‘Are you looking forward to your sabbatical?’ and 19 other unlikely phrases said by youthworkers

Picture the scene, theres two youth workers chatting together at a conference, and you’re listening in to their conversation, I would put a fair wage on none of these statements being mentioned by either of them:

1. Your sabbatical is coming up, what are you planning to do?

2. I’m off next week for my annually organised cpd to help me on my designated career progression training programme.

3. Oh yes, there’s a problem with the damp in my flat, but I can ring the diocese and they’ll sort it.

4. It’s great that the church decided to keep me on instead of the vicar, showed real pioneering spirit and value of young people.

5. Oh good, nothing energises me more than the thought of obtaining funding for my own salary.

6. Nowadays, there’s just so much positivity about young people in the press.

7. I love the security of my role.

8. Nothing pleases me more than trying to justify my job as a youthworker and try and get young people to attend church (or an employment programme)

9. Working in this denomination _______________, they really know how to support their lay youthworkers and provide sustainability.

10. I was so pleased that my church or organisation gave me a £100 budget to spend on books for myself, and continued it even when money was tight.

11. Its great that when i have a problem with my management i can chat with a union rep.

12. Honestly I have so many volunteers I don’t know what to do with them all.

13. Writing funding bids really is the highlight of my year

14. Administration, I’m given loads of time for this.

15. Do you know what, im pretty sure Ive got all the DVDs ill ever need

16. Theres nothing better than reading Shakespeare or Jane Austen to inspire my youthwork practice

17. It never ceases to amaze me how many people respond positively to my youthworker communication letter.

18. Shawshank Redemption, now theres a crap film.

19. No, actually I dont drink coffee (sorry, but i know there are a few non coffee drinking youthworkers)

20. Im just so encouraged to see each local school and church re-order itself around the needs and gifts of children and young people. 

Ok, so may be a few are far fetched and portray the inner frustrated dreamer in me, and yes Satire may well be the last known tool of the powerless. And this may be just that, a little sunday evening Satire. Yet, at this time, youthworkers are probably placed in the most powerless than they have ever been, and as my previous post suggested that although on a better footing, youthworkers have never been in positions of power. So, maybe satire it is one of the best ways to see the lighter side of being a youthworker.


With disruptions to them inevitable, Are strategies in youthwork worth the paper they’re written on?

Its not a negative question, but a realistic one; With all the disruptions to a strategy especially in youthwork- is it even worth bothering with one? Is it even possible to develop strategies for ‘industries’ that are so unpredictable, and people orientated? A possible solution is below, but first the case for the prosecution. Why strategies dont work…

It can feel like a strategy for youthwork practice isnt worth the paper, the time or energy to put together – because its disrupted and in need of change almost immediately.

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Because; ask a group of youthworkers about the successful of the strategies that they have been able to complete, as you will nearly always find a whole load of reasons why this wasn’t the case.

They didn’t have the power to execute it

They ran out of funding

A volunteer pulled out

The Bishop decided upon an event instead and my time was re orientated

Young people just aren’t straightforward

The trustees change their minds on the plan

Its just not how things are done in this organisation

and the rest…

There a fairly common saying ‘Culture Eats strategy for breakfast’ and whilst this is true, this hides some of the other disruptions that affect the implementation an success of a strategy. The problem can then become that a strategy might need then to incorporate the cultural issues – as well as all the potential risks and hazards that affect the strategy- so in terms of the above – it might need to include

A funding strategy

A volunteers strategy

A strategy to affect culture

A strategy to deal the volunteers

A strategy to convince the ‘higher’ powers of the value of youthwork – such as the heads of affiliation

A strategy to be flexible to overcome the potential disruptions………..

And in that way, having a strategy that can overcome the disruptions, and be that flexible when these unplanned disruptions occurs almost defeats the object of bothering with developing a strategy in the first place, or not far off. Even the most creatively created, participatory planned and organisationally owned strategy. It may be concise, communicated and coordinated, it may intend to be effective and easy to understand. The strategy might incorporate values, be step by step, measurable and time orientated – and have all the bells and appropriate whistles. But it could all go to waste because of the so many factors that could still cause it to be disrupted. Though at the same time developing and redeveloping strategy, aim and vision – revising, revisiting and reviewing it then become regular. But doesn’t it seem like a lot of time, and managerial, leadership effort – for something too easily challenged and changed.

It would become so broad to encompass the potential disruptions – that to be alomost meaningless, and so flexible to adapt to them to be unspecific.

Some of the business gurus when talking about strategies say that a strategy is nearly always going to be unsuccessful if there is no attempt to name the problems that the strategy is trying to solve.

I wonder whether in youthwork we have become fixated by outcome orientated strategies, because these are often what we feel we have been asked to compile, as often our management group, committee or clergy have understood strategy through the prism of transformational and visional leadership (which sets outcomes and prioritised conformity to these fixed outcomes, elevating the ‘transformational leader’ to set and create ‘their’ strategy within cost cutting/efficiency/ and setting outcomes and indicators first) that has been adopted relatively uncritically over the last 10-15 years in orgaisations.

However. Outcome orientated strategy is barely worth the paper it is written on. Youth workers require an alternative.

What about this;

Good strategy, in contrast, works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favourable outcomes. It also builds a bridge between the critical challenge at the heart of the strategy and action—between desire and immediate objectives that lie within grasp. Thus, the objectives that a good strategy sets stand a good chance of being accomplished, given existing resources and competencies.

In short – good strategy is about making the right conditions exist, for the potential for the most opportunities to occur – that are favourable to the aims and objectives, and that use the resources and competencies known to the organisation. It is opportunity orientated, not outcome orientated. Opportunities are things we create the environment for. Outcomes are too unpredictable in youthwork that can be disrupted in too many ways. But we can create positive environments that endeavour to facilitate opportunities.

And in youthwork, those opportunities can happen anywhere. The streets, schools, churches and youth clubs. The problem with an opportunity led strategy is that it needs to be close to the action with young people. Or creating opportunities for training, for supervision, for something else that involves equipping, resourcing and supporting youthworkers – then one step removed from the action – but also close to those who are – but that doesn’t negate opportunity orientated strategy – but that the opportunities might be less frequent than the ‘on the ground’ practice.

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Opportunity orientated strategy might suit the openness of youthork closer than an outcome orientated strategy. It also places the emphasis on the agency of those responsible for the strategy to deliver it – through opportunity creation, not dehumanising young people as numbers or potential outcomes, or being frustrated that ideals, or targets havent been met.

The question is – can we afford to develop ‘opportunity’ orientated strategies in a culture of cut throat funding that often seems to demand targets and outcomes – or have we got in some cases the favour an capital to take a risk and communicate opportunity orientated strategy. Often we are asked in funding bids ‘what are we going to do about a situation’ – which a cue to share the proposed opportunities- but as well we might need to be specific about the outcomes – which goes against the flexibility of an opportunity orientated strategy – pushing and driving it to numbers based. It might be a luxury to be able to construct an solely opportunity orientated strategy for youthwork practice. But – on the other hand – it a luxury we might want to afford ourselves given the almost pointless practice of trying to create outcome orientated strategies – that get eaten alive in the culture of organisations and in need of constant revision.

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If were not able in the culture of our organisations to create opportunities for young people and those who work them – then we might need to question what kind of young people orientated practice we are.

With an opportunity orientated strategy it is less affected, to an extent, by disruptions- because we do have slightly more agency in its realisation. Though even then the level of disruption can still disorientate strategy – especially if the resources become so slim that opportunity creation is minimalised – but again at that point- we will be spending time increasing our resources, changing approaches and adapting to the disruption –which might turn out to have surprising results. We might not have enough leaders to manage the youth club – so we take our presence and provision out onto the streets (for example) a change which might end up creating new opportunities – even more that we hadn’t predicted before hand.

In the opportunities might emerge the disruptions we are looking for. The next bright idea might emerge from the point of action.

References on Strategy and Management in Youthwork can be found on this page on this site: https://wp.me/P2Az40-QV- or via the menus above, and many more on strategy in youthwork and managing strategies can be found via the tags and menus. For further on this and maybe to develop the conversation, contact me via the menu and arrange training or workshops on the theme.

Special mention to Jon Ords book which talks about faith based management , and also in his introduction critiques the transformational leadership that has brought forward outcome orientated strategy building.

The 12 youthwork days of Christmas

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altogether now…..


On the 12 days of Christmas my youthworker gave to me…

12 annoying icebreakers

11 months of funding

10 broken ground rules

9 (or ninety) games of ping pongImage result for table tennis

8 hr sessional contracts

7 jeffs and smith books

6 franchise projects (speaking of which..)

N….C…. S…….  (or if you cant bring yourself to say NCS, say D…B….S instead)

4 smart objectives

3 supervisions

2 junior leaders

and (deep breath) an annual report for the charities commission!

Just getting in there early with a bit of Christmas cheer, I hope your end of term, last few sessions, staff meal outs, final mentoring group for the term goes well, and that you have a restful and positive Christmas, ready for the challenges that 2018 might bring us all in the youth work community. Thank you for reading, sharing and being part of the ongoing conversation in youth work in the UK and I hope reflections from this site have been useful for you this year. Happy Christmas!

ps. this might not be the last post this year….

Working with young people might mean leaving the church. 

I was 18 at the time. Though this story has resonates to when I was 15. I’ve written about this before in a piece called ‘sorry young people, the church messed up’ from an apologetic perspective from being a young person.

However this is the tale from the perspective of being a youthworker. I wonder whether we have to admit that if we want to work with young people we have to face the reality of leaving the church.

So, I was 18. And just moved to an estate in a team of other enthusiastic christian young people. Ready to save and transform the world. Ready but innocent. Ready but in no way ready. But ready because had an open page and lots of time to start making contacts with young people. None of us knew about detached work , youth ministry was barely a theory and basically it was about meeting and connecting with young people. And we did. And it was chaos. But because it was chaos and open and unpredictable young people connected. We got to know many young people a little bit.  Got insights into their world a little bit. Worked with them a little bit.

However. The little bit wasn’t enough.

Working for a church which had originally said, ‘Go find and connect’ now said, ‘use the building’ , ‘invite’ ‘do more teaching’

We stopped working with young people. Instead we started to work in a way to entertain them. Before they were happy to have conversation, now we had to prepare sessions, plan games and make teaching stuff relevant.

On the positive side, the groups who attended then who flourished in that kind of space have become leaders and youth ministers themselves, some of them have.

Yet the young people who connected with us on the streets, in our home and in the chaos.  I dread to think.

Ok so that was over 20 years ago.

But the reflection remains. And it’s not new. The history of organisations like SU and Sunday schools tells us that the more formal the space, the least inclusive it is. It’s why ragged schools and detached work was needed to work with those outside.

I’ve been reading Goffman presentation of the self in every day life he talks about performance management. What he says is that performances of people who want to share information become highly managed so that the person can deliver that information. So, the youth leader that wants to deliver a highly scheduled programme might exclude certain young people so that the presentation can be made. In a way this brings insight, because whilst the church has ‘quite monochrome teaching methods’  (Danny Brierley, 2003) it then creates and manages the performance of them to suit. The more managed the performance the least open it is. Young people are deemed disruptive too easily.

On another point is validity.  Even if all the most disruptive, challenging , broken young people are being in contact by the mission team on a Friday night.  None of it is valid until the young people are present on a Sunday.  So, to work with young people and do so innovative (innovation is contextual) it either means also educating the church to think differently, that actually doing something good with young people might be enough  or realise that leaving the church is the only option. Even those in a more teaching orientated youth group still have sunday morning as an expectation.

I wrote a piece last week on why youthworkers leave the church. It’s on the front page of this website if you want a read, a link to it is here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-10B . Mission drift was one of the reasons. But I’d like add that it was less about mission drift, or money or management for me. It was an overriding sense that churches struggle to accomodate a space to meet young peoples needs in a thought through unpredictable way, when the churchs own needs and expectations influence the working practices of the youthworker.

Once the taste of pain that I had of young people hurting and lost, wasmy understood by a church that saw itself in its practices as the only route to liberation and salvation (via sunday mornings) then it becomes difficult to stay. That taste of leaving too many people behind is difficult to get rid of. Something emotional that never leaves. Something that wasn’t the young persons fault either. It was the same pain i had felt as a 15 year old when other young people were excluded from the youth club i was part of.

What I’ve sadly discovered is that this story can be told all over the UK. 100’s of spaces are open to welcome young people in clubs, projects and conversations on the streets. These, when council run places are shutting by the 100 a week have to be retained to enable young people to facilitate a connection with youthworkers. Often these have stretched resources and obtaining funding can take up far too much time (if you want to donate to FYT who have 60 odd open project in the uk, please do so, a link to the FYT website is; here.

However the point being is that because the methods of practice and process of faiths discovery can be so implicitly managed and validated.  For the youthworker who wants to work with young people, in their own right, space and time. It might mean leaving the church. Which isnt a decision any youth worker who has been brought up in a church finds easy to make, and it shouldnt be, and it isnt always. But its not about following young people, its about a deep gut of compassion that sees that young people who are outside of the church deserve more, and should receive more. Its a gut of compassion that wants to embrace and welcome, and finds that this can happen further and further away from the structures of a church. Yet at the same time without the generosity of the church, alot of these spaces are not able to function.

How to last in youth ministry longer than a mobile phone contract

I cant speak about longevity in Youth Ministry with any great conviction or from experience. The longest I have spent in working for one church in one place is two years. And the longest I have spent working for a parachurch type project is 5 years, and recently 3 years at Durham YFC in which the last year was towards its closure. So, when I posted here on ‘Why do youthworkers leave the church?’ and got a number of people responding, I had no real comeback as to how it might be possible to last in a one-church youth ministry role.

So, I put it out on Social media to find out not only if there were any paid Youth Ministry people in roles – who had lasted more than 5-7 years, currently in a role.

And b) what they put their longevity down to.

Ok, so it was an echo chamber piece of research via twitter. But in all the youth work fraternal and contacts, there was only mention of 3 people in the UK who were known by others, of youthworkers employed in a church setting, in one church, who had been in post longer than 7 years. One left their post of 8 years to train as a vicar.

Just 3 youthworkers in the whole of the UK have been in a church long enough to see a 10 year old to their 17th birthday. Ie just one generation of teenagers. For everyone else the youthworker might only help celebrate 2 birthdays of the young people. 2 Years. Paid youth workers are lasting not much longer than a mobile phone contract- or premiership managers.

So, a few of these youthworkers are in the process of the long haul and got back to me with what feels like ‘how they managed to survive’ in a church post for longer than 7 years… this was one of the responses given to me:


The reflections on what a youthworker had to do to stay in a particular role. It appears that personal determination (1) is important, personal and professional relationships are key (2), being rooted in a community (3), being flexible (4), having space to personally develop (5) and a bit like the first one, to see being a youth minister as a vocation in itself. (and not be swayed by offers of ‘vocations’ elsewhere)

In one way these counter balance with the ‘reasons why a youthworker leaves’ – the internal politics and ‘professional’ relationships with clergy/senior pastor breaks down, having a short contract might mean not putting down roots, not being responsive to change, or helping the church be responsive to change can be important also.

The challenge is how much of a youthworkers longevity in a situation is their own responsibility, and how much is the responsibility of the church and its leaders, congregation and local community. Obviously a youth worker can set a vision (1) – but a local culture and its practices will eat it for breakfast, if it is not rooted in knowledge, gifts and attitudes of the community. A youthworker might want to and desire good relationships with senior staff and congregation – but that also has to be two way. flexibility, rootedness and personal development all push two ways too. The constructed professional space that a youthworker might thrive in is the responsibility of the church and its community, the task of ensuring that some of these things happen might be both the youthworker and their managements responsibility. ie its not just the youthworkers responsibility to find their own training, or retreat space.

Maybe what happens is that congregations treat youthworkers like clergy. In many denominations now, clergy can participate in all manner of support from their affiliation and diocese, from conferences, supervisions, training, as well as career development (;-)) – clergy prayer times and support. Granted this doesnt suit everyone, and it isnt universal. But the point being that this is part of a ministers role that usually congregations can devolve responsibility. However, not many of these things are present for a youthworker in a church setting. Often it is the church and not an affiliation that employs, youthworkers have to find their own pension, their own supervision, their own resources locally that include training opportunities, there is no post qualification ‘probation’ training, ie a curacy period.  So, possibly congregations think that youthworkers have all this, but dont.  I have heard it said by a congregant that they were surprised that as a youthworker i didnt have a sabbatical, or a structure or affiliation to help with career guidance.  But even then its deemed not the congregation or churchs responsibility. The task of the youthworker is to find their own training, partnerships, resources, often supervision, retreat and guidance. Which they do, and have to. Then at times, the youthworker becomes responsible for helping with finding funding for their role. There needs to be money in the pot so that a paid youthworker can be confident in longevity, and build roots, and connections. It could work the other way too, but as soon as the treasurer starts getting worried about the length of a youthworkers contract, then the youthworker will be onto the jobs pages of youthwork magazine quicker than a brown fox that jumped over a lazy dog.

No doubt personal faith and determination are key to longevity. Seeing through what might be two year stormy periods is one thing, to fight on and go the distance. But two years of storms when there might only be funding or the desire of the church to employ you for three years anyway, then it becomes difficult to see through the storms, and start to think about protecting yourself, and what is next for you. There might be something to be asked about how churches view, employ and treat youthworkers given that so few are lasting longer than 7 years in a post in the UK. Especially as 7 years is often the minimunm time for an external person to start doing good community work. It is easy to say that youthworkers are difficult, and maverick and hard to manage, and if only 4 youthworkers in the UK are in a post for a long time then this might be the case also.

However, where a youthworker has done the long haul, there must be benefits for young people, such as confidence in the built relationships, consistency, trust. All of these get a bit of a battering when young people are subject to building relationships with short term people, like gap years (for example). I guess if we want young people to have a long lasting faith, we might just need to connect them with people who are going to also last a long time. If keeping the activity going has been the priority of the church, and not keeping the youthworker and the volunteers trained, supported and valued, then no wonder young people might not also see the value in pursuing faith. Of course it isnt that simple. But without huge numbers of youthworkers in churches for a long time, it is going to be difficult to find out. What we do know is the current system isnt working. But it might be working where someone has and is doing the long haul.  To the few of you in this position, well done, keep going and continue to inspire, lead and be consistent with young people in your local context.






Managing in Youth Work: Reflecting Spiritually, Closure and Endings

As I write this it is Saturday afternoon (though not finished until Monday), and I have 1 week left being the Manager of a youth work organisation. The organisation itself is also about to close down during the summer. So if there was anything i would be able to reflect on right now it writing from the midst of the process of managing a personal ending in a role, whilst at the same time also managing the closure of an organisation. Obviously it would be dead easy to write this piece in a few years when things were rosy and I had moved on to bigger, greater or more fruitful youth work opportunities ( though the climate for these is pretty scarce) . But that could be ‘after the event’ hindsight, tainted by new positivity.

So this isnt that, this is writing about closure and endings in the midst of the final few weeks of an organisation and the final week in it for me.

If it was just the youthworker leaving a post, then this is quite common, say goodbye to the young people, parents, church leaders and clergy, or  young people, volunteers, sessional staff, manager and office colleagues (depending on your context) . That is difficult enough, as they stay in the same situation as we as the youth worker move on, for whatever reason. And, not making light of any situation, but it feels different to also be closing down the organisation of which im also managing, (along with the trustees). So i have had the dubious honour this week, because I’m the only person left in the office, to raise the final payment of the salaries and include my own redundancy payment. Its weird, and to others it might be odd. But in a way being a manager in a small organisation has meant just doing everything a little bit, not everything brilliantly, but trying to stay afloat by keeping the show on the road. So paying myself has been the norm (the treasurer has checked the payment- dont worry).

The other thing within small organisations of a few trustees, small managerial group and then projects and face to face workers, is that unless there is large amounts of active involvement from volunteers in the governance, to do admin, or fundraising, or publicity, then paying for this role within an organisation can be a large drain on resources. However, more than that, causing it to be the manager who is responsible for finding funding, through writing grants, communicating to donors and events (if there is resources to do such things), it also means that taking on the responsibility for these, along with the other responsibilities as a manager, comes at a price, the price of what happens when these things dont work out.  In a way assuming the responsibility for finding funding for my own role is one thing, finding funding and being responsible for others is another.

The other things to manage is also the ending.

Or at least, the process of decision making towards the closing time. For on one hand it would be hopeful till the very last day, and hope and pray, beg and plead that funding or resources arrive, so that the work of an organisation can go on, week by week. Is that blind faith? But this is also quite an ongoing stress or pressure, and not really fair on young people in groups and projects. ‘oh by the way we wont be here on monday’ . Of course even with all the spreadsheets, projections and knowledge of funding, making difficult decisions about redundancy, closure and notice is about making judgements based on time, and what is likely. Worry about funding and money can easily set in. My previous post on Hope, talked about status anxiety. This could be common in the youth work organisation, especially those for whom have too many barriers to guarantee funding from one source, or are set up with limited local knowledge or pledges of support. Making a too early decision helps people to plan ahead, to communicate with schools and partners and for employees to get new jobs. Clarity of decision making is crucial. The opposite problem might occur, a decision too far off could encourage resentment, or lack of faith. Or be seen as a ‘business’ decision, not a ‘spiritual one’. In a way, decisions about organisations and management are also about trying to respect the needs and dignity of employees, so that ending isnt a shock, neither is the effect this may have on peoples rents, families or stress. So, its intensely practical, but it is also spiritual.

There wont ever be the right time to begin the process of closing an organisation, making sure it is done with the right information to hand though is important. Assessing how the governance feel about taking risks, or making changes to innovate are key, as is the local support for the work. These are all factors in making decisions to close something.

Either way when this kind of change happens, there can be alot of managing and reacting to the Bees. The must Bees and the Mustn’t bees, the must-be”s like:

You must be excited going to a new job, or

You must be disappointed the way its ending

You must be feeling pretty rotten

That must be tough

or theres the must’nt bees

You mustnt be losing your faith over this

You mustnt be letting this affect your ministry

And what happens, is that people sort of try and read how you might be feeling about changing jobs, the ending of a project, and the upcoming change, without actually giving you chance to say exactly how. Its as if they have an idea already and you have to kind of ‘defend’ or contradict their pre supposed view. And this isnt meant to be harsh, as its natural to do this. But when in the firing line of being in the middle of it all, it can make conversation awkward. Of course, conversational support is better than none. And people can give you a wide berth, especially if they had dreams or plans for something that you were meant to be enabling to happen. Or that wide berth reflects actual lack of support, or them being awkward about not knowing what to say. It could be a difficult conversation remember. And difficult conversations about reality of ministry are hard to find in churches. arent they?  It might be that its easier to keep a distance and think ‘what a shame its happened’ but actually not have ever supported the project or venture. And deep down, we in those projects and ventures know who supports us.

So, this week, its about sorting through the piles of paperwork, its about clearing an office space, its about the final staff meal. Its about clearing the emails, closing down passworded accounts and ending the mobile phone contract. Managing the ending of an organisation, its a tough one as its only a practical task, of difficult monotony.

Someone said to me that it could be a spiritual task. And so where might i go to reflect on this spiritually and within the context of the Biblical drama?

And like a bank holiday monday, there is a therapeutic element to getting rid of the rubbish and boy does admin pile up. There are so many bits of paper with to do lists on…

There are Biblical endings. There is tension is every dramatic scene change. The ending of each age is frought with fear, promise and uncertainty. The 400 years of quiet before Christs arrival, the confusion of the disciples post resurrection, and pre crucifixion. And there are specific endings relating the old age of key people like Moses, Abraham and Joseph.

It is interesting that in Ministry Jesus commands the disciples to shake the dust off their feet whenever theyre not in a place of welcome, and to move on. Now thats not a presumption on a projects part that everyone has to like it, but reading the context and culture and being in receipt of hospitality, especially when a ministry needs it is important. For the disciples sent out, there wasnt an issue about staying, it was to find a place of welcome elsewhere. Don’t over commit in an area, move on and out. Make endings swift. Not sure how that translates in a world of rents and mortgages, of family life, schools.

Of course, all of this doesnt take into account the final ending. As Julian of Norwich said, “Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time—that ‘all manner [of] thing shall be well.‘or paraphrased; ‘All will be well in the end, and if it is not well its not the end’. The church of SS Andrew and Mary - St Julian of Norwich - geograph.org.uk - 1547398.jpg

And as i said in a previous post on ‘Hope’ – the final act of the whole drama is a hopeful one, it is not the end.

I read this this morning from the common prayer:

 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — ​and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”

Yes, there is an imperative to end well, and sometimes that is through gritted teeth. Sometimes its to hold back the tears. Sometimes its relief, on other occasions its a mutual reality from both sides that it is time to move on. And so, Managing an ending in Youth work and ministry is hugely specific, obviously. It occurs in the midst of the lives of young people, their parents, a local community, the church leaders and congregation, and involves obviously emotions, relationships and dealing with these. Managing and attending to relationships is tricky and delicate.

A post from the heat of the fire, not that we’re buring down the office, but the heat of the moment of closing and of managing an ending is this piece, one of a number I have written on management and youth work. For the others see the ‘management’ tab in the topics.


30 scenarios in Christian youth work or ministry that are impossible to avoid

I am sadly, in the process of moving from one role and job within christian youthwork, to a period of ‘between jobs’ , though there are a few things on the table as it were, but not confirmed as yet. And its not an easy time, but it did cause me to reflect on the fact that being at the end of a job, or being asked to move on is one aspect of christian youth work that is in the ‘difficult to avoid’ category. In fact, many messages of support to me recently have been just that, that this kind of situation happens to us all. But i wonder, what might be other aspects of christian youth ministry that are as difficult to avoid?

  1. Its impossible to avoid ever being asked what a youth worker is, or does, and then replying back with what a youthworker isnt.
  2. Its impossible to avoid the gravitational pull within christian youthwork to the practices and all its pulling power (lights, branding, culture, stuff) of evangelical youth ministry. This might be in the form of influencing local leaders or directly to young people via advertising in ‘other ‘ stuff. This is important, as what is happening is that young persons spirituality is up for grabs.
  3. In the same way its impossible to avoid being told how someone elses youth ministry was successful because they did X and Y better and have a ministry of millions and a multi million pound book deal, and a youtube channel. When a persons ministry has left behind young people a long while ago.
  4. In youth work it is impossible to avoid the panic of a few no showing volunteers 10 minutes before a session. It will happen.
  5. Its impossible to avoid being short of funding.
  6. Its impossible to avoid trying to convince a church of your worth – via the numbers game. Equally its impossible to go through youth ministry in the UK and not be told of that ‘300’ statistic of young people leaving the church back in the 1980s.
  7. Its impossible to avoid being in the middle of the conversations when young people are absent, or talked about, and being the representative for the young people, their voice being absent.
  8. Its impossible to avoid poor management by clergy. Sorry, but itll happen. Expect it and work with them.
  9. Its impossible to avoid power struggles in the church or organisation. Power is everywhere.
  10. Its impossible to avoid the rise smile when those in youth work tell new volunteers how amazing and exciting it all is, when you know its not like that all the time.
  11. Its impossible to avoid the pressure to have the worlds most eclectic DVD or Ipod selection.
  12. Its impossible to avoid being told by experts who dont know your context how to do ministry with their resources in your context.
  13. Its impossible to avoid the ongoing navigation of personal and professional time, and how to be faithful in ministry and keep work-life balance. no it is pretty difficult.
  14. Its impossible to avoid the need to say no to people, to delegate and give others back their jobs and roles, but in reality the easiest thing to do is to say yes.
  15. Its impossible to avoid nowadays the need to be online, and be part of the conversations in youth ministry practice that emanate from blogs, articles and magazines. Though sometimes it is better to read an actual book.
  16. Its impossible to avoid being compared to the previous youthworker in a post.
  17. Its impossible to avoid feel impatient when the busy season is over, long for the quiet periods, but thrive when its busy and crave it.
  18. Its impossible to avoid the church you work for asking you to do the thing the church down the road is doing without thinking that its what the young people actually want to do.
  19. Its impossible to avoid getting into an argument with someone about keys and cupboards, or about milk, tea and use of the church fridge or office, tidyness of desk, or communication with the admin or church comms department about the notice sheet.
  20. Its impossible to avoid thinking that you might have failed when young people stop coming to your group- you havent, probably,  But it is worth asking the question and why and reflecting on the group, not just blaming the individual.
  21. Its impossible to avoid trying to be the entertainer for a while, but you soon get out of it, once you realise you cant keep it up. Though you can manage to keep it up if you only ever encounter different audiences of young people, but that isnt youth work, thats an itinerant preacher to young people.
  22. Its impossible to keep up working at over 60 hours a week for more that 2 or 3, so avoid it.
  23. its impossible to avoid being in a time when people share stories of ministry where someone isnt embellishing the success/numbers/influence of their ministry.
  24. Its impossible to avoid ethical decisions about good practice versus the kind of ministry that people can see ( ie that young people come to an event)
  25. Its impossible to avoid being asked ‘when are you going to get a proper job’
  26. its impossible to avoid being one of these stereotypes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5zumMQSwHo
  27. Its impossible not to resist the temptation to use a funny clip when you’re communicating something, just ram the point home. But then your words feel a little boring in comparison, after which the (young) people just want more funny clips.
  28. It is impossible to avoid an ethical issue about the way young people communicate via social media and your church or agency who dont understand it.
  29. It is impossible to avoid a situation especially in a church setting where paperwork and contracts seem haphazard, yet they have been ready for you, but paperwork is lacking.
  30. It is impossible to avoid thinking ‘but its not about getting young people into church‘ – but not always saying out loud.

So here are 30 i can think of, many of which have happened to me, or youth workers that i know and have spoken to over the last 10 years, yet I imagine there might be other ‘impossible to avoid’ scenarios in youth work and ministry. Please do write further ones here in the comments and share. What else in youth ministry is difficult or impossible to avoid?

10 ways to guarantee grant funding for youth work organisations 

Another year goes past, and I, not unlike a lot of other people and organisations are waiting for news back from funding applications made to charitable trusts to assure another year of existence. And i was wondering ‘is there any way to guarantee getting funding from grants?

Yes there are other creative ways of being funded as a charity, and having at least 4-6 funding streams is advisable. But I was wondering – what would be the sure fire ways of being a guarantee to get funding for faith based youthwork practice? Of course, there are some key things like being governed correctly, being transparent, having clear objectives, being original and sadly also being active in a certain area, and the correct research has been done, all of this surely is helpful.  But according to all the different applications for funding, and there are 1000’s, each has specific criteria – so what are some of the ways of being able to guarantee funding?

  1. Be the right kind of size. Some trusts want to give to a small charity, others a large one. So be just the ‘right’ size.
  2. Have the right kind of position in regard to faith. Not no position, or a proselytising position, but the ‘right’ position
  3. Be innovative neutral. Some funders want to fund the continuation of something, others want something new and innovative, so have the ‘right’ amount of innovation.
  4. Have a cupboard.  For all the equipment that you can easily get for funding. You can replace the staff you cant get funding for and their salaries, with the cupboard full of equipment that you can. Just put that cupboard in the middle of the youth centre.
  5. Be new and have experience at the same time. Trusts like that, yes new and experienced.
  6. Be in consultation with young people and allow them to direct the charity, but also have a 5 year plan and agreed outcomes.
  7. Have some reserves, but not too much that the trust doesnt think you dont need them, or too few that they think that you’re too desperate, but the right amount.
  8. Have the resources and skills to create your own policies and governance, but don’t be part of or branch of a larger organisation who can help to keep your costs down.
  9. Do the kind of work with young people from challenging backgrounds,  that is kind of unpredictable and chaotic, and do the work in a way that brings immediate results.
  10. Have an inclusively and openness and also is also targeted towards young people who have specific disadvantages or who can meet targets.

Once you’ve cracked all of this and written 1000’s of words in statements and forms, then and only then will you have funding guaranteed.  It’s best to avoid over ambition and dreaming from the outset of a project, but also to listening and building from and with local strengths and gifts. Trying to fit a project or methodology of practice to funding is the wrong way around. However it’s so tempting when other avenues are short, and the sums of money potentially large. I am sure there are other impossible contradictions and dichotomies in the world of grant applications. Feel free to add you own below…

Federation of Detached youthwork conference 2016 (#fdyw16) A turn to community?

I could only make it to the second day of the Federation of Detached youthwork conference this year. And its three years since i went to the last one, my reflections of which are here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-3N. Then i wrote about the opportunity that was beginning to present itself for the non statutory organisations to fill the void that was about to emerge in the pending demise of youth services, and thus detached youthwork consequently.

What this made for, in 2013, was a conference that pooled together mainly statutory workers, who were fearing and facing the reality of a bleak future. Talks then, whilst helpful and practical, were often couched in a reality that there was only a bleak future ahead. Understandably, it felt like a community in a bit of crisis. One that didnt quite know what direction to turn in.

Fast forward, and still some of the issues remain that appeared at that conference three years ago, and these are worth reflecting on further, in terms of measurement, worth and value of detached youthwork – however the atmosphere was distinctly more optimistic.

It could be that only those who adapted and survived the cuts, and could afford to be at a scaled down conference were there- and so by nature were more positive. Alternatively it felt as though where a form of idealist protectionism had occupied detached (and probably) youthwork – that resources for its future have been accidently, or necessarily sought and are being found in order for the practice to be continued.

Either side of the workshop i led, there were three others, here is a quick summary of them.

Graeme Tiffany opened the day with a session on the space of the community as a source for learning. How individualised approaches, and targets have shifted not only the job role of the detached youthworker but also its identity. He argued that the where in the past detached youthworkers spent a while embedding themselves in the culture of a community – doing some kind of community profile, this data appears in the form of an externalised system – the system of data from police, schools – but not people, qualitative, opinions, attitudes. Learning from and about the community was what detached workers used to do. Graeme then helpful gave examples of community learning – how that when people ventured out and into proximity with others, and shared opinions, dreams and stories with others that this was a place where ideas and change occurred. Developing community learning created opportunities for community change.

Then there was my session, which looked at detached youthwork as a community endeavour, and asked questions of youth workers attitude towards the community , as the potential source of a young persons problems, o not just a resource, but also to identify its strengths. It i hope followed on from Graemes talk previously. If you would like a look at the powerpoint slides they are here: federation-of-detached-yw-talk  some fairly odd photos of me delivering it are here, as well as a quotation from Cormac Russell which silenced and moved the whole room:


After lunch a panel consisting of effectively 3 partnership/organisation managers convened. An insight that continues a theme is that approaches to developing partnerships in communities has become a theme, all of a sudden. When i say all of a sudden, it is that it appears that the statutory sector want to play in this game. Where if i was cruel to say it, the voluntary sectors had developed partnership working previously. Trust has been needed from community/voluntary workers to trust those in statutory positions now seeking to develop partnership. On reflection, the statutory sector, in a necessary way, has realized, not just theoretically, or when challenged in a conference by those from other sectors, that not only practice that is good is occuring and to be encouraged outside of the statutory sector, but that learning from it is also possible.

The final workshop i went to was from Tania de la Croix, who presented the findings from her Phd Research into youthwork – or at least managed to stimulate a few thoughtful conversations around the theme of how youthworkers are ‘Passionate’ about their practice – especially part time staff, yet that this passion leads to them taking paths of least resistance in their workplaces because they have the emotional passion and connection of the young people in mind when they make certain challenges, they may be open to emotional manipulation- in an emotional labour setting. Might youthworkers then opt into competing ideologies of practice – such as high outcome/measurement evaluations – in order that the practice can be maintained that they are emotionally invested in. This can then be manipulated by managers, should they be so coercive, or the ideology itself, she quoted from Stephen Ball who argues that The ideology of Neo-liberalism, ‘Neo-liberalises us’. Targets and forms are filled in, to keep roles and centres open, for people to build relationships with young people in a good way, yet the forms negatively affect the relationship. Funny that.

It felt as though the practice of detached youthwork had necessarily found sources of strength in practice, in itself, but also began to recognise the strengths in local communities, and develop community practice, partnerships and coalitions in order that the goodness that detached youthwork was said to be can be continued.

Good outcomes

Given the conversation that occurred during the panel session, and also afterward in a session run by Tania de la Croix on ‘Passion and resistance’ that centered around outcomes, commissioning and measurement (the theme i mentioned above), a few critical questions emerge, and are linked to the overall theme of the conference which was ‘ Is community back on the agenda for detached youthwork , or as i argued in my session How is detached youthwork a community practice endeavour?

Its a question of good outcomes. Or should i say, outcomes that supplement and complement practice that is for the common good. Yes it could be debated whether something good is something that can be measured, but if there is a desire for community education, community approaches for a young persons benefit – then might this at least be measured ?

So, Can the following be measured?

Learning – what have practitioners learned about the community they are in practice with?

What have detached youthworkers learned about the young people?

Strengths– What do we identify as the strengths of the young people whom we are working with, and how have i , as a worker, helped them to develop these and/or their weaknesses?

Collaboration and genuine capacity building: How are people in the community involved in the ongoing process of developing community practices?

Values and Virtues: Can virtues or values be measured, or can measurement be done in a way that reflects the intentions and values of youthwork practice?

I left the discussions with another thought; Maybe the only ‘good’ youthwork practice is now outside of the competitive funding market. And this includes even the charity sector which like DYFC (where i work) is reliant on charitable trust funding and thus playing measurement and outcome games with charity funders.  What if the best youthwork occurs when it is done by experienced people – but as they are all volunteers and not needing to comply with regaulations/funding or commissioning. Yes they may need other day jobs – but would it produce better, quality, relationship youthwork in local communities?  i wonder….

These may be community development questions, they may be Asset based questions, but if measurement within detached youthwork is here to stay, and often its practice and criteria emerges from centre based work, then as a practice that is intrinsically different, and seeking to have rootedness in local communities then as a Federation developing credible measurement tools & evaluation that can be adopted to reflect our own values and aims of community education and development approaches might be a next step. Otherwise detached youthwork continues to be adopting practices around ideologies, beliefs about young people and definitions of outcomes that are anthemic to its practice, ideals and values. Its easier to be passionate, moan and comply.

The Passion for detached work still remains and still shines bright, it is finding new avenues for collaborative working, and all in all its future is about asking how it is going to happen, not if.


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