10 tips on starting and developing conversations with young people in the youth club

In my recent piece I wrote about how good conversations with young people turn an activity venue into a space of youthwork. Maybe this is a stark claim to a degree, and usually one of the more difficult aspects of working with young people, and frequently asked questions to me is ‘How to developing the conversations?’ , and often that issue resides in us, ie it is our fault young people dont talk to us. Especially if we fear young people or believe the negativity around them.

Whenever I do detached youthwork training for groups and organisations, ‘starting conversations’ in the cold contact moment on the streets is something that we spend ages on. If we’re just setting up activities for young people to do, whilst we stay to one side, or in the kitchen cooking for them, then its no wonder young people leave. On one hand conversations on the streets could be seen as one of the more scary aspects of that type of youthwork, on the other it makes it easy. Why? because Good Conversations happen in an environment where young people feel at home. It is a space that they trust, and we are people they can trust. Young people choose the streets, therefore they’re more likely to feel at home, the youth club or group.. thats a different matter … 

So – in the youth club environment – How do you start conversations with young people?

  1. Good conversations happen when young people feel at home, this includes safety, but it also includes participation, can they treat the place like home, can they make themselves a drink of coffee? Do they trust leaders who stick around (for longer than 6 months)  The environment is key. Giving conversation space is important. How many times do young people ‘just want a space to chat’ whilst we want to make it a space of activity programme and distractions?  What if we heeded this request… what are young people saying..? Image result for conversation
  2. Rely on the context. Starting a conversation with whats in the room and what a young person has brought to the room is a good place. So, What is already happening, what are the young people talking about? Whats the local news, gossip, whats the craze? But also – what might be different about the young person, have they changed their hair? try and notice. The context in the moment is a good key starting point.
  3. Get them involved in a task (not just an activity) and spend time doing that with them, helping set up, deciding on the food, setting out the games, in a club environment the resources themselves can be the setting for the conversation, it helps as it does make it too intrusive or personal.
  4. Opinion Questions;  Try and get an opinion on something – recently this has been easy ‘who do you think will win the world cup’ is an opinion creating question, generating answers and also detailed analysis or a ‘dont care’ – but ‘who do you think’ or ‘what do you think’ type questions are great at getting a response, and giving young people space to share their thoughts and ideas about whatever topic – whether its a local community issue, about an ethical issue, about faith, about future, about something topical. Finding out their opinion and listening to it and using it to reflect on is crucial. Image result for conversation
  5. Dream questions. These are the ‘If you could……..’ type questions. so ‘If you could run the country – what flavour ice cream would be banned’  or ‘if you could have a special power what would you do with it’ or ‘if you could only have cheese or chocolate in the future, which would you keep?’  yes some more open than others, but you see what i mean – questions that pose a possible scenario, or captivate a dream, such as rule making, money spending, world changing – are all positive ways of developing conversations. And hearing about young peoples ideas through these dreams.
  6. Resources can help. The FYT starter cards with pictures and quotations on them might help – used in a way that create conversation and develop thinking. Pip Wilsons blob trees  also work well.
  7. On the Nuture Development site, they have uploaded 25 questions that could be used in a community setting to help develop conversations, these include:

What do you do to have fun?

What would you like to teach others?

if you could start a business what would it be?

Some of these might be more appropriate than others in settings with young people, but I would recommend you have a look at the whole list at this link The good life conversation , there are some good ones like ‘ if you and three friends could do something to improve the lives of others in this area, what would it be’ – and from these types of opinion/dream scenarios the group could develop and make plans.

8. The activities help, of course they do, board games, table tennis and craft are what solid youth clubs have orientated around for decades, all with the triple aims of helping develop competance and achievement, develop skills and social development and also to be a space of conversation in the process.

9. Follow dont lead. Let the tangent happen if thats where the young person has taken it, they might have taken it to that tangent for a reason. Follow it through. If its heading personal and personal for them then thats ok, its being directed by them. If its avoiding issues, then again thats where young people want to go with it. Young people in other settings get used to directed conversations, this may be a space where they can develop their own with adults and be more in control. Let it happen, and then see where it takes. Prepare to improvise, and prepare to listen and hold back. Image result for conversation

10. Phrases like ‘tell me more’ , or ‘describe what that was like’ or ‘you must have been ______ (excited/scared/worried) when that happened’ and other similar ones can be helpful as they take us out of questions, and into listening and trying to give more opportunity for the young person to use the space to talk about something and recognise their feelings in it.

 

So, there we go, much of this stuff is interchangeable from the streets to the clubs, with resources easier in a club setting. Id say that there are a number of things that we may be should try and avoid like, talking about school (if its out of context) , or even talking about ourselves ‘when i was 15 this kind of technology didnt exist’ type of thing as usually young people dont want to talk about school (unless they mention it) or are that bothered about us as adults at all. It takes a bit of guts to really do this conversation thing, because sometimes natural instincts get in the way like ‘how was school today?’ or interrupting or trying to control the conversation, yes maybe avoid subjects unsuitable, but on other occasions following and not leading will help no end.

So, 10 tips to help conversations in youthwork practice- anyone else out there want to add their own for others to share and develop practice? – use the comments below… thank you

 

Other Resources to help:

TED talks on conversation: https://www.ted.com/playlists/211/the_art_of_meaningful_conversa

Valuing conversation in Youthwork; http://www.infed.org

Developing Cold Contact conversations is in two chapters of ‘Here be Dragons’ – Link above.

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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:

 

Trying not to lose personal faith in Ministry

I dont apologise for the questions this post might provoke. They are based upon the well meaning encouragement that has been directed my way at a few points over the last few years. The challenges in my current place of ministry are too numerous to mention, but they have led to its pending closure. However, generally in youth ministry, one of its benefits, and dangers is that its practitioners can have a strong sense of calling (Ord, 2012) and ongoing interwining of personal faith its practical outworking and also the ‘faith’ of the organisation, such as a church. Ordinarily that ‘faith’ is a key motivating factor (Ward, 1997). But what happens when things start to be challenging? difficult, damaging even? 

What i find strange is that over the last year or so, at least three people have said to me, when things have been particularly tough, in their eyes, a phrase, that has meant well, it has been;

“In all of whats going on, dont lose your faith”

or a similar one

“Try not to lose your faith”

There is no doubt that the people saying these things to me were well meaning. Some i know more personally than others, and so to a point I am not questioning the genuine nature of the sentiment. Writing about this subject, and writing at time when I have been involved for 3 years in a challenging ministry that is about to close, amongst other personal and professional challenges, in undoubtedly difficult. Because of the closing allignment of personal faith and professional vocation, then situations of professional challenge, could, can have a personal impact. And this clearly is noted in this statement. Full time ministry challenges, in some areas, lead to personal faith dilemmas.

But it is only when working within what might be considered one of the evangelical youth ministry organisations that the phrases of ‘not losing your faith’ have been uttered to me. And it is this that has caused me to reflect, on the phrase and its use.

  1. The first thing i reflect on, is that the phrase “try not to lose your faith” seems to be used at a time of suffering, of personal or even during a personal/professional challenge – ie when a persons vocation in ministry is under threat. Now call me an evangelical, or at least an evangelical that has read the Bible, but it does look like suffering is part and parcel of life, and ‘ministry’. It affected the church in Smyrna, Paul, and was mentioned in most of the letters, not to mention Jesus’ own suffering. There are countless examples in the Old testament too of those who suffer being given the specific attention of God, through it, from Naomi, to Moses, to Joseph, to Job. This isnt western Christian persecution syndrome being described, but the more Biblical reality is that suffering is an inevitability. The problem is that, as Kevin Vanhoozer suggests, Suffering doesnt make a great advertising slogan. Suffering as part of faith doesnt feature very much in the Moral Therapeutic Deism rife in western evangelical churches ( Christian Smith, 2005, Shepherd, 2016).  Yet it is Suffering that produces endurance and endurance hope – thats in the Bible. So – what is quite odd then, is that it seems like there is a trend in evangelical culture, that suffering and challenges might lead to a loss of faith. when the reality might be the opposite. It might strengthen it!  Yes it might cause deep anguish, prayerful reflection and a crying out of new purpose – but that isnt ‘losing faith’ – its being true in faith to God. (This isnt true for everyone, i realise, somethings are so damaging, the questions so raw, that faith is lost. I am aware.)
  2. On a similar point, but the opposite. But one that I wont experience in evangelical circles. Does the ‘dont lose your faith’  ever get said when things might be actually going well? . But of course, no one loses their faith when things go well do they. No they might, like Rob Bell, and others, get so successful, so busy, that they get burn out, and that then becomes a personal issue to deal with, but would anyone have the temerity to say to a success preacher, teacher, pastor, minister or youth minister, at the ‘height’ of when things might be going well ‘try not to lose your faith’  – it would seem ridiculous, wouldnt it. Faith is only feared to be lost, apparently when suffering is being endured. Not when things are thriving in a ministry. Because of course, that wouldnt happen would it. When someone is ‘so professionally successful’ that them actually having a crisis of faith at the same time is highly unlikely… – what is more likely is that it become significantly for other people to understand that a crisis of faith is happening ; “because your ministry is thriving” , behind the scenes.  Now i am in self-care, and accountability territory. And that is true, but so might a successful ministry not give someone the space to ask themselves the deep questions of ongoing meaning, of faith, destiny and purpose, because the successful activities of faith keep them at bay. No one would expect a crisis of faith during successful ministry, that would make it harder for others to deal with. During a period of suffering and challenge – oh yes. Those are the ‘dont lose your faith moments
  3. As I said I am speaking ‘in the middle’ of challenging situations. Not the first ones either, especially not in the world of christian ministry. It could easily be that other people might react differently. It would be easy to say that someone younger in the faith might react differently (and I have heard this said). What has been noted, that people have been quick to say ‘dont lose your faith’ – but to actually follow that up and do something to help has been less forthcoming. Its almost like giving someone an idea they hadnt thought of such as ‘dont run near the cliff’ and not take away their trainers and keep them on the low ground. Yes of course, that could just be the rebellious teenager speaking, – just doing the opposite to what someone says – but if in our pastoral or friendship moments to support others the question about their personal faith is questioned- shouldnt/couldnt we do more that just pronounce that they dont ‘lose it’?  As I said, I am convinced that it isnt a phrase said without genuine well meaning. But, it might become, in evangelical circles as cliched, as ‘Ill pray for you’.
  4. Because this has only been said in certain evangelical circles, does it imply that the evangelical tradition in youth ministry has a track record of not only losing youth ministers through professional ‘endings’ but also because they have ‘lost their evangelical faith’ – not their faith perhaps, but they have left questioning their once held faith, and found faith that doesnt fit the evangelical box – but from those within the box it might be seen to be ‘lost’. or worse – liberal. Or even worse – academic and critical. But if losing evangelical faith becomes the ‘norm’ within the practices of evangelical youth ministry – then theres good reason why pronouncing that ‘not losing faith’ has a vocalised norm about it within that culture. Its a fear, because its been seen before. Systems and cultures arent changed to prevent it happening again. No, its the individual that ‘loses their faith’. and maybe more.

So, that all being said.  Personal faith can take a pelting in a wide variety of situations, having it restored might need the support of those who have had similar experiences of losing evangelical faith, of falling off that denominational cliff edge, something i wrote on 6 months ago here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-Kz. Maybe in a way, it can be helpful to separate to a point the personal faith, with the practiced faith of an organisation, but that its difficult and dangerous ground. As there are times the two are intertwined. Often in Christian youthwork we pride ourselves with being persons who are able to bring the values of God and our organisations to life, through our actions with young people. So, seperating the personal from the professional is an unlikely challenge.

But in the times ‘when organisations go wrong’ because of their culture, their history, or even the policies that they have they need to stick to for internal or external reasons, then it may be easier from a personal faith point of view to make a kind of separation. If only to protect yourself. Which I am sure is what we do in ministry from time to time anyway. Understand it, and our own human frailty even in the ‘christian organisations’ – and not take things personally, not easy. no ministry, no christian life in general is. In another way, being true to a calling might not equate to needing to stay true to the faith position of a proponent of that calling. A calling might be for life, not just a three, four, or two year contract.

I think if have lost faith, what i have lost is faith in the practices of those who might make such pronouncements, and the organisations they represent, and dont back it up. Losing faith in evangelical youth ministry. Which isnt a shame, as this isnt something ive had so its not something i feel i have lost anyway.

7 not-so-Deadly Sins in Youth Ministry

 

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

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

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

  1. Ignoring Theology for pragmatism. – Good theology helps give young people connection with a world story that they can assimilate as their personal story (McAdams 1997), Challenging Theology is what helps to keep young people in local churches so says recent research here: .http://wp.me/p2Az40-NP.  Settling for an easy night, of fun and distraction from the concerns of the world, might only be so helpful. Neither is settling for what Christian Smith calls is Moral Therapeutic Deism (2005) – connecting young people with a God who is ‘there for them’ to give them confidence, however, as a personal myth to believe in it will go so far, just it might need changing when it is tested.
  2. Ignoring young people. This seems strange as youth groups are full of them, but how many youth group evenings are judged as successful by the quality of conversations between youth leader and young person, and not by who and how many turned up? Young people can be ignored if they’re just to take part in the activities. What they need is a healthy place to be where adults take interest in them, listen and shape activities around their needs, interests and gifts. And that is on just a local level, and the local church.  Where do young people feature in the shaping of area strategies, of national programmes. Its also apparent when young people are counted as just numbers.
  3. Ignoring History. A bit like the Premier league, which only provides statistics of games back to 1992, as if football didnt exist before then. An understanding of History reveals christian youth work practice that nowadays would be seen as innovative, more risk taking and politically active. Meeting young peoples needs was core philanthropy in 1830, for example. Its what Sunday schools were developed for.  What might be one persons innovation might only show a blind spot for history, or good practice down the road.
  4. Ignoring the effect of culture.. What I mean here, is not the effect that culture has on young people. This is extensively researched, and if not the Guardian usually has something on ‘Millenials’ to reflect on most weeks. What I mean is the effect of the prevailing culture on Youth Ministry itself. The Sociologist Wolfe said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Learning from the Lucozade

Yesterday my hands turned a funny shade of Orange.

I emptied 48 cans of Lucozade original, that had gone out of date down the sink.

Here they are: 2016-01-04 16.08.21

Theyre now a reminder to me of over ambitious attempts of fundraising.

Just like all the other bits of junk in the office, over purchased youthwork items that’ll never get used again. every youthwork centre has them. This year latest resource (a slight adaption of last years- Now with video/CD/DVD/Blue-ray/weblink/secondlife character/twitter hashtag)

Shall we buy them at cost price cheap asks my administrator 18 months ago, thinking that lots of people would want to take part in a fundraiser in which we’d give them away for free. Yes is my reply. we got rid of 9- we ordered about 60.

18 months later, they’ve still hung around the office at the bottom of a box, sell by date Aug 14. Yesterday they cleaned the drains of Durham with their sickly orange sweetness.

The Lucozade cans represent something about over ambition, about not knowing the target fundraising audience, or capability, they represent something to me about naive decision making. Or a moment of blind faith. Either way they’re gone now. Dead to the sewers never to return.

Yesterday I took my own advice and started to tidy the office at Durham YFC. For the first real time. Up to now its felt like someone elses office that I inherited. And inherited alot of paperwork, history, resources, approaches and methods. Yesterday i resolved to make some decisions about tidying up boxes, paperwork, the flotsam and jetsom. It felt somewhat cathartic, and therapeutic. Its not that I havent waited 19 months to make some kind of decisions about office environment, i even shuffled a few things around on the noticeboard.

Shame i couldnt blame the lucozade on anyone else apart from myself though, put that one down to a misjudgement that reduced what we raised on a fundraiser by £12.

 

Fundraising, must be more of an art than a science. Misjudgements can happen in Management, especially when There’s so many decisions to make, and not always enough information to hand to make the right ones.

My hands have recovered, Ive done two lots of washing up since.

Not sure the drains will though.

Surviving Youth Ministry – feeling like one of the lucky ones

I am beginning to think that i am one of the lucky ones. As I look around the church, and the stats concerning the churches that are growing, its demographics and the local experiences of churches. With a few exceptions id say i was one of the lucky ones.

I am a skew to the statistics that say that there arent many 30-50 year olds in the church in the UK. Theres plenty of over 60’s (and they are more over 70’s) – theres still quite a few children young people and young families. But not as many in their later thirties, forties or fifties.

Given that throughout my teenage years I was part of a local church, participated in its activities, for young people, its clubs, groups, enjoyed the services and teaching, and generally had a positive experience. I went to festivals, bought the music, adopted the experience as alternative culture, found acceptance and belonging and people to talk to about aspects of my growing up. All in all it was a largely positive experience for me. Through the experience I was given responsibilities, developed opportunities for leading services, sunday school, youth work and became a person in my own right in the church setting.

And here i am today. Ive just started an MA in theology, Im a centre director for DYFC, I still go to church, travelled through the ranks as it were, so the question is; If i had such a positive experience of growing up in the church community, the youth ministry of 1990’s with a new(ish) soul surivivor /Spring Harvest in its prime (which i went to) – why am i not an enthusiast for this type of Youth Ministry still today?

A couple of reasons;

  1. The second year of Soul Survivor i went to in 1997, was after id spent a year doing full time voluntary youth work /schools work in Hartlepool with young people in a couple of estates. What i realised then was that Soul Survivor was a gigantic chasm away from the challenges of these young people being accepted in a local church. let alone be accepted as part of a soul survivor congregation.
  2. I was invested in in my home church because id indicated that I wanted to pursue further Christian ministry, hence the responsibilities.
  3. At the age of 12 my parents left this particular church. I stayed. It became my space. Almost rebellion.
  4. At the age of 11 – there were 15 people in the youth club. On a wednesday night in the open sessions there were up to 60 young people turning up from the estate.  By the time I was 15 that number had reduced to 6. Six of us were invested in as leaders a few of us are still involved in churches. It might be that only those invested in as leaders actually survive. Those who became leaders a generation before me, are leaders in churches today.

So, id consider myself one of the lucky ones to have survived a form of youth ministry and still be in the church. Given that I had been brought up in a Christian home, and the personal vocation to become a leader- or singled out to be, and point 3 – i would say that these things contributed (as well as the supportive youth leaders/friends) to this occuring.

But what would I be advocating if I was suggesting that the type of youth ministry I was brought up in, and survived, is the one that I should be recommending to other young people? to my own children even, when i can identify at least 20-30 young people for whom it didnt work for, and a good number of them were also part of the christian families at that time. When i say work – I mean- that as they’re now in their 30-40’s that they are involved in the church community today.

So – why would i advocate a type of ministry that to my mind and experience, might only work for those who show leadership potential? and that only has a 6/60 – thus 10% chance of long term success. I should be advocating something that yes ‘did me good’ but taking a utilitarian perspective – didnt really do the greatest good for the majority of the young people, most of who were locally on the estate and whom the church never worked with again.

There are a couple of questions to be asked – do the proponents of the type of youth work that the church is engaged in think about those for whom it doesnt and hasnt worked for, both in the immediate and long term?

Would it make for good leadership to reflect on the experiences of our Christian youth and consider why it did or didnt succeed for us? and cause us to think differently about those whom it didnt work for – even if it did for us?

If responsibility and leadership are key factors in young people surviving youth ministry – what of young people who dont get these opportunities or feel like they want to- is something different going to ‘work’ for them?

If youth ministry hasnt worked for a large majority of people – in that they are not in the church 10,20, or 30 years later despite being involved in their teens do we argue that this is the fault of the church (of post teenage years) or that its university (that changes thinking) or individuals who make choices to fall away (blame the individual not the programme), thus ministry to teens remains aloof of the blame.  At what point does a critical eye on this work over the last 30-40 years (or longer) start to question its effectiveness for long term church. (yes its the only time im arguing for ‘bums on seats’ as an indicator, but im looking for 30-40 year old bums)

So, whilst i consider myself one of the lucky ones, i want to think about how a church, if it decides to start building relationships with young adults in a local area can maintain these using at least some kind of process, some kind of way that allows the young people to find some kind of faith and keep it. And for young people in church families, already embedded within the church, explore faith and discipleship with them, yes grow leaders, empower disciples, cultivate risky mission with them, and responsibility. It did work for me, but that was the bit that did.

Funny how being empowered is both a Gospel imperative, and a youthwork value. Whether the latter derived from the former is open to debate.  Jesus did say “You are the salt of the earth” and “go and make disciples’ ” – theres a process of now and becoming.  So it might be fair to say that any work with young people has to have their ongoing learning, ongoing process of becoming, flourishing, trying, risk attempting and change.

“Empowerment means the ministry of conscientization, of assisting people toward self-awareness of their own power, subjectivity, strengths and capabilities. To work in such a way that (young adults) discover their own voice and speak within their culture, their traditons and their humanity”  is a lengthy quotation from Bevans and Shroeder on the Missional purpose of the church in liberating from injustice.

Will this work?  It might do. Some of the other stuff can be left behind.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetic reflections from the streets

Last night one of the detached volunteers, after a session where we spend a good length of time in one space, with a couple of groups penned this as her reflection:

We walk into your space:
see if you’ll have us,
greet us, meet us,
as you are and as we are.
No swearing for eight year olds
OK for twelve year olds
I hate/ love/ (don’t) believe in God
we’re told, we all hold
onto words and dance moves
and pieces of laughter and
everything moves faster with your splits
and flips and swing dancing,
blue tongues, japenese phone makes
(I have problems with pronouncing things)
and conversations slipping into honesty
and love being offered
without some tick-box policy,
probably forgot all my theology
when I told you I’m out here
because I want to love you all
but that’s where it all started from,
just some longer words say less
than the non-thought out sentence
you spread out from me
-doesn’t have to be-
but here we speak naturally,
you are you, I am me

– with wind raging through us
and rain around our faces,
the rainbow in the sky, I said,
reminds me of God’s promises.
You remembered Noah’s ark, but for you
the rainbow is God’s smile,
an unhappy happy smile we laughed,
whilst wondering at the simplicity
of a child’s 7-coloured-arch,
actually a million colours live up there,
more than we can count, we need a child’s perceptivity
to appreciate the complex simplicity,
to identify the individual shades
like Durham indigo and Top estate grace green.

You, gracefully, welcomed us
into your space,
share your stories, share in faith,
we whisper, watch and run and wait and pray,
a privilege to share some of your day.

Written late after a detached session by Claire Ewbank. You can see more of Claires artist work on her website http://claireewbank.wix.com/create

Improvised leadership beyond the fourth wall

If the cues for work amongst young people beyond the fourth wall involve taking our cues from the street , where do we take our cues from for leading/managing work amongst young people  beyond the fourth wall?

In a lengthy quality conversation a month ago, with community based youthworkers at Cafe Leadership in Manchester, it became clear that we could validate our work with young people, its value, its place and its need, and that because our work collectively would loosely be described as kingdom/missional rather than ‘youth ministry’, and as a result started in community, in the space of the young people. Yet as we spoke, it became noticeable, that our reference points for an emerging leadership within christian youthwork were places within the walls of commerce/retail (ie bad/good experiences from ‘secular’ work, or from business), the walls of the church, education or walls of sport, yet as relative pioneers navigating in community based christian youthwork where should we take our cues from if leadership is needed in that space?  where are the cues for leadership if the ones learned from other fields have limitations?

Might leadership within the interactive space of beyond fourth wall work encapsulate the artistic, creative and poetic? And how might management encapsulate youthwork & possibly Christian values – that have empowerment, servantheartedness, mercy and equality at their core?

What might leadership mean when the notion of leader is so easily critiqued and deconstructed – leader seems almost a bygone term that sits within Business leader or church leader – when other people based professions have adopted ‘worker’ – ‘coordinator’ or ‘manager’ – the world of sport has almost no mention of ‘leader’ at all.

One thing about detached work is that the space is equalised, and leadership is firmly diminished. There is limited difference in the status of each person in the team – until the first people speak, and even then it might not be obvious. But that is on the streets, and not every act of youthwork is set there. Yet often young people relate to a youthworker as a person first, rather than an authority figure second, given that its only after the relationship is established that a young person might ask about ‘what a youthworker is’, and if they get paid.. the other day on detached a young person asked what my job actually is, not believing that being as informal could be a paid role.

What might leadership, (if leadership at all) would look like in an improvised space of mission beyond the fourth wall (of working with young people outside of the structured spaces of church, school, business, social work) when so often the theories of leadership are taken from within those walls, as they hold the power of narrative, of academia, and practice.  Life on the street, taking cues from the street might be a place of leadership neutrality. It might emerge, rather than be implemented, it is negotiated rather than dictated, earned & given, not delegated. Yet if leadership is authentic to the Theodrama, then it becomes appropriate to the ongoing context, and according to the place of the play set before us, and reliant on reflection in and on practice.  Maybe thats where peer supervision is an aide to leadership, in that its for others ahead in the field ( and i use this loosely) to peer supervise those emerging, and have a continued conversation, which is probably why Cafe Leadership and its conversations floated my boat particularly.

Being Cultural Navigators with young people

Over the last few weeks, in readiness for some training i was delivering today, i have been thinking further about the different layers of culture within society, and in particular our role as detached youthworkers within these cultures.

To paraphrase Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 – we see but a glass/mirror darkly – ie what we see,  experience and understand is from the distorted, pre understandings of our own reality, our own culture, its norms, behaviours, values and artifacts. Yet as detached youthworkers we should reflect upon the culture we represent to the young people we seek to be with, and at the some time realise that our behaviour is representative often of the cultural hegemony that has distorted reality for power, influence and the perjorative status quo – that which we have and know is said to be superior, more worthy than the young persons experiences of reality, culture and experience – their sub culture is merely ‘sub’ – substandard?

At the same time as reflecting on our own cultural perspective, we , in being with  young people seek to understanding and learn from the dynamics of the cultural values and artifacts ( fashion/music/sports..) that young people choose to embody, occupy and associate.  If youthwork is an art, an exercise in moral philosophy ( Young 1996) then reflecting on the culture, the world views of society , the culture of the young people, and also the faith cultures and communities is something that we should attempt to do, do with understanding, do with listening and and open eyes to see- each for what they are, the power structures. Being deliberately both incarnational, and also detached , to be where the young people are at  only means that some of what we held to be true, for us, is up for grabs in the instance of being with the young person, in their culture.

Not that we lose sight of truth, or who we are, but intentionally being open to the other, and recognising the way in what the young person has navigated their existence and identity within the culture around them, and in doing so given themselves a chosen community of friends, peers and some influence and independence.  By being with them, becoming accepted in their evening community, we reside temporarily in their culture. I think of situations in Perth, and how the groups on the South Inch would talk to us, and eagerly at times have us around them to chat, keep them safe and walk them to bus stops, this takes time.  Being part of their culture has its disadvantages, yet is what we would expect missionaries to do, we as detached youthworkers would do well to realise how listening and learning how the cultures in our communities operate as we reflect and support young people to navigate and give them tools to reflect upon them, challenge and flourish in them.

‘We drink from our own wells’ is a phrase i discovered earlier today, and to realise that we may have dug, sculpted and furnished the wells and spaces of life within culture – whether thats the park, the skate park or the club, at these point a gathered community is present who represent a myriad of worldviews, beliefs and behaviours and as we drink the same water, or sit, chat and converse we realise that in being with the other, we learn to enrich both themselves and ourselves through mutual understanding and respect.

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