Churches should be the safest place for LGBTQ young people (A review of ‘4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers)

That is the bold confident claim and dream in the recent book ‘4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers’, by the Youth Cartel, that includes contributions in this edition by Gemma Dunning, Shelley Donaldson, Nick Elio and Eric Woods, this is my review of this piece of work.4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers: Effective Ministry to Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer, and Questioning Students Among Us by [Oestriecher, Mark, Donaldson, Shelley, Dunning, Gemma, Elio, Nick, Woods, Eric]

There is much to be commended in this book. Though in one sense, the writers readily confess that their four views share a whole lots of commonality, three of the views are from a US perspective, all bring to the table personal and/or professional experience of shared lives and practice with young people, some of whom would identify as LGB or TQ, and each of their views brings together the realities of how this experience of young people affects parents directly, churches and also the specific dynamics of groups of young people in church activities. What the contributors share also is that there is a complexity to trying to ‘work’ out a particular standpoint, perspective or set of coherent statements to this concern that they have and share with us. The contributors recognise the complexity of trying to juggle what appears to be the conflicts within the theological position of conservative evangelical youth ministry and churches, with ecclesial politics and also the lived experience of young people growing up in societies in which they as LGBTQ identified need to be given an abundance more of intentional inclusion than other young people.

As I say there is much to be positive in this book, and I mean this, its not a prelude to a long ‘but’- This is a detailed if not personal exploration of how four people in Ministry came to revelations about the faith, their practice, the world of young people and their struggle, challenges and culture doing so in christian ministries that caused them to have to dig deep, make sacrifices and begin a process of education and change within churches (that they were employed within) to enable young people to receive the kind of welcome, support and space to be that their dream for every LGBTQ young person might need.

If you want to be a church community that has the desire to offer this kind of welcome and space for young people – then this book is for you, as there are many practical tips, and also pointers to the challenges that this might bring, especially in terms of trying to gain consensus on a particular view of LGBT (and if even Consensus is what is required). As they say, though, dont try and be inclusive if you dont mean it, and arent prepared to be it. I specifically enjoyed that when churches say ‘All are welcome’ some who identified as LGBT may still want to know if they  are included in the ‘all’ – and so without having to make an extra phone call to the church office, the church should go out of its way to specify that it a welcoming space for those in the LGBT community. It would be  simple thing to say, but might need considerable conversation so that a church might mean it. This is one practical tip, there are others, that specifically relate to young peoples activities such as residentials and small groups, all of which might give reason to not know ‘what to do’ but each is given due mention in this book, and ultimately many of the issues that might be raised are solved through respecting all young people and giving them all opportunity to contribute to how a situation might be ‘resolved’. This ultimately is good youthwork practice.

It is ‘this good youthwork practice’ that leads me to the ‘however’ of this review.

What is revealed in this book is that little preparation was available for youth ministers in the UK or USA to start ‘dealing’ with (and i use this phrase lightly) this concern. It is as if there has been a dawning of the reality of LGBT as a possible identifier for even christian young people is a recent thing, what is of concern is the underpreparedness that it seems each of the four persons were – at least Christian ministry training did not prepare them for. For Gemma, it was the approach of Informal education (youthwork) that enabled her to bring an approach of inclusion in conversation with the christian faith, and then this gave her a language and framework in which working with young people might mean in this way. Young people in this book are absent. To a point though one young person, whos is known to the writer exclaims

Why are you still talking about this?

As if the world and her have moved far on, but the church is still having to continue having conversations about this issue. The conversations itself that highlight that the complexity that the church might face in the ongoing to act meaningfully and inclusively with young people in the way the writers dream for in this book. But for youthwork in the UK, (not youth ministry) this conversation is a non-starter, there have been LGBT groups, conversations and friendly spaces for years, the LGBT youth clubs in Scotland have been active a long time. Because it is inclusion and anti-oppression first – (without conservative or evangelical theology in its way). It is telling that youthwork/informal education is absent in the US youth ministry context and conversation, and it is sadly absent in this book. But for youthworkers there is a sense that why are we talking about this? – its 2018 for crying out loud. On the other basis – No one has been talking about this as nothing has been in print on this concern, within youth ministry. 

It is the ongoing voice of young people that is however sadly lacking in this book. Some of these stories are painful, some are brave and some complicated. But this book has alot of is the voice of youth leaders who are shaping ministries, churches and lives to accomodate and be inclusive to LGBT and all young people. It is a shame therefore that the table is not extended to hear directly from LGBT young people themselves. We hear statistics of LGBT young people and recommendations of churches to young people, but it is their voice that is absent. There is not a story of how LGBT young people have found the desired welcome in a church. It is a minor thing, on one hand as there are not many youth ministry books that include the actual voice of young people, they tend to be the cumulative experience of youth leaders and academics. But a personal story and one from an LGBT young person in this book about inclusion might have been helpful.

Churches should be the most safe place for young people to ‘be’ LGBT. I wonder. This might reveal that youth leaders feel that other spaces arent safe. I would say in the UK that there are inclusive spaces for young people to ‘be’ LGBT are common and a church is lower in the pile that a young person might go to. However, a young person who has grown up in the church who identifies as LGBT at a time during their child or teenage years, needs to know that the relationships they currently have with supportive adult in their christian upbringing are going to stay the same when their LGBT identity is known. If the church is serious about being with and for young people, then this dream has to be a reality. If you want tips on churches being safer places for young people to be LGBT then this book is for you. If you want to use it to start a conversation that should have already been had, then use it, If you want it to have all the answers and something concrete for you in your situation then its not for you, there is much to be worked out in each situation, and much to i think do in order that churches might live up to the dream of being safe that this book aspires churches to be. Though- better to start a conversation about this, than only react later.

To buy a copy direct from Gemma, here is the link

A kindle edition is available via amazon here: (here its slightly less at £10, but you cant share it as easily around the church leaders compared to a hard copy..)


Youth Ministry’s embarrassingly slow turn to consider core youth work practices

The church is now doing a ‘thing’ on Mental Health, writes Will van der hart, in this article in Christianity today: , saying that since 2006 he and other have been banging on about mental health and young people.

And thats great, that a national event like soul survivor is hosting a seminar on the topic.

And its also as great that a major national evangelistic youth organisation in the UK is currently focussing on ‘diversity’ – no not the winners of britains got talent but actually being serious about diversity. Not inequality, poverty though, just diversity. Not gender, sexuality, trans issues, but diversity, so realistically race. And it is important that it is happening, it is a start.

And its great also that a Grove booklet (which i am yet to get a copy of ) was on the subject of ‘gender aware youth work’ . It is great that this conversation is happening. Image result for gender aware youth work

BUT IT IS 2017!!!  


Back in 2003, Danny Brierely argued in ‘All Joined up’ that Youth Ministry needed Youth work, because it had a focus on young people as people, it had an ethical view of the world that would put young peoples needs first, and also that its values would help keep some integrity into the practice of youth ministry.  Admittedly this was in a book written and youth ministry doesnt always respond to books written about itself, even ones that soul survivor/yfc and oasis/youthwork the conference support – as they did with this one.

Youth Ministry needed youth work to help it focus on young people. (it also said youth work needed youth ministry, but thats another story)

Anti -oppressive practice, inequality, participation, equality of opportunity – all totem poles that flavoured, drove, and maintain youthwork as a distinctive practice. But where was youth ministry then? 

The question is what has youth ministry been doing if its only now beginning to realise that there are complex needs and societal barriers/challenges that young people face?  well most of the time it has been mining that culture for methods and tools for relevancy, for trying to assess what generation we’re supposed to be in and talking to, and its has been serving its own institution, that of the church or it organisation.  Young peoples needs have been second fiddle. Ethical practice has been no where. Equality. hmm.

The long departing field of youth work, has been streets ahead with conversations about equality, gender, mental health, resilience, oppression, inclusion. Even the cover pages on some of these books look dated. And they do because one of them is over 25 years old. Neil Thompsons is on a 4th edition.

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Being aware of and challenging oppression was part even of the work conducted by detached youthworkers in the 1960’s as they became aware of the competing values at work as they wandered the streets, and in conversations with young people. And back to Mental Health, projects in scotland have been developing responses to this since the early 2000’s and youth work/ministry there has done too, especially in YMCA’s and other community based projects.

Its just kind of embarrassing that the view is that the world of evangelical youth ministry is catching up with things that should be part and parcel of its practice. It says something about its culture, about its intentions and willingness to learn from other disciplines that conversations about such matters are only just on its radar. It also reflects a lack of critical thinking within a field to recognise that significant learning, research and work has been conducted by other similar fields and an ignorance not to have engaged with it as core to its practice thus far. Maybe behind the sofa its found a theological view, that isnt liberation theology, to be able to see these things in a different light in 2017, as if youth ministry has been a theology first, action second profession.

On a positive note; Maybe youth ministry is undergoing a shift to be thinking that working with young people is more than about saving souls. It might even be thinking about young people in their social context, and how this is complex situation, it might even be thinking about issues of equality and diversity, and even gender. And these are not to be sniffed at at all, but it does feel as though at times youth ministry is playing catch up big time, and what this shift is saying about what youth ministry is all about.

maybe also it is realising that there is a gap in which to occupy itself and provide itself with tools to go there, but the youthworkers and pioneers have already been in the gap before and have been shouting about the nature of the world for a while from the margins. Maybe it is opportunist of youth ministry to be given spaces that the youth services once held, and it could be opportune rather than strategic. But i dread to think how a gap year person is supposed to cope if a school asks about helping a young person with complex needs, if theyre there ‘just to tell a group about Jesus’ …

There may well be a shift in youth ministry to think about the complex needs of young poeple – aspects at the core of youth work practice since the 1960’s… It might be an admission that youth ministry has only served the needs of its institutions, not put young people as primary thus far, whilst it might be embarrassingly slow, it is still slightly positive.

And on a real positive note, at least theres plenty of 1p books on amazon if it wanted to critically think about young people and equality. 

Are Young people in church ‘born’ or ‘made’ leaders?

A few weeks ago I was lecturing a session on leadership and Management on the ‘EQUIP NE’ Course – (see here for details of how to apply , in which i gave the students an overview of management styles and also different thoughts on leadership. Image result for leadership

We did the almost usual activity of describing what an ‘effective leader’ looks like in terms of characteristics, which in turn leads to thinking about leadership as a trait. So things like communication, confidence, courage, drive, determination were some of the traits identified. At that point its relatively easy to think of the ‘great’ military leaders, the strong ‘men’ of the past, warriors, and phrases like ‘leaders being born and not made’ . You get the idea. In this way it is either fixed, there from the outset. Or its not. Image result for leadership

At the other end of the spectrum, we then discussed how leaders become developed in the situations they find themselves in, as the context determines. Almost the opposite to the above, where a person shows leadership qualities and skills in the midst of a situation, as needed by a team, an organisation or situation in order for it to thrive. The person rises to the challenge, or possibly doesnt, but needs the team and environment to be able to do so. They lead in a culture to thrive.

So the question is:

When thinking of young people as leaders in churches, does the context enable this possibility- if their leadership traits arent immediately obvious? 

or as pertinently, on what view of leadership are young people judged? Of course it would be easy to identify the traits of young people as leaders and give them further opportunities to do so, but what of other young people whose potentiality to show leadership is laying dormant and needs opportunities to thrive within the space ( requiring more effort and patience on the part of the church, youth ministry or congregation)

The challenge is that the ready made leader is easy to work with and develop in a culture of needing quick wins and easy volunteers in churches. But it might only be for lack of confidence to put them selves forward that a really good leader is laying dormant. I would hope that the ruthlessness of the business world, or Alan Sugars ‘you’re fired’ is not in use in regard to young people and their potentiality as leaders, ie that young people dont hear that ‘they havent got it as a leader’, and are continually relegated and sidelined compared to the golden child of the group. There can be a distinct likelihood that in churches that have limited leadership roles for women, that teenage girls’ leadership opportunities are overlooked, and they become more distant from the community. It happens. The boys rise to the top, as often competitive streaks are rewarded as leadership material. And others are left redundant because opportunities arent afforded, or possible, or they as young people are seen only as learners not deciders or creators and leaders. If rising to the ‘top’ and prominence is favoured – what then young people left behind in this game? Gender might preclude, but equally race, ‘dis’ ability or even theological view or questions/doubt, might all present churches from offering opportunities for forms of leadership. It is at this point where values like equality of opportunity in youth work might be for churches and youth ministry to contemplate.

From a Biblical point of view, Whilst there must have been something about the disciples that Jesus identified from his years of watching them in and around the area, they were given further opportunities to develop as people and followers in the three years, learning the hard way. Then they were left to it alone, and had to guide and lead the early church, not long after the death and resurrection of their leader (and his disappearance), Peter stood up in front of the crowd, yet before he couldnt stand up for his faith. It is difficult to argue that Jesus made the disciples what they became, rather than what they were individually born as.  Image result for peter bible

So what might that mean for viewing young people as leaders in churches?  Are they given opportunities to thrive, develop their gifts, strengths to help contribute to the life of the community. And not when its too late – from as early an age as possible. They may be born with something about them, but the church community might also be a safe, healthy place for them to have their character formed through participation, empowerment and opportunities to contribute. They might not be born leaders, but the church can make them into them.  


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:

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…  



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


Encouraged by previous fights for equality – Catherine Booth

Most days over the last two years I have tried to read the daily reflection from Common Prayer: a liturgy for ordinary Radicals. Most days, not every day, Most days as a result I am not only drawn to passages of the scriptures, to liturgies from a range of faith traditions, but also to be inspired by the saints who have gone before. The women and men who have stood up for injustice, and seek prejudice, and inequality, and tried to deal with the consequences, symptoms and causes. It is an inspiration every day to try and stand on the shoulder of previous giants.

Today the person in Question was Catherine Booth, renown for founding The Salvation army, amongst other things and a fight for the place of women in the church. Not a small task in the 1850’s.  This is what ‘Common Prayer’ said of her today;

Catherine Booth, a great nineteenth-century preacher and co-founder of the Salvation Army, said, “Cast off all bonds of prejudice and custom, and let the love of Christ, which is in you, have free course to run out in all conceivable schemes and methods of labour for the souls of men.”

I thought I would find out more about her, put her in context, and what it appears is that she was something of a teenage rebel, a rebel for ‘being good’ and holding to high levels of character and behaviour. :

She was born as Catherine Mumford in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England, in 1829 to Methodist parents, John Mumford and Sarah Milward. Her father was an occasional lay preacher and carriage maker. Her family later moved to Boston, Lincolnshire, and later lived in Brixton, London. From an early age, Catherine was a serious and sensitive girl. She had a strong Christian upbringing and was said to have read the Bible through eight times before the age of 12.[1]

During Catherine’s adolescence a spinal curvature led to years of enforced idleness.[2] She kept herself busy, however, and was especially concerned about the problems of alcoholism. Even as a young girl she had served as secretary of a Juvenile Temperance Society writing articles for a temperance magazine. Catherine was a member of the local Band of Hope and a supporter of the national Temperance Society.

When Catherine refused to condemn Methodist Reformers in 1850, the Wesleyans expelled her. For the Reformers she led a girls’ Sunday school class in Clapham. At the home of Edward Rabbits, in 1851, she met William Booth, who also had been expelled by the Wesleyans for reform sympathies. William was reciting a temperance poem, “The Grog-seller’s Dream,” which appealed to Catherine, who had embraced the new Methodist passion for abstinence.[3]

At the same time, she wrote and campaigned for the equality of women in the pulpit, in preaching and in the church, the wikipedia entry says that: “Catherine began to be more active in the work of the church at Brighouse. Though she was extremely nervous, she enjoyed wo rking with young people and found the courage to speak in children’s meetings. During this period she discovered a model, American Wesleyan revivalist Phoebe Palmer. With William’s encouragement, Catherine wrote a pamphlet, Female Ministry: Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel (1859), in defense of American preacher Mrs. Phoebe Palmer’s preaching, whose preaching had caused a great stir in the area where the Booths lived. Female Ministry was a short, powerful apology for women’s rights to preach the gospel. The pamphlet identifies three major principles on which her convictions rested. First, Catherine saw that women are neither naturally nor morally inferior to men. Second, she believed there was no scriptural reason to deny them a public ministry. Third, she maintained that what the Bible urged, the Holy Spirit had ordained and blessed and so must be justified.[2] She complained that the “unjustifiable application” of Paul’s advice, “ ‘Let your women keep silence in the Churches,’ has resulted in more loss to the Church, evil to the world, and dishonor to God, than any of [its] errors.”[3] A woman preacher was a rare phenomenon in a world where women had few civil rights, and no place in the professions. Catherine Booth was both a woman and a fine preacher, a magnetic combination that attracted large numbers to hear her and made its own statement about the validity of women’s ministry.[2]

Today, encouraged by the fight for equality in History, to those who acted out of their beliefs, to those who stood up and created cultures that were prophetic and counter-cultural in a wider society and also in the church of its day. May those who have such transforming and pioneering spirits not find conformity in their way for an alternative transforming culture for the love and gospel amongst people oppressed in society.


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:, 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.


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)














How much do #blacklivesmatter in the church & youth ministry?

The most important article in youthwork magazine was the one no one talked about. It asked whether the church and youth ministry is prepared to be empathetic to the struggle of racist oppression amongst young people in the UK, and the world.

One in which the sin of omission was mentioned in relation to the challenge of racism in the church, in youth ministry and how the church might respond to its own prejudices and also social campaigns such as #blacklivesmatter.

Dean Pusey the author of the piece, Diocesan youth Officer for St Albans wrote provocatively that:

The Sin of racial discrimination or bias, whether subtle or overt, needs addressing. Can the church be at the forefront of anti-discriminatroy practice, but because it is the right thing to do theologically, sociologically and practically? There cannot be opt outs or our mission is morally questionable at best, oppressive at worst.

Dean goes on to recount how since the Stephen Lawrence case and its repercussions in British society since the mid nineties, that systematic changes have been attempted in the British Justice system, in the criminal justice system, especially in relation to the treatment of Black teenagers, in the policies of Stop & Search that disproportionately discriminated. Yet as Dean argued:

Why is the church not at the forefront of speaking about these issues?

The church has been good at speaking about Poverty – in relation to Make poverty history in Africa, About Poverty in regard to Food (foodbanks), about financial poverty with campaigning groups like CAP. But where, as Dean argues, has there been a cry for Justice, for those discriminated against in society.  It has campaigned against poverty without being poor, can it and its youth ministry campaign in terms of equality and against racism without being black? I neither want to forge a link between poverty and discrimination, as this neednt be the case – but systematic reduction of opportunity occurs in some areas, a cause of poverty, and this highly discriminatory, and often these lines are drawn ethnically. Has the church stood by- and why might this have been – did it ever think that this was its role?

and yet, for a moment i think about my own practice of youth work in the last 20 odd years;

It has to be said that up until 2004, and thinking through sociologically, theologically and practically about youth work and ministry – considering equality, anti-discriminatory practice was not even on the agenda. In the groups that i was involved in in churches, the areas that these occured, in Hartlepool mainly, were very ‘white’. I wouldnt say middle class – as Hartlepool it wasnt like that – but the working class white boys of the town struggled in the type of work that we tried to engage them with. Race wasnt the issue. Methods were.

When i reflect on developing Detached youthwork in Perth from 2008,  this , if we enacted it appropriately, could be inclusive to all young people and yet, the streets of Perth were in the main dominated by young people who drank alcohol in large groups of ‘white’ working class young people again – and the same is the case in Durham now – without the alcohol. We did see some small groups of black young people in Perth, and we found it difficult to engage with them, they werent regular. It wasnt that we didnt want to – but the opportunities were difficult to emerge. The dominant groups dominated.

In a way this isnt the point of the article – Dean isnt asking for personal practice introspection – but in a way that is what he has caused me to do – to think – have i rejected being involved with a group of young people on the streets, or speak to groups in open club settings because of race, or prejudice? how have i been less inclusive than i could have been, or took a stand against racist language in conversations with young people on the streets? – i do remember we tried to engage a polish group and started to learn russian, but we never saw them again.

The question i reflect on further is that in my own practice – thinking about equality, anti-discrimination at a basic level only occured when at ICC, Glasgow we thought further about Power and Opportunities for young people, and thought about systems, social constructions of ‘youth’ and youthwork as a philosophy based upon community work and inclusive values. When id previously worked for churches as a volunteer – the thought of fairness or inclusion was barely a back thought, the only concern was teaching the young people about faith, whoever showed up.  I wonder if voluntary youth ministry has changed much?

What Dean is asking for, is that the church has something even more imperative than ‘just’ youth & community work values to uphold its work (though its a helpful starting point) – it is that fundamentally God requires us to look on humanity with his eyes. To look at each other as humanity as neighbours, as brothers and friends, to share in this global world experience where neither rich, poor, slave or free is separated from the love of God. This imperative gives the church adequate reason to challenge systems that oppress because to be free is to flourish, and prophets of old challenged the systems.     Yet i would hope that the church hasnt bought the narrative of fear of speaking up.

As i have suggested elsewhere, the church, and youth ministry has a call to be practical and prophetic. As Vanhoozer argues (2005), it has a responsibility to break down walls of separation between itself and the world, and to speak prophetically in it, and work at dismantling these structures, sometimes the structures of its own practice that discriminate. Heaven will not be white, and Praise God, we might need to get used to it now.

The Vitriol tolerated in the media that has been borderline, decidedly and explicitly anti-human, let alone Racist, in the lead up to and subsequent to Brexit, and the American election,  is reason enough for thinking that church even more now has a role in the rebuilding of community, an alternative kingdom community reconciled.

When a leading youth pastor claimed in Youthwork magazine that youth workers were of less quality, much was responded to and written in anger, response and defence. We took our own position seriously and defended the profession, or agreed with him.

Deans article is deeply globally, socially, theologically and practically more significant.

This is about the way that the church responds to inequality, racism and prejudice and what appropriate responses are to structures in faith communities- and the community at large where there is discrimination. About youth work and ministry amongst young people that doesn’t discriminate, and adjusts its practice so that it is inclusive. It affects how we view our shared humans on and in this global world, it is about who Jesus would be fighting for the freedom of right now, and where liberation not further judgement is required.

The sin of ommission may have been also applied to Deans article.  Theres an irony. so if you want to read it a copy is here: ywmag_nov2016-1 (permission granted by the author)