Thinking theologically about youth ministry – does a 3 way Drama help?

Much is made of Stories in youth Ministry. Lets get it out there. Stories communicate a message through appealing to imaginations. We connect with character, with script and with narrative arc. Jesus told stories. Story telling is key in the communication of the Gospel, often stories illuminate when proposition disengages. From a theological and philosophical perspective Paul Ricoeur, the french philosopher, is credited with bringing narrative interpretation of the Biblical text into the conversation, although using narrative to understand the Biblical text goes back further.

Image result for storyWe understand story, because stories are everywhere, from Disney to Doctor Who, Breaking Bad to Big Bang, in Books, comics and magazines. Stories invoke passion, provide an empathetic outlet for us, and cause us to relax about our own circumstances for a little while, or be inspired by another.

Story comforts and settles, like the bed time story, the camp fire story or the primary school story time. They might distract, and they take us away. They are also abstract, the story is some elses, some one else has lived it, written it, and all thats being done is reading it out aloud. And no one reads a story that hasnt been finished, or do they?

The problem with story as it gives no clue. It is a pretty neutral word. It needs a descriptor, such as ‘poignant’, or ‘long’, or ‘childrens’.  If you asked me to a tell a story, i could regurgitate about my trip to tescos, my holiday in the cotswolds or about how I saved a young persons life, all might be correct as all are stories, as there was no way of gauging what king of story it would be from asking about story.

Back to youth Ministry, the Gospel story might be one that is told.

Theres many ways of doing it, some that relay its complexity better than others. And we tell a gospel story so that young people might believe it. Adopt it, and cause it to be the ideological story that they shift their personal life narrative to coordinate around. So it forms their identity. Which is great. Job done. Marvellous. And we can go home then.

But if story is just about telling, and belief is just about accepting, then what happens next? Believe in the story of God, seems to make light of participating in the ongoing mission of God. It doesnt seem much, to opt God into our story. Feels a bit, well short changed doesnt it?

In Short – we need to change the metaphor from story to drama. But not throw out the ‘story’ out with the rest of the bath water. 

Regular readers here will know a little about Theodrama ( Gods Drama) but if this is the first post you have read from me, then heres a bit of a reminder. In this post I asked the question: What does Theodrama mean in Youthwork? (and this is kind of a part 2 to this):

Various Theologians, Von Balthasar, Vanhoozer, Sam Wells, Trevor Hart and Wesley Vander lugt have proposed that the metaphor of theatre and drama is a suitable, if not vastly illustrative and informative lens to use for the Gospel, a eucatastrophe, a tragedy that brings about Good. They, and NT Wright, make the proposal that drama, rather than story is helpful.

Lets go back to basics, what Drama there is in the Biblical narrative!Image result for drama

In each moment of the Biblical narrative there is tension and drama, from Act 1 where Creation breathes life, Human made in Gods image, expulsion from the Garden

The Covenant and ongoing communication of God to Moses, Aaron and Joshua, right through to David and the prophets, Kings, and just before the arrival of the Christ, there is silence. Nothing.

Then Christ in Flesh. A life of drama, unease in his surroundings, the rabbi who asked others to follow, the leader who served, who listened, included and healed. Who voluntarily went to Jerusalem, died, and then rose. The greatest story ever told, the most dramatic of drama in 33 years.

Then emerged the church, foretold in Peter, and emerged from the Resurrection, the organisation of the disciples, yet God still spoke, prompted and gave cues for the action, from Philip on the road to Gaza, to Paul in Jerusalem, and the disciples deciding their routes. That God spoke in creation, and to Moses , as Jesus and in the church is key.

Story might mean that Gods story is finished, and that there is no intersection with ours. The metaphor of Drama, allows Jesus to play alongside, all the way. But it is not finished. It is not a 4 act play, but 5.

For the last part has yet to be played. It may have been predicted, and illustrated in the last book of the Bible, but is yet to be played. There is an immediate tension. There is a Drama in the Drama. Yet knowledge of what might be, even metaphorically in the future, is enough to give hope. As Kenda Creasy Dean says, often in Youth Ministry we have an ascension deficiency disorder. Without Future hope, the present is more anxious. Without a concept of the future, and the imagination of the future Kingdom, how might we enact hope with young people, how might they be hopeful themselves without purposeful metaphorical direction?

So, Drama helps to describe the Story. The Whole story. That bit is fairly easy, thats a framework von Baltasar created. The Biblical narrative is dramatic. The Human plays parts, God speaks and directs. Yet that is not all.

The drama above helps us locate ourselves in the story. Helps us, and young people know our place. As Sam Wells says, we are not the Hero, the church is not the hero. It is merely the vehicle and witness, the place of the saints, not to be heroic. The flawed but gatherer of community, the one who projects the action onwards, the wise sage.  (see this post for more on Heroes and Saints in the Theodrama

Drama also secondly describes the ongoing search. For the current action might take place on the Stage of the World, and we might be in the middle of participating in Gods ongoing story of redemption towards the final fifth act. But within the performances, certainty, control and consistency are often absent, instead even the search for God, in a world of distractions is dramatic itself. It is hard work even to communicate with God at times, that is drama itself. This is where story really doesnt help does it?  Story might give us the impression that discipleship is like Disney, when the reality is that it is more like a live ongoing play that takes place every day of the year with different challenges , distractions and cul-de-saqs that prevent even resting and meditating on God a challenge. So, not only is the Gospel Narrative a drama, the search for God is a drama too.

But thirdly, and maybe more importantly, Drama and Theatre appeal to our imagination, just like Story. Drama is live and present and unique – often unlike story, which may be read with different voices, or shown in different cinemas, but the story has a fixed element. Drama is open, creative and responsive. Our part might be to respond to the offers of others, or create performances for others to participate. For young people as theologians, (see previous post) it is that they are attuned, like us, to hearing and responding to God in the midst of the everyday situations, and to not perform a moral play, but a hopeful, intuitive one that loves the world. And yes, Drama rather than Story envokes performance. Story might just seem to cause God to fit into our story (and we do what we want), Drama implies that we participate in Gods and perform it, whilst still retaining human freedom. 

Theodrama is an adventure into the unknown scenes with God speaking and where we might fit ourselves into his tasks to walk humbly, love mercifully. A dangerous prophetic act of rehearsing and practicing acts of the new kingdom. Not just see where we fit God into our lives and story.

Theodrama causes us to have an imagination to see God , hear God and make a response to God in the Midst of the action.

Maybe in Youth Ministry we need an imagination shift, a metaphorical picture of God continually at work, of ourselves a humans performing along with others ( for it is not a lone performance) on the stage of the world. It is a performance that is inclusive to all to perform to the best of their formation. (Forming performers is what ill write on next). In wanting to help young people make their story connect with Gods, we might omit that they might already be performing, and how they might continue to do so. Salvation might be to hear that ongoing call.

So, some of that might make a dramatic difference for young people. Drama gives us the expectation of what discipleship is like, what the story is about and what we are tasked with doing, once we begin to participate. It is story in need of improvising and acting, with a hopeful but dramatic ending, present and past. Drama is what it is. Disney is what its not.


Hart, Vander Lugt – Theatrical Theology, 2014

Ricoeur P – Figuring the Sacred, 1995

Root, Dean, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, 2011

Von Balthasar – Theo Drama – the Prolegamma, 1980

Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005

Vander Lugt  Living Theodrama, 2014

Wells, Samuel,  Improvisation, 2004





‘Your talk was great! – im sure the young people got ‘something’ out of it….’

How many times in youth ministry (or even any Ministry) might we either hear this statement, or say it to someone else with a little more hope and assurance than expectation in our tone?  You can picture the scene, crowd of young people, all a bit sweaty after playing games for a while. Or it the evening of a Summer Camp, and theyve all had a nice tea after a day of rock climbing, high ropes and canoeing. And it is time for the talk.

It is the talk that helps us to make the environment in our view something ‘more than just a youth club’ or residential experience. It is the talk that is a time for educating. For helping the young people learn something mentally and spiritually. It is time to ‘do theology’. Image result for boring talk

Yet how often do we, even as volunteers, start to lose focus when the person doing to talk is going on a bit, and we’re the volunteer!

Of course, theres the enthusiastic types, and theologically minded types, who have actually prepared ‘The talk’ . And drafted in greek words a plenty, atonement theories , and illustrations from the church fathers. Or theres the overly trendy types of talk, every latest technological gadget is a metaphor for salvation, and the film clips all contain Jesus somewhere. The young persons are very switched on, they get the cultural references, but at what cost to actual theology? God is as immediate as my whatsapp group? on these occasions, young people do get something out of the talk – but what..?

The temptation is that we continue the same practices until young people are grounded in a culture that they accept this as a way of learning, but in voluntary spaces, like the youth group they walk out with their feet. or ‘They get used’ to practice, and it asks young people questions and places expectations on them to stay and cope within our poor theological practices of youth ministry. 

If you have got this far and think, great, you’re now going to get some ‘how -to’s’ for doing a good talk with young people. Then I am afraid you’re mistaken. If you want alternatives to a talk, I put them on this article here: 

First things first:

1. we need to think of young people as Theologians! 

The question to be asked, is not what kind of talk do we do, but if young people are theologians, as well as disciples, evangelists and humans (my next post will expand on this)  – then we really do need to think about ‘how’ they construct theology from within the practices of the faith community. They might get ‘something’ from a talk, but is hearing someone talk to them, even with stories and anecdotes a way of developing young people as theologians?

Andrew Root relays a story of how after a pretty dreadful talk by someone keen on imparting theology for 40 minutes to young people, one of the elderly volunteers said: ” Maybe it is not that young people do not care about Theology, it is that what we gave them, this evening, wasnt theology” Image result for theology

The question then for us, in youth ministry practices, is the same ; “Is what we give young people in our faith practices , theology?” 

Andrew Root suggest that for too long the starting point for thinking about theology is Dogma or Apologetics, or on the other hand, where i might put myself, it starts with the social action or the community. So theology becomes learning about a Biblical theme, or becomes about finding God at work in the actions of the community as it cares. Andrew Root takes a different view;

2. Theology is constructed with others, it is not something we give

Theological construction that means that anything to young people is theology that dwells in questions with no easy answers – not a theology that provides answers to questions not even being asked. 

What this means is that we dont ‘do’ theology when we talk at young people. We do theology when we talk with young people. It is when we accompany young people on the walk, in the game of football, on the high ropes course, in the woods, and in conversation we create safe spaces in our interactions so that meandering questions of the crisis of life, the purpose of life and the reality of future are brought to our attention. We walk the crisis of their reality- and seek God in the questions raised. 

If you’re not sure, take your mind to the crisis confronting the two disciples who were walking away from Jeruslam late on Sunday that first easter, how did Jesus do Theology with them, by responding to their moment of crisis, their questions. He gave them tradition, out of conversation, he shared with them hope and purpose, in conversation. In the moment of existential crisis. So much of the reality of our ‘teaching theology’ in youth ministry might be uninteresting, meaningless, shallow or even boring – because it doesnt start in the perplexity and reality of the crisis. But this causes a problem, because we daredent go to the point of crisis with young people, because that in itself might challenge us and our own theology. The safe option is the program, and keep activity the focus that hopes that excites young people enough to stay, and the hook for our uninteresting theology.

So, how might we help young people and ourselves face the crisis, and develop theology from that point? Well, we have to give the opportunity, and create the spaces where young people articulate the things that they fear, the things that haunt them. The personal, societal, global, local fears and worries. Theology becomes from a point of reality, it is also itself incarnated, it is significant because it doesnt appeal to moral behaviour, or provide a bullet point of knowledge, but needs little case for its significance. It appeals because it has meaning. It might be judged as wrong, but it isnt benign or irrelevant.

For, it is from these depths and walking with young people through the story to enable it to be faithful and trustworthy in the intuitive crises that young people articulate. It is not about providing information that young people ‘make a decision’ it is that the Tradition is constructed theologically in order that young people can make sense of the reality of the world that causes crisis. McAdam suggests that young people start searching for an ideology to believe in and shape their personal narrative around from the ages of 10. Where I depart from Root is that Vanhoozers metaphor of ongoing Drama enables heightened interaction and purpose for the young person as a theologian, and not just that their story is yet to be written, it is also to be performed and added to the myriad of plotlines. However, it is in the historic and future story of Gods creation, covenant, incarnation, church and consumation that addresses questions of crisis and reality. Of hope, forgiveness and participation. Theology doesnt start with crisis just to tell young people that they can be successful in the kingdom, and winners for Jesus. It is that crisis and suffering are intrinsic to the call of faith, it is our context that is the cause often of the crisis.

It is other stories in culture that try and write away the crisis. From materialism, to celebrity, and Tv and Film. However worthwhile, their common root is to distract from the crisis, but they all fall short, and ultimately lead to numbing of the crisis or believes it can answer to it. It is often why Ecclesiastes is helpful as a starting point with young people, they get helplessness and the void. 

Forming Theologians is the key task of youth Ministry, and that means forming young peoples theology. Christian theology is not about rightness and morality, it is about being encountered by truth. It is a call for faith to seek understanding, to love the curious search for the mystery, next to God who acts (dramatically) in the world of death, the thin spaces, and in the yearning.

The best Theology we do with young people is in the conversations with young people, for theology itself is a conversation, between where we are in the moment and the crisis and the overall tradition and the Theodrama.  I notice that after a period of time where Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber ruled the airwaves, and love and identity shaped songs, that the rage of society and personal purpose have found their root, as Fall out Boy, Panic at the Disco and singer songwriters are popular with young people. The tide might be changing that young peoples music is prompting them to think deeply about their existence in the world. But these might be avenues to begin the conversations with young people. How might their films, their music, their writing and artistry help them, or provide messages which help them deal with their crisis.

If we want our talks to do theology, then we might be off the mark. as per Root: “Theology can only be constructed within the lives of people yearning for God in a world of death, love, life and brokenness” 

Young people might get something out of ‘the talk’ – at best it might be moral guidance, but to kid ourselves that it is theology..? Boring young people in their pursuit of their knowledge of God and theological yearning is the greatest crime commited in our churches and youth ministry. Its in our talking rather than our talks where Theologising happens.


Andrew Root, Creasy Dean, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, 2011   

Dean + others, Starting right, thinking theologically about youth ministry, 2001

McAdam, D The Stories we live by, 1997

Vanhoozer, K, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014



Youth Ministry; training young people to perform theology (not just learn it)

I was on my way back from the diocesan youth officers (DYO) conference last Wednesday, and I realised I had made a mistake. If I am being kind to myself, it was because I was given 30 minutes to talk about one particular subject ; Evangelism, and in my train of thought I developed thinking on the theological reasoning for contextual ministry with young people, of creating spaces for young people to opt into the christian belief.

I also talked about how as youth ministers we need to change the metaphor – to reflect on the performance of our knowledge of God with young people, and how we as youth ministers create spaces of welcome, of conversation and healthy spaces. Reflecting Theologically about the delivery of youth ministry has occurred for a while. From Pete Wards (youthwork and the mission of God, 1997), Paul Nash ( What Theology for youth work, Grove, 2007) , and from the US, Dean Borgman (When Kumbaya is not enough, 1997) and titles by Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean. What we’ve become good at is theologically justifying the practice of youth ministry, locating it withing Mission, cross cultural mission, education, discipleship, theology and practical theology. When i say ‘good’ i mean that people have done it, it can still be the unheard of, ignored ministry within the church. However thats not for now. Whilst the practice of youth ministry has been theologically defined and justified, the question of this article, and the reason for admitting my error at the diocesan youth advisers gathering is the following; What we need in youth ministry to reflect not on what theology to underpin our practise – but instead ‘what theology for young people themselves’?

At the DYO conference, Alex Batts from Youthscape, Presented research on what they had discovered about young peoples faith. For anyone involved in open youth work for a long while, it wasnt hugely surprising, but what she said was that for young people faith wasnt about trying to understand whether something was true enough to win an argument. (one to reflect on if trying to ‘apologetics’ in youth ministry) But instead, young peoples faith was practical, it was personal, it was formed in their experience. In short, faith was something that was useful. 

This does tie in to some other thinking i have done recently on faith and myth making, and how young people construct a story and adopt an ideological story that helps them make sense in their lives , a story that provides coherency, validation, efficacy, self worth. This is based on work by Bryan (2016) who is influenced by Baumeister, and McAdam and their psychology which includes narrative identity and myth making and these processes. On a slight tangent, it is fascinating to compare what Alex said, with the research by Christian Smith, for, whilst he ascertained that young people in the states have adopted a Moral, therapeutic deism faith. There are some resonances, for the faith that he found young people to have was one that was useful for young people, ie it gave them confidence and helped them ‘do what they want‘. Faith does have to provide usefulness for the individual. What that usefulness entails is different for each person. God isnt in existence to be useful for us, that point it to be made, but participating in the rituals, community, rites and discipleship might include elements of personal or community usefulness; hopefully beyond ‘God giving me confidence, or a self help manual. Image result for moral

Thinking about MTD again. What it brings to the attention is that faith is something that is learned about, but what matters is ‘being morally good’ as a response to faith, or alternatively, its that faith in action is one that emphasises moral actions. This is done through the ongoing learning of the faith through what can often be formal teaching methods ( Brierley, 2003). From the God-slot, to the Bible study, the sermon to the conference, the teaching method can be one way, and what is implied -so goes the research is that young people are ‘just learners’ and that enacting the faith is about morality. Young People as learners is something that Nick Shepherd identifies in Faith Generation (2016) – its as if thats where young people – and dare I say it adults – get stuck in the church. They are on an ongoing journey of being talked to as a learning process, and continual learning.Image result for performers

What this can then imply is that the Christian faith is just one to be learned. God is to know about, an abstract. 

Theology – ie knowledge of God – as far as young people are concerned becomes merely a cognitive task. Whilst it is important to build within young people a set of doctrines and beliefs for them to live by, and I assume this is what is going on in our youth groups, discipleship courses and programmes, these doctrines are not just to form young people – they are to equip them for performance. Theology for young people needs to be active and performative, to use a phrase I often do, it needs to be dramatic.

We need a shift from youth ministers to be educators of young people, helping them learn. But to be acting coaches, forming them through learning in the performance. For in youth ministry our task is not to teach, it is to make disciples. Not only that, to form young people as theologians, or ‘practical theologians’ (Kenda Creasy dean, 2011) But beyond this, practical theologians that act. Equipping young people to be performers of theology, ongoing actors who perform the gospel in 10,000 ways every day, week and month. Performing the love of God with their friends, performing the justice of God, the mercy of God, the faithfulness of God, the mystery of God in the everyday moments, and they perform not alone, but to learn the promtping of the Spirit in the everyday moments, the cues and clues in every context that call wisdoms voice.  It is so much more than ‘being good’ and doing a bit of evangelism with their friends to invite them to a group.

A performative Theology will also help young people to understand their role and purpose, for if they are participants and players of the drama, then they join the company of others in Gods ongoing drama of redemption that is the fourth of five acts ( Vanhoozer, 2014) . It provides not only usefulness in the everyday, calling and purpose, but gives young people meaningfulness in the everyday, and significant control of their actions, the autonomy that a young person and we all want, but as well act in ongoing obedience and faithfulness. A performative faith, within the long term plot of the drama, also gives young people a coherant life story, calling and purpose, one that might be easier for them to adopt as a personal narrative.

A performative Theology for young people and their ongoing discipleship appeals to their imagination. Even Paul was after newly attuned imaginations; Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in christ Jesus’  The word that Paul uses is Phronenin, The same that Aristotle uses for Phronesis, meaning, practical wisdom. Paul isnt asking the Phillipian church to do the same thing and be robots, but to understand the situation rightly and act accordingly – to act as Jesus Christ, in the nature of the kingdom – one that turns the other cheek, blesses the peacemakers and offers a coat to enemy. it isnt moral behaviour, its the essence of the kingdom that is of the superabundance of the love of God (Ricoeur, 1995). Can we aspire and inspire young people to be performers of the kingdom? 

Young people love films and movies – conceptualising their role in the world as ongoing actors of Gods play might not be difficult. They need not know where to find God in the plays and dramas of Hollywood, but that others might see God in their everyday productions. See God not because he appears in the script, but also the acting and non speaking. God appears through their acting.

What young people dont need is another rule book, moral code or dictum. They get enough of this in their schools. One step out of line in these institutions is detention wielding. They need faith to be a guide, a compass, an ongoing cognitive attuning to the voice of God that prompts in the every day performance. What we dont need, and what young people are switched off from is a meaningless moral faith. Helping young people view themselves as performers may also ultimately be realised when the whole church realises its duty to perform love and justice in their local community, hosting spaces of welcome and acceptance in towns and cities. But thats for another day, helping young people to theological performance might in their passion ignite a church to community action. Our task in youth ministry is to form performing young people, disciples who work for the kingdom. Not just spectators of our performances, after all there are no armchair disciples, we might do well to awaken young peoples acting imaginations in order to bring about performance.

I leave the end of this piece to Kevin Vanhoozer who says:

“The church exists to form and train grateful disciples to understand the Theodrama (Gods Drama) and their roles in it so that they can communicate and continue Gods wonderful works for the sake of the world. There is theater whenever a person meets another. Every encounter with another person constitutes a small scene, and whether disciples will say and do the right thing is what makes for drama” (Vanhoozer, 2014, p233)


Borgman, 1997, When Kumbaya is not enough

Brierley, D, 2003, All Joined up

Ricoeur, P – 1995, Figuring the Sacred

Root, A, Dean, Kenda The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, 2011

Smith, C, 2005, Soul Searching

Shepherd, N- 2016 Faith Generation

Vanhoozer, 2014, Faith Speaking and Understanding

Ward, P 1997 Youth work and the mission of God

Wesley Van der lugt – Theatrical Theology, 2014


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:

‘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:; 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.

What makes the Christian Youthworker distinctive?

At the moment, amongst a few other books, I have been reading ‘The Pastor as Public Theologian’, by Kevin Vanhoozer.  Within it, he asks the question: ‘What is the distinctive role of the Pastor’? describing that there is a problem of identity not just for pastors, but all associated with a Christian vocation, such as Youth Ministers, worsh
ip leader and so on.I’ll come to his responses in a bit but it might be worth exploring for a moment, some of the identity and role challenges that a Christian Youthworkers might have.

This is not a new query, the God-fathers of modern theoretical Youthwork, Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith, wrote in 1987, in ‘Youthwork’  that Youth workers not only have to conduct a number of roles, but also, because ‘what a youth worker is’ is such an ill-defined term that they often use these following as a guide or starting point:

  • Youthworker as Caretaker (puts the chairs away)
  • Youthworker as Red-coat (entertains)
  • Youthworker as Social Worker (1:2:1 support)
  • Youthworker as Character Builder (resilience improver)
  • Youthworker as Community worker, and finally
  • Youthworker as Educator

And so- this plight to not only understand the role of the youthworker, using more well trodden paths of understanding is not new. A youthworker might need to use another profession to define themselves against, their role might even encapsulate all or some of these others, but in a distinctive way. When Jeffs and Smith were writing this, it was very much to and within what might be considered the statutory youthwork sector. Kerry Young (1999, 2nd ed, 2006) expanded this list somewhat, by reflecting on Youthwork as an art form, in The ‘Art of Youthwork’, suggesting that

The Art of Youthwork is the ability to make and sustain such relationships with young people. In so doing, youth workers themselves develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to engage with young people in the process of moral philosophising (Young, 2006)

So, adding to the list, of the roles of the youthworker became self-awareness, examination of their own values, critical skills and enlargement of their own capacity for moral philosophising.Product Details

In addition, she also suggests that Youthworkers do not just deliver youthwork, they define it, interpret and develop it. She argues that youthwork is a ‘distinct practice’ – not unlike what Jeffs and Smith were suggesting. So, the question is, for the Christian faith based youthworker – if indeed, this in itself is a distinctive practice – what is it that makes it distinctive?

We’re 30 years (ouch) since Jeffs and Smith’s ‘Youth work’ Book, above – I wonder if there might be other additions that could be made to their list? That youth worker could be defined as. I guess I am waiting for a different professional to say – ‘Im a bit like a youth worker, but less structured’ or ‘if you imagine a youthworker, then I do such and such’ – as if there is a profession that defines itself as one step from youth work – 30, 50 or 70 years into youth work as a distinctive practice – it hasnt captured the public imagination in the way, teacher, nurse, police, social worker or redcoat might have done… (‘hi-de-hi’ has alot to answer for in the latter of these)Image result for butlins red coat

Because there hasn’t been new people-orientated professions I cant think of another new profession to add to this list. Though one of the oldest professions could be – The Priest/Vicar/Clergy? In a way this is not that different to what Kerry Young is suggesting. The Youthworker as Clergy is one who has a sense of values, of practices according to values, is someone who would guide to moral decisions, maybe even challenge some too. Now, probably a few of my clergy friends might dispute that Clergy have time to do the kind of pastoral work required for this, but thats not the point im making, for the youth worker, a nod to the role of Clergy might at times be appropriate.

The slightly worrying thing about this, is that if Vanhoozer is to be believed, Clergy might be in the same kind of identity predicament. What he suggests is that there have been a series of images and metaphors that have shaped the understanding of ‘Pastor’ which were created in the social context/culture, been retained and have held the role captive – such as ‘The Pastor as CEO‘ , as ‘psychotherapeutic guru’, as ‘political agitator‘ , (all of these could easily be transferred to youth worker)  – different times in history shape the nature of the role of clergy and models, and so ‘master’ (of theology), ‘Builder’ (of church congregations), ‘Revivalist’ (in the 19th C) , and ‘Manager’ (of programmes, buildings, people- a 20th Century concept) – additions in the 21st Century include ‘Social media mogul’ and ‘community activist’ – and thats before others such as life coach, agent of hope, story teller, midwife (Vanhoozer, 2015, p7-8)

A look to clergy might not be that profitable, in this sense, though there is an element that Clergy are able to shape their practice in a way that defines it, interprets it and develops it, the many examples of books on the role of being a pastor are testiment to this, but this also occurs in the local setting, as clergy encounter people through visiting, groups, wandering around their parish, in schools. There are times when Clergy are as much the youthworker, as vice versa, doing assemblies, being governors, leading groups. The fluidity of role definement remains.

It is not a semantic question to try and define the ‘Christian Faith-based youthworker’ – or at least suggest how this is distinctive as a role and in practice.  Carole Pugh locates ‘youth work with a spiritual content & ‘youth work based on Christian (or other faith) principles focussing on a social action/youth work values approach’ in between the deemed extremes of ‘youth work with no spiritual content’, on one side, and ‘Christian youth work adopting an evangelical approach’ on the other.  (Pugh, 1999) This is similar to that of Danny Brierley in All joined up ( 2003) or Richard Passmore (and I) in ‘Here be Dragons’ , in which we argue that at the heart of Symbiotic youthwork are the core principles of education, equality, participation, empowerment and group work within an understanding of Mission, of improvisation, of ‘valuing culture, traditions and the Bible’ (Passmore, 2013, p60)

So, if Core to ‘Christian faith based Youthwork’ is Youthwork and its values – how might a developed understanding of Christian vocation help. For, as in ‘Here be Dragons’,’ Youthwork and the Mission of God’ (Pete Ward, 1997) and others – one of the key attributes to the Christian youthworker has been a mission prerogative – to ‘meet young people where they’re at’, to ‘be incarnational’ and so, as a result ‘understanding the culture’, and forming practice around Mission has been essential, and has in many cases driven practice; often with Vincent Donovan ringing in our ears. Mission may have taken the youthworker thus far in their thinking, Fresh expressions and emerging church is developing new avenues for youthwork ( see also Here Be Dragons again..), but if Mission becomes swallowed up and synonymised by Evangelism, as the church in ‘Status Anxiety’ might cause it to be, and the Church of Englands national youth person has ‘evangelist’ in their title, (one example amongst many) – then the Christian youthworker, may become even more distinct, but not only that Mission becomes reinterepreted as ‘church grower’ – leaving the Missional christian youthworker without a theological discipline to call home.

Enter, metaphorically, stage left, Kevin Vanhoozer again or at least a paraphrase of him, as I ask ‘What does the Christian faith based worker do, that no other institution can’?

On one hand they might be the only living remnant of youthwork practice soon – much to the thanks of the Conservative government slashing local council funding and with it universal youth service provision – so that might be one distinction- with a youthwork underpinned practice – this might be a future distinction.

But what else – at least from a faith perspective – what might the Christian youth worker be called to be and do?

Vanhoozer suggests the following:

  1. A Theologian- ‘To be a Christian Theologian is to seek, speak, and show understanding of what God was going in Christ for the sake of the world’- theology is not just a job for the professionals, the qualifieds or academics.
  2. A Public Theologian- This is someone who reacts against the privatisation of the faith, restricting it to individual salvation – it is someone who is able to discern truth and justice, able to discern how and where in the world the traces of truth and justice may be unveiled, it is to be communicative of the story of God in the public domain, to be as Volf suggests a ‘witnessing presence’ or as Sam Wells (2005)  ‘Saints’ (See my post ‘Theodrammatic saints..) –
  3. To be in Public: It is to be involved with the public, being present, working with people to have conversations, to raise questions, address big issues of life, death, hope, fear, meaning and despair. To have much knowledge, and but also have general knowledge, to encourage places of connection, and environs such as homes (see my previous post on ‘home’ here:

Now these three things are directed by Vanhoozer, firmly and squarely with the role of Clergy, and in his words the ‘Youth Minister’ – and he has Christian Smiths (2005) research on Youth Ministry in the USA in mind as he makes this point (2015, p116-117, 154) and so this might have more resonance or direction with the ‘Youth Minister’ role in the UK. But what is interesting is that the ‘Christian faith based youth worker’ is probably more used to be doing these three things, as they have an adopted language of youthwork (universal), are involved in conversations that invoke witnessing, are discerners of truth, justice and equality (even if youthwork values drive these) and also value space for conversations.

Maybe ‘Christian faith Based youth workers’ might be Public Theologians after all…  



Passmore R, Ballantyne  Here be Dragons, 2013

Pugh, C Christian Youthwork or Social Action, 1997 in Youth and Policy 1999 no 65

Smith, M, Jeffs, T, Youthwork, 1987

Ward, P, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997

Vanhoozer, KJ The Pastor as the public Theologian, 2015

Young K, The Art of Youthwork, 2nd ed 2006


Can Biblical doctrine direct organisation strategy?

We need our organisation to be effective!

It needs to be ‘moving forward’ ,

Stagnation is capitulation! ,

Growth is good, efficiency is the name of the game,

Organisations needs to be outcomes orientated!

Image result for effectiveness

Does anyone else wince that these get said in places of work, you know the corporate lingo to often mean job cuts, or reschuffles, or changed focus. Its not far off transformational leadership or management styles. In a way these kind of things are more acceptable in the supermarket chain, the factory or even a building site, but is it appropriate that this kind of language, and the ideologies behind ‘effectiveness’, ‘efficiency’ , ‘growth’ and ‘reinvention’ have become virtually staple language to the faith-based educational organisation like youth work, and even more so the church.Doesn’t it seem a bit weird? that the maxims developed from Henry Ford, Apple and Macdonalds are adapted in and used in the church? Maybe it doesnt seem that weird anymore.

Such as:

 we want the church to have a ‘growth’ strategy,

or a church that gives value for money…

What becomes weird is that the language of business and economics has infiltrated not just the process of organisations, and their strategies, but also in the faith settings become justified as theology.

So, for example, In John Nelsons book ‘Leading managing ministering (1998) he looks at a number of models of management (including those mentioned above, transformational leadership and begins to consider how this type of management can be used in the church, using verses of the bible peppered throughout to seal the models approval to a faith orientated audience. And then as a result it becomes valid to use certain styles of leadership/management in organisations and their associated behaviours because there are biblical resonances. Related image

What i am saying then is the culture of business, and its adopted language becomes the main driver for the theology that is interwoven into faith based organisations. There becomes a need for a ‘growth’ theology, or a theology of decline, or a theology of innovation. Reflecting on organisations, reflecting on how the performance of an organisation in community is mirrored in the character, knowledge, themes or actions of God.

I wonder if this is back to front. Just a little bit.

In Drama of Doctrine,  Kevin Vanhoozer suggests that Doctrine, and theology is for the purpose of directing the performance of the church in the ongoing theodrama, the 5 act play of Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consumation, which the church and present is in the fourth act of five. Theology is for directing and guiding the action, it may also be a dramatic endeavour in itself. Vanhoozer contrasts the kind of Theology that is absolute (epic) and that which is found in community action (lyric) with a directive theology that is dramatic, that maintains Biblical primacy but is for ongoing community participation and is for in real time. The live drama.

So, instead of organisations adopting Business langauge and delivery as the starting point for theological reflection – what about the faith based organisation that performs the doctrine of atonement, or doctrine of love, or doctrine of grace in its organisation culture and structure?

In a simplified example, at some point last year in our team reflections at DYFC we looked at the passages in 1 Corinthians 13 about love. They are fairly well known and get read at most weddings, even 4 weddings and a funeral i think. As a group we looked at the question – is it possible to be an organisation that performs as much as possible the call to be loving, kind, faithful and unfailing whilst also being on the stage of the world in which funding, competition, outcomes, communication, projects, attendance, are all part and parcel of practice? 

Image result for love is patient

This wasnt us trying to perform a theology of love, or atonement not by any means, but it was at least starting to make space for the kind of theology that we might want to direct our organisation, to embody in it, and ultimately to perform. So we did ask – what would it mean to ‘love’ young people – genuinely – how would we do this, what would it mean to ‘love’ each other, to trust and be kind to young people and each other. From these conversations it becomes easier to develop a culture that is theological, and directed by not only propositional statements that show truth, but also the sense that being and performing loving, generous and compassionate propel the theodrama, they reveal and embody God in action, especially in the mini series’s of the drama of every day life in the myriad of conversations. The critical reflection was that it would difficult, and there would be considerable adjustments to be made, but that would only be inevitable. But Theology directs the performances in this way.

In my last piece i was talking about the culture created in a youth ministry setting. Culture creating is a big thing, understandably, Morgan talks about organisations as cultures. So again, in faith settings how might a theology that is performed be culture shaping and creating, even prophetic of others. For in a way what is a faith based organisation that has culture but not love – might it be the crashing symbol?

What would happen in an organisation or church that embodied, or performed a theology of the cross? Its marks would be self sacrifice, forgiveness, restoration, resurrection- there would not  just be ‘acceptable’ behaviour, or ‘enough’  – but beyond compassionate behaviour, laying down life for friends behaviour and respect for others. All actions that propel God at work in people, and the ongoing drama, that foretaste a future existance in the present with shadows of the past.

If churches and organisations are full of saints (rather than heroes) Wells, Improvisation, 2004,  then the saint is someone who is faithful to their call, but also develops community around them. They are faithful to the nature of the call, being gracious, humble and not taking the limelight – that is after all Jesus space in the drama. For many saints they have no choice who becomes part of that community for like St Francis, they identified with the poorest, most needy and shaped theology of the sidewalk, of suffering in the moments of identifying with people. Communities of saints take the rough with the rough and journey alongside and with, because ultimately our Human actions of faith are collective and the land is to be explored together warts and all. Can this happen in organisations who might have other motives, like growth, or innovation, or strategy, or success? where might sainthoodness fit in? or a theology of the suffering of Jesus? But as Christians in groups and organisations, our starting point isnt working out how to biblically adopt Apple or Macdonalds into an organisation – it is that we perform in real time the drama as directed, being wise as saints on the stage of the world, yet start with theology that speaks into cultures.

Maybe Theology as it is dramatic,  comes first after all or least has an ongoing part in being performed.



Newman – Leading, Managing Ministering, 1998

Vanhoozer, Kevin, The Drama of doctrine, 2005

Wells, Samuel, Improvisation, 2004


Making the Bible Inspiring (not insipid) in Youth Ministry

Have you ever noticed that when it comes to describing the Bible and its uses, there is the tendency to drift into dualist language? So, for instance, someone might say that the Bible needs to be ____________, but not ____________. I use the term Inspiring and not insipid above, which isnt one i have heard, but others in the first column can include Authoritative, Proclaimed, Revered, Obeyed, Transformational and in the second category comes things like Informative, illustrative, imagination ‘just self help’ , ignored, – and some of these for good reason. No one thinks the Bible should be ignored in Youth Ministry I hope. However I wonder whether these kinds of distinctions are helpful, especially when it is quite clear that the Bible is a complex book, sorry, collection of many books and there needs to be a renewed thought about how the Bible becomes part of the ongoing practice of faith based youthwork.

In response to the above, what would be the problem with thinking that the Bible in its entirety needed a long list of imperatives for it? So, whilst it is rightly authoritative it is also to be imagined, and illustrative, and metaphorical, and Inspiring, and challenging, and provoking, and directive, and informative, and reflective, and poetic, and soulful, and  and.. well the list goes on, but the point it that with such a large text, how it invokes Human behaviour in accordance with it takes a variety of stances. And a variety of interpretative positions, such as historical, literary or narrative.

Image result for the bibleHowever, what if the Bible wasnt a book anymore? What if it was an inspirational script to be followed and improvised from?

Samuel Wells (and Richard Carter) put it like this;

Before the Bible became a book, it was a collection of scrolls. It was not a vehicle for private devotions, it was a script for performance, a rallying cry for Mission, a tirade seeking repentance and a chorus of comfort (and discomfort too). It was a community forming sacrament, and reading it aloud was a church-creating event. It was not reduced to static meaning or easily memorised fundamentals. When Jesus said in the synagogue “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ he set a template for reading it ever since. For us our response might also be “make our lives and deeds a scripture for the blessing of your people in days to come” (rather than ‘thanks be to God’)

In other words, The Bible is always a Drama. (2014; p224)

If you picture the dynamic of the relationship between an actor, the director and an author in the preparation and performance of theatre, this may help to illustrate it further. Especially as Von Baltasar suggests, we, as Humans are drawn onto the stage of the dramatic arena, where we find not a God to be looked at, but one in action engaging with the world and our free duty is to respond.  However, going back to that relationship, the author, actor and director have a complex symbiotic relationship. All are reliant on each other, all contribute to the success and failings of the individual project and all play different parts, yet in the performance the eyes of the audience, and their participation falls solely on the creativity and performance of the actor to fulfil both the authorial intention (what is to be performed) and directors contextual suggestion ( ie how it is to be performed). Though the Author and director play a huge role in enabling the actor to perform appropriately- but in the real performance, a good actor wont be re-reading the script, they are performing it.

The Bible itself might not just be the script, it also points to a bigger drama, the bigger story of Gods drama that we become part of – known by some as a Theo-Drama ( see my previous posts on Theodrama in the subject index, or Vanhoozers Drama of Doctrine, 2005), one that started with Creation and ends with the Consumation.  It is a drama which doesn’t just communicate to the world but involves and engages it, God communicated to the world throughout, this communication culminating in Jesus who became an actor along with humanity. The Biblical text is a script not to be told, but also acted, and story not just to be told, but embodied. The Script and the Theodrama create a new reality one where many become called into, not just a self help for this world.

If the Bible was ‘originally and should have always remained a drama’ (Wells, 2014) It then stirs the imagination, it is illustrative, it evokes not just the mind, or the heart, but also the body, the senses, and requires a new rehearsal for performance and improvised performance in every new setting, in order that it is fulfilled. The question is not, for the Theodrama proponents like Vanhoozer whether the Bible is authoritative, for it is, it is also the source material for a Dramatic production and an ongoing improvisation for actors as they respond to it and also the holy Author in their midst. But it also must stir the imagination, must stir the feet for action, must stir the eyes to see the world differently and must stir up the call to respond.

The Bible is drama – lets keep a dramatic play of it going on the stage of the world – and not reduce it to classroom testing, moral reasoning or propositional analysis. And Drama is action, Theatre is drama with a live audience. So, when thinking about the Bible and Theology in Youth Ministry lets evoke action responses and embodied re-enactments, of love, of peace, of forgiveness and of reconciliation- and also the stories.

For children and young people lets give them ways of developing creative imaginative views of the Bible, so that its not just an epilogue, or a test, or a stick for morality – but a script of God speaking, and a drama of Gods purposes that they can be responding to. So that their lives are in call and response to him in their dramatic existences.

Before the Bible became a book, it was a story that many people acted in response to Gods call. It is our ongoing role in the drama to do the same.



Richard Carter & Samuel Wells Holy Theatre, enfleshing the word in Theatrical Theology (edited Lugt/Hart, 2014)

Hans urs Von Baltasar, Theodrama 1, Trans 1980

Vanhoozer, K, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005, also Remythologising Theology (2010) Faith Speaking Understanding (2014)

Reclaiming artistic Supervision in the Church

We’ve got a bit of an issue in the church about management at the moment havent we?  for one it feels corporate, globally scary and tied in with images of corporations like Macdonalds, Apple or Facebook, let alone traditional industries like Ford. Yet Management is what seems to be whats being required more and more in the church, the youth worker needs a line manager, so does the administrator, or the finances need to be managed. Nelson (1999) talks then about new public management in a post modern world, of christian leadership in a post modern society and how Management  (especially new public management) is often about performance management, about managing data, numbers and effectiveness, and in a neo liberal context this is about value for money, efficiency, control and a focus on outputs and outcomes. What management tends to be is task focussed, with the individual playing second fiddle to their own efficiency in the role. As the old adage goes what can be measured can be managed, but is management itself a construct adopted too easily by the church, and if so what are the alternatives?

Where Management is barely mentioned Biblically, i was as shocked to find Supervision anywhere in the Biblical text, but i did, its in Numbers 8:22 and 1 Chronicles 25 3, 4 &6

The Sons of Asaph were under the supervision of Asaph

(6 brothers…..) were under the supervision of their father Jeduthun

All these brothers were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the Lord. with cymbals, harps for the ministry of the house….they all were under the supervision of the King

For the task of the creative musician, the brothers required supervision, as they played their music, as they performed their service. They were supervised to perform artistically in the task of service and for the King.

Sue Cooper (2012, in Ord, J (2012) writes that balanced supervision is to have three essential functions ; ‘restorative/supportive, formative/educative and normative/managerial- and that the process itself must be two way’, she is writing in the context of the supervision of youth workers, a profession that prides itself on being artistic (Young 1999), creative, imaginative and socially constructive.

But as should Church and faith be also a theatrical pursuit, one that seeks to perform scripture as local gospel theatre (Vanhoozer 2014), with the full gospel that seeks faithful discipleship for world transformation, if that can be measured and thus managed and is not an unpredictable, creative art then i’m not sure what else it is supposed to be…..As Vanhoozer suggests, the picture of theology as science has held the church captive for too long, instead it needs to be dramatised and become a theatrical art form. (2014)

And thats where supervision comes back in, It is argued that taking one of those three aspects away causes supervision to be less satisfying for both parties, in the situation of the music, a heavy hand would constrain performance, too light a touch might produce chaos, somewhere in the middle improvised Jazz occurs.

Maybe Management as a concept needs to be dropped in the church.

A reclaimed view of artistic supervision could take its place, one that balances the managerial with also education and support in order for creativity to be realised, and for the persons in the supervision relationship to value the ongoing creativity that both the process of church and youthwork (where this is the relationship) are to be creatively performed.

If Supervision swings from development focus to managerial focus – what does that say about what we believe church to be- a science? or a faith?  Maybe a fuller understanding of supervision, especially its educative function for a creative ministry is one that will help to rebalance current practices of supervision in the church, whether that its clergy being supervised, or clergy as supervisors. To reclaim the educative function of creative supervision might also enable it to feel more like the kind of Discipleship that has Biblical tones rather than a form of management that seems at odds with the freedom even Jesus gave his disciples to decide for themselves actions, or even criticise him.

If the most important resources for an organisation are its staff, and one of the main complaints from youth workers (and other employees in a church) is that of the relationship with their line management often the clergy (Davies 2012) – maybe it might be time to rethink what it means to be an educative, supportive supervisor of people in the creative performance of church & mission in the church & world, in order that people are able to play the tunes as collaborative artists, in the improvised mission in service to the King.

Lets value and develop the right kind of supervision for organisation of the church, in order for it to perform practically and prophetically the gospel on the stage of the world.


Discovering Youth Ministrys implicit Theology

“So belief is not some kind of arcane metaphysics, it is performed – much as one would perform a play”(Percy, 2010)

Many of the books and articles I’m reading at the moment refer to Missiology and Ecclesiology, not surprising given that this is the title of module I’m currently writing an essay on (in between some distracting posts here) , the reason I say this is that there may be huge amounts of writing out there already that refers to how implicit, or performed actions in youth ministry reveal its operant theology – just that this is a blind spot for me at the moment which I am yet to explore.

However, as I have began to explore the writing of Healy (2001), Percy (2005,2010), and Vanhoozer (2005,2010), in relation to lived, an ordinary, implied Theology – for the church – i wonder whether the same could be said for the practice of Youth Ministry and its own implicit theology.

Just taking a small step back – a traditional view of Theology, and Ecclesiology is that these are both in some ways revered – ie if we know the ‘pure’ theology of say Paul, or the Ecclesiology of Barth, liberation theology, or even a Trinitarian ecclesiology – then we might seek to apply this to the practice of church, or mission, or indeed Youth Ministry. The Theology or Ecclesiology becomes the ideal blueprint (as Healy, (2001) would determine), and practice plays second fiddle to it, never quite being able to match the ideal.

Contrastingly, Healy, Percy and Vanhoozer, all in slightly different ways argue for a theology is viewed implicitly as it is practised, for example:

“By Paying attention to the sensed and experienced dimensions of day to day ecclesial life, one begins to gain some insight into how style might matter just as much as substance, and behaviours as much as beliefs” (Percy 2010)

“The church is local in that wherever the community gathers, it does so to demonstrate in its embodied life a particular way of being-in-the-world” (Vanhoozer 2014)

For Healy, Ecclesiology should be “practical and prophetic” (2001)- and thus birthed in reality of performance.  Whilst all of these refer the the acts of the ‘church’ – this can, obviously, also refer to the ministerial practices of the church, such as as people minister with young people in all the variety of labels, such as youth ministry, detached work, messy church and so on.

The question is then – what is revealed about the behaviours of those who realise & perform youth ministry about its theology?  or as pertinently What kind of God is revealed in how it is performed?

To take on Healys view that the grounded and real nature of the church is something to be recognised in the outworking of how it is ecclesiologically thought of – what about the lived and real practice of Youth Ministry as a source of discovering theology, rather than thinking- what theology should be applied to youth ministry – instead, what attentiveness and observations might be made about the lived, and real performance of youth work & ministry so to determine its also local, lived theology?

For example – what is revealed about God in the way a youth group might shape its activities? or the way the leaders interact at different times with the young people?

What is revealed about the theology of a detached team who are open to receive the questions about faith from young people – but close down their questions with simple answers? Or differently in the tone of the voice of the conversation, the questions asked and the interactions?

It may be even more subtle than this – as what might it say about  the implicit theology of youth work whereby the first thing a youth leaders does is say hello individually to every young person as they enter?  or the kind of space where a young person is comfortable enough to make their own cup of tea? or other activities, the weekend away, the worship event and you can fill in the others..

What is implied in the theology of the practice if it encourages young people into social justice projects?  forms of prayer, or liturgy.

Where in the practical of the often most practical of ministries might the theology of youth work & ministry be most implicit – without us even knowing it, but in the actions of the way these things are enacted, performed – and not just in their content.

Call it performance pedagogy, or praxis, or participation in enacting church – strangely all p’s-  and as youth workers/ministry – we have been attuned to its vocational and ethical /integrity responsibility for some time. Yet might the live performance reveal something of a theological integrity, one that young person might make connections with, and might reveal as much about our theology as the narrations and declarations of God that we might do within.

Shaping Youth work & Ministry in whatever guise might involve taking seriously attention made to what theology is implied and embodied in its performance.



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