#NYMW19 – A weekend of great conversations – but which important questions does youth ministry need to ask?

Its almost 48 hours exactly since I got back from Youthscapes (www.youthscape.co.uk)  National Youth Ministry weekend and so I thought I would put pen to paper on a few reflections from it, with a few added and notable caveats.

The first is that this was the first time I had attended an English Youth Ministry conference. yup. Well aside from YFC’s own staff jamboree, my own youth ministry journey was too embryonic to go to the early incarnations of youthwork the conference back in 1997, and from 2004-2012 I was in Scotland (and why travel to england..) and since being back in England I have largely gone to conferences that i have prioritised in terms of learning and specialism, or where i felt it would be important to have an input from a faith perspective, such as In defence of youth work, Federation of detached youthwork and a few others.  Though I did attend Deep Impact a few years running in Scotland.

The second thing, in terms of reflecting on the NYMW19 is that i spend the great total of 0 (zero) minutes in any seminar, talk or workshop. With the exception of three workshops that were being presented from the room that i was part of with my lovely colleagues at FYT. Ill include only a small part of this , as they will show more of these on the FYT website soon along with a few graphs and pictures (http://www.fyt.org.uk) 

So – what have I actually got to say about the National youth ministry weekend, if i wasnt at a seminar and didnt hear a single thing from the stage. Well maybe thats the point, what is the essence of a conference? How much is it directed by whats on the stages, or what happens in between?

The bits in between were fun.

Thats all i can say really. I was tempted to wear a T shirt that said

yeah, i did write that blog – sorry if it upset you

But then i realised that actually, though a number of other ministry leaders, organisation leaders, and twitter followers knew of this little blog of mine. 750 people at the NYMW really didnt. And i already knew this.

For, whilst the twitterati of christian youth work, some engage with these reflections, the reality for me is that i get far more responses from the more critical, more open spaces in ‘secular youthwork’ than the youth ministry world. If such a world exists.  Thats not to say that this has no impact – but bring 850 people involved in youth ministry into a room for a weekend, and id imagine that the echo chamber of those who engage in theory regularly, theology even, or who have the time to read the stuff i write, or know about it, or search it out is few. But that didnt stop the fans of this blog searching me out. (blushes) .

The other reflection – is that there are many people who i would regard as being important in the conversation about youth ministry – who were absent from the conference, and some are very important – whether DYO’s, Clergy, Bishops even, representations from other denominations, and not many people involved in christian charities such as YMCA’s and very few from YFC – two from different ends of a youth ministry/work spectrum, but largely absent in the conversation.  Is youth ministry so confident in itself that it has any clout to speak to power, and those who make powerful decisions that will affect the future of churches working with young people in the UK. Because, if it isnt doing that, its merely speaking to itself. (which i know is also a criticism of the echo chambers of social media of which this blog is a part)

But what of the question… what of UK youth ministry in 2020?  or the long term 2030?

What is it going to be able to do – if the organisation it serves.. the church is 11 years further into the decline its currently in – and youth ministry itself hasn’t got much of a track record of stemming this overall tide – and churches themselves are recruiting family and youth workers, community and youthworkers (with more of a missional/outreach focus),. Has the church given up on youth ministry or young people? And if not – what is the core of youth ministry and what has it got to say? – if its discipleship.. have we even thought about what this is, and how this occurs? And – what about youth ministry and theology, and worship, church, mission, spirituality, poverty and faith, and then – what about thinking about youth ministry and other disciplines like sociology or psychology, all are important. At least I think they are.  These conversations need to happen not just in the centres of academia. Young people are far too important to not do this.

Having a conference next year is one thing. Systematically putting young people right at the heart of the UK church’s focus is another, and not just to save the church – but to enable communities to flourish too.

However, It wouldnt be unusual for me to get sidetracked down a rabbit hole of reflective purposeful questions, and yet at the same time say that I really enjoyed the weekend, but thats probably because I love having conversations with people, and there were 100’s of them in the FYT room and in the market place area, conversations that went deep, conversations about critical aspects of youth ministry, conversations where I learned things, conversations with others who are in the midst of the challenge, the midst of trying to do some great youth work, conversations with other ministry leaders and friends, and these conversations are completely life giving, energising and positive.

Honestly – I genuinely loved the weekend – it was great to catch up with and meet so many people – far too many to name. But does having a fabulous weekend, mask some of the difficult questions, and conversations that need to happen?

And gathering 850 youth ministry people – what conversations do they think need to happen – is there space to hear and listen as a process?  or are they to be sold ideas too?

Ultimately youth ministry (like youthwork) itself is a conversation anyway, shaped by those who experience it, see it and narrate it, so did NYMW open up new conversations, or shut them down, do the difficult ones need to be asked in the next few years, and work towards the responses. So, yes i loved the weekend, yes i love the conversations, but then again, you know i love a good conversation, whats important is that the conversations continue, and not just on twitter….

12 of the inhibiting myths that prevent churches from starting to work with young people

These still kick about a bit, so maybe its worth stating them, once for all, getting them out in the open and realising not only how ridiculous some of these are, but more damaging how inhibiting they are, for churches, congregations to work with young people.

None of these are true, and if you think they are, think about what you’re trying to say about young people;

  1. The building is a barrier for young people coming into the church – no it isnt, its that people from inside the building havent created a welcoming atmosphere, or that its only open for things that young people havent created or wanted.
  2. If only someone could play a guitar, and do modern worship songs, that will bring young people in to the church. Heard this one recently, not going to respond. Might implode.
  3. No one here is young anymore, young people wont want to talk to us – actually they will if you find a way to be interested in them, and create a place that is welcoming, supportive and for them.
  4. We’ll never get young people, theyll all go to the big mega trendy church with lights and guitars. Really, all the young people in your town go there? you mean, the few christians will go, theres more than those 6 though isnt there.
  5. Therell be a safeguarding nightmare working with young people – no more so than any other group
  6. We used to have young people here but they trashed the place. Shame then that a different group of young people 30 years later are being tarred with the brush of their grandparents. Maybe reflecting on new approaches might do it
  7. Theres no material to work with young people like the ones in our town. Agreed, but the resource of being yourself, listening and asking positive questions may be all you need. Or questions like ‘were from the local church, and have no idea about working with young people, can you help us out, what would you like to happen for young people here?’
  8. Were too busy. Only if young people arent a priority.
  9. Its a job for a youthworker. Nope. See point 7.
  10. Attraction is greater than significance and meaning. Because a facade of entertainment wont eventually wear off. It’s not just millennials that crave authenticity, every young person in the history of young people does.
  11. They just need a simple message; strangely young people might be up for being challenged, involved and co creators of their faith journey. Challenge and risk are needed more than ever.
  12. We dont have the space to do it. Create an environment where people are loving and interested, and young people participate and are respected. Then the venue is irrelevant. (Unless ministry with young people is still considered as entertainment)

Theres also the ‘we dont know what they’re into… ‘ myth.. it’s as if young people are a real mystery.

Its only because I still hear these being said that I thought I’d put them together, so yes, this is unashamedly passive aggressive, I admit it. But there are two factors in play that mean that the church is needed more than ever to develop working with young people. The demise of statutory youth services, and the general acceptance that there are less church family young people in churches or staying per generation. The opportunity and determination should or could be there – but the opportunity is written off before the adventure even starts…

Church, you have the resources, the people and the connections with local communities, you can make this happen, if you really want to.

10 things you’re unlikely to see in Christian youthwork.

This almost feels a bit like the endgame on mock the week, when ‘unlikely things you’ll see…or hear’ is the opening strapping for which then the comedians are then tasked with completing. Today I was chatting to a few youthworkers about a youth work project that had a very similar name to another, and had used a bible verse number as their name. You know the one. It’s the life to the full one. (10:10). It got me thinking, if 3:16, 10:10 are commonly used, and there are some other common things in Christian youthwork.

What might be things unlikely to see or hear in Christian youthwork?

1. A project that has the name ’23:20′ after the profound words of Ezekiel.

2. A large worship gathering admit that financial reasons, and the need for advance funding, or internal poor partnership working was the reason for its demise. Far easier to say that ‘ the Lord is calling us to something new’

3. An all female worship band.

4. A Christian youthworker stay long enough in a church based role to be eligible for a sabbatical. And then to get one.

5. A youth pastor not use an analogy from Star wars/Lord of the rings or a U2 lyric in a youth service.

6. Young people involved in creating their own youth provision. Especially any collective worship space that’s apparently for them.

7. A job application for a youth worker that asks for a quiet, reflective, critical theological youth worker.

8. A youth work not have expectations that the Sunday school will be as full is was in 1890, after they’ve been in post 4 weeks.

9. A youth worker without 9 different coffee shop loyalty cards in their purse or wallet.

10. A commissioning service for the arrival of a new youth worker in post.

Here are 10 of my ‘unlikely to see’ in Christian youthwork, what might yours be?

Can youth ministry and youth work really be all joined up?

An article has just been published in Youth and Policy in which Andy du Feu from Moorlands college asks whether there needs to be a larger table for youth work and youth ministry could sit and converse together in dialogue. It is an interesting piece and builds on Allan Clynes article in 2015 on the professional narrative in youth ministry. To read Andys piece have a look at this link:  A Table for youthwork and Ministry . Do have a read.

Andys article didnt get me agitated. But it did cause me to think of two questions:

  1. Havent we been here before?  and
  2. What would that dialogue look like, and how would we know this had happened?

Both of which I explore later in this piece. But first it got me thinking about the levels in society in which Youth Ministry and Youth work operate, in the UK, at least and what is going on (that i know of) around collaboration and the opening of this dialogical table. NB this piece does use terms like secular and faith, to make points, I am uncomfortable with using ‘secular’ myself, but in the context of this piece i think it helps to quantify the discussion.

So firstly youth ministry, it has:

College courses (cliff college, NTC, CYM as examples)

Charitable Organisations /Affiliations (YFC, Youthscape, Urban Saints, SU – and all scottish equivalents, BB/GB)

Conferences

Magazine (C&YW), Journals (Journal of youth and theology, IASYM) a few rare books. The Bible as a sacred text

Social Media

Churches/Diocese/Deanery/Denominations

Practitioners, that include professionals, gap year students, volunteers.

 

On the ‘other side’ of the coin, Youth work operates via;

National occupational standards

Government policies

Colleges

Some Third sector organisations – significantly increasing since Austerity as CIC/CIO orgs take over the running of youth clubs in communities.

Charitable organisations – Barnados, YMCA, Princes Trust, Uniformed scouts/guides

Magazines (CYP), journals, Articles, a few books.

Social Media

Clubs

Practitioners, including professionals, trainees, apprentices, volunteers.

I note that I think there are a number of colleges, organisations and practices that straddle these – with FYT, YMCA’s and NTC Glasgow being ones that spring to mind. There is possibly a spectrum. But I couldnt fit a spectrum on this page. And theres alot more to both than above…

So the question is – how are either youth ministry and youth work currently undergoing dialogue- and where?

From the bottom up. Practitioners on the ground do often connect and collaborate. There arent the resources to go around to stay in silos. Partnerships locally are common. Not everywhere, but where there can be. Strangely the places where there are greater resources, the partnerships tend to be less across faith, more the faith groups and the secular groups separate. Possibly. Just a hunch and especially in evangelical areas.

There have been some opportunities in the last few years for christian youthworkers to be in conversation with their secular counterparts, especially via the ‘in defence of youth work’ campaign, one example was the ‘Youth work and Faith Conference in April 2015’ In which faith and non faith groups were participants. The Federation of Detached youthwork conference often hears from faith based contributions in seminars, articles and reflections (my own and Naomi Thompsons included) So, from this direction – where dialogue is a key component of its practice there seems a willingness to hear and listen.  But maybe thats because individual who believe in the dialogue push to be heard within the spaces- though being fair- there seems always a table at the FED or IDYW for a range of faith based voices. It was Naomi who edited with Mark Smith and Tom Wylie – Youth work and Faith – which brought together a number of voices to discuss faith and youth work, including Nigel Pimlott, Jon Jolly, and those from Jewish and Muslim youthwork. – Is this the kind of dialogue and perspective that could be included at a YFC or NYMW conference? – is that where there might be a ‘table’ ?

It is noticeable that Youth and Policy ( ‘secular’ journal) has opened its table to hear the voice of a prominent evangelical youth ministry person. Again, does this replicate in Youth and Childrens work – a length piece from ‘secular’ youthwork?

But – do non faith groups get a hearing at youth ministry conferences? – Ie does the dialogue on professional youth practices get a platform in youth ministry, at the YFC conference, at the NYMW or YWS or equivalents? I wonder…

Im not sure terms like inclusion, empowerment, participation and community development got any hearing at a YFC conference in the last few years, not by much anyway. It is interesting that  YFC themselves have strategically decided to lump their eggs into youth evangelism basket, and turn away from youthwork. So what might that say about dialogue? Is it dead in the water, sacrificed for serving churches and national programmes of youth evangelism? hmm… or has organisational survival (something everyone is suffering from) is playing its hand..?

I dont know how Urban Saints, YMCA or Scripture Union connect with ‘youthwork’ or ‘youth ministry’ – though FYT have in the past suggested that their approach has been to be at the connection between youthwork practice and emerging church and develop pioneer youthwork that has its value base in detached and value orientated youth work. It is notable that FYT representatives have largely been attenders or contributors to the IDYW conferences, blogs and discussion pieces.

There are a number of ‘christian faith based’ courses that include rightly youth and community work processes, practices, history and approaches. I wonder if the youth and community work course at somewhere like Durham university or equivalent used to include a session on ‘youth ministry’ just for dialogue purposes? Again, is the dialogue at this level only in one direction? but the other way? Where is the table in ‘secular’ colleges for the faith conversations? – im sure there is an its my blind spot to this… As there are christian youth and community workers all around…

So – at an organisation and conference perspective – is there still a way to go. Yet dialogue even between youth ministry organisations, and their collaboration is to be questioned too. The battle for organisational survival, kudos and significance rages, with many collaboration projects aborted for the sake of individual significance. At times.

The last significant published collaboration within youth ministry was the five book series that included ‘Joined Up’ by Danny Brierley in 2003, that collaboration included youthwork the conference, spring harvest, salvation army, yfc and Oasis.  Since then, a few collaborative ventures have been had across youth ministry organisations for the odd conference, but none that would be noted for providing material in the discourse of itself at least that which is published. (whether publishing via books is the only discourse influencer is open to another debate, but this is about collaboration even in youth ministry)

However, overall, the problem with trying to do collaboration and dialogue, is that there is no ‘one’ representative of ‘youth ministry’ in the same way that there is no one representative of ‘youth work’ to the dialoging. There are a myriad of fragmented conversations, occuring on blogs, books, chats calls and conferences, with pleas, urges and desires to do a kind of collaboration that seems to be impossible to ascertain or know what it would look like if it actually happened.  If Kerry Young (1999)  is in any way correct then Youth work itself, and youth ministry its counterpart, both exist as conversation in themselves – they occur as people determine what youth work or ministry is – as although attempts have been made to ground youth work in theory ( Jeffs and Smith) this hasnt happened in the same way in youth ministry – its practice that is determined more by its serving of local agency and church values and motivations – rather than common human values. (*which themselves emerged out of the faith context of their day).

In the same way that talking about youth ministry and youth work in itself contains both generalisations and universalisms of understanding, that actually are only realised through the actions of those who perform or enact it. In these pages i have talked about youth ministry but that could be directed at whole organisations, leaders of organisations, values/motivations of organisations, churches, affiliations, or even the youth minister themselves. ‘Youth Ministry’ not unlike ‘youth work’ is a catch all, and a ‘none of all’ term. It kind of hasnt been pinned down. Even if National occupation standards kind of know what aspects of it might look like.  Whereas everyone kind of knows what teaching, social work or Police is. Mostly.

So, a dialogue between youth work and ministry – it has been said to be being done before. Andys plea mirrors that of Naomi Thompson in Youth and Childrens work magazine of 2016   What is possibly significant about Andy, is that he represents one of the leading evangelical colleges in the UK, and it has often been the evangelicals who have avoided the ‘collaboration with youth work party’ . Though as he also says, his course has had to include the NOS standards, often the evangelical leaders have been absent from being part of the narrative and discourse on youth ministry, and the conversations about collaboration with youthwork from a practice perspective. It has been left to the academic practitioners to sit at the table. So, from Andy, from an evangelical perspective, this is significant as a leading influencer within youth ministry, the course and vocational course of Moorlands. That CYM and CMS as other faith based youth work & ministry courses have already been part of the table, and Moorlands possibly seen as too evangelical  in the past might also indicate a shift on his or his organisations part to open up that dialogue or a desire to join in with the discussions already occuring. At a time when the doom bells are ringing for both, but hope around the corner with labours pledge to refund statutory youth services.

But then again – what are these discussions if they are discussions and conversations about conversations, about approaches and approaches about conversations. Seems like the table might end not in a food fight but much noise.

There are debated, dilemnas and delights with the ongoing dialogue. Is Youth ministry as open to this? as youth work is?

In my piece on the back of the #ywaf15 conference, I suggest that there were a number of common grounds that faith and non faith youth work could easily share, that piece is here for you to peruse.

Collaboration for the sake of young people in the UK is i think crucial. The problem is that Neo liberalism and survival of the organisation fittest is affecting the potential for that dialogue to occur. It was noticeable that a paper presented to the government this week that highlight the effect of poverty on young people came from charities- with little mention of youth work or youth ministry organisations being part of this. If nothing else joining forces might help with the prophetic or critical edge needed to have a voice in these debates. For too long possibly though no one else has worried about the existence of youth ministry or youth work in society, both have also been as concerned about themselves than the young people they exist to serve for.

If everyone is starting to agree that dialogue is what is required… how might this be made to happen, when and where? some kind of young peoples conference that includes many approaches? collaborations on practice, journals and publishing?  could it happen?

But who is going to make it happen?  and how will we know when it is… 😉

 

References

Kerry Young 1999 The Art of Youthwork, RHP, Lyme Regis

Brierley, D 2003, Joined Up. SU publishing

Thompson, N (eds) 2015, Youth work and faith, RHP, Lyme Regis

 

 

 

Lets get Theological! On making Theology, not models & strategies first in Youth Ministry

You wont read this post. I guarantee you, no one will read this post. Even with a sneaky reference to an Olivia Newton John lyric in the title, you wont read this, because its got Theology in the title as well. I should have put sex, or masturbation, or something witty, clever or clickbaity, but no, in the spirit of honesty this piece is what it says it is. It is about theology and youth ministry, and I am aware no one will read it.

So, in that case I am going to go full on, deep and thoughtful, safe in the knowledge that it wont be read. I know this because nobody attends seminars on youth ministry and theology. Or conferences on theology and youth ministry. Very few people talk about theology when it comes to solving the problems of young people ‘leaving the church’. Instead its about practices, making practice better, trying to find a missing piece, a magic formula, a new way, or method. It can be that there isnt a conversation about theology, that doesnt only exist in place of formal theological conversation, the college. And for many others thats where it often stays.

So, because there is no grafting, searching and desire from the ‘top’ to do theology about youth ministry, there can be very little appetite from the ground to see it as being worthwhile. Its easier to drag a resource off the shelf, or do what we think works, or uptake business models like ‘develop strategies’. If you want to read the part one to this post, it is here in which i suggested that youth ministry needed to turn to performance theology, rather than business strategy. This is the long awaited, and probably grossly under-read, post that follows that one.

We have inherited a practice of trying to get things right to save and keep young people, and this puts practice and strategies first over and above theology.   Image result for theology?

Youth Ministry needs Theology first. – and that takes work.

However.

The first thing to say is that we are all theologians. Thats every volunteer, youth pastor, helper, leader involved in youth ministry in a church/faith setting. We are all theologians already, because, and this isnt the only reason, young people are reading us and our practices to glean theological insight through them. What we do is a theological act – it is being performed as youth ministry is done. Theology is transmitted in the way we operate.

So think about that for a second. Everything? yes…

In the way we talk about young people behind their backs, in the way we give responsibilities, in the way we decide, in the way we hold or give away power, in the drive to the bowling, or how we stay in the kitchen and dont get involved, in everything to do with youth ministry, every act is theological already. Our beliefs are already affecting our behaviour, but regardless of those beliefs, young people are reading us as if we’re the book. Our Theology is implied in what we do.

We are already in one extent performing it.

But that doesnt mean we get away with just acting it out. For, how do we know we’re acting out theology appropriately, or fittingly?  (its not about effectiveness, effecacy is a reductionist business term that we should ban in churches)

Thats where at least ‘thinking theologically’ about youth ministry also is important. If we’re in the ‘business’ of doing theology. The two go hand in hand. Theres also the theology within our institutions… however,

So, what do we need to thinking theologically about?

We need to think theologically about young people. Who they are in the sight of God, how they are created and loved, accepted and made in his image. And so much more besides….

We need to think theologically about discipleship. If this is the game of the church – to make disciples- then its not a bad idea to think theologically about what being a disciple is all about, and how a disciple is ‘formed’ and what a disciple does ‘performs’ .  What kind of discipleship? Action first or learning first, or both? So we need to think theologically about learning, about study, about actions (and the actions of God in our actions) Theres some stuff of discipleship in the categories section, and resources below.

We need to think theologically about Culture. About the place of the church in the culture, and what the role of young people is participating in the church in the culture – for, against, within, above or to transform it (Neibuhr) or something else – to offer an alternative, creating something new… What is Christ offering young people in discipleship? (and how might the church follow this)

We need to think theologically about Mission – and what we do and what young people do, what is Mission, What is God like if she is missional? How might young people play parts in mission, and who decides whether they can or cant?

There needs to be thought around theology of worship – what is it? Is only ‘christian’ worship worship? What worship doesnt need a band, a stage or a PA system, what worship is pleasing to God? What worship creates opportunities for young people to transform the world? Is worship a gathered experience or an emerging one, a public one or private one?

We also need to think theologically about how young people have faith; What is faith, how is it tested, how do they use it, act on it, and practice it in the every day, – where do they do faith?Related image

We need to think theologically about sex and relationships, about gender, about LGBT, about mental health, depression,  about drugs and alcohol, about education and ambition, about power, greed, globalisation, about politics, about technology, communication, about inclusion, money and fame. Because young people arent looking to us for the answers anymore, because half the time these are difficult subjects that we leave to one side. It is not and never enough to pick stuff up on these subjects off the shelf. Young people also dont want us to give one answer, and presume that culture has another answer, theyre far too clever for that. We need to know how to answer these things, and give tools for interpreting and navigating. There is no ‘one thing’ the bible says, or ‘one thing’ the world says about these things. To say this to young people would be patronising. But that doesnt mean to say we dont have responsibility to think theologically, biblically and ethically about these things to help young people share in and lead us in that exploration of learning.

What about what we do with young people? Might we stop and think about the activities and think theologically about these? About Residentials, gatherings of worship, games, gap years, funding, about festivals and the like, about group work, if everything we do implies theology, then what kind of God is being transmitted through these – what kind of church is? God of attendance and watching? God of large groups (where God is communicated as ‘always being’) God of challenge and risk, God that is ‘felt and experienced’ away from home, away from the local church – Thinking theologically about these things might mean that taking young people to an experience might create a view of God that might actually be unhealthy or even unbiblical. But then, if theology isnt important, then it doesnt matter..does it?Image result for theology?

Thinking Theologically about youth Ministry, might mean more than being motivated by the faith. Though its a good start. Working out how Faith and Beliefs motivate us in youth ministry is definitely a first step, we can spend too long busting a gut to get this bit right, and in reality, we’re never going to get this perfect (theres no such thing). What we need to do in youth ministry is live with the imperfection and the ongoing drama of it, but theologically thinking about youth ministry, given that as youth ministers, volunteers, pastors, workers and leaders, we are urged to be both theological and practical, reflecting and active. Part of the tool kit for us is Theology, our story, our church’s story, and the story we are called to live, the story which we perform and encourage others to. It shouldnt just motivate us like a bad head teacher with a stick (thinking Miss Trunchbull in ‘Matilda’) – but well at us from the deep, call us to something higher, take us (and others) to the margins, where likeness of Jesus is an ongoing task.

Theology emerges from the deep, from the margins. Theology might emerge through conversation between friends (Emmaus), might visit unexpected to give peace, might be present in space of the unlikely. We dont need to try and think theologically if what we’re doing is already good, loving, kind, faithful, generous, and working towards peace, wholeness and restoration – these marks of the kingdom need no law. But we might need to develop new theological language, reflection and resources for the road on which these travels take us. Theology from the streets, like St Francis’s ‘Sidewalk Spirituality’ or Ignatius, or other Saints of the Past. Thinking theologically about ministry might itself call us in new directions, new learning, new faith, thats where we might need to take risks, having experiences of God in the space of the margins, might cause us never to go to the gathering to find God – and thats ok. Youth Ministry is, like any ministry, an ongoing dramatic act. And in the drama, what kind of God is needed for the ongoing walk? One that Speaks and Acts – one that is present and urging, as Kevin Vanhoozer describes – is the holy author in our midst. 

Always speaking. Always giving us reference points. Always giving us things to relate to. Always prompting and provoking.

Image result for theology?

Where is the space for the Holy Author in the Midst of Youth Ministry? In every conversation – possibly, in every approach – possibly, in every action – maybe. The truth is we cant model our Youth Ministry on God – we’re not perfect enough for this. God isnt a model to be copied. God is a mystery who speaks, a creator who does as he pleases (Daniel 4:35) and is not restrained. We need to think and act and listen theologically. Its that Holy Author who will communicate and save. Its that Holy Author who is happy for an ongoing communication, whether this is ragged or poetic, praiseworthy or problematic. Its that Holy Author who is present in, with and amongst. God who might, just might not be white, distant and male – and that might change everything.

In conclusion, Theology needs to go first. Not just because we’ve tried everything else, but because thats where it should be, and not even because by doing this ‘it will work’ – no- because ministry is a risk taking endeavour not an exact science. We dont need to just ‘get on with the job’ of youth ministry, and neither is theology ‘just for the college’ and no one can avoid being theological. Putting this off does a disservice to young people, it does a disservice to ourselves. We can try and find a perfect method, strategy, model, process and practice. And that could consume us (and we can nearly always ‘do’ better) but that search is a painful one and full of frustration, comparison and frailty. Lets ditch the models, and have meaning, mystery and mission first.

Oh and some of this is only the tip of the iceberg….. directions to start, not journeys of discovery along the way hence some resources below:

References and Resources

Talking about God in Practice (2010) by Helen Cameron

Youthwork and the Mission of God (1997) by Pete Ward

What Theology for Youthwork?  by Paul Nash (Grove Booklet Y8)

Faith Formation in a secular age by Andrew Root (2017)  

When Kumbaya is not enough by Dean Borgman (1997)

Models for Youth Ministry by Steve Griffiths (2013)

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by Andrew Root (2007)

Starting Right – Thinking Theologically about Youth Ministry by Dean, Clark et al (2001) 

Remythologising Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer (2010) (more on theodrama in the categories section)

Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer (2014)

The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry by Kenda Creasy Dean/Andrew Root (2013)

Faith Generation by Nick Shepherd (2016)

Here be Dragons; Youthwork and Mission off the map by Lorimer & Richard Passmore (and me) (2013)

Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf (2007) 

 

What might the end of Soul Survivor mean for UK youth ministry?

In case you’re not in the evangelical youth ministry bubble, an announcement was made on Friday that in 2019, that summers youth worship festival by Soul Survivor will be it’s last.

The announcement is here http://thechurchsofa.co.uk/2018/05/soul-survivor-good-bye/

Opinions vary about how significant Soul Survivor has been over its 27 year run of summer festivals, as well as the many monthly and weekly services, and all the similar (dare I say it copied) in style events around the country. There is absolutely no doubt that Soul survivor has had a profound effect on shaping youth ministry in the UK.

Though there wasn’t such a week long young person orientated worship event at the time of SS’s inception. Soul survivor was certainly borne out of a burgeoning evangelical demographic in the UK, on a crest of a wave. Whilst some got into trouble for the ‘alternative’ worship service (Think Nine o clock service, Sheffield), the youth worship service scene was common across cities and towns in the UK. Though where many tried it, many also stopped relatively quickly, realising that it was just the christian kids going to them and music, lights and trying to be trendy, and putting up posters in schools really wasn’t connecting with any other young people – much. At least not in the way that they were often hoped to.

Many forgot that the thing they liked to do wasn’t really what others did. But at the time the christian event was the thing. Repackage it and it’s still the same approach.

But what now for UK youth ministry?

In this piece, UK youth Ministrys own Martin Saunders in 2015, effectively said that Youth Alpha and Soul Survivor were virtually the only successful working things in UK youth ministry;

https://www.youthandchildrens.work/Youth-Work/Read/Youthwork-blog/It-s-time-for-a-revolution-or-youth-ministry-is-dead

Whether either works might be debatable, and how something is deemed successful is also a debate. We might point to numbers of young people attending or participating. But we can easily point to the millions that haven’t. But the point is, what now if one of the two principle pillars of uk youth ministry is about to close?

Martin, then in 2015, called for revolution.

Maybe the final ending of soul survivor might herald it.

However it’s as fair to say that large gathering worship is going nowhere. When Stoneleigh festival closed in 2001-2, it spawned many local attempts to replicate it all over the uk. Trauma, grief and loss, for, it formed such an integral part of the identity of faith for so many, was turned into a sense of ‘carrying on’ and activism but on a local scale. The model was copied… for a short while. Maybe Soul Survivor will only be replaced by a Hillsong equivalent, given the expansion of the Hillsong empire, sorry, church, in the UK. The space is now ripe for it. That, the space is still pretty crowded with already many summer festivals, and local worship gatherings, frequent and hopeful in the 1990’s, now almost faded to the big university cities and where there are a few evangelical youth ministers in clusters means that the local is more likely to have already been in existence, or at least tried.

But what of youth ministry in the UK?

Well, given that this itself is ridiculously difficult to define, youth ministry itself might only be what youth ministers say it is. Many other camps and festivals exist, and imaginatively, it might be worth thinking about how young people become participants and contributors of their own, rather than just attenders. But that’s for another day. Youth ministry in the UK will, in 2019, have lost one it’s mainstays of the calendar.

If the scene really has changed. Real innovation is needed. The local church has got to be where it’s at, this is the place where the dangerous discipleship of participating in God’s work will occur for young people. 51 weeks of attending youth fellowship and a summer festival might , just might, not be challenging and radical enough. Not anymore, though it hasn’t been for a while.

Youth Ministry does need a shift, and closing of soul survivor might be the wake up it needs. But then, Think pieces like this have been written in their thousands. True innovation is the stuff no one sees. Calling for innovation is easy. Being knowledgeable about faith, discipleship and ecclesiology is also easy. The culture of evangelicalism, that Soul survivor has been part of, is still here. Whats as interesting is that young people are turning liturgical, contemplative and sacrificial. The spiritual tide is turning.

Whisper it quietly, but the still small voice is still on the move.

‘Its not about the money’- but are young people valued enough to pay youthworkers appropriately?

Image result for pay packet

Is a youthworker really just paid peanuts?

No one goes into youthwork for the money, like many ministries, and vocations, pay is secondary in job satisfaction to the desire to change and make the world better for others in whatever that means, education, health or support. Where Nurses have campaigned rightly for pay increases and teachers too, the individual church based youthworker is rarely able to negotiate such an increase, neither are there national bodies that assimilate pay. I have realised also that one thing I have rarely talked about within these pages is money, the bottom line, the pay of the youthworker. Its not something to talk about in church culture, often as ‘our work is for Gods glory’ is often said. But families of the youthworker also need to live, and feel as though Gods work is fairly valued financially. But ‘how much should we pay the youthworker’ is one key question I am often asked, when helping churches write up a role and advert for employment, and usually their starting point is lower than what I would thought is appropriate, especially as it doesnt usually include housing, utilities, moving costs etc.

But maybe the lid needs to be lifted and there needs to be a conversation about it. But, not for the first time in the last 10 years I find myself trawling through the job pages of the various employment pages and sites for all the main youthwork employers, and there’s a few things in terms of pay that have stood out. In my posts on this site on youth ministry and management (see the categories) I talk about many things, strangely not pay, salary and the costs involved in employing a youth worker in the current day and age. Often its not money that causes a youth worker to leave a post, more the internal politics, but I am hearing stories of how low pay is a large cause of stress for youth worker, especially in church settings. So maybe it is time to have that conversation.

The first thing I was thinking about was whether anything had particularly changed in regard to Church youthworker pay, especially since the professionalisation of youthwork. Like a good hoarder of resources I have copies of ‘YouthWork’ Magazine from a variety of dates, spanning 1997 to 2017, strangely the time when i was most likely to be in receipt of free copies, and when i was most directly involved in youth ministry, working for a church or a youth ministry organisation.

So, here is a quiz for you.

Below are job adverts for roles advertised in Youthwork Magazine over a span of 20 years. You have to try and guess which year they were advertised, based on the role advertised and the pay being offered, good luck ! ( write your answers in the comments section)

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Please write your answers in the comments below 1-10. And i just want the year you think the role was advertised, and it could be anytime in the last 20 years. Studious readers or editors of youth work magazine might recognise changes in type, but otherwise please just give them a go.

I have tried to find church based posts that are all relatively similar in terms of full time, and their nature. All of them are based in England. Most suggest qualifications, experience and working with young people on a regular basis.

Without giving any of the game away, in terms of which decade some of these were, there does need to be a conversation about the worth of a youthworker in a church, and how this worth is linked to their salary. If there are nurses in the UK who are in need of food banks, then i wouldn’t be surprised if there are youthworkers. What is clear from the examples above is that pay for what seem similar roles has fluctuated from 10,000 to ‘a package up to 25K’ in that time period, and this may have a number of other factors, the pay of the senior pastor, the pay that the church can afford, any other local or national pay scale within a denomination.

In the last few years there have been national changes to minimum an living wages that may have had a knock on effect on the amount being paid to youthworkers, hoping that they might be paid above this for the roles that they do, though with the expectation that some roles may be up to 45 hours per week, this is unlikely. Some roles on the Job Search site for YCW magazine currently are above £20K, but others only advertised on denomination websites are only £16-£18K. And i do mean only.

Because, given the price of rent, food, bills, internet, gas elec and the rest, this kind of salary is only for the single person renting somewhere small, or where this wage is not meant to be the main one in a family, therefore making family life very difficult (one person working for that wage and long hours, with partner also working full time) . Or a student. It is a statement that youthwork is only a first step career, not something for the experienced. A stepping stone to ‘real’ ministry. And that might not be the intention, but its what is possibly implied by low salary rates.

Maybe I protest too much. Maybe churches shouldnt keep up with the rising costs of living in many areas of the UK (even in the north east house prices and thus mortgages have gone up 3x at least since 1997) , but very few youthwork salaries have done so. Some are less than they were in 2005.

When it comes to paying a youthworker appropriately, there are many factors to consider, and these arent going to be repeated here, such as experience, qualifications and the role expected, and how it might involve managing, coordinating or training. As i said, there is more to employing a youthworker than just pay, and this post describes the minimum requirements for doing so , but pay, when this is linked to the well being of the worker in a situation, and says something (not everything) about the value of the work being done, and the recipients of that work ( ie young people) is important. Even if its something that at times we might find difficult to cope with.

And if a church doesnt want to keep increasing pay to reflect life in modern Britain, then there have got to be other innovative ways of making things work, such as paying utilities, or housing, or something else.

But what is a reasonable amount to pay a youth worker – does anyone know? If you have struggled with money as a result of being in a youth worker role, then privately do get in touch, and if you want to share your story you can do so as a guest post, i am sure others will want to hear. I am not sure Ill be able to help in any way in your situation, but if sharing it helps then you can do so here.

Whilst ive raised this subject – and if young adults and children really are important, what might be some of the solutions to the inconsistencies or low pay for jobs even currently being offered. There is a premium on youthworkers, there arent too many around, but it doesnt work like supply/demand to keep wages high like the issue is in housing. There are national agreed pay scales for some, though these are guidelines. I am not aware of any national denomination which directly contributes funding to local youth work posts, but there might be, because it would be politically awkward. Theres not going to be any quick solutions to this issue, a problem in some areas.

Maybe a youthworker in a job in the current day and age just needs to be grateful and shut up about their pay. hmmm…

One question might also be, what might a church be more likely to invest in, instead of using this to pay for salaries?

Anyway – your answers to the adverts above – what was the year?

Did you write your answers down – no cheating now… Here they are:

  1. 2005
  2. 2004
  3. 1997
  4. 1998
  5. 2004
  6. 2005
  7. 1999
  8. 1998
  9. 2004
  10. 1998