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

 

 

 

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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

Youth Ministry and Discipleship for ‘Generation Non-Religion’ – what needs to change?

On the face of it this piece of research would indicate that Youth Ministry has failed. 70% of young people in the UK are non religious. For all the Generations X, Y and Millenial. None matters, in a secular, or even post secular world – non religious observance is rife. Even Spirituality is relatively scarce.

This piece of research was circulated in the media today, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion,

The Headlines from the Data were, for the UK as follows:

Remember: Young people are defined as 15-29 year olds, (not the young people of youthwork of under 18’s)

70% of young people identify as non religious

6% as non christian religion

24% as Christian religion, 7% of these anglican,

59% of young people do not regularly attend religious services, the UK is 4th highest with this number.

The UK however only has the 9th least praying young people for the whole of europe. (65%)

The report compiler said that :

The figures are published in a report, Europe’s Young Adults and Religion, by Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London. They are based on data from the European social survey 2014-16.

Religion was “moribund”, he said. “With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practising religion.”

The trajectory was likely to become more marked. “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years,” Bullivant said.

But there were significant variations, he said. “Countries that are next door to one another, with similar cultural backgrounds and histories, have wildly different religious profiles.”

Today Theos published its own comment on the data here: https://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/comment/2018/04/06/generation-noreligion-what-the-data-really-shows-about-youth-religiosity?platform=hootsuite

So – what do we make of all this then?

I cant help think that for quite a while most of this is obvious. Even the most large youth groups in churches across the UK might only connect with 10% of the young people population of a town or city, maybe higher in a village, but that leaves well over 90% of young people not connected. One message from these statistics, is that the way of trying to evangelise, be relevant or practice faith in the UK over the last 50 years has barely made any difference. We have one of the lowest proportion of religious observance in 15-29’s in western europe.

Every trick in the book may have been tried to ‘reach’ young people, but a different tack might be, that faith has not been made meaningful, challenging enough, it is less a dynamic movement for social and spiritual transformation, than an organisation content with its laurels, and young people – especially young people with ideals and a desire to change the world, are no more likely to join the church to do this, than sign up to greenpeace. But that might be what I think too. We know that faith is transferred predominately through parents, (but that is largely young people in the church already, to stop them leaving) – the challenge is that theres 70% of young people not involved in religious services. 

I would have been in interested to know in the data what the figures were for the under 15’s and what the differences are. I guess in a way from 15 many young people have their own choice about whether they attend church or not – rather than being dragged by their parents. It is worth thinking then about what churches who kept young people beyond the age of 15 looked like, when fuller youth institute did the research; this is what they found on churches who kept 15 year olds, the report is on this previous article: https://wp.me/p2Az40-NP

If nothing else, this data announced today should be a wake up call, to churches and affiliations not doing anything positive, innovative or meaningful with young people, that they should. But also that there is still plenty of young people to go around right across the UK who have no connection with a church. The challenge might be finding them, the challenge might be connecting in a meaningful way, the challenge is making faith dangerous and meaningful in risk adverse conforming churches.

Somehow, we need to make the christian faith something worth believing in.

And make Discipleship the active, prophetic, dangerous yet life and human affirming thing it is meant to be – challenging the very conformity that churches gravitationally pull towards. Jesus is more disruptive than that.

Richard Passmore on Facebook today saidd – we need a new way of being christian, on the back of the research. Id say we need to provide more spaces for an action orientated, dangerous discipleship to begin.

What do you think?

Trying to cling onto values based youth and community work, in an outcomes orientated society.

I was prompted to think about writing a piece or two about values in youth work/youth ministry by a friend of mine, yet as i thought about it struck me that I hadnt really written a piece about youth work values for a long while. Then i thought, what is as surprising is that talking about values in youth work seems a bit ‘twee’ or old fashioned and it isnt something I had heard for a while. There’s lots of talk in the youth work community about being against the government directed programmes such a NCS, please see the youth and policy facebook page.

At a recent consultation meeting, representatives from a number of agencies, all of which proposed to be working with young people across a town in the north east were gathered together to think about future services and programmes. In the discussions, not one mention of ‘values’ was given about how things would take place and what activities were for. The talk was about ‘getting the best OUTCOMES’ for young people in the city, or ‘achieving outcomes’ – all of which push services and activities into the direction of meeting targets, skimming off the quick wins, and not necessarily working in a way that looks much like youthwork – just to receive funding. Not much in the room looked like a youthwork process taking place, not much looked like youthwork values were the common denominator on the ground. In a way, working with outcomes in mind tricks people out of doing youth work. Its hardly participative if young people arent even in the room, or deciding with young people and leaving the space of open for them to create it.

In the cut and thrust of the ‘new world’ of efficiency cutbacks, value for money is the game. And deficiencies of this approach are seen in this report, with less interactions and informal services, social care bills are going through the roof: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/social-care-crisis-uk-children-figures-per-day-a7995101.html.   So if outcomes have driven youth work values out of the park, then what about the voluntary or faith sector?

It is fair to say, that ever since Jeffs and Smith brought together 4 Values for youthwork practice, that the faith based sector has magnetically drawn itself to them as the key pillars of ‘secular’ youthwork practice, and sought to adopt, justify, add or build from them. The irony being that the same values have become less and less referred to with the sector that derived them in the first place, and clung on to within some of academia (where it still exists) , in the misty eyes of bedraggled former council youth workers, and in the marginalised, yet galvanised protest groups, such as In-defence of youthwork. Even Jeffs and Smith (Youthwork Practice, 2010) barely mention values.

But back to those values;

Jeffs and Smith in ‘informal education’ regard the first order values in society to be:

  • Respect for persons. This requires us to recognize the dignity and uniqueness of every human being. It also entails behaving in ways that convey that respect. This means, for example, that we avoid exploiting people for our, or others’, ends.

 

  • The promotion of well-being. We must work for the welfare of all. We must further human flourishing. That means, for example, we must always try to avoid causing harm, and seek to enhance the well-being of others.

 

  • Truth. Perhaps the first duty of the educator is to truth. This means that we must not teach or embrace something we know or believe to be false. We must search for truth and be open in dialogue to what others say. However, we should not be fearful of confronting falsehood where we find it.
  • Democracy. Democracy involves the belief that all human beings ought to enjoy the chance of self-government or autonomy. Implicit in this is the idea that all are equal citizens. A fundamental purpose of informal education is to foster democracy through experiencing it. We must seek within our practice to offer opportunities for people to enjoy and exercise democratic rights.
  • Fairness and equality. Informal educators have a responsibility to work for relationships characterized by fairness. Any discrimination has to be justified on the basis it will lead to greater equity. We must also look to promote equality. Actions must be evaluated with regard to the way people are treated, the opportunities open to them, and the rewards they receive. (Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.)

In 1991, a Ministerial conference was held that determined that the Core values in youth work are to be:

Voluntary Participation

Informal education

Empowerment and

Equality of Opportunity¹

Democracy was notably dropped from previous lists.

Whilst this is not the time to discuss these values individually at length, what each mean to practice, and give examples of each. It is striking that the faith and voluntary sector has continued to wrestle, and promote the adherence of values within its practice, or at least, in its writing it continues to use them. So for example, Danny Brierleys – Joined up (2003) gave a description of these four/five values, and added to them Christian principles of hospitality, acceptance, forgiveness and Incarnation. In ‘ten essential concepts for Christian youthwork’ (Grove, 2015) Jo Dolby suggests that core principles are the four values stated above. The same appear in ‘Here be Dragons’ (2014, Passmore R and Ballantyne, J). In Christian youthwork practice there were countless conversations about ‘how to use youthwork values’ but in a ‘Christian way’. Allan Clyne in this paper   http://concept.lib.ed.ac.uk/Concept/article/view/315/322  reflects on the fact that the Christian context of the world from 1800-1950 became the backdrop for determining values in the first place, and so each of the four values have some resonance with the social transforming and redemptive aspects of the Christian faith and within its structures of its time. In a way then, it is no wonder that talk of values isnt cheap within Christian youthwork, and those who might be considered more marginal within christian youthwork tend to be those who cling to giving credence to them and developing youthwork with young people. They may be prefixed by ‘pioneer’, ‘sacrilised (Sally Nash), or Symbiotic (no, it didnt take off) – but youth work in its value orientated sense is retained, as core. In one way Danny Brierelys book feels like it was quite seminal, given that it was published by a collaboration of what might be argued to be evangelical faith organisations (YFC, SU, OASIS, Youthwork the conference), and promoted value orientated work within the faith, even evangelical sector. On a personal level, every single training session i have ever delivered on detached or faith based youthwork has included a section on values. Values give aspiration, hope and meaning to a piece of work. Elevates it to beyond functionality.

This isnt a discussion here on where youth work values have dropped off the radar in the Christian/Religious based youthwork, needless to say, its when the aims of the practice become institution serving, or faith transmission orientated that this can be the case. Discussion of this have occurred in numerous occasions, such as Maxine Green/Sarah Pughs articles in Youth and Policy, 1999 (no 65) and Pete Harris’s chapter in Youth work and Faith (Smith, Stanton and Wylie, 2015). Consequently, there can be dilemmas as to ‘what is important’ in Christian faith based work with young people, and if, like the statutory sector, it is outcomes, (such as adherance to belief, attendance or retention at church) then these blur the lines, and cause tension in regard to the values within a piece of work. Ultimately institutions and funding win this argument. It a reason why youthworkers leave the church… One of the key questions that Nick Shepherd, Faith generation 2016, raises, is ‘what kind of faith has evangelical youth ministry actually transmitted anyway?’. But again, another story.

It feels as if there has never been a time in the last 20 years when talk of value based youthwork has been such a voice from the margins. A prophetic voice that has young peoples autonomy, respect and decision making ability to heart, that has spaces of inclusivity, opportunity and diversity as it rallying cry. At the same time working with young people has abandoned values, its a simultaneously loses its value with young people, for they dont own it, they just get something. So, where we might be able to, the Christian faith based ‘sector’ might do well to retain its sense of core human values and principles, and discover that its Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith adhering practitioners also resonate and connect with these in a broader sense of common good in the restoring and maintaining of the created world. Of course in a world where democracy seems to be taking a shift , as it was in 1939 when it was first introduced might not be a bad thing, giving young people the power to use their gifts and resources might not be a bad thing especially when schools are filtering and narrowing the curriculum and choice for young people, recognising the voluntary nature of youth work, in an era when young people can feel like they are targeted, and ‘selected’ again might be a good thing for young people. Practices are not value free, even if they dont state that they have values, yet, what they value might be the economic value of a young person, and the economic values of the current government policy, or the value that persons in church might place on church attendance. Yet it is very difficult to argue that targeted provision has had any difference, only creating competitive marketplaces for organisation and the overall reduction of the youth service.  The longer the faith based sector can hang on to values based practices, the better for the sector overall, the better for every young person in the UK.

References

Danny Brierley, All Joined up, 2003

Smith, Stanton, Wylie, Youth work and Faith, 2015

Jeffs, Smith, Informal Education, 1996, 2nd ed 2006

Jeffs, Smith Youthwork Practice, 2010

Passmore, Ballantyne, Here be Dragons, 2013

Nick Shepherd, Faith Generation, 2016

Youth and Policy, No 65, 1999

¹(as determined by the second ministerial board of education)

Bullying happens in churches, and its another reason why youthworkers leave.

Are you sure, after all, Christians are all, well, nice- arent they?’ 

that sort of thing couldnt happen in a church.. could it?’ 

Last week I wrote a piece on ‘Why do Youthworkers leave churches’, which got a bit of a reaction.  The Key factors in the process of when somebody leaves a role in a church, and in reality, in any form of work, is that it is either down to the person doing the job, or the conditions in the workplace.  And so, it might be worth a discussion about whether ‘working’ for a church, or christian affiliation/organisation is ‘like any other job’, often it isnt.

If you want to re-read the piece on youthworkers leaving churches it is here: ‘Why do Youthworkers leave the church?’

As a reminder, what that piece said boiled down to a difference of vision and mission motivation – youthworkers wanting to take risks, congregations settling for well being settled, issues around management ( and ive written about this often), the drift to the green grass of the parachurch, the vocational drift to the vicar school, and finally burnout, when the youthworker runs out of ideas, passion, energy, and confidence.  So some of these relate to the youthworker themselves, and others its the setting and organisation.

Over the weekend, at the general synod, a large gathering at the church of England, along with a vote on transgender inclusion, much discussion was on the conditions of work for clergy, and also putting things in place to help with them, in terms of pastoral support, counselling and building on their networks and resilience. On one hand, it is good to have a discussion about support and resilience within clergy, and as well within youth workers. However, what resilience can end up being is putting the onus of finding the support to cope with the culture and structure on the individual person. The culture and structure in effect gets a ‘get out of jail free’ card. The yolk and burden rest on the worker to cope.

However, this is not a post about resilience.

This is a conversation about something that didnt appear in that previous post. It is about the reality, that even in places of Christian ministry that people can be bullied, emotionally abused and hounded out of workplaces. That people can suffer within places of ministry that are to ‘support and love’ others, but treat employees and workers with nothing short of the kind of behaviour, that in an office would go before a tribunal, a union or a grievance procedure. The kind of behaviour that actually no amount of ‘resilience’ strategies is likely to be able to cope with.

in short, people leave christian ministry because they are bullied out of it. And can be a reason why youthworkers leave churches. 

And there might be a myriad of reasons why this happens.

But they are all the responsibility of the organisation, its culture, its expectations, its actions and also its policies, governance and values. As well how personalities drive cultures to acceptable behaviours, and if personality culture is rife, then if a person doesnt fit, for whatever reason then the organisation will find a way to make their life, their ministry, their work unbearable.

To make matters worse, what also then tends to happen is that the abuser, even within a christian culture, will shift the responsibility back on to the person, the victim. Saying things like ‘if you pray more, im sure youll be able to cope’ or ‘if only you tried harder with that person, im sure theyll change eventually’  or ‘why dont you change?’  – in effect the culture and organisation and church maintains its absolved responsibility, and the abused now has it and the situation to deal with.

Also they might be encouraged not to say something, because, it might discredit the ministry of the church or organisation in the town, or make the newspapers, or put someone elses ministry and their future at stake – ‘and that wouldnt be very christian to do’ – so better to suffer alone, and let the bullies win.

Imagine for a moment that you are working for a church, or faith organisation and every indication is that you are being bullied, either emotionally, physically or spiritually by people within it. What are your options? Especially if you are fairly new, or near the bottom of the hierarchical ladder, and even that you are employed in the church – where others in the congregation are givers and financial contributors. What you have is more at stake by voicing a concern, because your ministry and role is at stake. In addition, in most Christian contexts, interpersonal conflicts are done pretty badly, so there is a tangible amount of fear in vocalising something, for fear it wont be treated correctly. And sadly, this has been the case, and continues to be. I know of too many people who had no choice but to leave faith organisations, because they had been hounded out, with no where to turn, when i say too many, one person is too many, and i know more than one. And there neednt be a wait until there are bucketloads to do something about it.

Bullied out of christian ministry, because their face didnt fit, they didnt conform, they asked too many questions or for something else completely. What is sad is that these people have promising lives, ministries and vocations ahead of them, broken by weeks, months and years, of trying to ‘put up with it’, to keep the peace and ‘for the sake of the young people’ keep going. What is more galling, is that the leaders of churches and organisations often get to remain in their roles, maintain platforms and ministries, when they have been responsible for emotional or spiritual abuse of people within their jurisdiction. On top of this the stories are twisted to suit the organisation, that the individual ‘couldnt cope’ or ‘werent cut out for ministry’ – the individual is to blame again. The organisation maintains the power to shape the narrative within the culture. Because admitting collective weaknesses within christian cultures and systems is difficult to admit, and a challenge for all involved to have to work through. It can feel like one small person against a whole church, or organisation or affiliation.

So, if the conversation over the weekend was about the stress that clergy are under, with The Archbishop of Canterbury no less recognising the stress of being a parish priest ( search for this in the Guardian) , and raising not only resilience, but also the culture that causes that stress to the forefront. It is equally worth developing the conversation to include the incidents when it has gone beyond stress and the need for resilience, but it is bullying and abuse, that occurs, it isnt rife, at least I kind of hope it isnt, but there does need to be a conversation raised that it goes on. Because church is not unlike many other organisations, it is of flawed people who seek power and influence and if the paid youthworker, volunteer or even clergy is a threat to this, then confict of the worse kind can result and bullying can occurs.

What this post isnt is the keys to solve the problem. Sadly. There are only pointers.

What persons need to gather is support and counsel around them, who have the power to act, and protect and to represent. But that also determines that a person is given the resources to create their support networks, and that these are validated. It also needs affiliations to challenge destructive behavours, poor governance, and proceudures, and as well create conflict resolution processes that people can trust in situations so that they can make a complaint and know itll be resolved. For too long christian churches and organisations have thought ‘this kind of thing couldnt happen here’ – and when they thought that about child abuse they were felt wanting, and have now put significant policies and procedures in place to protect children. What may have gone under the same radar is christian workplace bullying and the treatment of those who work in churches and christian organisations, where behaviour that is akin to bullying occurs.

I had hoped to end this article with some links to specific groups and organisations that might be able to help, not only the victims, but also the perpetrators to deal with their behaviour. But there isnt any available on the google. If you are a christian and have to deal with bullies (at school) there is plenty. If you’re a christian in a christian ministry being bullied. then the search engine goes quiet.

Sadly, there is no happy ending to this piece. Christian ministry is tough enough. Being bullied out of it can only be horrific for someones dreams, their faith and their identity. They may find home elsewhere, or a different church or employment, but the scars need time to heal.

A reason why youthworkers (and ministers too) leave the church, because church acts like any other workplace ( but often without complaints/grievance procedures or a culture that encourages whistle blowing) , then being Bullied out is also a reality.

Since writing this piece, Youth Work Magazine have asked if i would write a piece on this subject for their magazine, if you or you know of someone who might be able to contribute (anonymously) with an example or story of what happened and its effect, please contact me using the details above. Email is more anonymous. or direct message via twitter or facebook. Thank you

Dealing with the difficult; Closure, Failure and Redundancy

Im writing this with lots of emotions, feelings and thoughts running around my head. Part of me feels sadness and loss, for part of me theres a sense of having tried and put alot of effort into something and it just not happen, that theres an abrupt change of pace, part of me tries to put on a brave face, part of me is even slightly relieved, that an probable impossibility has come to an end.

Less that 3 hours ago the decision was approved by my trustees to start the process of closing down the charity that i work for. Even though this was the decision this evening, the writing has been on the wall a while, so its not a shock today, more an inevitable stage along whats been an ongoing process since the beginning of the year.

Its not new, I’m guess that most youth workers have been made redundant. Many youthworkers have lost jobs, moved on from them. Many have faced horrific cuts, changed roles and shifts due to funding streams and council priorities.

However, what the last few months, and few hours has brought the fore, is that the three words; Closure, Failure and Redundancy seem difficult to have conversations about. It would be odd to put ‘today I failed in my youth work practice’ as a facebook post – or ‘our church is making the vicar redundant’ on the diocese website – for example. Yet the reality is that these things happen. But they’re the things that go underground. And because they’re not talked about so much- how can we prepare others for them as almost an inevitability?  The alternative is not to bother and hope that a person manages to do so – usually alone.

Even writing this feels weird, raw, vulnerable. But isnt that what life is now and then, a bit raw, weird and vulnerable – especially but not exclusively in youth work, in faith settings, its gets emotional now and then, and difficult. Maybe we live in a culture where we aim low and get low and are happy, try and do something challenging and fail… well best stay away. But that’s not real, real is to try and keep trying, to give and try and make something happen, to invest and fight and strive – and then hope and dream and have faith. Its about a trying and taking risks because good things might happen – not just because it’ll be well paid or that it’ll work, but because its good.

So, as of this evening, redundancy is heading my way, and its ok. Im not belittling it or trivialising it, but it is happening, it isn’t great, but its not the end, its not a statement on me for not trying and taking a risk, and for most youthworkers thats the same, we fight, give, invest in young people – but usually things out of control take over – but its not that we failed, failure isn’t a gift we need to embrace, accept or take, and I am not either. Failure is for those who don’t try. Feeling like i’ve failed isn’t what i’m feeling right now, more that it could be how others might perceive something ending.

Closure is another word, but no one promises that things will last forever. Not even the building of the church will ultimately, Durham cathedral will pass away. But closure and endings are hard, for a while, and then people get used to it not being there. Like Woolworths or BHS (shops in the UK)  or something else that’s been turned into a poundshop or a coffee bar. Why do we not like things to close- because change is difficult – and as creatures of habit we like the status quo. We feel attached to the group, club or ministry, or organisation, sometimes too attached, sometimes obsessively so, Closure is tough.

Youth work and Ministry is not for the fainthearted. The Christian life is not for the joy riders. Its a tough place where risks are needed to be taken, where emotions can be on the line and discipleship is an ongoing call and response. No one said that call and response was to avoid the tough muddy paths, the quick sand or the storms. Closure, Failure and Redundancy, they’re difficult words. But they’re a reality in most of ministry – or at least the fear of them can be.

There is no at the moment redemptive happy ending at the end of this article. No reference to Jeremiah 29:11 to wrap it all up and give it the hopeful dream of a better future, or certainty of something else – because i know of too many others for whom that hasn’t been the reality. So right now, am in the midst of the myriad of thoughts, and trying to work through these three difficult words, and talk about them and get them out in the open for discussion. So, youth workers, we need to talk about Closure and Endings, Failure and how not to embrace it, and Redundancy – and realise we have value beyond what people pay us to do. I think.

 

Harnessing the power of young peoples ideas; the future of youth ministry? 

What if the role of the youth worker was to harness the power of the young persons ideas?

Whenever there’s discussions about young adults conceptually we might put them in sociological context, as teenagers or adolescents, in a victim or voiceless context such as ‘youth crime’ and innocent/precious context ‘young love’ . Two others are young people as deficit, somehow distinct from society (as determined by adults) or gifted and contributors in social change (abcd, see nurture development site in the menu). Often youth workers might say we’re working to address needs, create safe spaces or  develop their interests.

But what about being catchers, harnessers, and facilitators of young peoples ideas?

As Friere said “There is no change without dream, as there is no dream without hope”  this isn’t about dreams, though dreams & ideas are similar.

As Ted Robinson said in a TED talk on education, from an early age children have divergent thinking that due to more controlling environments in school and other structures like church (sunday school classes) their divergent thinking contracts and becomes convergent. Converging on expectations and the boundaries in formal education settings.

What if the role of the children’s and youth worker is to provide spaces and opportunities for young peoples ideas and the environment to follow them through? To try not to waste them.

Ideas that might be about;

The structure of groups,

Leaders roles,

Content of teaching

Responses to their problems (eg bullying in school )

Responses to faith community issues

Responses to local community issues (food poverty, obesity, limited exercise opportunities, literacy concerns, social inequality)

Residential planning or special events..

The list could go on…

I often hear youth leaders say, ‘we ask young people and they don’t know what they want.’ Then it’s a question of how young people are asked, what the process is to gather ideas, ‘brainstorms’ aren’t always best. Neither are consultations when the plan is already set.

A youth worker friend of mine said that they once took 3 months talking with a group of young people to help them plan their programme. They loved it, engaged with it, led and shaped it. The church hated it. When the worker moved on , new leaders used predetermined programmes. The young people left soon after. A healthy space where ideas were realised was created. When it was shut down. Young people voted with their feet.

What if working with young people was about seeing then as persons with ideas. Ideas that might change their local world. Ideas that it is our role to uncover and help them make them happen.

I was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of young people as presented by Kenda Creasy Dean (see previous blog), where young people developed food kitchens and resources. But young people can often find a way to be entertained with just a football and a kerb. They have ideas. And if they don’t then it’s because we’re not trusted to be in receipt of their ideas, yet.

We might hear ideas in conversations, so we need to have conversations with young people and listen.

What this might mean is that young people and children become creators of their own provision. The skills of the voluntary or pro youth worker are then in negotiation and creating mechanisms for accepting or reluctantly blocking the offers of the ideas. In short to be attuned to the skills of improvising in the moment and having access to resources to be part of the acceptance.

If the question is what might the faith based youth worker do that no other professional might, yes support or education or faith imparting might be in there, but a person that seeks out, accepts and realises young children and young peoples ideas might make the role unique.

In a room of 3 young people how many ideas might there be that they have? 30, 300? How many times have these same young people attended the group or club or event and all those ideas for local or group transformation have laid dormant? What a waste.

Oh and if persons are made in God’s image, then so are imaginations, dreams and ideas. It’s our responsibility as youthworkers to create the environment to receive them, to work with young people & children to realise them.

You might never need a ready made programme again.

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