25 things for the youth and community worker to do during the Coronavirus outbreak

By now, most of you reading this will have probably cancelled youth group meetings, youth clubs and detached sessions, today I have suspending normal operations and trying to organise responses to this crisis. And it has crossed my mind, that as someone who is used to a youth work office, the regular face to face contact of young people, the delivery, then removing this, and there energy that this brings is likely to feel like a loss, a grief. Face to face is what we do, mostly isnt it.. but not now… not for a few weeks – so – what can you do now – assuming that you’re now working from home – should this be possible. Heres 25 suggestions:

  1. Make a list. No seriously. Make a list of all the things that you are going to do, things you have been putting off because its been too busy.
  2. Take a moment. Breathe. Now look at that list, and think – the most important thing right now is to look after myself. Yes, youth worker reading this, who gives countless hours of physical and emotional time, this is time to stop. You are human like everyone else.
  3. Maintain some contact with young people via other methods, though ask their permission first – also ask how regular they would like to be contacted – might be a time to be creative and set up a youth club WhatsApp group or something…
  4. Think about the other equivalent people in your role in the local community, youth workers, community workers, clergy even, and suggest keeping in touch and support each other, and check in now and then.
  5. Maybe even suggest that you could have local response meetings via online video software
  6. Have lengthy chats with other youth workers on the phone, share ideas, reflect and build community and networks – time to help each other out a bit…
  7. Read a book. No. Read many – and a tip – read books on youthwork that you usually put off or might be for a role you dont do, like supervision or management – read ahead of the direction you might be going in. Now may be the time to read – maybe even set up a virtual reading group as youth workers
  8. See all that admin that you were putting off? well..- not going to tell you how to suck eggs – but now is the time to reflect on your practices – and you have the time to do so in depth.. think about:
  9. The plans, planning, aims and objectives
  10. The values, principles and purposes of what you do
  11. How you record and monitor the work – do the session reviews need updating? (now might be the time)
  12. Is this the time to consider the training needs of staff and volunteers?  and do something about this, by writing up some guidance or training
  13. What about evaluation?  are you doing this ?  is this a time to think about this process more?
  14. Think about how you support others – what needs reflecting on in terms of volunteers, supervision, recruitment and their involvement?
  15. Basically, now might well be the time to look at what you do, and some of processes of the planning, reflecting and evaluation can be thought through and developed.
  16. Is now the time to update the website? – yeah possibly..
  17. Funding reports? yeah I know… – but a funding strategy might be worth developing now – develop streams of funding, and get things set up
  18. Maybe its time to think about the overall approach of what you do – have you started to see the signs of boredom in young people – have you started running out of ideas- are you drained?  – then maybe there’s an approach shift required – and this might be the time to give it some thought
  19. It could be a good time to have one to one conversation with young people – if you call them, then you might be able to ask them some really interesting questions, feedback on the youth activity agreed, but also about how they are, what they perceive the needs are locally – it might be an opportunity to recover some listening/research into the project – that you might have lost
  20. Read a book – yeah – honestly, saying it again as its worth saying twice. – Suggestions of mine below.. do add your own…
  21. Write a guest post for this blog? – youve been putting that off? – but go on share your story, case study, question – it might help others
  22. Whether planned or accidental, if you can, stop a bit, and do what you can to make the most of the time, it could be an opportunity, and yes I might not be saying this in three weeks time..
  23. Im sure there’s an admin task you hadn’t got around to that’s lurking around at no 23 of a 25 point list, insert it here______________
  24. Although no one quite knows when normality will return – but making some of the good use of this time may at least prepare you for it.
  25. And you. Again. Look after you, busy, stressed, youth and community worker – yes, keep doing what you can, and maybe even get involved locally with supporting neighbours and friends… but… you are important – focus on you. Maybe take some time and seek out someone to have a deep chat with – more than practice supervision – but to share and get stuff off your chest, maybe this is a time to focus on the personal you, the you and your self awareness, and who you are – this crisis might be the making of you. (no trust me on this)

You probably have a billion and one other things too… its weird that when some of the urgent stuff about delivery leaves the task list, its hard to focus or remember about the rest.. and that’s partly why I’ve written these above – they might be useful for you as a gentle prod. Most of the time we dont do these important things because were too busy – but when were not busy they can still be forgotten…

Official guidance from NCVO on the coronavirus is here: 

Oh and – book suggestions here please – to encourage others… my recent favourites include:

Poverty safari – Darren McGarvey

Utopia for Realists – Rutger Bregman

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Out of Control- Natalie Collins

The man you’re made to be – Martin Saunders

Notes on a nervous planet – Matt Haig

Critical issues in youth work Management – John Ord

please put yours below:

Why practice supervision should be an essential for youth and community work/ministry roles

I sometimes think I just get paid to drink coffee. But I dont. Well, actually I do.

Actually I get paid to be a practice supervisor with community and youth practitioners and do this mostly in coffee shops around the north.

And sometimes I think i’m the only person that’s doing this, or thankfully working with organisations (or self employed) who also value this. Though im probably not… but..

In the main, usually, I supervise practitioners on a 6/8 weekly basis, and I hope, at least, I think, that this is deemed valuable for those who receive it.

For those of us who have had a high regard for practice supervision, that its deemed a luxury can be a tragedy, and real inhibitor to the encouragement of good practice, why?

Well, because supervision that’s non managerial, helps a person look at what they do, with an outside view, gives them the opportunity to describe to someone else what it is they’re doing, what their ideas are, what the issues might be, what the challenges or joys are – and in good supervision be reframing this as they talk.

Be already working out the response the issue, without much input.

Other times, the story, the situation provokes a question from me

On other occasions I might refer to a theory, a book or the example of someone else – so that the practitioner connects with another

Or they’ll talk, and ill listen, and ill just let the conversation keep going, until the practitioner has worn themselves out… and the issue isn’t the issue at all.. its something else, and we got there in the end…

I might ask : ‘so.. what are you learning?’

or ‘are you sure?’  or

‘is there anything else going on?’

or just ‘ keep talking..’

‘what theory might this remind you of’

or

‘how might your theology inspire you here, where are the resonances’ (to the faith based practitioner)

The whole aim of supervision, in this way, is to encourage, to affirm, to help the practitioner reflect, to give them space to realise the new themselves – and I know sometimes I might want to share an idea, and I probably do too much, but am learning to stay quieter for longer.

I do despair that so often this kind of reflective space in supervision isn’t deemed essential for roles – sometimes management is barely adequate to be honest, sometimes practice reflection might highlight the need for better management…

But if management is about helping a person set and then meet designated goals, then supervision, for me, if the roles are separate, is more open, set by the practitioner, with subjects, content in what they want to talk about – reflect on, share – and yes the conversation might wander…It’s the space of the practitioner, and this, I think is the crucial bit. And it is safe. It is a place to do real if need be, if it needs to be a space of wallowing, of heartache, then it might need to be – but then it is also a place where the rebuild might occur, through the conversation.

Because its tough out there in ministry, community work, youth ministry – isn’t it?  really tough.. pulled in all directions, managing up and downwards, delivering and planning practice, trying new things..pressure to keep organisations going, worry, stress.. and so, whilst supervision might not be the only answer… its a place to step out and reflect. To breathe….

are you telling me that this isn’t essential?  no though not…

I have had to be manager/supervisor to a few people, and id almost have to pre empt a change in style to go between the two saying ; ‘you know im not often like this, but,  I will say that you need to do_____’ – and be more directive in that moment- when the rest of the time I might be more reflective.

Its as if they are improvisatory conversations, within which there’s reminders of the tools already available, reminders of the resources that are within grasp and reminders that the person genuinely isn’t alone.

And its great, in the main, to hear of the progress of a project,  the learning of an individual, the change a person might make from one supervision to another, and not everything happens to plan, ever, and not everything even happens at all – but if its taken seriously, then the process can be valuable, I hope through reading this you can tell that is.

So church – if you value your youth workers, clergy even – creating and purposefully including non managerial supervision (and its different from spiritual director/retreats/management) as part of their role might be the best thing you could do for them.

So, yeah, I get paid to have coffee, on one hand. Maybe I get paid to increase the longevity, creativity, support, learning, awareness of community and youth workers, and do this through conversation- helping community and youth workers discover that they can do this themselves..and that they’re ok…  Though I might need shares in the many local coffee shops in the north….

‘How was your experience of youth group today?’ Evaluating Youth work in an evaluation culture

‘How was your experience in Tescos today’

‘please tell us how you feel about the cleanliness of the toilets today’

‘share your experiences of the airport security today’

‘your opinion matters to us’

How satisfied were you with your experience today?

In case you haven’t noticed, its as if we’re living in a culture where opinions and where evaluation is all around us. I was travelling to Canada last week, and at each airport (3, Newcastle, Heathrow, Montreal) I had the option to rate the toilets, the security, the check in experience, and virtually in real time on screens I could see the current percentage of how people felt about their toilet/security/check in experience. It’s the same with Google maps, though I do quite enjoy rating my restaurant or hotel experiences, maybe on the hope of getting free food or hotels, but its good to share a photo or comment where its due. And if you want a laugh, some of the google reviews of churches are funny. But they’re often short.

Image result for how was your experience

But it really does feel as though we’re living in an age that’s saturated by evaluation. Our opinion matters.

But it wasn’t ever the same was it, and certainly not real time push button evaluations.

So the questions this pose for me are; what does it feel like when so much of culture is open to evaluation – when some isn’t, and secondly – what might it be like to grow up as a young person in a culture that is almost at evaluation saturation?

Please rate your experience of church today’

‘your youth group really appreciates your views- do give us a rtating’

‘share how the youth club made you feel and leave a comment so that we can improve our service to you’  

These sound awful in a way. And we might baulk at churches, youth groups or clubs aligning themselves in a service provision/entertainment way – but when a lot of the time, relevancy and attraction (rather than meaning/sacred/participation) are the drivers for an attendance, then it could be easy to forgive those who attend for thinking theyre being short changed because they aren’t given an opportunity to rate the sermon/games/activities/coffee/chat/atmosphere/friendliness – in a way that the same people can give an opinion on their travel, school or shop experiences. Yet Evaluation culture is all around, and whilst for some people it might be a relief not to have to give an opinion of everything – having no mechanism for giving an opinion, that is validated and sought for, means that there is no response, no way of sharing reflection, that doesn’t seem like wingeing in the coffee time, or over lunch a few hours later. Having no mechanism, apart from not being present – ie walking with your feet – seems to be reactionary and possibly avoidable.

I once made the mistake in one youthgroup a number of years ago, of giving out a 3 page end of term questionnaire. Don’t do this. It really wasn’t a good idea, but I was full of the dreams and ideals of a college course. And trying to see what young people thought of their youth group sessions of 3 months previous really wasn’t a good idea, and I took too seriously the requirmnent to do an evaluation for an essay, too much. I guess that’s why they have push button instant evaluation in the airport toilets, no one really wants to fill in a survey then. Evaluation has to be appropriate. And not having any – is that really an option?

But what does it say when an organisation doesn’t have any mechanism for this, when so many others do, and are open for it- peoples opinions are valued in airport toilets – but not in churches – is sanitation a place where peoples opinions are more important than sacred?

I am about to run a session on developing evaluation in detached youthwork, and it crossed my mind, the extent to which young people have grown up in an evaluation culture – where so many things in their lives have   an opportunity to give an opinion. Though, if shops, cinema, travel, toilets (!) are all open for evaluation – do young people have the same afforded to them when it comes to things that matter? Can they rate the maths lesson as they leave, or the careers talk, or even, rating how uncomfortable parents evening was for them – however there are other aspects of a young persons life that are important, such as faith, as voluntary groups – and these can offer scant opportunities for a response or opinion. It could be argued that young peoples attendance and achievement is more important than whether they enjoy what they’re doing at church, swimming club or scouts – but if google is valuing young peoples opinions (for whatever reason) then surely it makes some sense that if evaluation culture is part of a young persons life then the youth organisations might acknowledge and realise this so that they can hear from young people to. And, don’t use an end of term survey… a few tips for evaluating:

  1. Make it relevant to the audience and appropriate to the group
  2. Keep it concise and easy to do – single words/emoticons/post its – and – especially in conversations – note any feedback or comments there too!
  3. Realise the power dynamic – young people won’t want to be honest to offend you or challenge the relationship – so bear this in mind
  4. Use the information for reflection and to have a conversation with young people – to create new from within- and not just kept in a cupboard or filed away.
  5. Its an opportunity for young people voice to be heard, value and treasure it!

10 Commandments for Youth workers

And lo, as the great throng of youthworketh did gather on the plain, the sound of hail and thunder roared and a dense cloud overcame them as they camped, they were all covered. Then there was the smoke and the whole mountain shook, and the youthworketh did appoint two leaders,   managers facilitators , sorry i mean spent 2 more days developing junior leader to go upeth the mountain to represent the youthworketh to hear from the great gods about what their key instructions should be. Image result for 10 commandments

The gods of youthwork commanded the appointed ones (unnamed due to child protection and lack of consent, for they were now 2000 miles from their parents) to go up the mountain and wait for the commandments to be passed down.

After a short while, the junior leaders descendeth from the mountain and passed to the youthworketh community gathered there and gave them these commandments

We, Brew*, Jeffs and Smith, the great community of thy historic informal education have rescued thee from formality, the place of your slavery and command thee:

1. Thou shalt have no gods but youth work, though shalt not comprehend or understand what thee is

2. Thou shalt not make for thyself any form of statue or create systems of power for yourself, you are forever be commanded to empower young people and promote these

3. Thou must not misuse the name of youth work, some may call thee youth work, faith based youth work, detached youth work, centre based youth work, these will come and go, but the name youth work should remain

4. Remember to keep the notion of a day off, sometime. Just sometime, have a bloody day off. And use it well, treasure it, and dont feel guilty for having it, you may be rewarded for more should you enjoy this first one. 

5. Honour the values of your forefathers, of the great gods, of Aristotle, to promote Human flourishing, of the sacred texts to treat others better than yourselves, or from thy holy text in which we have made these things plain to you (Informal education (third edition revised and updateth 2005)) ; Respect for persons, promotion of well being, Truth, Democracy and Fairness and Equality.

6. Thou must forever more consider all experiences ‘learning opportunities’ or ‘learning experiences to reflect on’ – they are not in any ways to be termed as failures. 

7. Thou should where possible resisteth the temptation to cower away in enclaves and write reports on the darkness that swirls you, for thy great power of truth, of goodness can overcome. 

 

8. Thou shalt commit to build communities and networks for thyself, for it here where thy strength is held i commandeth thee to build up a collection of thee coffee shop loyalty cards for this very purpose. 

9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours mini bus (its about to disintegrate full of young people half way down the M5), thy resources and thy money, insteadeth write politeth letters to borrow and share thy resources, for thy hath provided sufficient for all the youthworketh around, for youthworketh is in the heart and mind and conversation, not in thy neighbours gold plated canoes, or thy neighbours 3 million pound buildings. Do not covet. Neither do not destroyeth thy neighbours resources when thy have undertake to borrow. 

10 Thou must not give falseth testimony to thy great stakeholders, the funders. No really. I will commandeth thee great fundeth to eventually understand the value of thy youthworketh practice, and thee has the great task to evaluate and review effectively, but thou shall not lie, no really.

And the great junior leaders sat down on the makeshift chairs that the youthworketh had laid before them. The youthworketh were stunned. They trembled at the great responsibility that they had now been given. The junior leaders did then say that a final command had been given, for all the youthworketh; ‘do not be afraid, for if you are to be obedient to these commandments, thou will realise that in conversations you will see beauty, and you will find deep satisfaction that is unmeasurable, and an pride that transcends all in the midst of purposeful relationships, this is a call that will fulfil no other, not teacher, not police, not social worker, for thee youthworker are thy great special people, thy will find beauty and significance in the small moments, be encouaraged’

And the greateth youthworkers assembly left the plain, as not only was the bar about to close, but thy holy Costa of the plain was offering free coffee, and they had papers to write.

(With apologies to anyone who thinks i murdered the original text in Exodus 20… )

*Josephine Brew wrote a book called ‘Informal education’ long before Jeffs and Smith – I referenced it here: https://wp.me/p2Az40-1Gd

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.

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.