without asking the apostles first, what you have also done is taken the message out alone away from our council, gone individual, and who knows where that will end, what if one day therell be so many churches working alone and itll all be down to you, people splitting off and not asking to go, not telling anyone.’  

Dont be alarmist, Bartholomew‘ Said Matthew, ‘that’ll never happen’ 

And then self appointed leader Peter stood up, he had become good at standing up in front of people by then, and started to make a speech, ‘In the beginning was creation, and then Moses, and then David and the prophets and..’ , ‘here we go again‘ said Bartholomew again, now confident that he was allowed to speak; ‘Peter, are you sure we are the right audience to hear that all over again?’ , ‘Sorry, everyone’ Peter quickly replied, ‘I was just rehearsing for next week, when I stand up in front of people again, anyway, maybe we need to solve this problem, we need a new language for this kind of ceremony that isnt quite valid, isnt quite what we endorsed, but doesnt deny that God might be in it, but also something that means that people can go off an do baptisms, or make disciples and evangelists, but they do so also knowing that they will always need the real church and real disciples to give them validity, we need there to always be the place for validity statements in the future if the church’

The disciples looked at each other, after this rousing piece by Peter and pondered and agreed, to discuss further.

Philip, by now breast-beaten and defeated, tired of the tele-porting from the desert to the board meeting, and wondering what had happened to the joy of the disciples, that turned into a business meeting, was sat in a corner, hoping for another Godly teleportation elsewhere, fairly quickly. He remember how good it was in conversation with the Ethiopian and how that man confused had left rejoicing, and whether he should have just got on his chariot and gone with him, and here he was in the disciples business meeting.

And Peter, Bartholomew and the others, including Paul, after a period of prayer and reflection, turned to despondent Philip, and said, ‘Well done, Philip, Youv’e just invented Fresh Expressions’.

(You could also add Youth Ministry, but thats going too far)

And here endeth the lesson, or at least here ended the extra portion of Acts 8, the return of Philip.