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 such a high expectancy culture – young people are in deficit of empathy more than ever

Think about all the expectations thrust upon a child or a young person:

youll grow up to be like your mum

work hard and youll get good results

what will you do when you grow up

you need to get to university

you need to just cope

you must fit in

you must be different

you must conform

you must look a certain way

you must be busy every night doing something, at a club

you will be deficient without this (the advertisers message)

We expect you in this school to do well (so our league tables look good)

We expect you to behave in this youth club

We expect……………………..(fill in the blanks)

We expect you not to have sex, we expect you to have sex

we want you to fit our agenda, our expectation of this club, this group, this church

Youll make a mess if you do this…


And then theres the generational stuff

Millenials ‘X’ and Generation Z ‘Y’ – expectations of the guava shaped cheese straws thatll be ruining snack time for everyone. Or something else. Expectations that as a millenial  you will be like this or that or the other.

Expectations that technology is ruining your life,  and on that technology stuff

do something photo worthy

compare yourself

be likeable

be popular

be successful

sound interesting


Pressure to expect, expectations of pressure.  I wonder in youthwork and ministry whether theres been the same tendency of expectation

‘come on this trip, you must attend this, ‘weve done something amazing – we think youll like it’

‘what did you think of the mega exciting thing we spend doing for you?’ – expectation to conform, to please. To keep the work or ministry going.

If Shakespeare did say this and it isnt an internet meme, he wasnt far wrong:

Image result for expectation

Hang on for a moment – whatever happened to empathy, respect, listening, compassion? When was the last time we heard or used those words when thinking about working with young people, when starting ‘a project’ or a piece of work. 

Is anyone taking the actual time, to actually listen to young people at all. Take them seriously. Take them respectfully. Be empathetic. Realise that there is a real person inside.

One of my greatest pleasures of being a youthworker was to have time for young people, in a busy organisation with sessions and programmes, I could be the person in between, the one to play pool with or share a coffee, the one who wasnt about expectation or pressure, about programmes, but was about the deep stuff of struggle, of questions, of help. But theres no money in being a youthworker in between anymore. Theres also no money in the mental health provision young people need, because theres no money in being someone who might be able to listen to young people anymore. It does significantly feel as though talk of empathy in youth work and ministry has gone. Replaced by ‘active listening’ but listening that might not go deep enough. But has even professional youthwork got time for empathy? probably, just.

Of course all of this could just be me, and my reflection on where I am at, having managed, supervised and trained a whole load of people to be youth work/volunteers over the last 2-3 years, It also feels like its been a while for me to have sat down, listened and genuinely felt that kind of connection to empathise with a young person. So it could be me out of touch.

But it could also be me, looking at the many 100’s of job losses in youth work. It could be me looking at the 100’s of job losses in teaching and schools struggling as organisations to cope. It could be me looking at youth ministry vacancies, it could be me hearing of 6-12 month waiting lists in mental health queues, it could be me knowing that only communities with high crimes get any attention from statutory youth provision, it could be me in seeing various youth ministry organisations make sweeping generalisations of young people, it could be me when Theresa may says ‘nice try’ when theres a question about cuts to youth provision and its effect on young people. I have written before about how young people have stopped being cared for in the UK, and having no compassion – at least from policy makers and the government. Closer to the ground, do they get any empathy either?

The oft quoted Carl Rogers suggests that empathy requires a number of factors, and non judgementalism is the first thing, stating that it is impossible to be accurately perceptive of anothers inner world if we have formed an evaluative opinion of them (Rogers 1960: 154), because in that judgement we will fail to be accurate of another, understand the other and listen to the feelings, body language and responses by another.

I think we get this, but even a non judgemental approach seems thinly veiled nowadays. Almost old school. And not really said because we want to empathise, more that we dont want to lose out on funding. But what would empathy look like anew in youth work and ministry? What would an empathetic government policy on young people look like? What does non judgement look like when data is used to predict not only class sizes but also educational achievement and ‘predicted grades’ even before a primary school offer is accepted. Where is the empathy then? Where is the opportunity and chance?

Rogers also suggests that students might find themselves in a more appropriate climate for learning when they are in the presence of an understanding teacher.

Being empathetic involves being sensitive, moment by moment to changing felt meanings which flow from the person, from rage, or fear or both. It means temporarily living in anothers life without making judgements, sensing feelings they might not be aware of, communicating senses and pausing to check for accuracy. It involves time, and involves laying aside own views or judgements and values to enter their world without prejudice. (Rogers)

Empathy of this level undoubtedly requires significant effort, significant time, is complex and demanding. It maybe a direction where a shift need to start in, and I know empathy isnt everything, and Rogers is a bit of a dreamer, but maybe we have to dream at least in a compassionate direction. Image result for empathy

And there are many occasions where culture is driving empathy lacking policies, processes and practices in the direction of young people. Empathy isnt everything in the relationship we might have with young people, as youthworkers, teachers or health care, but its pretty clear that the ideology of neo liberalism that places value for money and competitiveness over human dignity and creativity, squeezing time to ensure only the efficient matters, does not stack in the favour of empathy. Neither does the media, generally.

Empathy, isnt just about the soft stuff. In 1972 Carl Rogers also wrote the following:

‘Will the school psychologist be content with the attempt to diagnose and remedy the individual ills created by an obsolete education system with an irrelevant curriculum; or will he insist on having a part in designing an opportunity for learning in which the student’s curiosity can be unleashed and in which the joy of learning replaces the assigned tasks of the prisons we now know as schools?’

It feels as though when young people need it the most, empathy has been sucked out of society like an particularly tarte lemon. Replaced by higher and higher levels of expectation. Replaced by less and less avenues of support, replaced by greater levels of competition, replaces by being the pawns in competitive organisations. Compassion fatigue yes, empathy removal almost certainly. No wonder those who know what youthworkers did in schools found them valuable (but not always valuable enough to pay them to be youthworkers) because, between the gaps there was a space for conversation, reflection, time and listening, and sometimes even empathy.

What steps might be needed to make an empathetic culture that young people grow up in? Am I dreamer… yes, but we’ve got to start a new from somewhere. How can we expect young people to thrive when expectation and pressure is the driver?


Rogers Carl, A way of Being, 1980

The Carl Rogers Reader, Kirschenbaum/Henderson

Is the biggest mistake in youth ministry to keep making presumptions about young people?

I was at a conference on Saturday, and, you know that thing where you’re listening to someone from he front, or in church involved in something, and what you know you forget, and you kind of get stuck in the trap of agreeing with the perspective of the person, and not engaging critical mindset, because youre thinking No No No – but you get stuck in with the flow, and cant stop yourself?

Well that was me. Critical guidance system off, trying to be slightly but only slightly provocative on.

Before the series of seminars about to take place, I was leading one on ‘having risky conversations with young people ‘ (if you’d like to book me to repeat it, just send me a message and arrange) – we as a large group were hearing a main plenary talk by one of the local Bishops in the North East, who, after sharing his own story, and his own love of youth work in the church – and imploring us all to think about ‘why should churches work with young people?‘ a great question by the way , one that gets wrestled a bit on this blog sometimes (just look up ‘church’).

But then, in a packed room of volunteers and youth ministry organisation leaders, the speaker began a conversation about ‘whats different about culture and society’ and what this means about young people.

Image result for generation sensible

This didn’t include the recent stats on the BBC website regarding generation sensible, but this was voiced from the floor. But included aspects of culture, such as technology, planned obsolescence (something Andrew Root mentions in ‘Faith Formation also) , though this was described as a throwaway culture, there was stuff on social media, and instagram, on online shopping vs high street, and a few others besides. With the overall thought that if we begin to understand what life is like for young people looking at these cultural artefacts churches and youth ministry might prepare accordingly.

Image result for generation sensible

The problem with this is that its the discussion around nominal relevancy in youth ministry.  But before then, this was the moment where i made a contribution, and going with the flow, rather than against it, I suggested that Austerity should also be included as young people have been oppressed by 8 years of budget cuts, a theme i pick up in this post; 8 years of austerity  (and young people are still to blame).

What I could have done was challenged the notion of nominal cultural relevancy that pervades youth ministry, enhanced by contextual theology practices. These generalise the world of young people, and make assessments and judgements of young people before anyone has even met one.  The thought being is that programmes and practices can be made relevant to the culture. But i didnt, i just added another category that of austerity to the mix, as another generalisation, a real one, that i think affects probably 90% of young people, if you include restrictions to school funding, target driven schools, loss of youth services and mental health provision, but it is still a generalisation. The best thing was that the younger people who attended my seminar afterwards were honest enough to share with me how being generalised felt. Imagine that – young people dont like hearing that they are being generalised!

I have written before about the problem with generalisations and generationalisms (millenials, generation z) , and so I am not going to go over these again. However, what I have done since is think about the many myths, many presumptions that adults make about young people, and even asked a few young people what they think adults presume about them. These were some of them:

Image result for arguing with parents

The like going to large groups to meet other christians

They like singing at all

Young people are interested in different things to us.

They only want to listen to charismatic speakers.

They’ll do anything for a packet of sweets

Young people are always rebellious

Young people are all interested in sex and relationships!

Young people like loud noise and bright lights. And interactive sermons. But not “old language” or “old hymns”….

Young people only like loud activities, and loud music.

Young people are self-interested, rather than interested in the common good.

Young people always prefer to be using technology/screens.

There’s cultural readings and then the presumptions made about young people as a result of them.

Other presumptions are often also made in regard to adolescent, faith or moral development, and though these theories have undergone much research, we should call into question their adoption and usefulness to the practice of youth ministry, given that young people develop differently and poverty, family life, trauma all have a considerable impact to deem these things almost worthless.  Some of the time, in Youth Ministry, there’s a pandering of these presumptions, to maintain the same kinds of practices, often because the youth leaders themselves were like that as young people. Maybe. Maybe its laziness. Maybe its about trying to sell resources to a general market, and thus about making money, surely not… 😉

This sentiment isnt new. Pete Ward suggests that incarnational youth ministry is about meeting young people where they are at. Because that is where Christ meets us (Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997, p 26-30), stating that

‘youth ministry contextualised in youth culture will see physicality and image transformed in Gods sight. We can sell out to relevance, we can drown faith in culture. The cross of Jesus calls us to prixe costly relationship over product. Being on the cutting edge of youth ministry means that you bleed for others, not for art’

He calls into question the reading of universal cultural signs and symbols, and instead places the emphasis on being in the midst, in the really physicality of the action of God and humanity. We can be lazy with generalisations and hope for the best with them, but they hardly offer the best way for connecting young people with an ongoing personal relationship in faith. Nick Shepherd picks up some of these points in Faith Generation. Nick, like myself is a fan of Wyn and White, who in Rethinking Youth, say that; 

There is no such thing as an American Youth (Wyn and White, 1997)

Because there is no one specific young person who epitomises this generalisation completely. Just like there is no UK youth, Australian youth, every single one is different. This should be the starting point. There is also an imperative from the field of youthwork that is pertinent here. To ‘Value the individual young person’ having a respect for persons (Jeffs and Smith, 2005, p 96), this means that instead of making generalisations, respect for persons

‘requires us to recognise the dignity and uniqueness of every human being. It also entails behaving in ways that convey that respect. This means, for example, that we avoid exploiting people for our, or others ends’ (Jeffs and Smith, 2005, p95)

What might it mean, then for us in youth ministry to take this seriously. To value and respect individual young people. We might say we work in a non-judgemental way, but if judgements have already been made – what then. Carl Rogers says that

it is impossible to be accurately perceptive of anothers inner world if you have formed an evaluative opinion of that person. (Rogers, Carl, 1980, p154, ‘A way of Being’)

Does reading culture and making presumptions about young people offer young people the greatest level of respect? does it offer the best pathway to developing empathy for and with them? Does it instead try and maintain distances between adult and young person, when actually being in the midst, and as Rev H Hamilton, said in 1967, we need in youth work to develop strategies from the point of action. From in the point of being with young people, learning and exploring together. That in that moment offers, i think the way which creates open conversation, ongoing learning and a collective form of discipleship.  We only, in youth ministry, work with specific young people, in our local community, we need to be with them, listen, have conversation and develop practices, encourage practices and display practices from a point of respect, a point of reality, and a point where we also trust God to be working in the midst already. If culture is there to be read and interpreted, then might we use it positively and ask the critical questions, and not make easy presumptions. There is after all no-one such young person. And God made all unique.


Pete Ward, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997

Rogers, Carl, The Way of Being, 1980

Jeffs and Smith, 2005, Informal education.

Nick Shepherd, Faith Generation, 2017

Wyn and White, Rethinking Youth, 1997

Goetschius and Task; Working with unattached youth, the appendix by Rev Hamilton, 1967.

Why young people arent the answer to the church’s status anxiety, they deserve better.

My most recent post highlighted the problem of developing practices of youth work due to the social or moral Anxiety about young people. The fear of young people being victims of crime, the fear of anti social behaviour, the fears of poor education or the less than specific ‘life outcomes’. These fears perpetuated by the media, create a narrative and cause policies and initiatives, often knee jerk and short term to be done ‘to’ young people and communities, the majority of which dont work.

In the piece I suggest an alternative.

A part of me hopes that the desire of faith groups and organisations to work with young people has a purer motive, for the good of young people, to develop their gifts and social capacity, to help them become contributors and participants in a local world that they are game changers… however, though knife crime, or poverty, or loneliness do not feature highly in the anxious attitude churches especially have about young people,

it is often the status anxiety of the church that causes them to regard working with young people as a necessity

It is not the anxiety of the young person that a church might develop working with a group of young people, it is more often the anxiety regarding the status of the church itself. Its very existence might be at stake if young people are not involved in it.

There is also another subtle anxiety that a church may develop.

If a church does not have young people in it, and neither does it act in a youthful way, then it begins to be regarded as inauthentic. This is the conclusion of Andrew Root, who suggests that one of the reasons that churches are embracing contemporaryness is that it stops them feeling old, and old is not a marker of authenticity in todays secular culture. I have written extensively on this on a previous post, and this is here: Have churches embraced youthfulness – but given up on young people? .

The danger of an anxiety ridden church, is that young people become the feel-good factor. It can often be the case that people comment ‘its nice just to have the young people’ churches. Understandably so, as it can help an older congregation feel as though the baton is being passed on. There is significant mourning of the closure of a youth ministry practice, or heightened memories of when ‘there were 50 kids in the sunday school’ – because thats when it seemed there was the energy and ‘feel good factor’ through the presence of young people.

Status anxiety is currently rife in the church, and young people can often be viewed as the solution to that anxiety. No doubt younger people can give energy to a faith community, vision and creativity. But status anxiety and using young people as the solution immediately casts a strain on the ethics and motives for developing working with young people.

If its Status anxiety of the institution that is one of the motivating factors for developing work with young people, then this is more selfish than being anxious about young peoples welfare themselves. It’s an internal worry, an existence worry. It’s trying to alleviate institutional pain through developing practices with young people, they are pawns in a strategy.

But anxiety cannot be the principle reason, and to be fair it isnt all the time. Yet it can often be.

It would be better if a church community did at least have social or emotional anxiety about young people and this spurs them on to work with them. The tragedy is that, as Naomi Thompson identified in ‘Young people and the church since 1900’ the church is guilty of farming out the work with young people to professionals and only gaining from it by chucking money at their own problem. There’s no doubt money is still needed in spades. But accompanying this is systematic change. And the deep stomach clenching compassion for young people across every community and town. Have this and make disciples first. Make this the primary worry and anxiety.

It’s status anxiety that affects the church’s performance (Vanhoozer, 2014 p186) a desire for success might cause marketing to be deployed and hope for creating an attractive church. An attractive church is one that is low in status, vulnerable and follows the way of the Cross. Subversive ministry with young people values and respects them in a world that markets and targets them.

Young people might not be the answer to the church’s status anxiety. In that way they become nothing better than an outcome or target and our objectives relay a selfishness. Young people deserve better.


Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age

Thompson, Naomi, Young people and the church since 1900, 2018

Vanhoozer Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding , 2014

St Francis of Assisi: The Patron Saint of detached youthwork?

He was always new, always fresh, always beginning again

Is what one of the recent biographers wrote of St Francis of Assisi, one of the early proponents of the order of the franciscans in the 13th Century. (Aside from the extract below you can google yourself his life plan) . Last week I picked up for £1 in a charity shop a little book on this most celebrated, but also sometimes forgotten about saints in the movement of the early church, and as I read the book, and have since looked up a few articles I began to wonder whether St Francis in his actions, his temporality and attitudes possessed something in order that the righteous title of Patron Saint of detached youthwork might be bestowed (assuming I have the right to bestow such an honour)

Image result for francis of assisi

Francis (and his wife Clare) had an agenda for Justice which was foundational, living outside the society of production and consumption and a continued vow to identify with the marginalised in society, they chose to live a life of peace and justice and not just do acts of peace and justice. 

Thomas of Celano wrote of St Francis ‘Towards little worms even he glowed with great love.. he picked them up from the road and placed them in a safe place, lest they be crushed by the feet of the passerby’ St Francis picked up even the worms from the road, because he was known for his travelling, walking, and journeying, it was said Francis was more at home in the yard than in the sanctuary. Maybe a methaphor of the (faith based) detached youthworker that is more at home on the street than in the church perhaps..?

Writes Richard Rohr; Franciscan Spirituality – that which formed from St Francis- is a ‘sidewalk spirituality’ for the streets of the world and the paths of the forest. Francis spent most of his time on the road and in the dwelling spaces between the towns in the small gatherings, his own life was further outside the walls of church, than the Franciscan orders that succeeded him. As GK Chesterton said’ what benedict stored ( in buildings) , Francis scattered’  Francis was risky, little discipline clear direction or boundaries – where life in the orders maintained these.

From his life span we read that these events happened:

Year 1208: Francis is back in Assisi; during the spring he listens to an Apostolic Mass inside the Porziuncola, and the evangelical, apostolic vocation grows up inside of him. In the same year, the first followers (Bernard, Peter Catani, and Giles) start gathering around him, building the first embryo of the first Franciscan Order.

1209 He writes a first version of the Rule. He goes to Rome with his 12 companions to ask the Pope for his approval, receiving an “oral” acceptance. On the way back to Assisi they stop in Orte for a while, then they arrive at the Augustinian hovel in Rivotorto. Francis and his companions are friars (“brothers”) rather than monks, because they continually travel from place to place, living among the very poor.

They walked in small groups, yes three small communities (orders) were formed, but Francis spirituality was honed from the walking and formed through the experiences of life there. For those sympathetic with faith and detached youthwork; Francis it was said ’emphasised an imitation and love of the humanity and suffering of Jesus, and not just the worshipping of his divinity’ . This was how he acted to the poor he encountered on the roads. And his faith underpinned what we would now define as empathy:

‘In seeking peace through right relationships with God and others, we become much more open, non-judgmental, and inclusive with those who are different from us. Francis admonished his followers not to look down upon or judge others but to look down upon and judge themselves first. God sanctioned judgment, and therefore, he seldom referred to damnation and did not condemn anyone or any particular belief (L3C, 58). In a modern sense, seeking peace means moving out of one’s comfort zone to understand a perspective and way of being that is different from one’s own. It means to be comfortable enough with one’s differences to try not to change or condemn them. True peace cannot occur without opening oneself up to the differences of others.’

and Murray Bodo (1995) writes of St Francis:

There he [Francis] embraces another kind of leper, a young nobleman who has been excluded by the other prisoners because of his constant bickering and complaining. By his cheerfulness and patience Francis is able to bring this person out from behind those walls of his own making. And this becomes a bold pattern in Francis’ life: by love he helps people to find the opening through their walls; then the gates of the cities begin to open. The lepers, even symbolically, always live outside the walls, and you have to pass through armed gates to embrace them. That is Francis’ formula for peace: You have to come out from behind your defenses and risk embracing what is seemingly repulsive and dangerous.

Rohr again; ‘Francis created a very different classroom for his followers, sort of an underground seminary if you will, where you had to live faith before you talked about faith, our rule was initially ‘tips for the road’ an itinerant lifestyle’ We might call that correct ethics or personal conduct – what it also was how to connect with those on the road in accordance with the beliefs, and a classroom which emphasised the doings not the knowings – informal education – well definitely experimental….

St Francis of Assisi – the faith filled, non judgemental, walker across Europe who identified with the poor whom he met, who found home outside the walls, yet still recognised from within. Maybe he was the patron saint of detached youth work. But if not, still an inspiration none the less.




The leadership story of St. Francis of Assisi: Toward a model of Franciscan leadership Holbrook, Peter J.Author InformationView Profile. Cardinal Stritch University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2008. 3313852.

Rohr, Richard; Eager to love, The alternative way of Francis of Assisi, 2014


“God’s given me a real heart for ‘The North'” (and heres how im going to prove it to you)

Its a conference, its a gathering of leaders, gathered usually because of a Ministry wanting to start somewhere, set up by a ministry usually from ‘The South’ (its never ‘The South’ is it ? its always ‘The North’) and they send up someone to talk at this gathering. It often happened in Scotland at national conferences, the blokey from the south would be up to ‘speak to us’ for 3 days.

Conversation and chit chat ends. The lights dim, the person is introduced , sometimes even theyre are so famous down south that they get accoladed with ‘and they need no introduction’ (so we dont even know their name) – then the blokey gets to the floor.

Somewhere, there must be a speaking booklet which dictates that this person, this ministry has to connect with the audience. Somewhere lots of people have read it. Because so often the opening gambit within the first 5 minutes goes something like this. (and you can replace ‘The North’ with ‘Scotland’ or somewhere else)

And we in _________ ministries have now got such a heart for ‘The North’, we love ‘The North’ , we want to be in ‘The North’ , Gods gives us such a heart for ‘The North’ , in fact God’s given me such a heart from the North…

The problem is then that person tries to prove it. To regale a tale of how their heart for the North is in tune with Gods heart for the North. And so in the best tradition* of calling these things to dust as a concept, here are the best reasons people give for having a heart for the North. Realising that im not picking on them personally, but the ludicrous and patronising nature ‘having a heart for somewhere’ really feels like.

God’s given me a heart for ‘the North’ and i know this because:

  1. When i watched Billy Eliot at the cinema I cried.
  2. Or Brassed off
  3. Or The Full Monty.
  4. Or Kes.
  5. Once when i was on holiday in Scotland i drove through the North and had lunch at the Metro Centre (gee thanks, thanks for putting your money back into southern franchised businesses and not local trade, you didnt even have a spend your holiday money here either- you’re so kind) 
  6. I felt something when i stood next to the Angel of the North.
  7. When i was younger i spent three years at Durham University. (people with a real heart for the north go to Teesside uni)
  8. When my child was at Durham University, we used to go up and drop off her luggage, its a great place Durham.  (Durham is a micro island of southernness in the North, it almost couldnt be less northern if it tried)
  9. Newcastle United have always been my second team. I was there when Keegan nearly won the premier league (i was there as an Arsenal fan) But yes Newcastle and their Brown ale.
  10. My heart stirs with passion every time i travel through it to get to Edinburgh on the East coast line, but ha ha i wouldnt dare get off at Newcastle i might get beaten up. But im sure its not like that.
  11. I once put Durham down as 4th choice on my UCAS form, and so God really was stirring something in me back then. Too bad i went to Oxford, and forgot about this till last week and i was given this ministry opportunity.
  12. My car once broke down on the M25 and it was someone from Newcastle who helped me.
  13. My favourite Girls aloud girl was Cheryl, and i love her accent.( ok this one is stretching it but I’m waiting for it to be used at a ‘youth event’)
  14. My grandmothers cat was born in huddersfield.  

And there are countless others, some of these have actually been heard and said. Why do it at all?  Basically if you had a ‘heart’ for a place, youd live there and listen to the people and learn from them. Not just turn up as a ministry to convince us it needs saving and provide the answers. Or youd live there. Or be called to live there.

But can we stop this practice of having a heart for somewhere. why is there a need to proclaim such a feeling. Did Jesus have a heart for Galilee? and if he did did he say it..?

Imagine the day when the Missionaries to the south start saying that they have a heart for London because of Eastenders, or a word of prophecy from the top of the London eye, not sure it would go down well would it…

*not a tradition yet by the way.

The Path

Weekend dog-walks usually take me, either down to the beach, around the Burn Valley, or up through family wood, and around Summerhill park, on the western edge of Hartlepool. Summerhill is a myriad of paths, through recently populated woodland, with added facilities like a climbing wall and BMX tracks hidden within, either to be avoided or found depending on your perspective. Summerhill is also not far from a liveries of Stables.

Around the park there is one route, split at times in three paths, other times two, and on rare occasions one. 2016-01-10 14.58.57

When separated they keep apart the walkers, cyclists and horses. Other times they’re together. Why are the separated?  mostly for safety, to stop the deterioration of the grass, or for the Horses to keep them on grass for their shoes (however, horses are often on roads, so at this point im slightly out my depth)

I noticed at different points there were edges and boundaries between the paths, some took a shorter route, but interaction and conversation could occur from walker to horse rider, bmx’er to walker. And all could voluntarily cross between them2016-01-10 14.55.41

As i walked i had two thoughts, two metaphors came to mind; one about being a youthworker, the other about the church and young people.

In terms of the youth worker, i reflected upon the nature of connecting with a young person through youthwork to walk along the same path. Ok not a hugely significant statement. But actually what would it mean to walk along the path of a young person with them? what kind of privaldge would it be for them to let us be on the same path, not some invader, interrupter, but to be with them on the path, walking, listening and learning together. Sounds too romanticised, and maybe its not possible. Being on the streets on detached gives me the chance to walk the same situations as them, be in amongst the physical path that they tread. A distinction perhaps against the youthwork that occurs on the youthworkers physical path.

But how might the journey unfold in front, who directs and follows, by sight, by path, and who holds the map, or is it guided by the trees, the signs or the concrete already laid.

What kind of person would a young person want to walk with them, and how long for?


Secondly, might this image be a good one for thinking about people and the church.

The Church is the route and the process and the paths, people are on the paths walking, or running or riding.

Yet why do the paths separate between people and who decides who is on what path and for what reason?  should all the young people be on the BMX path? what if they’re walking a dog- should they then? or adults on a mountain bike? or parents pushing buggies? should these boundaries be less set and more determined, as her by nature, by choice, by interruption (of puddle, verge and post)

The paths all have the same trajectory, destination, and yet why might it seem that young peoples trajectory and destination is different in the church, is it because they are on separated paths, an especially designed path thats not of their making.

Does a youth ministry path lead to a vastly different destination than the local church? How might a messy church path interweave within the paths of church? Where is there dialogue and conversation across the paths? Where might new paths be furrowed and paths that bring other people to start walking too?

Just a few metaphors for walking with young people, and for the church as a series of paths, whilst i was out walking the dog yesterday afternoon.