‘In an ideal world you could just get funding for building relationships with young people’

How many times have you said that in the last 40 years? (As a youth/community worker)

Not a relationship that had to make something else happen to justify the relationship, not a relationship where the young person ‘changed’, not a relationship in which entire decades of social harm, psychological damage caused by other relationship was solved in 4 months -type of relationship. Not a relationship in which the young person achieved something, said something, evaluated something like the relationship offered to them was worthwhile. Not a relationship that was needed so that the new 3m youth building wasnt closed.

‘in an ideal world we would get funding for building trusted relationships with young people’

Just a relationship.

Just being with someone for the sake of it

Just having someone to talk to

Just . a . conversation.

Just a moment to be valued

Just a moment in which time stood still, and there was an interruption to the norm

A moment where someone stopped and took an interest and for the young persons sake.

A relationship that may lead to action, a relationship that may be supportive, a relationship that could change the world of the young person – and the adult – but not a relationship that expects and targets that before its already happened.

I am reading ‘Poverty Safari’ by Darren McGarvey; within it he notes the reflections of a youth worker, Joe – reflections that have been echoed by the youth worker fraternal for decades. Its Joes boss that bemoans the lack of funding for relationships. Joe, goes on to say:

‘good youthwork can have a profound and positive effect on young people and it is a challenging and rewarding job. But I think we are a long way from this being understood or accepted by a fairly large element of funding bodies and the public sector. There is funding out there for targets, outcomes and issues. However many are not relevant to the work we do’

(which is)

‘ we are working to combat the effects of inequality and poverty has on the lives of young people, the cycle of insecurity, mistrust, lack of resilience. low self esteem and confidence. It is holistic, long term and multi faceted work’

This may not be the space to critique all of the above. Certainly there is an element of youthworkers clinging to the darkness as their natural habitat, and not necessarily seeing all the opportunities and options for funding and developing their work, and working in a needs based, and meeting emotional needs might be already fitting of a funding or social policy agenda. However.

The point remains to be said.

None of any of these things, any of these approaches, will ever come to fruition without the basic need to develop relationships as a core focus, no not core focus, as a reason to exist. Anything else is a course, a program or a ministry.

It may only be the voluntary or faith sector that has the capacity to do this, but the culture of outcomes and targets is fully pervasive, whether that’s in funding bids to charitable trusts, outcome promises to consortiums, or even, the final result of good youth ministry, have kids turn up on a Sunday. Its outcome orientated- no its outcome defined relationships. Its fully pervasive, because the systems are crumbling and in need to justify existence. Its fully pervasive because the value for money neo-liberalism default has made anything other seem radical, seem ‘non real world’, too idealistic. And Funding, and outcomes always generate a implicit direction of travel to the lowest hanging fruit, so that funding can be justified. The nearly christian who might go to church, the nearly got a job or capable to do a course- an easy quick win. But no one (as McGarvey writes) dare say this.

Yet, as McGarvey writes. Young people can smell outcome orientated rats a mile off. Young people in poverty can attune to being projected. Being rescued for a moment by the short term saviour (p83). The parachuted in for a funding season organisation that makes promises and delivers nothing, and has no actual involvement in the real needs, real situation of the community its is meant to be there for. And no one in the community has any involvement in any of it – except to turn up, and be a number.

Things young people want; (According to McGarvey)

Value ; The adult ‘ was passionate about the work they did and made me feel valued’ (p69)

Place and space: ‘working class folks receive strange looks when their groups lofty objectives are to want a place for the elderly and a space to drink coffee’ (p49) – or – ask a group of young people what they want to do – just want somewhere to go thats safe to talk.

Participation and Autonomy: ‘Joe and his team are one of many small (and chronically underfunded – my words) organisations that are dealing with the social and cultural legacy of decades of poor planning and tokenistic consultation with local people’ (p82)

Good youthwork is more than what Joe says it is, but then youthwork is an ongoing conversation that creates new definitions in each context, what is important is that relationships where young people are valued, where there is safety, space and place, and where there is a genuine desire for participation, and young persons autonomy to be at the forefront of it. Where honest means that its not a relationship for an outcome. A relationship that’s reduced to a trade.

So, yeah, in an ideal world,

‘we would get funding for building trusting relationships with young people’

And we will have realised the inherent good that there is in every single one of these. Whilst there are some ways of writing these down – the desire that relationships have outcomes at all virtually destroys their honesty, and their goodness. The ethics of the market reigns, and as Goffman says, the closer we are the trade, the less authentic the performance we play in our interactions. (Goffman, 1960)

But we must not give up. We will keep on going. There will be a way. It may be asset based community development, it may be in re framing and using different language to describe youthwork, it may be something else. Whatever we do, its relationships with young people that matter. after all…

Youthwork is a professional relationship in which the young person is engaged as the primary client in their social context (Sercombe, p27)


Goffman, Irving , 1960, The presentation of the self in everyday life

McGarvey Darren, 2017, Poverty Safari

Sercombe, Howard, 2012, Youth work Ethics


Youthwork is good for young people and society , heres 50 reasons why (#yww18)

Its Friday of National Youth work week and to celebrate all things positive and empowering about youthwork practices in the UK.

The NYA have run a campaign on describing youthwork, and the evidence of these can be seen via Twitter here are few of the images, from the twitter feed, to capture some of the sense of what youthwork means to many people involved in it:


But what does the sector and the many 100’s of youth workers say about themselves- for, it is one thing stating what youthwork is all about – another describing the good it does for young people and society. Over the last 24 hours I have shared on twitter and facebook

(via the In defence of youthwork page)  the question as described above:

In what way is youthwork (or ‘are youthworkers’) good for young people and society? 

These were the responses to this question, unfiltered and unsorted:

  1. Believe in them
  2. Support, encourage and cheerlead
  3. Trust them
  4. Love them
  5. Deal in hope
  6. See potential, not problems
  7. Meet the needs that teachers struggle due to the formality of their jobs
  8. Guide, support and enthuse
  9. Start where the young person is at
  10. Be there
  11. They are trained listeners
  12. Advocate rights
  13. Helps young people develop real life skills to cope as adults
  14. Transforms young peoples lives through meaningful mutual engagement, allows young people to fulfil their potentials
  15. Provides young people with a safe space where they are able to be themselves and realise their potential – coming from someone who has been youth worked since she was 11 and loved it so much that 10 years later she’s a youth worker!
  16. Gives spaces for young people to throw off pressure to grow up too fast & be young, have fun.
  17. Gives vulnerable teens a place to be safe and access services that can help and support them
  18. Offers young people the chance to access a vast range of opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t
  19. The encourage growth and enhance their future chances
  20. To give young people a voice and give them a listening ear to hear and reflect issues that are important to them an not the system
  21. Enables young people the opportunity to develop unique relationships, where they can question, be heard and feel valued. These relationships are different to parents, teachers and peers, being based on mutual trust and respect, with the young person at the centre.
  22. It’s a relationship which the young person chooses to participate in, in which the young person is valued as a whole person. This relationship is a safe space to explore and the only agenda is around the young person’s growth and development as a whole person.
  23. Because it offers safe relationships with adults outside of the family which is beneficial for young people
  24. It’s the only service that has a voluntary relationship with young people for me it was the first time I ever felt listened to and valued inspiring me to become a youth worker which I feel is a privilege
  25. A youth worker advocates and protects the interests of young persons
  26. Enables young people to build positive relationships with other young people and adults outside of their family
  27. It may make better adults!
  28. Providing valuable informal education that is not provided in schools and homes. This can be life changing for some young people
  29. Youth work provides at least one example of an adult who can empathise with and think like a young person – bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood. An example of how you can continue to be yourself even into adulthood, rather than change to ‘become and adult’
  30. Give young people some time and space to be their true selves
  31. Empower them
  32. Actively inspires and enables self determination
  33. Takes support to them, in their community, in places they feel safe and people they feel confident around
  34. Offers a space for young people to develop their authentic self through an accountable social education programme, which allows for mistakes and growth
  35. Youthwork offers a safe space for young people to be themselves be heard be supported be empowered and treated with respect
  36. All young people feel respected and valued
  37. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve met now “grown up’s” who tell me how brilliant a youth club session/residential/activity was which they took part in and others who sought me out for support as adults because they remember what we did as youth workers.
  38. Inclusive and challenges young people to explore their identity in society
  39. An adult yp can laugh/ have fun with but also be safeguarded by! Without youth workers referrals to early help services and social care would be higher!
  40. when a young person see’s that a youth worker doesn’t hold the weight of judgement in their eyes when they look at them it makes the young person lighter, they feel that they can shed the weight of years of being taught they are worthless.
  41. Youth work can be a place of political education and political participation of young people, with the aim of having social action.
  42. It’s a place where young people can test out ideas around identity, belonging etc and open up their world view by meeting people they may not normally come into contact with, trying new things and having their viewpoints challenged.
  43. To help with transition to adulthood
  44. Youth work changes young peoples lives for the better. It plays a transformative and educative role in the personal and social development young people. It helps young people explore and understand their own and others identity and gives them the skills knowledge and tools to positively impact, change and shape the world around them
  45. Helps young people connect with their community and become valid members of it
  46. Youth work embraces and celebrates young peoples lived experiences without judgement
  47. Youth work enables young people to grow in understanding of themselves, those around them and the society in which they live. In addition, to having their own space to have fun, free of judgement.
  48. Despite the overall feel of some of these statements, I think it is also important to note that youth work as a practice does not see young people as victims or in need of ‘saving’ as such, unlike many other professions working with young people. Youthworkers work with young people to empower them, and believe they can source their own power. Youth workers aim to understand the world from the young person perspective, respecting their choices, feelings and views, and providing accurate information so young people can make their own informed choices. This also means sometimes (often) we have to watch as they make, what we believe are mistakes, and be there, without judgement when they are ready to engage.

With two from me: 

49. Youthwork give young people the opportunity to build a relationship with an adult in which they can choose to say no. 

50. Youthwork provides a way of helping communities think better of young people through social and community activism, narrating a positive story of young people. 




At the end of youthwork week, lets endorse, celebrate and cheer for all the good that youthworkers do, in all the many places where voluntary relationships occur between themselves and young people, in organisation buildings, on the streets, community centres and churches, lets remember how much of what we are all doing and trying to do for young people we share many values, dreams and desires for the discovering of young peoples gifts, abilities and exploring with them places in the community and the future orientated , youthful fight and frustration we need to accomplish this. For all who stand in the gap, who take on the fight of funding bids, trustee meetings, community hostility and pressure from systems, outcomes and managerial expectations for the sake of young peoples rights, participation and welfare, be encouraged, and thank you.

Is the tide turning ? We hope so. And if these 50 reasons aren’t good enough to convince policy makers and funders of the value of youthwork, then Im sure we can think of 50 more.

Thank you for all you contributed to this piece with your comments and responses to this question. It would take another piece to credit you all individually, so thank you.

Is the most faithful discipleship happening ‘outside’ the church?

As part of my role with Frontier Youth Trust, and also, my experience of being a youthworker over the last 10 years, one of the common conversations in the many Christian based projects, activities and ministries reverberates around the following kind of statements:

We met with _______ person the other day – they would really love to follow Jesus and show signs of being interested in believing in God – but I couldnt imagine them going to a local church


Young people we work with, we have great conversations about faith, we also have conversations where they tell us how church has damaged them before


These young people would be considered on fire for Jesus for what they do, serve and be loving in their community, but because they dont go to church on a sunday the church arent interested.

So the question I am left thinking is the following

Can (youth) discipleship happen ‘outside’ the church?

or maybe, pertinently, might better youth discipleship happen outside the church?

Obviously no discussion like this can happen without first trying to define what church is and what discipleship is, or at least that are both discussions within studies of Ecclesiology, although a study on what ‘discipleship’ is more difficult to find. There are calls for ‘True discipleship’, ‘deeper discipleship’ and ‘radical discipleship’ often, even within these pages, though cementing a definition is difficult. Skipping over the complex nature of both of these things, is not done because it is not important to think on these matters, but need extensive study further. Nicholas Healys definition of Church within the Theodrama, existing as an ongoing reality that is practical and prophetic is one that i find helpful.

In regard to discipleship, and building on that Theodramatic theme, Wesley Vander Lugt separates it out into two aspects ; formation and performance, both as he says in Living Theodrama are interlinked and inter-dependant of each other. What tends to happen is that Discipleship can often be short hand for ‘learning’, attending bible study groups, house groups or church activities – when this might usually only reflect the ‘formation’ element of it. Thoughts on thinking of Discipleship as Pedagogy practices ive written about here

In previous posts i have talked about developing action first discipleship – if you’re interested take a look here: https://wp.me/p2Az40-1af  there also youth resources that FYT produce that encourage action first – thinking second as a shift in focus for formational discipleship , see http://www.fyt.org.uk.

So, If Discipleship is about Formation and Performance – can it occur outside the ‘walls’ of church? – and not just could it, in some cases – should it?

What has been discovered across the country, is that as youthworkers, chaplains and mission workers connect with people and create places of home, support, acceptance and deepen relationships, then these have intrinsic spiritual (not just emotional) value. A place of home and safety is created in the relationships, and these relationships are the source and space of faith, of discovery and ongoing learning. Attempts to use relationships as  strategy seem unfulfilling, and against the ethics of some practices.

Sometimes what gets tried is to ‘bolt-on’ formation in the place of ongoing open conversations and youth work practices – such as ‘if anyone wants to do it, theyll be a ‘discussion’ group, on a certain evening’ and sometimes these things, when developed with appropriate process, care and attention may encourage formational thinking on faith within that space. Other times these things crash and burn. It is more likely that gradual processes in this direction , gradual risk taking, is more likely to produce enthusiasm for faith formation. But faith formation, can occur in other ways that ‘sit down’ discussion groups. The default for this shouldnt be youth alpha, or equivalent. And there are plenty of spaces where performative/action discipleship can occur in a youth project – as young people participate in it, and develop consciousness of local community activism.Image result for acting training

But the question remains – can Discipleship happen outside the church? 

In another way, forget the projects working in local communities. Think of Youth Groups. The separation of youth groups from ‘church’ (albeit there are often church attending volunteers of workers) – the youth group is a place often where formational discipleship happens, (whether it actually happens and is any more than a social club to keep young people involved until next years soul survivor is another question), and many young people attending youth groups don’t attend church either. So it is not just the community based project, but the youth group too.

Is it ever appropriate to encourage young people not to go to church? I mean, for their own good – do they ‘have to be ready’ for it, prepared even. A project leader recently told me that they knew of someone who said that ‘they could cope and agree with being a christian, but go to church and belong to that group of people?’ no thanks. So, in a way as we create connections with people outside of the walls of the church, we will meet many many people. As church we need to be relaxed enough about our identity and self critical to know that the faith community has a lot of baggage, and many not be an encouraging place for ongoing faith journey, or insight into the way of following Jesus, that someone outside is desperately looking for, or at least enquiring.

Can discipleship happen outside the church? One on hand, developing new church communities and groups as part of an ongoing movement is how the church grew, and continues to do so. Increasing existing gatherings is difficult, starting new ones (as both church planters and emerging church leaders tell us) is a key way. What we might be doing, accidentally, is expanding the stage where God is active in local communities, through the conversations we have with people where they become opters in of God prompting them through us, being formed and becoming performers, the question metaphorically then is do they need to be part of the existing theatre troop, or have that troop help shape new theatrical acts and scenes in different contexts, even in the same town, but with other people groups.

Of course, the path is paved with sharp pebbles and stones, and no two performances are the same. The church’s role is to water and provide food for the emerging shoots that are located and planted already, not keep hoping that the root is uprooted and located elsewhere for feeding and watering, thus making it weaker, and also out of its place. Is there a sadness, that local acts of mission and discipleship are not being used to shape the practices of local churches. If people find a home, and space of discipleship in the local foodbank, with volunteers, how might a church be as accessible, be as a home, be as inclusive and welcoming, on a sunday, the same for the young people at the youth club on a tuesday evening.


Living Theodrama, Wesley Vander Lugt, 2014

Here be Dragons, Youthwork and Mission off the Map, R Passmore, 2013

Ecclesiology and Ethnography, Pete ward, 2013

The church, the world and christian life, Nicholas Healy, 2000


Where does God act in your youth Ministry?

It sounds a bizarre question doesnt it, after all, youth group may have just finished, it occured in the place of spiritual activity, a church, was led by christian leaders, often involved activities with young people who were keen to be there, and occupied for a short period of time, so its inevitable that God turned up – yeah?

Have you ever thought or felt  that youth ministry, as a leader can be a bit of going through the motions at times, maybe we feel like that about church too- if we dare admit it – but the ‘motions’ and ‘routines’, ‘programmes’ and ‘activities’ of the youth group – do they leave room for God to be involved? and if so – what might be a relationship between what we do (as leaders), what young people do, and also how God might be involved in being present and active in the space? 

Does God show up – when the young people cry at the end of our purposeful emotional talk? , is that God? 

Does God show up – when the young person participate in ‘real church’ on a sunday, after being involved in ‘not real ‘ church on a sunday evening for 3 months?

I only ask provocatively, as is it worth asking the question – where, and how is God active in youth Ministry?

To begin an answer this, it might be worth referring to a few of the prominent theologically reflective youth ministry writers over the last few years, both from a UK and USA perspective. In the USA, the discussion regarding Theology (the knowledge of God) and youth ministry is potentially slightly more advanced in terms of writing on this theme, however Pete Ward, Sally Nash and a few others might disagree, as I suggested previously, Youth ministry as a field within practical theology is barely a discussion, but that might change.

So, Where is God acting in Youth Ministry – what has already been said?

Pete Ward says this:

It is God who seeks young people and chooses to call them to himself. Encounter with God is a spiritual event shrouded with Mystery. Despite all our efforts, training and experience, we are powerless beside the sovereign work of God (Ward, Pete, 1997, p35)Youthwork and the Mission of God: Frameworks for Relational Outreach

Going on to say that the desire to communicate also carries with the desire of simplification, reducing the gospel to simple messages (because of a myth that young people have short attention spans, not that they deserve better methods of education, discipleship or given the chance to raise their game and treated with more respect than a universal myth). The Otherness of God who is to be feared and respected is played down, writes Ward, The mystery of faith has been debunked, unpacked and demythologised and illustrated into non existence, creator God has become friend, and prayer is ‘like a telephone’, worship a ‘rave’. It feels, as Ward goes on to suggest at the end of the book, that creativity, artistry and imagination are clues to the moments of God acting, as they respond to a knowledge of God as creator God and instilling in the person a Spirit filled imagination.

In a way, God is active when young people are creative – and how creative are the young people allowed to be in your youth group? 

A Second response to this question is arrived at by the American Theological and youth minister; Andrew Root, his knowledge of Bonhoeffer is well known, and four of his last publications refer significantly to Bonhoeffer and Bonhoeffers own experiences as a Youthworker. However, that aspect is not for now. What Root does in ‘Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry’  is to square the location of the presence of God within ministry as within the experiences of Community – ie in Relationships. This in part is counter to a prevailing culture in youth ministry to see relationships as a strategy for something else (and reducing them ethically and humanity). Relationships therefore are, according to Root (referring to Bonhoeffer) are the location and source of the presence of Christ within a Youth group.

The Meeting of I and you is the place where we encounter the living presence of Christ, because this is the place of transcendent otherness  (Root, 2007, p114)

Whilst this flies against using relationships as a strategy (ie to bring young people to a thing) but as intrinsic itself, and locates the very presence of God in the relationship itself, and meeting Christ in the person. As a reality, meeting Christ in the otherness of persons within youth ministry, this is worth reflecting on, or reading the book further. As we are made for relationships and interactions, there is a need that this is costly and vulnerable, it is about community, seeing them as part of our being in ministry, not just a strategy. (Root, 2007, p121-122)

This might help the ‘where of Jesus’ in Youth Ministry – but does it figure and help us in thinking where Divine action occurs.

However, in a later publication: The Theological Turn in Youth ministry (2011), Andrew Root suggests, and I concur, that whilst the justification of youth ministry as a theological practice has gained significant ground in the last 20 years (and Pete Ward, and Roots own pieces above are part of this), especially to construct links between practice and theology, and practical theology has been helpful in this, little attention, according to Root, has been given systematically to

‘how divine action and human action relate to one another, to how and where they associate…we have not yet sought to articulate  how to go about discerning the activity of God from the place of Human action or how human action is participation in the action and being of God in the world’ (Root, 2011, p219)

Roots response in The Theological Turn, is to briefly overview three positions in regard to Divine-Human Action and his new publication Faith Formation in a secular age develops clearly one of these, the role of being a minister, and in so doing this is where God acts. Stating; ‘To be a minister or to be ministered to is the vehicle into divine action‘- (Root, 2016, p201) it is here where divine action may be experienced in a secular age.

The problem  I see in this, is that it reduces Divine action to predominately Human Action, and though Root is more concerned with ‘Faith Formation’ in this book, his response to Divine action, leaves me underwhelmed. Its as if, as Pete Ward said in 1997, Divine action is demythologised – reduced to something humanely tangible, and by doing so this reduces God in the playfulness of his/her action.

It is at this point where Theologians like Von Balthasar, Vanhoozer and others come in, when they relate the Overarching narrative of Gods action as a Theodrama. (references below)

For what we have in the Theodrama, that they propose, is that we as Humans are co-actors, acting, with God in the ongoing drama of world redemption. In the 5 act Theodrama that Wells proposes, God has already acted in History in four key scenes – Creation, Covenant, Christ and the Church – and is about to act mysteriously in the eschatology, (oh and save your time working out whether we live in a secular age, just focus on living in the church awaiting eschatological age)Image result for divine action . The Bible gives us a clue, or a script, of how God and Humans have already acted in their ongoing relationship. Faith has been found in the generous gift of the widows mite, the touch of the desperate, the faith of the centurion, God spoke through prophets, and to people in covenant, also in surprising moments (such as the road to Emmaus). An expanded view of God, according to Vanhoozer, one remythologised, is one who Speaks and Acts in communicative agency. With the Bible being full of God speaking in and through, God presents himself in mysterious, yet consoling, commanding and promising ways (Vanhoozer, Remythologising Theology, 2010 p3). 

In Contemplating Theology as Theodrama, and the Christian life, and pursuit of God as a drama itself, then for Vanhoozer, the Drama of Redemption, God is in the business of ongoing dialogue as the author and director of the Drama, in this expanded metaphor for Divine Human action – ‘The dialogical author is the new paradigm of a new kind of agency, one suited to neither examining dead things nor to manipulating objects, but rather to engaging the living consciousness of Human heroes’ (Vanhoozer, 2010, p333) To be human is to live in dialogical act, to live is to participate in the give and take of question and answer, call and response. Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine)

‘This drama itself is the story of how the creator consumates his creation into the whole that is true, good and beautiful as it is meaningful; a renewed and restored world, an abundant garden city characterised by everlasting shalom’ (Vanhoozer, 2010, p327)

So, How might Theodrama help in the awareness of ‘divine action’ in Youth Ministry?  (or any ministry)

On one hand, it is not to reduce God to one favoured form of action, to say that God is creative is to negate the incarnation, to discover him in relationships through the covenant is to reduce the power and mystery of redemption and repentance on the cross, and what , as Root rightly says, Death, might mean in ministry. The whole Theodrama reveals God in communicative act, and within this Drama our ongoing scenes occur. The Divine Author is in our and the young peoples very midst, prompting and provoking in call and response. The Divine author is calling his creation towards the work of the kingdom, that is to love, hope, give and to feed, clothe and liberate. God is calling, metaphorically, from the stage of the action those who would continue to participate in a dangerous journey of continued call and response. Yet it is a call that respects the Human person, a requirement for obedience, and continued choice, it is an interjecting call, not an interferring or intervening one.

Where might Divine action occur in Ministry?  It might just be where those called, respond to the call and begin to perform the Theodrama – even if they dont know it yet.


Baltasar, Hans Urs Von, Theodrama, Vol 1-5

Root, Andrew, Revisiting Relational youth Ministry, 2007, IVP

Ward, Pete,  Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997, SPCK

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Remythologising Theology, 2010

Vanhoozer, Kevin The Drama of Doctrine, 2005

Vander lugt, Wesley Living Theodrama, 2014

Wells, Samuel, Improvisation, 2005



How to last in youth ministry longer than a mobile phone contract

I cant speak about longevity in Youth Ministry with any great conviction or from experience. The longest I have spent in working for one church in one place is two years. And the longest I have spent working for a parachurch type project is 5 years, and recently 3 years at Durham YFC in which the last year was towards its closure. So, when I posted here on ‘Why do youthworkers leave the church?’ and got a number of people responding, I had no real comeback as to how it might be possible to last in a one-church youth ministry role.

So, I put it out on Social media to find out not only if there were any paid Youth Ministry people in roles – who had lasted more than 5-7 years, currently in a role.

And b) what they put their longevity down to.

Ok, so it was an echo chamber piece of research via twitter. But in all the youth work fraternal and contacts, there was only mention of 3 people in the UK who were known by others, of youthworkers employed in a church setting, in one church, who had been in post longer than 7 years. One left their post of 8 years to train as a vicar.

Just 3 youthworkers in the whole of the UK have been in a church long enough to see a 10 year old to their 17th birthday. Ie just one generation of teenagers. For everyone else the youthworker might only help celebrate 2 birthdays of the young people. 2 Years. Paid youth workers are lasting not much longer than a mobile phone contract- or premiership managers.

So, a few of these youthworkers are in the process of the long haul and got back to me with what feels like ‘how they managed to survive’ in a church post for longer than 7 years… this was one of the responses given to me:


The reflections on what a youthworker had to do to stay in a particular role. It appears that personal determination (1) is important, personal and professional relationships are key (2), being rooted in a community (3), being flexible (4), having space to personally develop (5) and a bit like the first one, to see being a youth minister as a vocation in itself. (and not be swayed by offers of ‘vocations’ elsewhere)

In one way these counter balance with the ‘reasons why a youthworker leaves’ – the internal politics and ‘professional’ relationships with clergy/senior pastor breaks down, having a short contract might mean not putting down roots, not being responsive to change, or helping the church be responsive to change can be important also.

The challenge is how much of a youthworkers longevity in a situation is their own responsibility, and how much is the responsibility of the church and its leaders, congregation and local community. Obviously a youth worker can set a vision (1) – but a local culture and its practices will eat it for breakfast, if it is not rooted in knowledge, gifts and attitudes of the community. A youthworker might want to and desire good relationships with senior staff and congregation – but that also has to be two way. flexibility, rootedness and personal development all push two ways too. The constructed professional space that a youthworker might thrive in is the responsibility of the church and its community, the task of ensuring that some of these things happen might be both the youthworker and their managements responsibility. ie its not just the youthworkers responsibility to find their own training, or retreat space.

Maybe what happens is that congregations treat youthworkers like clergy. In many denominations now, clergy can participate in all manner of support from their affiliation and diocese, from conferences, supervisions, training, as well as career development (;-)) – clergy prayer times and support. Granted this doesnt suit everyone, and it isnt universal. But the point being that this is part of a ministers role that usually congregations can devolve responsibility. However, not many of these things are present for a youthworker in a church setting. Often it is the church and not an affiliation that employs, youthworkers have to find their own pension, their own supervision, their own resources locally that include training opportunities, there is no post qualification ‘probation’ training, ie a curacy period.  So, possibly congregations think that youthworkers have all this, but dont.  I have heard it said by a congregant that they were surprised that as a youthworker i didnt have a sabbatical, or a structure or affiliation to help with career guidance.  But even then its deemed not the congregation or churchs responsibility. The task of the youthworker is to find their own training, partnerships, resources, often supervision, retreat and guidance. Which they do, and have to. Then at times, the youthworker becomes responsible for helping with finding funding for their role. There needs to be money in the pot so that a paid youthworker can be confident in longevity, and build roots, and connections. It could work the other way too, but as soon as the treasurer starts getting worried about the length of a youthworkers contract, then the youthworker will be onto the jobs pages of youthwork magazine quicker than a brown fox that jumped over a lazy dog.

No doubt personal faith and determination are key to longevity. Seeing through what might be two year stormy periods is one thing, to fight on and go the distance. But two years of storms when there might only be funding or the desire of the church to employ you for three years anyway, then it becomes difficult to see through the storms, and start to think about protecting yourself, and what is next for you. There might be something to be asked about how churches view, employ and treat youthworkers given that so few are lasting longer than 7 years in a post in the UK. Especially as 7 years is often the minimunm time for an external person to start doing good community work. It is easy to say that youthworkers are difficult, and maverick and hard to manage, and if only 4 youthworkers in the UK are in a post for a long time then this might be the case also.

However, where a youthworker has done the long haul, there must be benefits for young people, such as confidence in the built relationships, consistency, trust. All of these get a bit of a battering when young people are subject to building relationships with short term people, like gap years (for example). I guess if we want young people to have a long lasting faith, we might just need to connect them with people who are going to also last a long time. If keeping the activity going has been the priority of the church, and not keeping the youthworker and the volunteers trained, supported and valued, then no wonder young people might not also see the value in pursuing faith. Of course it isnt that simple. But without huge numbers of youthworkers in churches for a long time, it is going to be difficult to find out. What we do know is the current system isnt working. But it might be working where someone has and is doing the long haul.  To the few of you in this position, well done, keep going and continue to inspire, lead and be consistent with young people in your local context.






Developing Hope Inspiring Relationships

For the best part of the last 6 years, I have had this quotation on my desk.

I originally got it when I attended two days training on Mental Health Recovery, run by Perth & Kinross council, and at the time there was alot of free training available.

As a detached youthworker, I have always found validity in learning from other disciplines and thinking as to how people are, whether it is psychology, sociology, and so, to develop an understanding of Mental Health, and its recovery was of valuable insight. It was training attended not just by other professionals, but also persons in recovery.

As a youthworker, there was much in the discussions that was of use. But it was this summary of the kind of relationships that inspire people to have Hope that struck me. And it immediately resonated with the kind of relationships that we, as youthworkers, might seek to have with young people.

I think when working on the streets, it can be difficult to see hope, let alone enable young people who might be drowning the end of their week at school in alcohol to see hope also. Yet, for every conversation might be littered with a sparkle that hope is a possibility.

For, in a way, there is much talked about ‘relationships’ in Youth work ( especially youth ministry), actually, you dont have to go far to find references to ‘building’ relationships as the crux of youth ministry practice. See for example, Pete Ward (1996), Nigel Pimlott (2008) Dean Borgman ( 1999), though some of the relationship talk is criticised by Griffiths (2011) , and Root in revisiting relational youth ministry (2007)  takes another stab at the same sort of subject.

Thinking about relationships has also permeated, though not to the same extent, within the tribe of youthwork, in 1965, Geotschius and Tash (who else) suggested that a relationship is ‘a connection between two people in which some sort of exchange takes place’ , Huw Blacker, in youthwork practice ( Jeffs and Smith) describes how relationships a purposeful, as they share information, they are opportunities to promote learning and are defined predominately by the context that they occur. So different relationships occur between young people and youthworkers depending if they occur in the church, the streets or the school.  What it seems to me, is that Youth Ministry is based upon relationships, but the details of them are lacking- its just ‘what happens’ ,  And youth work provides the details of the relationship and seeks to put it in sociological context.

I think that is why I like this above summary.

All our Youth work & Ministry is about the business of transforming, and to do this we need to inspire young people to Hope, to Dream and to seize possibilities. So, from the streets, to the cafes, to the groups, as youthworkers we dont take lightly the privilege of spending time, and building a positive relationship with a young person. We are probably inspiring hope without realising it. If developing Hopeful relationships is what is needed within mental health recovery, then it is worth developing within core youthwork practice too.

(I am thinking that ‘tolerating uncertainty’ in the future is about the short term exploring and improvisation – rather than not having faith or long term certainty)

A previous post on maintaining a hopeful perspective in youth ministry is here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-10b 











We need to talk about Clergy/Youth worker line management (Part 4) – what to do when it goes wrong

It is easier to talk about the reasons why a line management relationship goes wrong – its more difficult to suggest ways to rectify it!

In parts 1-3 of this management series (links below) I identified a number of these factors. Most of them come down to expectations, and these are widely talked about . However, there are other reasons why the relationship may start to break down, it could be personality, it could be a change in management style – from laissez faire (damaging in itself) to more directive (ok, but the change can be challenging). There can be other complications. Without going over old ground, the breakdown in this relationship is one of the key reasons a youthworker leaves a post. (outside of funding)

So, If its established that there can be issues within your relationship with your line manager (and if you’re a clergy reading this, with your youth worker who you are managing) what can be done to rectify, and reconcile when things start to go wrong… I realise it depends what the situation is.. but these are some of the things that can be put in place to help create a structure that can help before the event of any issues: 

  1. For both Church and Youthworker to establish that a known 3rd person will be given the responsibility of stepping in if needed, but prior to that point they can be the essential professional supervision for the youth worker for them to receive external critical reflective supervision on their practice throughout. If a youthworker tends not to request, ask or suggest this, then they’re turning down opportunities for further learning and reflection, yes as a church you may/will need to pay this, but it will pay off in the long run. This person may not need then be imported in for a crisis, but has been hopefully part of the ongoing conversation and may have been able to suggest, critique, questions and guide the worker through any issues in the ongoing. external supervision is critical!   (If I can be of help to supervise a worker, click the link above and it might be arranged )
  2. Spend time negotiating aspects of the structure of your line management relationship, including venue, frequency, agenda, management style ( directive/coaching/support) , and expectations. All in the first few weeks. In addition decide how feedback will be given, and what the process will be in receiving both positive and challenging criticism (there will be some) and how this will be handled.  Clergy, it is your responsibility to prioritise line managing your youthworker, the more they keep nagging you to meet them, the less committed it feels to them that you are about them, their ministry in your church. Forgive the directness. It needs to be said.
  3.  Have a discussion about time, and what time off, time in lieu, annual leave, working days will all look like, and what ‘time off’ activities are ok. Nothing worse that great youthwork on a sunday evening being overshadowed because the congregation have expectations that the youthworker shouldnt be visiting local pubs, or that their day off it is ok to help at the church fete. This is important.
  4. Can the two of you spend any social time together, that isnt church, or to do with work/ministry- it might be helpful… just a thought?

So, get some of this sorted – what to do when things start to go wrong? 

At the risk of sounding like an amateur relationship counsellor, and I am really not. I am also aware that I have not done these things, when i should have, or done them when i shouldnt. It is worth recognising, if the situation is appropriate to do so, that conflict can be a good thing if it is handled properly. Sometimes conflict can be the ‘storm’ before a new negotiated relationship which can flourish, and I know this is especially thought of in Tuckmans Group stages, sometimes it could be applicable to a one to one relationship, it is widely appropriated in mentoring relationships, so a line management one might not be too different, albeit some of the dynamics might be very different. Just worth trying to find resources and theories from elsewhere or group/mentor processes & changes.

  1. Arrange to talk directly with the person. Where this is possible. Yes each party might have a trusted 3rd person, so the practice supervisor, partner, area minister type person. But subsequent to this, each of you has to take responsibility for the care, nuture and attention to the relationship. What i would suggest is after talking through with someone, then write down on paper your personal reflections of the situation, including what you have felt, and how you would like it to be different. Pray through your reflections, give them a day or so to untangle a bit, and then arrange to meet up and talk about the relationship with the person. This is not going to be easy.  The few days space might help. writing things down will also. Through this kind of conversation, which might be on both sides, then renegotiate the relationship, expectations, guidelines, style of management, and revisit the ‘trigger’ points every few weeks.
  2. Avoid bottling things up, so that the list is very long. Keep short accounts, meet often.
  3. Dont gossip. So dont moan to the rest of the church. Gossip is speaking about the issue to anyone who you have duty of care over, or who is in a lower hierarchical structure to you in the church. With the exception of your spouse/partner.  Dont even gossip like this: Image result for gossip
  4. Avoid demonising the other person, its no excuse for bad practice, or pastoral, personality inadequacies, but its very likely that your line manager hasnt been trained to know what to do. However, if they as a clergy are unable to give you what might be pastoral, educative or spiritual direction (almost the absolute minimum or ‘default’ for a Minister, surely..?) , because of personal rudeness – then this is a more significant issue.  They might not know ‘how to manage you’ . Regardless, demonising them really doesnt help. They are a fallen child of God like you, and you could be two people collaborating on the ongoing task of Gods redemption.
  5. Call in the third party, someone who has been around all throughout, or someone new and independent. That third party might also be able to ask questions, and help solve some of the issues. Though personality clashes, serious breakdowns might be harder to fix.
  6. Dont Compare. There is no such thing as a perfect line manager/clergy relationship. Someone else down the road might be in a bigger church with great resources, but that doesnt mean that their management relationship is anything to write home about.
  7. Try and get a bit of perspective, this is on both sides. There are some issues that require a huge reaction- these are when on either side our personal/vocational dreams and goals havent been met or we’ve been let down. But even then, there is perspective, and will the reaction we give to something cause more damage than what the original issue caused?  Sometimes yes. Sometimes we are right to fly off the handle. We feel injustice, pain or annoyance by being unfairly treated, maligned or how young people are. Image result for fumingThis happens often, very often and its painful. There are ways to pay it forward, to show wisdom, and realise that other people have been socialised in churches to act and speak in such a way, and have got away with it.. no excuses, but often other people wont realise it. none of us are perfect. no not even the youthworker.
  8. You might need to make an official complaint to their boss. So the moderator, Bishop or someone equivalent. Bad luck if you’re in a church where all the power resides with the minister and theres no higher structure that has any influence. It is ok to complain. This is better than gossip, moaning or demonising. Complaining gives it to someone else to act, and shows that you are serious about wanting things to work out with the person. It is a cry for help, and one that shows some maturity. But most of us have no idea who to complain to….

There are no easy suggestions here, because the line management relationship can be frought at times. Both people have expectations, dreams, personalities, might like to manage/be managed in a certain way, have skills, gifts, vision that might all be different to each other, or not find resonance in the space of the church. It is tempting to just forget the line management relationship, given that our relationships with parents, young people and school teachers might be deemed more important. But none of those relationships will be the cause of you leaving a post (unless there is inappropriate behaviour) the relationship with your line manager is likely to cause you to lose more sleep over. For some reason and maybe because of its structural and spiritual importance in the life of the church, it causes more difficulty.

None of any of this is intended to sound as If i have done all this correctly, in similar situations, i really havent. I have been able to help others by being a supervisor to them and discovered that there are so many issues that can be the cause of issues in this relationship. If there isnt a solution, then one of the parties might have to leave. It happens. If the situation causes oppression, damage, pain and degrees of emotional, spiritual, psychological abuse & manipulation, then do seek counselling, do make a complaint and protect yourself, you are more important than your ministry. If this is you reading this, in such a painful situation, then seek help, you are not alone, find a youthworker on social media to talk to, if you dont know anyone, or even send me an email. But seek help, professional help and counselling also. Now for the majority, hopefully it isnt such a difficult situation, but for one or two of you it might be.

Please do share any other ways that the issues in line management relationships can be resolved, and what you have found to be helpful.


The Previous three articles in this series are here:

Part 1- Lets start this discussion

Part 2- What to negotiate

Part 3 – Managing expectations

Please do get in touch via the menus above, if I can be of help as a professional supervisor for you.