Does the church (and youth ministry) need to rid itself of capatalist c**p?

I was at my neices 18th birthday party last year, not a large affair, though a house and garden full of family and her friends in South London. As as is the norm with these things, the ‘young people’ were in the garden drinking or hiding the drink they were drinking, and the adults were mostly indoors (it was a fairly cold november evening), except for the odd excursion outside by the adult to ‘check on the garden’. All seemed to be ok. Balance of normality, with music in the garden chosen from one young persons Ipod, and adults inside either ignoring it, or being mortified at the odd swear word that escaped through on an album edit of a song. However, for a few minutes it seemed as though someone else was choosing the music, there was high school musical (these 18 year olds grew up on it (yes feel old)), and things like Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Little mix.

All of a sudden, equilibrium was destroyed, as one of the 18 year old girls, dressed in very inidividually designed attire, wanders into the lounge full of adults, and sat down on one of the chairs, looking disgruntled and annoyed, said (and I quote)  ; ‘Im coming in here, I cant stand all that capatalist crap music being played’. Her remark, sifted the socialist leaning wheat and capitalist adhering chaff within the adults, as to their response to this from cheers and support to being taken aback. Now it could be said that this 18 year old was a dreamer, a Jeremy Corbynite, an idealist, influenced by a wide range of things – (but when a young person makes a statement about their shopping habits they are less likely to be criticised of being materialist, or influenced by ‘the right’). However, this point aside. What this young person had identified was a lack of integrity within music of artists for whom on the face of it, seem only in it for the money, or created and produced with making money in mind. It would be easy to say that even the music on earlier in the evening might raise legitimate money, but im not going to muddy the waters here. There was something about integrity within the music industry that this young person was looking for.

Moving the conversation on. John Drane a few years ago wrote the Macdonaldisation of the Church (others have followed suit with other similar pieces) . Within it he describes how

aspects of the church’s Image result for mcdonaldization of the churchorganisation, ministry and mission have fallen fowl to Macdonaldisation; the process of creating systems that are calculable, efficient, repeatable and can be controlled. They then can be repeated in a similar fashion across the church community. One example might be Alpha (which restricted use of its branding and ‘service’ to tightly regulated videos and activities as one example, although there are others), other organisations have fallen victim to this when issues of brand protectionalism and universalism stand in the way of contextual unique ministry.  It is worth reflecting on quite how passive the organisations of the church were or are to external business and marketing forces that spoke a language and validated a form of practice that endorsed macdonaldisation, that churches adopted rather than being prophetic against. Sold as a way of having control, efficiency, calcubility and repeatedness – products are released into the church, mission and ministry, some sold as ‘franchises’ and ‘under license’.

Whilst talk of Macdonaldisation might be out of favour, even talk of ‘post-macdonaldisation’ is cheap. Some of it is merely a facade. Starbucks may offer ‘choice’ but  it is still bounded, giving the impression of choice – and choice in other brands might merely be as similarly just a front. Post-Macdonaldisation is about personal choice, though personal choice bounded.

Another form of Management that is creeping into the church is talk of ‘leadership’. From ‘transformation leadership’ (the setting of strategies, target and aiming for compliance), to ‘entrepreneurial leadership and missional leadership – there is a movement of thought that in a period of time when the deckchairs on the titanic of the church are in the process of needing to be reordered and painted, that this role requires the right type of leaders, and leadership training is all the rage. And continues to be all the rage when in the main the church is ordered around structured organisations that by almost definition of their role are in requirement of a hierarchy that by default includes some ‘leadering’ of them. Sometimes one can fall into the other, where leadership training is in part to ‘make the church more effective’ sadly effective could be misinterpreted as efficient. Jesus didnt do ‘efficient’ ministry. If anything it was the opposite.

‘Transformational leadership is consistent with the neo-liberal assault on professional integrity’ (Sarah Lea, ‘ Are youthworkers free to lead’ in Ord J, Issues in Youthwork Management, 2014)

So, whilst the church is in a battle to be relevant (and relevancy is the badge of honour in youth ministry) , there can be a tension between ‘relevancy’ when it comes to some issues ( lets just say moral issues regarding sex/abortion/relationships) and a different type of adopted relevancy when it comes to the organisation of the church, ministry and mission groups which it could be argue try and have moral distinctiveness, but managerial uncritical adaption to essentially the ideologies of capitalism and managerialism. It might have at times adopted the practice of the companies of the 21st century even if their ethics and human rights (or tax paying) have been vacuous.  Rarely does the church want to be run like ‘The Body Shop’. In short, much of christianity in the UK has sold its soul to capatalism, and it has limited integrity left from which to platform an alternative. As my nieces friend urged, ‘We need to get rid of the capatalist crap!’ – though it might be difficult, submerged in the culture to find it, or alternatives.

But its difficult. Things that need paying for, like buildings, and ministries and resources and organisations. Especially those that have large salaries, rents and mortgages. It is easier to make money with a programme that maintains the status quo, than challenge the system that creates it. Though that doesnt mean that our tune need to stay the same. Erving Goffman suggests that the integrity of persons appearances and interactions relies heavily on how close it is to goods. Its as if even sociologists know that proximity to things/money/resource affects integrity. Maybe thats what Jesus was on about when he told the disciples to go with nothing, its so that things didnt get in the way.

If our churches and ministries are to follow a different way, then currently it will be pioneering, it will be set to an off beat drum, and will be seen to be odd, strange or provocative- and invalidated. It will be pioneering to scale down rather than up. Pioneering to gravitate down, to live more simply, to create different structures within the church that have clearer intentions of equality, goodness and ignore the disparity between rich and poor. Currently the church doesnt have much of a voice of the oppressed, largely because it lives to serve them and be for them, not as Friere argues, build a pedagogy of them, or as St Francis would remind us a spirituality from the streets, not the temples. There are questions to ask, about how the church regain a sense of community that shares much, rather than individuals that collect and share little. Boff picks up the story, ‘that between 1970-80 the lay person began to organise themselves into christian base communities, where there is an experience of ecclesiogenesis, this movement exercised ministries, committed to faith and promotion of and liberation of the oppressed’ It was a movement that affected the establishment church which honed in on service, of Gospel to the margins and commitment to the poor- but also a more participatory and fraternal society’ (Boff, creation of a popular and Poor Church, in St Francis, a model for human liberation, 1980).  St Francis recognised that even in the 1200’s that a simpler life was required, and by all accounts, the 1200’s would have been a simpler life than now, in many places – certainly in the west. But again, to follow Jesus, meant for St Francis, to go, and to rely on the hospitality of others, to rely on the community of the poor, and to identify with by being poor. What he also recognised, was that things did not make him free, they were a burden. To be free was to remove them and give them away, for them to lose their control. And freedom from things seems to be the way of Jesus. Although easy to criticise, the freedom that pastors with millions of pounds in mega churches dont have must be awful. But there are other ‘things’ too, like fame, influence and authority. With all these things the temptation is to gain more. St Francis would suggest otherwise.

‘An individual cannot own anything that only belongs to God.Not even the certainty of ones salvation is ours, but rather solely God’s’ (St Francis)

Francis and Boff go on to say that for the Christian faith to appropriate within the capatalist system is illegitimate; stating:

‘Ownership looks for security, prejudices the community and neighbours, is inspired by passion and pleasure, wounds the soul, searches for one own well being, degrades work, overvalues the corporal, sees in intelligence and will a private property, is the road of sin and the devil, enemy of all good, taking sides against God and denying his kingdom’ (Boff, p71)

This is strong stuff, and its hard to know where to start with this, given how my own nearly 40 years of existence with the UK and broadly evangelical church culture has shaped me. If we regard our role in the Theodrama (a role given to us) as witnesses to the story, not the heroes within it, then to witness is to go and project a new reality. It is difficult to project a new reality if everyone is practically the same. Our distinctiveness need not be our morality, but our simplicity, or generosity, or care for the other. A care that St Francis suggests is true Humanity.

Oh, and if young people see that a capitalist crap has infliltrated the music scene, how much more might young people view the establishment and ordering of the church in such a way, that is less movement of social transformation, than ordered gatherings to maintain the status quo. Young people, theyre a perceptive bunch. They often want a cause they can believe in that has integrity.

How might the church rid itself of its capatalist crap? Especially if this is what young people might just want…

Might youth ministry, that once pioneering path that changed the church since the 1960’s- adopt a different tune completely for the future, forging a new pathway, not of organisation, but of true movement for the gospel doing so within community, integrity and simplicity. Might young people find in St Francis the hero to save humanity and model life around him, or view Christianity through St Francis.

If Capatalism and Neo-liberalism is under threat, as ‘populist’ politics (short hand for far right fascism) becomes influential, might the churchs response to be and act more prophetically, and create an alternative?


Boff, Saint Francis, A model for human liberation, 1980

Freire, P, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970

Rohr, St Francis, A Way of Life, 2014

Wells, Samuel, Improvisation, Christian Ethics, 2005



Why outcomes in youth ministry exclude the poor

Yesterday i wrote a lengthy piece on why it isnt new that the church has abandoned the poor, because youth ministry has struggled with working with young people deemed ‘underclass’ , ‘poor’ or disruptive/challenging, ever since the dawn of Sunday schools. Youth Ministry’s struggle to work with the poor Since writing it i wondered if there was a simpler way of describing the issue. And there is. It is as simple as looking at the outcomes that have deem youth ministry to be successful.

Have a think about all the measurable outcomes that are part and parcel for youth ministry over the last few years and months….

so on..

you have a go….


heres some of them…

  • Keeping the group going?
  • Growing the church?
  • Telling young people about Jesus?
  • Giving them opportunities to share faith?
  • Helping young people mature in the faith?
  • Helping young people participate in the life of the church?
  • enabling young people to be ‘university ready’?
  • Discipling young people?
  • Helping young people be good citizens?
  • Shape young people into good christian leaders
  • Teaching them and helping them be aware of issues in ‘the world’ – sex, porn, racism, ‘the media’ etc etc
  • Safety (ive done this before its here:

I bet you can think of several more.

Can anyone see the problem? 

We could make the argument that all young people are oppressed in Society, even the young people given the opportunity of private school are victims of oppression due to their age and also being part of the same targetted demographic that sees young people as a problem. But i think this is a weak argument to make in regard to young people and poverty. Thats not to say none of the young people who have the benefits of private education are not in need of faith. Again, its not the point. The point is that when it comes to taking seriously the oppression and poverty of young people in society, outcomes orientated youth ministry cause only the cream to rise to the top, and be focussed on.

For any outcome to be seen to be successful it needs to be measurable. And this involves numbers and indicators. What this means is that as a result the success of doing youth ministry is based on young people, groups and activities that enable the above to occur. And what becomes outcome orientated becomes focussed on.

As result, even in something as unpredictable as youth ministry, having outcomes, targets and strategies for these, causes a inevitable to turn to enabling these things to happen, in a way that might be efficient, controlling and predicatable. Its a turn to aspects of what Macdonalds has made famous in its managerial and working processes.

Turning to efficiency – will inevitably mean that working with challenging young people might be seen as a ‘waste of time’

Turning to predictability – might cause a shift to manage audiences that are less disruptive ( see previous post)

Turning to control – well if we can get away with the using similar materials year on year itll mean we know what we’re doing.

It mean that something like detached youthwork, an open youth club, chaplaincy, schools work, community work all face the axe, as they arent able to fit within such a neat organised ordered outcome system, at least not very easily. They need to be viewed as counter this culture and good for what they are, especially if they are moments of genuine interaction with young people who actually are poor. It is almost not enough to invest financially in something because it might be ‘good’ anymore.

Thats a complicated way of saying that having outcomes favours working with compliant young people.

Outcomes for youth ministry show that its a numbers game

The bums on seats argument is one that is not going to be repeated here. But Measuring church by numbers is the pastime of the church. Its new appointments within youth ministry are evangelists, and thus concerned with growing a dying church, and looking for models of growth ( again efficiency/outcomes) – not goodness.  Meeting the needs of an institution mean that a numbers game is played, and that reduces completely the value of the human existence. Empty churches and ‘praying for those not here’ dominate. Having a ‘church growth’ midset ( all business speak) , developing ‘leadership’ are all monuments from an outcome orientated agenda, one fixed more on institution that intuition and improvisation, strategy not community salvation.

But if we’re serious about church growth – we dont care who attends – just cause them to come, create an audience, put it on social media!

If we’re serious about youth ministry continuing – keep the numbers up and entertain the young people – its those who fit in..

if we’re serious about young people participating in the life of the church – then we’ll give the opportunities to those who can thrive in that setting.

If we’re serious about teaching young people – then we’ll shape the audience accordingly.

But whilst all of these outcomes are common. None reflect an awareness or desire to genuinely work in areas that might be deemed ‘hard to reach’ , ‘ working class’. Its an outcomes and numbers game that causes those to be left behind. Any numbers game causes a shift in working practices. the evidence of this is in schools who shift around at huge cost the young people who struggle. Because no one wants to invest in young people from the bottom to get to the first rung of an academic ladder, its about a-c. Its also the problem in youth ministry that has a bent towards enabling leaders – leadership looks like what the church regards as leadership, and character, wealth and influence seem to make a greater case for what this should look like. Leadership is not only mostly male, it is also mostly middle class, or post oxbridge.

None of the traditional outcomes for youth ministry have any serious attempt to recognise that the dynamics of mission within abandoned estates, with families facing food bank or debt relief looks substantially different. Outcomes focus on maintaining an institution. Being present and loving a local community, family and struggling young person is what Jesus might have us do i know what youll say, But that doesnt yield results?  **** the results.

We do what we do ‘for the least of these’. So let have youth ministry that has a heart for ‘for the least of these’ and practices that are shaped around this.

7 not-so-Deadly Sins in Youth Ministry


The film Se7en came out in 1995, I watched it when i was 18, i think, just. Or i may have been nearly 18. And it was pretty graphic and shocking for me at the time. Unlike Trainspotting or Aliens it isn’t a film i have given a re-watch to ever since. If you’ve not seen it, IMDB describes it as “A film about two homicide detectives’ (Morgan Freeman and (Brad Pitt) desperate hunt for a serial killer who justifies his crimes as absolution for the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins. The movie takes us from the tortured remains of one victim to the next as the sociopathic “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey) sermonizes to Detectives Somerset and Mills — one sin at a time.” Whether the film is in any way successful at telling this story is difficult for me to remember, but throughout its main story line is the effect of an ignorance of the 7 deadly sins:  pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

So, for some strange reason over breakfast I was wondering – probably because theres two conferences on youth ministry happening this weekend- is to think about what would be ‘the 7 deadly sins of Youth Ministry’ and focus on these 7 original sins, and i think there would be some merit in doing this to highlight areas of ministry that are prone to envy ( the successful ministry down the road), wrath (after the leadership meeting) , gluttony ( too many cream cakes during YF tuck shop) or Pride (‘its all about my ministry’). But I thought that would be a little obvious, and its likely that in the depths of time that Youthwork magazine probably did something similar.

So, instead of focussing on these 7 original sins, as I was out walking this afternoon, I thought about a different sin, linked to them all, ‘Ignorance’ and wondered if Youth Ministry, in part, or more in full, has been found to be guilty of ignoring the following aspects that have a real impact on the nature of youth ministry, the depth of engagement in young people, and how youth ministry might be threatened by what it accepts from the culture around,  in 7 key ways.

  1. Ignoring Theology for pragmatism. – Good theology helps give young people connection with a world story that they can assimilate as their personal story (McAdams 1997), Challenging Theology is what helps to keep young people in local churches so says recent research here: .  Settling for an easy night, of fun and distraction from the concerns of the world, might only be so helpful. Neither is settling for what Christian Smith calls is Moral Therapeutic Deism (2005) – connecting young people with a God who is ‘there for them’ to give them confidence, however, as a personal myth to believe in it will go so far, just it might need changing when it is tested.
  2. Ignoring young people. This seems strange as youth groups are full of them, but how many youth group evenings are judged as successful by the quality of conversations between youth leader and young person, and not by who and how many turned up? Young people can be ignored if they’re just to take part in the activities. What they need is a healthy place to be where adults take interest in them, listen and shape activities around their needs, interests and gifts. And that is on just a local level, and the local church.  Where do young people feature in the shaping of area strategies, of national programmes. Its also apparent when young people are counted as just numbers.
  3. Ignoring History. A bit like the Premier league, which only provides statistics of games back to 1992, as if football didnt exist before then. An understanding of History reveals christian youth work practice that nowadays would be seen as innovative, more risk taking and politically active. Meeting young peoples needs was core philanthropy in 1830, for example. Its what Sunday schools were developed for.  What might be one persons innovation might only show a blind spot for history, or good practice down the road.
  4. Ignoring the effect of culture.. What I mean here, is not the effect that culture has on young people. This is extensively researched, and if not the Guardian usually has something on ‘Millenials’ to reflect on most weeks. What I mean is the effect of the prevailing culture on Youth Ministry itself. The Sociologist Wolfe said:

In every aspect of religious life, American faith has met American culture, and American culture has triumphed… the faithful in the USA are remarkably like everyone else (Wolfe, 2003)

An example of this is in the marketing and programming of youth ministry resources, that are described as ‘almost Fordian’ (ie representing the process of making one size/colour fits all, mass produced motor cars) by Danny Brierley (2003) – It is an example of where the influence of Managerial theory and practice is inserted into the church. The same could be said for any youth ministry programme that claims to be efficient, calculated, predictable and be able to be controlled, for these are dominant tenets of the business model of Macdonalds. Without realising it, the prevailing culture wins, if a youth ministry seeks growth and transformational leadership to do this, then this again is from the management guru handbook, more so than Theology – however biblically justified. Youth Ministry is undoubtedly involved in the culture, it creates culture, but is also subject to it – it is worth being critical of the sources, methodologies and ideologies of practice – having filters set to ‘on’. Being predictable and efficient – might give 4 spiritual laws, but maybe not the complexity of a deep faith, and young people exploring difficult questions. Keeping up with culture isnt making Youth ministry more theological or relevant, its possibly only turning it into efficient organisations that are cost effective.  Managing a good youthwork organisation or it being managed well might not actually be having the best effect on young people.

5. Ignoring Youthwork (& Education) philosophy. What the Values and practice of Youthwork can bring to Youth Ministry is an increased focus, not only on young people and their needs, but processes shaped by values that are in their favour, such as empowerment, voluntary participation, inclusion & anti-oppressive practice, and informal education, what it also can provide, again according to Danny Brierely, is an ethical yardstick for youth ministry. Youth Ministry will only be improved by encompassing more of the discipline of youth work. Not only that but a refreshing of different concepts of education especially as young people participate in youth ministry in a voluntary way would be critical.

6. Ignoring Pioneers. For too long the biggest conferences are sponsored by the same people who select the same people to be the experts. Critical and Pioneering voices, generally are put to one side, unless they have been youth ministry flavour of the month in the past – and can still retain ‘Hero’ status. But in the main, those who are known for good, solid local practice are ignored. Those who lead ministries and have several lead responsibilities in organisations are the heralded experts. Some are the pioneers, but others are selectively ignored. Organisations, cultures and practices are only developed further through critical thinking, questions and dissent. Yes people will only keep the hamster wheel turning, critical thinking will ensure the hamster is travelling in the right direction. Pioneers are what the Disciples were, lest not forget, improvising in the new spaces what they had been taught.

7. Ignoring ourselves. Not unlike the film, the final twist is played on the main character and the audience. The final ‘deadly sin’ in Youth Ministry is when we forget about being honest and kind and generous to ourselves. We help define youth ministry and youth work through our very actions with young people, our communication with churches, partnerships, agencies and schools, we also define it as a practice through the cultures of the settings we create, the young people we invest the most time in, creating healthy spaces for young people also starts with being healthy ourselves – not perfect- just healthy, self-care is important, and probably the most ‘deadly’ of them all on an individual youth ministry level.

Could I have included others, possibly. But what might be yours? Excluding obviously ‘critical blogging’….


Focussing on faithful performance, rather than management by numbers

The dawning of youth ministry in the 1980’s was heavily influenced by that  statistic, you know the one I mean, that every week 300 young people leave the church. This week articles from

and Ali Campbell have continued the ongoing almost obsession both within and outside of the church with measuring its life or health by Sunday attendance numbers. There are many others, i am just highlighting these two because they’re the most recent. The Guardian ran the piece yesterday too. There’s a graph almost every month depending on who’s got research being produced.

Everyone knows on one hand that statistics can be presented in a number of ways – however i wonder if one of the key flaws to the traditional discussion is the use of statistics, or at least the measurement of people by numbers at all, within the consideration of the state of religion or the nations religion.

a lesson from youthwork:

Youth work, which has claimed to be an art, a Moral philosophy (Kerry Young 1999), one of its key demises as a universal service has been caused by political interference in regard to youthwork needing to justify its existence through adhering to the political ideologies of neo-liberalism. These prioritised efficiency, value for money in tendering processes and essentially young people as numbers/commodities and as clients. Because youthworkers couldn’t fight back, neither could they force young people to attend or did they want to (due to the nature of the informal voluntary relationship that youthwork consists of) the game of political neo liberalism, and this ideology implemented by new public management has led to the closure of youth services (a practice underpinned by an art) – replaced horrifically by schemes such as NCS which act in a business, outcome way and view young people more akin to a problem to solve, which may work with young people, but is far from what might be considered artistic educative youthwork.

So, why this sorry tale?

If the maxim that once some thing can be measured it then lies itself open to be managed is accurate, then might the church in determining its success by numbers be opening itself up to the same political managerial forces that have currently decimated youth services?

Maybe not – but where might the dominant ideas regarding management be coming from?

What i mean is – does the fascination with the outcomes of faith performance (ie the activities of clergy , church) in light of ‘people-as-numbers’, reduce the acts christian faith to scientific management and outcomes determined performances?

Instead – as Vanhoozer states (2014:182) – should the aim be to ‘present Christ, not extend Christendom’  and  be encouraged to artistically perform creatively in contexts, produce mosaics and prosaics of liberative, flourishing acts, acts of sacrament, worship and theatre. Concern about numbers or status anxiety is probably correctly identified by vanhoozer as a “perennial threat to the church’s faithful performance ” and should it act in ways that seek to attract- use tools of the empire, or business strategies of ‘the world’  which will inevitably hinder or produce a certain type of growth or faith.

So – instead of attendance – and i reluctantly say this – what about focussing on performances of worship/church as creative and artistic, on dramatic performance. Might authentic faith follow?

Whether faith performance should be measured, and then be called to management from this perspective should hopefully be open to question.

Faith as art,  might reduce faith to acts of performance, akin to the redundant art museum, but art is too static, unlike the drama of ongoing present performance, so as i urge ‘art’ i mean ‘artistic’ or art as  contrast to science/numbers.

If numbers are required, why is the outcome of the action what is recorded? , In the weekly statistics on film takings, there’s two recognised, one for takings overall, and one for takings per cinema/showing. So, What about measuring numbers of performances? or variety of performances? or number of voluntary hours committed by church people in society, chaplain hours, youth ministry hours?.

If the issue is that reduction of attendance is a sign of increase secularisation, (Moynagh 2012) Then the church should adapt its performance from its actions on Sundays thus measuring aspects of church performance in decline and start to identify and produce evidence on a regular basis of the church’s good artistic and active performance in the UK society.

And if attendance is the statistic that counts, could that not include all services in churches, messy church, mothers union (the original fresh expression?!), Wednesday services and others.

The danger of numbers is that creative performance is stultified because creativity & goodness of performance is gauged through the lens of people attending church on one service on one day. As soon as performance is weighed down by ‘how many people attended it, or Sunday services only’ whether it be youth ministry, chaplaincy, messy church, toddler groups its reduced faith to people-as-numbers, rather than faith in people.

As Moynagh argues (2012), churches that put on varieties of performance do attract more people, but if its didn’t attract people would that not mean that it was appropriate.

The danger of management of churches that inherits management models that don’t reflect the values or acts of mission, but management concepts from business which deem efficiency, control and value for money as priorities, not a liberative or theological underpinning of management fit for the futuristic values of the church as faithful performance. If the old adage that going to Macdonalds doesnt make a person a hamburger, managing the church like a Macdonalds chain will not make for a healthy spiritual diet in the UK.