7 not-so-Deadly Sins in Youth Ministry


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



I’m Tired, I need a break!

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About Five years ago, we as a family were travelling on one of our long car journeys, if it involved Perth or Devon in the route then it would be at least 6 hours or more. It must have been at least 2-3 hours into the journey, and as the driver usually in the car, you kind of get to know the routine with kids in the back of the car, they know and can recognise the Service station signs, especially the ones with Fast food outlet symbols on them, and so these are times to keep the kids distracted and not to be thinking about stopping, or the journey could be endless and tiring. However, I had forgotten about the fact that now my daughter could read. So if she wasnt distracted by her DVD player or nintendo DS, and she was beginning to sound a bit fidgety, possibly hungry and winey from the back of the car. And not only could she read the signs of the Service Station but it was the blue version of the ones above, and she then exclaimed innocently, spontaneously and with a sharp spike into the heart of a driving parent : “I’m Tired, I need a break, I could Kill!”

Tiredness could Kill take a break! -Might not be the best way of heeding a warning to slow down. But, if i were to be honest, if tiredness is symptom of trying to do too much, or trying to cope with too much, or hold onto the emotions too much, then i can understand being tired. I wont put it down to ‘being thursday’ and near the end of the week.

I was about to write a piece a few weeks ago as it dawned on me that aside from 4 years, I had been involved in some form of responsibility in Christian Ministry for the last 20 years, either in paid, part time, student or voluntary capacity depending on the circumstance. Thats 16 years of planning to engage and meet with young people in groups, or on the streets, of training volunteers, of fundraising, of networking, of organisational politics, of funding uncertainty, of creating strategies- and also the ongoing discipline of continual learning, reading, reflecting, and thinking. But for someone still under 40, 18 years feels a large percentage of that, and there’s been times in that time when I’ve been guided well, spiritually directed, and other times less so. But that’s also quite a few years of having public and personal faith. I’m not unique in this, public and personal faith occurs in many walks of life.

A few weeks ago I published a list of 40 things to help youth workers with self care during Lent- but what about me,  have I done it? How many have I actually done to help myself… probably not that many. Actually looking at this list again http://wp.me/p2Az40-Ol – it is probably about 10, mostly because I have had to maintain reading, walking the dog, taking days off on saturdays, and attempts to try and eat a bit healthier.. But even with self care – taking on too much responsibilities, being involved in lots of interesting projects around the north east, like Equip, and FYT as well as the organisational and funding challenges of DYFC are going to take their toll. But its always easier to give advice that take it. But similarly i am going to be kind to myself and recognise that things are not easy or normal. 

And thats before other aspects of life that can be even more emotionally tiring, like family illness, or bereavements.

What’s really difficult in writing this, is being a leader, even a male leader and feeling like its actually difficult to admit feeling tired, even weary in ‘Christian work’ – sometimes I feel like I have had enough, and i have no pretentions of being superman either, i like to contribute, to support, to connect, to help – not solve or save. Doing it all isnt a heroic stance, more a trying to help things happen.

Though what I think deep down what i have had enough of is trying to keep things going that arent going to, of trying to pioneer in the wrong context with limited support, of keeping something going that is on a shoestring. And so, what i have done to compensate is fill my time with things of life, things that grow, things where people are up for taking risks and working collaboratively with young people. Like a moth be attracted to the places of light, and be attracted to the dark places where even small amounts of light might make a difference.

In between a couple of meetings this week, during two good days of planning and writing essays, I took a detour off the main road and stopped at Hendon Beach near Sunderland, and even just for 15 mins stopped, and looked and listened to the almost complete quiet of still waters. As the pictures indicate, its not the prettiest, bluest water, but it was still a moment to gather and recharge.

Tiredness might not kill in youth work and Ministry – but its good to take a break, recharge and rest. One day it might happen….




Encouraged by silence. 

This was in my reading this morning from the Northumbria daily prayer. 

If I chose to hide you away, it is for a reason.

I have brought you to this place.

Drink in the silence. Seek solitude.

Listen to the silence.

It will teach you. It will build strength

Let others share it with you.

It is little to be found elsewhere.

Silence will speak more to you in a day than the world of voices can teach you in a lifetime.

Find silence. Find solitude – and having discovered her riches, bind her to your heart.

   Frances J. Roberts

So, continuing my lent theme of encouragement, whilst at work, I wondered about being encouraged through the silence. 

Then the phone at work rang. An emergency to deal with.

The day disrupted. 

The day changed. 

Where was silence, gone in the wrestling of the heartbeat. The pumping of adrenaline. The attempts to stay calm. Stillness  shattered.

But then a break. A gap, a walk. 

Still no silence as cars and wind and birds and my own footsteps meant that silence wasnt there. 

Mind still raced. Heart beat still pumped no stillness no silence.

The limited space in the day to day life. The limited attempt to find silence and not fill it. The silence of the gap that acts as a breather. 

Yet in the silence there’s a storm, a rage. A question. A growing burning anger. A fear. A worry. A silent storm. 

Today I’m encouraged by the possibility that one day there will be silence. The current storms will fade. Peace and Justice will reign. There will be no more pain. No pain to shatter silence. The temporarily of today will









40 daily self-care tips for youthworkers & ministers during Lent. 

Just before Christmas I was reflecting on youth workers and self- care. I was doing this because at the time I was and continue to do a days lecturing for a small group of new youthwork students on the EQUIP course in the north east on preparing them for vocational work with young people in the faith sector. Next week is the start of lent, a period of 40 days of time symbolising Jesus’ time in wilderness, before, but also an integral part of his ministry. There’s no harm in reflecting on the need in the work we do as youthworkers to be more disciplined or give something up, equally it can be argued that the physically and emotional giving required in such a role might also determine that receiving could be as important as giving.

Already during lent there can be great resources for young people, or for churches. But I wondered about the workers in the fields, paid and unpaid, full and part time, and suggesting for 40 days of lent, 40 suggestions for improving self care during, in order to renew, recharge and be ready for the challenges of youthwork in the year ahead.

Above all, the challenge might not be just to do these things, but to love ourselves, be kind to ourselves and in doing so then look after ourselves, so by no means are these conclusive or things that I do myself they might even be things I need to do, its the sentiment that in the work that we do, self care, self love even, might be something to prioritise over Lent.

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Steven Covey in ‘ 7 Habits of effective people describes the human person as having 4 aspects, physical, spiritual, emotional and mental, these four are a good baseline to start from in terms of looking after ourselves.

Physical – i sense the biggest groan.. do i have to..? 

1. Choose the form of travel or route that requires more exercise. Ie walk instead of bus or tube. Plan the day accordingly

2. Replace a few unhealthy chocolatey snacks with something healthier, especially in an office environment.

3. On your day off, that you will take (!), do some exercise,  and it neednt be expensive, park runs are free, so it walking in the country or an hours swim at the local pool won’t cost too much.

4. Take that day off. and if possible take the night off the night before, so you can start to relax from 5pm, and have nearly 30 hours off in total.

5. Plan ahead with food a bit, it is so easy with work that is odd hours, long days, working lunches and youth group on the hop to forget to eat properly, or plan to eat decent food. Being physically well is going to help. So plan meals and food ahead of the game, in the week ahead. Even microwaved soup, or last nights left over casserole is better than a microwave meal itself!

6. Oh and if you’re due a weekend off (if you work weekends) – then take it! – and your annual leave – dont overwork your hours if you help it!

7. Combining physical and emotional/social – start going to an excercise class! – meet new people which also tending to your own physical condition.

8. Reduce unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol, over eating, non sleeping, late night video games, drugs, addictions, aggression or what ever it might be.

1. On a day off visit a place of worship, cathedral, a monastery,  a mosque or temple, somewhere to contemplate in your own chosen time your place in the world.

2. It might be a spiritual exercise to be in the present moment, so take a walk in the countryside, near a beach, or in a park without your phone. Then stand a listen to whats going on around you, take some deep breaths, and let your mind unwind itself, and your eyes be open to whats going on.

3. As well as a physical activity, tending to a garden or an open space, growing fruit or vegetables might be a good spiritual experience to connect with something growing, at the pace that it is growing. Slow down.

4.  If you believe in a Holy Book, then spend time reading it, and if you dont believe in it or have one, then maybe start to read one. Either way it might be spiritual or educational.

5. Read some poetry, or great literature, appreciate an art form as a God given talent of someone, and listen to what it might be challenging you to think about and reflect on in your person, and in your practice.

6. The Bible talks about meditating ‘day and night’ on good things, meditating is nothing other than slowing down, and reducing what is being focussed on and it being something of purity and goodness, of Godliness even. Even a ‘prayer’ time might not be meditative – just another rushed activity. So, slow down, and be active in meditating on something, verses from the Bible, a poem, an art form, something natural.

7. Pray. To the known or unknown God you believe in, give away in conversation with God your deepest needs, desires, fears and frustrations, and if this for you is cathartic self talk (to an unknown God) then so be it, but in that conversation leave some stuff behind in it, and listen and be attuned to what the next steps are in response to the how your mind and spirit has received in terms of ideas, new plans, decisions or directives.

8. Read up on the Spiritual saints from before, the actual saints – such as Mother Theresa, or Saint Francis, William Wilberforce or those whos faith inspired justice and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, , their stories are well known and told through books, or film, connect spiritually and be renewed and inspired by their struggle and the trust they had in God during it.

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Emotional/ Social

1. Value a coffee or pint with a supportive listening friend. Do this once a week during lent!

2. Protect yourself from comparisons whether the resource than tries to help you create the perfect youth group or the statuses on social media of someone else’s great ministry or practice. Be pleased for them, encourage them, and avoid the comparison trap.

3. Give time to people who are outside of work and ministry, like your family.

4. Forgive yourself for the daft thing or mistake pretty quickly – especially if it was done in all innocence!  – we need not beat ourselves up – especially if we were brave to take a risk, or develop an idea.

5. Use Social media in a positive way, use it to connect with people and have a conversation with a ministry colleague wherever they are in the world, at least once a week. They might need the support as much as you do.

6. Get some kind of supervision, personal supervision someone who will ask you the difficult questions, but also support you through tough stuff, you neednt feel alone, there are plenty of people who can support you.

7. Spend some time examining your personal motives, dreams and goals, whilst walking or reflecting, once your youth work practice is in some alignment then there will be some kind of inside and outside integrity, when its out of sync its obvious to yourself.

8. Spend time away from the rushing around to deeply connect with another person, a colleague, friend or young person – in all the activities, stop and be present with them and attune yourself to listening, give of real emotions – not just active organising ones.
Mindful and creative

1. Take up a skill that involves a tangible end product and enjoy it, so cooking recipes, bread, wine, cake, making for example, needle work or sewing, diy or gardening.

2. Read up on a youthwork hero, get reacquainted with a person’s theory and practice since yours might have changed since you read them last. So Friere, Jeffs and Smith, Pete Ward or Kerry Young. There are others…

3. Start a journal of practice, renew a practice of reflection that might be been long gone since college days. Reflect on what you’re learning, and question why you might not be.

4. Watch the kind of movie that disturbs, challenges or invokes the senses and thoughts in a different way to your usual. Something different might be mind stirring.

5. Read a paper that’s different to your normal worldview. It may disturb,  irritate or annoy. But engage with it creatively, protest accordingly but at least be engaging in a different view of the world.

6. Read a few texts from an area of practice linked to youthwork but not an area you might know so much about, so a political leader, a philosopher, a uniformed organisation, social work, might be mine but what might be an area you might reflect on. http://www.infed.org might be a good place to start.

7. Commit to learning something new every day – whether its a skill, a piece of knowledge, a piece of history, or something from a young person, or something else, and be deliberating in looking for it.

8. Develop your own learning programmes with and for your young people, take time gathering resources for the programmes, and be creative – enjoying the thinking and learning through them.

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So, using Coveys four aspects, there are 32 ideas to help you as a youthworker/minister with self care during the upcoming Lent. You will have noticed that it is impossible to separate the four areas, simply because it is impossible to consider ourelves as sperate parts, all are connected, are interchangeable, and in another way it is why looking after ourselves is going to be positive for our work lives, and vice versa. So, here are 8 further self care tips and maxims that might be helpful:

  1. Do one thing a week just for you. And stick to it, and make sure its healthy/good for you too
  2. Take more of the credit when something goes well, God has given you gifts to use, use them and recognise that you have these gifts – dont give God all the glory for achievement, but only blame yourself for when things go wrong – this is a ministry condemnation/self image downward spiral.
  3. Visit someone elses practice, not to revel in what they’re good at but to spend time learning and appreciating what they’re doing, to be inspired,  and also how your practice is distinctive.
  4. Be realistic about what you can achieve every day. The phone will ring, the do list might be endless, but set realistic goals and try and focus on the not so urgent but more important things every day.
  5. If you feel like you’re continually fire fighting. Then you will burn out. Balance reacting with strategising and preventing. That’s not just you personally but also maybe the organisation/church you’re working for….
  6. Make a decision not to compare yourself with others, and challenge a comparative culture. Its your mission, your call, your context, find a culture of support and understanding for your ministry and person, not a place of comparisons or achievements
  7. Avoid the numbers game, and if others are playing it dont join in – value quality.
  8. Find a good way of being on top of the game in regard to personal organisation. I still use a paper filofax, it works for me like google calendar just doesnt. But thats just me. It you’re an organisational mess, then building team is very difficult.

So, for 40 days of lent – here are 40 hopefully realistic suggestions for you, busy, stressed out, youthworker than might enable you to renew yourself, care for yourself and create in yourself a measure of good practice. We might be good at supervising others, or managing them, but we have to do the same for ourselves too. If things need to be ‘got rid’ like the discipline of lent might awaken us to then great, but most of all, how we love and look after ourselves is crucial.


Surviving Setbacks in Christian youth work

Today, without giving any of the details away, has been a particularly challenging day for me, we all have them, maybe today has been for you, or today has been a good day and tomorrow, or friday is going to present you with more of a challenge. But today has been difficult. Actually, today has been difficult day after a period of many challenging situations in my role as Manager of a Christian youth work organisation over the last nearly 3 years. Not much blood-shed, but much sweat and tears lost, periods of waiting, changes of staff, with at times the odd positive thrown in, but there have been occasions where setbacks are compounded with setbacks, and so, instead of writing an article about ‘how i survived lots of setbacks and isnt my new ministry wonderful’ – this is about me now in the moment struggling and writing and reflecting in the midst of it, without being able to look back or know exactly where in the present things are leading to.

  1. Recognise that Mission and Ministry is on the stage of the world. The world is complicated and full of tension, competition and trauma, and that’s the place our work is being done – that’s why setbacks occur , people have every right to reject us, confront us and have their own freedom to choose- and so being involved in Christian youthwork in all its guises takes us into confronting places, setbacks are going to happen, and these can also be from the church that plays a role on the same world stage. If it’s a reality of Christian ministry – especially youth work that it is more dramatically tense and fraught, than bed of roses and smooth – then expectations should shift – setting the bar at ‘its always amazing’ is an incorrect bar…
  2. Look after yourself by doing something at least a little bit distracting and fun. I am in the middle of trying to write an essay for Uni on a subject im loving, it is a welcome distraction, as is being reflective now, but so was walking the dog earlier and playing fifa on the xbox with my son about 2 hours ago.  Our challenges neednt consume us. They can do, they often do, but they neednt. Self-care is important, and i know my exercise routine is shot right now ( dog walks apart).
  3. Being a saint, rather than a hero in Ministry (see http://wp.me/p2Az40-KY ) means that we are called to project a new world and avoid the heroic reaction of violence, or destruction to reach our aims. The task of the saint is faithfulness regardless, faithfulness in action, and faithfulness to follow, it doesnt mean necessarily faithfulness to keep putting up with something. It could mean faithfulness to keep pushing, keep taking risks, keep persevering for righteousness and against injustice – these confront the world, they often confront the church too.
  4. If Saints gather community – then maybe it is worth reaching out to those around you, its easy to criticise those who plea for attention on social media, but if thats the space where your youth work colleagues, ministry supporters and friends are likely to be, then ask for support, prayer or to be thought of. Its great when people respond, and you dont have to be specific about a situation , give others the opportunity to show they care for you, you will reciprocate on other occasions. No one has to be specific about the issue, like im not being now..
  5. Not every action that has been given is a gift that needs to be held. We might want to take everything, unwrap it and treasure the good stuff. But we dont have to accept an unwanted gift – maybe reflect on it yes – and ask what is being said by it, what might it mean, what might God be saying through it, – but it might be possible to choose not to invest in what it is, to make it a personal gift, or a gift that impacts us. This isnt every easy, because we can be very emotionally and spiritually connected to ministry and mission work and we take hold of everything sometimes very easily and very personally. Maybe we need to create mechanisms for ourselves where we decide not to do this.
  6. Keep an ongoing dialogue with God through the deep breaths. Some might call it prayer, id prefer to say it was an ongoing conversation throughout the day. If you dont believe in God then keep the self talk on a positive note.
  7. It might be good to remember Julian of Norwich who said: (as quoted by The Catechism of the Catholic Church who quotes Julian of Norwich when it explains the Catholic viewpoint that in the mysterious designs of Providence, God can draw a greater good even from evil):[25]Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time—that ‘all manner [of] thing shall be well.’[33] (Wikipedia)

or a rephrase occurs regulalry on the Wittertainment film podcast- ‘It’s all going to be alright in the end – (and if its not alright, its not the end)’

right now we’re in the Middle, its not the end – what we see is only what has been, the rest is about to unfold. 

8. There is no storm avoidance culture in the path of discipleship – we could learn to dance in the rain as the saying goes, often we just hope to be able to wear a coat and not get too wet, or that theres some shelter. As im just reading :

“Suffering is not a particularly attractive strategy for human flourishing. churches on the lookout for effective marketing strategies can look elsewhere, however it is precisely through suffering, participating in the drama of the passion of the Christ by witnessing to it, that the saints experience a distinctly Christian catharsis best summed up by the apostle Paul: ‘suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope” (Rom 5 3-4) ( Vanhoozer, 2014, p221)

Not the only things to hold on to when trying to cope, but the ones that have genuinely come to mind during today as ive been reflecting during and on a difficult day, and difficult time of challenges in ministry involving a number of complex issues. In reality there can feel no end in sight at times, or happy this is the redemptive ending to this article, just a semblance of honesty about mission and ministry that can be pretty tough.


Hints and tips to cope in Youth Ministry- from other professionals!

I am on holiday this week, well technically i am on annual leave from DYFC, because i have got holidays that i havent been able to take this year for one reason or another. Not because of work demands, but more trying to take the time at suitable times during the year. And though the week has been filled with a variety of ‘non’ work related activity such as preaching in my local church, a few church meetings, a night of voluntary detached youthwork this evening (cant keep a detached worker indoors) and obviously doing alot of writing for my MA (though i have taken a few week break from writing blogs, and a break from social media in the main).  It has felt like a bit of a week to recover and energise a bit even with a few responsibilities throughout the week. Over the last few weeks I have written about some of the personal challenges involved in being in youth ministry and i wanted to add some practical guidance to pass on to others, especially as thus far ive written about the challenges, but not some of the coping strategies.

I wrote about how a youthworkers Passion for their work might mean that they neglect their self care in this article, one based on Tania de St Croixs new book: http://wp.me/p2Az40-ID

and sometimes the self inflicted, or situational reality of being alone in youth ministry here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-J8

In this article I proposed a few gentle reminders for youthworkers of the importance of looking after themselves: http://wp.me/p2Az40-FO, at the time it was as I started to do some lecturing with a group of gap year students on professional and personal boundaries, on the EQUIP NE course.

What I havent yet done is to provide too many hints or tips for youth workers and Ministers to enable them to cope in youth ministry, and because my own example of taking time off to study is an appalling one 😉 I thought today i would ask the great and good youthworkers on social media to pass on their tips. Their responses are fascinating;

So i asked the question: ‘how to cope with the challenges of youth ministry’ these are the responses from some of the social media youthworkers, great and good:

  1. Take your holidays (yup guilty as charged)
  2. Have proper friends that arent youthworkers or church leaders or young people
  3. Be more than your Job
  4. Join a union
  5. (in faith settings) Worship somewhere other than the church you work in at least once a month
  6. Deal with your own issues, 1) get counselling
  7. Get a Spiritual director
  8. Dont do it alone
  9. Lead yourself before leading others
  10. Pray
  11. Name the issues and deal with them
  12. Put in a strategy so that you’re not alone (because you will be alone)
  13. Remember your opinions arent necessarily as valuable to others as they are to you! (Maybe this was a personal comment..;-))
  14. Get your head around the idea that the spiritual growth of the young people does not rest with you
  15. The young people’s highs and their lows do not rest with you
  16. Find safe people to be real about the struggles
  17. Find a mentor and mentor another
  18. Have time outside church interests, especially if you move area its easy for your whole life to be church
  19. Have a coach, spiritual director and line manager and they should all be different people.

I havent edited or sifted out any that people said so that you get an idea of the gist of what people were emphasising. Some of the challenges in youth ministry are in the day to day, and especially as one person said, if you’re new in an area, or new in youth ministry being able to find people who are ‘safe’ or willing to take on the roles of mentor, spiritual director or coach can be a challenge in itself. There can also be challenges when the people who self appoint to be these roles are also the very people who we might have problems with.

A few i will add to the above list;

  1. Do one thing a week just for you. And stick to it, and make sure its healthy/good for you too
  2. Take more of the credit when something goes well, God has given you gifts to use, use them and recognise that you have these gifts – dont give God all the glory for achievement, but only blame yourself for when things go wrong – this is a ministry condemnation/self image downward spiral.
  3. Find spaces of learning that challenge you, it might not be the expected conference or resource.
  4. Visit someone elses practice, not to revel in what they’re good at but to spend time learning and appreciating what they’re doing, to be inspired,  and also how your practice is distinctive.
  5. Be realistic about what you can achieve every day. The phone will ring, the do list might be endless, but set realistic goals and try and focus on the not so urgent but more important things every day.
  6. If you feel like you’re continually fire fighting. Then you will burn out. Balance reacting with strategising and preventing. That’s not just you personally but also maybe the organisation/church you’re working for….
  7. Make a decision not to compare yourself with others, and challenge a comparative culture. Its your mission, your call, your context, find a culture of support and understanding for your ministry and person, not a place of comparisons or achievements.
  8. Connect with people who are ‘ahead’ of you in terms of time/experience in youth ministry – if they’re willing ask them to be an external supervisor! (or coach type person)
  9. Avoid the numbers game, and if others are playing it dont join in
  10. Eat healthy, do exercise. Respect your body in regard to alcohol, food, sleep and excercise.

There isnt anyone who is going to look after you better than yourself, and if you know you’re the kind of person that might need others to help you with this, then sadly, it is your responsibility before things overwhelm, or burnout occurs. It is tragic, seriously tragic when workers forget themselves in the process of their work or ministry, and its as true to the year out volunteers who can get burn-out before the end of the whole year, because in a year they dont think to stop at times or have many many activities thrust on them, from a local church, the organising organisation, and elsewhere and in a year its difficult to create the kind of supportive relationships outside of a scheme to be able to cope, such as those suggested above.

Its a tough world out there in youth work and ministry – only the supported and those in community with others survive the long haul, however gifted you might be.

‘You’re on your own pal’; preparing for the aloneness of Christian & Youth Ministry

I started this article thinking about the complexities of working in a parachurch or interdenominational set up, in youthwork, with the funding cut backs there have been, and how all of a sudden it is becoming more and more likely that ministries like this are being run by individuals, where before there were teams of members of staff.

Add to that with the type of youth work that is naturally isolatory- detached youth work, not that other methods are less anti social, but even in a busy office lots of people have left to leave the detached youthworker eating their tea and waiting for the evening session to happen. moments alone are common. And contrast with team moments.

Then i thought about comparing that to the youth worker that works in a busy church office, or the deathly quiet one, without making too much of  big deal about it, there can be the sense that even in a busy office you might be the only person who knows about your role, and it is a bit apart, compared to others.

Then theres the youthworker or group of volunteers who are in a rural spot 20 miles from the big city with the many workers, many ministries, many resources, and all you have is an old OHP and a leaky roof. But its ok because their great big ministry that gathers lots of people to it is there to help you feel less isololated hmm.. not sure it feels that way on the monday.

Then theres having approaches, intentions or theologies that might be different to an established group or church. Then being alone is the call of the pioneer.

On this one its not just about the Youthworker though is it?  For Clergy across the land – maybe their only colleague is in a different parish, but those borders can be difficult to cross.

I wonder -though,  was Youth ministry meant to feel this way? I get the impression that being in youth ministry is about having amazing experiences, the photos in youthwork magazine are smiling groups of people, gap years spend lots of times together, as do students on youthwork courses (where there isnt a 150 mile round trip to the college)  and obviously too on Theology and Ministry courses. The collective buzz is high, the community that sends the (youth) minister out is strong. Does having lots of collective supportive experiences in formation prepare you for the potential aloneness of ‘paid’ ministry..

Then they are sent, or they are in a paid professional Job as a youth worker.

And, it can be an incredibly alone filled experience.

Your friends you left at college. Your friends you left in your home church.

Your friends you left when you had to take a different job somewhere else because it didnt work out. 

Was it ever meant to be this way, the path of faith and ministry an alone one.

Well, actually maybe yes.

Remember that Jesus person, the one who called you. How lonely might he have been? intensely i would imagine – and thats not just at the obvious times like the wilderness, like the times when the disciples abandoned him, or the walk with the cross itself. He was always at odds with those around him, trying to justify his purpose, not fitting in, being surprising but at the same time not being acceptable. Yes Jesus went to parties and weddings and joined with the fun, but could he really commit to friendships with the Peters and Marys of this world- knowing how they would be torn apart by his destiny?

yeah, im not sure either.  But there is someting intriguingly aloof about Jesus throughout the Gospels, being at odds with those around him, it was an isolated path, and one that he needed all the resources of the Trinity that walked with him.

So, if Youth Ministry and Ministry is actually a lonelier path than we’d like to admit – what steps can be taken to help? Especially if it doesnt feel like anyone is talking about it.. is it a taboo subject?

  1. Have realistic expectations in the first place – and these can be helped if conversations about this are held during formation training
  2. Be ready to be alone in ministry. If you know you find it difficult to work alone- christian /youth ministry might not be for you. However faithful you might be.
  3. Not only might ministry be seasonal but it also fluctuates between social and alone and might require shifts in temperament , in concentration and self determination. And it’s not easy sometimes to make those shifts.
  4. Self care is essential.
  5. Find similar friends even via social media. The ministry and youth work world is small, join it!
  6. Find a spiritual mentor
  7. Or a supervisor (or both)

There might be a few additional things you can do. The best thing might be to be prepared from the beginning for the reality of the post formational experience.

However it can feel like that Green day song at times.. ‘am i the only one and i walk alone’. Be ready for it! Being called to this includes the times of aloneness and potential loneliness, it will undoubtedly happen.

Beyond self-care; what else is a youth worker/minister responsible for?

In my last post, on the need for youthworkers (and their managers) to take an active role in their self-care, i intimated that it is mostly a youthworkers responsibility to do this, despite their better passionate instinct. What tends to happen is that, especially in youth ministry type roles, the individual youth minister is seen to be ‘at fault’ if they cannot cope in a situation, rather than the culture of the ministry to have any responsibility for their well being and satisfaction in a role. It can become more difficult to challenge a structure if it can be deemed a faith one, and ordained one, one steeped in theological history.

However, thats a bit of a tangent, the point is that regardless of the culture of a workplace, a youthworker is responsible for their self-care, for looking after their social, spiritual, physical and mental well-being, albeit with hopefully some good supervision (and thank you for this comment on the article steelcityman) to hand to help.

I wondered: what else youthworkers are responsible for in their role and profession? – beyond their job title and description.

  1. Their Self care-, looking after themselves (obviously)
  2. Finding their own support system, practice supervisor type role for them
  3. Developing their own career path – there are limited straight pathways (thanks to Ultimate Youthworker Podcast for this one), they may have to make a choice to leave somewhere  Image result for responsibility
  4. Developing secondary work when funding starts to decline in their paid job
  5. Depending on their role, they could be responsible for all the NEETs in a town getting a job, all the anti social behaviour being reduced, or all the young people going to church. (;-))
  6. They are responsible for filtering out and discerning the right kind of training opportunities, and also for ascertaining them in the first place.
  7. They are responsible for trying to manage purposeful relationships with young people that are difficult to quantify, and treating them with care. Image result for responsibility
  8. They are responsible for maintaining reading, learning and being up to date with policies and theories as it as an ever changing practice
  9. They are responsible for managing a smooth transition in themselves from worker to manager or supervisor with often limited support to do so.
  10. They are responsible for holding and keeping alot of information about young people through conversations with them, with other agencies and hoping to still treat young people with fairness, equality and respect.
  11. They can often be responsible for finding funding for their own role.
  12. They are responsible for their own priority setting, where they have the power to make priorities of their tasks, and time management.
  13. They are responsible for finding their own pension scheme, usually.
  14. They are responsible for maintaining a position of trust in the middle of other agencies and be trusted by young people.
  15. They are responsible for defending themselves with no union.
  16. They are responsible for the table tennis table and trying to continually act 21 with young people.

I am sure there are others, and not to say that youthworkers are unique because in other practices of work these things will also apply. It was just as i was thinking about what youthworkers are responsible for, that are implied or extra beyond their job description, or like number 5 or 16, its what people expect a youthworker to be able to do, or only do.  It is a hugely self determining role – in terms of decisions a youthworker has to make, ethical decisions, practical decisions (about pensions, or jobs) – and this coupled with the high levels of emotional output, it can be undoubtedly draining without looking after ourselves, So maybe getting number 1 right is the best first thing.

Image result for responsibility

Managers/ Clergy; Dont take advantage of your youthworkers passion!

At the recent Federation of Detached youthwork conference in Leeds last weekend, Tania de St Croix presented insights from her Phd work, which has subsequently been published (a copy is here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grassroots-Youth-Work-Resistance-Practice/dp/1447328604/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479844846&sr=8-1&keywords=tania+de+st+croix

In it she interviewed a whole load of youth workers, mostly part time ones, and found that, maybe unsurprisingly, youth workers intimated the Passion they had for their work. They were passionate about getting to know young people, passionate about being able to have significance, they used phrases like ‘heart’ or ’emotional’ to indicate that not only did they ‘do’ youth work, it was something that they ‘felt’. They were, and youth workers are generally passionate.

The passion that youthworkers show for young people is as equally shown in their desire to ‘fight’ to protect good services, youth clubs on the brink of closure’ or try and fight for the change that would enable young people to flourish. It is undoubtedly not just a head game, but a heart one too.

Tania goes on to describe how a youth worker , who is passionate, is likely to undertake a path of least controversy in the practice of youth work, for the simple reason that their passion for the young people (and dare i say it in a faith based Setting, coupled with their passion for God) takes a precedence over the politics and organisational structures that are causes of stress. In situations where Management and the Ideology of measuring outcomes in youthwork has taken over, some youthworkers play the game in order to comply, and thus maintain funding for roles, thus ensuring that they continue to maintain being a face to face youthworker. As Tania argues, barely any youthworker resists the onslaught of figures and outcomes, rationalising it as a necessity for funding (p112).

I want to ask a slightly different question however from Tania’s work and insight.

Does a youthworkers passion for their role have an impact on their own self care?

A few weeks ago i posted a blog about self-care in youth ministry, basing it on Stephen Coveys 4 aspects of life such as , Social, Physical, Mental and Spiritual which, for an effective person ( in Stephen coveys ‘habits of effective people’) need to be acknowledged, sharpened and renewed every now and then, if not weekly.

It is worth bringing in the professional boundaries that are also a factor in Youthwork. I would say these are especially worth considering given that youthworkers is a practice which self-orientated to places between other structures, in the borders. This means that its guidelines for practice, though are not vague, but that youthworkers in their dealings with young people will be making on the spot and ethical decisions on an ongoing basis.

They are likely to want to ‘go the extra mile’ for a young person, or work an extra hour on a funding bid, all of which could be sourced from the passion that they have for the young person. As an addition would it be fair to say that youthworkers by disposition are likely to be the ‘kind’ of people who are selfless, who have a desire to be helpful, have a naturally generous personality?  This coupled with their passion for their work, their ministry, their young people, their faith even – might mean that they naturally forget their self care.

When i say forget, i might also mean neglect, or ignore, or deem it unimportant. Now, who is going to help a youthworker look after themselves?  their manager? their supervisor? their friend (if they have time for friends) – it is most likely to be the youthworker themselves.

But their passion for their young people, their ministry, their future career, their creativity, their team building, their faith – though all commendable, though all important, though all essential to be maintained – might be the very thing that prevents them from thinking about themselves.

I have seen too many Gap year youthworkers suffer burnout two months before they were due to end even a year of full time experiences to know it isnt just Part time, full time paid youthworkers, it is volunteers too.

Maybe in youthwork/youth ministry we need to create cultures that are prophetic, that endorse the times that are quiet as valuable , and encourage people to being off to recharge in their own time, and endorse constructive ways of filling that time to recharge.

Maybe those of us in the position of management of a youthworker need to realise that it might be also our responsibility to push, to create cultures, and encourage, not just model, a work with young people that recognises the need for positive self care in youthworkers. A youthworker might not recognise it before it is too late. They might have been riding the crest of adrenaline for far too long, or using the excuse that they love their work, and its fulfilment of it, has kept them going, when in reality this only lasts so long. They might also be very eager to please when we as those in authority over them give them tasks, we may if were honest as managers sometimes take advantage of this.

So, might a youth workers passion cause them to forego dissention for the sake of vocation, probably, might that similar passion mean that they also forget themselves and their own self care, probably. If a youthworker is likely to forget about their own self care, then it is up to those around them, personally, and for those can create a culture of the work/ministry to value the importance of this.

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