Start the new year remembering to focus on the ‘you’ part of your youthwork

Starting 2019 ; Start with thinking about you

This piece starts with a look at boundaries and how in faith based youthwork these can be blurred, causing a number of challenges, and at times not knowing how to react to a desire for professionalism and yet maintain relationships. This leads me to reflect on self care and how the same ‘blurriness’ of ‘vocation’ and ‘profession’ causes similar challenges to the person of the youthworker.

Firstly boundaries

Once derided for its amateurness compared to its ‘secular cousin’ state based youth work, Faith based youthwork has undergone a considerable transformation over the last 30 years. With the rise of qualifications, and professionalism, there has been a concerted increase in ensuring that faith based youth work has rigorous adherence with policies, procedures and guidelines, including child protection, health and safety and also boundaries. In the main, it has to be concluded that if this increased awareness and policy implementation has made our practices safer and healthier for young people then this is undoubtedly a good thing. However, we might reflect that faith based contexts are different to ‘non faith based contexts’ in a number of ways, and as such it could be accused that faith based contexts have almost gone too far in regard to policies and practices and lost some of their distinctiveness.

Yet at the same time, issues about personal boundaries regarding vocation, self care and sustaining our ministry and personal lives still remain. We might ask;

Q: What are the personal boundaries that you might need to manage if your house is the venue for the ‘young peoples’ homegroup ?

Compare your responses to this, when it is fairly unlikely that any young people will even know where the secular youth worker even lives or would even disclose this to young people.

The reason for suggesting this, is that if we’re not careful the aspects of faith based work, such as meeting in homes, might become lost, because of a desire of adherence to policies that are meant for places of employment.

Though at the same time, this is not that we are not aware of the risks and boundary issues of hosting a home based youth discussion evening, but these might be better managed to create a homely vibe and open discussion, something that the cold church hall may not be able to offer. So, whilst there is definitely a desire to ensure safety and that our practices cant be regarded as amateur, we would also do well to reflect on spaces where there is a distinctive approach open to a faith group, that shouldn’t be eradicated by a drift toward professionalism, but that it does need to be managed appropriately. If you are thinking of running a young peoples home-group, what would you need to consider? Both for you as the host, volunteers and also the young people who attend; in regard to boundaries?

Faith based contexts do operate from a different ethical framework, with a sacred text having a higher regard than what might be seen as beaurocratic policies, and yet on another hand policies and frameworks for practice have now been adopted by churches in the last 30 years then have often been reactionary, like government policies in the national arena, to incidents of child abuse such as the Victoria Climbie case. This is in no way to suggest that churches can relax about safety regarding children and protecting them, and this is crucial, and having policies to protect children is vital.

But this does not mean to say that some of the key practices of a faith context, such as a home group cannot happen. We might need to careful in fully adopting policies and frameworks meant for larger organisations, for schools or for secular youth work provision, and spend time developing our own, and those that reflect both the youthwork and faith values of our own organisation.

As a consequence setting and being aware of personal boundaries is a challenge. For, the nature of the youth and community work that you do is not restricted to the one building, even the church, and as a youth worker we do work within an emerging and often invisible set of values and guidelines which distinguish us from the teacher, doctor or social worker.

From a theological perspective we have used words like ‘incarnational’ and ‘relational’ to describe the style and nature of the youthwork that we do, we can often then be tempted to negate thinking about boundaries for our own sake, our long term sustainability and increase aspects of burnout and stress.

We might want to follow in the footsteps of pioneers before us, but we need to recognise that we are probably very new in the field and just learning our trade. Even the pioneers, yes even Jesus, did not spend every waking hour in the company of the crowds, or even his disciples, being relational and incarnational does not mean acting self sacrificially to the detriment of ourselves and negating personal boundaries.

But, and this is crucial, one key aspect of youth work is the ongoing professional relationship[1] this means that there may need to be continual negotiation of boundaries so that there is a professional relationship maintained, and that young people neither build up co-dependence, or are kept at such a distance that the relationship is meaningless.

Some of these questions were first recorded by George Goetchius and Joan Tash in 1964, in the write up (published in 1967) of their emerging youthwork in inner city London on the streets. As the team of volunteers started to encounter young people, the supervision and training that they developed focused on four different aspects of the work, the first being team work, the second defining the problem, the third aspect of the training they developed for youthwork focused on the aspects of the youth work relationship, as they asked the following questions:

  • What is a relationship?
  • How does it come about and why?
  • What can go wrong?
  • Why do the young people need relationships with us? [2]

We might also add the question: ‘Why do we want to have relationships with young people?’ and be honest about this. It is imperative that we think about our role, our intentions as youthworkers, and also the nature, style and objectives of the relationships that are built between us and young people, as reflecting on this will help us to understand what it is we are trying to and also who we are trying to be, with young people. If we understand what kind of relationship we, and our volunteers are trying to create with young people, its function, purpose and how this might be coherent with its nature, then we might find it easier to identify where issues might arise regarding personal boundaries.

Moving on to Self care – looking after the you of the youthworker in 2019;

In her chapter ‘Sustaining ourselves and our enthusiasm’ Carole Pugh[3] recognises the stress and challenge of being involved in youthwork, and the emotionally draining nature of relationships, of the complexity of decision making and management, and she gives a number of suggestions which may help us to sustain ourselves.

Firstly, Be aware of the pressure points. Youthwork can occur with few resources, limited long term security, ill equipped buildings and unpredictable volunteers and young people. As Pugh says a sense of hopelessness can lead to fatalism, it can be difficult to remain hopeful (Pugh, 2010, p145), and this can lead to cynicism or retreat to the ‘golden age’. As youthworkers we need to sustain a youthfulness that is hopeful and transforming, being fatalistic, is not in the best interests of young people. Sustaining ourselves means sustaining our outlook.

Secondly, Pugh suggests that we are more likely to sustain ourselves if we know ourselves, who we are, our intentions, capabilities and self awareness in regard to shaping and building relationships (as stated above). It is important to know why we might lose heart when we do, to identify the causes. Pugh suggests that we need to hear the ‘inner youth worker’ taking time and space to find, listen and to understand ourselves. A key area that Pugh identifies as a mechanism, to help in this process is to have good supervision which can help with coping, sharing the problem and creating strategies for overcoming. It could be something more practical that causes us to struggle, it is fairly likely that you will work in a cold office, but if you end up working for 3 or 4 days a week in a cold office in a building on your own, then this may be as or more challenging that the situation of the holiday club where the church is busy for the entire 5 days.

Another aspect to manage, is how we prioritise the tasks that we have, from the tasks that could be daunting, challenging and difficult, which might be funding bids, trustee meetings, strategy document making or reports, and whilst this might not sound like managing boundaries, sustaining ourselves is a key factor in sustaining ourselves, and if we are able to sustain ourselves which is something we can take some responsibility for, we might be in a better position as youthworkers to create the kind of relationships we want to if we begin to create examples of how and who we are in our practice. As Christians we might pride ourselves with trying to want to have some kind of moral integrity and aim towards this, and this needs to be shown in how we manage ourselves, tasks and being aware of our own strengths and weaknesses.

The complexity of Self care & Boundaries in faith based youth work

A helpful section on Boundaries within faith based youthwork is written by Simon Davies, within a chapter ‘The Management of Faith based youth work’ in Jon Ords edited text ‘Critical Issues in Youth work management’ (2012). In his chapter, Davies suggests that the notion of ‘Calling’ and ‘Vocation’ as one of the key factors that link a persons identity, values and aspirations with the occupation that they choose, and this has a resonance with how in a faith setting Christian faith based youth workers relate to their personal values and work life, but at the same time this can present complexities which require managing, especially where there is a separation or overlap of the following:

  1. The geographic community where the work is situated within
  2. The geographic community where the worker lives within
  3. The field of the personal (ie being in relationship with others, with young people)
  4. The field of the professional (the functions of the workplace)
  5. The field of the personally held ultimate beliefs (what the worker believes)
  6. The faith community (the public expression of commonly held ultimate beliefs)

Davies suggests, as was intimated above, that the professionalization of some aspects of faith based youth work has encouraged the separation of personal life and professional work, however this is not always the case, and for a youth work based almost entirely in a church/faith community based setting it will likely to be a frequent occurrence where many of these (and other aspects of boundaries) will overlap. It is nearly always preferable or expected that a worker live within the geographical area of the church building, not far from schools or even where young people live themselves, it may also be expected that a worker make use of their home or office as a point of contact with young people. When these situations occur, not only might boundaries be blurred, they may even cease to exist[4]

There can easily become a real difficulty in having such a dynamic congruence between ones fundamental beliefs and working life. As one worker put it:

‘if our vocation is central to your sense of identity, then difficulties within your vocation are going to have an impact on your sense of self, and vice versa’ (Richards, 2005: 141, from Davies, 2012).

Davies also suggests, building from research, that the over mixing of ‘work self’ and the ‘personal self’ can have significant impacts upon mental health and well being, especially if achievement, role and function become the centre ground in a persons life, rather than being in relationship. The often result of this is stress and burnout. This can also be revealed through being in a leadership position where affection is received from followers and those whom a youth worker has authority over, and this becomes the source of their sustenance.

As a faith based youth worker – what are you responsible for?

Managing professional and personal identity is an ongoing process, and supervision and line management is a necessary component in increasing youth workers awareness of the boundaries of their responsibilities and their well being. It is to be encouraged that you ensure as a new youth worker that you put in place good line management for yourself, and suggest that discussions about boundaries, time management, workload and relationships occur in line management, (and if not in some external professional supervision) especially as the immersion of young peoples lives and involvement in the Christian community that is often expected of a faith based worker.

By virtue of a comparison, the same research, by Lake (1960)[5] in reverse can actually help us especially in faith based Christian youth work.

Whitehead writes that instead of being sustained by achievement and status, we might see and hopefully reflect on Jesus who was sustained instead by his relationship with his Father, and his sense of confidence, status and achievement flowed out of this. An unhealthy ministry might prioritise a sense of achievement, status and popularity, and seek these through giving unconditionally, trying to please and comparing a ministry with others. Having an acceptance that our sense of acceptance comes not from ministry but from our relationship with God, and that we are created by God and have an eternal purpose that whilst requires action, is not subject to earning love or approval. Growing in our security of God and our relationship with him, and attending to the relationships we have with family and friends needs to be the source of how we are sustained. This is also a vital message with which to share with young people, as it is a healthy foundation of ministry[6]. Get this right, and it will become far easier to identify in ourselves and in others where there are un-healthy boundaries, as often these will be revealed as a consequence of trying to do ministry as a way of gaining acceptance , approval or connection and could be detrimental to themselves or others.

Oh and before you think im only lecturing, re reading this stuff over the last few weeks has been hugely helpful and therapeutic to me.

A few concluding notes: 

We might reflect that the stuff that looks like acceptance, status and popularity, are in a way negated with a closer adherence to what we might describe as ‘youthwork values’ – for if we truly are about empowering others, then our invisibility should be noted, not our desire to be visible, dominant and surround ourselves with gatherings, and find our ego massaged by numbers of people. As well, if we value individuals (again a youth work value) then this as a precedent looks closer to a sacrificial and humble attitude to put others first, a not unlike Biblical imperative. The danger then the issues in our self care and boundaries might be less to do with faith, or values, but the ecclesial practices and expectations of numbers gatherings and popularity, evident in some parts of youth ministry.

Its is as pertinent, that the very things that are indicators of poor self care, are emphasised by competitive and outcomes orientated funded and programmes. If projects and ministries are measured and managed by numbers, attendance then these overtake any sense of values, theology and ministry to individuals, often, and might even then exacerbate poor self care and being able to do this. Making ministry less humane, might make is worse for the ministers doing it too. If Management processes and outcomes are less about the human behind the number, then self care for the minister might become even more of an issue. And when i say minister i mean youth minister as well.

Its a long one to start the year, but I am convinced that in Ministry and practice with young people, with any people, we need to look after ourselves, recognise the aspects of our work that cause stress and put us into places where our self care may be about to be tested.

And finally I think this is beautiful from Howard Sercombe:

“At the heart of a good youth worker is a beautiful spirit, a quality of connection that is positive, hopeful, good. It is often that this is transformative, projecting a possibility that young people can see for a way that is different. But the situations that youth workers have to deal with are often not beautiful; we often confront horrifying neglect or abuse, disturbing levels of violence, naked hard core damage to people that we care for and respect, the wanton waste of human life. A youth workers quality of spirit needs to be nurtured, maintained and protected, the most important resource for the young people you work with… is you; intelligent, wise, compassionate, engaged, skilful, insightful, well informed, well connected, articulate, creative, productive, confident you. Creating and maintaining this beast in the midst of high pressure and often poor resource provision needs work and constant attention” (Sercombe H, 2010, p168-169)

Start 2019, not just with the youth programme sorted until Easter, but also the programme that looks after you, beautiful, intelligent, creative youthworker.

This article was derived from a piece I recently wrote for CYM on this subject, It was published a week ago via my patreon site: and so if you would like to receive my posts early, you can do so via that platform.


[1] Sercombe, Howard, The Ethics of Youthwork, 2010, p27

[2] Goetschius G, Tash J, Working with the Unnattached, 1967, pp242-244, Routledge and Kegan Paul Publishing, Liverpool

[3] Pugh, Carole, Sustaining ourselves and our Enthusiasm in Jeffs T, Smith M (eds) Youth work Practice , Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

[4] Davies Simon, The Management of Faith Based youthwork, pp148-161 in Ord, Jon (eds) Critical Issues in Youth work Management, Routledge, Oxford, 2012

[5] This is referred to both Davies, Simon, and Whitehead/Nash (below)

[6] Jo Whitehead, Sally Nash, Ten Essential Concepts for Christian Youth work, Grove Booklet, Y40, 2015


Youthworker: Are these your 20 superpowers?

Fast on the heels of last week’s piece on the 35 experiences of youthworkers comes this reflection on the superpowers that youthworkers are expected to possess, given the range of questions, reflections and comments about the last piece, it figures that youthworkers are expected to be superheroes? Doesnt it.. well at least they might have to at times possess all or some of the following:

1. To live off adrenaline after 3 60 hour weeks and a weekend residential at the end of them

2. To only take school holiday holidays but be able to find holidays they can afford without a teachers salary. Oh and plan 3 holiday club weeks and summer trips for the other weeks. And take that weeks holiday and switch off…

3. To become the manager of your own management group who may have 2 weeks youthwork experience between them. To manage upwards with no management experience (often)

4. To work with a smile even when there’s only 3 months funding left (a requirement for some funders who won’t fund projects with long term reserves)

Image result for youth worker superhero

5. To be able to take young people off the streets. Or get them jobs when there arent any.

6. To help young people like/persevere/cope with church* (*could also mean school) – or as one contributor suggested: ‘Be capable of fully explaining the reason why young people don’t attend church and fixing it without changing Sundays one bit’

7. To divert young people into being part of the capatalist system.

8. To be the only people left in the society who want to talk, sex drugs and alcohol with young people.

9. To provide young people with the tools for resilience, when they themselves might not be coping

10. To be able to retrieve information from every movie, song or sports event in the last 30-40 years and use it in conversation or for a session

11. To find the magic funder, that no one else has found , who will fund good youthwork and fund good salaries and core costs

12. To be amphibious and chameleonic – to be able to work in a number of settings whilst trying to be facilitative and almost invisible.

13. To be eternally youthful – even though they grow old – to never give up the fight for equality, against injustice and to maintain a view that transformation is possible – and not be resigned to fate.  (though that doesnt mean trying to be like young people’)  To keep pushing for something better…

14. To be ready to listen, to be ready with questions, to be ready with suggestions for conversations with young people – but maybe not ever ready with solutions and the ‘fix’

15. To empathise with those in structures like teachers and clergy who trust you in conversations – without thinking – ‘yeah I wish I had your problems that involved job insecurity and funding… ‘Image result for youth worker superhero

16. To get stuff for free on discount, like trips and activities – be the great convincer or bargainer – then the great apologetic when the young people trash the venue.

17. To have the endless time to commit to your own ongoing CPD, further reading, studying, career development and fund your own retreats.

18. To be able to say no to a young person without offending them and maintaining the relationship

19  To do all what you do that young people and volunteers see, with next to no need for any planning (at least thats what your timesheet says)

20 To manage other peoples expectations of what you’re actually able to do

and an extra…

21. To have the ability not to get caught reading this blog during your work day


What ones do you have? Which ones do you need right now? Which ones might help see you through this weekend? 

You are a superhero, regardless if you dont think you possess all of these things, as what tends to happen if that you’ll find a way to be able have these superpowers and grow into them. Its just sort of what happens. You rise to the next level, in the new situation you find yourself, whether that’s managing volunters, staff, funding, or strategising, or working in schools or developing a project. Thats the true mark of the superhero youthworker, you rise into the roles, and well, as Freire said, make the road by walking them.

what superhero powers would you add? 



Because Im not a superhero, and do my writing and reflecting as a hobby, I would appreciate any gift or donations to this ongoing site and my consultancy work. if you are able to make a donation towards this work, please do so, either by donation directly to my UK account  click here for the details. Or you can make a donation via Paypal, just click the button below.

Thank you in advance, and thank you for sharing and reading these pieces.

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The church is currently in crisis – so why should it support its children and youth workers?

Since the 1990’s, when many professionally or should i at least say, employed by churches youth and childrens workers entered the scene, their pay and conditions have always been less than that of the clergy. A quick skim through previous editions of youth work magazine and adverts for youthworker roles proved this (i did this exercise in a post here…)

There may be several reasons for this. Including that pay may be distributed in churches in accordance with deemed hierarchy, with youth and childrens workers lower in the pecking order than clergy, but slightly higher than admin staff or the cleaner (though a cursory glance at some current adverts and this may now not even be the case, with youth workers only being paid the ‘living wage’). Also if clergy have line management responsibilities, should it not stand to reason that youthworkers get paid less, sometimes. And pay is only half the issue.

As Ali Campbell pointed out in this piece in the church times ‘Youth and Childrens workers need a better deal . There is in a way nothing new here. But in the 1990’s when the church, and youth ministry was potentially on a higher crest of a wave than it is now, very little strategic, systematic, visionary thinking was acted on to concrete core structures in churches to give youth and childrens workers a better deal then. And they continued to leave in their droves, and be burned out by the experience. Many only lasting 2 years max.

So, now. The church is in crisis. Lurching from one set of falling attendance statistics to another, trying to fix itself through growth mindsets and snazzy initiative that are being bought into, lets have Gods kingdom actually come, rather than be sold it as  programme. Gods kingdom might actually come if youthworkers were treated better, fancy that. Because that would mean that people were being employed with a little more dignity and in deficit of a little less stress, both financially.Image result for crisis

I go to a small church. It cant afford any professional leader, ie to pay a clergy, let alone to pay me as a youthworker, so this is no plea from me without any first hand knowledge. If the discussion Ali is having is for the church of England (and I am not sure it is), then the situation in other denominations is considerably more dire, when congregations, rather than affiliations bear the brunt of entire costs and legality. But the church is in crisis isnt it?

The crisis the church faces itself is not necessarily or merely of finances. It is of poor leadership and lack of risk taking imagination. It has always been the case that the roof is needing to be fixed in a building that less and less people are going to use. Fix the roof, paint the walls, fix the heating, change the screen, use new hymns, erect a noticeboard, clean the windows, be the perfect church building that no one has any connection with in the local area. this isnt new.

Without any relationship with a local community, there is no point fixing a building. And who are most likely to be the people who spend most of their time, in the local community – yes probably a youth or childrens worker, in a school, a community centre, on the streets. But thats not to say that the building isnt important either, when it can be used for the local community, and a worship space to connect us all into the ongoing story of Gods redemption, and where the building may also play its own part.

The church is not in crisis. Isnt it spending a considerable amount of money on the latest model of doing church? The getting the church right model, which hopes to resource other not so great models around it, before they get reduced to closure? Seems alot for a coffee machine and a contemporary band. If only it was that simple. So, the church is not as much in crisis, as it is, using its resources in a way that seems back to front. Sort the church, sort out mission. Why not invest in mission and see what emerges – because thats a risk. And until that point anyone doing mission is underground, ignored and talking about what theyre doing only to themselves. Find me active clergy at youth work conferences who stay and listen, or bishops who go to mission conferences, who stay and listen. Show me the church that re ordered around its foodbank, its childrens work or its youthworker? Joined up thinking could have been better, the whole body of the church seems not always to pull together, or be included in the pulling together. The church may be in crisis, and financial reports from the leeds diocese this week even give some credence to this, yet in the order of the cutbacks which in many cases is first to go?

So, Youth and Childrens workers, we need to keep up the ‘fight’ – just like our secular colleagues are hammering the labour party for a re-ignition of the statutory youth services, we need to justify ourselves even more, and build on what has already been established.Youth workers have worked – now the church needs to back it, regardless.


Of course it is far easier to moan than it is offer any real solutions. But I hope that the real solutions are being considered by those who have power to make those things happen.

If its about line management, training for clergy or supervision, im happy to help, if its about some kind of task force, working group or conversation for change for youth and childrens workers, again count me in. Even if every church who employs a youth and childrens worker did one or two extra things to add value to the role (and my previous post gave some ideas) , but we also not to kid ourselves that there’s a magic money fig-tree with the pots of gold for youthworker salaries – though in individual scenarios there could be housing, or pensions or priorities given to fund the youth and childrens worker, over ‘general funds’ – or dare i say it reserves being spent.

There is unlikely to be a one size fits all way out of the current crisis the church is narrating about itself, prioritising youth and childrens work, may be more about social good and community good than church growth – but that is no bad thing in itself, after all isnt generosity part of Gods kingdom being come? Investing in Childrens and youth work a while ago gave the possibility that a number of current bishops could find faith and continue with being leaders in the church 40 years later – so why not invest in that same supply chain. The church needs to be meaningful in its local communities, investing in those who are present in it and listening seems to me like the best way, and that also includes the clergy.

Why should the church, in a current flux of crisis, support its childrens and youthworkers better?

Are you really telling me this is a question we are still asking…

If a growth mindset is needed – then surely investing better in the youthfulness of children and young people is going to help? – even if i shudder at the thought of this being what children and young people help to make churches feel.

When was the last time you had reflective supervision for your youthwork? never? Well if its helpful, start today with the following questions:

The chances are that you’re involved in some kind of work with young people, after all thats what this blog is all about, and most of the people who read this are youthworkers, paid or voluntary in a variety of settings. So, the chances are that you’re involved in this ongoing unpredictable vocational task of trying to educate/support/guide/challenge young people through the purposeful relationship that you have with them. And its challenging isnt it? some/most/all of the time (delete as appropriate)

What about a second assumption.

The chances are that you have faced some kind of reduction to your budget over the last 5 years, thats if you have one. If you’re a volunteer, maybe there used to be a paid worker in the church, if you’re a youthworker you used to have a training budget, or if you’re actually still in a paid professional youthwork job, just well done for having it (and no budget to make anything happen). But in the main, (unless you work for NCS) your youthwork has had some kind of reduction in the last few years. Right? at least half right? Yeah i thought so.

So, the chances are, that as a youthworker, you have barely any reflective supervision or support for your work?

the youthworker who used to supervise you- has now left

the external supervision you used to get – you cant afford, it was a luxury anywayImage result for supervision

no one in the congregation really takes an avid interest in the youthwork, thats why you do it.. all they hope for is young people on a sunday or staying out of trouble..

There seems not to be anyone who spends time doing the listening anymore.

And who is thinking about your development? – not just the development of the outcomes, or the goals of the group?

And not just that, its the sounding board, the ideas space, the reflective questions back.

Having someone to help with the ongoing reflective practice has been deemed a core part of youth work practice since the 1960s, yet fast forward a number of years and it was seen as barely important in faith settings mostly, and a luxury in more secular settings. At least its shifted from personal development to managing the outcomes and goals (Ord, 2012)

And the first thing to go when the budgets got tight.

Yet good supervision can do a number of things (and supervision is different from management, or at least management can also include supervision, see my other posts on this topic for more)  but good supervision as Joan Tash described in ‘Working with the unattached’ deems supervision to be an ‘experimental relationship’ in which the dreams and ideas of the worker have a space to circulate, fester and be talked through.

Image result for supervision

So what happens when thats lost?

who is losing out? – well you are…

Supervision for the youthworker/volunteer is a space for support, for education and also direction (Jon Ord, 2012), that often happens outside of the management relationship (though it could occur within it). And so, that supportive, educative and directive function may be lost for the person involved in the ongoing practice, and its a reflective practice of youthwork.

Today is Wednesday.

What are your thoughts on the youth fellowship from Sunday evening? How did it go? Or the detached session on friday? what about the schools session you did today?  how did it go – how are you feeling about it? how might the young people?

They might be the questions you allow yourself in thinking about the few hours of that bit of youthwork, then onto the next one, or for the volunteer, back home to put the kids to bed, do the washing up, switch on the tv, breathe and recover and think about work for the next day. Quash the potential insight, wisdom or ideas , life moves on us quick.

So, if being supervised is a kind of experimental relationship – what about giving it an experiment in itself and try having supervision digitally?  What might that look like for you?

Dont be too freaked out… below are a number of questions and instructions, that might help you think and reflect upon your latest or series of latest pieces of youthwork practice. All you need to do, is use the questions to write down, either using pen or whatever means, a response, a story, questions, comments, ideas – and then use these reflections as your own shaping of supervision, done through digital, rather than face to face.

It wont get personal, just keeping it to do with your practice. Find a space, grab a coffee, have a seat, and think about whats going on with the youthwork that you’re doing at the moment. You might want to focus on one of the groups, one of the young people, one situation over the weekend. Ill pose a number of questions here, with comments and spaces for you to spend some time on your own just thinking through them, and writing down responses.

So here goes (if you want to avoid this, then skip to the final paragraph) , no pressure, this is optional and in your time.


Starting question ; What is it you would like to talk about with whats going on in the youthwork at the moment? What are the things that are plaguing your thinking about whats happening? – what would you like to explore further..?

..write them down, take your time, theres no rush… 


Now Pick one of these things

Now, go a bit further on this one thing

Give it a bit more thought, why is it troubling you, or energising your thoughts – describe it in a bit more detail – are there many sides to the issue? or perspectives?

is there more understanding that you require – and from whom?

ill give you space to write some of these reflections and sentences down



As a result of this – is there something that needs to or could change? what could be done differently? what change might you need to implement?

write these down

who might be affected by the change? how might you be affected by it? how might young people be? How involved should they be in making a change? are there best or better ways that change could be implemented?   Think some of these through

How do you feel about the scenario, about the scenario at the time and what do you learn from these feelings?

Thats one particular direction…

What if it isnt a problem, but its an idea that you have instead? 

Then in a way its the same questions – about developing it, thinking it through, working out how and who’s idea it is – thinking though the values of youthwork such as participation and empowerment and how your idea encourages these things.

From here i cant say whether I would go along with or suggest an alternative to your idea – but think about it like this – put yourself in the position of the young people in the group – how might they react to a leader doing what you’re about to do?  Maybe refine it or test it out – or share with others in the volunteer team and discuss it further

how might your idea, or change, or issue start to have an impact on the relationships you have with the young people? will it hinder, damage or develop and encourage? Is it a risk worth taking at the moment? Or a risk for the relationship to be tested on?

Do you have to implement the change or the idea at all?  Is a ‘Red light’ and stop needed to be heard? or Amber and its spent time in further discussion for a while, or green and give it a go, a trial, a test.

Lets change the direction a little, if i asked you ‘what are you learning at the moment?’ what would you say?

about yourself?

about an individual young person? – about the whole group?

about power?

about participation and barriers?

about the local community?

about attitudes?

about being a volunteer or paid youthworker?

about the resources you’re using?

about the nature of the space created?

about the abilities of young people?

stop and think for a moment on what you’re learning, and what you might all as a team of volunteers be learning, all the time. You never stop learning and observing in youthwork practice, its good to stop and acknowledge it and share it.

it is good to stay curious and humble about what we do or dont know (Jon Ord, 2012)

What about what you’re learning in what you’re reading and challenging yourself with? away from practice? Is there a theory, an author, a journal, a blog, a sacred text, a conversation that got you thinking, that has spurned thoughts, or ideas that is challenging you, your practice and your way of thinking and perspectives? How are you being channelled and challenged yourself? and if this isnt happening – do you need to make space for it?

And finally – What do you do next? Whats the next steps?

Do you need to reframe your goals and objectives? Do you need to put in place training, for yourself or others? do you need to have a conversation with someone about something? what might you need to do as a result of thinking through this one particular idea or issue?

write them down..

But dont just write the down – when are you going to do these things? Set yourself a deadline! 

If its that important to worry about and chat through, then isnt it worth doing something about it, i would think so

Maybe keep a journal or write further, having started to think through these things, reflective practice and supervision go hand in hand, and its important to keep the channels open to learning, and especially personal learning which can often be our own responsibility to do.

And now as you close this process take a moment.

Reflect again on thinking through this.

Where you started and where you got to. Think for a moment about the group, the young people, the conversations, the volunteers, reflect on something that makes it sparkle, gives it life, a moment of discovery and learning, a moment of joy. Thats a moment to take heart, a moment to remember and be assured that you’re doing a good think, even despite what might be a current challenge in a different aspect of it. Hold on to those moments. the moments when a young person surprises ( because of our lack of expectation or fear), where a volunteer does something impressive (because they took a risk) , where the group develops their own idea (because they were given space to play and be creative and creators), for all of these things, or the things you are thinking about now, be assured in the small transformations that you are making.

Repeat again? And set a date to this again? sometime? – Same place? – this post will always be here.

Come back again sometime.

If you are now able to share your reflections with others, or need to then do, maybe its another volunteer, a line manager, the vicar, or someone to talk through now as you may have more clarity over an issue, over an idea and what you might need to do about it.

I am hoping that was helpful for you. Even if it gave you questions or a framework to use for yourself or others in the volunteer group.



The process is very much following through the reflective process and cycles of Kolb, that include concrete experience, reflection and thinking, attending to feelings and then renewing/changing action. Image result for kolbWith bringing into that cycle external learning, theoretical understandings and previous experiences. If you are being a youthworker in a faith context then that understanding of community, humanity, education and ministry also shapes the responses – as well as being a formational tool to inspire and realise. In a way this is where reflective practice meets practical theology – (but thats a whole different discussion.). So Supervision is your opportunity to reflect, gather thoughts, dream and experiment. It should include aspects that are educative, directive and supportive,  to help with development of practitioners – rather than be merely task focussed, and be helpful in developing your experiences, and also the experiences and relationship that you have with young people. You may also be able to use similar questions with young people as you help them reflect on their day to day lives.

So, there may not be money floating around for the quality relationships, and enhancing the quality – where good supervision might be helpful in the ongoing unpredictable process of youthwork and developing those within it to be it.  Maybe even having this conversation internally and reflecting might be half helpful for free, and if it is ‘half-helpful’ then thats great.

If this has been helpful and you can afford to receive supervision in person, it is something I can offer and so do contact me here , some national youthwork agencies like FYT also offer this especially for those groups connected to their community of youthwork practitioners, Streetspace.


Some, only a few, resources on supervision are here:

Working with unnattached youth : Goetchius and Tash, 1967

Rebalancing Supervision , Cooper, Grace, Griffiths and Sapin, In Ord, Jon Critical Issues in Youthwork Management, 2012

Sustaining ourselves and enthusiasm by Carole Pugh in Jeffs and Smith (ed) Youth work Practice, 2010

Theres a few other articles on supervision on this website, in the Management Section, have a look around!


As usual apologies for the adverts below this line:


When so many youthwork jobs are staying vacant – whats going on?

And i dont just mean the underpaid roles. Image result for situation vacant

I mean good solid, permanent, well paid, interesting roles in creative cities and projects. All going unfilled , all in the last 18 months. Sitaution vacant seems to be common.

This has been relayed to me time and time again over the last 4 years since I have been in the North East, but it was also a problem in the south west.

Are there just no youthworkers around who are looking for new jobs, new roles or are wanting a change?

At Durham YFC we had difficulty filling roles, as have churches, community groups and projects in the north, my surprise also, has been the amount of roles i have heard of not being filled in Scotland also, at projects with very good people. My experience and knowledge does not extend too far in the southern end of the UK, to know the employment scene down there. Though from what i hear its not so different.

At the same time, there’s 1000 people, maybe many youthworkers signed up to be going to the national youth ministry weekend later in the year. At least theres 1000 people working with young people there… how many of them are in the employment scene? At least thats a snapshot of some numbers in the scene. However, the curious lack of filling roles recently, causes a few questions to be asked.Image result for situation vacant

  1. Is this universal? Many in the north/north east/north west – talk about being unable to fill youth and ministry roles. Bishop of Burnley talks about a clergy gravitational pull to the south (and this is where, excluding Durham) many theological training courses are. But how common is the ‘unfilled’ youth work/ministry post say in the Home counties, or shropshire or Kent? Or are these posts, with a decent salary filled without a problem?  I literally do not know. But wonder.
  2. Is the reduction in college courses now biting. Less newly qualifieds entering the arena for youthwork employment, therefore less people to employ, also less spaces to advertise. Is there just not the workforce, and can those who are qualified look for roles in hotspots and where they want to, and be picky? But is the gradual reduction in workforce now having an effect?
  3. Has the moving for a 2-3 year role stopped? Its not something I would be willing to do ever again. So if people are reluctant to move, then theres going to be some serious upskilling of local people to fulfill the requirements of job descriptions in some areas.
  4. Those who did move have now got homes, teenagers in schools, feel called to an area, and if there isnt a huge number of newly trained workers, willing to move and take a risk somewhere new, then this could be a major issue.
  5. Is the pay not good enough? Id agree in some cases. But in others, recently there were 4 roles on premier youth childrens work, all over £25,000 – so this seems more than reasonable (just depends on their location) In this post here, there are some shocking low paid roles, and even today on some denomination sites some youthworkers are being paid very little above the living wage. Shocking.
  6. It could be that this isnt a new problem. Theres probably more situations of ‘we need to get a youthworker’ than there are youthworkers around, or at least there was, and so theres a residual over capacity.
  7. Maybe its a problem of expectation – being a first person in a role, following a really good person in a role, working for a church with a ‘reputation’, working for a project that is so ‘out there’ and trying to be ‘original’ and ‘radical’ all the time. It could be too much pressure…?

Related imageFrom the perspective of the prospective new employer, church, organisation, community group, this situation can then cause a bit of a headache. Imagine the example of the church who want to reach out to their community, do a lot of leg work, raising funding, creating employment process and management, advertise, maybe even find accommodation – only then for no one to appear, when this has been the pathway all along. Or, what of the situation in a church where there has been a youthworker to do a lot of activity, maybe schools work, detached or partnership work, and this position remains unfilled. But getting a youthworker, praying for a youthworker, and expecting a youthworker, almost feeling like a place on this basis (dare i say it) deserves a youthworker , when this doesn’t happen, is an issue. Its one thing asking the question what a church or group doesnt when a youthworker leaves, its another when the expected person didn’t even arrive, when many people are gearing up for it.

Stuff would have been held back – we’ll wait for the youthworker to help us with that

People will have been denied a space – the youthworker will do all this for us

Super -person is waiting just around the corner… but doesnt arrive…

And some of this is implied through the actions of trying to find and appoint someone, rather than what is explicit, but and ive said it before, employing someone can have a disempowering effect, when there might be other opportunities to grow and develop those within, taking significant risks.

In her book Young people and the church since 1900 (2018), which no one is going to read because it is £100, Naomi Thompson describes how a capatalist approach is often used when a youthworker works for a faith based organisation, that essentially they are employed on a payment by results, bums on seats. Or, as likely, they get given the stuff no one wants to do, or be trained up in to do – youthwork – and receive few volunteers, support and structures. But those days are long gone arent they, no church treats a youthworker like that anymore do they….(especially not an underpaid one…)  I say this just to reiterate that the crest of a youthwork wave is on its way down… the enthusiastic have become battle weary and some of the markers of its success have faded..

There might be other reasons, too, but from the point of view of the advertiser, what do you do with a constantly unfilled role? 

Options like rewording the documents, re-advertising, trying to advertise in other places are all legitimate and common and a good shout for after a few times of not finding someone, or even getting applicants. (And for a small fee id be happy to have a look through the documents and give you some advice, but i cant magic up youthworkers)

but what if the reality is, is that there just isnt the youthworkers in the mixing pot anymore?  

though the other reality might be that all the youthworkers are concentrated in some areas of the UK. 

It is as much of a reality that, at the same time as churches feeling like a youthworker is needed in an area (because the statutory youthwork has been removed), as the same churches have less resource to do this work, due to aging population and a myth that youthwork occurs be being young, the need stimulates action to act- at the same time the other part is that the courses, colleges and opportunities to train and ‘get qualified’ are reduced. Communities are needing a church based youthworker more than ever, yet at the same time the scene has dropped out with colleges and courses closing.

Might central funding help colleges and courses increase, if demand is clearly there? Go on church commissioners – fund some youthwork training!

Of course, paying someone well, also means asking for qualifications and experience. Its become a bit of a circle.

Can churches take a gamble and try different approaches? might it be good to develop ongoing apprenticeship and learning posts?

is there a different way to employing the full timer? 

Training is possible in areas, and new areas if there was demand for it – and so would one-two day training be possible in roles. What about digital youthwork/theology training for areas where rural/distant travel is too much of an ordeal? Is it better to invest some of the salary on an external person to train up someone who is in the area already and pay for their education fees (if there is suitable courses available). Im sure there could be are other options too. Maybe the trick is not to start with only one option in the first place – the default we’ll get a youthworker to do this

I realise I may not be speaking for all the sector, the country in terms of the availability of youthworkers to the roles. If theres queues outside churches in the south because of the high level of applicants for roles, then this isnt a world that i am seeing, or speaking of.

It is more that trying to make every role seem ‘exciting’ ‘dynamic’ and ‘pioneering’ because every advert for a youthworker says the same. Everything is exciting, pioneering and challenging. Changing the wording isnt going to magically generate youthworkers. And a frustrating time of waiting continues.

They say in housing whether theres a sellers or buyers market. At the moment, its probably a buyers market in the youthwork world, with few youthworkers and much choice. Yet at the same time, there are places where there are youthworkers and limited choice. Like the housing market it has regional variations.

So – whats going on in the scene? And what might the future scene need to look like?


Is this a universal problem in the UK?  Are there posts unfilled in every diocese?

Who are the people willing to move to an area for a role – have youthworkers stopped doing this?

On average, if you’re trying to fill a youthwork role – how many times have you have to re-advertise?

Is a north/south divide too lazy – is it more complicated than that?



Thompson, Naomi, (2018) Young People and the church since 1900.



Some advert below reminding you that this site is free, but the cost is this advert. Apologies. Also a gentle reminder that if theres stuff i can try and help you with, including training volunters in churches, so that finding the elusive youthworker might not be your only option, then do please get in touch. Id love to hear from you to help you develop sustainable relational youth work.

Youthworkers should have higher salaries than Clergy, heres 14 reasons why:

So I have lit the proverbial touch paper this week, with a post that looked at the rate of pay of church based youth workers over the last 20 odd years. Pay that ranged from 12,000 in 1998 to 24,000 in 2005 (one church only)- all the rest were nearer £19,000. Many questions emerged from the discussions on it such as

  • Why should churches adopt the JNC pay scales, its a different paradigm? 
  • Churches arent adopting the JNC scale like they used to, neither are they asking for qualified, its as if they want youth work on the cheap? 
  • £12,000 is shocking!
  • How do these compare with youthworkers in faith based organisations instead of churches? 
  • Is it better to have low pay in a church than higher pay in an organisation and then be ‘forced’ to find your own funding for the role. (NB a task that even more youthworkers in churches are having to do anyway) 
  • You think this is bad, try being a childrens worker …
  • Has anyone actually put a value or price on what is reasonable salary for the work (and the same can be said for many roles in church) 
  • You think this is bad, what about the gap year students…

And there were a few others, some you can find on my facebook page, some of these are for a different day, or in the comments below on that particular post, a link to it is here: ‘Are youthworkers paid peanuts?‘ . However, a stand out comment, was on twitter, that compared the salary both then and now of clergy salaries, compared to youthworkers, and also what youthworker salary has to pay for. It was also said by someone, a member of the clergy no less that a youthworker should have a stipend, rather than salary, with the same tax benefits. So, the debate rumbles on, though i fear that the stable door for equalising youthworker pay with clergy might have bolted somewhat. Though soon with the closure of many youth worker courses there wont be many specialists left. But still young people leaving the church by the dozen. So, from a purely financial salary perspective, not including add ons or extras, and as a result of the discussions over the last 36 hours, I have put together the following list of all the reasons why a youthworkers salary should be higher than the senior clergy. Even if often the ‘youthworker cant be paid more than the clergy as it would be wrong’ – actually it might be wrong the other way around. For these reasons:


  1. Housing. They, a youthworker has to pay for their own – This is at least £600 month
  2. Utilities. They have to pay for their own – For many at least £120/month
  3. Council Tax….ok so you see where I am going with this, same reason as 1 & 2. 
  4. If the church is employing a youthworker ‘because it doesnt know what to do about young people’ then surely this expertise needs to be numerated accordingly?
  5. It would create a culture where youth work role might be seen as a proper ministry in the church, or it might…
  6. It may stop the small but significant flow of really experienced youthworkers furthering their vocation to also increase salary by becoming ordained and keeping experienced youthworkers in one place to work with young people over a long term. (emphasis on ‘It may’ as i know many dont make this leap for the money, maybe itll stop those heading to teaching instead)
  7. The youthworker has to find their own support, supervision and training, by the notion that often the pastor/minister has most of this laid on for them by the diocese/affiliation, then surely then the youthworker needs to be paid more for taking this responsibility.
  8. The youthworker should have the highest salary, because it is a more specialised role.
  9. Neither does a youthworker get bursaries for laptops, clothing and other equipment when they finish their training- they pay for these themselves. 
  10. A youthworker is employed to help keep and grow the church, because this is why they are often employed. With great responsibility should also come great pay (to obliterate the quote from spiderman)
  11. On many occasions the youth worker actually supports and helps the pastors, and not the other way around, with thinking on mission, conversations, approaches and community work – again this is barely recognised it is knowledge and networks the whole church benefit from not the ‘yoof’. 
  12. Supply and demand. There’s more jobs than there are youth workers, depending on the part of the country, that kind of competition should be ramping up the salaries.
  13. The youthworker will have a student loan to pay off for their studies, often. Clergy probably have (in the cofe) their studies paid for. (unless of course a youth worker isnt paid enough that they have to start paying it off) 
  14. The youthworker, like the clergy is never off duty, but never says that they are ‘on call’ either – part of their work deliberately includes the non-session time. 

Some of these are legitimate, others with tongue firmly in cheek, so bear with me a little. I know also that not every clergy/minister/pastor will have all of the things that are mentioned here, and work part time very sacrificially, this is quite true. It is also as true also that far far less youthworkers have any of these things. Though jobs with housing seemed more popular in the 1998 editions of youth work than recently, Maybe housing was cheaper then… And there will be easily arguments that clergy salary should be higher especially from clergy.

I wonder whether however, the issue is less about pay, and more about how much of the pay that the youthworker might actually see, especially when housing and utility costs are taken into account, and often these are paid for by the local church or diocese, not always, but often. And clergy who leave parish posts for diocese posts have a bit of a shock when the bills actually start coming through, as do ‘house repairs’. But pound for pound, this isnt a judgement on roles and the value of each role, but when it comes to deciding in a local church about how much a youth worker salary is, maybe it is time to think, actually how much will we pay them so that they can actually afford to live and live relatively comfortably in the parish, and not have to pay 1/2 their salary on rent or mortgage (ha ha, if you can get one).

So, consider the touch paper lit even more, not out of trying to be antagonistic, but maybe think about it – what kind of ministry amongst people, usually vulnerable young people are we creating, that is shaped in a way that causes financial tension and stress for the employee, before they even leave their front door to work with young people. I know money is tight everywhere, or at least in some quarters it is (though prioritising funding on mission and salaries might just be more important than office blocks and temporary quick fixes.

Maybe it would be a prophetic statement of the church, in an age when young people and youthwork is cut to the bone and young people continually derided for societies ills, that says that it is going to invest heavily and consistently on youthwork provision. Maybe. Statement that young people are actually important. You never know.

Oh and maybe in some churches youthworkers do have higher salaries, but there cant be many.

Pay youthworkers the same as clergy, yeah, and see the number of jobs for youthworkers shoot through the floor..


‘Your strategy’s on fire’- why youthworkers have an STI and its not to do with Sex.

Im not sure the Kings of Leon would have had such a hit with that one.

I think Youth Ministers have a Strategic Thinking Inability, and here is why;

I meet a lot of youthworkers in a variety of places, what are great at what they are good at, and good especially at the things that they thought that youthwork (and youth ministry) was all about. The busy, active, fun, relationship building of developing a great rapport with young people. Every week is a new week of planning, making, meeting, listening, understanding and connecting with young people. Sessions need planning, Subjects and topics need deciding, volunteers need meeting, a few reports need writing. But all in all, for many who choose the narrow path of being a youthworker, there might be much that is done well, much that is in the default DNA of a youthworker .

To accompany the default activist youthworker is the industry of those who support and maintain the resource of this person, seminars on self care, ready to use materials on discipleship and much much more. Usually Sex. Often Sex. If talking about sex with young people, and the broader conversation of sexuality, gender and relationships, was an industry, then im sure someone might be making a packet out if it. Sex in youth ministry chat is the big seller. And for every youthworker especially in the church, being prepared to talk about sex, and being prepared to try and know more about sex is what is kind of expected. (because often no one in the church really wants to do it- i am convinced thats the reason why youthworkers are employed more than ever). It can feel like Sex is the make or break in a youth ministry setting, given the amount of time that seems to be dedicated to talking about it. (or at least in he church at least). Theres even evidence to back this up, or at least there has been some evidence done to show that resources on Sex are what the church needs more than ever. (as a quick plug, my review of Gemma Dunnings book on LGBT and teenagers is here: ).

Talking about sex, talking about anything, with young people for the youthworker might just be their bread and butter, their default. As long as theyve got some information, a bit of an idea of the group and knows them and can shape a programme around them, then actually a youthworker is often in their comfort zone. Often, not always, and not every youthworker is the same. But largely. Its what many of us came into the ‘business’ to do.

Its not talking about sex that is going to cause the biggest issue for a youthworker.

Its talking about strategy. Image result for strategy

And planning. or methods of planning

And thinking above the level of the busy-ness

Its putting the head above the parapet every now and again. 

Its not really knowing what it is we’re doing and being unable to really write it down as a plan. 

Its not really knowing whats going on to be able to think how it is ‘working’ – but it is

Its not giving time to ask the difficult questions – how can I/we do things better/more theologically? 


Talk about Sex in youth work and ministry is easy, everyone wants to talk about it. No one wants to talk about strategy. Yet its not what comes as a default for many many potentially good youthworkers – who arent afforded the chance to become good youthworkers because they’re so stuck in the ongoing swim of the current. (metaphorically, though literally for the river based youthwork practice) . No one wants to talk about strategy. In the same way no one talks about management, closing ministries and what happens during the process of feeling like a failure. (though i have tried, my piece is here:

Thinking strategically doesnt usually come naturally to many a youthworker. Thinking strategically doesnt come naturally to many in christian ministry at all. Because usually it is so boring. It sounds like admin. Its sound like something someone else should do (whilst the youthworker does the fun stuff). It sounds so dull. I guaruntee if there was a series of seminars on ‘Sex and Young people’ it would be packed out. A series on ‘developing strategy in youthwork’ and theres a feint whistle of emptiness as two people turn up. Strategy isnt Sexy, but neither does it feel important.

But it is. Well it isnt sexy, but it is important.

And it is even more important is its something that hits you like a bolt out of the blue, when someone asks:

do you have a strategic plan for the youth ministry in the church? 


‘The diocese would like you to have  strategy on how we meet the archbishops strategic priorities’


‘we just need you to have a plan for what you’re doing – can you present it to the next PCC?’


‘can you come up with a plan for how to stop young people leaving the church, in the whole of the UK?’


right, you said we need money for the youth group – do you have a strategy for this?’ Image result for planning

It is often at this point that the youthworker is now outside their comfort zone. Talking about sex with a group of teenagers was easy compared to writing some kind of strategy, plan or proposal – where do you start? , And there is literally tons of resources on developing programmes, and approaches and personality and faith withing youth ministry – but where is there a resource on strategic planning?  its not often talked about in ‘youthwork’ magazine for example.

At that point thinking about strategy is in the ‘needed, important and urgent’ category. Unfortunately its also in the Panic category as someone else wants to see it, and soon. Its becomes more dreaded and more important than last nights ‘sex talk’ with the youth group – this has ’employment expectations’ written all over it. This asks us to plan, to think creatively, to show organisation, to think about risks, about evidence, about aims and objectives, it becomes not good enough to say that people showed up to the youth group now, it means that we think more than this. And, given that ‘developing a strategic plan’ isnt part of any school curriculum, this could be the first time that its been a personal requirement.

The other panic, is that not only does it need to be thought through. It needs to be written down, again what does a strategy look like?  I remember once the feeling of abject despondency when i had tried to write up a strategy for youth ministry for a church vision day, and also a church leaders meeting the following month. What i ended up doing was sharing with the whole church a series of ideas, theories and dreams. It may have been colour coded and used great phrases – but it wasnt what was expected. However – it could have been – because for some organisations they operate on dreams and vision – others want plans, processes and detail. In the development of strategy it is worth knowing what might be expected. Though, trust me, no one will be able to actually help you, often presenting a strategy or plan is a sink or swim moment, and guidance is usually limited.

It can feel very embarrassing when you get strategy wrong. Especially if you have tried really hard to think creatively and passionately about your ministry and that of the church, and also have dreams and ideas about what is to happen next. (something often members of the church dont even do that well) . On other occasions its not the lack of detail in the strategy, its that the strategy is going in the ‘wrong’ direction, to the churchs or organisations priorities. At this point it might be worth contemplating your own life or vocation choices with someone who you can do this with, especially if you do have dreams and ideas that now seem different to your employer (that were’nt before) .

However, these might be the result of the strategy. The issue in youth ministry is that there is often a Strategy Thinking Inability. The number of great, enthusiastic youth leaders is very encouraging. From the outset though, part of developing a ministry in any place with any group of young people, make a deliberate step to think about long term and short term strategies, about planning, resources, management and how these things are part of your thinking. It is in the lack of strategic thinking that many ministries fail and are cut short. Either personal or organisation ministries. Strategic thinking is part of good governance and management – and as youthworkers and ministers we are called to be good managers of people, and work with them too.  Its the politics of situations, often, that cause youthworkers to leave, many of these situations can be avoided though better governance, planning and appropriate strategising.  And i say appropriate because there is more than one way of strategising. But in the panic to provide a plan, theres no moment to think about alternatives.

Am I going to tell you here how to make a good strategic plan? Of course not. That requires effort on your part to think through it yourself. Though there are many other articles on this in the ‘Youthwork Management’ section of this website. Though Ill happily talk with you about managing planning and strategising in youth ministry further, and contact me for details, prices and what you might require. Talking of strategy is dull as dishwater, but it might just give you more of a long term ministry in a place, and that makes it important. More important than talking about Sex – well at least a Strategy Thinking Inability can be cured with some hard graft and thinking.

What might a theology of strategy look like?

Last week I posted a lengthy piece on developing strategy within organisations, for those who read it it got many positive reviews and comments, a link to the piece is here   if you want to read that one first  , but please remember to come back…

Over the course of thinking about strategy and planning, it occurred to me to ask the question, Might there be a theology of Strategy? The reason being, is that there is something critical to be thought of further in regard to the developing of strategies as a theological task with theological intentions and underpinnings. Theologically where might we start with thinking reflectively about strategy?Image result for strategy

What is a strategy in the first place?

Is it a plan, a way of working, a development of ideas? could be all of these things, and a bit more. It is a commonly used word, in sport, business and games.

A Broader conversation, theologically, might start with thinking about planning, and this is an overdone topic in a way. Talk of ‘Gods plan’ and perfect plan, are common, and especially in regard to free will, predestination and also how someone might live their life, and some of this I might come back to later. Before thinking about the content, it might be good to think about the theological method, or what might be meant by a ‘theology of’ something.

A simple, helpful start to think about developing a theology of something is Paul Nashs Grove Booklet – What Theology for youth work? For, whilst youthwork is his object in this – his subject matter is the different theological positions that could be taken. It is a starting point, and worth a quick read to reflect on the different theological starting points, or at least some of them.

Practical Theology and Qualitative research (Swinton) describes how there might be a critical conversation between theology and social science research, one that informs each other, again this is helpful, in thinking how the ‘on the ground’ practice of strategy development converses with what might seem to be the metaphorical and narrative artistry of the Biblical scriptures, written in a vastly different context.

For the purposes of the remainder of this post, I want to focus on Helen Camerons (et al) work Thinking about God in Practice (2010) for thinking theologically about Strategy.

Within her work, Cameron suggests that in the process of theological action research that we might be attentive to FOUR voices within theological reflection;

The Formal: Theological reflection discovered from the Institution, the university or academia, the product of hard study, interdisciplinary work and conversation.

The Espoused: This the Thei=ology that is discovered through the artifacts of an organisations literature, so for example a written constitution, statement of beliefs, creed.

The Operant: The Theology that is uncovered through observation of an organisations actions – it is what is implied in what people do

The Normative: These are the theological positions that are considered as default within the Christian (or any faith) tradition, and encompass the creeds, liturgies and what might be considered official church teaching on the matter.

Cameron is keen to point out that these voices are not invariably distinct or separate, and each voice is not simple. It may even be these as a tool are not helpful on this basis, but for the purposes of this discussion it might be good place to start.

It feels like the use of strategy within organisations is almost normative as practice. Ways of scientifically organising people to tasks and work go back a long way, from the industrial revolution, to the advent of factories and processing people into order to create an environment where tasks are completed. Strategy thinking of one form is almost normalised, to the point where ‘bad strategies’ are critiqued not ‘not having’ strategies. Not having a strategy is frowned upon. Though this isn’t a history lesson on the development of strategy within organisations. What I am saying though is that there is a considerable weight of pressure from businesses and organisations to develop strategies – it is their normative position. Standing counter to this, is going to be difficult.

So, if we started to think theologically about strategy, against the weight of normativity of this in other organisations – where might we start?

We might ask the question – is the church an organisation? And if so what is its type, purpose and nature? In that way we glean something about how a church especially might become inclined towards the normativity of other organisaions in strategy development. Another question we might asked is what is faith? Especially for a church- considered a faith-based organisation. Faith as a definition, ‘to be hopeful in what we cannot see’ might in itself be contrary to strategy planning at all, especially iif strategy planning might be considered as the thinking ahead to mitigate risks. If church instead was created as a movement – its possible intention – then does something need to be rethought again?

So, to continue on this vein, What might be some of the normative teachings on planning and strategizing from church traditions, the Biblical text even? In his work Leading, Managing, Ministering Nelson outlines some of these, though focusses on leadership and management. There are a few others – to be found via this link: (and the other similar titles)

Often God plays the role of the great disruptor of Human plans. Abraham has it all in one place, probably his life, and pension all worked out, and then God calls him and his family to something and somewhere new.

Joseph seems to follow God in the midst of an unplanned out life where things are put in front of him to react to, Moses might be similar. The plans of God were hidden, and when disclosed weren’t always obeyed. When there were plans, they seemed to be thwarted. The God has plans, people disobey them is carried through in Jonahs tale, and is indicative of Amos’s warnings of Israel. Through prophecy, Isaiah brings to the attention a pictoral glimpse of the plans that God might have – but this certainty leaves the space within it for Human planning to be minimal. All we have, to a point, is knowledge that God might also have a plan for us, in the oft taken out of context Jeremiah 29:11 verse. In a way this might be reassurance that a human plan and strategy is less required, than it is to trust and have faith in God who knows these things.

Then strategy might be considered in the New testament. In the parables faith is not seen in the man who builds bigger barns – again planning for the future. Stability is in the house built on obedience, not the barn built on planning. When Jesus sees the people of Israel like sheep without a shepherd (might considered as ‘without a plan’) it is a compassionate response, not a desire to organise. Again, many of the livelihood of the disciples is interrupted, temporarily by Jesus call to follow – though some might have used their skills and income in the ongoing movement of faith. Saul/Paul is another whose strategy in life is interrupted, and this continues as the journeys taken by these early missionaries is thwarted by acts of nature, sometimes attributed as active resistance to Gods plan, and other times as Gods plan. The closest we might get to thinking about strategy=ie and organisations , rather than individuals is through the epistles which are letters to new churches, and also to the letters to the churches in revelation.

So, we are beginning to build up a picture of some of the biblical precedents for and against developing strategy, and a part of the overall drama of scripture and the path towards redemption, these should be heard and reflected on.

However; An espoused theology of strategy needs to drill down to the actual practices. Where there are plans and strategies, there also is a belief that strategies are the implied way to do what the tasks in hand require, and a belief in strategy planning as a process. From a fundraising strategy, to safeguarding, mission strategy or youth strategy – by having a strategy as an artefact within an organisation is its own testament to how it should be organised. Whatever might be normative – through biblical theology, could be usurped by an espoused way of doing things that has become the norm. From plans and strategies, can come order and control – and actions, results and behaviours brought in line to the pre determined plan and strategy. The espoused theology might regard highly the biblical warnings – (is a parable a warning?) about ‘without vision the people perish’ or the ecclesial determination that Jesus loves the church and wants it to succeed. (then there is the success narrative) But this in itself is problematic, as it can merely use strategy as a way of ‘keeping the church open’ through planning – and endorsing this as the right way to maintain an organisation. Even the most realistic of plans might not be the best way of causing change to happen. The strategy itself might lose the intention, or virtue of the action.

An Operant theology might be determined by how an organisation behaves. So – actually – what is the talked about theology or reaction to the strategy? (just new flangled ideas..?) does the church congregation act in a way about the strategy that endorses, or deliberately objects the desires of the strategy itself? There might be opposition socially or politically to the strategy – but there may also be prophets who disagree theologically and spiritually too. But I wonder whether at its heart churches aren’t a place theologically where strategies and plans sit very easily. So an operant theology of strategy is one that whilst exemplifying compliance within a structure – usually- is also reluctant to embody the normativity of strategy thinking, causing active disruption. But thinking about what might be the operant theology of strategy is to look closely at somewhere specific. The point of Camerons research method in the first place. So – what does your church or practice operate as – in regard to plans and strategies? Does strategy seem to be ‘the way out of a crisis’ or the ‘way to do things’ – and how is this viewed? How is strategy justified theologically through those who adhere or dispute its implementation or necessity?

Finally, there might be a formal theology of strategy. Through the few published works on this subject, the working practices of theological academia, and the dissemination of research, hypothesis and ideas on this subject all contribute to a formal theology of strategy, that probably, with the weight of normative use in the business and commercial world, contributing to a general endorsement that strategies are a positive and necessary thing. Nelson book seems to endorse planning and strategizing and notably the transformation leadership culture that underpins the strategy thinking in the first place. Others in different discipline to ‘church leadership’ have been less enthusiastic of ‘strategy planning’ especially where is contravenes values and approaches. What is interesting is that the ‘secular’ youthwork approach dismisses strategy planning as something that is against values, and ethics, yet the church – which could have stronger values – does not always. Maybe church sees itself as a stronger organisation and culture- than the youthwork profession.

What if theology itself was more of an improvised play than a planned action? What might that mean in regard to trying to develop a theology of strategy?

Martyn Percy says this:

The belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not an arid set of directives, but rather a faith that is embedded in a community of praxis which makes beliefs work and gives shape and meaning to the lives that believe. So religious belief is not some kind of arcane metaphysics; it is rather, performed-much as one might perform a play. Indeed the beliefs must be performed in order to comprehend the drama. Simply reading the scriptures as a text is about as effective as reading a play as a text. To understand the life of the drama and the intention of the author , the play needs to be witnessed as a performance. Christian faith is, first and foremost the performance of God’s drama”Image result for passion plays

And others the same. Im not going to rehearse these again (just see the Theodrama link on the right)

Do plays need strategies? – they need scripts (we have one its the Bible), they need actors, directors and an audience. There is planning in the acting as actors respond to the cues and know how to respond. Training to act might be more repetition of action than planning of action. Yet whilst the great theatrical performances of the bourgeois need promotion and strategy – the improvised theatre and the mystery plays had word of mouth and reacted in the moment – live. Does the production of the drama of Gods redemption need strategy? Goodness is slightly less good if its planned isnt it – its strategic and false. Authentic reactions in the moment cant be pre planned or strategised. In the great drama of Gods redemption that we are part of – does strategic planning have any place at all? Where there was Chaos – God brought order into creation – but ever since doesnt it feel as though God is continually disrupting the order we try to make ourselves?

I caught a glimpse of ‘Scruffy Vicars’ recent post this week on ‘The Ideal and the Ordeal’ it is here:  and practically this is a problem with aloof strategising. It is to envision the outcome, and not be ready for the actual, normal and effort required. It took me to think about not only what Jon Ord talks about in Critical issues in Youthwork Management – that we should plan for opportunities and not outcomes. But also that when Jesus told the seventy two or twelve to ‘go out’ he gave them instructions to create the right scene – what he barely said was what to do when getting there (except to stay when welcomed) neither was the outcome part of the plan. (aside from leave if unwelcomed). But these instructions we to his own people. In Matthew Jesus’ instructions are that the 12 go to the lost people of isreal. So in effect, Jesus was saying, go and try and find a  welcome in your own land, with your own people. Be receivers of service. It was not outcome strategising, but strategising – or preparing for opportunity.

We need to strategy with an emergence and a readiness on one hand, as well as some thinking and dreaming on the other. In ministry we can be disillusioned with too much dreaming and no reality, or too much thought about strategy before anything is done. Its like in the BBC2 series Red Dwarf, Rimmers Revision timetable takes 4 weeks to put together all colour coded, and only gives him 1 day to actually revise. i digress, let me close. (if youve even got this far)

The four voices of might be needing to be attended to, for the purposes of doing qualitative research into a practice and to work out what a local theology of strategy might be. Here it might be enough to reflect on strategy theologically and critically from a few different angles to begin a conversation. Where there are organisations there might also be strategies, but where there are disruptions – is this the voice of God calling us out from the order we think we have created? God might be in the strategising, but that in itself is action on the stage of the world, and it needs to be performed with the same love and goodness of all the play.Calling to perform his improvised play that is emerging on the stage of the world?

What might a theology of strategy begin to look like…?


Cameron et al: Talking about God in Practice – 2012

Nelson Leading, Managing Ministering, 1999

Martyn Percy, Shaping the church, 2012

On Theodrama – Vanhoozer, 2005, 2010, 2012 and many others

Ord, Jon Critical issues in youthwork Practice.  



Can Disruptions be positive in strategic youthwork practices?

Life is like a box of chocolates

said the great philosopher Forrest Gump.

Is that what might be said about management and strategising in youth work practices? This has much more of a romantic ring to it, than the reality.

Next week, weather and travel permitting I am going to be delivering the first of three sessions on the subject of strategic thinking within faith based organisations, and so today I have been thinking through some of the material, re-reading and looking at some of the resources that I have. There is still much to be said about strategic planning within youthwork organisations – but very little on managing and strategic thinking theologically in faith based organisations. Anyway, the details of the sessions are here, and please do book at  if you want to come along.

So, why ‘life is like a box of chocolates’ – well, when i was gathering and reflecting further on strategic planning and thinking within youthwork, i came across the following diagram, and thought that in reality strategic planning within youthwork is less of a box of chocolates, and more of a series of well thought through intentions that get interrupted and disrupted, and therefore require a considerable amount of contingency and emergent thinking to accomodate and learn through the disruption. To create a new process and plan. And maybe not even to guide this to a new outcome as this diagram shows, maybe the outcome shouldnt be as fixed.

This week is a case in point. I work from home. There are disruptions enough, but two snow days has caused an imbalance as the house is busier with children not in school, theres more to do, around the place than normal. Today i thought id get a drink and then spend an hour working on the planning session, only for me to open up the postal mail, and find a letter i needed to spend time reacting to (that wasnt part of the plan). All the stuff i was going to do, hasnt been done. The same felt like the case in many of the situations I have been involved in recently in youth work. The same in other situations in a busy office. The same when young people arent ‘doing what we want them to’.

Id like to think I am good at planning, good at strategising, good and shaping what needs to happen in an organisation. But planning and strategising within youthwork practices requires something different. There could be a tendency to plan for outcomes, especially in a neo-liberal undercurrent context that shapes funding and the ‘worth’ and value of working practices. It might be better to plan for opportunities, rather than outcomes ( Jon Ord, 2012) It becomes a plan to create the right kind of space and environment- and make this coherent with youthwork practice and values.


One of my favourite quotes is this:

The situation in which the community of the Church is set, asks questions of it about the age structure, the class structure, the openness to go out into the world and receive the world. The crucial thing at this stage is that all of us who have this concern (for young people in the community) deeply in our hearts should recognise that any remedial Christian action will emerge only out of painful, searing, physical and mental acceptance, in love, of a generation which is painfully differentWhat we need to know about the strategy of action must be learned at the point of personal involvement, of ourselves or of other groups”

Lecture given to World Christian youth commission in May 1964, Rev HA Hamilton.

And so, planning and strategising occurs in the presence of young people themselves, it is not aloof, pre planning, but from the point o contact. Planning and strategising becomes a participatory activity. So, from a faith perspective, we might want to develop vison and strategy, because we have been guided to think about vision and mission statements recently – but is thought through less is the process of vision and mission strategising. For, this can become an exercise in conformity and allegiance, when mixed with power, structures and unhealthy authority. And, disruptions to coherent plans seen as divisive and said to be against God.

Rev Hamilton may be on to something. What presence based strategising involves in trusting that people want to be involved in the process as well. It demands thinking that young people are worth respecting and their opinions valid, that they are not ‘at risk’ but ‘want to shape their own opportunities’ they are not a project to be a service provision but a contributor.

The tendency to find the method in youth ministry that works – causes it to become aloof from the young people themselves. Strategising might be one area in which participation is low in youth ministry (but getting young people to choose their tuck shop food is more common) . And working with young people will inevitably mean that the ongoing emergent strategy and practice is always changing and being worked through at the negotiation and pace of the young people themselves. But that might be what empowerment is all about, creating the space for participative planning that involves young people- and becomes an opportunity in itself.

Youthwork management might be like a box of chocolates! – its more likely the ability to manage given an ongoing series of coping with emergent strategies due to disruptions and interruptions.

Sometimes, God might be in the disruptions, prompting us to think about the voice of others, the greater cause of redemption and shalom.

So, hopefully, theres no snow days and I can finish planning for next weeks sessions!

and if you want to come along and spend some time with others thinking through strategising in youth work practice, please do sign up


PS oh and apology, if this piece in itself is a distraction… hopefully it is a helpful one…



Leading and Managing youth work and services for young people, NYA, 2005

Planning for opportunities, not outcomes, Jon Ord, 2012, in Ord (eds) Critical issues in Youthwork management, 2012

Working with Unattached Youth, Goetchius & Tash, 1967




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