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…  



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!

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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.



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.


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!

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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.

Paul Ricoeur & Youth work – in search of the sacred.

Following on from my previous articel ‘Youth Ministry-In Praise of the Beards’ – here as ‘promised’ is a piece on the writings and thoughts of Paul Ricoeur. I hope to inform, inspire and whet your appetite for thinking philosophically about the contemporary philosophical & theological context of youth ministry – by starting with one philosophical perspective on the nature of humanity, from someone with a keen eye in both the philosophical and theological camps. or if nothing else point you in the direction of someone worth grappling with further.

So… Paul Ricoeur.  This wasnt an easy task:

Image result for paul ricoeur


Details of his Early Life & Background (skip this bit if you just want to hear about what he said)

Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) was a distinguished French philosopher of the twentieth century, one whose work has been widely translated and discussed across the world. In addition to his academic work, his public presence as a social and political commentator, particularly in France, led to a square in Paris being named in his honor on the centenary of his birth in 2013. In the course of his long career he wrote on a broad range of issues. In addition to his many books, Ricoeur published more than 500 essays, many of which appear in collections in English.

A major theme that runs through Ricoeur’s writings is that of a philosophical anthropology. Ricoeur came to formulate this as the idea of the “capable human being”. In it he seeks to give an account of the fundamental capabilities and vulnerabilities that human beings display in the activities that make up their lives, and to show how these capabilities enable responsible human action and life together. Though the accent is always on the possibility of understanding human beings as agents responsible for their actions, Ricoeur consistently rejects any claim that the self is immediately transparent to itself or fully master of itself. Self-knowledge only comes through our understanding of our relation to the world and of our life with and among others in time in the world. (taken from Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ricoeur/)

Top 5 Key Themes/Ideas of Paul Ricoeur (taken from Stiver D, Ricoeur & Theology, 2012)

  1. Phenomenology:”Ricoeur developed further the sense in which all such description is inescapably interpretative or hermeneutical” (Stiver, 2012)

2. Hermeneutics, Ricoeur developed the emphasis of both Heidegger and Hans Georg Gadamer, that people do not just ‘do’ hermeneutics from time to time but are hermeneutical all the way down, as it were, which Ricoeur saw as ‘Ontological Hermeneutics’ (Ricoeur 1991a:63)  Stiver suggests that “this is the basis for a powerful critique of modernity’s desire for a presuppositionless beginning, as well as the Cartesian demand for clarity and distinctiveness. We always start reflection too late, the unconscious, the involuntary and our immersion in culture and tradition always already accompany the conscious and voluntary” (Stiver, 2012, 10)  We are in a sense as reflective all the way down as we are hermeneutical, life and understanding go hand in hand.

3. Personhood, Ricouer – as suggested above, understood the self to be primarily and deeply hermeneutical. It was also that he regarded the self, not as a thinker ( I think therefore i am) , but as a doer, a mixture of the voluntary and involuntary, freedom and nature.  The self has an embodied desire to exist, yet at times it exists as a wounded Cognito, that is not fallible in its objectivity. For Ricouer

“the human identity is formed by narratives and myths, which likewise are irreducible to theoretical prose” (Stiver, 2012, 12),

Self identity is an open ended story, that is interwoven by other stories that we encounter. The self, for Ricoeur, “is not only in dialogue with personal others but is inescapably enmeshed in larger communities that call for a sense of justice”

4. Religion. For a major Philosopher, Ricoeur unusually writes extensively on Religion, notably Christianity, Old and New testament. He labelled himself an apprentice Theologian, and in ‘Figuring the Sacred, 1995’ describes his own link between Philosophy and the discourse of Religious language, as it is from his philosophical discipline that he interacts with theology, with exegesis. His interaction with theology from philosophy is fruitful (according to Stiver) suggesting that theology is deeply hermeneutical and philosophical as it deals with the interpretation of texts.

For the Christian, for the Youth worker then, Ricoeur is significant. His views on Personhood, developed from the European/German philosophical tradition of Gadamer and Heidegger, influenced by his own sympathy with the Christian tradition and its own philosophical writings in the Bible should inspire the faith-based youth worker, or even the non ‘chrisitan’ faith based youthworker for his considerations of humanity alone.  For the youth worker not in sympathy with the Christian faith, then look away now, or at least bear with me a little for the next part, as I am going to share a few key quotes from Ricoeur about his thoughts on the Christian faith, or you might be inspired to start thinking about the Christian faith from this deeper philosophical angle, where there is rich treasure to be found.

The following are taken from ‘Figuring the Sacred’ (Ricoeur, 1995)

“The first task of hermeneutics (understanding the Biblical text) is not to give rise to a decision on the part of the reader ( ie what should they do/’WWJD’?) but to allow the world of being that is the issue of the biblical text to unfold. Thus above and beyond emotions, disposition, belief or non belief is the proposition of a world that in the Biblical world is called a new world, a new covenant, the kingdom of God, a new birth” (p44) … persuing this line of reasoning to its logical conclusions, must we not say that what is thus opened up in everyday reality is another reality, the reality of the possible?”

About Culture and humanity, Ricoeur argues:

“One fact about culture is that we live in a desacralized world,  human beings have moved beyond the sacred cosmos, nature is no longer a store of signs, the cosmos is mute. Modern persons no longer have a sacred space, a centre, a temple, a holy mountain. The Sacred world today is archaic, the sacred is the archaic. ” (italics mine) (p61)

Yet positively Ricoeur says that; “One of course can find remains of the sacred in our culture”  it may be camouflaged in a range of myths, of stories and behaviours, it was not deliberately forgotten  as the elevation of technology nd science to rank as more dominant in the public consciousness.

“The only religion whose message is to be heard is the one that has the resources to survive, but to also accompany the decline of the sacred in a positive manner” (p62) –

If modernity has desacralized the world of interpreting the text, and as Ricoeur states and Biblical interpreters have desacralized the text to its deemed rational aspects and constructs, then the playing field between Science and Religion is less levelled but that Religion plays second fiddle. What of the renaissance of the Sacred , asks Ricoeur, asking further “Is Christianity without the sacred possible?”

and if Christianity is in need of it own sacred renaissance – where might youth ministry connect young people to the sacred? the wonder and the cosmos? 

If these are important observations of culture and the place of faith within the current culture then it worth closing with a few more gems from Ricoeur about the Biblical texts;

If Genesis 1 is to be read in a narrative sense, as a prologue, the vision of the creation of the world has its pinnacle in the creation of Man, therefore;

“The miracle of creation is a miracle of redemption”  (1995, p131)….  The highest form of immediacy is between God and humankind, the latter appears not just created by the word in a general sense, but by a solemn resolution from Gods own heart”

and finally; “The God of beginnings is the God of hope. And because God is the God of hope, the goodness of creation becomes the sense of a direction” (1995, p. 299)

Undoubtedly i have done a complete injustice to Paul Ricoeur, his influence, work and writings. His writing is both extensive. My key reflections, having been writing this article for a week on and off, in the aspects of Ricoeur that i have grappled me in my thoughts, have been the sense of a return to the sacred in the world, in the world of the church, and also in the world of working with young people from a faith perspective, whether ‘in’ or ‘outside’ the church.

When Ricoeur writes that the sacred has been lost in society – and as I’ve written before- Healy questions ‘ what does the church offer that no other agency can? ‘ – then surely an awakening of the sacred, connections with the abundance of creation, the recognition of the symbol, the signs in nature, and the opening up of the profound are surely potential domains for the church in its prophetic sense. To be a conduit of the deep and mysterious that is God, God that young people connect with in his/her sacred sense.  Deep church, deep youth ministry might provide spaces of the sacred. This is one reflection, there are undoubtedly others.  I must admit, for a long while the sense that working with young people outside the church starts with ‘doing good’ practically has been what i have tried to do – yet how might those kind of spaces, on the streets, in the parks, be also windows for the sacred?



References and Further reading:

Ricoeur, P, 1995 – Figuring the Sacred, Religion, Narrative and Imagination

Ricouer, P, 2013 – Hermeneutics (trans by David Pellaur)

Ricouer, P, 2004 – Memory, History, Forgetting

Stiver, D, 2012 – Ricoeur & Theology


Developing a conversation and space for faith based youth work managers. 

Admit it. Most of the conferences faith based youth work managers go to its just for networking. Unless it’s presented by academics.

So, anyone up for a conference just for the youth work managers in faith based organisations?

What format and teaching would you as managers like it to be? Open discussion? Sharing and open dialogue discussion? Topics on specific concerns – such as policy debate, managing people, managing churches, faith in management come to mind- but what would make for a good conference for the faith based youthwork managers?  Are there experts that could be brought in?

or learn from each other ?

what about a kind of retreat space , just to breathe, and recharge – especially often coping with the day to day spinning of excessively large amounts of plate spinning.

Who might be up for it? Is there a need for this kind of conference- just for the managers?

If not , no problem, just thought id ask around…

Comment here or contact me via email and if there’s interest we’ll get a first gathering organised. Obviously the more interest and the more experience in organising something the better.  But even a day at a church somewhere central might be a good first meeting. Just to get a ball rolling. Let me know. 

Helping clergy understand the difference between youthwork and youth ministry. 

The greek new testament, chaplaincy, systematic theology, maybe a bit of mission, leading services, conducting communion, media training, the problem of the filoque, christology, church history, the pentateuch, the synoptic problem, liberation theology, the correct robes for the right seasons, your enneogram number, or your myers briggs code- done all this then.. Ready set Clergy Go! – you’re now ready to face the world of ministry in a Parish setting, full of people.

Full of young people- they didnt tell you that did they? or does the new world of youth work make you feel like this chap:

Image result for vicar clipart


Despite an aging population, and an aging population in a church- your parish will have a few young people. And what have you learned about working with young people? Much more than diddly-squat? nope?

So – here are 10- well 11,  useful bits of information about youthwork that might be useful for you as you step into a world of working with young people- a world where you might encounter professionals, volunteers and a whole new terminology. where do you go first- ah ha – youth work magazine….

  1. The back of Youthwork magazine has job titles for a variety of roles; generally the following are the same: Youth Pastor, Youth minister, Church youthworker, whereas Community youthworker, youth and community worker, faith based youthworker, detached youthworker – might be different.
  2. Generally – Youthwork and Youth ministry are different things. Not many people have worked out the difference, and even influential people in the church use the different terms for the same thing, or use the terms interchangeably when they are different, but they are different things. A youth minister works with young people but it isnt youth work, well, it is, but only sometimes, but they can minister as they work with young people and those who work with young people doing youth work also minister with them and pastor them as they do youthwork which isnt much different to youth work but sometimes people also confuse youth work to youthwork and these are different too. Got that? yes i hope so. But Youth ministry is different to youthwork or youth work, its important to know.
  3. People who do youth work talk about things like values, Practice, Paulo Freire, Liberation theology, participation, empowerment, informal education, possibly human flourishing, reflective practice, structural barriers, power, conversation and community education. If this sounds too confusing or a whole new language (though hopefully Paulo Freire and liberation theology shouldnt be) , then might be best to think about youth ministry. Im not sure what they talk about, but they seem happy enough making young people play silly games and taking them to soul survivor.
  4. Youthwork puts a young person and their needs (which include spiritual ones) at the centre of the relationship that is created with them. Youth Ministry and the type within a church or institution tends (though not always) to have the needs of the organisation first. This is a hugely blurred line, given that many organisations are in need of funding from external groups and thus needs of funders can now come first even before the needs of the young person. When the young person isnt substantially the primary person- then a line is crossed and the young person begins to fulfil a purpose not of their making or choosing, and where a type of ‘pure’ youthwork has been lost. Yet that doesnt mean that it isnt useful, or a type of ministry- like youth ministry- but its less like ‘youth work’ anymore.
  5. When i say organisation in point 4. That means ‘getting young people’ to go to pre existing groups, especially ones in churches. Again these arent bad things, but its as much how young people are involved in these groups, and their choosing of them and creating them as a process of formation and ownership than youth ministry which might, if i was being cruel, not value the process as much, focussing on participation in the thing, not the collaborative creation of the thing.
  6. Yeah, thats it as well. Youth workers talk about processes. The destination is less important as to how it is got there. and the learning on the way.
  7. If a person working with young people talks about numbers of young people attending and getting more – then theyre likely to be a default youth minister person, numbers and attendance are a product of the culture of a church. If a person working with young people enthuses on the content of conversation and how they got to know one young person in a session- then theyre youth work default. of course neither might be the case, its just that the first person might be telling you, the new vicar, what they think you want to hear about growth and numbers. If you want  depth, in discipleship encourage your youthworker to focus on quality and conversations, not just numbers of people attending groups.
  8. There are detached youthworkers too, and christian ones. These are the freaks who love to follow Jesus example really closely and walk around the open spaces and talk to people. Its a brave and worthy task, full of challenge, satisfaction and isolation. The best thing as a new clergy to do is join them and understand what they do, and learn from them, and support them. Theres not many around and what they can do is meet young people you in your local church could never dream of meeting in a building. So this might be worth knowing, and they might be worth shaping new programmes around – not getting them to bring young people to existing ones (see point 4)
  9. Its doesnt matter what title they have. Most of them/us like coffee and conversation. Treat them now and again for breakfast and support your local youthworkers whether theyre working for your local church, another local church or group in your parish. Chances are theyre pretty stressed out with limited funding or short term contracts, so send them words, actions or presents for encouragement. like a full costa card. or cinema vouchers. Or a coffee and cake. or a large financial donation. a very large one.
  10. Youthworkers and youth ministers generally have had some training in a variety of things, collaborate on stuff and learning together, each others disciplines, areas of skills, academic strengths/areas, theological blind spots. Maybe theres space for partnership within a church, or local area between clergy and youthworker.
  11. oh and just a  reminder… youth work and youth ministry are not the same thing. Christian faith based youthwork is also different to christian youth ministry. Got that?
  12. Oh. And if you did read ‘youthwork’ magazine.. that probably didn’t help you work it out either..

See, simple really! But at least you dont have an excuse not to know a little bit about youth work and its differences to youth ministry. And its far far more complicated than some of this, no really. But this isnt the time. And if i could sum it up here, then all the books about it, and papers wouldnt need to be written. A useful tip; youth ministers their ministry is amazing, everything is amazing, then they burn out after 2 years. A youthworker, work is tough, young peoples lives are shit, their need is too great, how can the church overcome these deep issues, how can i do something, this is hard work, it never feels amazing though there are moments of deep contentment and satisfaction, and with support they stay.

These might be helpful for you as you venture from vicar school to the world of young people and youth work/ministry. There are helpful resources out there to, such as books, but its unlikely youll have time to read them. the infed site http://www.infed.org.uk is a good place, if you search christian youthwork, a quick skim read of this, and anything by Maxine Green, Danny Brierley, Pete Ward or Richard Passmore might be of added help to you.  But as i said, you probably wont have time.  So a top 10 tips on a slightly critical blog site might be the only youthwork, or youth ministry, training you get. as they say – hope it helps!


Making the transition (1): From Youthworker to Youthworker/Manager

Its whats said of footballers at times isnt it? not every great player makes a great manager, and for those that try it out by getting their coaching badges and become player/managers the task is that much greater. For a trivia question ; can you name all of the player/managers in the premier league era?

Its made especially tough they say when the player is already so well known to the other players and then takes on the extra responsibilities and thats possibly why theres only 5 or 6, and not many have gone on to be managers in the highest elite since.

But what about making a similar transition from youthworker to youth work manager? is it a similar kind of transition? do any of the situations from a Dave walker cartoon resonate?- role in management maybe – transitions maybe not…

About 15 years ago i worked in a call centre in the north east of England, for four years on the phones and in the back office, and when a round of opportunities came up for the role of team manager i thought i would go for it, armed with a few years youthwork experience, of coaching and training and a few icebreaker games (useful for interviews), i got one of the roles. However, from what i remember there was minimal training for the role, but i was assigned a different team, and people whom i didnt know at all to manage.  What I realised from the outset was that most of the challenge of management is in making difficult decisions, all the time. Decisions about customers, accounts, team dynamics, sickness procedures, recruitment and performance. Yet, because of the nature of the work, it was rare i hankered after being back on the phones. There was something in the challenge of dealing with a situation. Even if the team as a group was pretty destructive and ultimately so set in their ways that they were unmanageable.

Fast forward, or at least slightly step sideways, and looking back to my first dips into faith based youthwork in churches; management, though it wasnt mentionned was part of the ongoing task. From team, resources, young people, partnerships with agencies and schools, relationships with clergy, networks all require some degree of management. And thats before thinking about personal management. So even in a voluntary capacity there are tasks requiring management, or at least to be tended to.

When I was at the Sidewalk Project in Perth, as well as these types of activities, above, that required a level of managing, the project involved the recruiting, training and supporting of volunteers, and then as it took on students undergoing qualifications for placements, managing students professionally and also academically. The management of funding was also something that was gradually heading in my direction. It was such a gradual shift, though my title was ‘project coordinator’ not ‘just’ detached youth worker – it was at times the archetypal ‘(detached) youth worker/manager’ role. The Management aspects that included managing volunteers and funding, as well as partnerships, agencies and communication were gradually being increased.

But what did that mean for being a youth worker? In the main, actually doing the detached work meant that it was possible to generate stories, be passionate and have determination to keep the project going as long as possible – if nothing else because of the connections made with young people.  But what of making that transition?

For guides, books on management are many, books and resources on managing in youthwork are few – but can be helpful. Ords is helpfil (critical issues in youthwork management- but theres not much in it for the new manager juggling practice and managerial tasks) Not many talk of making the transition, either you’re a youthworker, or a manager – being both, especially in the statutory sector has been a relative ‘no-no’ its seen as too complicated and risky, too many conflicts of interest in decision making or too much time taken with managerial duties to be dedicated in practice. But for the youthworker in a faith based setting, the resources usually arent there not to be in practice, leading groups or activities, as well as taking on managerial responsibility. So it is more of a player/manager role.

In one way, being the virtual originator of a youthwork project, where it delivered and developed by one person who then gradually takes on more responsibilities is a different managerial situation to taking on a role in an organisation with limited knowledge, knowledge of its history, connections, people and cultures. This is what i took on as a role in my current position of Centre Director as DYFC. What i thought i knew about management, didn’t prepare me for what was now needed, maybe it coudnt. All of a sudden decisions had to be made, that i was expected to make, that i had no idea of, or whether i had the responsibility to make. Being seen as a bit of a practitioner expert may have given me a few weeks grace, or being new. But going into an organisation and managing from scratch is a whole different ball game, and yet because of resources it is still effectively a player/manager role, being on the streets on detached and helping at the clubs.

So, what about the transition from youth worker to youthworker/manager? for one theres alot in youthwork that us about management anyway – often the term management is only used when you’re having to manage people, staff or employment situations, but management occurs all the time. Being a manager does mean having to make decisions that might be difficult, ones that as a worker you’re not expected to make. Becoming a manager might mean having to withold information from people – people whom used to be colleagues. Transitioning means taking on responsibilities, though what that can mean at times is keeping more plates spinning, and hoping some don’t fall. To protect yourself sometimes you have to say no, no to the networking meeting to focus on finding funding, no to the conference to be at the office training and supervising volunteers – when these might have been automatic yes moments in the past. And while i talked about new christian conferences in a previous blog, one for faith-based managers is severely lacking. Managers tend to go to practitioner conferences just to network with other managers. Its not well resourced, let alone for the faith based detached youthwork manager…

In the faith organisation, its far easier to describe practices of direct face to face work in a theological themes, or to resonate them spiritually- but faith and management is a far more difficult call. Being a practitioner is the moment of transformation in a young persons life, and thats hard to let go of, like the footballer giving up the passion of the crowd for a pass, cross or goal.  Getting a funding bid, or making an ethical decision or supervising staff is rarely as proclaimed from the rooftops, and hard to determine as a spiritual activity, or worshipful.  But as a youthworker/manager the days of being at the coal face might be behind you, and that can be hard to take.

During the process it is worth trying to establish what kind of manager you would like to be- and if in a youthwork organisation- can you be a youthworker/manager and uphold the same kind of values you might have tried to embody as ‘just’ a worker? and this is important- nothing short of critical – so how might the new decisions you are asked to make, be also collaborative decisions if they need to be, or empower staff, or be made in a democratic process? Theres stuff on style, on culture, and shaping the relationships to be about management, supervision or both.

As youthwork is an art form, even trying to manage the process of becoming a manager might be futile, its often an improvised task, combining the reactive and strategic, developing identity within the role and adapting to and creating organisational culture. Are there hints and tips you would add to this to share, please comment below and share with others….


Management culture and the church

At the present moment I am in the middle of my MA in Theology and Ministry at Durham Uni, for one of the courses I am doing a Practical Theology Reflection, one of the other modules I am undertaking is Youth work Management. So at the moment I am knee deep in thinking about Theology, about Mission, and about Management, and as ive spent the day reading today on the Management side of things, am contemplating a few thoughts about management in relation to the church.

In Managing Voluntary Organisations Charles Handy describes that “the new language recognises what the voluntary world has known all along- that organisations are living communities with a common purpose, made up of free citizens with minds and values and rights of their own”, and from this grow a better understanding of organisations, built upon philosophy, and theory, and values for organisations.

In Morgans seminal piece on Images of organisation (1998) he describes the trajectory of organisational culture, and management – from post Industrial, Taylorism, and Fordism- a mechanical functional organisation  – through to Organisations as organisms, Organisations as cultural- creating social reality, Organisations as learning organisation, Psychic organisations, organisations of flux and organisations of dominion, all of these are metaphors of organisations- and more than one can exist within an organisation.

The question in my mind is, what sort of organisational culture is the church (ie what organisational structure has it inherited), and what should the church seek to be?

And, is there a clash between the dominant culture of the church, as currently operated, and that as experienced by those who work within it – under the authority persons such as Clergy and voluntary PCC?

It would be obvious to suggest that different denominations of the church operate with different organisational structures, but id reckon most are hierarchical to some degree or another. Yet what kind of organisation, in terms of culture does the church attempt to be?

And how is its organisation shaped by its values and intentions?  Given that at the start my reference is the world of voluntary organisations which seek to listen to and respond to the voice of people in community, meet needs, build on gifts, develop partnerships – in accordance with community development/ youthwork values and principles. It is why writers like Butcher (2012, in Ord) suggest that community and youth workers need to challenge the dominant discourse around policy and leadership and to create their own based upon values and principles. This sense of pioneering, challenging structures and discourses of inherited management seems alien in many inherited church management structures.

Might a reason that youthworkers, and Clergy – as managers- struggle to make that relationship work is that the management models at work are at odds with each other? How often does the Youth worker despair at the politics of the management of a church for example- and not saying clergy don’t either. But the discourses and expectations of management between the youthworker and Clergy might be vastly different. Is it that Youthworkers operate in what Coburn identifies as a ‘border pedagogy’ and thus is more acutely aware of values, of education and the spaces between the structures. And so the structures can represent dominance, power, hindrance, to the worker, and the young people they seek to represent.

So, maybe the system is more at fault than the personalities, but if the management structure of the church was reformed according to the values of the organisation- what would it look like? what would it emphasise? Or have the adopted models of church management run their course, and, like community organisations its time to move beyond mechanical or transactional or macdonaldised modes of management to management cultures befitting of the values of the mission of the church and the values of the Christian faith.

Lewis D (2001) argues that organisations may operate within an ambiguity paradigm, in that they are caught between beaurocratic worlds of management on one hand, and intentions to be operate with more flattened egalitarian, face to face, associational world of management. This may have some resonance Theologically when beliefs about social or hierachical trinity are used to re shape church structures, but that a bureaucratic mode might be too hard to let go of. Especially if power is attributed and held within it. The space within is the ambiguity as change occurs or where there are incoherances between what is idealised, but what is actualised.

Is there hope in that emerging church developments have adopted more equal management models? well maybe – but that only goes so far in determining the culture of a new organisation, how might they be shaped around creating social reality, or learning culture , or something else befitting the values of a new organisational group. its obviously easier in smaller groups and networks.

What is the current mood music in the church in relation to management – has it adopted business models too quickly – when christian youthworkers might feel that this emphasis is too numbers driven? Has the church adopted a universal strategy for management culture that doesnt take into account the complexities of local contexts? Might each church seek to develop its own management culture to fit its own communities local needs, ministry and mission? what then…. So could it shape itself according to values – not dissimilar to the emphasis of community and youthwork, after all – we’re all in the transformational ‘business’.

Maybe my head has been in books too long today to make any sense of considering the church and its management culture (s), where it derives them from, and what influences the way its structures are today.  But maybe there is something in here, some nugget for someone somewhere, Thoughts on my random thoughts as ever welcome…


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