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.

 

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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.

 

13 details about a youthwork practice that are never requested in Funding Bids

I have been writing and sending off funding bids on a weekly basis for the last 4 months in my current role at Durham YFC, and before then was responsible for finding funding for the detached project i was working in in Perth, if memory serves me right i was applying for funding there for 2-3 years, so all in all, maybe i haven’t been involved in applying for funding that long in the grand scheme of things, but in a way it has been part of my role for about 60% of the time i have been involved in faith based youth work. Some of the recent grant holders make me laugh, or at least the expectations of what they require of a project or organisation to be able to provide.

There’s one particular funder whose maximum grant is £2,000 and it feels like they want the blood type of every young person reported in their forms, or at the very least, the blood type of the trustees, it is that demanding for a relatively small amount. There are funders who request that an outcome for young people is that they are in full time employment – Hello people? have they seen the unemployment figures for the North East – and how many people are queuing for jobs let alone young people. For others it is to justify a ‘faith’ position, or outcomes or targets, and we know that lots want innovation and experience – which is very difficult to navigate.

However, it got me thinking, having had to respond to 100’s of questions in funding forms and applications, what are the things that are never requested from the key funders to us as representatives of projects, organisations and youthworkers- and maybe we wish they would …., what if the funding forms had these questions instead ? :

  1. Please detail the experience and qualifications of the key workers. (it might be in some bids but ive rarely seen it)
  2. Tell us how you will enhance a young persons well being?
  3. Describe how young people will develop better relationships and values towards their local community?
  4. Tell us about the integrity and values that you try & adhere to?
  5. Describe how you might encourage the young people you work with to take political action seriously as part of their citizenship?
  6. Tell us how the time you spend in conversation and building supportive relationships with young people is worthwhile for them in and of itself?
  7. Describe how your work with only a small number of young people is valuable without finding the need to expand or increase its number, sell a franchise or disseminate this to other areas?
  8. Describe how you plan to increase and support the well being of the staff and volunteers as they deliver this emotionally challenging work with young people
  9. Describe how your project works and is good for the young people without it needing to identify increased school attendance, employment or even reduction in crime, smoking or drug use as part of this.
  10. Tell us about how your project helps young people discover a passion for music, philosophy, learning, sport, drama or history even though School has already expelled them.
  11. Please show us you have a track record in delivering work in this field without having to have large accounts, staffing or a £500,000 turnover.
  12. Tell us about the long term process and strategy of your work in the culture that you are in and we will fund it for 5 years. (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha)
  13. Tell us about the young people you work with in a way that doesnt emphasise their needs, criminal behaviour, risk factors, postcode poverty and school attendance – what you as an organisation believe and think about young people is more important that the circumstance and life chances that their upbringing and societal barriers have given them. So – tell us about their gifts instead…

Im sure there are others, and it might be quite amusing to come up with a longer list of ‘things we’d like to have in funding bids, but there isnt a hope in hell right now’ list.  In the meantime, we have to fulfil rigid outcomes agendas, or targets, or comply with the ideology of government policy on young peoples destinations (if small organisations ever got anywhere close to government commissioned grants), and as funding from personal funding in some areas is on the wane, the funding bids just keep on coming.  We know what we dont like having to jump through hoops to get, but what would be the alternative questions of application?

So maybe if a few million pounds came my way and i could give it away to youthwork practice, these might be the kinds of questions, or non questions that id put on the application form.

 

I wish Jesus spent more time completing funding bids!

Image result for funding applications

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He listened to their gripes

He gave them opportunity to question (Peter usually)

He respected their weaknesses, but challenged them to be better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do youthworkers make the best youthwork managers?

This is a question that is now a valid one in both the faith and non faith sector of youthwork in the UK. It used to be that it was more likely that a manager in the council youthwork was educated as a youthworker, or trained as one, whereas, due to the newness of the academic side of things, managers of faith based youthwork were less likely to have had experience, or training in youth work – before they became a manager of a project, a programme or an organisation. But this is no doubt shifting. Whilst youth work degrees have become more popular in the ‘faith’ based side of youth work, then it would be expected that some reflection on the role as manager is done, in readiness of for the potential face to face and managerial aspects of the role.

In a way the former criticism was obvious, the youth worker could rightly accuse their manager of ‘not knowing what it was like’ to be a youth worker in a face to face role – not that the youth worker would know at that point what it was like to have to be a manager of youth workers either. But the criticism could be made, and easy at that.

The challenge for the youth workers as managers, and I am one of them, is that i know what its like to be on the receiving end of bad management (a good thing to learn from) – but i am also acutely aware of being subject to changes in an organisation that have disrupted the professionalism of the work and its integrity – because of decisions made about funding, funding streams that then affect the youthworker. When i say integrity, i mean in terms of the cornerstone values of youthwork for the youthworker in their interaction with young people.

Right now, for example, at Durham YFC, and almost every year, there is a challenge to find funding for the great projects that we do, such as mentoring work, detached and open access clubs. Now it might be a personality thing, or a believer in youthwork thing, that i find it difficult or have no desire at all, to affect one of the projects and thus one of our workers roles, just to be able to write or obtain funding. For me, as a former youthworker, am i more concerned that a piece of work is done well, and done in conversation and dialogue with the youthworker (as their manager) than just trying to fit their work into any impact shaped opportunity that a funder might provide. As a former youth worker i would hope that this adherence to values and its professionalism would make for a good reason that a former youth worker could be a manager of youth workers.

On the other hand, when funding might be more of a challenge- does this desire to do something in accordance with principles and values of youth work become a hindrance in the sustainability of a youth work organisation?  should i just play the funding game- be ruthless and keep the organisation going by applying here , there and everywhere – is the respect i would have for my staff that i manage, and the community/youth work values that they have (and i understand) just a hindrance.  Maybe understanding youth work, and its profession, causes me to be hesitant about playing such a funding game, Alternatively making a decision to value the integrity of the practice of good youthwork, done by youth workers in a particular situation is ruthless a decision enough.

It might be that as an organisation where good youth work exists it flaunts with survival in this current time, maybe it will keep its integrity and purpose intact to a point, without baying to funding that shifts its focus, this might be the consequence of a youth worker managing youth workers and the factors that affect their decision making. The first thing they might not think about is funding their own role, management roles, or organisational survival, but taking professional and practice integrity first, something that they know their workers also value too. Managing youthwork with community & youth work values might currently mean alot of tightrope walking…