Voluntary participation; The perilous pathway for the youthworker and minister to navigate

A couple of questions to start off with:

Why do young people attend youth provision?Image result for perilous pathway


What keeps them there?

In all the afterschool, weekend or evening youth provision that occurs outside of the remit of the education or justice system, these are crucial critical questions to ask about young people and why they attend the youth group, the club, the football team, the music or dance group, the theatre or drama group or faith or environmental group. Understand why young people attend, and why they continue to attend are crucial for us all to reflect on. Because as those who create these spaces to happen, we face the ultimate reality that young people do make a voluntary choice to attend.

On one hand it makes it all a bit of a perilous adventure knowing that at any time a young person could leave, on the other its still an adventure, but that when a young person does respond to something and participate they do so because they want to. Now of course, there are occasions when the young person has stopped wanting to attend something but does so for reasons like their parents want them to, drive them to it, or to be compliant with their parents, but in the main they actually dont want to stop going – and so blurring the lines as to what participation is, yet on other occasions they might be being rebellious of their parents by attending.

Thinking further about the reasons why young people keep going to activities, beyond their attendance in the first place, and they might, and do, say:

  • Its where I meet with friends
  • Its a place to learn new skills
  • Its a place where i get experience
  • Its what i want to do when I’m older ( cadets, drama, music- it has career potential)
  • Its challenging
  • Its where I feel safe
  • Its a place to be myself
  • Its a place where I can talk to adults
  • Its a place where I am respected
  • Its a place where I can contribute and have my voice heard

In a way, then these might be some of the incentives for all of us involved in youth work provision of any kind. For any of us in youth ministry we should continually reflect on the reasons why young people continue to attend the provision, as if some of these things arent met, then it is likely that young people begin to leave. Actually, I ran this exercise with a group of older teenagers a few weeks ago, and the reasons that they left youth provision were as follows:

Their friends left, They got too old and there was nothing for them, it got expensive, they got bullied, they got ignored, it got boring, there was an injustice and not just the opposite of the things in the above list, but being unsafe, non participatory, non challenging, no long term purpose – but some of these things too.

Parents also get the benefit of the young person attending something, whether its an evenings free time, a hope that the youth group will do the sex talk, or help with socialisation, or hope that that young person will be safe, and become an upright moral citizen, just by attending a faith group. The parents of a young person may get more out of it that a young person themselves do… (might) .

All of this kind of means that there is a perilous path of voluntary participation that a youthworker/minister has to travel.

Yes there are a number of tactics that are used to keep young people – the carrot of rewards in the future, ongoing payment and subscriptions, rewards through attendance, and even trying to give young people roles, ownership and leadership can be strategies to help young people stay part of something. However, all fall flat if a young person feels unsafe, ignored or bored.

Which becomes doubly perilous in a culture in which outcomes and value for money are key drivers for funding both externally, and internally in groups, clubs, charities community groups and churches. We may have always prided ourselves with creating voluntary groups and spaces, but its a perilous path of maintaining an interest beyond this. Value for money seems to be about attendance, not the glorious treasure that could be unveiled when young people become participants, creators and contributors within. Measuring for participation, rather that attendance might help create the kind of staying environments, means that we have to work doubly hard to create these opportunities, challenges, and raise young peoples. And celebrating that young people participate and that they choose to is rarely done.

It is genuinely the case that young people like to be challenged. To have their game raised, and to be given an opportunity to have their opinion and voice heard and to participate. These arent just great sayings and ideals. But yet, when it comes to thinking about longevity and discipleship or programmes in youth ministry provision – relevancy is more often connected to attraction and entertainment – rather than relevancy because it is meaningful, challenging, and involves cost.

That young people are free to leave the youth provision could scare the living daylights out of us, but yet again that they continue to attend and participate is also a deep joy and privilege, it is a fine line, a tightrope, and one that we must acknowledge and be thinking ahead all the time, to how might the group or activity be maintained in such a way that young people want to stay. Or alternatively, how might the young people within the group or activity be able to create the environment themselves in a way so that they dont want to leave. When young people do participate, when they do contribute or develop conversation and relationship then its almost as though this should count as double, because we take into account that this is something they want to do. Its like the conversation with us on the streets, they could easily walk away or tell us to F off, though they rarely do, and so through choice they converse.

Voluntary participation and engagement causes us as youth workers and ministers to be continually walking a perilous pathway. Im constantly amazed by the amount of churches who say that young people dont attend, but as children they did, well often thats because they now have a choice, and we havent made being a young person in a Image result for sunday school rally day 1900

church a meaningful experience for them, just an extension of Sunday school.  And attending Sunday school, cant feel anything like school can it… (though by this poster there was some strong tactics used to keep children)- its no wonder that young people when faced with the choice didnt.

There are no magic answers, just a realisation, that thinking about why young people attend groups, clubs and organisations is a much shorter list than the many reasons why they stop going. That thinking through reasons why young people stay in groups, some reasons get elevated and thought about more than others (entertainment vs meaningfulness though both would be good), and trying to pre-empt ‘boredom’ by thinking ahead to create new opportunities, new places of participation and develop young peoples voices, creativity and contributions in a way that takes some suitable risks, is within a safe and trusted relationship space might be helpful ways of helping young people along the tightrope.

Have I missed out faith? well, yes. But strangely, when even asking christian young people what kept them or what caused them to leave a group, even a church group – faith wasnt even mentioned. Reflect on that as you will.



Is ‘Pioneering’ in danger of becoming an overused buzzword in the church?

It used to be (when i was growing up) that people in churches were told that they were scared of evangelism, for the decade of evangelism, then people were told not to be scared of the Holy Spirit, either during Pentecost or as a backlash from the heady days of the ‘toronto (or whatever it became) blessing’. And as a result there was a reassurance given about these things, before then the experience was given of them. Both ‘Evangelism’ in its day (is it standing on the street corners or door knocking) or the Holy Spirit ( will i speak in tongues) had a fair share of bad press and ambiguity about them at the time, and so, reassurance was probably needed, and at times still is.

But now there is another ambiguity that seems to be creating the same scared overtones in the church, (no its not GDPR), but Pioneering

The dictionary defines pioneering as ‘involving new ideas or methods’ . Which may be as simple as it need to be as a definition. However, that hasn’t stopped it being used in a plethora of ways in the christian community, notably in the last 5-10 years;

There’s pioneering practices, pioneer youth ministry, pioneer approaches, pioneer course, pioneering clergy, pioneer curate, and probably a whole host besides, there’s probably a pioneer church administrator and pioneer PCC secretary out there somewhere. Some job descriptions ask for ‘pioneering’ people to fill what boil down to the same role someone was doing before (and would take immense culture shift to change)

So, in an attempt to gain insight into the current thinking, frustration or creativity around pioneering, i asked the following question on twitter:

Has ‘pioneering’ become the buzzword no one knows what it means? What might you say it means?

These were the responses:

I’ve just finished my MA in pioneering mission and I still don’t really know what people mean @timgoughuk

Is pioneering the new emergent? @mcymrobin

Getting new stuff done in a place no one is doing it – now define ‘stuff’ @jakesk2

Go to the margins, experimenting, loving, listening, co creating and ultimately annoying the hell out of the centre. Been told many times if they don’t want you dead then you probably aren’t doing it right! @gemmadunning

To pioneer is to go where the church isn’t or hasn’t been for a long time, to journey alongside people and grow a Christian community that is relevant to those people where they are @markrusselluk

Do you mean “innovative stepping out in faith to create something in new wine skins that isn’t encumbered by institutional hierarchy but need to be given permission by same to flourish in their fresh expression of this mixed economy approach to being a witnessing community?” @alicampbell_68

To me pioneering is the Ministry of not fitting in… Never feeling fully comfortable in any church setting because God is always doing something new so churches ‘should’ be open to change but humans are change resistant so pushing for change is a hard place to be in; @JHOsborn

For me pioneering is about ‘stepping off the map’, going to the new place to which God calls me. Laying down my life & agenda.Listening to the community & God. Unconditionally blessing & serving those outside the church context. Sharing God’s love. Joining in with what emerges…@revaliboulton

To break new ground for the kingdom / with the gospel… To take the church to places it isn’t flourishing & cultivating it afresh. @Drmarkscan

Pioneering is living life on a knife edge of not knowing, with no certainties (of establish church) and in everything you do stepping out in faith that God/Jesus is going with you and before you. Pioneering is leaning how to readjust, change and adapt when things don’t work @monty_blog

To pioneer can be a lonely journey being with the people walking alongside people in their natural environments in the community but always showing Jesus ! @suziqvk

Prioritising the cultivation of Christ’s kingdom in unchartered ground over maintaining institutional church practice @greenP

A Pioneer, someone who sees future possibilities and works to bring them to reality, not only dream up new strategies, they implement them, ‘dreamers who do’, seeing prophetically and rightly navigating the edge lands in mission out of love, for Jesus Christ and for the Church.@mummymcalister

Going Before: leading @rachel1946white

Image result for pioneering

Heading out into unchartered territory which gives the freedom to succeed or fail, and both are accepted. When it goes well it forges a path for others to follow, with understanding of the lessons learnt. Pioneering: Trying out something not done before.@piglets4mum

I thought Christian pioneering was taking Christianity to places devoid of faith… isn’t that what pioneers are?? People that are the first ones to occupy an area and make it into a community that is living and thriving before moving on somewhere new to replicate the experience? @artsytype_83

To boldly go where the Christian presence is least and virtually non existent. @stalbansdyo

Contextual mission that, in the manner of Star Trek, “boldy goes….” @revjonbarrett

a self- confessed minority opinion was given, they stated that they thought pioneering meant;

I say pioneering /ought/ to mean “Ministering the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion in such ways as to make sure that the Church is doing what she always has done” 🙂 (@Osacrumcorlescu)

this person also said: I’ve a half-baked theory that when people say “pioneer”, they ought to speak of “permanent deacons”. The ordinal for Deacons states “deacons are to… search out the poor, weak, sick, lonely & those who are oppressed & powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world”

In effect, it might argued that to pioneer is christian ministry is to do what was supposed to be done, and not be consumed by the institutional stuff it has become. In a way its not really pioneering at all, just reclaiming, and reverting to what original practices might be.

One response was a little on the nose, from a new-ish minister, with the title of ‘pioneer curate’: I am reseeding, restarting, refreshing, replanting (whatever the right word) a parish that was allowed to die, in decline to bring it back to a place of living and thriving – I must be a pioneer ! (remains anonymous)

Though talking of on the nose, this tacit response was directed at the systems: Pioneering: Basically, doing traditional parochial ministry, which parish clergy no longer have time and energy to do because they’re busy answering endless questionnaires from the diocese about why their parochial ministry isn’t working.(@fortonchurch)

From the discussion, a range of other questions emerged (see what i did there)

Any thoughts in what we used instead? Sometimes I use old school ‘missionary’ as it sort of says what it does on tin – but also has imperialistic implications, rather than laying down our lives & agenda to serve a new community/context?

Maybe it should be known as Church planting 2.0? (if pioneering has become over used)

Not many people directed me to articles in the field of pioneering at the moment, however, this one was brought to my attention: ”Pioneering Mission is… a Spectrum?‘ In which it looks like someone else has done the same kind of exploratory exercise, looking at the key writers and definers of pioneering. In a way, my survey has been less academic, and may have captured the mood from the ground a little more. However, it is a good piece and worth checking out.

Pioneering in some places might be as scary as ‘The Holy Spirit’ or ‘Evangelism’ might be said to be, it might be as confusing, or even as unheard of. Just a ‘new’ flangled thing’ that Millenials are doing to ‘wreck the status quo’ – when i say millenials, i mean those who grew up in youth ministry and are continuing to shake things up a bit. Pioneering might be too much of a step, or it might be what the church, thats just started a messy church, or a community event, might already be doing without the need to define it. The problem with defining pioneering is that it reduced it to something, the problem with overusing it is that what it could be about becomes lost in over use. There are also many images and metaphors around about pioneering.

as these people also said:

Absolutely a buzz word with a plethora of meanings….it is so over used that it has become meaningless…..!

whenever it works well it (pioneering) is fabulous, Whatever works well actually means!

I am not going to end this piece with my own definitions, as that in itself wouldnt be very pioneering. What is interesting for me is that when i was in the Scouts growing up, if you had said the word pionnering, i would have though you meant to create a structure using raw materials ( rope/poles) as a team in order that that structure did something. Ie was a bridge, a platform, a pulley. It was a team effort to be creative, and was a great way to spend 2-3 hours on a scout camp.

Image result for pioneering

Pioneering, in that sense was about ideas, creativity, using resources, planning and strategising. It was about making something from nothing, and it was about team work. Sometimes it was about competition. But it wasn’t about doing something alone. The problem in the elevated view of alone working in the church is that it creates many of the issues described in the definitions above. Maybe pioneering needs to be more of a team thing, a deliberate team thing.

Image result for pioneering

There is also much for the church in regard to pioneering, it needs to learn from those who do it, encourage it an be the team that gives it a go, especially if beyond the buzzwords theres a realisation that pioneering is just about doing what was authentically the mission Christ gave to the disciples in each local area. To go, make disciples, and to do good. The worst thing that can happen is that it becomes another catch all for everything, or derided as something just as a fashion a fad or business speak. If it captures the essence of going to the margins (because thats what might be needed to be pioneering) and planting, creating and developing approaches that are good, that might be new (in that context) then pioneering is the challenge and prophetic voice that the church might be in need of hearing and embodying in its good practical work in every local community.

Some of the definitions from the conversation were from those who are the real pioneers, so learn from them, reflect on their definitions and where their passions are. I thank them all for their honesty, insight and wisdom on this. I would so hope Pioneering does not become the buzzword everyone starts to hate, or the establishment derides as not needed. But language and its overuse might be a problem.

Working with young people is stressful – its just part of the job.

Ive got to admit, in my ‘professional’ time involved in working with young people, the stereoptypical 60 hours a week, mega stressed out youth minister role has passed me by. Its role i have seen at close hand, but it isnt a role I have done. Within this kind of role, i can only imagine, trying to stay sane might be needed at a number of pinch points… just after the deacons meeting, or indeed, that stressful 60 hour week that accompanies another. 

It might be the way that I am wired, but its not been the busy times for me that challenge the most. Its the long drawn out summers with no activities, the future uncertainties of funding, when you feel like you’re on your own – either physically in an office, or having to pretend to be agreeing with people when deep inside you think ‘its not going to work’ or ‘thats just missing the point, by a long way’ , and having to think this when its the organisation you work for, or your line manager that could be a cause of stress, as they change from strategy to strategy. Then theres emails, pressure to ‘grow’ groups, pressure to succeed and ‘have good stories’, a different kind of stress.

There are pinch points within every job, im sure, but im not a teacher, an office worker or police officer, and so have only the experience of being involved in working with young people. And it is a tough gig. High expectations from a number of avenues, though not always from young people (who might not care that you exist). High level of expertise needed in the role – but not always actually listened to when its needed, high levels of short term contracts, and also hugely seasonal and unpredictable work.  It isnt a blueprint for calm and tranquility. Less ‘lead me by the still still water’ (that other people seem to have) and more ‘Help Jesus Im drowning’.

I have no way of knowing the ways in which you react to situations in your youth ministry. All i will share with you are a few pointers that ive learned over the last few years. The first is that our emotions are linked to our motivations. Its obvious on one hand, but we’re more likely to be emotional about things that we care about, or that we have invested in because it gives us identity, a goal or meaning. If you want to read more – see Jocelyn Bryans book ‘The Human Being’ , i think this is important, as we not only start to realise the things we care about and how we care about them, but recognise this by our emotional reactions. We also do this with others. So when we start to get emotional, and that can be anger, upset,withdrawal and on a repeated basis then we might need to ask whether we might be investing too much into the ministry. It happens. Or even into ‘our calling’ (the goal) – and ‘this job’ might affect it – which it could. But holding on to that goal in such a tight way, might be damaging. Things that threaten the things we care about – might increase stress levels.

The few things:

It helps to get organised! This is not rocket science. And i have tried many many formats for this, the best way of being organised for you is to do the system that you can trust and that also causes less stress in itself. My filofax is 24 years old. I have tried every electronic diary in the world, but the note starts on paper. For those under 25 in youth ministry a filofax is a leather bound diary that has refillable pages, that cost alot… For its more helpful to physically write stuff down, and also with the pages write notes during the day at other things. Either way, being organised is helpful. However, spaces in the diary get filled up. So fill up the blank spaces with DAY OFF, or STUDY DAY, or TIME WITH FAMILY, – again i am the worst of sinners- but on paper it is easier i think to section out these things. Also as you are writing in it,other people might also see that and feel bad that your day off is being interrrupted by their ‘often trivial’ meeting. (its not always..) . However its more important, i find to have a system that you trust, rather than the best system. There is nothing worse than starting to forget meetings, or trying to juggle being in three places at once ( or this might just be a comedy routine in movies) .

Do stuff challenging, creative or physical in your time off.  If like me, you find that the banal conversations about aspects of work are well, banal and demotivating, then use this as a springboard to read further. Honestly in the last 5 years my library has increased significantly, though starting an MA helped. Do things in your time off that cause you to switch off, and that probably doesnt include going to the movies just for youth group illustrations.. but escape, and explore. Find hobbies, or if you have family, which i have had during all my youth ministry life, then you might be ‘doing stuff with the kids’ but it is what you need to be doing. Family is important, and is easily neglected. You might need to be sharpened emotionally and family are needed in this.

Conflict. It is messy. Its is sometimes needed (to get things done), but it is still messy. And all the advice in the world about dealing with it well, often it is your job to help others in churches do this. Its also linked to the fact that as i said above people are invested in the way things are, so change is difficult. By even being a youthworker in the space disrupts the status quo. Conflict is almost an inevitavility. And if there isnt conflict, then unless you have a brand new role that needs shaping (and that is possible) – or that the role has been deisgnated for a while and you’re just the same as the person before, then dealing with and also personally dealing with conflict is part and parcel of the role. Dealing with conflict in a culture of passive-aggressiveness, now theres a book about churches waiting to be written.

Get Support! Said it before, ill say it again. Being and feeling alone is the pits. Coping alone is criminal. It will be unlikely that they wont be anyone you can talk to about stuff. A previous colleague at college, a youthworker locally, former minister. If you need to pay someone and get ‘professional’ support from a youth worker locally, then arrange it. Someone who you can be honest with, but also who might be able to listen and offer guidance.

Recognise your own strengths and weaknesses, but also your limitations. Even more importantly communicate these so that people know that you arent a superhero. If you know that you cant function the day after a busy one, then make sure theres some time off booked. If you’re rubbish at admin and keep putting it off (but it is important- schedule it in, and dont leave it in a blank space hoping it gets filled up) . Try and use the ‘quieter’ times in the year to plan ahead, it is not always easy, but at least then there might be space for the emergency crisis at that busy time too. Only you can work out what you need to be able to function and flourish in the role that you are in. You are not the same person as the previous person. remind yourself, and remind others, your pinch points/stress points, work patterns , skills and personality dictate that you work differently, so you need to manage how you work and function within the role. Different activities may require different planning time – for you- sermons for a vicar might need 2 hours prep, for you it 5. If large groups, small groups, one to ones, conferences give you different fears or worries, and need extra preparation or recovery then assign this and also communicate this with your line manager. Part of their role is to understand and shield you.

Cultivate Dreams Spend part of your working with young people cultivating theirs or your own dreams. It might be that you do this on a daily basis. But in the nitty gritty of the week and even the yearly schedule in most churches, look at the bigger picture. What if you spend the next year helping a young person start a social enterprise? what if you began a piece of work cleaning up a local litter hazard? what about a new project, something to work to. Often dreams get lost in the daily church – but having seen a few dream cultivators follow their dream, especially for local good, it can be hugely rewarding. Armed with responsibility for your own diary usually, you might have this kind of space.

Sabbaticals, Study, Learning  Its not only that by doing ongoing learning it models this with young people. But it expands our brains, and resources and helps us look at things differently. You might even be able to arrange for the church to contribute to the costs or time. Oh and if you can arrange study days, or a sabbatical to give yourself time. You dont have to learn anything about youth work or ministry – it might be theology ( hahaha) or psychology, or art, or computing, it needn’t matter, but continuing to grow is. and its possibly a good distraction and something to ‘fill your time’. Keep reading, and pursue thinking and ideas. Read someones complete works!

Recognising the signs is important. How you start to react to things, that are the same as normal but your reaction isnt, or that you’re skipping doing things you like. I know when i havent been out on my bike for a while. Or when im not eating in a disciplined way ( too much ‘quick’ food like bought sandwiches, or snacks/cakes) are all signs or indicators of not just being busy, but also potentially not coping. Though quitting the mars bars is going to help anyway…Image result for afloat

This is one of those ‘im no expert’ articles, it is also a ‘everyone is different’ type pieces too, staying sane in youth ministry shouldnt even be an issue, it should be a space of developing faith in young people, of the challenges in mission, of listening and spending time with young people. Often its sold as ‘exciting’ – when its more dramatic than that, and drama means complexity, ups and downs, busy and quiet. Staying sane might be a battle at times, especially when on the face of it for others it can seem a breeze. There are no easy settings to work with young people. Youth ministry is a tough gig. Do more than stay sane, but in the tough times, do what you can to keep afloat. The answer isnt just ‘trust in Jesus’ though some of it also might be, especially if trust in Jesus also causes you to stop, pray and reflect, walk and breathe, and take time away.

Alternatively maybe it is better to recognise that imagination is required in the drama of youth ministry and insanity or delirium it provides is part of that process of genius… Image result for sanity

Normality is a pipe dream, so why not just let your imagination and creativity take over – just hone the craft of youth ministry instead!

There are a few other tips on dealing with Stress here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/vicar-know-better-anyone-many-clergy-close-edge/amp/?__twitter_impression=true a post by Alan Bartlett, on Clergy Stress.

Even Americans are saying programmable youth ministry is broken…reviewing an evening with Kenda Creasy Dean. 

But fortunately in the UK the answer is close to hand. 

I have just arrived back from an evening with Kenda Creasy Dean in Leeds, (hosted by the Yorkshire plus region of the Methodist church). Kenda is an American youth ministry specialist, writer and academic. It was probably the first time I have heard directly from an American youth ministry person and an academic at that. That’s outside of the many books or articles I’ve read or reflected on. In a way I was curious about what might be the next trend in UK youth ministry given that it’s usually 10 years behind America,  or decides to ignore it completely. 


Kendra admitted that American youth ministry is broken, it’s programmes and franchises ineffective and that an image of the church as a ship heading for a shipwreck was her opening metaphor. 

Though like the wreckage from the ship, some of its raw resources are still needed to help it’s voyagers still reach the shore. Even as a floating raft.

Fortunately the answer is already being practiced.

So we’re ahead in the UK. There’s practices, thinking and an emerging history of it UK already. 

It’s asset based entrepreneurial youthwork.

Kenda contrasted ministry ‘done to’ young people, suggesting that young people in churches needed to be given space to have their creativity and ideas harnessed. So, not the programme but the person and their gift. Create the right kind of culture in a church that harnesses young peoples ideas, a space that is able to accept their improvised offers.

Kenda suggested that young people need to be supported, empowered and listened to. That a ministry of youth leaders deciding programmes has finite appeal. It’s what the values of youth work look like. Young people first. Young people as the primary clients. (Sercombe 2010)

Kenda then showed case studies of young people using the resources of the local churches to develop their own social enterprises. From cakes and pies, to aids for ppl with disabilities, from cafe churches with also host sewing to make fun capes for children in hospital. All as the result of ideas young people had, their creativity and the support of a church community to try, to be brave and to support the young people, being courageous, not taking over but providing resources as required. Yes there’s an element of long term investment. But quick instant wins don’t change communities or young people.  And most enterprise didn’t make money, but enough to be sustained or set aside for other ideas. 

In a way it’s using entrepreneurial skills in the church and young people to develop young people themselves. It’s something the church has always done. It’s philanthropic entrepreneurs started sunday schools or charities or housing organisations. Entrepreneurial asset based youthwork only gives it away as an approach to empower young people to be community changers themselves, and be church creators themselves through their connectability. 

If I was cynical I’d ask about theology and faith within this. What this provides is opportunities for sharing gifts,  apprenticeship and task orientated discipleship. But who needs teaching about doctrines if they are being performed? I might also ask whether it is an adoption of the ‘ways of business, and commercialism’ by the church, church accepting culture, but i think that might be trivial given the good that it is doing. 

So. When Key American youth ministry practitioners are having doubts about the inherited patterns of ministry, in the UK we should take notice.We should think twice about Doug Fields and purpose driven programmes. Americans have started to cotton on to youthwork as an educational process, of values of empowerment, of community participation and of justice. As well developing gifts of both the young people and the resources of local communities including what the church has already got. Fortunately in the UK we have the experts in this field. There are 100’s of trained christian youthworkers who understand youthwork, there are emerging areas of churched adopting asset based approaches, and ‘who hasnt got business skills’?

Maybe it just takes the Americans to gift wrap it, to make whats already going on valid in the eyes of those who look to america for the ‘next great thing’ – when it is here all along.

Kenda suggested that churches discover local needs and gifts, something uk community workers, detached workers and pioneers have done for ages. It is local church. Local process and local transformation. It is not a sellable universal programme.


What is coming out of the US as innovation and the innovative answer to young peoples participation in the long term life of the church in action in its community, is what in parts is already going on here in the UK.  We’re already doing it folks or at least weve got the barebones, it’ll be putting it all together.

We know youth work and it’s values and educational process

We know asset based community development 

We know entrepreneurial church. We know church as process through emerging church and fresh expressions. 

We just need to trust young people and open up spaces for them to be creators, leaders and deciders, through which they’ll also be learners. 

Young people to be the solutions to other problems, not the problem to be solved

It is quite literally, going to a place whether neither us or they have been before. But with tools we already have practice of using. 


8 Reasons for youthworkers to watch La La Land

This blog will inevitably contain spoilers! You have been warned, so if you are heading to go and see La La Land, look away now. However, if you want to know why you should go and see it, and dont mind hearing a little about what its about then read on.

This week, as a bit of a celebration for getting a part of my dissertation completed I went out on a 2 for 1 deal at the local cinema to watch the multi oscar nominated La La Land. Outside of a High school musical (3) it was the only the second musical I have seen at the cinema, having been to see Evita in 1996/7… (hmm) Anyway, La La Land it was, and it served up a distraction of colour, vibrancy and music compared to the events in the world right now. But here are 8 reasons why youth workers should go and see this film.

  1.  Because evLa La Land (2016) Posterery now and then go and see something that might be different, a change from the normal might provoke something, an emotion, a reflection – Musicals probably wouldn’t have been my thing up until recently, then probably undergoing many many repeats of High School musical and Disney films with my daughter, then the films with music like School of Rock, Rock of Ages, Les Mis, and the magnificent Sing Street (sadly overlooked at the Oscars) , musical films have become family favourites, and personally something uplifting, poetic and yes emotional. That’s not a bad thing. Doing something a bit different is good for us. Shakes us up a bit.
  2. La La Land isnt meant to have Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers as lead roles, but two ‘ordinary actors’ uplifting themselves to these parts, as if ‘normal’ people being enveloped by song, and dance, they arent meant to be perfect in every routine, and this is refreshing its a reminder to us in the roles that we have with young people. They take what they have and work and practice and develop their skills and gifts.
  3. La La Land required months of rehearsals, but theres a number of ‘one take’ scenes. Youthwork is like this, in the present moment there might be only one opportunity to ask the right question, do the creative thing, in effect perform, but that ongoing reflections and rehearsals are important for the active live moments.
  4. At the heart of La La Land is a story about Jazz, about improvisation and so its only appropriate that there were some long ‘takes’ which had the freedom of the actors acting with the music and the scene. Improvisation is part of being a youthworker, it is part of theology, as Benson says: ‘in the beginning, there was improvisation’, we need to reflect on reacting and hearing the music from the context we are in, on responding to the cue of God in the midst, of improvising from being prepared. To offer into the space our piece, and to receive from others. (Wells, S, 2005)
  5. ‘The reason you can’t be a radical, is that you’re too much of a traditionalist’ was a line from one musician to another in the film.  When it comes to enabling young people to be radical and take risks – how radical are we going to let them? What traditions of our own practice, heritage, faith, culture might cause us not to take radical steps in youth work ?   Do we hold on the beautiful things and miss the heartbeat of a new walk, a new tone, a new colour.
  6. It was a story about creating music, about creating theatre, about performing and sharing creativity and not always worrying about who will see it, but doing it because it is a vocation, our youth work practice is an art, unpredictable creativity a performance of our vocation. How might we help young people develop their creativity or have space to play their 8 bars in the jazz performances of youth groups.
  7. It had all the hall marks of an old film, the dance numbers, the technicolour, the music – the story in itself was not revolutionary or modern, but it connected because it was played authentically, the characters weren’t flawless, or perfect, but real. Their relationship wasn’t Hollywood, but had ebbs and flows, their career choices weren’t without disagreement, they had stony silences over the dinner table. It evoked something authentic about real life. Something old wasn’t made relevant, it was made authentic. As youth workers, the faith story we help young people navigate within is to be made authentic through us.
  8. Just watch it, it was good enough without it being all these things as well. Take a night off being stupidly busy, get yourself some decent food and have a night to yourself.

Apologies for the spoilers and for anyone who knows far more about theatre and Jazz than i do, there was much that resonated with me in it, is it deserving of the oscar nominations, hmm not sure about that one, definitely some very good performances in its, and it was a positive, bright distraction – but hey this isnt a movie review blog…


Reclaiming artistic Supervision in the Church

We’ve got a bit of an issue in the church about management at the moment havent we?  for one it feels corporate, globally scary and tied in with images of corporations like Macdonalds, Apple or Facebook, let alone traditional industries like Ford. Yet Management is what seems to be whats being required more and more in the church, the youth worker needs a line manager, so does the administrator, or the finances need to be managed. Nelson (1999) talks then about new public management in a post modern world, of christian leadership in a post modern society and how Management  (especially new public management) is often about performance management, about managing data, numbers and effectiveness, and in a neo liberal context this is about value for money, efficiency, control and a focus on outputs and outcomes. What management tends to be is task focussed, with the individual playing second fiddle to their own efficiency in the role. As the old adage goes what can be measured can be managed, but is management itself a construct adopted too easily by the church, and if so what are the alternatives?

Where Management is barely mentioned Biblically, i was as shocked to find Supervision anywhere in the Biblical text, but i did, its in Numbers 8:22 and 1 Chronicles 25 3, 4 &6

The Sons of Asaph were under the supervision of Asaph

(6 brothers…..) were under the supervision of their father Jeduthun

All these brothers were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the Lord. with cymbals, harps for the ministry of the house….they all were under the supervision of the King

For the task of the creative musician, the brothers required supervision, as they played their music, as they performed their service. They were supervised to perform artistically in the task of service and for the King.

Sue Cooper (2012, in Ord, J (2012) writes that balanced supervision is to have three essential functions ; ‘restorative/supportive, formative/educative and normative/managerial- and that the process itself must be two way’, she is writing in the context of the supervision of youth workers, a profession that prides itself on being artistic (Young 1999), creative, imaginative and socially constructive.

But as should Church and faith be also a theatrical pursuit, one that seeks to perform scripture as local gospel theatre (Vanhoozer 2014), with the full gospel that seeks faithful discipleship for world transformation, if that can be measured and thus managed and is not an unpredictable, creative art then i’m not sure what else it is supposed to be…..As Vanhoozer suggests, the picture of theology as science has held the church captive for too long, instead it needs to be dramatised and become a theatrical art form. (2014)

And thats where supervision comes back in, It is argued that taking one of those three aspects away causes supervision to be less satisfying for both parties, in the situation of the music, a heavy hand would constrain performance, too light a touch might produce chaos, somewhere in the middle improvised Jazz occurs.

Maybe Management as a concept needs to be dropped in the church.

A reclaimed view of artistic supervision could take its place, one that balances the managerial with also education and support in order for creativity to be realised, and for the persons in the supervision relationship to value the ongoing creativity that both the process of church and youthwork (where this is the relationship) are to be creatively performed.

If Supervision swings from development focus to managerial focus – what does that say about what we believe church to be- a science? or a faith?  Maybe a fuller understanding of supervision, especially its educative function for a creative ministry is one that will help to rebalance current practices of supervision in the church, whether that its clergy being supervised, or clergy as supervisors. To reclaim the educative function of creative supervision might also enable it to feel more like the kind of Discipleship that has Biblical tones rather than a form of management that seems at odds with the freedom even Jesus gave his disciples to decide for themselves actions, or even criticise him.

If the most important resources for an organisation are its staff, and one of the main complaints from youth workers (and other employees in a church) is that of the relationship with their line management often the clergy (Davies 2012) – maybe it might be time to rethink what it means to be an educative, supportive supervisor of people in the creative performance of church & mission in the church & world, in order that people are able to play the tunes as collaborative artists, in the improvised mission in service to the King.

Lets value and develop the right kind of supervision for organisation of the church, in order for it to perform practically and prophetically the gospel on the stage of the world.


Providing colour in a community – learning from the yarnbombers

Over the last couple of weeks, an array of colour has swept around the brown fences, grey pillars and railings in the Headland part of Hartlepool. There are signs that a community of people want to add colour to an area, an area known for its bleakness as it sticks out on a limb and gets a battering from the north sea; colour and spirit have become donated to it in the form of the yarn bombing creations.

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I think these are fascinating. No, its not a new phenomenon in the UK, theres a fantastic display on saltburn pier, well worth a visit too:

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Fascinating in a way because there are people who for one reason or another are acting out of love and care for a community and want to add colour, vibrancy, art and creativity into it.

I wonder- is yarn bombing an example a gap in society that the church should have taken? or certainly learn from?  I’m in no doubt that some churches are involved in some of these outbursts of community creativity. But if the local church was known for the colour, vibrancy and care it had in a local community- then what kind of God would that display to the community?

Often the bleakness of the world is heralded by the church (see my previous blog), and the news in the world is as bleak (news is always bleak, it sells) , and yet it is the subversive knitters that are adding colour and life in the spaces, it is they in their acts of gathering, of using their gifts that are bringing hope.

Maybe the church is to learn from the yarn bombing as a group, a movement, not unlike others, that has stolen a march on it. If church is known only that people drive to it, hide in a building and sing, then what has it given generously to its parish, its community. If the yarn bombers and maybe others have given more- then its time to pile goodness with more goodness. Its time to learn that God might be at work already and join in the creative fun.

Maybe its patronising to suggest ‘blessing a community’ , or condescending to ‘serve’ it, but what about adding goodness and creativity to it, bringing out life in its fullness?