In safety first cultures; risk taking is more required in youthworkers than ever before.

It comes as almost no surprise that there has been a backlash to the cultural messages of safety, harm and avoidance of risk that have been prevalent in culture, and also I might add the church over the last few decades.

Talk now in youth ministry is of taking risks with young people. 

Or maybe more pertinently, talk is of ensuring that risks are important in the relationships with young people.

It was the focus of last years Youthscape conference in which 1000 youth workers attended. Its been the focus of FYTs resources also. But – is it ever the subject of clergy conferences?

This risk provoking goes against one of the key principle cultural and organisational implicit drivers of organisations, notably church based youth ministry, which has, as said by Pete ward in 1997 – been more about safety and conformity within the church, than the kind of radical discipleship offered by Jesus. (Ward, 1997, Youth work and the mission of God, p16)

It is a theme I have spoken of before in this post ‘Young people will go elsewhere if youth groups are too safe’ and Why a risky church might be the right one for young people?

Taking risks was a key aspect of Jesus’ ministry – don’t you think?

Taking a risk with us as humanity was a risk taken by God overall – don’t you think?

Pushing the disciples to risk taking – and even exposure to difficult situations- was a key element of how Jesus pushed the disciples- agreed..?

At the end of this piece I will refer you to a resource which has been collated by Frontier Youth Trust to help you develop risk taking in your youth ministry, do take a risk and have a look at it – the link is here: (and no I don’t get any commission)  101 Risky Ideas for your youthwork

But before you do that, Id like to offer a short reflection on risk taking within youth work and ministry, basing this on two principal ideas. The first is a chapter in ‘Youth work Ethics (YE)’ by Howard Sercombe, the second is the 9 stage process of youth work as developed by FYT a number of years ago. I hope you find both useful.

In ‘Youth work Ethics’ Howard Sercombe identifies 19 areas of youth work practice that he gives insight and reflection to, on the basis of suggesting that youth work itself is an ethical endeavour based upon itself as a profession, and a definition of youthwork as a ‘professional relationship in which a young person is engaged as a primary client in their social context’ ( YE, p 27, 2010). What this does, is form the basis of youthwork as a negotiated, limited, yet professional relationship – that transcends the plethora of activities, venues and delivery agencies- but frames it as a relationship. Something i think that is music to the outcome bleeded ears of the youth worker.

Before going further with Sercombe, here is the 9 stage group work process that once and still is core to the FYT Streetspace community, note especially the element of Risk, that its needed and where it is located.

You can download the whole document here:

The logic being that, over a period of time developing the relationship that you as a youth worker (especially as a detached worker) will be able to take a risk with the relationship that you have with a group (as you may by then have developed small group work, gained their trust etc) and been able to make suggestions to enable them to do something they maybe wouldn’t have done other wise. A push too soon may indicate that the relationship has been perceived differently from youth worker and young person/group. But note, that from the process of developing spirituality – a ‘test’ is whether ‘risk’ can be taken with other maybe easier concepts – like travelling to watch a football match, trying to raise funds for an activity, undergoing a personal change like quitting smoking (as an example) – gauging how risks in these areas might be seen as some kind of indication of how risk taken to think spiritually might be perceived. For more explanation of these – you might want to buy the Here be Dragons resource, in which all 9 stages are explored further. This is here:

But lets just say from this example that Risk is needed in the youthwork relationship, and possibly even that Risk is needed for faith.

Back to Sercombe. Helpfully in a chapter on ‘taking care and managing risk’ , Sercombe identifies that in the main there has been a confusion about ‘harm’ and ‘risk’, but also that a number of risks are needed in youthwork, more so, there are a number of hidden risks that we would do well to help young people avoid.

A few summary thoughts from the chapter:

· Because we want to develop, transform even, the lives of young people through the relationship we seek to have with them , and they to some extent put themselves in our hands– this is an engagement that is inherently risky because we could get it wrong, create defensiveness, create exclusion or be a disappointment

· We expose young people to other relationships with other adults, professionals or services – there is a risk here, as these too may end up being destructive.

We are as youthworkers responsible for the intervention in other peoples lives and have a duty of care, and Sercombe goes on to describe the influence of a number of legal decisions and oaths that have an impact on how youthworkers are responsible, and ultimately states that:

‘The first responsibility of the professional is to make sure that nothing worse happens to the person than has already happened’ – though this is obviously difficult to promise – especially in medicine.

This is key ‘we need to do the best we can to help a young person in their journey. That may involve harm. It may involve greater harm. We don’t know that our assessment of that, even in consultation with the young person will be accurate’  We might want to avoid it, but harm is almost always a possibility in any intervention we might take, whether its helping them across the road to the ‘safety’ of the bus shelter on detached, the football or table tennis match, the cookery group, or game of pool. All can be harmful, and minimising harm is key, but it cant be avoided completely.

Whilst a few high risk activities have reinforced a tendency to avoid risks due to fear and litigation (such as PGL disaster over 20 years ago), and insurance companies dictating which activities youthworkers can and cannot do, there has become a tendancy, as i stated above, for risk avoidance. The real issue is being sued and avoiding harm to the organisation. 

often it is our job to increase risk’ (YE, p110)

Whilst the risks that get banded around for young people are the usual list of subjects; drugs crime, unemployment, homelessness etc and these get the usual attention. There is a range of risks for young people that don’t: passivity, resignation, fatalism, cynicism, low expectations, isolation, and you might add a few others here. Like lack of political engagement or community participation. Our role, according to Sercombe, is to help the young person assess the risk as best they can and help them decide through the possibilities. In the short term there might well be harm for the young person, a better life might, controversially, not be a safer one. (YE p110)

The role that Sercombe suggests we take in this risk manoevering profession is that of a guarantor. We manage the risk, think about it, we assess it, and consider it. But what we also do is hope, believe and project. We want to believe that young people can do, will do, and might just rise to the risk, because we see them as capable, confident and want to give them the opportunity to be the adults that they want themselves to be. By treating them as adult – they become adult. Right? Isn’t this a risk in itself? – but not an entirely non altruistic, positive one?

For despite the best interests at heart, best support and best conditions – there is still a chance at ‘failure’. This is the guarantor, and our role. We hope and help to provide the best conditions, resources and buildings in the hope that this will help young people develop agency, confidence, to be adults to make decisions. This is why this puts us at risk.

Thats why we take risks in youth work – because we still believe in the possible, we still have faith in the potential, we still dream. We take risks, and need to receive good management on their risks. ‘Risk is a key resource in youthwork’ (YE, p111).  It frames the logic of our intervention. Without it there would be no change, no transformation, no improvement, no new reality being explored. Whilst young people ‘at risk’ can be seen as an issue. Many of these occasions are when young people themselves do not have the capacity or resources to prevent being exploited, exposed or manipulated, by populist politicians, tabloids, sexual predators or extreme faith groups.

It is our role to defend young people, and take risks in preventing what might be a default pathway into these risks. Yet, risk is not the same as harm, it is not our role to decrease the risks, as arguably young people need risks so that they can exercise sound judgement, and we need to push young people to new experiences for their learning. We take responsibility for the process, we might consider ourselves lucky at times for the risks we have exposed young people to and the lack of assessment thought through. When young people enter into a relationship with us, it is a risk in itself, they entrust us, the information we give, and for them to push back on it. We might do well to recognise where we might have failed young people and their development because of our own reluctance or avoidance of taking risks, we need to be skilled enough to know and make the possibilities open, and resourceful in encouraging young people to take the risks. We might need to take risks to challenge barriers in organisations which hold young people back, we need to be as brave and courageous. We need, as this suggests, not to be content in only bringing young people to our beautiful place – but pushing them through the barriers we create to the somewhere new.

We have to take risks. Faith is about taking risks. Life is about taking risks.

Whilst the section above is less about faith, and more about risks in general. It is not difficult to make connections about barriers in churches and providing the support for young people to develop an adult faith.

As a reminder: Those 101 risky ideas for faith based work are here

At random – these are numbers 41-50 on the list and are aimed at helping to develop spirituality in young people, if you like these, why not download them all..for free. i mean what kind of risk is that, even…

41. Rewrite a parable and base it in your local context. Tell the story to young people without revealing its biblical origins. What are their interpretations?

42. Get up early to watch the sunrise and pray for the day ahead.

43. Ask young people to write a new parable.

44. Go to a cathedral or ancient church. Do some research about the the faith communities that have been there over its history.

45. For an experience of awe and wonder, sleep out under the stars.

46. Identify some of the metaphors used to describe God (ie Lion, Teacher, Tower, Rock). Ask young people to come up with some new metaphors based on the local context.

47. Cancel youth group or church in order that young people might find God outside the spaces you can control.

48. Arrange a visit to the building and community of a different faith. Use the time as an opportunity to dialogue about what values are important to you all.

49. If you meet with young people to explore and discover God start calling it church rather than Bible study or youth group. How do young people react? When is church, church?

Sercombe – Youthwork Ethics, 2010
Ward, Pete, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997

Youth Ministry stuck in a rut? try this resource, reflective practice (Part 1)

Its the new academic term, and my guess is that you’re beginning to think about developing new programmes, topics and activities for youth work for the new term. Excited much? probably, tired of the same old ideas and need a spark? possibly. You could pick a resource off the shelf, like every year. However, why not do something different, why not try developing reflective practice instead?

This is the first part of two, maybe three, posts on developing reflective practice in youth ministry. For the simple reason that i have a feeling it is something that is given lip service at best in practices of youth ministry.

Yet, Characteristic of all courses in youth & community work is the ongoing prerogative to get into the habit of reflective practice. There are rumours that go around that students pick courses on the least frequent reflective forms that need to be submitted. Yes its that popular, usually. especially as many students are die hard activists.

However as Characteristically, many many conferences that appeal to volunteers, student and non academic youth work/ministry people is the lack of any time devoted to reflective practice. Seminars are on action, programmes, experts appealing on behalf of their chosen ministry, or ethical subjects like lgbt, diversity and gender, which in themselves are all perfectly good and needed. But ‘developing reflective practice’ as a seminar topic at a youth ministry conference? maybe the odd one, and is it ever well attended? Something this important requires more than lip service.

Image result for reflective practice

But as a volunteer, as someone who attends youth work conferences to get some training and refresh skill or get some new resources – when was the last time you had the option to go to a seminar on ‘developing reflective practice’ ? when was this a tool or resource in your youth ministry ‘kit bag’?

There might clearly then be a gap.

The gap might clearly be felt when the new youthworker turns up at the local church group or youth project and suggests that all the volunteers start filling in ‘review forms’.

or when the professional youthworker suggests that in regular supervision that a volunteer ‘reflects on the situation’ – and theres a blank response back from the other side of the desk.

Up until now the volunteers had got on with what they needed to do. Up until now the youth worker had possibly presumed that facilitating reflective practice would be welcomed with open arms.

However, often ‘reflective practice’ is not always part of the culture of the church in which the settings of youth ministry occur. And without it being featured at conferences, in youth work magazine – where else might volunteers begin a process of this- with personal external help.

Image result for reflective practice

The question is ‘ whatever happened to reflective practice?’

If the concept of reflective practice is something new to you, then I am afraid I’m not going to write a long piece to educate on what it is.

Instead here are a few links for you to explore yourself, developing your own knowledge and resources on reflective practice:

A beginning page on reflective practice, for you then to explore further is here: This is on the excellent encyclopaedia of informal education site ( In the piece i link to there is a discussion on reflection in action, and reflection on action. It is worth looking at the difference.

Grove books have produced a couple of dedicated pamphlets on reflective practice. which are here.

Theres also brief descriptions of some of the key aspects of reflective practice and professional development in their ‘Ten essential concepts for Christian youth work’

And, whilst there are only a few dedicated books on the subject, what you will find is that many core titles on youthwork, informal education, supervision have reflective practice embedded within them.

The problem with this is that for many of us, we want something instant and a ‘how to do reflective practice without having to work at trying to find the resources to do it’. It is also fairly evident that it feels like in youth ministry we are borrowing from other disciplines like education or social work, and ‘borrowing’ from other disciplines seems wrong, if its not in the bible, then why do we need to do it?

Of course, the other thing about developing reflective practice, is that it is counter cultural, it challenges the way of the thinking & acting already established in the culture of the church, in the organisation, and even, sometimes in the vague overarching umbrella that is ‘youth ministry’. Stopping to think, ask questions, might be provocative. It is so much better to just keep the ‘hamsters on the wheel’ and if the hamsters fall off, well its only their own fault. Just get on a different wheel. That the wheel is faulty…

On one hand, doing reflective practice is part of who we are. We make interpretations of all the information around us all the time. As the philosopher Paul Ricouer argues, we are interpretative beings. So on one hand we are making assessments and reflecting all the time. We will have some intuition during the time that something isnt right, something is, or that there is something under the surface that needs pinning down. So, to talk about ‘reflective practice’ is only, on one hand to give space for these questions and scenarios to get an airing, as they are thought during the time spent with young people.

Reflective practice done badly, it to reduce it to scientific pragmatism, and reduce the practice of youth ministry to ‘sessions’ , ‘activities’ and ‘programmes’. It will become a consultation exercise for volunteers on the ‘programme’ on the ‘activities’ – and this leads to questions like ‘ what do you think the young people enjoyed’ or ‘what went well’. It can lead to merely endorsing the leaders. And it is worth reflecting here on the power dynamic of the lead youthworker leading times of reflection on sessions of youthwork that they have themselves been involved in. Dare a volunteer speak up? Power within the room is worth reflecting on.

This can happen when there is no flexibility for the reflection to make any difference, the culture, style and nature of a programme is set, so reflection merely acts to conform volunteers to the way of thinking within the practice. At worst. This rigidity is the main inhibility for nursing, teaching and possibly social work to develop reflective practice. even if its recommended as such, the main issue is that the market drives practice. It is not from the ground up with practitioners.

My next post will provide a few helpful hints for developing meaningful reflective practice in youth ministry. The remainder of this one will suggest 6 reasons why reflective practice is needed in faith based youth ministry.

  1. Reflective practice acknowledges that we are on a similar learning process that young people are. Although we might want to define ourselves as ‘leaders’ or ‘ministers’ we are also ‘disciples’ and ‘learners’ too. Imagining what we ‘do’ in youth ministry is a ‘performance’ then we also need to cultivate space to ‘form’ as actors. We ourselves are on a process of similar formation, even an old dog has to learn new tricks. Youth ministry might seek relevancy, but it is only in the specifics of the young people that we are connecting with that we can be truly relevant, learning of their culture, needs and interests, groups and social dynamics. In youth ministry we need to be open to learn and reflect in the context we are in and maintain this.
  2. Reflective practice helps us to stop and recharge ourselves. It validates that youth ministry practice is not just about activity, it is about education, about thinking and learning. And that needs spaces in conversation to be cultivated. Time for us to splurge out stuff thats on our minds. It helps identify training needs, gaps, opportunities, and also with building a team out of ourselves as we reflect together.
  3. Reflective practice might help us develop new ways of practice, through new ways of being. We might spot things, acknowledge needs and gifts of young people and adapt accordingly. It isnt always about change, but it might be part of it.
  4. Are you seriously telling me that Jesus didnt do reflective practice? For a good amount of time, what might have Jesus and the disciples talked about on the roads, in the upper rooms, in the fields – we only get a snapshot. Helping the disciples to learn from the parables, helping them develop similar ways of ministry would have required asking questions, thinking about experiences, and developing other ways of being.
  5. If reflection is part of our being, and we believe that we are created in the image of God, then we need to attend to the space where our imagination, where our questioning being, where our interpretations get an airing. In the same way we create interesting spaces in working with young people to help them learn, we also create suitable spaces of reflection in youth ministry for ourselves to reflect in an appropriate way. God might be speaking to us through the conversation with young people, and this needs space. We should expect God to be speaking to us all the time. Reflection gives us space to collectively acknowledge this, share it and discern.
  6. If poor reflective practice is to focus on ‘the tasks’ – then developing Theological reflective practice is in order. I will expand this in a later piece this week. However, if we’re serious about theological reflective practice, and also enabling youth ministry to be actions that reflect God, his mission and the faith we hold to, then the question will be less:

how do we make this activity even more exciting so that young people tell their friends?

and more

What is the Mission of God, and how do i embody Jesus’ call to minister to ‘the least of these’ in this work with young people?

Where do young people encounter God in our youth ministry?

If Jesus is here, what role is he playing in the action?

Good theological reflection prompts us to start with our Theology. The God we shape in our own image can always be fitted into our own practice. And that goes for ‘just praying’ about something. It doesnt make it theological, just becomes an abuse of power. If you’re serious about Thinking Theologically about youth ministry then try these books, theyre not cheap, and the questions within them are similarly not cheap or easy either.

Product Details

Without giving time to reflect, and do this outside of the power structures of organisations, of churches, where we need to distance ourselves from ‘outcomes’, ‘power’ and ‘money’ then we might miss the glorious riches of God speaking to us through reflection, our imaginations and young peoples intertwining on something amazing, on developing practices that embody Gods call for us in the world.

The alternative is the hamster wheel.

Whatever happened to reflective practice in youth ministry?

Its probably worth reflecting on, and make time, in our new season of youth ministry, starting in August and September, to give it priority.

Resources for Youthwork and Ministry Management

At the moment there are 20 articles on this site relating to Youthwork & Ministry Management in churches and in organisations. Recently a few people have asked me about resources for managing youth workers, and so I thought it would be useful to put up a list of resources which you might find useful to begin your search, to get hold of the odd article or book to help you think about leading and managing. Obviously, do a quick amazon search on Management then you’ll get all the best from Football management to Retail Management and multi-national company management, and all will have something to learn from.
However, Image result for management booksto think about leadership and management within the discipline of Youth work and Ministry, and ‘people related organisations, in the social and policy context of the UK, then these might be a place to start. The ones i would highly recommend, for the youthworker, minister for non academic purposes are in italics. If you have any more to add, please write in the comments below and this list can grow.


Banks, Sarah, et al, Managing in Community Practice: Principles, Policies, Programmes, Polity Press, 2013

Billis, David. Hybrid Organizations and the Third Sector: Challenges for Practice, Theory and Policy. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Boje, David M., Robert P. Gephart, and Tojo Joseph. Thatchenkery. Postmodern Management and Organization Theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1996.

Dawson, Sandra. Analysing Organisations. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992.

Ford, Kevin. Leading and Managing Youth Work and Services for Young People. Leicester: National Youth Agency, 2005.

Goetschius, George W., and M. Joan Tash. Working with Unattached Youth: Problem, Approach, Method; the Report of an Enquiry into the Ways and Means of Contacting and Working with Unattached Young People in an Inner London Borough. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1967.

Handy, Charles B. The Gods of Management: The Changing Work of Organisations. London: Souvenir, 2009.

Handy, Charles Brian. Understanding Voluntary Organizations: How to Make Them Function Effectively. London: Penguin, 1988.

Jeffs, Tony, and Mark Smith. Youth Work Practice. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Mullins, Laurie J., and Gill Christy. Management & Organisational Behaviour. Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2010.

Newstrom, John W., William E. Reif, and Robert M. Monczka. A Contingency Approach to Management: Readings. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.

Critical Issues in Youth Work ManagementOrd, Jon. (ed) Critical Issues in Youth Work Management. New York, NY: Routledge, 2011.

Morgan, Gareth, 1999, Images of Organisation,

Pattison, Stephen. The Faith of the Managers: When Management Becomes Religion. London: Cassell, 1997.

Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society 6. Los Angeles: Pine Forge, 2011.

Pattison, Stephen. The Faith of the Managers: When Management Becomes Religion. London: Cassell, 1997.

Torry, Malcolm. Managing Religion: The Management of Christian Religious and Faith-Based Organizations: Volume 1: Internal Relationships. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.



The following articles on Management and Leadership are pretty good from the Infed site:

On Leadership styles :

And on the Learning organisation:

You will notice that there is a lack in titles on Management specifically within Youth Ministry, well, thats in part because the language of management doesnt seem to resonate in Christian ministry very well, in the most part leadership is what is offered, but there are plenty of titles above when the notion of management is explored further and this can be applied to Youth Ministry. In particular chapters on Faith Based management in Ords book is very insightful, and I have referred to his work in a few of the 20 articles within the site, which you can easily find by clicking the topics list to the right.

Please do contribute below in the comments if you have found a useful reseource on youth work management, to let other people know about!  – there are a few on supervision which i havent included, or personal management ( Covey etc) , but please do share. I hope these help you in your practice and Ministry to lead and manage volunteers and staff in youth work and ministry.





How is the culture of British youth ministry created? 

Last week English (more so than Scottish) youth ministry was given a bit of a rocket blow, by a leading propenent of it , Mike Pilovachi of Soul Survivor , suggested that the quality of youth workers in the Christian Ministry structures and settings had gone down. There was the decree that less were able to educate young people on difficult matters and less keen to develop spiritual disciplines with young people.

The argument I proposed was that these current youthworkers have grown up in the culture of current british youth ministry, they have been immersed in its trends. And therefore it’s leaders, including Mike, have some form of responsibility of shaping it, creating it and directing it.

I admit now that I’m wrong to make this claim.

Wrong because I made an assumption that there is such a thing as British or English youth ministry culture, and that one voice or collection of voices can cause it to have a particular flavour.

Now what I’m not saying is that the stuff of youth ministry doesn’t have an influence in its shaping, neither am I saying that those who are larger players within its spaces can’t have bigger cultural influence (such as the affiliations,  soul survivor,  yfc, SU for example) and some of these have been affected by culture more that they create distinctive youth ministry and cultures of it. Some of these cultures are also said to be encouraged by uses of branding and resources.

But that’s as much the point. There is no whole culture of British youth ministry, just a vast array of locally nuanced cultures of it. For a weekend away I’ve been in London.  And mind boggled. Just how many cultures exist in one space. Youth ministry is as cultural in its locality.

So for me to argue that Mike or others have been key protagonists in its shaping in 25 yrs might be to do the influence they can have a disservice,  though it’s fair to say also that soul survivor has become a leading influence, on young people,  on youth leaders  (implicitly and explicity) on local churches (especially with local areas of soul survivor) , but does soul survivor have responsibility for creating a culture where youth workers (though to give them a technically more accurate term youth pastors) who are accused of being less effective? nope. It’s like blaming Mary Berry for the poor attempt I made at a Victoria sponge last week, or everyone’s.

British youth ministry may be shaped by a number of things, from its stuff and artefacts- its resources, publications and language, it’s people who speak of it, in it and critique it, those who research, academia and theorise. Yet as a fragmented discipline, it also sits with a culture of the broader church  (and joined up thinking that is prophetic, strategic and resourceful at a higher level might be to be desired) its local  church is the petrie dish for youth ministrys emerging culture.
Youth ministry might then be only a myriad of millions of petrie dishes of locally shaped cultures of existence, more so that being one culture where key leaders or affiliations are culture formers. Sprinkle influence into the petrie dish yes, but the local church holds keys that are far more fundamental. especially whist youth ministry has limited unversally adopted/accepted values, theories of practice or evidence, evaluation system, funding bodies or a discourse that it agees on.

Or for that matter a desire to have them and a reticence to acknowledge knowledge in its formation, this is an aspect of its culture.. ironically.

So neither Mike can be responsible for shaping youth ministry culture, not that he or others aren’t influential, especially in such a culture which if it exists is a largely watched and copied one (ie if it works somewhere else, we need one here..) but to give him responsibility for it as I wrote is not to do him a disservice but to recognise that fragmentation and locality driven nature of ministry amongst young people.

It should be a strength that it is locally driven, as should discipleship, mission and faith. That’s what might make it practical and prophetic in a universally driven interconnected global mcdonaldised world.