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

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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.

What makes the Christian Youthworker distinctive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanhoozer suggests the following:

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

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

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

 

References

Passmore R, Ballantyne  Here be Dragons, 2013

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

Smith, M, Jeffs, T, Youthwork, 1987

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

Vanhoozer, KJ The Pastor as the public Theologian, 2015

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

 

Can Biblical doctrine direct organisation strategy?

We need our organisation to be effective!

It needs to be ‘moving forward’ ,

Stagnation is capitulation! ,

Growth is good, efficiency is the name of the game,

Organisations needs to be outcomes orientated!

Image result for effectiveness

Does anyone else wince that these get said in places of work, you know the corporate lingo to often mean job cuts, or reschuffles, or changed focus. Its not far off transformational leadership or management styles. In a way these kind of things are more acceptable in the supermarket chain, the factory or even a building site, but is it appropriate that this kind of language, and the ideologies behind ‘effectiveness’, ‘efficiency’ , ‘growth’ and ‘reinvention’ have become virtually staple language to the faith-based educational organisation like youth work, and even more so the church.Doesn’t it seem a bit weird? that the maxims developed from Henry Ford, Apple and Macdonalds are adapted in and used in the church? Maybe it doesnt seem that weird anymore.

Such as:

 we want the church to have a ‘growth’ strategy,

or a church that gives value for money…

What becomes weird is that the language of business and economics has infiltrated not just the process of organisations, and their strategies, but also in the faith settings become justified as theology.

So, for example, In John Nelsons book ‘Leading managing ministering (1998) he looks at a number of models of management (including those mentioned above, transformational leadership and begins to consider how this type of management can be used in the church, using verses of the bible peppered throughout to seal the models approval to a faith orientated audience. And then as a result it becomes valid to use certain styles of leadership/management in organisations and their associated behaviours because there are biblical resonances. Related image

What i am saying then is the culture of business, and its adopted language becomes the main driver for the theology that is interwoven into faith based organisations. There becomes a need for a ‘growth’ theology, or a theology of decline, or a theology of innovation. Reflecting on organisations, reflecting on how the performance of an organisation in community is mirrored in the character, knowledge, themes or actions of God.

I wonder if this is back to front. Just a little bit.

In Drama of Doctrine,  Kevin Vanhoozer suggests that Doctrine, and theology is for the purpose of directing the performance of the church in the ongoing theodrama, the 5 act play of Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consumation, which the church and present is in the fourth act of five. Theology is for directing and guiding the action, it may also be a dramatic endeavour in itself. Vanhoozer contrasts the kind of Theology that is absolute (epic) and that which is found in community action (lyric) with a directive theology that is dramatic, that maintains Biblical primacy but is for ongoing community participation and is for in real time. The live drama.

So, instead of organisations adopting Business langauge and delivery as the starting point for theological reflection – what about the faith based organisation that performs the doctrine of atonement, or doctrine of love, or doctrine of grace in its organisation culture and structure?

In a simplified example, at some point last year in our team reflections at DYFC we looked at the passages in 1 Corinthians 13 about love. They are fairly well known and get read at most weddings, even 4 weddings and a funeral i think. As a group we looked at the question – is it possible to be an organisation that performs as much as possible the call to be loving, kind, faithful and unfailing whilst also being on the stage of the world in which funding, competition, outcomes, communication, projects, attendance, are all part and parcel of practice? 

Image result for love is patient

This wasnt us trying to perform a theology of love, or atonement not by any means, but it was at least starting to make space for the kind of theology that we might want to direct our organisation, to embody in it, and ultimately to perform. So we did ask – what would it mean to ‘love’ young people – genuinely – how would we do this, what would it mean to ‘love’ each other, to trust and be kind to young people and each other. From these conversations it becomes easier to develop a culture that is theological, and directed by not only propositional statements that show truth, but also the sense that being and performing loving, generous and compassionate propel the theodrama, they reveal and embody God in action, especially in the mini series’s of the drama of every day life in the myriad of conversations. The critical reflection was that it would difficult, and there would be considerable adjustments to be made, but that would only be inevitable. But Theology directs the performances in this way.

In my last piece i was talking about the culture created in a youth ministry setting. Culture creating is a big thing, understandably, Morgan talks about organisations as cultures. So again, in faith settings how might a theology that is performed be culture shaping and creating, even prophetic of others. For in a way what is a faith based organisation that has culture but not love – might it be the crashing symbol?

What would happen in an organisation or church that embodied, or performed a theology of the cross? Its marks would be self sacrifice, forgiveness, restoration, resurrection- there would not  just be ‘acceptable’ behaviour, or ‘enough’  – but beyond compassionate behaviour, laying down life for friends behaviour and respect for others. All actions that propel God at work in people, and the ongoing drama, that foretaste a future existance in the present with shadows of the past.

If churches and organisations are full of saints (rather than heroes) Wells, Improvisation, 2004,  then the saint is someone who is faithful to their call, but also develops community around them. They are faithful to the nature of the call, being gracious, humble and not taking the limelight – that is after all Jesus space in the drama. For many saints they have no choice who becomes part of that community for like St Francis, they identified with the poorest, most needy and shaped theology of the sidewalk, of suffering in the moments of identifying with people. Communities of saints take the rough with the rough and journey alongside and with, because ultimately our Human actions of faith are collective and the land is to be explored together warts and all. Can this happen in organisations who might have other motives, like growth, or innovation, or strategy, or success? where might sainthoodness fit in? or a theology of the suffering of Jesus? But as Christians in groups and organisations, our starting point isnt working out how to biblically adopt Apple or Macdonalds into an organisation – it is that we perform in real time the drama as directed, being wise as saints on the stage of the world, yet start with theology that speaks into cultures.

Maybe Theology as it is dramatic,  comes first after all or least has an ongoing part in being performed.

 

References

Newman – Leading, Managing Ministering, 1998

Vanhoozer, Kevin, The Drama of doctrine, 2005

Wells, Samuel, Improvisation, 2004

 

Youthwork: the importance of developing young peoples narrative identities

Johanna Wyn and Rob White say something, i think, quite profound about the views of adolescent development; one that certainly youthworkers in faith based settings, and schools should reflect on, they propose that:

Product Detailsa relational concept of youth offers an approach to understanding the social meaning of growing up that can take into account the diverse ways in which young people are constructed through social institutions, and the ways in which they negotiate their transitions (Wyn and White, 1997)

What they compare their approach to is many of the psychological, and physiological theories of youth development which can objectify this period of time for a person as a stand alone moment, and more significantly can imply that there are correct, uniform ways of completing this phase of life, and by not being ‘correct’ a young person can quickly be deemed at risk, deviant of different.

So, what Wyn and White are suggesting is that instead of  ‘youth’ being a period of transition, instead it is a time of construction.

Some of you might have more likely come across David Elkinds book, All grown up and no place to go (1998), in it, following work by Piaget, Elkind suggests that at some point during adolescence a young person will begin to create personal fables of themselves, doing so with a concept of past, present and future experience. It might only be when the person has the capacity, mentally, to do this that it occurs, but at this point something shifts in a young persons thinking. But they can start to go beyond the here and now, they might be able to describe themselves differently and play around with word play, however, it is the fable construction that i think is interesting, especially as it ties in with Wyn and White above, that youth is a time for construction and negotiation of social institutions, because at the same time, this negotiation involves a young person being able to narrate their own fable for coping/surviving/flourishing within it.

We are heading towards thinking about narrative identity.

A Narrative is another way for saying story. Bruner says that as humans we either reflect on our lives pragmatically (the facts and figures) or we understand the world through stories (human wants, desires, goals, motivations). It is part of ourselves to tell ourselves stories during every day to help us through incidents and experiences, it is a story of a memory that is positive that might help us through something unpredicted, it might be that we survived something previously that means we can do it again. Some of these stories have themes, such as agency ( i survived with purpose and confidence), Redemption ( it was tough but i made it through, or something happened to rescue me), Communion (i was helped and we got through the ‘love’ of someone motivated me) and without probably realising it, we tell ourselves these stories, as adults all the time. However, when it comes to difficult or trauma situations, we can find ourselves only being able to tell half a story  (as we are still living it in the moment) or a contaminated one – (all was going fine, then this happened, and i lost it, got angry and i am never going to go and see that person/dentist/doctor again- for example).

However, the stories we tell, that shape our narrative have a huge impact. For if we can tell ourselves positive redemptive stories of past experiences, then we are likely to be courageous or confident about a situation. (after all it didnt go too bad last time, or the pain was worth it..) The narrative identity provides us as with a unity of the horizons of our past, and our future in order that we can make sense of actions in the present. McAdams and Mclean state that; ‘Narrative Identity is a persons internalised and evolving life story, integrating the reconstructed past and imagined future to  provide life with some degree of unity and purpose’

If any of you have seen the film Inside Out (2015) by Disney,  you will have seen an example of how a traumatic event brought chaos to the narrative identity of a young person, all the thoughts about their life that were in positive joyful stories became affected by one event. The trauma became the lens, and the young person struggle to renegotiate and reconstruct new stories, redemptive, agency stories about how she could cope in the future. What you might have noticed was that it was not the events per se that cause the negative emotions, and what might (if it wasnt a Disney film) have resulted in depression or mental health concerns, but it was the narrative created by the young person towards the event. They had disunity of themselves and couldnt cope, and no experience of a similar situation to overcome.

So, Youth is a time of construction. Constructing narratives about 1000’s of interactions, about 5-10 institutions, about friends, about heroes, about hobbies, about skills.

But where do they get the tools to create stories, well, easy, for many young people it is from their childhood, the stories they hear, the archetypes of characters, the arc of storylines from Mr Men books to Harry Potter, to watching films. Crucially a young person may conceived of many narrative types and assimilated their own to it, before that have the mental capacity in adolesence to construct their own stories.

At this point it is worth reflecting on the roles of the people then to support young people. If the young person is in a period of time where they are constructing narratives of their principle institutions,

If the young person is in a period of time where they are constructing narratives of their principle institutions, care givers, friends and the like – what might be the best role for a youthworker to take in this? especially when a young persons mental health ( and incidents of mental health issues amongst young people are rocketing) is at stake?  There is the temptation to ‘be another institution’ – so an employment group, a schools lesson provider, or something else similar, maybe even the church

There is the temptation to ‘be another institution’ – so an employment group, a schools lesson provider, or something else similar, maybe even the church sunday school – it could have the same institutional feel. Quite interestingly if a young person doesnt have power or autonomy in a situation then they are more likely to construct a negative narrative about, one that demotivates- and to a point we all know what that is like. So, even though it might be a personal narrative, socio and economic factors are in play, for not only might less opportunities for a young person be available if they are from a ‘poorer’ background, but the ability for them to have choice about their destiny is reduced, as is their autonomy, agency or power. What might this mean for their narrative identity? what kind of stories will they continue to tell themselves? – so it

What might this mean for their narrative identity? what kind of stories will they continue to tell themselves? – so it isnt that there is a scheme for disadvantaged young people and they are labelled as such, it is that they might have no choice but to go on it… or be sanctioned by the job centre, or be forced to leave a care home. Even if something deemed positive is presented – are they as likely to have choice in the matter..? its so important..

The key ways in which a young person is given affirmative tools for narrative construction are, yes the stories from an early age, but also the space to reflect and talk, someone who will listen and affirm them, and some one who will help them to understand their experiences and reappropriate them in their own story.

It like being what Coburn and Wallace say youthwork should be – a ‘border pedagogy’ (2010)- someone who is  between the institutions, in the gaps, to help learning across it all. Someone who helps a young person by asking them reflective questions and helps them make sense of the world. The tragedy is that those who want to fund youthwork want to put youthworkers in institutional roles, in delivery agencies- rather than in the gaps where they can be most helpful and helping a young person form constructive, and reappropriate negative- narrative identities.

What is additionally interesting, is that young people assimilate their narrative identity, like we all do, with an emerging larger story about their place in the world, of life purpose or goal – or ideology, meta narrative (dont tell me they dont exist)

If you’re not that interested in faith based youthwork/ministry – then maybe look away now – but the ideology could equally apply as something like socialism, marxism or agnosticism.

During the period of narrative construction, the young person is also trying to discover how their life story includes, resonates with and is part of the bigger life stories in the world, such as religion, ideologies, beliefs or values. The mind of the young person is trying to make sense of the world and therefore is asking questions about faiths as they see contradictions, or inauthenticity – but also because they want it to make sense, and be true enough to adopt, and form their narrative identity around the ideologies that they are part of.

So, let me ask these questions –

  • For the young person who has been brought up a faith – and leaves the ‘church’ before the age of 12 – are they likely to incorporate the ideology of that faith into their life narrative?  maybe – maybe if they find an alternative, or had a bad experience of ‘leaving’ .
  • Alternatively how might a young person adopt a faith as a life narrative if they only join it at 14-15?
  • What damage is done to a young persons narrative if a church rejects them, but they wanted and needed the ideology of faith to motivate and guide them? –
  • How might the young person narrate the church as an institution, verses its story of faith as an ideology..?

These arent easy questions – but have we ever considered them in youth ministry in relation to a young persons narrative identity, and what it might mean that their identity becomes wrapped up in the story or stories of the faith?

For a young persons narrative identity in youth ministry – what kind of story do they feel part of when they join, or as they have been part? – is it a story at all – or moral propositions? what purpose does having faith have in the long term and how might that create motivational goals for a young persons identity and behaviour? It is worth then reflecting on how the narrative identity construction of young people is directly affected by their relationship with a faith

It is worth then reflecting on how the narrative identity construction of young people is directly affected by their relationship with a faith institution, or an ideology. I remember at school, lots of people became vegetarian aged 15, because a teacher could show a video of cows being inhumanely slaughtered and animal welfare being shoddy, it sickened enough of my friends not to eat meat for a few weeks, but it wore off. But a very simple ideology and message had a two week effect for most, and one or stuck with it and became green party activists. Is that the same effect of simple presentations of other faiths? Or do young people maybe want something they can believe in and find purpose and meaning in for their life story, purpose and future. I guess that’s what costly discipleship of any faith might look like.

As youthworkers, maybe our role on the streets and in the schools, is that helping young people make sense of the world, but it is also to help them to reflect on their life’s experiences to form positive unifying stories that enable themselves to have confidence, agency, purpose and determination, and that often used word resilience ( but i think i am using it right) . If we’re working with young people who have less opportunities and choice, then this will affect their life narrative – and so regardless of the scenario we need to promote autonomy and choice as much as is possible, as a way of helping their mental health. And then, as an addition, the philosophical questions of life may be significant to a vast number of young people, how might faith become coherent as part of their story, so that they play a role in whole community and human flourishing through it.

Youthworkers in the spaces, all the more reasons why its good to have conversations with young people.

References:

Coburn Annette, Wallace, David, Youthwork in schools and communities, 2012

Elkind, David, All grown up and no place to go, 1998

McAdams, Dan, The stories we live by, 1993

McAdams Dan, Kate McLean Narrative Identity, Current Directions is psychological science Vol 22 issue 3, pp 233-238, 2013

Wyn J and White, D, Rethinking Youth, 1999

I wish Jesus spent more time completing funding bids!

Image result for funding applications

 

Or for that matter other tasks that seem to pull on the day to day strings of the youth work organisation manager. Like trustee meetings. Or Payroll. Or Policies implementation. Or emails. Or publicity photos, Or liaising with churches and agencies. Or recruiting staff.

But Funding bids and finding funding in the youthwork organisation is what ive been doing for what seems ages now, in fact it has been all summer since June.

Finding funding is such a key aspect of youth work organisational life, of the management of youth work in organiations, as it affects staff security, performance, vision, and also the desire to want to invest in young people because without long term security it can make it humanly challenging to want to commit to a young person and invest in them in time, because its not great to feel that they might be let down.

But funding is only one aspect of Management in faith-based Youthwork, and is one of many aspects that it sometimes feels as though it is a role that is difficult to find direct correlation with the example and ministry of Jesus. Its not impossible. But it can at times seem that those involved in face to face practice have a wealth of Jesus orientated examples – given that Jesus was involved in many conversations with people in the gospels – and theres only scraps for the faith based youth work manager to theologically reflect, or reflect on. Ive written before about whether management is the appropriate term, and discipleship or supervision is better, and im not going to go over the same ground here.  (see other articles in the ‘youth work management’ category on this site, theres a link above)

The limited correlation is one reason for thinking about a discipline like Practical theology that can be helpful in adding another discipline into a theological reflection, when the Bible might not give an obvious answer to not just a complex situation, but also one that is befit of a contemporary issue.

When it comes to Money specifically Jesus has much to say, and the early church have much to learn and grasp – but what they have is a network channel of funding, so for example in Corinthians 16 v 1-4 there are pleas from Paul for the churches to provide to the ‘mother’ church in Jerusalem and obviously tithing, but in these cases the churches are supporting other churches. The aspect that changes this is that rarely does church see faith-based youthwork as another church – and merely a mission activity, and sometimes this means it can be well funded across a number of churches, on other occasions these organisations close because they get meagre rations even from large numbers of churches in an area.

It is difficult to read the Gospels and think at all that Jesus had issues with finances, with sustinence, with resources to enable his ministry to continue, and what he didnt seem to do was have the need to send off funding bids to charitable trusts.

In many ways there are clues to good management of the disciples by Jesus throughout the gospels – but maybe it just doesnt look like what we think management to be in the organisations, even churches, that exist in todays environment.

He did recruit those who fit the criteria he was looking for

He spent time educating them through conversation, and gave, no embodied examples

He listened to their gripes

He gave them opportunity to question (Peter usually)

He respected their weaknesses, but challenged them to be better

He was in contact with other groups – such as John the Baptists disciples

He knew of the ruling authority and how ministry was being thought of ( ie the beheading of John)

He knew of the resources available – peoples houses ( Peters mothers) – their ability to work and find food – ie Fish.

So maybe he didnt have to deal with a group of trustees – but im sure the suppers in the upper room might have got heated, and he didnt have to deal with policies – but the pharisees were trying to make him stick to the ‘Law’, and he knew there would be provision for the disciples, and it arrived from surprising sources, such as the boy with his lunch, from the crowds. But its not as if we hear that the disciples went without. Did he manage their resources, well it can be presumed. Maybe as they walked around Galilee they could pick off the fruit trees, and receive the hospitality of the stranger in the village, and they could gather the local produce from the market.

I find it far more difficult to reflect theologically on ‘faith-based youthwork management’ as it seems as though the pressures are from all sides, from local and national policies, from young people, parents and volunteers (or lack of) from staff, trustees and agencies- with varying degrees of expectation- not much of the tasks involved in management ever feel to me as if they are as theologically understood, or underpinned, and not that things have to be all the time.

Often it boils down to ‘how’ something is done, in a situational ethics kind of way, rather that what it is that is done.  And yes, i am aware that 1,000’s of people in all walks of life are performing roles that might not be anything like the roles Jesus performed, even those in the Clergy – how would Jesus do PCC meetings? or deal with the administrator who makes spelling errors in the pew sheet?’  Not everything is a straight copy- and actually we’re probably not meant to copy anyway, we’re meant to imitate. What Jesus needed to do in 1st century Galilee was appropriate for his time, so must we as managers in faith based organisations also try to act as appropriately in the situations were in. We manage well, by discipling people well.

Actually im glad Jesus didnt spend all his time in ministry writing funding bids. It would have made for the dullest gospel narrative, one littered with ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ and endless searches on the charity commission website.