And I Would do anything for God..(but i wont get bored)

In his book ‘Faith Formation in a Secular Age’ (2017)  Andrew Root suggests that the biggest motivation in society, that has infected the church – especially in youth ministry , is what seems the influence of the avoidance of boredom. And in the church this looks like:

Must make this event exciting – or no one will come along

Our new youthworker must be excited and innovative (always thinking of the new)

What will make the programme lively and attractive?

We cant be doing the same songs, we must do new ones every now and then!

Young people wont be interested in coming to sunday church, they must have their own meetings

And, some of this also plays out in worship songs, using screens, countdowns and smoke machines, even in an avoidance of reading the bible or meetings (these are deemed boring).

Is Andrew Root right?

in Faith Formation he tells the following story:

‘ A famous bible scholar was meeting up with a young muscle bound man who expressed to him his deep deep love for Jesus. Judging from his passionate excitement, the professor believed the young mans commitment, so they talked about faith and the bible. When the topic of sunday worship came up, the young man explained that he rarely went, telling the professor that it had none of the adrenaline of the workouts, that ultimately Sunday worship was just too boring.

‘I thought you loved Jesus’ the professor asked

‘i do’ said the young man, and said with genuine authenticity, I really do!”

So, the professor asked, ‘do you think you would be willing to die for Jesus?’

Now more reserved, the young man said ” Yes…yes, I think i would, yes I would die for Jesus’

‘So let me get this straight, the professor continued, you are willing to die for Jesus, but not be bored for Jesus?’  (Root, A, 2017, p7)

The point that the scholar would try and make from this is that is the importance of co-orporate worship. The inconsistency of boredom vs commitment.

But Root seeks a different point in Faith Formation, because in an age where the authentic experience is sought… think not adrenaline junkies of the 1990s, but the authenticity of the farmers market/homebaked bread/real music – then in such an age, anything is deemed disingenuous if it lacked connection to the depth of subjective desires.

Therefore to be bored in an age of authenticity is not simply unfortunate or unpleasant it is to be oppressed and got rid of. if we have responsibility for our own individual journey of spiritual life then why would we consider anything boring to be worthy and part of it? if its boring our needs are unmet… arent they?

On one hand is Root right?

Well hang on just a minute. He goes on:

Because if on one hand the church’s pursuit of youthfulness (see this post  ) has created churches that are having a juvenile tantrum (Roots words not mine), then what an age of authenticity also reveals is that churches are criticised not for too much spirituality and depth, but not enough. It is as if they have somehow lost what they are meant to be. The depth of experience (found in the gym, or found travelling the world to ‘find oneself’) is not found in the church.

There are two issues here, and Im not sure even I can do both justice in the remainder of this piece. So, i will focus on the first of the two.

Has the church, in regard to youth ministry played the ‘avoiding boredom’ card far too often?  and what has been its response..

  1. Make everything louder than everything else? Ie bigger and brighter music, churches, buildings, more attractive – keep up with the entertainment
  2. Work out what it might mean when people say that they are bored of church..?

Boredom might mean actually not being involved. Boredom might mean that it is too simple. Boredom might mean that it is not challenging enough. Not that it isnt loud enough. Boredom might mean that it isnt real, or authentic enough. And what might make church authentic… authentic relationships, authentic involvement, authentic respect and faith formation, authentic opportunity to make decisions. (see my post here on developing these) So often boredom has just caused a reaction of adopt technology, adopt fun, adopt noise.

Whats strangely interesting is that the churches that have fared better over the last 50 years are those which retained something of the youth movement of 50 years ago. Possessing the spirit of youthfulness is equated to authentic, because being and staying young is exactly that. In and amongst this is a pretty non existent space for what church is or isnt actually meant to be about. But is that to be the case today? im not too sure…

The possibility of divine action is somewhat minimised for the sake of authenticity, faith is not connected to divine action but meeting in an authentic way. In short, is God more present when im not bored..?

The challenge for those of us who are involved in ministry and youth ministry is not that we cave in to calls to make churches and meetings more youthful, not to cave in to the cries of ‘young people arent going to come to church, its boring’ . The task is not to cave into church being more entertaining, for this will, or has already caused significant problems, where faith formation has almost completely been abandoned for youthfulness.

The challenge is to try and develop opportunities for ministry and gifting, usefulness and meaningfulness, not just a bigger brighter, louder, more colourful experience. If young people want that, they can get it at a coldplay concert. And that might be more authentic. For a coldplay concert does exactly what it says on the tin.

It will take a huge amount of effort to stand up in a culture that prioritised youthfulness as authentic to say hang on, lets do something meaningful, real and faithful. That might take guts to do, yet the hamster wheel of continual youthfulness is only going to have one winner. And it not faith formation, or long term discipleship. It is not experience of God, not the kingdom experiences of generosity, giftedness, gratitude and rest that permeate in church and discipleship, and ministry of the kingdom (Root, p 202) .

Making church less boring again, may well be a legitimate question. The response to it is one that will shape church for the next 50 years. Yet strategy will kill essence (Mather) , so we might as well get on and do the work of the kingdom, that looks like the ministry of God in the world. Being authentically inauthentic in a world of youthfulness. Do the essence of God.

Oh… and making church meaningful, hopeful and dangerous. A sub cultural movement of justice seekers called by God towards peace and reconciliation, generosity and gratitude. Now – who might find that boring..?

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3 questions that are critical to ask of all our youth work and ministry practice.

Shall we start with a reality check?

There is no magic answer, solution, gravy train, resource, method, model for youth work and ministry. There really isn’t. Anyone telling you this is merely on the hard sell, of their particular brand, style, event or model. Anyone telling you this is is hoping that they have it, that they experienced it and they’re clinging on to keep their particular dream alive. Or organisation. And i have been as guilty or complicit in this too. Though Id hope not because id peddle my own faith upbringing as the only path for others to have..

But I know you’re probably reading this because you want an answer, a style, a method or a model to solve the current problems, concerns you may have about your youth work practice. Whether it is about children leaving messy church, or young people on the streets, or the YF being boring and running out of ideas.

And running out of ideas is one of the main issues isn’t it? A key factor in youth worker burnout. They run out of ideas.

Yet, youth ministry isnt an entertainment industry… is it..?

If you are reading this hoping for the magic answer, then you may well end up being disappointed, but well done for getting this far. The questions are coming.

Because on one hand I am slightly tired of the models and methods, the research, and the moaning, about why people leave their faith, or why a model didn’t work because it worked elsewhere (or in 1983), yet without looking at what is going on at a deeper level with young people, then models, methods are still unlikely to work. But they kept being tried… Working doesn’t mean attendance, or young people paying for something. Because.. its not the values of the entertainment industry that we’re looking for.. is it?

So, what are the 3 questions that we should ask of all our youth work and ministry practices? And ask repeatedly and all the time. They are:

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples belonging?

Does what we do/about to do increase young peoples autonomy?

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples sense of competence?

 

What you say – no  mention of Jesus?  no mention of values? no mention of ………(fill in the blank)

Yes. Agreed. No mention of those things. Because, look closely and you will find those things in these three questions.

Belonging. 

Relationships have been front, centre and under pretty much all of youth work and ministry practice. You really dont need me to pull out all the references for this. But relationships are one thing. A sense of belonging and connection is another. If we hope that ‘our relationship’ with a young person as a single youth worker or volunteer is crucial, we may be misguided, because its a sense of belonging that young people crave, (secret: we all do).  So… do young people feel they belong in the church family, do they feel they belong in their school, do they feel they belong in their public park, do they feel they belong in their town. Our relationship with a young person might be critical, especially if it helps to help them have a greater sense of belonging.

How might the whole church help a young person (s) belong? How might the town help young people belong who also want to express their anger at austerity through anti social behaviour?

So – how might what we do/ what is bout to be done – help young peoples sense of belonging?

 

Autonomy

This may seem to stand in contradiction to belonging and connection. But it isnt. Autonomy may mean that young people can make their own decisions, and as an individual, however, autonomy can also become something that our youth work and ministry should create, in order that young people can have a say in decision making processes, in decisions that affect them, affect the youth ministry/work itself and also the wider faith community and organisation. Autonomy is a key motivator for us all, we all like to be kings of our own castle. Yet at the same time, reflect on the situations where young people in the group, or organisation had any autonomy over the activity, process, style and nature of the group.

We might use the term participation, and that in a way is a graded scale of how young people do have increased decision making/autonomy.  Because after all, increasing young peoples participation is not that far from helping them to meet some of their self determined goals. Their goals about the club, group, community.. their dreams, visions, their collective passions for these things

I have written extensively on participation, some of these are my most read pieces.. its clearly a need, to think through and reflect.

Though i have suggested this one is second in this list of three. I think its the most important. Especially in churches and youth ministry.

 

Thirdly, Competence

What can your youth work and ministry do – to help young people feel that they acheieved something, they made something happen, they did well?

And it doesnt need to be personal – but it could be

It doesnt need to be social – but it could be

They did well doing the reading in a service is one thing, they did well speaking up at the leaders meeting another. They did well writing to their MP on climate change, they did well showing generosity and grace to others in the group. They did well…..

Nothing like doing well isnt it.

You know what that feels like?  probably not.

Will you only tell young people they did well at something when you get positive feedback for all your efforts, your hard work, your job? Id hope not.  You might have to give and continually give praise, even if you dont receive it.

But its not just the praise. It is the situations in which there is a possibility of being able to. When working on the streets its easy to affirm young peoples football skills, or how they ct with each other. It is their environment. So, how might the space of the youth group, club or project also be a space that encourages competence, encourages risk taking activity that stretches our known behaviours and praises the actions that are taken.

Youthwork that has craft activities are brilliant at this, if we can encouraging the simple making of things that are fairly easy so that everyone can do something well. the same with cooking, or fixing bikes, or sports or video games… its not quite the same with movies.

Its no coincidence that uniformed youthwork organisations with badges and awards continue to be very popular.

How might young people feel, if they are part of a group or project in which they leave each session feeling like they have achieved something, have developed a skill, have something to take home, have created something? Yes.. exactly…

 

 

If you need to think further about these three things through a faith lens, then do so. If you want to think about them in the context of the divine relationship between humanity and God, in terms of divine and human action, in terms of free will, prayer, and being made in the image of God, then do so. I would encourage it. It would be good to have that discussion. if you want to have a look at these things through discipleship or mission, through church then do so. You should also be able to see where these things mirror core youthwork values, like participation, empowerment and valuing the individual. Some of those reflections have already been done by Jocelyn Bryan in her excellent book, referenced below.

So, faith and theology is not my starting point for these. It is psychology.

If this all feels a bit more on the psychological side of things then it is. But thats ok isnt it. Because psychology could help us in youth work and ministry in a way couldn’t it. After all, we’ve tried sociology to death with all the generationalism surveys, and that hasn’t got anyone anywhere. Aside from selling resources.

But, you want to make a real difference in your group, your church, you organisation with young people. Don’t worry about second guessing their interests because they’re millenial. Try instead looking at the deep things that motivate them. Try looking at how belonging, autonomy and competence are part of their lives, try seeing where they find these things already. Try doing what you can to find them in the group, project and activity that you run. Of course this is hard work, of course this might require shifts. Who said this was in any way easy…

The reason these questions are crucial – because they’re the same one we ask of ourselves. Young people, are no different to us.

 

Further Reading: 

Human Being, Jocelyn Bryan, 2016.

 

Accepting rest amid the storm

There are 2 types of tired:

one requires rest
and the other requires peace (anon)

Yesterday morning, it was Easter Sunday and I had got up for the Sunrise service on the Headland, Hartlepool, in north east England. And. Whilst it was stunning this reflection is about some of the sermon during that, and also something I read when I returned, picking up my Bible just a few hours later.

The previous day was Easter Saturday and I had shared this tweet about the reality for the disciples on Easter Saturday

It is fairly obvious that the real trauma of Easter, it’s darkness and the grief of it are not far from my mind this year.

And so on Easter morning, I started to read the following.. in Luke’s account, two words that I hadn’t really noticed before;

Luke 23:56 New International Version (NIV)

56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

I wanted to read all of the Easter account. But got stuck here..

But they rested.

This word rested only appears one other time in the new testament, and refers in Hebrews to the 7th day of creation. That’s not the point (to be fair I only realised this today when writing this)

But they rested.

Why? We are told because the law said so. The law of the Sabbath, given by God for rest on the Sabbath.

Saturday was rest day.

The Saturday of ‘Easter weekend ‘ was a rest day.

So they rested.

They rested in the midst of the trauma, grief, pain, suffering, betrayal

They rested included Mary, whose son was just hanged publically.

They rested from caring, and looking after the dead.

They rested and hid away. Gathered friends and family. Grieved.

They rested from looking after others.

They rested in the midst. They had to. But they still did so.

They rested. Because that’s what the law said.

They rested.. so they might have some energy to cope with the Sunday. So.. was this planned all along? .. probably. Finding rest for your souls is what Jesus had already shared (Matt 11;28)

Was resurrection Sunday, found only after rested Saturday? Did all the event of the Sunday appearances gain credence because of the day of rest, of quiet, of reflection and devotion, the day before. Because, post good Friday, the first one, back to normal.

Normal included rest. Sabbath, and what was known. That Sabbath now took on more meaning, because the promised saviour had just died. So actually, returning to established patterns was a comfort. (The disciples went fishing.. )

But they rested.

Where their weary hearts found peace. Peace after the trauma, but with no expectation of the future glory. Easter Sunday wasn’t coming for them, not that they knew it.

But they rested

And this is still the promise. You will find rest for your souls, said Jesus. You need to rest. Elijah finds God after the chase, and God feeds him. Jonah the same. The promised rest is not avoidance nor is it comfortable. It’s the continued hearing of the voice of God in the midst.

But they rested

They had to. By law. Who put that law there..?

But they rested.. Jesus said.. I will give you rest.. it is a gift. Resting is a gift given. We have to receive it, embrace it, treasure it, accept it, find it. It is there, already, God already is.

But they rested. What about you? What about me?

They rested on Easter Saturday.. surely you, and I can too. We need to.

In church attendance statistics; should there be an ‘away goals count double rule? ‘

Not for the first time I find myself pondering a football and faith crossover piece. In the past I have written about a youth worker transfer deadline day, and also thinking about the theatre of football as a performance.

This time I’m heading to the slightly sensitive area of church attendance and growth statistics.

But first, a reminder, for those of you who aren’t sport inclined, what the ‘away goals count double rule’ actually is. It’s particularly relevant today on the day of the UEFA champions league quarter final draw.

The logic of the rule (And I’m not going to give you the official line) is that in some football competitions, mostly games where teams play other teams from a different country, there has always been and will be a home advantage. The home team don’t have to travel, they play in their own stadium on a pitch with dimensions they know, with all their home fans, their dressing room etc etc. It has long been recognised then that an away team (especially after long distance travel) is at a disadvantage.

Further details of this can be found here BBC article

For this reason, where a two game the is level on goals, any away goals scored by either team count as double. Their value is worth more. 1 goal counts as 2.

An additional meaning is attached to the number.

It crosses my mind that a similar weighting or value might be useful in thinking about church attendance, growth and mission statistics and success.

Put it this way,

The middle class already Christian family who move into the area and start going to the church might be recorded as ‘5’ on the figures.

And almost no effort might be made to find, work with or accommodate them, except being welcoming and hospitable. (Yet there are many churches/parishes where this is an unlikely reality)

The same 5 might be said for the family who start attending who have become known to the church via the foodbank. And whilst the same hospitality is recognised and evident, the effort and investment required might be more intensive.

If young people are really anti church and a youth worker has been employed- do the 5 young people who start attending chug h, also going as 5?

We may have real incentive as churches to do mission, youth work and community work in our churches, parishes and deaneries. But it might be as equally said that results by numbers might only implicitly cause churches to go for the ‘easier’ groups.

‘If we can get 1 of our friends to come along’

‘If we can attract a few Christians to come along by changing our service’

And that’s not to in any way suggest that this is easy. Not at all.

But if homeless people from hartlepool are made to feel welcome and attend because of years of effort changing a culture in a church to be more inclusive.. Then that ‘5’ of them has to represent and mean something more..

It might take 10 fold extra effort to encourage hard to reach groups (to be welcome in a church that often implicitly excluded) , and yet they’re counted as just 1.

It’s far easier if there’s a numbers game to go for the assessed easiest. It would almost be change in culture to intentionally advocate mission to and with the leastest in society.

So could ‘away goals count double?’ Or triple, or even ten fold?

I don’t mean to sound trite, or to try to dismiss the value of persons as numbers, the reality is that this already happens. I’m just highlighting the inadequacy of a numbers orientated system for measuring growth and attendance.

If there was church plant in Hendon, or Burbank, or moss side or fairfields, tulloch or the east end, shouldn’t a church plant of 10 people who became indigenous leaders have higher meaning and value than a church plant where 20 already Christians turned up because they liked the new worship style?

Just a thought.. what would church planting amongst the least communities and areas shafted by successive governnents be measured and justified ? If at all? But maybe not on the same measures of middle class suburbia who shape policy and expectation..

What might a good church look like, rather than a successful one, of a faithfully loving one in such a community. Why would that one need to be measured by numbers at all? And if so, could they count double?

Every new persons or families attending churches takes effort, agreed, but shouldt the extra resources required for the least likely, unchurched, abandoned by churcv/society, but warranted extra value..?

Just a thought…

What Role do you want young people to have in church?

For the majority of churches, the idea of having any young people being part of the church is a bit of a luxury. The task for many is to find them, attract them, and often this task has seemed to have fallen to the ‘christian organisation’ such as YFC, YMCA or FYT – the challenge where this happens is how the integration from organisation to church occurs.

But thats not the subject of this piece. I raised the question about the role that young people play in the church in a piece last year (here is this piece) , a piece that since April has been read by at least 10 people worldwide per day since. The role of young people in church is clearly crucial and something widely needing a discussion on.

So, what about progressing the conversation on a bit:

If its one thing to state ‘What current role do young people play?’ – and consider how passive, consuming, entertained they might be – the progressing question is :

What Role do you want young people to have in the church?

Because there is no point just assessing what kind of role they currently have, its what kind of role those who work with them want them to have, and how this might happen is key. So, this is yet another piece on young peoples participation. So, it might be worth thinking through why participation is important, and what might need to change, from the point of view of the cultural norms of church, of youth leadership and the perception of young people in the church which proceeds the development of their role. I have written before (and so have others) about the various historical perceptions of young people in churches, that needs to be changed in order that participation is increased. From the social rescue of the 1800’s, to the ‘protection and safety’ and creation of alternative culture youth ministry subsequent to the 1960’s. Throughout it all, there remains a high expectation of young people being involved in church to ‘learn’. Nick Shepherd in ‘Faith Generation (2016) suggests that shifting culture from learning to deciding is key. And I agree.

But why is increasing participation required?

On one hand, Theologically, participation is core to faith and the gospel itself. But I dont think I need to expand this here. Just look up ‘Bible Gateway’ and search participate or participation. And where there are no references, think about how God involves humans in the task of his mission, or loving and caring for the world, and developing the work of the church. Participation, and increasing it is core.

I want to look at this from a psychological basis as well. The psychologists Deci and Ryan have suggested that all of us are motivated by, and seek out continued spaces in which they feel they have:

  • Connection/Belonging
  • Competence
  • Autonomy

And, to be reasonable, developing relationships has been one of the key principles of youth ministry over the last 30 years. It may be something that still needs work, but ask a whole load of young people who have had the same leaders for more than 3-4 years, and they will remark on the depth of friendship and the value of them. Developing connections and relationships is undoubtedly key. From a young persons point of view – they will also be seeking out opportunities to create and have these connections – its worth bearing this in mind.

The second of these things is competence. It can take a number of facets, but essentially, being good at something, being confident in it and then also receiving the feedback for it. So think about it – in what ways do young people ‘do’ something in the church, that they can be praised for – that is quite meaningful? Colouring in a picture and showing it, really isnt competence inducing for a 12yr old. (especially when they’ve been in a committee in primary school)

The third is Autonomy. Which on the face of it might infer that they want to be independent, and this is partly correct, but it is a sense that they have responsibility and possibility to make decisions on aspects of things that directly affect them, having influence in the important. So – what about the youth group, or the church that young people might be important that young people could or should have influence over? Well if theyre an integral part of the church, then i might suggest almost everything. Only having a say in whether to play table tennis or indoor football may be a start, but its barely an important one. Chap Clark (Adoptive church, 2018) suggest that young people could have a say in the content or subject matter of the sermons in church. Maybe with that level of participation, young people might invest in church further. With a direct line to my youth pastor as a tennager, the youth group would make some suggestions to him, back in the 1990’s. It was great to hear on a sunday what he knew we thought was important. And not be patronised or ignored.

Think about all the aspects of the youth group, or the aspect of church – what role do you want each of the young people to play?

What might you need to do to open up the space so they can? challenge barriers? challenge assumptions? create spaces where young peoples voice can be heard? (and this not be a one off) If any church is serious about young people being more than token, more than passive consumers, then as adults, youth leaders and volunteers our role is to create the space, it is also to provide the support for developing the risk taking.

As a reminder, here is Roger Harts ladder of youth participation, which helps to give the rungs and grades of participation for young people.

Image result for youth participation

It might be said then, that increasing young people’s participation isnt just a nice to do – its actually what they need. Beyond connection, competence and autonomy are shot through the participation ladders higher rungs, decision making, doing stuff, creating things, taking risks – all deeply connected to a young persons needs (whether they know it or not).

Naturally, there are some areas in a youth group in which young people can have more participation than others (the games rather than the faith content..often) – it can also be said that some young people are more likely to be given roles than others – its usually the:

  • ones with the leadership potential
  • Right gender, race or ability…
  • extroverts
  • the oldest
  • the loudest
  • those known the longest
  • the most well behaved.

But what about the others? might a church be setting itself up to be accused of favouring the strongest (rather than the less visible) for participation, – is this theological ? After all – who did Jesus prefer. The irony is that ones who are likely to have participation opportunities in church, are as likely to be those who have them in school. So – the least get left out twice. The opportunities for participation might need to be adapted to the persons in the group. fancy that.

So – what kind of role do you want young people to have in their local church? or their youth group?

You might be content with them only having a token role in the life of the whole church, then dont be surprised if they only seem to have a token faith, or a token investment back. ‘The more we invest in young people the more they are likely to invest in their faith’ is a paraphrase from Christian Smith seminal 2003 book. Do you, does the church have increased and full participation as a main aim – but what kind of participation is actually possible for the 11 year old or 14yr old?

If you want young people to stay, and children beyond messy church and sunday school – then increasing participation in the local church is crucial. Its almost the only way. Its why when they have experienced it, ‘just going’ to a ‘event or festival’ might seem boring in comparison. Its participation free.

Without participation young people might get bored. And thats not because they need greater entertainment, its that they need greater respect and involvement. Relationship, Competance and Autonomy – might churches, and youth groups be places where these deep needs of young people are met? They might only be met through increasing participation. So – what role do you want them to play in the faith community? – what role do they want?

References:

Joined up – Danny Brierley, 2003 ( a chapter on participation)

Human Being, Bryan, Jocelyn, 2016 – On personal motivation/goals and a consideration of Deci and Ryan.

Adoptive Church, Chap Clark, 2018

Faith Generation, Nick Shepherd, 2016

Soul Searching, 2003, Christian Smith/ Denton

The following Anvil Journal has pieces on Participation and Empowerment – might be worth a read.

Are youth ministry books all saying the same thing?

The last 4 books I have read on youth ministry have started sounding like a bit of a

Image result for broken record

or reading them, has been like

Image result for groundhog day

its as if there is nothing new under the sun, or maybe with a twist that:

Image result for nothing new under the sun

Now, it could be that I read the same kind of youth ministry books, and to a large extent that might be true. However, I have also benefited from receiving a number for free, so that i can write reviews of them on this very site. So Nick Shepherd, Naomi Thompson and Chap Clark I am looking at you. But I will also add in this conversation Andy Root as well.

Heres what I mean. The only conversation in town is how to keep young people in churches. It is second to the fact there isnt any in church at all. But lets kind of go with the flow.  See what you think from the quotations below:

Naomi Thompson in her 2018 book ‘Young People and church since 1900’ writes

Young people today view their engagement with organised Christianity as a two-way transaction. They do not wish merely to serve church needs, nor do they expect to be passive consumers in accessing the youth provision on offer.” 

Nick Shepherd in his 2016 book ‘Faith generation; retaining young people and growing the church’ writes

The first area we might consider is the way i which young people move in churches from learners to deciders‘ (p156)

Chap Clark insists that: ‘Sometimes it is not a question of whether students and young people have the ability to serve, but a question of power. Adults have the power. Empowerment is a theological and sociophychological one. We need to transcend participation, and go all out for contribution. A participant is allowed to be with us, a contributor is with us on equal terms, a coworker who is taken seriously‘ (Chap Clark, Adoptive Church, 2018, p146-7)

And from a different angle, Andrew Root suggests that:

Andrew Root in ‘Faith Formation in a Secular age’ (2017) writes that faith in a secular world requires that : “study after study in youth ministry seems to define faith primarily through institutional participation. The youth with faith are those conforming to the youth group through affiliation‘ (p30)  The issue is that faith=conformity.

What all say is that participation is both essential, and yet it is not enough. All four writers identify young peoples decision making, creativity and desire to be part of the proceedings, not just a token gesture. Root and Shepherd also suggest that participating in the church structures really isn’t enough.

Young people want the church to be the place where they can be ministers in the world, and be agents of change in it. Institutional participation isn’t enough, but if this in itself isnt there well.. . Faith is to be Plausible (Shepherd), it is to involve ministry (Root) and it is about developing gifts (Root) in a place where faith can flourish (Clark).

But ultimately. I think they all say the same thing.

Its about identifying young peoples gifting, and created supportive places where young people can use these and decide how they want to minister using them. Its about moving from consumerism to contribution, and giving, or allowing young people to shape the roles they can rise to in the church, and develop faith that is risky, loving, generous and transforming.

Its great when four books say the same. Dont you think…. I mean its not as if youthwork hasnt been about participation for many a decade, has it…

It might be worth checking out this piece, on Youth participation, I wrote in in January last year, and includes Harts ladder on youth participation. ‘What role do young people have in church?’  given that this was a question posed by Danny Breirley in 2003, the same question is still being answered. We know that evidence and research is proving it, so why not any change?

Youth participation – the broken record – well it might be until its fixed…

In safety first cultures; risk taking is more required in youthworkers than ever before.

It comes as almost no surprise that there has been a backlash to the cultural messages of safety, harm and avoidance of risk that have been prevalent in culture, and also I might add the church over the last few decades.

Talk now in youth ministry is of taking risks with young people. 

Or maybe more pertinently, talk is of ensuring that risks are important in the relationships with young people.

It was the focus of last years Youthscape conference in which 1000 youth workers attended. Its been the focus of FYTs resources also. But – is it ever the subject of clergy conferences?

This risk provoking goes against one of the key principle cultural and organisational implicit drivers of organisations, notably church based youth ministry, which has, as said by Pete ward in 1997 – been more about safety and conformity within the church, than the kind of radical discipleship offered by Jesus. (Ward, 1997, Youth work and the mission of God, p16)

It is a theme I have spoken of before in this post ‘Young people will go elsewhere if youth groups are too safe’ and Why a risky church might be the right one for young people?

Taking risks was a key aspect of Jesus’ ministry – don’t you think?

Taking a risk with us as humanity was a risk taken by God overall – don’t you think?

Pushing the disciples to risk taking – and even exposure to difficult situations- was a key element of how Jesus pushed the disciples- agreed..?

At the end of this piece I will refer you to a resource which has been collated by Frontier Youth Trust to help you develop risk taking in your youth ministry, do take a risk and have a look at it – the link is here: (and no I don’t get any commission)  101 Risky Ideas for your youthwork

But before you do that, Id like to offer a short reflection on risk taking within youth work and ministry, basing this on two principal ideas. The first is a chapter in ‘Youth work Ethics (YE)’ by Howard Sercombe, the second is the 9 stage process of youth work as developed by FYT a number of years ago. I hope you find both useful.

In ‘Youth work Ethics’ Howard Sercombe identifies 19 areas of youth work practice that he gives insight and reflection to, on the basis of suggesting that youth work itself is an ethical endeavour based upon itself as a profession, and a definition of youthwork as a ‘professional relationship in which a young person is engaged as a primary client in their social context’ ( YE, p 27, 2010). What this does, is form the basis of youthwork as a negotiated, limited, yet professional relationship – that transcends the plethora of activities, venues and delivery agencies- but frames it as a relationship. Something i think that is music to the outcome bleeded ears of the youth worker.

Before going further with Sercombe, here is the 9 stage group work process that once and still is core to the FYT Streetspace community, note especially the element of Risk, that its needed and where it is located.

You can download the whole document here: http://www.fyt.org.uk/downloads/

The logic being that, over a period of time developing the relationship that you as a youth worker (especially as a detached worker) will be able to take a risk with the relationship that you have with a group (as you may by then have developed small group work, gained their trust etc) and been able to make suggestions to enable them to do something they maybe wouldn’t have done other wise. A push too soon may indicate that the relationship has been perceived differently from youth worker and young person/group. But note, that from the process of developing spirituality – a ‘test’ is whether ‘risk’ can be taken with other maybe easier concepts – like travelling to watch a football match, trying to raise funds for an activity, undergoing a personal change like quitting smoking (as an example) – gauging how risks in these areas might be seen as some kind of indication of how risk taken to think spiritually might be perceived. For more explanation of these – you might want to buy the Here be Dragons resource, in which all 9 stages are explored further. This is here: https://wp.me/P2Az40-4t

But lets just say from this example that Risk is needed in the youthwork relationship, and possibly even that Risk is needed for faith.

Back to Sercombe. Helpfully in a chapter on ‘taking care and managing risk’ , Sercombe identifies that in the main there has been a confusion about ‘harm’ and ‘risk’, but also that a number of risks are needed in youthwork, more so, there are a number of hidden risks that we would do well to help young people avoid.

A few summary thoughts from the chapter:

· Because we want to develop, transform even, the lives of young people through the relationship we seek to have with them , and they to some extent put themselves in our hands– this is an engagement that is inherently risky because we could get it wrong, create defensiveness, create exclusion or be a disappointment

· We expose young people to other relationships with other adults, professionals or services – there is a risk here, as these too may end up being destructive.

We are as youthworkers responsible for the intervention in other peoples lives and have a duty of care, and Sercombe goes on to describe the influence of a number of legal decisions and oaths that have an impact on how youthworkers are responsible, and ultimately states that:

‘The first responsibility of the professional is to make sure that nothing worse happens to the person than has already happened’ – though this is obviously difficult to promise – especially in medicine.

This is key ‘we need to do the best we can to help a young person in their journey. That may involve harm. It may involve greater harm. We don’t know that our assessment of that, even in consultation with the young person will be accurate’  We might want to avoid it, but harm is almost always a possibility in any intervention we might take, whether its helping them across the road to the ‘safety’ of the bus shelter on detached, the football or table tennis match, the cookery group, or game of pool. All can be harmful, and minimising harm is key, but it cant be avoided completely.

Whilst a few high risk activities have reinforced a tendency to avoid risks due to fear and litigation (such as PGL disaster over 20 years ago), and insurance companies dictating which activities youthworkers can and cannot do, there has become a tendancy, as i stated above, for risk avoidance. The real issue is being sued and avoiding harm to the organisation. 

often it is our job to increase risk’ (YE, p110)

Whilst the risks that get banded around for young people are the usual list of subjects; drugs crime, unemployment, homelessness etc and these get the usual attention. There is a range of risks for young people that don’t: passivity, resignation, fatalism, cynicism, low expectations, isolation, and you might add a few others here. Like lack of political engagement or community participation. Our role, according to Sercombe, is to help the young person assess the risk as best they can and help them decide through the possibilities. In the short term there might well be harm for the young person, a better life might, controversially, not be a safer one. (YE p110)

The role that Sercombe suggests we take in this risk manoevering profession is that of a guarantor. We manage the risk, think about it, we assess it, and consider it. But what we also do is hope, believe and project. We want to believe that young people can do, will do, and might just rise to the risk, because we see them as capable, confident and want to give them the opportunity to be the adults that they want themselves to be. By treating them as adult – they become adult. Right? Isn’t this a risk in itself? – but not an entirely non altruistic, positive one?

For despite the best interests at heart, best support and best conditions – there is still a chance at ‘failure’. This is the guarantor, and our role. We hope and help to provide the best conditions, resources and buildings in the hope that this will help young people develop agency, confidence, to be adults to make decisions. This is why this puts us at risk.

Thats why we take risks in youth work – because we still believe in the possible, we still have faith in the potential, we still dream. We take risks, and need to receive good management on their risks. ‘Risk is a key resource in youthwork’ (YE, p111).  It frames the logic of our intervention. Without it there would be no change, no transformation, no improvement, no new reality being explored. Whilst young people ‘at risk’ can be seen as an issue. Many of these occasions are when young people themselves do not have the capacity or resources to prevent being exploited, exposed or manipulated, by populist politicians, tabloids, sexual predators or extreme faith groups.

It is our role to defend young people, and take risks in preventing what might be a default pathway into these risks. Yet, risk is not the same as harm, it is not our role to decrease the risks, as arguably young people need risks so that they can exercise sound judgement, and we need to push young people to new experiences for their learning. We take responsibility for the process, we might consider ourselves lucky at times for the risks we have exposed young people to and the lack of assessment thought through. When young people enter into a relationship with us, it is a risk in itself, they entrust us, the information we give, and for them to push back on it. We might do well to recognise where we might have failed young people and their development because of our own reluctance or avoidance of taking risks, we need to be skilled enough to know and make the possibilities open, and resourceful in encouraging young people to take the risks. We might need to take risks to challenge barriers in organisations which hold young people back, we need to be as brave and courageous. We need, as this suggests, not to be content in only bringing young people to our beautiful place – but pushing them through the barriers we create to the somewhere new.

We have to take risks. Faith is about taking risks. Life is about taking risks.

Whilst the section above is less about faith, and more about risks in general. It is not difficult to make connections about barriers in churches and providing the support for young people to develop an adult faith.

As a reminder: Those 101 risky ideas for faith based work are here

At random – these are numbers 41-50 on the list and are aimed at helping to develop spirituality in young people, if you like these, why not download them all..for free. i mean what kind of risk is that, even…

41. Rewrite a parable and base it in your local context. Tell the story to young people without revealing its biblical origins. What are their interpretations?

42. Get up early to watch the sunrise and pray for the day ahead.

43. Ask young people to write a new parable.

44. Go to a cathedral or ancient church. Do some research about the the faith communities that have been there over its history.

45. For an experience of awe and wonder, sleep out under the stars.

46. Identify some of the metaphors used to describe God (ie Lion, Teacher, Tower, Rock). Ask young people to come up with some new metaphors based on the local context.

47. Cancel youth group or church in order that young people might find God outside the spaces you can control.

48. Arrange a visit to the building and community of a different faith. Use the time as an opportunity to dialogue about what values are important to you all.

49. If you meet with young people to explore and discover God start calling it church rather than Bible study or youth group. How do young people react? When is church, church?

References
Sercombe – Youthwork Ethics, 2010
Ward, Pete, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997

Practicing thankfulness in the midst of the storm – 2018 into 2019.

You’ve probably seen the end of year lists. You know the ‘list your 10 achievements in 2018’ or ‘ your 10 films of the year’, and whilst sometimes excruciating hearing the achievements or interests of others can inspire and provoke. It can also be therapeutic and useful to name and remember the blessings and moments of a year period into another.

Unashamedly this piece is inspired by the many people who are an inspiration to me. This was going to be a ’10 things to be thankful for’ in 2018, as I am constantly inspired by Becca Dean who publishes thankfulness on a regular basis. I’m also thankful to Diana Butler Bass who has published a book on practicing ‘Gratitude’ in the face of the Trump era. In the storm, whether political or personal or both practicing thankfulness and gratitude is tough. But at the same time. It’s what as Christians we and I are called and commanded to. So, and I mean this, through some gritted teeth and possibly even tears for the pain of many storms, stresses and situations, here are a number (maybe not 10) things I want to say that I am thankful for in 2018.

1. The North East Sea Coast Is just Beautiful, rugged , haunting and majestic. I’m writing this with this view as I sit on a large rock.

I’ve probably walked 50 miles this year along parts of the north east coast. Using the space to thinking, praying, running after the dog, being renewed by the crashing of the waves, the glory of the sunrises and sunsets.

If you’ve never been north of Sheffield and enjoyed the best beaches in the UK.. then next year… Oh and todays sunset was pretty special too

2. Books. This year I’ve not read many new ones, but even re reading Friere has been a joy. The one that stands out was ‘Falling Upwards’ by Richard Rohr. Reading this at a difficult time was like reading cups of fresh water being poured upon a weary soul.

3. The support from friends and strangers who have heard my vulnerability. When I say strangers I mean social media now friends and community. The friends who follow this blog, the strangers who also do, and those who have helped me financially through donations or asking for training or consultancy in the last 12 months, thank you.

4. My church family a small group of people hartlepool who have road tested a number of my seminars, heard a few sermons and witnessed a 40 year old fall in love with playing the guitar again. I will also add the streetspace family, a group of people who did vulnerability and joy in bucket loads at the national gathering in June. Thank you fellow travellers.

5. Coffee. No words. Favourite cups of coffee include York station, Seaham harbour, and at Tyneside Cinema. Craft beer at York station too.. the times to stop and read a book, or to chat.

6. The sacking of Jose Mourinho… Sorry, but it was needed. Not sure what this says about me. But if there’s a confessional for being a Man utd fan (since I was 6), then..

7. The NHS who for a fifth time worked wonders in operating on and then helping my wife Lynn to recover. We need to remember that there are many many good stories about the NHS and it needs to be valued.

8. My Family, it’s been another tough year but I’m thankful for all of them.

9. My Faith in God, maybe even God’s faith in me. Something that’s been a constant for me since childhood and this year has been a source of hope, life and support as well and even more so the inspiration to want to fight for injustice to care for the needy, to love and transform the world. Daily prayers, evening and night time prayers, discovering that rhythm is important as a discipline. And being honoured to pray for others, thank you.

So not quite 10. But an end of year 9. There are many many people I could thank, and you know who you are if you’ve encouraged me this year, listened, sent a message and prayed for me. I’m not joking that 2018 has been really tough and I grittily write about next year being a ‘happy’ one. But in a real sense and true sense I can still be appreciative and thankful. And despite alot I can still have a thankful and grateful heart and attitude into 2019.

Maybe that’s what we should practice more, thankfulness in the midst of the storms.

Is ‘Ministry’ a problem for Youth Ministry?

Image result for youth ministerI am pretty sure that I’m not going to be the first person to wade into this discussion.  There are a few aspects of why I shy away from the term ‘Youth Ministry’ where I can, but at the same time realise that its the common descriptor for working with young people in christian church contexts, so I do have to use it.

But I think there are a number of problems with it. It might be semantics (an argument about words) – but words do have power and influence, and the ‘ministry’ aspect of ‘youth ministry’ need a few questions asked of. Whilst we’re at it, the ‘youth’ aspect is awkward too, and a seminal piece by Mark Smith on ‘the problem of youth for youthwork explores this. You can find it in the link, on the Infed website. Youth is contested and often negative. Even the ‘youth’ aspect of ‘youth ministry’ has issues.

But the ‘Ministry’ aspect of youth ministry might do too.

In his book ‘The Pastor as the Public Theologian’ Kevin Vanhoozer pronounces a crisis of role identity for the Pastor/Minister. Now on one hand ‘crisis’ is strong a word and often crisis’ are used to set the scene for a major point or new perspective that deals with the issue. So I take it lightly. But in effect what he suggests is that the Parish Ministers role has diminished in society, because other people related professions have over taken the role – so the psychologists or counsellor are called upon sooner than the clergy, so might a social worker or school teacher for therapy or education, where once a church might have been the centre of these things. He goes on, but I wonder whether that same crisis that the clergy might feel, is a luxury not even afforded within youth ministry, yet youth ministry aligns itself with ‘church ministry’ oh so quickly.

The reason I think its a crisis that would be a luxury for a youth pastor/minister – is that whilst there might be a historic association with what a Pastor/Minister might be/do (sometimes a curse) and they can often find the roles that are expected – such as funerals, ceremonies, visits etc – the opposite is often the case with a youth minister who job description apart no one has any knowledge of what the role should be, (but strangely many expectations) and so much of the time the new youth minister (if minister is the right word) spends their time carving out what space there might be for what it is they are supposed to do. At least, if I look back to a time when I was based in a small town as a youth worker/minister or based in a church in the same role – much of the time was spend trying to establish either myself or the role, within the established patterns and trying to find either importance or need. Because there wasnt a defined gap for the role.

Goffman in ‘The Presentation of the self in everyday life’ says that it is very difficult for a person not just fit into the role before them, when everything is already established, so it may be easier to be the person who defines a role from scratch – ‘oh yes a youth minister is like ______ its how they did it’ – and the dye it set. But if there isnt a gap – what then? The gap might be an easier place to define a role – but what if there isnt a gap – because being tied up to being a ‘minister’ doesnt help in a post christendom world where young people arent looking for a minister or have counted out the regard for one.

Being a youth ‘worker’ doesn’t quite share this – saying that you work ‘with’ young people – as opposed to trying to do ministry with/for them – is a subtle but significant shift. Just.

So- Ministry is starting to have a problem.

The Language of ministry is barely recognised in society. Except government departments. And this conatation is probably best avoided. Or the Ministry of Sound. So, its pretty dead in the water except for an association with dominance, power and dis organisation – or a compilation album of dance music. The language of ministry as a concept is limited. But its not youth ministry’s only problem with Ministry.

do young people recognise ‘ministry’?

I’d say this was hardly likely, in a book entitled ‘Your first two years in Youth Ministry’ Doug Fields in the very first chapter uses the terms youth worker to describe the person, and youth ministry to describe the role/context . Even in Evangelical USA, minister was replaced by worker.. Maybe this is helpful, given that Arkle Bell, commented on a previous post the following:

The other big moan is the recent trend to talk about Youth Ministry – do the young people recognise that jargon, so are they already excluded. As I said to a Canadian visitor at church today – youth work is my ministry. A denomination wanted to ordain me as a youth minister, I turned them down saying God had already ordained me as a youth worker and wider society had recognised that.

Its difficult enough trying to find an establish role ‘with’ young people, but I wonder whether trying to do that as a ‘youth minister’ is more difficult than ‘youth worker’, neither is easily defined, but one at least has less association with an organisation such as a church, the other locates the venue of the profession as being where young people are. A shop worker works in a shop, a youthworker, well, where young people are. And Kerry Young has already said that youth work is defined as it is practiced (1999)

However, the main concern, i think, with youth ministry, and being a youth minister is, is the notions of power that are associated with it. Or more accurately, how through default within many churches, minister is associated with authority – the ministry of the young people is the ministry of the youth minister – young people are their ministry. Young people as a result can be viewed as little more than pawns in the activities and programmes, a number.. A group of people done to, with the youth minister acting in a way similar to the senior pastor.  With an image that looks like this;

Kids bored. Not listening, and someone talking at them.

However, It has taken quite a while, not just in this piece, but quite a number of years (150?) for someone to come along and say the brutally obvious.

Youth Ministry is about enabling young people to be ministers.

This is what Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean suggest in their recent two books (references below). Up until then, keeping young people entertained, or hearing ‘nice’ therapeutic/moral messages might well have been the order of the day. (Smith, C)

But helping young people develop their ministry?  Not only ‘what might that look like? – but what might that mean? 

For a start if working with young people to develop their ministry  makes the task more like youthwork as a process of supporting, encouraging, challenging and guiding – rather than leading from the front, so much. It has empowerment and participation as automatic bed fellows again more a youth work concept (just) .  In the next part this week, I will explore further what it might look like for youth Ministry to be about developing the ministry of young people. Given that this causes a need to understand what ministry is in the life of the church, and the churchs place in the world. Aspects that both Andy Root and Kenda Creasy Dean do touch on.

What if youth ministry was about faith shaping young people as ministers?

But i think there is more to the play than whats been said so far.

Image result for youth minister

Is ‘Ministry’ a problem for ‘Youth Ministry?’ – Well it might be if the ministry we have for young people, limits their involvement in the ministry as attenders and being entertained, than enabling them to become ministers themselves, including ministers of the word, sacrament, ministers of mission, justice and love in the world. Ministers who participate in the church and the world.

If its just a ministry the youth minister has – not a ministry that they are being encouraged into also having – then its no wonder that many young people find other places to be entertained instead. Ministry might be a problem for youth ministry in a number of ways, its even more of a problem if the youth minister is the blockage that prevents the ministry of young people thriving in a church. Or where the youth minister is employed to keep young people contained in the church, rather than enable their ministry potential be encouraged. As this picture infers, its the youth minister who is called, the ministry that they enable young people to participate in seems secondary.

What role do young people have in the church?  – maybe they should be considered as Ministers – will be the theme of my next piece.   

References

Goffman Irving – The Presentation of the Self in everyday life, 1960

Vanhoozer, Kevin, The Pastor as Public Theologian, 2016

Creasy Dean, A Root, The Theological Turn in Youth ministry, 2011

Root Andrew, Faith Formation in a Secular Age, 2016

Smith, C, Soul Searching, 2003

Young, Kerry, The art of Youthwork, 1999, 2005

 

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