A practical prod to help churches be places where young people flourish, my review of ‘Adoptive Church’ (2018)

I have had a copy of Chap Clarks ‘Adoptive Church’ for over a month now, sent to me to write a review of it, for this blog, its a bit of an odd book to try and write a review of, that’s not to say that it is without merit, some very interesting points, but I guess for me, a book that only has a few references, and only 12 Authors are listed in the Index (though they do include Barth, Bonhoeffer and Calvin) then you might understand why this is a book that I have struggled with. I had hoped in one way that the last three books I had read on youth ministry were bucking a trend somewhat ( Nick Shepherds ‘Faith Generation‘, Roots ‘Faith Formation in a secular age‘ and even the ‘Theological turn in youth ministry’ by Root and Dean) towards attempting more thorpugh examination of youth ministry practices. This book makes no mention of these previous pieces (or Root/Dean/Shepherd/ as influences) In comparison this is skin deep, and possibly why I have struggled with writing this review.

However, that’s the pre amble for the review, and possibly reveals my own prejudices. As I said this book is not without merit.

Adoptive Church (Chap Clark)

 

Chap Clarks ‘Adoptive church’ is the third of his ongoing series on developing family orientated churches in which young people can flourish. Previously he has written in two publications the importance of family for the nuturing of young people[1], and in Adoptive youth ministry this approach was developed further. In Adoptive Church, Chap Clark changes the focus from developing a nurturing youth ministry, to providing guidance for the whole church as to how it be adoptive in doing so be an environment where the nuture of young people occurs. This book is squarely for those youth ministers who are working in a church context, little is mentioned of mission activities and outreach work, but despite this it does ask pertinent questions and gives practical suggestions on how a church, a faith community might develop an adoptive way of being that can be of benefit to all, and not just young people.

Outline

In part one Chap Clark explains what he means by an adoptive church, in addition he suggests three crises that he identifies are befalling the existing programmable approaches to churches working with young people , chapters three four and five describe further the requirements for creating an adoptive church including what this means for discipleship, and how a church might develop a strategy for being adoptive, and then the goal of what an adoptive ministry might mean for young people and the church itself. The implementation of an adoptive church is Chaps main concern in part 2, a number of case studies, questions and processes are considered and primarily these relate to the nature of leadership required , with two different styles considered. The final section describes the characteristics of an adoptive church and how to encourage churches to develop an adoptive approach. The main shift for chap is that he directs most of this conversation to the whole churches rather than the specifics of the youth ministry departments. His passion is that the whole church is the soil for the nurturing, empowering and participation of young people and a culture of family who adopts young people is what is required for this to happen.

Strengths

Universality of context – Chap suggests that an adoptive church approach can be considered for churches in ‘Atlanta, Ontario and Nairobi (p21)’ and in the main I agree with this sentiment. Describing how churches to have a better environment for nurturing young people in the faith community is critical for all churches, yet I cant help but think that the setting of a large church and the challenges that this proposes shape Chaps thinking and concerns in the main. Its almost as though Chap is responding to the problems in large church youth ministry where young people might well be cyphened off into age groups and never to be seen again by other supportive adults in a church, almost.

That discipleship is described as a process, rather than an end game, is another strength (page 49) – and Chap challenges the notion of ‘a mature’ disciple – when as he says, it is a movement and trajectory towards maturity that everyone in faith is undertaking. It is from this sense of movement that Chap orientates the solution to the three problems he suggest that are at the root of the issues in youth discipleship (stated below).

His solution to the three problems (and which encourages the movement of discipleship) to use a biblical analogy, is to focus on the soil.  The solution isnt the programmes, professionalism of youthworkers, the excitement of the residential. It is the culture of the church. For Chap, the solution is that the soil – that is the culture of church, which all of us are part (whether paid, clergy, laity, congregation) is in need of a rethink.

we need to create environments where seeds can grow and shoot down deep roots that will last a lifetime (Clark p50)

For Clark, creating the right environment for the flourishing of disciples (the seeds) – involves cultivating the following:

  • Knowing Christ leads to following (p51)
  • Love for God increases knowledge (p51) (Quoting Tozer)
  • Knowing about God so that they (young people) can know God personally (GF Hawthorne) (I might critique this ‘knowing God personally’ relationship notion, and Root does this already in 2007 Revisiting Relational youth ministry)
  • Keeping the content about Jesus, using every opportunity to use a Jesus phrase..(p52)
  • Loving God/Christ back – in how young people express love back – ‘Teaching young people to love Christ is not about introducing more content, but rather providing environments and experiences that enable young people to slow down their lives and receive Gods love. Instead of taking prayer requests devote more to times where young people can be drawn into a tangible sense of Gods care and presence’ (Clark, p53, last sentence paraphrased)
  • Following Christ – Helping young people use their gifts, helping young people be generous, helping young people do Gods work in the world

Student leadership may be fine for the youth ministry but rarely actually leads young people to feel like they are contributors to the body. (the main church) The same goes for singing and teaching four year olds. Whilst these are sound expressions of using a gift in the body, to truly feel important and valuable contributors, the young need to connect to adults while they are following Christ as he brings in his kingdom (Clark, p55)

Whilst I can agree with the sentiment, I am not sure practically how the latter might occur, if as in many churches, there might be a discipleship deficit amongst adults, who spend more time maintaining churches through meetings, that being as active in ‘following Christ as he brings in the kingdom’ – young people might in effect be doing more of this themselves than adults are anyway. The learning might need to be the other way. Though the sentiment of greater participation/contribution is definitely valid, but in the UK, talk of participation and contribution is barely new. Neither is using the gifts of young people in Ministry – in fact this is the crux of Roots Faith Formation (2017) – though the repeated call for cultivating a better soil, for the seeds to grow is one that is particularly important.

Before moving further into the book, and developing Clarks key theme – creating an adoptive church. I want to mention critically the assessment of the state of churches that Clark identifies in Part 1. Not unlike many youth ministry book, there has to be a stated problem in part 1, to then be given the response and solution in parts 2-9. Where many youth ministry books have focussed on MTD, and the UK happy ‘Midi-narrative’ – (Root & Shepherd respectively) as the problem, Clark avoids both of these issues completely, and puts no work into thinking about the contexts in which the churches find themselves. Clarks focus is purely on the church as a whole. And church that is existing almost without any recognition of the context around it. On this basis, this is why the three issues that Clark raises as the problem with church youth ministry are:

  1. We (the church) is losing young people
  2. Students are unprepared for secular society
  3. There is more hurt than we realise. (pages 25-30)

He is right on one hand to suggest that strengthen what is broken is a good way to start. However, I cant help think, that from a UK perspective, barely any church in the UK would be immune to the hurt in the students that they have, or the students/young people it is doing mission with, given the effects of austerity, young peoples mental health, etc etc – a church that doesn’t get this, especially in the UK must have its blinkers on. And to think that its own young people aren’t facing these, well…  On the point that Students are unprepared for secular society, then again, this possibly represents something of the culture of a type of youth ministry that in the UK might only be a dream.  Yes, there is much to be done of creating flourishing youth ministry and churches so that they balance a distinctive following of Christ, whilst ensuring that young people are world ready too. But not many churches in the UK offer the kind of 5 nights a week youth ministry that might shield young people from culture and the world around them. Yes preparing young Christians for following Christ in the long term is an ongoing real task – but in the UK im not so sure that many of them are non-world ready. However, giving them tools for mission and doing Gods work in todays world agreed, this is almost lacking. Especially if MTD (Christian Smith, 2005)  is still pretty much the order of the day in regard to teaching, hearing and attendance is the one thing valued. For the US audience, these 3 issues probably ring true. Though there is minimal research into the causes of this problem given by Clark, albeit reference to some research by Fuller institute, one example of a young person, and a reference to David Elkinds work as a total sum of source material for making these three statements of the problem. Whilst they may be accurate assessments of a problem, and many might agree, they do lack the rigour of an academic piece. I guess in a way thats part of the problem with this book, where Root asks the question ‘what is faith’ and how might faith be formed in a secular age/world? Thinking about the nature of the secular world and its influence, Clarks finger is pointed more towards the church without too much of a deep diagnosis of the secular world that the students will be trying to face. Its as if the church on its own can sort out the problem. It will help no doubt, but if you’re looking for a stronger argument about the nature of the secular world, and how faith and ministry can be meaningful in it, then its Root that gives the answer to this, and not Clark. 

The response by Clark is for church to do better, and be better at enabling, encouraging and supporting young people to flourish. I can get this, I honestly can. But if churches arent made more aware of all the issues that this is about, including the effect of the secular age on young peoples faith, then its only a one-directional solution, to what is a complex problem. Fixing discipleship is going to take more than creating good spaces for discipleship, though there’s no doubt (and dont mishear me) that this is definitely a step in a right direction. Because its complex, i might suggest that this is why Clark largely ignores the issue, compared to Faith Formation, Adoptive church is definitely a practical book.

And a practical book, Adoptive Church continues to be, in Chapter 5, Clark begins to address the ‘church’ with a number of questions: ‘Is it a warm or a cold place’, is it a place where young people are given eye contact? is it a place where adults know the names of young people? (again i think the majority of small churches in the UK, this isnt an issue- well maybe not the warm/cold issue) , and then chapters 6-8 share further the practical ways (a process not a programme) of being an adoptive church. In chapter 6 this feels like using a business model of using ‘outcomes’, ‘intentions’ and ‘goals’ to create adoptive churches, and this is translated into sharing vision (p71), communication and training and creating opportunities where people can outwork the commandment to ‘love’ . Analysing the context is seen as important, so that churches intentionally work harder at being more welcoming (nothing worse than a church that says ‘all are welcome’ when actually no one is aside from those who know people already) – yet Clark is right in that even the most welcoming church that seeks to be ‘youth friendly’  rarely reaches out to young people, walks alongside them, or actively seeks to adopt in community young people as siblings in ministry. (p73). As he says, every church is unique, and every church might describe themselves in a certain way- but in analysing the context ‘how are churches for young people?’ . Clark then goes on to talk about resources, structures, reflection and evaluation- and much is useful, though it is worth being reminded of the American church context in which much of this is directed.

Clark then looks at the leadership style required for developing Adoptive churches, and whilst I can picture the kind of ‘Im in charge’ type leadership he describes (to avoid) – I think, generously, that many UK church leaders (whilst there might still be ego etc) are closer the the partnership models that he describes, given the rise in ecumeicalism in the UK and profligate attempts to share resources across churches for a variety of mission and community practices. Though what Clark is also getting at is trying to encourage an ongoing learning partnership approach to discipleship within a church instead of ‘hear me I have the answers’ , is the alternative ‘thanks for joining in this great and glorious effort, we’re all in this together’ (Page 86) – this might appeal to the ‘High School Musical’ generation who have, through Disney been exposed to the miracle of team work thanks to Troy, Gabriella and co, there is a deeper sentiment here, that developing adoptive churches requires an ongoing humility and respect for each persons worth, value and contributions (Ministry in the whole body). (p87) Clark then considers how a journey might be made from a managerial style to a partnership style. I can see the benefits of this, and wonder personally whether community approaches might be increased in clergy and ordination training to enhance partnership and educative approaches to leadership. However, that is not for today.

In the final section (pp129-176)  Clark describes the ‘fundamental practices of adoptive churches’, these are said to include :

  • Nurture and the Ministry of going – Chap describes a sense that Ministry occurs between the programmes (even though its a programme leader that most churches want to employ as a youthworker) , and that Ministry is as a result of the programme. Stating that ministry is to be relied on to help with young peoples participation in Gods work/ministry and his Family. Adoptive church is also about Going, about following God in the travel, the journey and the mobility of God, the kind of mobile, travelling ministry evident in the Biblical narrative (p134-135)
  • Nurture is about Familiarity – creating a place where young people feel at home. It is gentle, caring and loving, involves sharing the gospel of God and sharing life experience (p137), it is also Communal, therefore more than a mentoring (121) approach which is sworn by in many situations (p137) an adoptive approach is a community one and is akin to the family and all need to nurture each other (p138)
  • Nuture is strategic. It does require effort and intention, as though Clark doesn’t admit it, the default is not necessarily communal but individualistic (because of wider culture and individualism) so, some strategy is required to create communal nurturing spaces, to use language of community, sharing and encouragement.
  • It is about building trust, building warmth and gathering to explore the gospel together. But lets do this, as Chap Clark says, to build community and family, not just to ‘hear one person tell lots of people something’ but to create places of warmth that encourage learning together and learning spaces that encourage warmth. (p141)

Chapter 10 is about the Golden rule in most of what Youth Ministry has been all about in the last few years, at least in the UK (and the last three books mentioned above virtually say the same) – Youth Ministry, and in this case Adoptive churches, are all about participation. Or at least, Empowerment, which is beyond participation according to Clark, and in the main it is – for Clark it is about participating and contributing, and going beyond the ‘just getting the kids to do something’ type of participation.

‘Adoptive churches seeks more than minimal participation’ (Clarke, p146)

However, this is the sting (for many) . As Clark says, Empowerment is about realising that young people have a wealth of gifts, abilities, resources themselves that currently churches (and I will also argue schools) are not making the most of or are overlooked. Empowering contributing young people (in the task of Gods ministry) will enable these gifts to be used in ministry, and be ministers themselves. ‘Empowerment is the goal’ states Clarke, ‘we want teenagers and emerging adults to be embraced not only as younger siblings but also as valued ministry partners’ (p147). To achieve this, Clark suggests that churches need to be intergenerational, particular, incremental and intentional. Im not going to elaborate here on these, as they make sense. Though each of these might be counter cultural to what has gone on before, and even against attempts for universalism & quick fixes. However, his one idea of a ‘Youth Advisory Board’ is pretty weak as an idea, though not because having young people form a group to guide and advise in the ongoing preaching styles and content wouldnt be a good idea, but that it feels like the participation and contributions are merely to be Gods ministers within the institution. This is something he himself has argued against earlier in the book, and something Root certainly does, however, it would be a bold first step in many churches as to give power away to young people to help shape the preaching rota and content does require initiative, courage and risk taking. Its a step beyond creating a committee to help run the youth club, its participation and making contributions in the whole church. (I guess where there is a lectionary, this is going to be a challenge…)

Clarks final chapter considers the resistances and challenges awaiting those who take hold of these ideas and want to make steps towards creating adoptive churches, especially in organisations like churches who can be notoriously resistant to change, even in the face of decline. (if anything this brings about more fear and an entrenchedness). And do you know what, there are some gems in this chapter about language, persuasion and confronting the need to change in a church, and the effort it takes. So, again, on a practical level, Clark gives some sound advice, even in a UK context, the stuff on history, ownership and belonging is relevant, as is trying to be an agent of change even if you’re not in charge, youth worker and clergy might be united in this common cause. Clark does suggest that experimenting, and taking risks on the edges is one way, including family or community meals (something popular in the UK) . He contrasts family meals as a time for being together and sharing, and the deemed ‘inter-generational’ trade of having drums in the service, something that strategically doesn’t bring people together or relationally connecting people, its almost a trade off to ‘keep people happy’.. His tips for experiments, and cautions are worth a read. Its why change might be incremental, and working from the edge inwards might be key.

In effect that’s how the book ends. There is an appendix and a few bit n pieces in the index. But there isn’t really a conclusion, a final rallying cry, or some lengthy stories of how this worked in a few situations. Its a curates egg of a book, good in parts, an idea that has appeal, and a few practical hints and tips as to how to make it happen. His ideas are described simply and accessibly and will appeal to many, and I think for churches who want to do better ministry with young adults, and children, thinking through the culture of the church as a place of nurture, flourishing, family and learning are important, especially if the end goal is to help them be participants and contributors in Gods ongoing ministry. For me it lacks some of the depth and rigour, and even research that other recent books has, but thats probably unfair to judge it in this way. Overall I would recommend this book to the UK audience, even if there are aspects in which might not apply, there are churches who might not want to answer some of the questions truthfully that Clark asks, and this might not be a bad think, for the sake of young peoples ongoing discipleship.

You can buy a copy of Adoptive Church (2018) here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adoptive-Church-Youth-Family-Culture/dp/0801098920/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1544093694&sr=8-1&keywords=chap+clark

[1] Starting right, 1999, four views of youth ministry, 2002

Also

Shepherd, Nick Faith Generation, 2016

Root, Andrew Faith Formation in a Secular age, 2016

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Youthwork is good for young people and society , heres 50 reasons why (#yww18)

Its Friday of National Youth work week and to celebrate all things positive and empowering about youthwork practices in the UK.

The NYA have run a campaign on describing youthwork, and the evidence of these can be seen via Twitter here are few of the images, from the twitter feed, to capture some of the sense of what youthwork means to many people involved in it:

 

But what does the sector and the many 100’s of youth workers say about themselves- for, it is one thing stating what youthwork is all about – another describing the good it does for young people and society. Over the last 24 hours I have shared on twitter and facebook

(via the In defence of youthwork page)  the question as described above:

In what way is youthwork (or ‘are youthworkers’) good for young people and society? 

These were the responses to this question, unfiltered and unsorted:

  1. Believe in them
  2. Support, encourage and cheerlead
  3. Trust them
  4. Love them
  5. Deal in hope
  6. See potential, not problems
  7. Meet the needs that teachers struggle due to the formality of their jobs
  8. Guide, support and enthuse
  9. Start where the young person is at
  10. Be there
  11. They are trained listeners
  12. Advocate rights
  13. Helps young people develop real life skills to cope as adults
  14. Transforms young peoples lives through meaningful mutual engagement, allows young people to fulfil their potentials
  15. Provides young people with a safe space where they are able to be themselves and realise their potential – coming from someone who has been youth worked since she was 11 and loved it so much that 10 years later she’s a youth worker!
  16. Gives spaces for young people to throw off pressure to grow up too fast & be young, have fun.
  17. Gives vulnerable teens a place to be safe and access services that can help and support them
  18. Offers young people the chance to access a vast range of opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t
  19. The encourage growth and enhance their future chances
  20. To give young people a voice and give them a listening ear to hear and reflect issues that are important to them an not the system
  21. Enables young people the opportunity to develop unique relationships, where they can question, be heard and feel valued. These relationships are different to parents, teachers and peers, being based on mutual trust and respect, with the young person at the centre.
  22. It’s a relationship which the young person chooses to participate in, in which the young person is valued as a whole person. This relationship is a safe space to explore and the only agenda is around the young person’s growth and development as a whole person.
  23. Because it offers safe relationships with adults outside of the family which is beneficial for young people
  24. It’s the only service that has a voluntary relationship with young people for me it was the first time I ever felt listened to and valued inspiring me to become a youth worker which I feel is a privilege
  25. A youth worker advocates and protects the interests of young persons
  26. Enables young people to build positive relationships with other young people and adults outside of their family
  27. It may make better adults!
  28. Providing valuable informal education that is not provided in schools and homes. This can be life changing for some young people
  29. Youth work provides at least one example of an adult who can empathise with and think like a young person – bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood. An example of how you can continue to be yourself even into adulthood, rather than change to ‘become and adult’
  30. Give young people some time and space to be their true selves
  31. Empower them
  32. Actively inspires and enables self determination
  33. Takes support to them, in their community, in places they feel safe and people they feel confident around
  34. Offers a space for young people to develop their authentic self through an accountable social education programme, which allows for mistakes and growth
  35. Youthwork offers a safe space for young people to be themselves be heard be supported be empowered and treated with respect
  36. All young people feel respected and valued
  37. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve met now “grown up’s” who tell me how brilliant a youth club session/residential/activity was which they took part in and others who sought me out for support as adults because they remember what we did as youth workers.
  38. Inclusive and challenges young people to explore their identity in society
  39. An adult yp can laugh/ have fun with but also be safeguarded by! Without youth workers referrals to early help services and social care would be higher!
  40. when a young person see’s that a youth worker doesn’t hold the weight of judgement in their eyes when they look at them it makes the young person lighter, they feel that they can shed the weight of years of being taught they are worthless.
  41. Youth work can be a place of political education and political participation of young people, with the aim of having social action.
  42. It’s a place where young people can test out ideas around identity, belonging etc and open up their world view by meeting people they may not normally come into contact with, trying new things and having their viewpoints challenged.
  43. To help with transition to adulthood
  44. Youth work changes young peoples lives for the better. It plays a transformative and educative role in the personal and social development young people. It helps young people explore and understand their own and others identity and gives them the skills knowledge and tools to positively impact, change and shape the world around them
  45. Helps young people connect with their community and become valid members of it
  46. Youth work embraces and celebrates young peoples lived experiences without judgement
  47. Youth work enables young people to grow in understanding of themselves, those around them and the society in which they live. In addition, to having their own space to have fun, free of judgement.
  48. Despite the overall feel of some of these statements, I think it is also important to note that youth work as a practice does not see young people as victims or in need of ‘saving’ as such, unlike many other professions working with young people. Youthworkers work with young people to empower them, and believe they can source their own power. Youth workers aim to understand the world from the young person perspective, respecting their choices, feelings and views, and providing accurate information so young people can make their own informed choices. This also means sometimes (often) we have to watch as they make, what we believe are mistakes, and be there, without judgement when they are ready to engage.

With two from me: 

49. Youthwork give young people the opportunity to build a relationship with an adult in which they can choose to say no. 

50. Youthwork provides a way of helping communities think better of young people through social and community activism, narrating a positive story of young people. 

 

Wow…

 

At the end of youthwork week, lets endorse, celebrate and cheer for all the good that youthworkers do, in all the many places where voluntary relationships occur between themselves and young people, in organisation buildings, on the streets, community centres and churches, lets remember how much of what we are all doing and trying to do for young people we share many values, dreams and desires for the discovering of young peoples gifts, abilities and exploring with them places in the community and the future orientated , youthful fight and frustration we need to accomplish this. For all who stand in the gap, who take on the fight of funding bids, trustee meetings, community hostility and pressure from systems, outcomes and managerial expectations for the sake of young peoples rights, participation and welfare, be encouraged, and thank you.

Is the tide turning ? We hope so. And if these 50 reasons aren’t good enough to convince policy makers and funders of the value of youthwork, then Im sure we can think of 50 more.

Thank you for all you contributed to this piece with your comments and responses to this question. It would take another piece to credit you all individually, so thank you.

How will we find the good in youth ministry, if we don’t even look for it?

Oh well at least no one died tonight. 

This can often be the mantra at the end of a crazy out work session. But its not setting the bar very high in regard to evaluating or reviewing a session. Duffy Robbins in a piece on Youthwork Magazine 12 years ago wrote a piece on evaluating youth ministry, describing how for some volunteers, a good youth programme or activity or weekend event occurs when ‘young people cry’ at the end of it, and this was something that in the piece was manipulated by leaders though ‘inserting appropriate music’. Crying or not dying? are these the only factors that we’re looking for in youthwork practice? I would hope kind of not. The other measure, i hear very often, by clergy more than anyone else is well ‘if young people came back, then you’re doing something right’ this however also has its limitations for what constitutes appropriate or good practice, leaving little other than the unpredictability of attendance as the key marker.

If having successful youthwork is what we crave, then what we measure is critical.

There has been a trend to develop good reflection in youthwork and ministry practices (a trend, more a core component in youthwork, but hey), and yet, reflecting after a youthwork session can still feel like a painful delay, and pointless exercise in the midst of putting the chairs away and I wonder whether this is for a number of reasons, firstly that we’re asking the wrong questions, well at least we’re asking questions that have little context to them. For example, we might want to ask, and legitimately so, ‘in todays session, what went well?’  this is a great question. The problem with this question, is that without knowing what ‘went well’ looks like, and volunteers have an understanding of the identifyers of ‘went well’ then this ends up being the ‘nobody died, someone cried, or we had young people attend’ response.  ‘What went well, is a great question, if those involved know what is being looked for.  The opposite question, is then usually asked, what didnt go well. And this section can take ages to fill. Reflective youth workers can nearly always fill that box, as we’re never more than a footstep away from the precipice of doom that always finds ways to do things better, or on a bad night finds faults in everything or everyone. But this needn’t and shouldn’t be the way. We need to ask ourselves better questions. More to the point, youthworkers themselves should decide upon the questions, and not have questions imposed from above, which doesnt work.  (Sue Cooper, 2012)

Asking these 5 questions at the end of every session will transform your youth provision. Related image

It is a bold claim.

But I am willing to make it. If you’re as serious about young people in the ministry as the ministry itself, then these are the questions to reflect on at the end of every session with young people. If we ask these, and have responses to them, then we will know that a ‘session went well’ or didnt – because these happened or space was created for them to happen. The other claim I make is that it doesnt matter what your youth provsion is – these questions will transform it. It could be a youth worship event, an after school club, mentoring or youth fellowship group. More to the point, i am willing to also suggest that if we cannot put a positive answer to these questions on a regular basis in the youth provision, it is likely to not be enjoyed or attended by young people after an initial buzz or excitement of it existing. So, what are the questions? 

1. What were the quality conversations between leaders and young people?

A youth provision in which there was no conversations between young people and supportive adults is just an activity centre, a creche, a place to be entertained. Developing conversation turns a place of activity into a place where life happens, where shared understanding happens, and is the basis of purposeful relationship building. Our role is not to watch young people do an activity from the comfort of the kitchen, but to be involved in it, not youthworkers are not observers of young people, they are involvers with, and this is about conversation. So its a good idea to ask a question about conversations.

None of the conversations need to feel deep or meaningful – but thats only ‘to us’ they might be deep and meaningful to the young person

They dont have to feel significant- but they might be

It might be just a short chat about football with a young person who hadnt spoken to anyone for a few weeks, but its still of value.

Yes, for recording purposes we dont want to write down names of young people and who said what, but we can record initials, and general content like school issue, or family, or health, or sports, or housing or hobbies, and then any tangents that this took us into. If we’re good at creating a space for conversation, then this might take time. But thats a good thing right?

We could do stuff with all the subject matter and upload into charts or graphs, but more importantly is that these conversations are happening, and continue to do so. They represent that young people trust that the space is safe for them, because the people in it are safe to trust with the daily stuff of life – or the personal stuff of challenge. So, the first question, is about conversations – are they happening, who is having them (to develop training) and what are they about? and are they of quality – not just abusive banter (though they might be the start) .

2. In what ways did young people increase participation?

I am indebted to a student who I was delivering training to yesterday for this question. This was theirs. And so thank you. It is too good not to share.

During the activity, session or club – in what ways did young people increase participation? Is an absolute gold gem of a question. I have written on Participation before, so am not going to repeat myself here (see the ‘participation’ tag in the menu)

Participation can be seen in a number of different spheres. Young people may increase their participation in the current club – through helping with something, suggesting an idea, responding to an instruction – that sort of thing, but they may increase in participation as they take part in something of their own choice that they wouldnt normally (and being a volunteer in the god slot activity doesnt count), they might participate in deciding future activities, or decision making in the style of the group. I remember once when a group of young people who didnt like a youth event, went round as a group to the leaders house, shared their ideas, and the event changed direction completely as the ideas were responded to, and from then a open youth music cafe was started that gave young people space to play their own music, that ran for 7 years. (It was about to close otherwise) . The participation from young people at this venue went from merely observers in it, to high participation almost overnight. At their call.  Image result for participation ladder

This ladder might help in thinking about what increased participation might look like. It doesnt help us think about where the areas are in the activity we run where participation can happen. It may be easy to create spaces for participation in the areas such as food, or games – but can we increase the space for participation in areas we as adults prefer to be more in control of? There are a few examples here, in a journal piece ive recently written for CMS.

But what about where young people want to make a positive step to have greater participation in the organisation, school, charity or their local community? Through positive action and decision making, can this be facilitated through this youth provision – when we hear this is what young people want to do? Facilitating young peoples participation in the wider society, might be our role as purposeful adults – especially when we are trusted (via conversation! ;-))

But hang on, what if you’re thinking ‘our group isnt about participation, its about giving young people a fun space and telling them a story about faith’ – well if it isnt about young people developing participation in the faith community, and in the story itself, and this is modelled by participation in the group or session – then the story will remain only a story, and not one that young people can or would want to involve themselves in. No participation, will also mean eventually, no young people. Or at least none of the same ones after 6 months. And none very interested to be there at that. (its then we resort to bribery, ‘if you dont keep coming, you wont go on summer camp’.. shudder) . If young people are bored, then its not better entertainment they require, usually it is more meaningful participation.

Participation is key to everything, and so creating spaces for increased participation (even if it is counter cultural to the rest of the church, or organisation) is essential and as is a question at the end of every session to encourage it to be continually important.

3. What did we learn?

Young people are key to youth work – agreed? Good, thought you’d say yes to this one. And youthwork and ministry is about education – agreed? lovely. Therefore, one of the questions we need to ask at the end of every session has to have something to do with education, or learning to do with it.

In asking the question we put ourselves in the role as continual and ongoing learners, a place of humility and discovery, a place of wonder.

We might learn something about ourselves – our strengths or limitations (and think about how to enhance both) we might learn the same about young people

We might discover a gift, an ability and unseen talent in a young person (or volunteer)

We might learn about an attitude, a belief or a desire in a young person

Who’s voice have we heard from? 

We might learn to change our own views about something – because we’ve been open to learning from a young persons perspective

or something else…Image result for learning

We might be tempted to ask what did young people learn (because we tried to teach them something) but thats a path fraught with difficulty, because, what they heard and what they learned might be completely different, what they learned and what we wanted them to learn again very different. Young people may have learned who to get attention from in the session, yet we hoped they learned how to behave better. So the question is for us – what did we learn? 

The fourth question is this:

4. How did we take a risk with young people, or encourage them to take a risk? 

Unchallenging youth practices are boring. Or at least they will be fairly quickly. But you really dont need me to tell you this. If we’re not careful though, youth ministry takes the relevancy route and makes faith as easy to believe in as technology is trying to make everything as easy as possible. Making youth provision challenging is counter cultural. But challenge is what young people need.

If you ask any number of young adults in their 20’s why did they attend youth provision in their teens, aside from social friendships and fun, they will nearly all say learning, new experiences and being challenged to try new things. Challenge is part of the risk taking. Challenges are good for the self esteem of young people ( Baumeister, in Jocelyn Bryan, 2017 Being Human). It is good for young people to be challenged, therefore – we need to take some risks.

We might need to ditch the programme for the evening and host space for conversation, listen and learn. We might need to do an experiment in regard to discipleship, or had over an activity to young people for their participation in running it, bottom line, we take a risk, and do so because we want young people to be challenged and to raise their game – and we give over to trusting them. A risk might be to try and talk to a young person who doesnt normally say anything, or to create space for the quiet ones to participate, or something else… Risk taking and encouraging it turns us into the kind of youthworkers and volunteers who are still dreaming for something better, we havent given up. Trusting in young people to rise to the risks and challenge we offer causes what we do to stand in the face of prevailing opinions about young people.

Asking about risk taking – is question four of five. We should be thinking of taking risks each time we meet with young people. Even if that feels like we took a risk to try and talk with a young person at the pool table, well done, even if it was just a game of silent pool, you did at least put yourself in the place.

5. What do we need to do before the next session? 

This might sound intensely practical, and it is. But this session with a group of young people may have caused a whole host of things that need to be done to be done, so, write them down, and decide who and when they need to be done.

Is there a referral to an agency needed to be done?

do we need some training on an issue young people are raising?

is someone going to contact that young person the day after their job interview – see how it went? 

what about a talk with the leaders of the church about that idea the young people had – or creating a space for the leaders to meet with the young people directly? 

is someone going to fill in that funding bid? 

how might we change something about what we have always done, and need to prep for it this week? 

not just ‘practical’ but this could also be an opportunity to develop ongoing learning and reflection, training might be needed, but it could be that before the next session everyone of the leaders reads an online article or blog, or chapter from a book (if it can be photocopied) , or watches a film, listens to an album. It is about the ongoing desire to keeping learning and doing this collectively. So – what to do before the next session might not be to ‘plan’ the next session, or follow up pledges or promises made to young people (which are definitely needing to happen) but an opportunity for reflection.

It will transform your practice, sounds like it is hard work, but if we’re serious about helping young people take risks and developing learning, then its to be part of our own culture. (Even if, again, its not part of the wider church or organisation culture) As volunteers and workers developing provision for young people, its our game that we can take responsibility for.

So, there you have it. 5 essential questions to put on the after youth session review form. That will transform it. 

Why?  Because if these questions are asked, they become important, and what becomes important becomes part of the culture, and creating a culture of conversation, learning and participation is core to youth practice. If youthworkers are setting the tone for what makes a session ‘successful’ then young people will benefit. Success or failure is not part of good youthwork, its about conversation, participation, education, reflection and risks. A session that went well, will be because of these things. Not because someone cried or didnt die.

So – why will these questions transform your youthwork practice?

If we ask them at the end of every session, and make time to do this, not running home quickly after volunteering, then these become core to what the group is all about, and volunteers and leaders will be focussing on doing these things during the session, knowing that its whats going to be asked in reflection later. There is no magic quick formula to better youth provision, but I would hazard a guess that using these 5 questions, and in each session trying to work towards these things will make a significant difference, transform it? it may well do. Take it out of your comfort zone – almost certainly, hang on and enjoy the ride.

 

References

Jocelyn Bryan, Being Human, 2017

Jon Ord, Critical Issues in Youth work Management, 2012 (Chapter by Sue Cooper on Measurement)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we love young people – are they trusted? 

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

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

 

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

 

References

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

Goetschius and Tash 1967 Working with the unnattached

Root, 2007, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

 

In a digital culture, is youthwork stuck in the dark ages?

The days are gone where youd just pull up a pool table and have this kind of open space where there was chaos’

This was a reflection to me, from a community member, recently when talking about young people in a community in the north east. In a way, i could see the persons point, in a ‘digital age’ what point would table tennis be in an age of facebook, snapchat and other entertainment?. In another way, it also kind of revealed that to many people and this person included youthwork was the youth centre. Youthwork is the mobile youth centre that goes into the community. Youthwork is the facility. And though that missed the point, youthwork being the approach that uses the table tennis, or space for conversation. The persons reflection raised the question;

Has youthwork got to leave the dark ages, to have a future in a digital age?

In their recent statements of intent, the campaign group In defence of Youthwork made public their 16 point proposal for the future of youth work in the UK, a link to their post is here: It is about re-imagining the new future for youthwork, and states the following:

  1. Youth Work’s fundamental aspiration is profoundly educational, political and universal. It seeks to nurture the questioning, compassionate young citizen committed to the development of a socially just and democratic society. It is not a soft-policing instrument of social control.
  2. YouthWork as an integral element in education from cradle to grave should be situated in the Department for Education.
  3. The rejuvenation of a distinctive, state-supported Youth Work focused on inclusive, open access provision needs to be based on a radically different and complementary relationship between the Local Authority and a pluralist, independent voluntary sector.
  4. The renewed practice needs to be sustained by statutory and consistent funding, the purpose and allocation of which ought to be determined locally via accountable mechanisms, such as a democratic Youth Work ‘council’ made up of young people, youth workers, voluntary sector representatives, managers and politicians.
  5. Collaborative work across agencies is vital, but youth workers need to retain their identity and autonomy rather than be absorbed into multi-disciplinary teams.
  6. Youth Work should be associational and conversational, opposed to oppression and exploitation, collective rather than just individual in its intent, unfolding at a pace in tune with the forging of authentic and trusting relationships with young people.
  7. Cornerstones of practice should include the primacy of the voluntary relationship; a critical dialogue starting from young people’s agendas; support for young people’s autonomous activity, for example, work with young women, Black and Minority Ethnic and LGBTQ+ young people; an engagement with the ‘here and now’; the nurturing of young people-led democracy; and the significance of the skilled, improvisatory worker.
  8. The informed focus on young people’s needs flowing from open access provision is more effective than imposed, targeted work in reaching ‘vulnerable’ youth.
  9. Youth Work does not write a script of prescribed outcomes in advance of meeting a young person. It trusts in a person-centred, process-led practice that is positive and unique, producing outcomes that are sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often unexpected and often longitudinal. Practice must be evaluated and accountable, but not distorted by the drive for data, the desire to measure the intangible.
  10. Training and continuous professional development, particularly through the discipline of supervision, via the HE institutions and local providers is essential for full-time, part-time and volunteer workers in ensuring the quality of practice.
  11. JNC and other nationally agreed pay scales and conditions need to be defended and extended. However, a respectful engagement with the differing cultures and employment practices of voluntary and faith organisations, with the contradictions of professionalisation, is required. The emergence of independent social enterprise initiatives cannot be ignored.
  12. Closer links need to be renewed and created between the Youth Work training agencies, regional Youth Work units and research centres.
  13. Youth Work needs advocates at a national level, such as the NYA and Institute for Youth Work, but these must be prepared to be voices of criticism and dissent.
  14. Irrespective of Brexit, Youth Work ought to embrace the Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention [2015] and be internationalist in outlook.
  15. The National Citizen Service ought to be closed or curtailed, its funding transferred into all-year round provision, of which summer activities will be a part.
  16. The renaissance we urge hinges on a break from the competitive market and the self-centred individualism of neoliberalism and the [re]creation of a Youth Work dedicated to cooperation and the common good.

In case you hadnt noticed, there is nothing here about the ‘good old days’ of the open youth club, the table tennis table or the tuck shop with over priced mars bars. There is a sense that re-imagining is what needs to happen. In my previous post here, I reflected on how other service providers are now using the language of youthwork, without the relationship or philosophy of it, in their work with young people, such as teachers and police, and many voluntary groups and churches have been part of the ‘youthwork’ scene for a while, and at least they have had some training in its philosophy. However, critically, whilst the approach and philosophy of it remains crucial, there is a sense that as youthworkers the methods of how it is done may have to be re-imgained out of the dark ages.

But that doesnt meant that we avoid the dark spaces, the places in between, where no other organisation fears to tread, and i dont mean the streets, or the night time, necessarily- as it may even be that there are fewer young people out on the streets that there used to be. (i think in pockets this is changing, as young people are rejecting indoor technology). And so, the time, the place, the space and the method might indeed cause others to worry, but that may be where we have to go.

That place might be the afterschool time, the before school time, the lunch break or other time, it neednt just be the late evening.

Bubbling around for really only the last 10 years is the digital connections youthworkers make with young people. And the ethics of these are not to be repeated here, but in some way we might want to find a way of developing connections with young people that are consistent with the philosphy of youthwork practice, somehow, that isnt deemed unsuitable, grooming or something else. Could there be a ‘digital youth club’ a space for young people just to be in with a range of other young people? How might that work or be realised? How might it retain the safety and informality of the public space and the full humanity of that space too? Just a thought an idea. If that space doesnt exist in the normal apps and programmes, then maybe its in need of being created. But what else might be needed, if youth work is required to ‘leave the dark ages’?

What if it doesnt? What if the future of youthwork is not that different from the strengths of its essence, the purpose of its intentions and its dream for a better world for young people to be participants within. That doesnt seem dark to me, its hopeful and promising. The only thing, in reality that needs to leave the dark ages is the prejudice that people have of young people and the youth workers themselves who represent and stand up for them. Youth work is naturally futuristic, we need to think that change can occur and keep dreaming the possible. Yes, the methods may have to keep adapting, the practices creating space in the new times for the magic of it to occur, and the environment to be realised that causes it. But leave the dark ages?

The problem is less that youthwork needs to leave the dark ages, is that what the open club did was create the space for participation that this persons was asking for. In the dark ages is a perception of what youthwork is all about, the non-descript open youth centre that was a haven for poor behaviour. It is that perception that needs to be resigned to the dark ages, what this person and what youthwork is all about it is nothing other than bringing a perception about young people right up to the future, the cooperation, creative and participative potential that young people, and a political endeavour that this is. It is continues to be futuristic and youthful to continue to believe in the ideas and possibility lying dormant in every young person. In the dark ages is the seen and not heard, the voiceless or the consumer young person, and resigned there, to rot. In the digital space, much that positively young people do is create narratives, create community and contribute, thats what we all probably want, significance. Young people are finding it online, like many of us are, and this same significance might be what youthwork is about.

Does youthwork have a future in a digital age?  It might need to harness what young people find and do online, but ultimately its not what it believes in needs to be resigned to the past, as young people in the future need youthworkers more than ever (its just being ‘covered’ by other organisations, see linked post above) – what needs to be resigned to the dark ages is the attitudes about young people, and also the perception of the old battered youth club. That old battered youth club fostered the kind of conversations that forged youthwork relationships. And those relationships hosted and fostered the potential of young people. And that is timeless.

How might space be created for discipleship growth in our churches?

I dont do gardening. At least I am in denial that I might be ‘doing gardening’, its more ‘being self sufficient’ trying to live closer to nature, and a whole host of other things that it might be known as , but it isnt gardening. So, that thing that I have been doing the last few years, not gardening, came about as I in herited a whole load of fruit trees and bramble in my garden (great free food) and, I wondered if there was a way of creating some kind of space in it, that the dog wouldnt destroy (she digs) that would mean that not only fruit but other stuff as well would be grown. The first year i got a load of large plastic containers and tried growing peppers, chillis and tomatoes, and ended up with about 90 green tomatoes.

The following year I played safe and instead of tomatoes put salads in the containers and ended up with lettuce, spring onions, beetroot, some herbs and with a few exceptions managed to grow most of them. The same the next year, with the addition of a few potatoes.

But I was given a seedling chili plant from my sister in laws parents, which i put into our sunroom, and watched it grow and grow. It gave us three seasons of chillis during the year, about 100 in all. So this year I am trying out the chillis and peppers again. (and have planted garlic in the pots – so basically I am after the base of a good curry)

Its not remarkable. But what I noticed this time, trying to grow plants from seedlings was that as the seedlings start to grow and expand, you have to increase the size of the pot they are in so that they can expand into it and grow a little bit more. And thats it.

Seedlings will only grow if you expand the pot they grow into. To stop my chili plant growing last year i left it in a fairly large pot – but didnt keep increasing it.

What if this process of ‘pot-expansion’ is the one that we develop with young people and their discipleship? It becomes a process where we as workers/leaders/volunteers continually seek ways of creating a slightly larger, or even much larger ‘pot’ for them to grow into for them to expand.

A Seedling might last if put in the Garden, and in a new phase of ‘not gardening’ I have spend the easter holidays making a raised bed.

It now has several seeds in it. For a young person, that might present having a space expanded too much – for others they might rise to such a challenge of growing into a space that demands that they fill in to.

If Discipleship is a process of ongoing learning (the greek word Mathetese)

and Empowerment a process of ongoing participative competence (the community writer Keiffer)

Then in our work with young people- actually – given the state of the church- in our discipleship with everyone – empowering leadership, that doesnt just tend to the plants (and not bruising the damaged reed) but empowering the competence of others to grow into a larger space might be what is required. What we have is a one-size-fits-all approach with gatherings as large groups or smaller groups – what eah need it not more sprinked water from the top, even plant food, or sunlight (though all are helpful) – but space in which the roots are given the opportunity to grow. and How do we do that? The how is easy. We get to know where people are and create spaces for them to be challenged, why dont you do that? or can you go away, read that and talk to me afterwards, or what are your ideas on that? What difference could you make here? How might we use you better, and your gifts?

If i had a pound for everytime someone said we need to have a culture shift in our churches, on discipleship or mission, then id be able to buy at least a few more packets of seeds. If the farming and growth metaphors Jesus used were good enough for him, then they might be good enough for us now. I think in youth ministry, we are better at ‘pot’ expansion than elsewhere, young peoples horizons are hopefully opened up constantly and are given opportunities at times. It would be very wrong to say that young people are kept in small pots. It would also be wrong however to say that this is the case everywhere. Though sometimes the pot is only slightly bigger, and young people go elsewhere to be challenged.

Whole life, empowering discipleship, believing in the Human person to rise to the challenge, to have their ‘pot’ enlargened, is something i think we need to be doing, and keep doing, and keep asking. How might this church grow- is the current question? – well it needs to be given a larger pot to grow into. How might all the individuals within it grow? you get the picture. When we empower people , sorry, that isnt possible, when people are empowered it is because they are given space to empower themselves, space to grow. If discipleship is about growth, then we have the responsibility as leaders to keep discovering ways, real ways of expanding the pot size. The space for them to grow into. And its not just our responsibility, its also about trying to help the whole church to encourage the potential growth in each other.

By the end of three years, I would be pretty certain that Jesus disciples had had enough, every day presented new challenges, new scearios to act, new learning to take in, new directions about what to do. Constant expanding the space for them to grow into. Hey Peter, heres 5000 people – you feed them!. There seem to be times when Peter and only a few of them get given the opportunities to grow, at least thats what we hear anyway. But the 72 are sent out, as are the 12. They are not just given the ‘opportunity to do mission’ they are given challenges to enable them to grow as disciples.

What advice might 15 year olds give their 5 year old selves?

A month or so ago i was leading a discussion with a small group of young people mostly about their local community, what it had to offer, and how they felt they could make a difference in their local community. But as most of them had grown up there, i wondered what they might say in response the question above:

What advice might you give, if you were just starting primary school this week?’ – ie your 5 year old self? 

I admit, tt was a bit of an out of the blue kind of question. I wondered if they might refer to the local or national worries, or their own concerns about growing up. Take a moment to even think back yourself to when you were 15, what advice might you have given your 5 year old self?

They say being a teenager is difficult because its the first age in which we experience loss for the first time. Ie we grieve the age of being a child. Following on from this we might grieve leaving 20’s or 30’s but weve loved and lost era’s by then. In teenage years we grieve the age of innocence, play, colour and limited responsibility, (for many, not all) – either way at 15, being 5 seems a long time ago.

So- what advice might you give- more to the point – what did this group of 15 year olds say when i asked them? 

This is what they said;

Work hard

Have an opinion

Dont change yourself because of others

Be resilient

Be enthusiastic

Dont stress over little things

Dont be scared to speak out

Dont have to love what everyone else says or does

Dont be afraid to go against the flow

I thought these were very interesting, what about you, what do you think about their response?  what advice might you have given yourself at a similar age?

These 15 year olds sound quite weary. As if life has been tough for them.

In a way, very rarely young people are asked for their advice. So rarely that it can often be a winning question to give young people that kind of opportunity, as they can be barely asked for it. Or if so, it is just as a token. Even today, this week there are many strategy meetings ‘about’ young people in many places across the country from the church, to the local authority that barely have a young person in sight of them. Young people might just be a strategy. But they also might be able to give us the advice we need in order to enable them to flourish in their local community. Because, in reality, if 15 year olds know enough about the world to give themselves this kind of advice – then theres little else we might need to do aside from encourage and nurture that same responsibility.

I wonder whether there is a generation thing – the 15 year olds are growing up as ‘millenials’ or at the lower end of it, I would have been asking the question in 1993, a late blooming generation X, would it have been much different – may be. Do you know what, scrap that. It has nothing to do with generationalisms, it has to do with each young person growing up in their context in their time. Most of the advice they have given would be relevant to any age group. But what these young people identified that that there can be fears in speaking out, in being different, in responding to others opinions. As 15 year old these are important to them. In a way, this is less about what young people said, it is that when given the opportunity, young people can be insightful, wise, show character, leadership and care.  

Might we take a risk in actually asking young people what advice they might give themselves- or what indeed they might give us about the way of the world, their concerns, – the thing is would we listen and act on it – or still think we know whats best….

What makes the Christian Youthworker distinctive?

At the moment, amongst a few other books, I have been reading ‘The Pastor as Public Theologian’, by Kevin Vanhoozer.  Within it, he asks the question: ‘What is the distinctive role of the Pastor’? describing that there is a problem of identity not just for pastors, but all associated with a Christian vocation, such as Youth Ministers, worsh
ip leader and so on.I’ll come to his responses in a bit but it might be worth exploring for a moment, some of the identity and role challenges that a Christian Youthworkers might have.

This is not a new query, the God-fathers of modern theoretical Youthwork, Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith, wrote in 1987, in ‘Youthwork’  that Youth workers not only have to conduct a number of roles, but also, because ‘what a youth worker is’ is such an ill-defined term that they often use these following as a guide or starting point:

  • Youthworker as Caretaker (puts the chairs away)
  • Youthworker as Red-coat (entertains)
  • Youthworker as Social Worker (1:2:1 support)
  • Youthworker as Character Builder (resilience improver)
  • Youthworker as Community worker, and finally
  • Youthworker as Educator

And so- this plight to not only understand the role of the youthworker, using more well trodden paths of understanding is not new. A youthworker might need to use another profession to define themselves against, their role might even encapsulate all or some of these others, but in a distinctive way. When Jeffs and Smith were writing this, it was very much to and within what might be considered the statutory youthwork sector. Kerry Young (1999, 2nd ed, 2006) expanded this list somewhat, by reflecting on Youthwork as an art form, in The ‘Art of Youthwork’, suggesting that

The Art of Youthwork is the ability to make and sustain such relationships with young people. In so doing, youth workers themselves develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to engage with young people in the process of moral philosophising (Young, 2006)

So, adding to the list, of the roles of the youthworker became self-awareness, examination of their own values, critical skills and enlargement of their own capacity for moral philosophising.Product Details

In addition, she also suggests that Youthworkers do not just deliver youthwork, they define it, interpret and develop it. She argues that youthwork is a ‘distinct practice’ – not unlike what Jeffs and Smith were suggesting. So, the question is, for the Christian faith based youthworker – if indeed, this in itself is a distinctive practice – what is it that makes it distinctive?

We’re 30 years (ouch) since Jeffs and Smith’s ‘Youth work’ Book, above – I wonder if there might be other additions that could be made to their list? That youth worker could be defined as. I guess I am waiting for a different professional to say – ‘Im a bit like a youth worker, but less structured’ or ‘if you imagine a youthworker, then I do such and such’ – as if there is a profession that defines itself as one step from youth work – 30, 50 or 70 years into youth work as a distinctive practice – it hasnt captured the public imagination in the way, teacher, nurse, police, social worker or redcoat might have done… (‘hi-de-hi’ has alot to answer for in the latter of these)Image result for butlins red coat

Because there hasn’t been new people-orientated professions I cant think of another new profession to add to this list. Though one of the oldest professions could be – The Priest/Vicar/Clergy? In a way this is not that different to what Kerry Young is suggesting. The Youthworker as Clergy is one who has a sense of values, of practices according to values, is someone who would guide to moral decisions, maybe even challenge some too. Now, probably a few of my clergy friends might dispute that Clergy have time to do the kind of pastoral work required for this, but thats not the point im making, for the youth worker, a nod to the role of Clergy might at times be appropriate.

The slightly worrying thing about this, is that if Vanhoozer is to be believed, Clergy might be in the same kind of identity predicament. What he suggests is that there have been a series of images and metaphors that have shaped the understanding of ‘Pastor’ which were created in the social context/culture, been retained and have held the role captive – such as ‘The Pastor as CEO‘ , as ‘psychotherapeutic guru’, as ‘political agitator‘ , (all of these could easily be transferred to youth worker)  – different times in history shape the nature of the role of clergy and models, and so ‘master’ (of theology), ‘Builder’ (of church congregations), ‘Revivalist’ (in the 19th C) , and ‘Manager’ (of programmes, buildings, people- a 20th Century concept) – additions in the 21st Century include ‘Social media mogul’ and ‘community activist’ – and thats before others such as life coach, agent of hope, story teller, midwife (Vanhoozer, 2015, p7-8)

A look to clergy might not be that profitable, in this sense, though there is an element that Clergy are able to shape their practice in a way that defines it, interprets it and develops it, the many examples of books on the role of being a pastor are testiment to this, but this also occurs in the local setting, as clergy encounter people through visiting, groups, wandering around their parish, in schools. There are times when Clergy are as much the youthworker, as vice versa, doing assemblies, being governors, leading groups. The fluidity of role definement remains.

It is not a semantic question to try and define the ‘Christian Faith-based youthworker’ – or at least suggest how this is distinctive as a role and in practice.  Carole Pugh locates ‘youth work with a spiritual content & ‘youth work based on Christian (or other faith) principles focussing on a social action/youth work values approach’ in between the deemed extremes of ‘youth work with no spiritual content’, on one side, and ‘Christian youth work adopting an evangelical approach’ on the other.  (Pugh, 1999) This is similar to that of Danny Brierley in All joined up ( 2003) or Richard Passmore (and I) in ‘Here be Dragons’ , in which we argue that at the heart of Symbiotic youthwork are the core principles of education, equality, participation, empowerment and group work within an understanding of Mission, of improvisation, of ‘valuing culture, traditions and the Bible’ (Passmore, 2013, p60)

So, if Core to ‘Christian faith based Youthwork’ is Youthwork and its values – how might a developed understanding of Christian vocation help. For, as in ‘Here be Dragons’,’ Youthwork and the Mission of God’ (Pete Ward, 1997) and others – one of the key attributes to the Christian youthworker has been a mission prerogative – to ‘meet young people where they’re at’, to ‘be incarnational’ and so, as a result ‘understanding the culture’, and forming practice around Mission has been essential, and has in many cases driven practice; often with Vincent Donovan ringing in our ears. Mission may have taken the youthworker thus far in their thinking, Fresh expressions and emerging church is developing new avenues for youthwork ( see also Here Be Dragons again..), but if Mission becomes swallowed up and synonymised by Evangelism, as the church in ‘Status Anxiety’ might cause it to be, and the Church of Englands national youth person has ‘evangelist’ in their title, (one example amongst many) – then the Christian youthworker, may become even more distinct, but not only that Mission becomes reinterepreted as ‘church grower’ – leaving the Missional christian youthworker without a theological discipline to call home.

Enter, metaphorically, stage left, Kevin Vanhoozer again or at least a paraphrase of him, as I ask ‘What does the Christian faith based worker do, that no other institution can’?

On one hand they might be the only living remnant of youthwork practice soon – much to the thanks of the Conservative government slashing local council funding and with it universal youth service provision – so that might be one distinction- with a youthwork underpinned practice – this might be a future distinction.

But what else – at least from a faith perspective – what might the Christian youth worker be called to be and do?

Vanhoozer suggests the following:

  1. A Theologian- ‘To be a Christian Theologian is to seek, speak, and show understanding of what God was going in Christ for the sake of the world’- theology is not just a job for the professionals, the qualifieds or academics.
  2. A Public Theologian- This is someone who reacts against the privatisation of the faith, restricting it to individual salvation – it is someone who is able to discern truth and justice, able to discern how and where in the world the traces of truth and justice may be unveiled, it is to be communicative of the story of God in the public domain, to be as Volf suggests a ‘witnessing presence’ or as Sam Wells (2005)  ‘Saints’ (See my post ‘Theodrammatic saints..) –
  3. To be in Public: It is to be involved with the public, being present, working with people to have conversations, to raise questions, address big issues of life, death, hope, fear, meaning and despair. To have much knowledge, and but also have general knowledge, to encourage places of connection, and environs such as homes (see my previous post on ‘home’ here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-S5)

Now these three things are directed by Vanhoozer, firmly and squarely with the role of Clergy, and in his words the ‘Youth Minister’ – and he has Christian Smiths (2005) research on Youth Ministry in the USA in mind as he makes this point (2015, p116-117, 154) and so this might have more resonance or direction with the ‘Youth Minister’ role in the UK. But what is interesting is that the ‘Christian faith based youth worker’ is probably more used to be doing these three things, as they have an adopted language of youthwork (universal), are involved in conversations that invoke witnessing, are discerners of truth, justice and equality (even if youthwork values drive these) and also value space for conversations.

Maybe ‘Christian faith Based youth workers’ might be Public Theologians after all…  

 

References

Passmore R, Ballantyne  Here be Dragons, 2013

Pugh, C Christian Youthwork or Social Action, 1997 in Youth and Policy 1999 no 65

Smith, M, Jeffs, T, Youthwork, 1987

Ward, P, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997

Vanhoozer, KJ The Pastor as the public Theologian, 2015

Young K, The Art of Youthwork, 2nd ed 2006

 

Is Youth work a good ethical and artistic compass for Youth ministry?

In my previous article where i revisited ‘All Joined Up’ by Danny Brierley (2003) (here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-Mf), I came across a couple of sentences in which he described that the overarching philosophy of ‘youth work’ would be a way of challenging aspects of youth ministry where it was promoting unethical practices, faith manipulation, limited voluntary participation. I reflected further on this today, I was thinking of Youth work as an ethical compass but also a lens of interpretation – for practices of youth ministry and how youth ministry might be in need of youth work, or might learn from it to improve its own practices, especially in the current context of the UK.

Youth work as Ethical Compass: 

It is not just the faith sector that the ethical compass of ‘youth work’ can be applied. More often than not it is the pseudo youthwork projects that call themselves youth work – but are really youth support, youth programme, youth development. Youth work as an ethical compass, and its purists probably wield their critical sticks the most, and i know i am guilty. In a way, its not i think that those who wield those sticks just want a pure youthwork functioning for the sake of their tradition, but more so that they honestly believe that without some form of ethical and philosophical understanding that informs practice, young people fundamentally are being treated and regarded sometimes inhumanly, disrespectfully, unfairly, as pawns within an ideology that is in need of critiquing. So its not for philosophys sake, or its art form, but because of a fundamental belief that young people are more likely to flourish and develop within a youth work value practice, for there they are  given space to view the world within it, and be able to make decisions within it, and create within it.

Whilst there is more to youth work than just values, it is worth re examining them again:

Voluntary Participation, Empowerment, Equality of Opportunity, Informal education, Democracy

It as hard to see these things in programmes that have a budget for advertising the size of a premier league footballers signing fee, or where activities have pre determined programmes and activities, or where the kind of young people who participate are the most likely to tick boxes. The ethical stick of ‘youth work’ can be easy to wield, but it is a stick wielded with sadness more than anger, sadness that what is left for young people in their local communities doesnt have young people as its core – less so its organisational survival and programme delivery.

However at the same time, looking through a youth work ethic is only appropriate critique to youth work organisations and programmes that even subscribe to the notion of trying to do ethical practice – after all where the programme or cost or delivery or numbers matter – why worry about ethics?

Youth work as a foundation?

Critically, surely it would be possible to build decent practice that encapsulated these values, surely from a faith perspective these values, combined with faith values of love, grace, forgiveness, human flourishing & justice, can be the benchmark for youth work/ministry practice. They neednt be bypassed, sidetracked or redefined, however it would make something far less controllable, predictable, efficient and universal – and have less power over young people. In short, thinking about these things, control, predictability, efficiency and universality. They are all markers of the Macadonaldisation of the world from the framework of business synonymous with that fast food chain as proposed by Ritzer.  Are young people now just the burger filler to the state ideology, or even extreme faith practices?

The essence of Macdonaldisation stand in polar opposite to the values of Youth work.

When we look at the world , and the world of young people, which has become dominated by by so many aspects of control, predictability, efficiency and universality through a lens of youth work values, of creative, constructive, political educational practice, of social justice, equality, empowerment and global inclusion , the two seem so far removed from each other.

It is as sad to see where proponents of faith-based youth organisations turning to business ideology such as above, over and above values that frame youth work practice (which can be regarded as ‘secular’, yet business practices dont get the same categorisation? )  youth work values themselves stem from Faith organisations in the first place. If the ideology of neo-liberalism has overtaken even the business mindset of faith (not just in the business mindset of commercialised youth programmes) -then thats where at least some kind of ethics and values from youth work might act as a stemming of the flow in that direction. If Faith is an art, God being poetic even? then how might youth work as an art/philosophy help youth ministry – before it uncritically accepts a scientific or business view of the world?

Might Youth Ministry need youth work? 

Where Youth Ministry needs youth work is in that it gives it the ethical base line to encourage reflective practice – and prompt questions such as : How voluntary do young people participate? , How might young people be empowered at different levels of this practice?, What kind of education is occurring? How are decisions made and what decisions do young people participate in? and ‘are we being fair and open to all? ‘  It is in responding to and asking those questions where Youth Ministry becomes a practice that allies closely with youth work further. Youth work values prod and provoke in a way that is in the interest of young people.

Youth Ministry might need youth work because at its heart is informal and ongoing lifelong learning. Education in youthwork is a two way process, where both worker and young person share in learning experiences together and these are ongoing, it requires that worker is dedicated to a learning process, ongoing reflection, the challenge of deepening knowledge through life, not just organised cpd, or a seminar at a conference. Youth work as a process of learning challenges youth ministry as an activity and received knowledge practice where this occurs. Learning is core to the Human experience and Faith discipleship is an ongoing learning process – youth work and its philosophy of education has much that youth ministry can and should draw from.

Youth Ministry needs youth work as a critique of inclusive practice. Some aspects of youth ministry have got themselves so middle class ( as they serve churches in middle class areas) or one ethnic orientated – that something has to be challenged- and yes in some areas of the UK there are predominantly only British white people. An ethic of equality of opportunity, and equality of access from youth work will provoke youth ministry to consider its acceptance of others, its programmes that alienate or isolate young people with behavioural issues, or have a middle class feel to them, or feel ‘white’. and thats before practices that have equal opportunities relating to gender or sexual orientation.  Youth work has been at the forefront of anti-discriminatory practice – not just inclusive practice – Youth Ministry might again reflect on the processes and journey that youth work has been on, why, where it succeeded in being more inclusive.

Youth work might not just be an ethical stick for other practices, it might invoke reflection and a considered look at practice from a value base- but also there might be key ongoing learning points that ‘professional’ youth work has encountered, faced and is now undergoing that youth ministry might well learn from. Does youth ministry need youth work?  I think so.  Passmore goes further, suggesting that there might be a symbiosis between them.

References:

Brierley, D All Joined Up (2003)

Jeffs and Smith,  Youth work Practice (2010)

Passmore R, Here be Dragons: Youth work and Mission off the map (2013)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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