Shall we start with a reality check?
There is no magic answer, solution, gravy train, resource, method, model for youth work and ministry. There really isn’t. Anyone telling you this is merely on the hard sell, of their particular brand, style, event or model. Anyone telling you this is is hoping that they have it, that they experienced it and they’re clinging on to keep their particular dream alive. Or organisation. And i have been as guilty or complicit in this too. Though Id hope not because id peddle my own faith upbringing as the only path for others to have..
But I know you’re probably reading this because you want an answer, a style, a method or a model to solve the current problems, concerns you may have about your youth work practice. Whether it is about children leaving messy church, or young people on the streets, or the YF being boring and running out of ideas.
And running out of ideas is one of the main issues isn’t it? A key factor in youth worker burnout. They run out of ideas.
Yet, youth ministry isnt an entertainment industry… is it..?
If you are reading this hoping for the magic answer, then you may well end up being disappointed, but well done for getting this far. The questions are coming.
Because on one hand I am slightly tired of the models and methods, the research, and the moaning, about why people leave their faith, or why a model didn’t work because it worked elsewhere (or in 1983), yet without looking at what is going on at a deeper level with young people, then models, methods are still unlikely to work. But they kept being tried… Working doesn’t mean attendance, or young people paying for something. Because.. its not the values of the entertainment industry that we’re looking for.. is it?
So, what are the 3 questions that we should ask of all our youth work and ministry practices? And ask repeatedly and all the time. They are:
Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples belonging?
Does what we do/about to do increase young peoples autonomy?
Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples sense of competence?
What you say – no mention of Jesus? no mention of values? no mention of ………(fill in the blank)
Yes. Agreed. No mention of those things. Because, look closely and you will find those things in these three questions.
Relationships have been front, centre and under pretty much all of youth work and ministry practice. You really dont need me to pull out all the references for this. But relationships are one thing. A sense of belonging and connection is another. If we hope that ‘our relationship’ with a young person as a single youth worker or volunteer is crucial, we may be misguided, because its a sense of belonging that young people crave, (secret: we all do). So… do young people feel they belong in the church family, do they feel they belong in their school, do they feel they belong in their public park, do they feel they belong in their town. Our relationship with a young person might be critical, especially if it helps to help them have a greater sense of belonging.
How might the whole church help a young person (s) belong? How might the town help young people belong who also want to express their anger at austerity through anti social behaviour?
So – how might what we do/ what is bout to be done – help young peoples sense of belonging?
This may seem to stand in contradiction to belonging and connection. But it isnt. Autonomy may mean that young people can make their own decisions, and as an individual, however, autonomy can also become something that our youth work and ministry should create, in order that young people can have a say in decision making processes, in decisions that affect them, affect the youth ministry/work itself and also the wider faith community and organisation. Autonomy is a key motivator for us all, we all like to be kings of our own castle. Yet at the same time, reflect on the situations where young people in the group, or organisation had any autonomy over the activity, process, style and nature of the group.
We might use the term participation, and that in a way is a graded scale of how young people do have increased decision making/autonomy. Because after all, increasing young peoples participation is not that far from helping them to meet some of their self determined goals. Their goals about the club, group, community.. their dreams, visions, their collective passions for these things
I have written extensively on participation, some of these are my most read pieces.. its clearly a need, to think through and reflect.
Though i have suggested this one is second in this list of three. I think its the most important. Especially in churches and youth ministry.
What can your youth work and ministry do – to help young people feel that they acheieved something, they made something happen, they did well?
And it doesnt need to be personal – but it could be
It doesnt need to be social – but it could be
They did well doing the reading in a service is one thing, they did well speaking up at the leaders meeting another. They did well writing to their MP on climate change, they did well showing generosity and grace to others in the group. They did well…..
Nothing like doing well isnt it.
You know what that feels like? probably not.
Will you only tell young people they did well at something when you get positive feedback for all your efforts, your hard work, your job? Id hope not. You might have to give and continually give praise, even if you dont receive it.
But its not just the praise. It is the situations in which there is a possibility of being able to. When working on the streets its easy to affirm young peoples football skills, or how they ct with each other. It is their environment. So, how might the space of the youth group, club or project also be a space that encourages competence, encourages risk taking activity that stretches our known behaviours and praises the actions that are taken.
Youthwork that has craft activities are brilliant at this, if we can encouraging the simple making of things that are fairly easy so that everyone can do something well. the same with cooking, or fixing bikes, or sports or video games… its not quite the same with movies.
Its no coincidence that uniformed youthwork organisations with badges and awards continue to be very popular.
How might young people feel, if they are part of a group or project in which they leave each session feeling like they have achieved something, have developed a skill, have something to take home, have created something? Yes.. exactly…
If you need to think further about these three things through a faith lens, then do so. If you want to think about them in the context of the divine relationship between humanity and God, in terms of divine and human action, in terms of free will, prayer, and being made in the image of God, then do so. I would encourage it. It would be good to have that discussion. if you want to have a look at these things through discipleship or mission, through church then do so. You should also be able to see where these things mirror core youthwork values, like participation, empowerment and valuing the individual. Some of those reflections have already been done by Jocelyn Bryan in her excellent book, referenced below.
So, faith and theology is not my starting point for these. It is psychology.
If this all feels a bit more on the psychological side of things then it is. But thats ok isnt it. Because psychology could help us in youth work and ministry in a way couldn’t it. After all, we’ve tried sociology to death with all the generationalism surveys, and that hasn’t got anyone anywhere. Aside from selling resources.
But, you want to make a real difference in your group, your church, you organisation with young people. Don’t worry about second guessing their interests because they’re millenial. Try instead looking at the deep things that motivate them. Try looking at how belonging, autonomy and competence are part of their lives, try seeing where they find these things already. Try doing what you can to find them in the group, project and activity that you run. Of course this is hard work, of course this might require shifts. Who said this was in any way easy…
The reason these questions are crucial – because they’re the same one we ask of ourselves. Young people, are no different to us.
Human Being, Jocelyn Bryan, 2016.