How will we find the good in youth ministry, if we don’t even look for it?

Oh well at least no one died tonight. 

This can often be the mantra at the end of a crazy out work session. But its not setting the bar very high in regard to evaluating or reviewing a session. Duffy Robbins in a piece on Youthwork Magazine 12 years ago wrote a piece on evaluating youth ministry, describing how for some volunteers, a good youth programme or activity or weekend event occurs when ‘young people cry’ at the end of it, and this was something that in the piece was manipulated by leaders though ‘inserting appropriate music’. Crying or not dying? are these the only factors that we’re looking for in youthwork practice? I would hope kind of not. The other measure, i hear very often, by clergy more than anyone else is well ‘if young people came back, then you’re doing something right’ this however also has its limitations for what constitutes appropriate or good practice, leaving little other than the unpredictability of attendance as the key marker.

If having successful youthwork is what we crave, then what we measure is critical.

There has been a trend to develop good reflection in youthwork and ministry practices (a trend, more a core component in youthwork, but hey), and yet, reflecting after a youthwork session can still feel like a painful delay, and pointless exercise in the midst of putting the chairs away and I wonder whether this is for a number of reasons, firstly that we’re asking the wrong questions, well at least we’re asking questions that have little context to them. For example, we might want to ask, and legitimately so, ‘in todays session, what went well?’  this is a great question. The problem with this question, is that without knowing what ‘went well’ looks like, and volunteers have an understanding of the identifyers of ‘went well’ then this ends up being the ‘nobody died, someone cried, or we had young people attend’ response.  ‘What went well, is a great question, if those involved know what is being looked for.  The opposite question, is then usually asked, what didnt go well. And this section can take ages to fill. Reflective youth workers can nearly always fill that box, as we’re never more than a footstep away from the precipice of doom that always finds ways to do things better, or on a bad night finds faults in everything or everyone. But this needn’t and shouldn’t be the way. We need to ask ourselves better questions. More to the point, youthworkers themselves should decide upon the questions, and not have questions imposed from above, which doesnt work.  (Sue Cooper, 2012)

Asking these 5 questions at the end of every session will transform your youth provision. Related image

It is a bold claim.

But I am willing to make it. If you’re as serious about young people in the ministry as the ministry itself, then these are the questions to reflect on at the end of every session with young people. If we ask these, and have responses to them, then we will know that a ‘session went well’ or didnt – because these happened or space was created for them to happen. The other claim I make is that it doesnt matter what your youth provsion is – these questions will transform it. It could be a youth worship event, an after school club, mentoring or youth fellowship group. More to the point, i am willing to also suggest that if we cannot put a positive answer to these questions on a regular basis in the youth provision, it is likely to not be enjoyed or attended by young people after an initial buzz or excitement of it existing. So, what are the questions? 

1. What were the quality conversations between leaders and young people?

A youth provision in which there was no conversations between young people and supportive adults is just an activity centre, a creche, a place to be entertained. Developing conversation turns a place of activity into a place where life happens, where shared understanding happens, and is the basis of purposeful relationship building. Our role is not to watch young people do an activity from the comfort of the kitchen, but to be involved in it, not youthworkers are not observers of young people, they are involvers with, and this is about conversation. So its a good idea to ask a question about conversations.

None of the conversations need to feel deep or meaningful – but thats only ‘to us’ they might be deep and meaningful to the young person

They dont have to feel significant- but they might be

It might be just a short chat about football with a young person who hadnt spoken to anyone for a few weeks, but its still of value.

Yes, for recording purposes we dont want to write down names of young people and who said what, but we can record initials, and general content like school issue, or family, or health, or sports, or housing or hobbies, and then any tangents that this took us into. If we’re good at creating a space for conversation, then this might take time. But thats a good thing right?

We could do stuff with all the subject matter and upload into charts or graphs, but more importantly is that these conversations are happening, and continue to do so. They represent that young people trust that the space is safe for them, because the people in it are safe to trust with the daily stuff of life – or the personal stuff of challenge. So, the first question, is about conversations – are they happening, who is having them (to develop training) and what are they about? and are they of quality – not just abusive banter (though they might be the start) .

2. In what ways did young people increase participation?

I am indebted to a student who I was delivering training to yesterday for this question. This was theirs. And so thank you. It is too good not to share.

During the activity, session or club – in what ways did young people increase participation? Is an absolute gold gem of a question. I have written on Participation before, so am not going to repeat myself here (see the ‘participation’ tag in the menu)

Participation can be seen in a number of different spheres. Young people may increase their participation in the current club – through helping with something, suggesting an idea, responding to an instruction – that sort of thing, but they may increase in participation as they take part in something of their own choice that they wouldnt normally (and being a volunteer in the god slot activity doesnt count), they might participate in deciding future activities, or decision making in the style of the group. I remember once when a group of young people who didnt like a youth event, went round as a group to the leaders house, shared their ideas, and the event changed direction completely as the ideas were responded to, and from then a open youth music cafe was started that gave young people space to play their own music, that ran for 7 years. (It was about to close otherwise) . The participation from young people at this venue went from merely observers in it, to high participation almost overnight. At their call.  Image result for participation ladder

This ladder might help in thinking about what increased participation might look like. It doesnt help us think about where the areas are in the activity we run where participation can happen. It may be easy to create spaces for participation in the areas such as food, or games – but can we increase the space for participation in areas we as adults prefer to be more in control of? There are a few examples here, in a journal piece ive recently written for CMS.

But what about where young people want to make a positive step to have greater participation in the organisation, school, charity or their local community? Through positive action and decision making, can this be facilitated through this youth provision – when we hear this is what young people want to do? Facilitating young peoples participation in the wider society, might be our role as purposeful adults – especially when we are trusted (via conversation! ;-))

But hang on, what if you’re thinking ‘our group isnt about participation, its about giving young people a fun space and telling them a story about faith’ – well if it isnt about young people developing participation in the faith community, and in the story itself, and this is modelled by participation in the group or session – then the story will remain only a story, and not one that young people can or would want to involve themselves in. No participation, will also mean eventually, no young people. Or at least none of the same ones after 6 months. And none very interested to be there at that. (its then we resort to bribery, ‘if you dont keep coming, you wont go on summer camp’.. shudder) . If young people are bored, then its not better entertainment they require, usually it is more meaningful participation.

Participation is key to everything, and so creating spaces for increased participation (even if it is counter cultural to the rest of the church, or organisation) is essential and as is a question at the end of every session to encourage it to be continually important.

3. What did we learn?

Young people are key to youth work – agreed? Good, thought you’d say yes to this one. And youthwork and ministry is about education – agreed? lovely. Therefore, one of the questions we need to ask at the end of every session has to have something to do with education, or learning to do with it.

In asking the question we put ourselves in the role as continual and ongoing learners, a place of humility and discovery, a place of wonder.

We might learn something about ourselves – our strengths or limitations (and think about how to enhance both) we might learn the same about young people

We might discover a gift, an ability and unseen talent in a young person (or volunteer)

We might learn about an attitude, a belief or a desire in a young person

Who’s voice have we heard from? 

We might learn to change our own views about something – because we’ve been open to learning from a young persons perspective

or something else…Image result for learning

We might be tempted to ask what did young people learn (because we tried to teach them something) but thats a path fraught with difficulty, because, what they heard and what they learned might be completely different, what they learned and what we wanted them to learn again very different. Young people may have learned who to get attention from in the session, yet we hoped they learned how to behave better. So the question is for us – what did we learn? 

The fourth question is this:

4. How did we take a risk with young people, or encourage them to take a risk? 

Unchallenging youth practices are boring. Or at least they will be fairly quickly. But you really dont need me to tell you this. If we’re not careful though, youth ministry takes the relevancy route and makes faith as easy to believe in as technology is trying to make everything as easy as possible. Making youth provision challenging is counter cultural. But challenge is what young people need.

If you ask any number of young adults in their 20’s why did they attend youth provision in their teens, aside from social friendships and fun, they will nearly all say learning, new experiences and being challenged to try new things. Challenge is part of the risk taking. Challenges are good for the self esteem of young people ( Baumeister, in Jocelyn Bryan, 2017 Being Human). It is good for young people to be challenged, therefore – we need to take some risks.

We might need to ditch the programme for the evening and host space for conversation, listen and learn. We might need to do an experiment in regard to discipleship, or had over an activity to young people for their participation in running it, bottom line, we take a risk, and do so because we want young people to be challenged and to raise their game – and we give over to trusting them. A risk might be to try and talk to a young person who doesnt normally say anything, or to create space for the quiet ones to participate, or something else… Risk taking and encouraging it turns us into the kind of youthworkers and volunteers who are still dreaming for something better, we havent given up. Trusting in young people to rise to the risks and challenge we offer causes what we do to stand in the face of prevailing opinions about young people.

Asking about risk taking – is question four of five. We should be thinking of taking risks each time we meet with young people. Even if that feels like we took a risk to try and talk with a young person at the pool table, well done, even if it was just a game of silent pool, you did at least put yourself in the place.

5. What do we need to do before the next session? 

This might sound intensely practical, and it is. But this session with a group of young people may have caused a whole host of things that need to be done to be done, so, write them down, and decide who and when they need to be done.

Is there a referral to an agency needed to be done?

do we need some training on an issue young people are raising?

is someone going to contact that young person the day after their job interview – see how it went? 

what about a talk with the leaders of the church about that idea the young people had – or creating a space for the leaders to meet with the young people directly? 

is someone going to fill in that funding bid? 

how might we change something about what we have always done, and need to prep for it this week? 

not just ‘practical’ but this could also be an opportunity to develop ongoing learning and reflection, training might be needed, but it could be that before the next session everyone of the leaders reads an online article or blog, or chapter from a book (if it can be photocopied) , or watches a film, listens to an album. It is about the ongoing desire to keeping learning and doing this collectively. So – what to do before the next session might not be to ‘plan’ the next session, or follow up pledges or promises made to young people (which are definitely needing to happen) but an opportunity for reflection.

It will transform your practice, sounds like it is hard work, but if we’re serious about helping young people take risks and developing learning, then its to be part of our own culture. (Even if, again, its not part of the wider church or organisation culture) As volunteers and workers developing provision for young people, its our game that we can take responsibility for.

So, there you have it. 5 essential questions to put on the after youth session review form. That will transform it. 

Why?  Because if these questions are asked, they become important, and what becomes important becomes part of the culture, and creating a culture of conversation, learning and participation is core to youth practice. If youthworkers are setting the tone for what makes a session ‘successful’ then young people will benefit. Success or failure is not part of good youthwork, its about conversation, participation, education, reflection and risks. A session that went well, will be because of these things. Not because someone cried or didnt die.

So – why will these questions transform your youthwork practice?

If we ask them at the end of every session, and make time to do this, not running home quickly after volunteering, then these become core to what the group is all about, and volunteers and leaders will be focussing on doing these things during the session, knowing that its whats going to be asked in reflection later. There is no magic quick formula to better youth provision, but I would hazard a guess that using these 5 questions, and in each session trying to work towards these things will make a significant difference, transform it? it may well do. Take it out of your comfort zone – almost certainly, hang on and enjoy the ride.

 

References

Jocelyn Bryan, Being Human, 2017

Jon Ord, Critical Issues in Youth work Management, 2012 (Chapter by Sue Cooper on Measurement)

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Whats the point of youth work?

A pretty easy to answer question- isnt it? However, I was asked to do a 5 minute presentation on this question, and could have probably expanded it to a 150 credit module length of study. I imagine, knowing what the point of youthwork is is worth knowing so we know how to justify it and plead for its continuation. Here is what i think the point of youthwork is:

Youthwork is about young people, first and foremost, it makes it different from school, from social services and other institutions as young people are and should be placed first and foremost as the point for and at which the activity exists.

As a definition i would say that youthwork is a professional relationship with a young person who is the primary contributor in their social context.

Youthwork as a philosophy is geared towards and biased towards young people, being with them, not just for them, and has young peoples education, welfare and community as its core. Youthwork is about developing positive purposeful relationships between young people and adults, and learn, and create opportunities through these relationships.

Youthwork exists within the local community as it is affected by it, as young people learn to use, accept or reject the resources in their community, as youthworkers our role is to help young people navigate through these choices and also remove barriers that prevent them from participation.

The point of youthwork is to believe in young people and to work with them to use their gifts and accomplish dreams they may have for themselves and their local community.

  1. Youthwork is about values – empowerment, inclusion, participation, valuing young people
  2. Builds on what is already – turning open activity sessions in young person led and developed spaces of participation and empowerment
  3. Youthwork opens the opportunities for young people and their participation, from attenders and deciders to creators (and challenging the barriers that prevent this)
  4. Youthwork trusts young people and raises their game to take risks
  5. Youthwork is a place of fun, social relationships and creativity.
  6. Youthwork creates a safe space, a home for young people, where they can belong.
  7. Youthwork values young people individuals and groups in their community
  8. Youthwork challenges the narratives about young people and is inherently political
  9. Youthwork recognises that young people have needs, but focus on their gifts and positives in order to overcome them
  10. Youthwork creates a space for innovation and improvisation
  11. Youthwork is a space to help young people reflect on their place in the world and contribute within it
  12. Youthwork is also what people who do youthwork say that it is, it is an ongoing conversation. It continues and is future orientated.

The point of youthwork is that it strategises from the point of contact, it involves young people and believes in them to be better than what they may have been told about themselves. Youthwork changes young people, it changes all of us in the encounters we have.

You will notice a variety of influences here, from Howard Sercombe, Kerry Young, Jeffs and Smith, Goetchius and Tash, all deep thinkers and practitioners who have shaped the conversation so far and its our job to keep the conversation going. And help the conversation about young people be integral to other agencies and institutions.

What do you think – whats the point of youthwork?

How to make your ministry more like Jesus? then sit down

Who are the people who sit down in the public spaces of our villages, towns and cities?

Think about it for a little while, do you notice who it is and why they sit? and is there a difference between those who sit because they have to, and those who sit because they choose to?

The first thing we might do after sitting down in our lounge, then sitting in our car, then walking from the car park space is to find another space to sit down and drink a coffee, or its the reward for an hours shopping, the need to sit down. But how many people might we have walked past who are sitting down not in the overpriced coffee house, and just on a random bench, or piece of concrete.

I was intrigued over the weekend by this sentence, its in John 4; 4-6

He (Jesus) had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave his son to Joseph. Jacobs well was there, and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noon-time’ ‘ (John 4: 4-6)

Aside from the observation that Jesus ‘got tired’ and therefore this reveals a reality about his Human fragility, form and nature. What is more fascinating is that he was tired of the journey, and possibly tired of being with the other disciples on that journey (talking with other christians can be so tiring..) so he left them (they re joined him in a later verse)

Jesus finds strength and renewal by sitting down, being away from his own followers, and being served by others. Jesus didnt arrive in a town with a full on ministry team and try an lead from the front, no he sat amongst those who needed a drink at mid day. The way he showed his disciples, was actually not with them at all, he went alone and sat down.

He Sat down.

How many times do we sit down, amongst others in our ministries? What kind of ‘sitting down’ do we do when we arrive in a ‘new’ situation/town/village? Are we even allowed to?

We might not aspire to ‘be Jesus’ but surely theres something in this for us in terms of practices and attitude.

But ministry is barely like this, at times, at least it doesnt always feel like the default position.

When I first arrived in Hartlepool 22 years ago, it was part of a gap year team with The Oasis Trust, and we, like many other groups and teams of young people were keen, enthusiastic, positive, and full of the desire to ‘do ministry’, to ‘save the city’ and put ourselves in positions to be busy, lead and to save local dying churches who had no youth ministry. And, in the most part, the local church complied with this. We were ‘The Oasis Team’ and given space, time and responsibility – and roles, jobs, activities, groups and stuff to do. We were profiled in the newsletter, photos on the wall, food in the donation box, out for lunch every Sunday, we were ‘it’, and ‘it’ looked like ministry.

But Jesus tired from the Journey, sat down.

When we arrived in Hartlepool, we were up front. Right left and centre. Though we expected it.

Not as long ago, I was tasked, and failed, with being a youth and community worker in a small town in Devon. What i wanted to do was put what i knew into practice, I wanted to sit down, I wanted to be a person who didnt arrive announced and expectant, especially in a small ish town. However, at various times in the course of the year, and before I had even arrived, the local press, church parish newsletters had all circulated that I was arriving, and I was going to ‘work with disadvantaged young people’ and I was going to ‘help kids engage with church’. There was no space to sit down, when I arrived in this new town.

Before I had even arrived, the culture and expectations determined the strategy and approach. And I dont bear any blame, because the culture within ministry is to generally act in this was towards new appointments, new roles, new leaders and be excited to want to tell others and share it. Its part of church culture. Time doesnt often allow ‘sitting down’, culture doesnt either. And its tempting to love the limelight. To be the hero. The pull is all around.

Its one thing being a presence in a community, its another being present.

One of the deeply theological practices of detached youthwork, is the ongoing action of observation and being present in the spaces of the community, and learning through the process of being a presence in it. And sitting down can be part of this. In their book, ‘Working with unnattached youth’ George Goetchius and Joan Tash detail how their YWCA mobile youth work project spent 3 years walking around and being part of the community, gathering evidence, sharing observations, learning from and listening to what was going on… 3 years! wow – some youthworkers have burnt out in that time… most detached youthworkers get 3 minutes prep time on google maps…

Its part of sitting down. Its an attitude of sitting down. Its not a standing up attitude, its a sitting down attitude. A process of learning, of reflecting, of listening, of watching, it is slow.

Paulo Friere says this: ‘Always we have to look. Today suddenly a flower is the reason for your surprise. Tomorrow, it may be the same flower, just with a different colour, because of the age of the flower’ 

So, when Jesus arrived at a Village he sat down. He did not lead the marginalised and confused from the front, he sat down. He waited.

When he told his disciples to go to villages, he told them to ‘find a person of peace’ and wait to be served. Ie, have the attitude of sitting down. Go and find, not go and do. Not even go and lead and make a song and dance, but go and find. I remember part of the oasis training was to try and do ‘balloon modelling’ in the streets, so it would attract a crowd, cause a scene, and this would give an opportunity to invite people to an event. (it was the 1990’s dont judge me) Maybe that would be ok in some cities, but Hartlepool? hmmm. Jesus didnt stir up the crowds when he went to a new town, not just for the sake of it.

Some 19 years later Ive moved back to Hartlepool, been back 4 years now. And sat down this time. Lived here, shopped here, walked the dog here, living here. In a way, arrived here tired and weary after some challenging previous experiences (only to find a whole host of new challenging experiences). Not arriving with fanfare, or expectation. More recently, having now not being in work and travelling, I have wanted to be more present, and so walking around the town, sitting in the town centre, being present in the space. When I sat down in the open area a few weeks ago, one of the people who was begging for money, asked ‘why did i look so happy?’ and a conversation followed, and I learned something. And I felt strengthened through the encounter, renewed for the task. And that sounds selfish, but it isnt meant to be. Sat and waited a bit, do I know whats going to happen next, no…

Maybe the pattern of Jesus ministry, to a new place emerged from the experience he had out of necessity at Jacobs well, and where there was time, and not persecution,it was a way of being that the disciples in the early church tried to do; Acts 3, 1-4, though it is more noticeable that Paul spend time with believers and preached the message – rather than sitting and being, Peter very similar (Acts 9; 32-37) they met with believers. It could be dangerous to think that the way of doing ministry is do the same ‘with believers’ as to do in the new context and town.

I wonder if pioneer youthwork, which can often call to question the busy, the activity and the up front stuff – is less pioneering, and more just about trying to do the kind of approach that Jesus adopted when he went to a new community. He sat down. This may be so far from the culture of ministry, that it is regarded as pioneering, so far from an outcomes orientated funded ministry, that it is alien. But for a new person in a new place – sitting down is what was required.

One of my favourite all time songs is this one, in 1991, from James:

I sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can’t keep
In sight of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour
Hope that God exists
I hope, I pray
Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Now I’m relieved to hear
That you’ve been to some far out places
It’s hard to carry on
When you feel all alone
Now I’ve swung back down again
And it’s worse than it was before
If I hadn’t seen such riches
I could live with being poor
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those
We are more likely to find Jesus sitting by the roadside and by the well, than standing in front of the crowds. We are more likely to find Jesus in the conversation, and conversation happens when we sit and listen, or are present and take time to listen. Who are the people who sit down in our local towns and cities? The young people, the marginalised, the lost, the waiting, those with little power, or money, (or ok those whove just got their Greggs meal deal)- where does Jesus go and we follow – to sit down with them.  How might we ‘sit’ more in our pioneering, our youthwork, our lives – and learn, and wait and be present? Jesus didnt just make himself lower than the angels (Philippians), he made himself lowest of the low by sitting down when and where others chose to avoid. How might we make time to be amongst and not just fleeting through.
References
Friere, Horton – We make the Road by walking (1990).

Is Mentoring still the ‘silver bullet’ to solve all society’s problems with young people?

There was a time when Mentoring was the deemed to be the silver bullet, the approach and method that would solve the problems that young people were causing society, from the Big Sisters/Brothers schemes in America since the 1900’s to many school and community projects, funded by the US government in the states, to the voluntary and statutory projects here in the UK. Though in a way it has always gone a little bit under the radar. Though they had expanded significantly up until 5 years ago ( McCleod, p101) And its status under the radar might be one of the reasons why its maybe not as talked about as other ways of working with young people, such as open clubs, detached or programmes. At least that might be my own blind spot, and having been involved in mentoring, managed an mentoring project and written an honours thesis on it a few years ago, it would still trigger my attention a little.

One of the issues mentoring has always faced within youthwork is that it has been seen as the gradual process of changing group work and the facilitation of groups and community education, to the narrowing of intentions to individuals, to the point where the group work disappears altogether for the individual mentoring projects, these fears were first realised in Jeffs and Smith’s piece individualisation and youth work and so, many a critique has been written about what mentoring is within a youthwork philosophy, how it could encompass youthwork approaches and values, but that generally ultimately it begins to veer towards an individual therapy approach, aka counselling, guidance or life coaching which is fine, but its not then as easy to quantify as youthwork per se. Its maybe why as a youthworker its dipped below the radar. Though some of the larger mentoring networks have closed down in the last 6 years, victims themselves of the wider financial constrains within youth provision.

That being said, having a mentor can have a profoundly positive and also negative effect on a young person, with much of the research (by Fairbridge group, now Princes Trust) suggesting that the more positive effects occurs after a year of the mentoring relationship, and where the mentoring relationship ended under 6 months or was terminated this had a negative effect, on the whole.

But the mysterious thing about mentoring is how it works at all?

And this is the fun bit. There seems to be no real logic as to how mentoring actually works, it is a mystery. But then it should be, putting two people usually strangers together.

The relationship can occur within the confines of a school, and be about trying to help a young person with attendance issues. Yet the relationship between the two people might have nothing to do with the purpose of the relationship, they are two people who click, sometimes two people with shared interests dont click, sometimes they do.

Image result for mentoring

One of the pieces of the magic jigsaw, is the how of the interaction.

Commonly known as the process of matching. In one situation i was in i was told that i would be mentoring a young person, they were told that they would have a mentor and then we would meet, week 1 was the initial meeting, and with only 7 meetings afterwards, there was going to be issues, it would feel like trying to rescue the person, and they knew it. In another project, the mentoring, one to one conversations after initially meeting the young people on the streets in detached work, the relationship had already occured, and the young person was opting into the choice referral with a person who they bonded with a little. In another project, the one i used to manage at Durham Youth for Christ, the coordinator would arrange for the mentors and young people to meet each other in a three way meeting with himself and then the two would decide after 2-3 meetings whether they would continue. Often this worked, as it gave both parties to opt in, or out to the relationship (but not being involved in being mentored)

The matching is important then for the magic to occur.

The magic of mentoring is also more likely to occur when the objectives of the relationship are known, and where the young person has the opportunity to shape them, even in a situation where the pressure is on to get ‘results’ the greater pressure on the relationship, the less likely for the relationship to work to its fullest. And its the relationship that the mentor has to attend to and prioritise (Tina Salter, YMCA GW college, Innovations in Youth work, 2014), and the skills required for the mentor are listening, and trying to build rapport and trust, especially if the relationship is going to develop beyond a social status, to increase personal giving away, sharing and any more serious disclosures.

The magic also occurs when the young person has confidence in the relationship.

It is one thing i notice on the streets, theres only so much young people say until they trust the relationship, the purpose and the workers in person. It takes us to give away who we are and our purpose for then young people to know whats going on and make a decision to invest in the relationship. The same for mentoring. This is where time is a factor, for, if young people know its only for a very short term, then its unlikely that they, understandably will invest in it, it will stay functional and practical (despite the best intentions of the mentor to show empathy, the short term nature overrides this, often). If the mentor is promising a better future for the young person, it has to be accompanied by a promise of time for the relationship – ie over a year. So at least the young person knows and is confident that they have space to grow into it and build the relationship.

In the same way a group might undergo ‘storming’- so there is usually boundary testing in the mentoring relationship. Or behaviour that the young person is invoking a reaction, whether sympathy for a situation or shock, or to get an aggressive or disappointed reaction. Or the young person is trying to asses ‘whose side’ the mentor is on, theirs or the school/probation – or neither – and this can make or break. This was always the benefit of being independant from a school in mentoring ( ie who pays for it) but thats not always possible.

An interesting aside to some of this is that in the UK we often assign mentors to young people who are most in need, in the USA many more young people from across the whole spectrum have the opportunity to engage with a mentor. In this way it destigmatises. But also means that the mentor might offer more than coping strategies or support for a problem, it might be support to succeed, or develop critical thinking ( Rhodes, 2002, 46-50). But it means that mentoring has a different focus. And mentoring type relationships do occur in work, apprenticeships and graduate schemes, so its not just about young people in schools.

Image result for mentoring

But how does it work?

Rutter observed that vulnerable children with one good relationship were less likely to develop behaviour problems than others, deeming that good relationships outside the family have as much positive effect as those within. In another study Werner and Smith concluded that resilient young people sought support more often from non-parent adults. One relationship was often enough. Rhodes discusses that social skill enhancement, dialogue and listening and being a role model are the contributory factors to ensuring that mentoring works, or that the mentors influence the young persons development, but none occur without an emotional bond. And it is that emotional bond that needs honing and developing within the nature of the relationship. A purely functional goal orientated relationship is unliekly to develop these development factors. The active, mysterious ingredient, in a good mentoring relationship is a close trusting connection. No bond, no relationship and then limited positive impacts ( Rhodes, 2002, p37).

Looking at Goffmans presentation of the self in everyday life (1960) there is the sense that each interaction is also a performance of the self presented in a way to others, to gain and receive what each individual wants. Yes it could be selfish as a model, but in a way the presenting of the self and the rules of the game being played all occur within mentoring, from the falseness, to the status, and also the deliberate hiding of truth for an advantage, all aspects that affect a persons performance through their interaction. What is revealed on the front stage ( body language, clothing, speech, make up, hair, content of conversation) that affect the performance as well as the back stage ( the objectives, formality, room, time, finances, style). When broken down like this, the mentoring relationship can be viewed as an ongoing performance of persons, developing rapport as they present to each other, giving away truth, reality and falseness in the process of nurturing or forming a relationship that develops meaning and actions. The conversation is a little piece of theatre, and in mentoring the two persons performing might be ‘forced’ together, or find their way to perform together.

The problem with the silver bullet and rescue approach is that the relationship is highly managed, professionalised and the young person targeted, the magical rapport is going to take a long time. Informality, where it is at all possible, and where the young person has at least some autonomy as to who they are being mentored by, will have some positive bearing on this, as will the promise of time, and the skills of the mentor. There is inevitably, as Gina McCleod writes, a crossover in youth work between different approaches and when we become guides, wise, and supportive, and this can be in informal mentoring in whatever context.

Not unlike much youthwork, being able to ‘bottle’ it when ‘it works’ is great, but its really difficult to replicate it at any time. The most formal mentoring might pair the most suited persons, the least official mentoring and short term volunteer could develop a deep bond quickly. In Mentoring there may at least be some ways of shaping the relationship in its structure, to create more of a possibility for the magic to happen, but again thats also the same for the youth club setting too. There are stages in the relationship, and its a relationship to be finely attended to by its participants with small amounts of external influence where possible, but time pressures and objectives and targets affect the relationship too and its possibilities.

Still, What surprises me is that there arent more schools wanting mentoring projects around the country, or that churches and voluntary groups arent setting even more up, especially given how significant they can be at helping young people with the day to day advice of life, and being a supportive person in the mix, that may help in preventing a Camhs referral or be someone to help with pushing, questioning and encouraging. And whilst young people need this more than ever, may be thats also the kind of person we all need from time to time.

Is youth mentoring the silver bullet? maybe its gone out of fashion as a new thing, but as youth workers do less group work and more individual work, then more and more of what is done is closer to a form of mentoring. Maybe it isnt the silver bullet, there isnt any silver left.

Credit for this piece, goes to a friend of mine, John Ristway, who still runs the mentoring project in Durham, whos dedication to develop as informal and participative youth mentoring programme in schools was a source of great inspiration. This project is still being run by Durham Christian Partnership, please do search them out and make a donation or volunteer.

If you would like to receive training on setting up mentoring in your church or organisation, then please do contact me and click the link in the menu above. Thank you.

References

Goffman, Irving, 1960, The presentation of the self in everyday life.

McLeod, Gina, Advising and Mentoring, in Youthwork Practice, Jeffs and Smith, 2012

Rhodes, Jean 2002, Stand by me, The risks and rewards of mentoring todays youth, Havard

Salter, Tina, 2014, The place and use of mentoring with young people, GW YMCA, Innovations in Youthwork practice.

And theres a piece here : http://www.infed.org/learningmentors/mentoring.htm  on mentoring on the Infed.org page which is a little in need of updating.. but worth a read anyway.

IDYW: A 16 point pledge to Re-imagining a new youth service in the UK

I am sharing this statement of purpose from In defence of Youthwork on this site, Tony Taylor has on many occasions shared my reflections on youthwork and faith, it is simply right that for young people in the UK that a coherant informal universal youth service is established, and done so on the basis of the 16 statements agreed at the recent IDYW conference. Please do engage with the statements and join in with the campaign all details below, a healthy and sustained youth service might, just might be one answer to some of the issues facing young people in the UK. Even if you read this blog as someone from a faith perspective, a joint desire to instil good youth practices in the UK should be a positive ambition whatever your perspective on youthwork or ministry. Anyway – here is the statement below:

Find below the 16 Starting Points, which reflect our IDYW interpretation of the rich debates held both under the ‘Is the tide turning?’ banner and at our March national conference. We hope that you will find them useful as a reference point, as an aide-memoire, in the diversity of meetings you’ll find yourself in during […]

via REVIVING YOUTH WORK AND REIMAGINING A YOUTH SERVICE : IDYW STARTING POINTS — IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK

Vulnerability as the starting point of community transformation

“But that might mean we have to be vulnerable”

I was at a gathering of people this week, mostly clergy, and the subject within it was about conversations, and creating opportunities to have conversations with people. The kind of thing that detached youthwork is pretty much uniquely and solely about. Ideas flung across the room, such as chatting to people who were waiting at the bus stops, or travelling on the same bus. It was recognised that people at first would think this was odd, but after a while there would be a process of acceptance, rapport, trust and then the capacity for conversations to occur. Again, its the kind of process that is visible in detached youthwork. It was suggested in the meeting that Clergy ‘just dont have the time to do this’  which is fair enough, though is only an excuse and realisation of other priorities. What was more revealing was the comment given, and said with more feeling:

‘But that might mean we have to be vulnerable’

On the positive, the statement recognised that vulnerability felt difficult. And that as a member of the clergy their role came with it many associations of power. But in a split second of a statement, the light dawned – for real conversations, to be trusted by people, and to really connect authentically in unusual spaces, meeting people in theirs, requires vulnerability.

Detached youthwork, and even to a slighly lesser extent open access youth club work that I have been involved in in the last 10 years has given me a regular experience of vulnerability, or at least giving me the possibility of vulnerability, as at times I choose not to let go, not to commit fully, protect myself. Though for others looking at it, it is risk taking, unpredictable and requires vulnerability. Yet in a different way, I have felt even more vulnerable in the last few months, one to many family related health scares and worries, which include a fair dose of fear and worry – and vulnerability – combined with the dawning reality of redundancy from my current job at DYFC, these have, if im honest, caused me to feel a different sort of vulnerability, to just a vocational vulnerability, a vulnerability of not being in control, a vulnerability of emotions, even though I am used to trying to give others power, and meeting them where theyre at, having almost no power in situations gives this a new meaning. I wonder whether at the heart of genuine mission is that same sense of lost it all vulnerability, or leaving as much of it behind to not just go, but be present in the space. What might it mean to be vulnerable?

  1. It takes vulnerability to realise that we might be wrong. Everything we know about a community, about a group of people is one form of knowledge, but it is only one perspctive. It started to blow my mind when after only a few weeks of detached youthwork, that young people were choosing to drink alcohol, it wasnt because they were bored. It was choice. ‘Bored’ was what i was told was the reason. Escaping other realities was another truth. Paulo Freire said that after he had started talking to people in a community in south America, describes it like this: “that was my second learning experience, but i still didnt know what i knew. Just like they (the community)  didnt know what they knew, I didnt know what i knew. The question for me was exclusively to understand what were their levels of knowledge and how did they know. It was a beautiful experience. I learned how to discuss with the people, i learned how to respect their knowledge, their beliefs, their fears, their hopes, their expectations. It took time, and many meetings” (We make the road by walking, Freire, Horton, 1990, p56,p67) It takes vulnerability to be truthful about the prejudgements, the preknowledge and to listen to the knowledge of someone else, to have these challenged.
  2. It takes vulnerability to give. Over the last few months I have witnessed the slow processes of collaboration taking place, small tentative steps between people of different organisations trying to work at something of bigger goodness. Each collaborative moment of conversation is vulnerable, requiring either trust or faith, and vulnerability to leave something behind. Heading out on the streets to talk to young people, leaves alot behind, but in the moments of conversation and connection there is vulnerable giving of time. A Spiritual leader who lacks basic compassion has almost no human power to change other people, because people intuitively know he or she does not represent the Divine or Big Truth” writes Richard Rohr, change that requires law “does not go deep, nor does it last” (Rohr, R,  Eager to Love; the alternative way of St Francis, 2014, p28)  It is not that people don’t associate a representation with divine truth, they just smell a rat. If it looks forced, manipulative and quick- its not likely to be deep, heartfelt and lasting. Image result for vulnerable
  3. It needs vulnerability to take risks. Because this takes us out of our comfort zones. Even on the streets, which could be always risky places, actually its possible to ‘go through the motions’ and be almost blaze about being there, the street becomes a new comfort zone. Kevin Vanhoozer uses the metaphor of theatre to describe the church (as do others) and in Faith Speaking Understanding (2014) suggests that in the great theatre of the world, the church in its mission is to break through, nay, collapse the invisible fourth wall that exists in the theatre between stage and audience, and often between church and its own view of the world outside. What this calls for is less of a prepared script for performing the Godly script – but an interactive one. (Vanhoozer, 2014, p34-35) 
  4. Vulnerability to trust in interactive conversations. Trusting in conversations as a source of education is one of the bedrocks of informal education – or youthwork ( See ‘Here be dragons 2013, or ‘Informal education, by Jeffs & Smith, 1998) , yet it might seem just a ‘waste of time’ to chat with people at a bus stop ( when there are 101 other things to be doing instead, like arguing with Ian Paul on Twitter, for example). The reason it takes vulnerability is that it breaks all the moulds, it is not a programme, a service or a pre ordained script.Image result for vulnerable It is interactive trusting, of listening and letting the conversation flow, with tangents, stories, warts and all, by letting it flow, its in the hands of the other, yet this will take time. Because people tend to expect that the vicar, or youthworker might be ‘doing conversation for a reason’ ( theres probably an event on to be invited to.. sigh) Being vulnerable in conversation is to trust it, nuture the relationship that develops from it, have faith in it and the genuine sense of humanity that might exist in it. But its vulnerable, because ‘vicar has conversations about peoples gifts’ doesnt write its own poster, neither is it social media friendly. PTL. Image result for vulnerable
  5. It takes vulnerability to invest in the ignored. It is always easy, it is part of Human nature to be liked, to seek people out who might like us, who might fit in with people we also like. Who dont upset the apple cart. So in this way, being vulnerable to connect, and actually invest in ( not just give food to) is a vulnerable step, and one that others have to be educated about in the church, worship might have to become a collective journey to a place of welcome for all – but it takes vulnerability to connect, converse and provide space to the usually ignored by church in society. Even on the streets, I know i have ‘favourites’ the young people who might be chatty, easier to talk to than others, even those I know from youth groups – far far easier than those who might give nothing except crudeness, so its not easy to be vulnerable, yet no one said vulnerability was easy. If theres relationships to build from scratch then nothing structurally sound gets built on the first assessment of the site.
  6. It takes vulnerability to provide opportunities for those perceived with needs, to enhance their gifts, use their strengths and develop what they have that’s good. Image result for vulnerableFrom community gardens, to Sharing food, to bike recycling, to forums and groups, many are examples of using and sharing gifts, strengths and being in receipt of the goodness and beauty of others, the almost least expected. But theres a vulnerability to let it happen, when usually those who have great power find it difficult to relinquish all the responsibility.
  7. It takes vulnerability to resist conformity. An interactive Theatre production might have a theme, and the sense of the director or authors intention, but how it gets there, using what props, and finding its feet along the way, as offers and gifts are accepted into the story and others are rejected – its is less of conformity and more genuinely about faith, faith as process, faith in process. The message is in the performance. Some conformity is good, conformity to the overall story of Gods redemption, Gods giving grace, yes, conformity of how this is enacted in the interactive theatre might be challenged in all vulnerability.
  8. It takes vulnerability to invest emotionally, truthfully and authentically. Yet people orientated presence is akin to Jesus heading to the well at noon. We go to where there are people who might be lost looking for conversation, and leave it at that, no strings or expectation. Just to be in the space.

As i was thinking about this theme today, I encountered this awesome article by Wendy McCaig, someone doing asset based community development from a faith perspective in Richmond, Virginia. I nearly wrote a piece entitled the same quite a few years ago, when i was sensing that people not programmes were the order of the day in youth ministry back in the 1990’s, but Wendys article below, spurred me to think further about vulnerability, and how this is core to the start of deep missional practices, also deep & real understanding of others, and a recognition of our own power. Here it is, as a reward for reading all of my article, heres a real treat:

http://wendymccaig.com/2016/07/26/presence-not-programs/?utm_content=buffer7e6d0&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

‘But that might mean we have to be vulnerable’ – well, yes. Its not something the disciples or apostles had to do, it was their core practice, they barely stood still enough to regard comfortability as the norm. “For he made himself vulnerable… even to…..what was it again…?’ 

 

A follow up to this post is here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-TO; and entitled ‘ does status anxiety prevent the church from being vulnerable’. This was in part after the various questions, comments and feedback this first post generated.

A Review of ‘All Joined Up’ , 13 years on – how does it fare?

There are some books in Youth Ministry that are light and fluffy. The 10 tools, or 30 programmes, or 50 innovative ice breaker type books. Some book in youth ministry that talk about a particular type of practice – such as Spirituality and youth Ministry, and others on something like Detached, or Mission or ‘what youth ministry’ should be in an ideal world. A few months ago I wrote a review for ‘Unattached Youth by Goetchius & Tash (1967) , a book i regarded as seminal in detached youthwork practice. ‘All Joined up’ has become something similar, or at least has been regarded as such from those who start off in youth ministry in England and venture into a brave world of youthwork and try and piece some of it together – so its less about how it fared, but more – is this even more relevant now than before?

So 13 years ago now, ‘All Joined Up’ launched a series of titles that were developed from a collaboration of a few faith based youth ministry organisations ( YFC, Oasis, Youthwork magazine, Salvation army and Spring Harvest) that were for the emerging practices of youth ministry as it was undergoing a professional turn. Without being too critical, the following titles didnt gain the same traction, at least not for the theorists of youth ministry. Though it seemed at though ‘All joined up’ became a key text for youth ministry in the UK, maybe more so in England, than in Scotland- maybe because youth ministry in the form it took in England didnt shape the discourse in the same kind of way.

So – What about All Joined up – how has it fared, given that a whole teenager has been formed since it was published in 2003, I know, my son was born that year.

Lets go back to the orginal work – What was Danny Brierley trying to say?

20170124_145340_richtonehdr What Brierley did was to set up a dialogue, an intertwining of what could quite easily have felt like separate forms of practice, youth work and youth ministry. Pistols at dawn was the image, however from the outset Brierley is keen to call out the unnecessary dualism, created in part because dualism has at times become a default position in the church, out from which the world is sometimes viewed.

What Brierley realised is that the separate practices of youth work and youth ministry had created their own terminologies, infrastructures, publishers, career paths, training courses and conferences. And from behind the walls of each discipline battle lines were drawn.

Brierley then described the differences between youth work from a contemporary consideration of a few youth work books, good ones though, including Kerry Young Art of Youthwork (1999), though absent from his discussion at this point is a discussion on the underpinnings of youthwork – aside from a brief mention of Values; Voluntary Participation, Informal Education, Empowerment and Equality of Opportunity. How Danny Brierley could construct this chapter, and the whole book, that has references to youth work without mentioning Jeffs & Smith or Paulo Friere ill never know, but never mind.  Brierley also establishes youth work as a spiritual activity.

In his chapter on Youth Ministry he argues that Youth Ministry has been described almost exclusively in Spiritual and religious terms. It uses words like discipleship, proclamation, preparing young people for eternity or mission, and so those in youth ministry might be regarded as being more akin to Clergy, who use the same language and share similar vision, to that of youth workers. Other distinctions of within youth ministry are described as being the methods ( sometimes programmed) , a dogmatic approach to teaching that reflects a dogmatic approach to faith, and young people as recipients of programmes rather than initiators and developers of them.

The position Brierley wants to take is that Youth work is a ‘strong philosophical framework’ in which youth ministry can operate, as one specialism or approach within it. And as he argues, there are strengths to either approach that might support the other. Youth work in its ethics and values can help youth ministry to critique moments of manipulation, of box ticking, of coerciveness and controlling programmes – ‘Youth ministry, (sadly) needs youthwork if it is to be ethical and young person centred’ (p11) – this is somewhat of a sad state of affairs isnt it… that the lens of the ‘secular’ practice is a yardstick for ethical practice in a faith based, and hopefully Jesus orientated practice.  On the other side of the fence Youth ministry can contribute to the conversation about spirituality and young people, challenging self-determination and an over-reliance on person-centred approaches that could be too optimistic of the human condition, though might struggle to contribute in conversations about other faiths and youthwork, and the emergence of Muslim youthwork since 2003 to the conversation about faith in youth work has been critical ( more on faith and youthwork in ‘Youth work and faith‘ by Mark Smith, Naomi Stanton & Tom Wylie, 2015)

Sadly, the phrase that Brierley wanted to catch on probably hasnt. What he called for was a critical combination, a co-existance of Christian youth ministry, and youthwork – to be known as ‘Youthwork and Ministry’ – this didnt really take off, though much of the essence of what he described it as has become known in those who define themselves as Christian youth workers – those who navigate between the language of both sides of the discipline that Brierley describes, but who put youthwork philosophy and education and regard for young peoples empowerment centre to practice. This was evident when groups like ‘Youthworks’ emerged in Scotland – a space for Christians who were realising youth work practice that felt, looked and was articulated different to youth ministry practice.  Despite this, Brierley argues for Youthwork and Ministry to be Christian Mission (to the whole world), to be a designated vocation and calling, and this drive for training and vocation was reflected in the development – though also subsequent reduction- in courses for this.

In the 2 further chapters, Brierly intertwines the concurrent histories of youth ministry and youth work. Most of this has been done before.

Brierley then reflects on the Values of Youth work further, Empowerment, Informal education, voluntary participation, in light of the previous regard for a ‘youthwork and ministry’. He clarifies that without voluntary participation working with young people would not be considered a form of youthwork – there is freedom to opt in and out.

For each of the youthwork Values, Brierley develops a theological reasoning that they are adoptable in youth ministry. Its like the current validation debate about fresh expressions of churches, and if they are valid. What Brierley puts out there is that from a theological point of view the values of youthwork could be argued as identifiable with the Christian faith. So, the same for Informal education ( Was Jesus an informal educator) Equality of opportunity and Empowerment ( thats fairly obvious from the formation of the disciples, but also concepts of God and power, and the ethics of power are thought through)

Brierley then adds to these Values- from Youth work- to consider whether the Christian faith has more to add to ‘youthwork and ministry’ and he develops Incarnation ( being present in location, in attitude and within culture), Fellowship (spending time in groups), Worship (creating, forming and articulating places to connect with God) and Mission (being active in the world to transform it). Some of the language of these would be a challenge to the ‘youthwork fraternal’ – though the principle of being in location, of spending time and also connecting spiritually wouldn’t be. But in a way that’s not the point, the point is that these addition things, or core aspects of the church, if you will, also have a part to play within the framing of ‘youth work and ministry’ . There are a few further reflections to be made.

Brierley does warn that once a guideline, or standard is developed – such as ‘youth work and ministry’ then it can become a yardstick to judge other practices. Ie its easy to identify that police officer might not be ‘doing youthwork’ if voluntary participation isnt open to young people. Yet what Brierley also, from a Christian perspective does is challenge some of the key protagonists of working with young people in the UK from a Christian perspective and holds up a youth work lens to them, maybe even a ‘youth work and ministry’ lens. He is as highly critical of the mass evangelism methods perpetuated by Billy Graham, and still evident recently, in YFC (p 46-47), as he is of the Statutory sector who become engrossed in bidding wars and commissioning processes for funding, who place young people as numbers in a funding game, or in tightly programmed Jobs clubs. So, whilst he wanted to avoid making judgements, he sort of ended up doing so – maybe some of these things are on the edges of youthwork & ministry, but if voluntary participation is an essential….

If there were omissions in the piece, it would be that some of the Theological aspects need updating, it might be a surprise to some, but progressions in theology move quicker than the church… another omission is might be that youthwork and ministry is inherantly a political activity if it develops informal education- for what it does is raise the consciousness of young people to see the world differently – this is political, and maybe even Political. The likelihood is that this practice will cause challenge and offence – for it asks different questions of young people and the structures around them that they engage with.

Whilst it is political, what youth work and ministry will also be is prophetic. it will challenge, and cause reflection, and learning. Some of that has undoubtedly cost people jobs, or caused the structures to reject youth workers for stirring, prompting and provoking.

A call for reflective practice is also sadly absent within ‘All Joined Up’ its pretty obvious that its a requirement, but strange it is lacking, given that in a way thats what Brierley asks of the practice – to critically reflect on its own history, its own values, its own organisations and young people.

So if these are a few omissions, what else might have shifted. Well sadly it goes without saying that Brierleys forecasts for statutory youthwork have in 10 years been underestimated, the kind of youthwork that had a history in the youth service has all but gone, though it always had to adapt to government policy and changes in cultural focus. What has also happened has been a shift in the titles for Youth Ministry – and this was not forecast – in 2003 youth ministry was on a crest of a wave, churches were employing, organisations were growing, funding was obtainable. Now this isnt the case. Not unlike the farmers who diversified after foot and mouth in 2000, youth work & ministry is pushed into entrepreneurial methods to survive – whether thats self employment, running charity shops, consultancy, conferences, part time work – all are common place – and this is a shift.

What has occured, is that there have been open spaces from the youth work sector to those who are acknowledged as delivering similar practice. So there are people from faith backgrounds given space to have dialogue at ‘statutory’ youth work conferences, such as In defence of Youthwork, or the Federation of detached youth work, books relating to faith and youth work have actually been produced. If Brierley regarded there to be walls – i dont see them as evident from the statutory side, in fact id say the communities of these practices have been more than, if not more welcome to critical dialogue from a faith perspective, than often critical dialogue in a faith setting of the practice from within. A similar call for being ‘joined up’ and respecting the disciplines was made by Naomi Thompson in a recent Premier Youthwork magazine (September issue i think), on the basis that if there are two sides to the ministry both are in need of each other at a time of cultural shift, change and reduction.

let me end with Brierleys final directive: ‘The churches buildings are available for use in almost every city and town, furthermore it is able to support young peoples spiritual quest without succumbing to indoctrination. The Church’s work must once again be taken seriously. Youth work and ministry ( Christian youthwork)  serves as a challenge to both the church and the state. The church is challenged to look beyond its walls and to develop effective practice. The state is challenged to drop ideological interventions’ (and this has been done, where a Christian youthwork approach is in practice)  The challenge is for the church to faciliate good youth work practice, never more so than now, beyond its current provision.

The world has shifted, but ‘All Joined Up’ has remained significant, challenging and insightful. It started to broker a conversation, that has been beneficial for those who have sought to be involved in the conversation, and might still be worth getting a copy if you’re a new youthworker or edging into pioneering practices of youth ministry. Its definitely worth having a copy on the bookshelf.

 

References:

Brierley , Danny, ‘All Joined up’ 2003

Jeffs & Smith (eds) ‘ Youth work Practice, 2010

Passmore, R ‘Meet them where theyre at’, 2003,

Smith, Thompson, Wylie ‘ Youth work and Faith’ 2015

Young, Kerry, The Art of Youthork, 1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helping clergy understand the difference between youthwork and youth ministry. 

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

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

Image result for vicar clipart

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Recruiting for NCS might just kill detached youthwork for good.

So, in a bid to increase the numbers of young people attending its Flagship youth citizenship programme (NCS), the government has issued a rallying cry and investment for those professionals who are doing youthwork amongst ‘hard to reach’ groups to participate in the programme. CYP now has an article Here.

What the article calls for is for NCS to be able to be deepened into communities, amongst those young people for whom would be interested naturally.

There are key problems with this. The concept ones ill deal with later.

But on one hand it’s difficult to work out how NCS is any different from schemes like the Princes trust, which has 12 week programmes. At least the princes trust scheme has as its aim to work with young people more at the challenging end of the spectrum (to use such a phrase) – and yet even with the best intentions, environments and staff – the most chaotic disengaging, disorganised young adults are deemed and doomed to fail because of rigidity of programmes, structure and need for some kind of discipline. If young people were too at risk to cope with school, an enforced 12 week programme is another form of structure to cope within let alone thrive within.

When i was in Perth doing the detached youthwork, whenever there were these schemes being run by the various providers in the town, we would be asked to promote them to young people, especially if there were ‘gaps’ that needed to be filled, in a not too dissimilar way to the call for delivery agents in amongst the more marginalised groups to work with NCS.

One of the challenges for using detached as a signposting tool is that it gives the young person or group the impression, a true one, that the reason for being in contact with the young person is for a reason determined by someone else, outside of the relationship or the space. Especially if that is the sole reason for the youthworker to be in the space, is to inform 30 young people about a product, a service or a programme – it on that basis is no different to being an advertising arm of a local under age disco or pub, the people who are often seen handing out flyers.

I once took out an ‘outreach’ worker for a local advisory service, on the premise that they could talk about their service with the young people in the conversations on detached, but the condition was that they could not manipulate a conversation to talk about their advisory service, the only conversations they could initiate about it were from the logo on their ID. In a way this example showed the difference between improvising the conversations in the context – yes armed with information that might be useful – such as from the advisory service, or education/employment programmes – and solely being there to give information and recruit to the services.

Even when the information is given away in the conversations and is appropriate, because young people mention that theyre looking for work, or on benefits, and they could participate in such a scheme if offered, is it better than the activity emerges with the young person and youthworker as a legitimate part of their relationship and grows with the young person who has an active role in the process – rather than it be an already determined, pre organised programme that they have to fit into, with others, and have to be in a group (usually of 12) and cope in a situation that might not fit them, even if the education and skills offered might do. If the young person wants a chat about opportunities and options, then spend more time with them, follow up a street based chat with a phone call or meet for a coffee in a cafe to have a conversation – all more beneficial in the short term than referring them to a course as a next step. And if its a group wanting that kind of opportunity then again, create it with them.

If detached is only outreach, then it is questionable what kind of youth work is actually being done in the space, and if signposting to other programmes is part of the deal for a detached youthwork provision, then the integrity of the relationship, where some kind of honesty, valuing the context, challenging the structures and long term relationship is also to be questioned.  If youth work is about building a relationship with a young person as the primary client (Sercombe 2010) in their context, then the young person being the primary client is diluted when the youthworker is tasked with recruiting them for a pre existing programme, the client is NCS in the above case. The young person is a number.

At times on detached we give stuff away, maybe it is information about phone numbers for support services, or agencies, and so if young people need them they have them, and young people take these up as they need them.  The critical question is whether those who deliver detached youthwork are able to resist the incentives to be recruitment for NCS and buy into the ideologies that NCS represents, and be one of a long arm of attempts to individualise youthwork, target it and view young people as individual cases. And what happens if detached workers arent able to fulfil the targets? what happens then. what has failed – detached work? the young people? thats likely to be the story, not that the government sponsored NCS is a failure. Though by admitting it needs other agenices who work with young people at risk it is admitting that it has cherry picked thus far to make itself look half decent. What it achieves is debatable in the current climate, especially in cherry picked young people who were likely to get jobs, go to college or university anyway.

Detached youth work was never about recruiting young people or taking them off the streets, even if detached work has been one of the few consistent approaches to contacting and building long term supportive relationships with young people outside of structures of groups and organisations, using it as a recruiting tool misunderstands its practice, and reduces, dilutes and devalues the young people and the process of critical education and building community with young people.

Maybe im a purist? or Maybe detached youthwork just hasnt been used to its full potential in community development, and community flourishing with young people.

 

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