Help! Is it possible to be a critical christian and have purposeful faith?

As a four year old, I used to like trying to work out how things worked. Nothing was safe, clocks were a favourite, I’d take the backs of them and then remove the springs pulleys and mechanism. Sometimes I could put them back together, on other occasions there would be a mess of wires and springs on the bedroom floor and no clock possible. I’d take apart bikes and put them together again when I was older. I was curious from an early age. It was more than just asking the ‘why’ question but the ‘how’ question.

My school report might read that I was messy and untidy, but would also say that when it was something that I was interested in it be normal for me to continue that same curiosity. I had an active brain. Being perceptive was something that I had been commended for. Growing up asking questions, growing up thinking. I dont say these things as thinking of myself in any way special or unique, if faith and social development theories have anything to go by then curiosity and exploring are so much part of growing up.

I guess what I didnt do was stop at bikes, or clocks, but continued to ask, sometimes the stupid, questions in my growing up in church; why do you believe in that? why do we do things in a certain way in this church? my own perceptive brain was thinking, and didnt want i guess the stuff of faith that i was drawn to, to be a back alley or cul de saq that hadnt been thought through. Yet even then, I had blind spots that needed others to point out to me – as sometimes the answers to my questions positioned faith in a certain way within the box of that church tradition i guess- within the safe.

Recently I was reading faith formation in a secular world, by Andrew Root, in it, he brings to the youth ministry attention the observations of the world as proposed by Charles Taylor. In a way it gave me a sense of relief – but also a worry.

A relief, in that what Root explores from Taylor is that faith exists in a context, largely that is critical of it. Critical because of religious institutional scandals, cover ups, because of perceived prejudice against groups and inequality, and , the main thing when i was growing up, a media perception of its irrelevance, boring, or something generally to take the piss out of.  I think I also grew up, in that same zone of perception and criticalness that meant that it became difficult to accept completely what was said by powerful people, one example being to ‘stand at wembley stadium and ‘feel’ Jesus at work whilst singing along to a song’ as one example. I guess i questioned the evangelical way of things, that at the time had also fed and nurtured my faith since birth, to a point. But growing up questioning, found a critical edge, and then, in my mid twenties, a further space to enjoy being questioning, and opening up more of the how and why of things through academic study at ICC. (Now SSCM, Glasgow).

I had an avenue to be critical, to think, to read, and in the main ever since I have enjoyed reading, thinking and also being at times really awestruck by images, metaphors and descriptions of God through writing that has broadened, and aided me in personal devotion. Be a critical reflector, thats what they said.  However, there is still a snag, a big one.

My own critical and cynical nature.

What I struggle to do is peel off the onion layer of critique and expose myself to the vulnerability of faith, even that innocence of faith. Im too battle weary, too thoughtful, too much a product of the critical age, and a culture of realism that besets the same. Dont get me wrong its not culture I blame, but aware that it is this culture that it is easy to fit in. And at the same time easy to be critical of ongoing practice that seem at odds with what i might perceive as the truth or the performance of theology, or even just poor ethics. The hand that used to feed me, the evangelical church tradition, is probably the one i bite the most.

But as a contrast I have found solace, spiritually, in a theological framework that remythologises and constructs. The great Theodrama that expands the metaphors of action, of time, of God interjecting and the drama of everyday life. A built up theology of Gods voice speaking in the everyday and a drama of ongoing redemption that connects us all in an overall plan of redemption. It is a thing of great beauty, of humanity and of promise. It is what in every day should cause me to wonder, to believe and take hold of.

But instead, beautiful theology meets skin of cynicism.

Where the Theodrama prompts and provokes – the me of my time kicks back the question and writes it off.

Once the critical has been unleashed is the fear that it wont go back in the bubble? Can I not just have an innocent simple faith anymore? I never had an innocent simple faith, and if im a realist, i dont think anyone has an innocent simple faith anyway, unless thats just my projection. Innocent and simple faith, is that what we’re called to have anyway? see a load more questions. Then a shred of doubt? Can God still use me even if I am critical and cynical at times, or might he use me because of it? Have I spent too long trying to be someone else, someone who isnt full of questions, thoughts and exploring? What if i need to not be for a moment, can i switch off the radar, and just relax and be in the moment and faithful.

I was visiting a project a few weeks ago, that were doing detached youthwork out on a fairly wet night in Glasgow. Before we went out we met at a house with others and spent some time praying together, at least they did. I couldnt help but think that it was the kind of moment that I hadnt had for a while, spending time praying with people, or more to the point, praying with people who seemed to have that innocent faith, combined with an missional heart for a local area that they were prepared to do something. The haggard me realises that I have had to lead prayers in staff meetings previously when much of the time there was foreboding and challenge in the air. On other times involved in prayer meetings where there was too much amazeballs going on that honestly it was difficult not to feel threatened, or that its so unreal that it doesnt make any sense, or its power games and trying to be the most charismatic pray-er in a room of exciting youthfulness. (back to me dissing the evangelicals again – apologies) .

In the great Theodrama, there may be a role suitable, though its not the critic.

Its the Theologian. The task of the theol0gian is to help the play towards its redemptive ending, to keep it guided along against the script, however difficult this is. It is not to ask critical questions that derail the drama of redemption, but ask :

are we on track with the Theodrama?

Is what we’re doing the way of Jesus?

Are we performing in and acting it out in obedience to the prompts of God in the midst?

These are the questions for the theologian to ask of the action before it, is not to critique the play of others, as they do their performances, but to steer guide and help gravitate the existing plays to develop Gods plays. As The Greatest showman realised, critics can say one thing about a performance, but the audience another. But in the Theodrama, the audience is the guest not the critic, and the theologian is the dramaturge guiding the play to be closer to the way of Jesus, but also in doing so is part of the action in obedience to the action. As has been stated previously, who are the theologians, who are those that know in innocence the heart of God – thatll be the children, the intuitive theologians. Those with innocent left, not with innocent lost. More are theologians that just the academic, for, its also the task of the theologian performers, the pastor-theologians who look after the flock, and those who expand the stage to include others in the performance, theologians one and all in the midst of the drama. Shaping from within, listening to the prompts in the heat of the action. Being followers of the great improviser on the stage. As i said, this is rather beautiful.

There might well be space in the Theodrama for critical and helpful questions, sometimes depending on the audience or performers, these rent accepted or heard, other times they are questions loaded with too much malice, cynicism or motive, and  i know i struggle with getting this balance. What i struggle with as much though is hanging onto a kind of accepting faith when my inner cynic, cant keep quiet, and neither my mind and spirit is rarely still. Is it possible to be critical christian? – and yet still have a role to play in the overall drama, and also the day to day drama in the world.

In a way what right do I have to think of myself as a critic, how do I know the acts and wonders of God in the midst, prompting the faithful to new performances, what can I do but contribute to the performances and helping others with theirs. It is no relief to be like this, however much I might be a ‘product’ of a questioning culture. It makes it harder to see God in things, to relax in the transcendance space and to accept an innocent of God involved. Can a critical christian have faith – yes- it just might not be an innocent one anymore. In a way, that is ok. It is trying to find the grown up faith beyond and through the questions that I am struggling to find – when faith seems only to be about simplicity, innocence and acceptance. Can I still have faith, even more so. Is it a learning faith that retains curiosity (as part of our Humanity Acts 17) very much so.

There is no going back for me to naive innocent faith, once the can has been opened and new light has dawned. But that is not either what we’re asked to have. We are meant to grow up in faith, and be aware that our critical nature is part of who we are, and so developing learning, being challenged must be part and parcel of discipleship, and despair and cynicism, like the psalms might be left to our moments of personal reflection, angst and anger. Help! i may be a critical christian thats lost his faith in evangelicalism, but that doesnt mean that i dont have a faith or purpose. What im trying to work out is how the beauty and mystery of God can be realised even with my critical nature as part of the deal. Does God accept our critical nature? take us as we are?



Root Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age, 2017

Vanhoozer, K, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005

Vanhoozer, K, Remythologising Theology, 2010



Young people will go elsewhere for rebellion and danger- if faith in our youth groups is tame and safe

Young People need to be more than just participants in institutional faith -(Andrew Root (2017))

Faith Generation needs to enable young people to explore identity and meaning, and engage in acts of faith that generate experience and engagement with God’ (Nick Shepherd, Faith Generation, 2016, p170)

By Being creative faith activists and taking liturgy to the streets, the prophetic church today can re-imagine space and time through the liturgy, baptizing the community into festival time, and gathering the community to create spaces of Hope in the City  (Peter Heltzel, the church as the theatre of the Oppressed, the promise of a youth-led Urban revolution, in Theatrical Theology, 2014, Hart/Vander Lugt)

I think I have lost count trying to help churches to try and connect with young people in their local community, only for them to find young people and not really know what to offer. I have equally lost count the number of churches who ask about ‘trying to keep’ young people within the church. Its a question that hasnt gone away since Sunday Schools kept 4 million for a few years before 1900.

One of the situations churches find themself saying, and also perpetuated by the relevancy narrative within youth ministry, is that they are boring or irrelevant for much of the last 60 years (or more) the trying to be relevant in practice has been one of the key games within youth ministry, games and themes, or even that a fear of irrelevancy might set in (its one reason why youth ministry orgs re brand themselves, and repackage the often very similar teaching and formational material). Criticisms theologically of this, are well known and not to be repeated here.


I think, for the sake of young people, and the gospel, we need to change the metaphor, and the starting point.

We need to view the Gospel as an ongoing Drama, and Discipleship about being a performing actor following the directions of Christ (also acting) on the stage of the World. 

In slightly shorter – we need to be training young people for the task of performing the Gospel – and to be attentive to the ongoing voice of God in their everyday midst. Image result for drama

It would be easy to be critical, rather than constructive at this point, when I have the expansive metaphor of theatre to hand it is within this that I should write, however, for a small second it is worth mentioning here, that for the most part the things that we are getting hung up on in the church regarding young people and discipleship (and Andrew Root confirms this in the US also) is on the aspect of discipleship that is principally about formation.

Many of the programmes are essentially about making the formation aspect of faith ‘really exciting’ , yet for many young people it is still a glorified Bible study, or a non participatory God slot at the end of a series of games or activities that are the ‘fun bit’. Making formation ok enough so young people dont leave the youth group is about the maximum success, even better is to turn them into a leader. One indicator of this is that articles here that are about ‘keeping young people in the church’ are some of the most popular. However, in the metaphor of Drama, formation is not enough. The Drama student needs productions to hone their skills, the playscript needs to be seen, the action needs to happen. Acting is risk and dangerous. Rehearsals behind closed doors are safe.

In a way, its not that the youth group needs to be exciting – its that the Radical Gospel of Jesus needs to be given its full credibility status as a transforming direction that challenges and provokes humanity into a radical way of being in the world, and that discipleship is a task of performing it. 

What young people need is a way of living, and a way of believing that is believable, that is credible and that shapes their whole being (Shepherd, 2017).  The problem is that the Gospel is seen as boring as the church is thinking it is, and the answer is not to make youth groups more youthful, and authentically youth feeling – but to make the Gospel something that young people want to perform on the broadest of world stages. It is to make discipleship meaningful again.

It may also be to make discipleship collective again. It is far easier to perform as a troop that an individual. Monologues of performance are difficult to do, but often we task young people to stand alone and ‘be christian’ on their own.

As an addition, performances are also key to formation.

As every actor knows, they are learning new things about every performance as they perform it, and learning each time, about new audiences, about nuances and cues. Thats before we mention improvisation. (Im trying to keep this article short), and so 5 quick things to think about- if we view youth discipleship as performing the gospel:

  1. The Gospel becomes action orientated – how young people read it is as a script and guide to shape them, it is more than history, or morality – but cues to current action
  2. The world, and everything within in, becomes a stage on which they have the opportunities to enact, in the new situations
  3. Our role as the church is to facilitate good performances, through liturgy, through connecting young people in the story/drama, and helping them know their part (s)
  4. We have the responsibility to help them discern Gods ongoing voice – not just praying, but listening in the everyday
  5. We might avoid ‘fat’ or ‘festival’ christian syndrome, where high formation and attendance is at the price of performances and action. 
  6. Collective social action might be good to put in the youth group programme (it might be the programme)
  7. Participation as an ongoing principle within youth work (which i hope it is- see prev posts) also has a theological premise – the two way participation in which God indwells in us, for the disciple to also participate in the ongoing story
  8. We have an opportunity to make youth groups action and risk taking orientated. Being safe for Jesus doesnt seem to be much of an option.

The above example, from Heltzl is of a youth movement in the USA who acted out of peace and reconciliation within the city of New York, they in effect took their desire for peace, for equality and for the goodness of the local community and made a peaceful protest against the building of a road that would destroy a community in their area. The same might be said today of the young people protesting against Gun crime in the same nation. These are collective protests for the common good being made by collections of young people. What performing the gospel might mean in your context might look very different to these, but what it might help to do is give young people not only a local cause to believe in, but also a faith that is to believe.As Jesus said, it is when we are put in front of the magistrate is the moment where ‘the spirit will give you the words to say’ (Matthew 10:19).

Lets make the youth group and the church the training ground for dynamic local gospel performances, not just a culture of conformity and an ongoing repetition of being part of the christian club going to events. We may not want to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10; 25) but as the previous verse indicates, lets meet to inspire each other to do good and love each other (verse 24)- to perform the gospel in the context… 

We shouldnt worry about trying to keep young people – if the place of faith is also a place of planning to do good and to love each other. We neednt worry about keeping young people if discipleship was encouraged to be a dangerous performance of goodness, that challenged the norms of the world, and gave young people opportunities to have acting parts within the Holy Drama.

There is considerably more on this, the Theodrama, on these pages elsewhere (see the categories/tags tab). FYT have a resource on ‘Experiments’ which gives actions for young people to perform (first) before reflecting (second) on the activity. Its a change from the formation first stuff. It changes the order, and so for individuals and groups it gets them doing stuff first – and 100’s of groups are really being challenged by it: its here:


Root, Andrew Faith Formation in a secular world, 2017

Shepherd, Nick, Faith Generation, 2016

Hart, Lugt, Theatrical Theology, 2014

Boal, A Theatre of the Oppressed, 2005


Without theology- can youth ministry keep the faith?

For those who keep up with these things, this is the fourth of my posts that is loosely related to ideas that emerge from Andrew Roots book, Faith formation in a secular age’ a book which is going to be discussed and referred to quite a bit over the next year within the corridors of youth ministry brand UK, possibly because we cant in the UK get enough of what the Americans think about youth ministry (even if their context, ecclesiology, missiological practices and political context, and spiritual context are vastly different), and that there can be a tendency to give a free ride to anyone intellectual that isnt that critical themselves. What Andrew Root does do is tell it like it is to his own audience. What we need to do in the UK is discover whether the message needed is the same. And there are questions. But for now, I have a different question. In a book so concerned about the formation of faith, and the context within which faith is formed – why does Root only spend a short time reflecting on what faith is, why faith might be important for young people?

In Chapter 8 of faith formation Root, after finishing an exploration Charles Taylor, sets to work on developing a framework of what faith is, in accordance with , essentially, Gormans view of The apostle Pauls salvation. Stating that faith is about negation. It is that Jesus entered negation, and that Saul (Paul) saw faith as

a transcendent experience born out of negation (death, brokenness and longing) . Faith is to experience the encounter of Christ, through the negation of the Cross, faith is not just an act of trust, but to ‘enter’ into Christ and have our own being taken into the being of Jesus’ (Root, Andrew, 2017, p119-120)

Faith, in this description Root gives is about negating, about giving up, and it is about participating in the actions of Christ, divine action, which Root goes on to say is a cause for a believer to become a minister, to become one who minister to others, and this is explored by Root in the next chapter, 9. Stating that Faith is about the experience of ministry, and in that ministry which arrives through negation, comes the divine action.

What this means is that Faith is something practical (ministering to others) and Prophetic (causes a giving up, negation, a simplicity) and also transcendent (in an age of ‘realism’ and ‘authenticity’). This links significantly with Healys view of a Theodrammatic framework for ecclesiology, church within the Theodrama is to be practical and prophetic, and not worry about its blemishes, history or ideals.

And culturally talk of faith is cheap. The key conversations surround growth as an antidote to decline within organisations, and this can be reduced to over reliance on the business models that spawned successful or profitable businesses. But Jesus wasnt about being a successful business. Jesus was someone who recognised faith, and asks of us that his return ‘how many will he find on earth who have faith?’ (Luke 18:8)

Faith has 55 references in the Gospels, many directly the words of Jesus who commends or rebukes those who do not have enough, or have enough of it, faith to be made well, faith as much as a mustard seed, faith as much as this– many, many references to the faith of those around him. Often rebuking those who think they have it, and commending those for whom their actions show more faith than they thought. So what might this mean for the ‘faith’ of churches, the faith of people around us in our communities and churches. Are the faithful the large – or the faithful the invisible?

However, Can we take what Root argues for without critique? – after all – Faith will be what the Son of Man comes back to see, and faithful ministry, (that might also be growing) might be the call of the minister of faith. Yet still- talk is about faith- without really pinning down what faith is. Often it can be a tag line, a descriptor- such as ‘faith-based’, or ‘faith motivated’ especially for youth work practice.

Referring to the Bible, Faith is described by the writer of Hebrews as : ‘Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen, it gives us assurance about things we cannot see’ (Hebrews 11;1) Then follows a log line of people who acted according to faith. What they reveal about God is that he communicated and spoke to these people in the midst of day to day and called them to action. Action, that Root might suggest, caused negation – the giving up of a home (abraham), the challenge to build a boat, the giving up of a child (Moses), a welcome to the spies (Rahab). Faith requires action, and God seems to be present in that action. It is as Vanhoozer and others might say, a Divine Drama of Gods being present in ongoing communication (Vanhoozer, 2010, Remythologising Theology)

In The Hermeneutics of Doctrine Anthony Thiselton, refers to Wolfgang Pannenburg who writes:

There is no separation between history and faith; we must reinstate today the original unity of facts and their meaning’, Knowledge is not a stage beyond faith, but leads into faith.

For Thiselton, ‘faith as based on the trustworthiness of that to which it is directed, hence ‘christian faith must not be merely subjective conviction that would allegedly compensate for the uncertainty of an historical knowledge about Jesus’. Jesus stood himself in a horizon where people expected a Saviour, and did not demand trust in his person without giving reasons for it. (Thiselton, 2007, p411-412)

Faith then is inextricably linked to knowledge, for without knowledge of an idea, a situation and belief system then there can be no faith. As Root himself says, young people within evangelical settings (especially youth ministry) now know very little about the tradition, but have been taught over and over about how to get high on the idea of Jesus. The need for knowledge within faith played down, only simple knowledge was enough, and within a vacuum of knowledge (of God) dangerous theologies and the idolatorous worship of these theologies reign free (prosperity gospel etc) , but it is also Knowledge of God and Theology that Vanhoozer brings as his anti-dote the dangers of MTD, the disease often said to infect american youth ministry. (Vanhoozer, 2014)

From both Root and Vanhoozer, Theology must come first, then practical ministry and action. (In the UK, Pete Ward was arguing for the same in 1997) Faith is inextricably linked to knowledge of God and knowledge of the story of God and accepting an ongoing role in the drama of it all.

When talk is of growth and growing youth ministry, what effect might this have on faith when real faith requires slow knowledge, self sacrifice and denial, living a radical deducted (even simple life) and not just Jesus as the great confidence giver and permisser of a materialist life. Faith seems to be more than belief, it is an act of the will to live a different life. Can growing and growth be detrimental to depth because the emphasis might be on quantity, efficiency and speed.

A faith based ministry or church- what might that mean, based on a faith and acting like the faith that is required. Without a theology of faith, what are young people having faith in? An experience that makes them feel good or gives them a high? Or the kind of dangerous self giving generous discipleship which loves their neighbour and in obedience hears the holy author prompting in the midst, to act in faith towards human and community flourishing? (And it’s not too young to start)

Andrew Root has put faith formation back into the youth ministry headlines, what is as required is to contemplate the life of faith that is required of those who accept the challenge to take on Jesus discipleship.


Root, Faith formation in a secular age, 2017

Thiselton A, 2007 the Hermeneutics of Doctrine

Vanhoozer, 2005, The drama of doctrine

Vanhoozer, 2010; Remythologising Theology

Ward, Pete, 1997 Youth work and the Mission of God

Millenials dont want a youthful church – they want one that meaningfully performs the gospel

I am nearly 40 and i still keep going to church. Just. So, I am not a ‘millenial’ that has left, yet I grew up evangelical, and often find myself growing out of love with the church. And I have tried a number of different ones. Some try the intentional youthful approach, trying to stay young and full of students (and this keeps the cycle of youth attractiveness going) some more institutional that age sometimes not o gracefully, others somewhere in between.

According to the general theories I am in the bottom end of the Generation X group, if these boundaries exist in anything other than sociological textbooks that seem to be the flavour of the month and adopted uncritically by those trying to work out the future of the church in context, more so that what theology might say. However, another blog rant aside, the following piece came out this month that was all about the reasons that people in their thirties who grew up in churches, have left the church. That piece in full is here: The writer starts in a similar way, he wonders- what ever happened to everyone else – the other 30-40 year olds?

This is a real problem in the UK, because for 30-40 years now we believed that trends and practices of youth ministry since the 1970’s were having an effect. They havent. At least not in an intentional way. But looking at the list of the 12 things, there is evidence of the effect of youth ministry on the church- and how this has ironically meant that the church has become unimportant, and non significant for anyone over the age of 20.

Image result for millennial

The 12 things were as follows:

So, at the risk of being excommunicated, here is the metaphorical nailing of my own 12 theses to the wooden door of the American, Millennial-less Church.

1. Nobody’s Listening to Us

Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When a church forges ahead without ever asking for our input we get the message loud and clear: Nobody cares what we think. Why then, should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?


  • Create regular outlets (forums, surveys, meetings) to discover the needs of young adults both inside AND outside the church.
  • Invite millennials to serve on leadership teams or advisory boards where they can make a difference.
  • Hire a young adults pastor who has the desire and skill-set to connect with millennials.

2. We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements

Sweet Moses people, give it a rest.

Of course as an organization it’s important to be moving in the same direction, but that should easier for Christians than anyone because we already have a leader to follow. Jesus was insanely clear about our purpose on earth:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

“Love God. Love Others.” Task completed.

Image result for mission statement

Why does every church need its own mission statement anyway? Aren’t we all one body of Christ, serving one God? What would happen if the entire American Church came together in our commonalities and used the same, concise mission statement?


  • Stop wasting time on the religious mambo jambo and get back to the heart of the gospel. If you have to explain your mission and values to the church, it’s overly-religious and much too complicated.
  • We’re not impressed with the hours you brag about spending behind closed doors wrestling with Christianese words on a paper. We’re impressed with actions and service.

3. Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority

My heart is broken for how radically self-centered and utterly American our institution has become.

Let’s clock the number of hours the average church attender spends in “church-type” activities. Bible studies, meetings, groups, social functions, book clubs, planning meetings, talking about building community, discussing a new mission statement…

Now let’s clock the number of hours spent serving the least of these. Oooooo, awkward.

If the numbers are not equal please check your Bible for better comprehension (or revisit the universal church mission statement stated above).

“If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is in us at all.” –Radical, David Platt


  • Stop creating more Bible studies and Christian activity. Community happens best in service with a shared purpose.
  • Survey your members asking them what injustice or cause God has placed on their hearts. Then connect people who share similar passions. Create space for them to meet and brainstorm and then sit back and watch what God brings to life.
  • Create group serve dates once a month where anyone can show up and make a difference (and, oh yeah, they’ll also meet new people).

4. We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture

From Elvis’ hips to rap music, from Footloose to “twerking,” every older generation comes to the same conclusion: The world is going to pot faster than the state of Colorado. We’re aware of the down-falls of the culture—believe it or not we are actually living in it too.

Perhaps it’s easier to focus on how terrible the world is out there than actually address the mess within.


  • Put the end times rhetoric to rest and focus on real solutions and real impact in our immediate community.
  • Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. (If this teaching isn’t happening in your life, check out the book Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working by Craig Groeschel)

5. The “You Can’t Sit With Us” Affect

There is this life-changing movie all humans must see, regardless of gender. The film is of course the 2004 classic Mean Girls.

In the film, the most popular girl in school forgets to wear pink on a Wednesday (a cardinal sin), to which Gretchen Weiners screams, “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!”

Today, my mom said to me, “Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school.” With sadness in her voice she continued, “and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.”

The truth is, I share her experience. As do thousands of others.

Until the church finds a way to be radically kinder and more compassionate than the world at large, we tell outsiders they’re better off on their own. And the truth is, many times they are.


  • Create authentic communities with a shared purpose centered around service.
  • Create and train a team of CONNECT people whose purpose is to seek out the outliers on Sunday mornings or during other events. Explicitly teach people these skills as they do not come naturally to most of the population.
  • Stop placing blame on individuals who struggle to get connected. For some people, especially those that are shy or struggle with anxiety, putting yourself out there even just once might be an overwhelming task. We have to find ways to bridge that gap.

6. Distrust & Misallocation of Resources

Over and over we’ve been told to “tithe” and give 10 percent of our incomes to the church, but where does that money actually go? Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions, for we have witnessed over and over how corrupt and self-serving they can be.

We want pain-staking transparency. We want to see on the church homepage a document where we can track every dollar.

Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?


  • Go out of your way to make all financial records readily accessible. Earn our trust so we can give with confidence.
  • Create an environment of frugality.
  • Move to zero-based budgeting where departments aren’t allocated certain dollar amounts but are asked to justify each purchase.
  • Challenge church staff to think about the opportunity cost. Could these dollars be used to better serve the kingdom?

7. We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At

Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents. See: millennial church attendance. We have millions of podcasts and Youtube videos of pastors the world over at our fingertips.

For that reason, the currency of good preaching is at its lowest value in history.

Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. We are the generation with the highest ever percentage of fatherless homes.

We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and our future. If we don’t have real people who actually care about us, why not just listen to a sermon from the couch (with the ecstasy of donuts and sweatpants)?


  • Create a database of adult mentors and young adults looking for someone to walk with them.
  • Ask the older generation to be intentional with the millennials in your church.

8. We Want to Feel Valued

Churches tend to rely heavily on their young adults to serve. You’re single, what else do you have to do? In fact, we’re tapped incessantly to help out. And, at its worst extreme, spiritually manipulated with the cringe-worthy words “you’re letting your church down.”

Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up to the second we take a sleeping pill that we aren’t good enough.

We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.

We need a church that sees us and believes in us, that cheers us on and encourages us to chase our big crazy dreams.


  • Return to point #1: listening.
  • Go out of your way to thank the people who are giving so much of their life to the church.

9. We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is)

People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image.

We need someone consistently speaking truth into every single one of those areas.

No, I don’t think a sermon-series on sex is appropriate for a sanctuary full of families, but we have to create a place where someone older is showing us a better way because these topics are the teaching millennials are starving for. We don’t like how the world is telling us to live, but we never hear from our church either.


  • Create real and relevant space for young adults to learn, grow and be vulnerable.
  • Create an opportunity for young adults to find and connect with mentors.
  • Create a young adults program that transitions high school youth through late adulthood rather than abandoning them in their time of greatest need.
  • Intentionally train young adults in how to live a godly life instead of leaving them to fend for themselves.

10. The Public Perception

It’s time to focus on changing the public perception of the church within the community. The neighbors, the city and the people around our church buildings should be audibly thankful the congregation is part of their neighborhood. We should be serving the crap out of them.

We desperately need to be calling the schools and the city, knocking on doors, asking everyone around us how we can make their world better. When the public opinion shows 1/3 millennials are ANTI-CHURCH, we are outright failing at being the aroma of Christ.


  • Call the local government and schools to ask what their needs are. (See: Service Day from #3)
  • Find ways to connect with neighbors within the community.
  • Make your presence known and felt at city events.

11. Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something)

Words without follow-up are far worse than ignoring us completely. Despite the stereotypes about us, we are listening to phrases being spoken in our general direction. Lip service, however, doesn’t cut it. We are scrutinizing every action that follows what you say (because we’re sick of being ignored and listening to broken promises).


  • Stop speaking in abstract sound bites and make a tangible plan for how to reach millennials.
  • If you want the respect of our generation, under-promise and over-deliver.

12. You’re Failing to Adapt

Here’s the bottom line, church—you aren’t reaching millennials. Enough with the excuses and the blame; we need to accept reality and intentionally move toward this generation that is terrifyingly anti-church.

“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” —Bill Clinton
“The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” —Kakuzo Okakaura
“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” – H.G. Wells


  • Look at the data and take a risk for goodness sake. We can’t keep trying the same things and just wish that millennials magically wander through the door.
  • Admit that you’re out of your element with this generation and talk to the millennials you already have beforethey ask themselves, what I am still doing here.

You see, church leaders, our generation just isn’t interested in playing church anymore, and there are real, possible solutions to filling our congregations with young adults. It’s obvious you’re not understanding the gravity of the problem at hand and aren’t nearly as alarmed as you should be about the crossroads we’re at.

You’re complacent, irrelevant and approaching extinction. A smattering of mostly older people, doing mostly the same things they’ve always done, isn’t going to turn to the tide.

Feel free to write to me off as just another angry, selfy-addicted millennial. Believe me, at this point I’m beyond used to being abandoned and ignored.

The truth is, church, it’s your move.

Decide if millennials actually matter to you and let us know. In the meantime, we’ll be over here in our sweatpants listening to podcasts, serving the poor and agreeing with public opinion that perhaps church isn’t as important or worthwhile as our parents have lead us to believe.

The prophetic call that I take from this piece, is that participation in the relationships that enable the meaningful performing of the Gospel are what is craved by this age group. What is called for is validity and respect to participate, and be involved. The church is to be both practical, a healthy space to be honest and real, and prophetic and offer a meaningful alternative to the hustle and materialism of the world. And shock horror, its not guitars or powerpoints, but real action, the realness that loving the world is the task that church is a rehearsal and practice of.

What i also take, is that harnessing the views of those who have a critical voice and have a foot in the camps of both church, community and day to day world might be the best advice that the church could receive. What I also take is that I am still a youthful dreamer, just like this writer. I am only frustrated by the church, because it could be so much more, be so much more loving its neighbours, be so much more active in the participation of Gods actions in the world.

I read this blog post not long after reading Andrew Roots book Faith Formation in a secular age and what he says about the church’s desire for youthfulness, is shot through in the piece referred to above. What Millenials it appears want is a rejection of the churches of MTD (moral therapeutic deism) that has been their upbringing, and not to replace one kind of authenticity with another for the sake of it, but one that might have meaning for society too. Essentially the adapting of church to be youthful has forgotten the people for whom this may have been intentionally for, because they didnt want ‘for’ they wanted ‘with’. They didnt want churches run like businesses, but churches run as soup kitchens, churches going the extra mile. Its not a youthful church that millenials want, its a gospel performing one that they can be involved in. Its a trying to be youthfully authentic church that has emerged out of youth ministries desire to be relevant.

Maybe this is deep down what many want? – who let millenials have all the good frustration?

I said something similar, on discipleship and young people last year here ; why discipleship needs to be more dangerous!

Performing the gospel is what is implied through thinking about the gospels grand narrative as a drama, for more on this click on Theodrama in the categories or Tags on this site.

A follow up is is here


Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age – 2017

How might we make the time we have with young people count?

In The Hobbit, Gollum asks Bilbo the following riddle, one to answer in order for Bilbo to save himself:

This thing all things devour

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers

Gnaws Iron, bites steel; 

Grinds hard stones to meal

Slays King, ruins town

And beats mountain down

It is the fifth riddle of their six, and one that takes the longest to make a response. Spoiler alert, but the answer in case you didnt know was ‘Time’.

Last week, I was leading a session with a group of volunteers at a church in the North East, who were thinking about how they might begin to make connections with young people in their local area. Usually, these conversations begin with fairly negative opinions about young people, followed by ‘we tried a youth club in the 1980’s but they smashed the windows, and theres no way we’re letting young people into our newly refurbished church building’ but this time it was different. The volunteers recognised a different problem. And this might also be common. Image result for time

Young people had no time.

The young people in their local area had been signed up to uniformed organisations since the age of 2, sports clubs since birth, and were busy busy busy. Their time was precious. But their time was preparing for day to day activities, being taken to them, recovering from them, doing homework, achieving certificates, and ensuring that they were putting as much stuff on their CV, or being given every chance to be the darling of a family. Young people in that local area had no time. There was no gaps of ‘wasted’ time ‘with friends’ – minutes were occupied.

The discussion went a number of ways. But it got me thinking, and I have begun to reflect on a number of things in regard to ‘time’ since. Please excuse me for sharing them. I was part of a ‘generation’ of volunteer faith based youthworkers for whom one of the mantras that was used was ; ‘In regard to young people, how might you show them that you care deeply about them? – give them time’  or ‘Spell LOVE, T-I-M-E’.

In Nicholas Healys writing on The Nature of the church, he settles on the sense that in the Theodrama of Gods ongoing redemption (see other posts on this), the church is called in its ministry to be both Practical and Prophetic. Giving people, especially young people, Time, is both these things. 

Time within Christian youth Ministry can often be talked about on the basis of ‘God’s Time’ ie Chronological time, (Chronos) and Kairos – the time in the moment, the present moment of ‘the now’ of being present to hear God in the moment, God interjecting into the time and space of the now in a disturbing way. These are talked about alot. In the Theodrama, it is said by Kevin Vanhoozer, ‘that God creates and enters into time in order to communicatively relate to creatures’ (Vanhoozer, 2010, p272), and that Theodrama is the space and time of Gods dialogical communication with Human actors and respondents. (p273). In a way this is not the place to expound on this further, the references are below, and Anthony Thiseltons The Hermeneutics of Doctrine is also useful on this.

Time, is often given the precurser ‘Space and Time’ also (as above) , that ‘we need to give young people space and time’ , and in thinking about this phrase, I have often thought more heavily about the ‘space’ aspect of this, and thinking about how ‘spaces’ become ‘places’ (places of Home for young people, safety, belonging, conversation), as the environment can be/ is critical for youth work practice. What i hadnt thought about as much was ‘time’ in that phrase. Not so much. And not so much in thinking about ‘Time’ as being practical and prophetic in Youth Ministry.

However, the piece of thinking that ties some of this together is from Girouxs essays in ‘On Critical Pedagogy’. The construct of Time has emerged in one of his essays, obviously he does not deliver a theological piece on Chronos or Kairos time. Instead brokers a conversation about two other forms of Time. Public Time, and Corporate Time. And i wonder. Which type of Time are young people subjected to the most?

For a moment – think about Gollums riddle. Time is not the precious, Time is the enemy. Time consumes, destroys, speeds up. Time and how it is allocated is about power, influence, authority, and shapes identities through sets of codes and interests. In short, Time (you wont be surprised to hear) is political.

“Time has become our enemy, the active society demands that we keep moving, keep consuming, experience everything, travel, work as good tourists more than act as good citizens, work, shop and die. To keep moving is the only way left in our cultural repertoire to push away….meaning…(and consequently) the prospects and forms of social solidarity available to us shrink before our eyes” (Peter Beilharz)

Corporate time is rush rush rush. Corporate time distracts from critical thinking. Image result for timeCorporate time consumes the spiritual. Corporate time strategises.

Public time, according to Giroux, is the opposite. It rejects the fever pitch, the rush and the speed, and Slows. It. down.

Public time gives space.

Public Time refutes the technological invasion (regardless of the technology)

Public time offers room for knowledge, learning and critical thought, it is a time for questions, learning and ongoing self awareness and understanding.

Public time unsettles common sense.

‘Public time challenges neo-liberalisms willingness to separate the economic from the social as well as its failure to address human needs and social costs’ (Giroux, 1999, p115)

Whilst Giroux’s critical essay is directed squarely at the North American Higher education system, circa 2000, and specifically Bush, Reagan and Obamas Educational policies. His plea is that Higher education can maintain Public time within its institution, his fear is that corporate time has won out, and young people are subjected to only efficiency education, testing education and education that serves only corporate american, reducing and narrowing the curriculum. Why am I saying this? Well, he also suggests with no hint of optimism, that any place in which young people are educated has the opportunity to give them spaces of Corporate or Public Time. Where he obviously favours the latter.

Lets rewind a bit. If a church is to be practical, and prophetic in regard to how it views young people, and engages with them, might that include being prophetic about how young people ‘pass’ through time? 

One of the most common questions when I am on the streets on detached, is that young people ask ; ‘what are you here to do?’ There is an inbuilt ‘corporate time’ aspect, there is an expectation that they are only a project, a strategy, a pawn, that I am only engaging with them to ‘do’ something. It is challenging to offer ‘time’ for nothing. Often challenging to communicate this too, in the heat of the moment. Life in a transactional lane for young people is corporate time and a wagon they cant get off without being suspicious. Yet church can offer public time. Sadly, it can be as guilty of only offering another version of corporate time.

There can be a tendency to make Jesus rush around (thanks to Marks gospel of ‘then Jesus did stuff’), but though much happened, there was plenty of ‘non’ space that Jesus had walking, travelling, talking and responding to the questions of the disciples. If he wanted an easy ride, he wouldnt have included Peter in the party. Peter asked questions and hoped to understand. Peter slowed Jesus down a bit. Jesus gave Peter critical awakening time. Discipleship in that relationship was about Time. Public time.

What might a local church do – to be prophetic about young peoples time? On one hand it isn’t to make their time more precious or busy. But might it provide space and time to help young people slow down. Maybe the choice and contemplation of the cathedrals is one reason they are popular. Maybe thats what people like about coffee culture, its time to slow down. Maybe thats why discovering young people in their ‘public’ time moments on the streets, or gathered in places of choice is so precious for them, they need space to escape or react to pervading corporate time.

Turning churches into businesses, and looking to the corporate world for Business strategies, has the effect of a church becoming run on corporate, not public time. Efficiencies, business, activity, plans, meetings, can all reduce the value of prophetic public time. The space of conversation, the space to slow down and value a person, and value the moment. Time is political, and for ministry with young people (and all people) an understanding of public over corporate time, might help us in our work do practical and prophetic ministry.

How might we help young people value time? How might we help young people value the space of slow time?  What might the church offer by way of time, to give young people seclusion from corporate time on their lives? How might we create time for young people?

Image result for a time for everything




Giroux, Henry, On Critical Pedagogy, 2006

Thiselton, Anthony, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 2007

Vanhoozer, Remythologising Theology, 2010


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



Should Youth Discipleship be regarded as performative pedagogical practice?

One of the dangers, writes Giroux, of modern educational practice set within a global economy that has economic growth as its driving force is that it has involves even more so a

‘narrow pedagogy, memorization, high stakes testing and helping students to find a good fit within a market -orientated culture of commodification, standardization and conformity’

Giroux wasnt writing this that long ago. As a result; Young people, writes Giroux further, ‘are treated as customers and clients rather than a civic resource, whilst many poor young people are simply excluded from the benefits of a decent education through the implementation of zero tolerance  policies that treat them as criminals to be contained, punished or placed under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system’. (Giroux, On critical Pedagogy, 2011)

Over the last few weeks I have written a number of pieces on young people and participation within the church, and I am thankful to the few of you who have read and shared them widely. Quite expectantly, one of the key tools to think about participation has been Harts Ladder of youth participation, which i have now shared twice, and i do so without apology again here.

Image result for hart's ladder of youth participation

However, whilst participation is a key aspects to how young people interact with agencies and establishments, from Giroux, critically young people can be little more than consumers in their role in the school, and probably barely on rung 2-3 at all. Developing a culture of youth participation in schools can only be achieved if it is part of what drives to actions of a school towards its funding expectations, including its Ofsted reports and league tables, none of which barely mention young people as participants in the overall ‘Good/Outstanding scale’ – So if its not measured and idealised as an outcome, it will barely feature as significant, in the rigorous testing and managerial culture of the school. Being run as a business within the global economy and with spending targets to boot. However, this is a sidetrack to a question about young people and participation, and more so about discipleship as a pedagogy.

I wonder, when reading the quotation from Giroux above, did you think about how young people are discipled in church and youth ministry?

Last year, I heard a seminar by Jo Dolby who had done an academic piece of work on Discipleship. Within it she referred to the definition of discipleship that arrived from the greek word ‘Mathetes’ , which literally means, to be involved in the process of ones own learning. Discipleship seems to involve an ongoing process that involved the learner and teacher as an ongoing process. Jo pointed to a number of aspects of discipleship based from the culture of discipleship in Jesus’ time that were provocative and counter cultural. She shared these things at last years Streetspace national gathering, a write up for which and the flipcharts on discipleship are here: Streetspace Gathering 2017

But Mathetes and discipleship as an ongoing process of learning. Interesting…

One definition of Pedagogy is :  The method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept. (From The online Oxford dictionary) , Pedagogy is often used in educational practice as seen above. It is less well used in Faith Based discipleship conversations. Discipleship is less seen as educational, and more formational. At least that is the common language within churches in regard to discipleship, formation and authentic practices.

 Though forming, as Root goes on to say, has been thought of in not a neo-liberal vacuum (Root doesnt talk about this at all) but in a secular age, which values Authenticity. Formation has become another buzzword for educational group work that hopes desperately to keep young people within an institution (pages i-xiv).

Churches have become no better or different than schools. Where the schools curriculum is bent towards the market. Churches have been hoodwinked into reductionist programmes of survival. Reductionist in that they hope to keep young people, having only avoiding worst case scenario to hand. If Root is to be believed, though i think the British context is different, churches have turned to youth to keep their own authenticity intact, for being youthful is a sign of authenticity in todays western culture. What Root lacks in his prognosis is the effect of neo-liberalism, power, control and education within his analysis, though what he strives for is a rethink of formation, doing so without a huge mention of discipleship, though with one that calls for increased awareness of divine action, and young people as participants beyond just the institution (p191-194)

Will an understanding of Discipleship as Pedagogy help? Again, Root will probably say no, i think. Though in an age where youth participation is lessening in schools, then at least the church might offer something distinctive if discipleship was a process of ongoing collaborative learning. Discipleship as ongoing learning that also including aspects of divine action, and also performance might be closer to what is required. A quick aside, when Vanhoozer diagnosed American Youth Ministry and the church as a whole with the MTD disease that Smith Identified, his cure was to uphold Theology and also the Drama of doctrine in the ongoing actions of Human performance ( Vanhoozer, 2014, Faith Speaking Understanding) for him, limited doctrinal knowledge was the pre-curser to the God that makes me feel good attitude prevalent in MTD. How might a performative pedagogy that enabled the ongoing learning of Christian doctrine help within Youth Ministry?

Wesley Vander lugt suggests that Formation and Performance are intrinsically linked. There is limited use for one without the other, performance reveals formation, and vice versa. (Vander lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014). The process of learning, of formation within youth discipleship might benefit from how its ongoing pedagogical practice is performative and in doing so reveals, and helps young people embody theology in the world, being more that participants within faith institutions.

In the same way, Giroux and Root have at their heart the sense that pedagogy and discipleship are for the same ends, the flourishing of humans within the flourishing of local communities, Root suggest that the church is the only collective society that is for personhood itself ( p207), and as Giroux above indicates pedagogy of persons is, at its most ambitious :

‘is to educate students to lead a meaningful life, learn how to hold power and authority accountable and develop the skills, knowledge and courage to challenge common sense assumptions while being willing to struggle for a more socially just world‘ (Giroux 2011, p7).

Discipleship as prophetic pedagogy? It may be that the church, if it can think of youth discipleship as a process of helping young people lead a meaningful life (and not just conformity to institution) then it might have something to give and contribute in society with young people who do get ‘left behind’ but also who are in the system and struggling to cope. But discipleship as a pedagogical practice, that forms disciples to lead meaningful lives for the greater good, and gives them keys to understand their place in the world, to enable it to flourish, and challenge structures of power. How might churches do this – let make them places of welcome, and places where young people create hope, and places where young people are ministers of it in their world.


Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy, 2011

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age, 2017

Smith, Christian, Soul Searching, 2004

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014

Van der Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014


How might Youth Ministry be evaluated beyond the bums on seats?

Image result for bums on seats

‘Then Jesus saith unto them, go to the villages, take nothing, and wait for the man of peace to give you a welcome. Then set up an event for people to come to and count people as they arrive. Then, loadeth photos of the full event to the internet’

It has been an interesting week. Various articles have been circulated that I am going to tie together in this post. First David Goodhew wrote this insightful piece on developing a theology for Church Growth, its a piece that stops short of playing up the issues around purely numerical growth in churches. However, at a time when the church has announced that £24million is going to be spent on Mission, Evangelism and ‘church growth’ over the next few years, this report is here:  The critical question, one that has plagued church based ministry, including youth ministry, is how can growth and success be measured in any other way than Bums on Seats? 

Image result for bums on seats

Numbers is the easy way to measure something. It hides alot too. But Bums on Seats, and theres no cruder way to put it, has felt like the key driver for many ministries, the key expected outcome. Often this equates also to bums on seats on Sunday. For some aspects of youth ministry counting is important, counting is what determines value and success; how many conversions, how many resources used, how many ‘recommitments’ (whatever biblical justification for this) , it becomes an ongoing task of recording numbers, and recording the faith of young people ‘by numbers’. Even worse it could be ‘how many young people ‘heard a talk” – as if hearing a talk is a measure of faith. Hearing a talk might be as much because there was free pizza involved, or parents forced the young people to be there, but if the number was 20 whos to know how it was done, or care.

However, Youth Ministry in the UK is suffering. Theres no two ways about it. Sorry to be the bearer of this at the beginning of the new year. But countless quality reflective and strategically pastoral youth workers across the UK are in the process of losing their jobs, having them changed and mostly on the basis of costs, and of value for money efficiency savings. (And, its the non clergy posts to go first) I have heard a few people say things like; ‘youd think the diocese would know how good what we do is, weve been doing it for ___ years’ , in other situations, those who are youth workers, or who employ them have become fixated with a promise or myth that having a youth minister has been a sure fire way of increasing the numbers of young people attending a church – this myth often continually conduced by over enthusiastic youth ministry activists who have grown a youth group by 5% elsewhere. Either way, Youth Ministry is stuck playing a numbers game it cant win, and being judged in a culture where success has become synonymous with physical attendance, the beloved bottom on pew. Without another way of justifying itself youth ministry is on the path to extinction. Without a new way of measuring the activities of faith in ministry many are stuck playing a success by numbers game that will lead to stress, pressure and disappointment.

I find it interesting to look at the 7 churches in the book Revelation. Not one of them is criticised for being small.  In fact one of them is commended of its smallness in-spite of challenging situation. They are praised for good works, for holding on, for not giving up, and criticised for blandness, losing heat, and giving into consumerism. If these were the prophetic warnings that evangelicals like to say that were Jesus’ warnings for the church, then size seems to play very little part of it.

But youth ministry has put itself in the numbers game. Because its main servant is the church, and therefore, either keeping young people within it, or adding new young people to it has been its dominant trajectory, since the dawning of groups post Sunday School, and the emergence of evangelical youth ministry that arrived in the UK from the 1960s with Billy Graham Solving the church’s numbers crisis has been the fanfare of Youth Ministry, come to save the church through evangelism from the ground up through relevancy, events and music. The warnings have been there, and its critique has been lengthy, especially from those who began to think seriously about young people, faith, theology and ministry ( See Pete Ward, 1997 and much more). The Key Issue is that because of its own over egged pudding of significance, numerical bums on seats has become the only game in town for evaluating youth ministry. The church lapped it up.

Image result for bums on seatsSo What might be the alternative? 

Firstly, there is a sense that playing a numbers game fits within a culture of Christianity that has adopted its own Macdonaldisation process, hook line and sinker. Ministries have been reduced to universal programmes (to save costs) and resources splattered around the country without a thought as to whether they are culturally or contextually appropriate. Faith has been pre packaged to have a number of pre-existing indicators, attendance at already prepackaged alpha might be one. But Macdonaldisation means that faith is reduced to what is efficient (not what is difficult or complex), what is controllable , (not what might help people have autonomy), what is repeatable (no what might be unique or creative) and what is predictable (not what might be surprising/dramatic). So in this context, and a value for money context that is at the heart of neo-liberal ideology and management, ministry cannot be viewed in such as way, yet often these influences create expectations around it. Especially when organisation survival is a task that meets efficiency savings in the church. Is it too late to put the bums on seats jack back in its box and start all over again?

What if there was a Theology of Measuring Ministry? in the same way that there might be a theology of church growth (see above)- and if so – what might measuring ministry look like from the basis of Theology?

In my previous posts i suggest that performance might be one way of young people engaging with Theology , in addition to this, maintaining the Theatrical metaphor, Wesley Van der lugt describes the relationship between the formation of the actor, in a performance, and their performance, suggesting that both are intrinsically linked ( Living Theodrama, 2014), on one hand it might be thought of as experiential learning, or forming through performance. Behind this is the sense that participating in the Drama of God, as a christian is a way of life, an ongoing drama of participating in the actions of God in the world, acts of participation that have human and community and world flourishing in mind.

It is therefore that within theodrammatically understood youth ministry, that it is measured not by what the church gets young people to do for itself, but how it forms young people into a way of life in the world that loves it and cares for it. Social justice might be a start. Local community activism might be another. How young people act out of love for God in the community they are placed is what is required, not just whether they turn up and play games. Youth Ministry has the opportunity to be the acting coaches in the drama of redemption that give young people acting parts to try, try and persist with, in the pursuit of goodness in the local area. Of course all us are formed through a variety of aspects of faith, from Eucharist, charismatic praise, bible reading, and also, critically to be aware of the ongoing nudges from God in the midst, during time on the stage of the world (where discipleship really occurs).

Then bums on seats is only the start, if at all, its the action that young people that forms them through performance that could be what counts. It might be in performing the gospel that young people find the gospel. Performing goodness might be part of performing the good news. Love is what matters and that is a verb. What might a theology of measuring ministry look like? It might start with causing people to live simplicitly (in a worldview of abundance), to learn to love the poor, to be inclined to generosity, to act with gentleness on social media, to cultivate community. Its not about leadership in the church, but it could be, only if thats also matched with loving the world outside it.

How might youth ministry be measured beyond bums on seats, and can theology help? Possibly, but it should do, and theology should be our starting point. Might it still be a numbers game even then? Quite possibly, but one in which young people are the world changers in a movement of the gospel that is dynamic, exciting and dangerous.


Brierley, Danny, Joined up, 2003

Ward, Pete, Youthwork and the Gospel, 1997

Wesley Van der Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014

Smith Christian, Soul Searching, 2004

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation, 2017


My top 10 reads of 2017 (maybe inspiration for your ‘book’ tokens?)

Recently I was meeting with a colleague who asked me whether I had always been ‘well read’, a question that I hadnt really thought of before. It wasnt something i would have said to myself up until the age of 18 when i read a little academic reading as possible to get through school. But that changed when I started studying and working towards something vocationally, and also had access to libraries on subjects like youth work and theology that i was keenly interested in reading more. Up until now, I have been reluctant to do a ‘top’ anything of any-year, largely due to avoiding the self absorption, and that many of these books have featured in articles already this year, though some may have passed you by. So, it might be that youve been given ‘book’ tokens (i am avoiding using brand names) and are looking for what to spend them on (I am) and so here are my top reads from the last year with a summary from each, and please do comment on what yours have been or suggest titles for me to read in 2018.

  1. Eager to Love- the alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, By Richard Rohr This bargain was found in a Durham charity shop for about £2 last December and I dont think i put it down for most of January. My first read  of anything by Richard Rohr, and the first time id read in depth about St Francis.

‘My Brothers, God has called me to walk in the way of humility, and showed me the way of simplicity..The Lord has shown me that he wants me to be a new kind of fool in the world, and God does not lead  us by any other knowledge than that’ St Francis. (RR, 2014, p33)

As a result of this I signed up to receive Richard Rohrs daily mediation at CAC. As well penned a number of articles on St Francis and Spirituality of Street based work.

2. Improvisation- The Drama of Christian Ethics, by Samuel Wells. This was one from last Christmas, and was a book that I wanted ever since I had seen Kevin Vanhoozer refer to it in his Drama of Doctrine, and also Anthony Thiselton do so in Hermeneutics of Doctrine, both of which would have made it to previous top 10 lists had i made them. Sam Wells in this book discusses Ethics and develops thinking around theatrical Improvisation to build a case for Christian ethics, within the narrative of the Christian drama as improvisation.

‘Christian Ethics is not about helping anyone act Christianity in a crisis, but about helping Christians embody their faith in the practices of Discipleship all the time’ (Wells, 2004, p15)

3. The Pedagogy of the Heart- by Paulo Freire. A friend of mine recommended this book as they were often selectively quoting from it on facebook. To be honest I would have found it anyway, eventually as I was buying at least one Freire book per year anyway. This book is more autobiographical as the principle ‘practice-reflector’ reflects on his own life, from its military rule, exile and then his early moves into education in Sao Paulo. It is deeply moving and like all of Freire an easy but provokative read.

‘While a virtue, tolerance does not grow on trees, neither is it a concept that can be learned through mechanical transferrance, from a speaking active subject who deposits it in subdued patients. The learning of tolerance takes place through testimony. Above all, it implies that, whilst fighting for a dream, i must not become passionately closed within myself’ (PF, 1997, p17)

4. The Presentation of self in everyday life- by Erving Goffman. Although this was on the radar, given Goffmans concept of human person as metaphorical performer, It was only because a significant section of my thesis looked at Goffmans theory that I gave this book a significant read. What i find surprising is that Goffman is barely mentioned in youth ministry in terms of thinking about persons in interactions, and the environments of the stage of the church/youth setting. Though there is some reference to Goffman on the website. Its easily the most readily available book in this top 10 and you can get a copy for less that £1. The sociological Anthony Giddens suggests that Goffmans metaphor of human presentation as theatrical is, though often dicredited is still the best for expanding and encapsulating human interactions and co-presence within some kind of framework, so on that recommendation might be worth a read for the conversational element of youth work, and if nothing else might give you a new discipline to reflect on in your ongoing reflective practice, that of sociology.

‘When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them’ (Goffman, 1960, p28) (ed; like those reading this and what this article gives the impression of? 😉 )

5. The Pastor as Public Theologian – Reclaiming a Lost Vision – Kevin Vanhoozer & Owen Strachan (2016) – Ok, so I have a bit of an obsession with both Paulo Freire and Kevin Vanhoozer, my bookshelf might be considered a bit of a shrine to both of them, In April I bought this book of Vanhoozers, and whilst it only got a quick skim read during a time when i was completing studies at that time, it still easily makes it into this top 10. Vanhoozer and Strachan scope out the current problems faced by Pastors, Ministers, and Youth leaders in that they might be feeling that they have less place in ‘people work’ in society and that as a result their identity to be needed is reduced somewhat. (I would add that in the UK, austerity has caused the clergy/church/youth worker to be even more required in a people person role). They suggest that too many pastors have exchanged their theological birth right for a bowl of lentil stew of management techniques, leadership, strategic planning, because ‘the role of the pastor as a theologian no longer is exciting or intelligable’  according to Vanhoozer/Strachan, this book is about theology’s return to the public and proposes that the pastor-theologian is a peculiar Public figure, who builds up people in christ, says what God is doing and involved with people in and for community. If you are in need of an encouragement as to your role in vocational ministry, and a reminder of the theological imperative of building community, then this might be for you.

6. Faith Generation – Retaining Young People and Growing the Church. Nick Shepherd (2016)  Quite Simply the most thorough, challenging book on the state of UK youth Ministry for the last 10 years. Nick addresses a number of popular targets (MTD being one) and also incorporates a number of recent conclusions from research into church attendance and growth, and also takes apart a number of youth ministry urban myths, such as the reliance and adoption of developmental theories, such as Fowler and Westerhoffs faith development theories and suggests that faith is something that is generated in young people in a constructive exercise involving their identity, that needs to be plausible and reliable, and this includes meaningful and testable. My full review of this book is here: and this book featured heavily in my posts in 2017, including this line:

‘The first area we might consider is the way young people move from being learners to deciders’ (Shepherd, p156)

Though it was written with a ‘church context’ in mind, generating faith in, as well as helping it be formed in young people is a task for the missional church and projects that do this, it is a worthy read.

6. Theatrical Theology – Explorations in Performing the Faith (eds Trevor Hart, Wesley Van der Lugt, 2014)

The next two books featured heavily in my reading in the first half of the year as I was writing my Thesis on Theodrama. This first one features 13 seperate essays from some of the main proponents of Theatres insights for Theology, and as such we are part of an ongoing Drama. These essays feature Vanhoozer, Wells, Hart and Vander Lugt, and its chapters include subjects such as the drama of empty churches, the play of Christian life, Death, Doing Gods Story, and one I particularly liked that of Heltzel who describes how a youth project in Wall Street were improvised performers as church of the theatre of the oppressed, and how revolution was through dramatic interruptions to the neo-liberal normal life. He goes on to talk about Jesus as transformer of space from despair to hope, and this is what churches can bring to communities.

‘Churches today need to learn how to translate the liturgical performance of Sunday worship into street theatre freely performed throughout the week’ (Heltzel, 2014, p261 in Theatrical Theology)

7. Living Theodrama – Wesley Vander Lugt, 2014

This one is only for the serious Theodrama students, at nearly £100 RRP, though not the most expensive book on this list. In this work Wesley Van der Lugt attempts to bring together all the many phrases, terms and metaphors linking theology and theatre as expressed in proposals since Von Baltasar in the 1970’s. Vander lugt attempts to bring more study of Theatre into the Theodrama discussion (as it can often be lacking) , this he does through use of terms like ‘disponibility’ and drawing from Theatrical theory of Stanislowski and Brecht in a way that others hadnt. He also describes church as an inter-actional theatre and discipleship as a twin task of formation and performance.

‘Reflection on the living Theodrama gives rise to a theatrical theology and motivates a livelier way of life made possible by a living King who died, rose again and embodied both the rough and the Holy’ (Vander Lugt, p28)

8. Young People and the Church since 1990 – Naomi Thompson, 2018

A confession to make, at £105 I did not pay for this full price, and I realise that it is beyond the reach of most if not all. It therefore might only be a relevance to the UK practice of Youth Ministry if it is read and bought for university libraries where the historical actions that shaped the development of youth ministry in the UK. For in a way that is what Naomi discusses, and along the way expounds from her research into Sunday Schools how they rise and fell, and the affiliation issues that they created. I have already written a review of Naomis book, it as here: . A post that was based on this book, and was then published in Christianity Today is here: The one question in churches that, since Sunday Schools, hasnt gone away.  In her conclusion Thompson argues that churches often adopt a passive approach to decline, when they have the agency to affect positive change, in the same way that they acted with agency to contribute to their own decline.

9. The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean. For some reason, half way through last year, i think it was to do with my studies, I spent a little while reading up on theological frameworks for youth ministry, and most notably the US context. Also I had just been to hear Kenda Creasy Dean at an event in Leeds. This book builds on, and asks strangely similar questions to the earlier Thome (Starting Right) with significant additions that reflect on Dean and Roots own personal theological journeys since, most especially Roots developments of Practical Theology, methods and models, and to be fair, 15 years of new insights, research and practices of youth ministry since that first work. If you want to think practically and theologically about youth ministry as a theological task then this book, a serious read is for a serious player in youth ministry. It might reward you back. My concern is that Youth Ministry is more than practical theology which is where Root ends, and that an imagination of Theology as Theatrical is lacking in this book. Roots practical theology is too scientific for my liking. Performers for me is better, and theodrama best describes the action of God and humanity intertwining in a way that Roots chosen models do not.  But until that book is written, this one is a good follow up to ‘starting right’ and also gives an idea of the critical conversations in academia that youth ministry is causing in the USA. Criticism aside, this still makes it into my top 10 for 2017, as it easily gave me much to think about.

10. Border Crossings, Cultural workers and the politics of Education, Henry Giroux, 1992. After I had finished my dissertation, I stepped off the gas for a few weeks and did nothing. Read nothing. The first book I picked up to read was Naomis book above, the second was this one. The concept of ‘Border Crossing’ has been in my mind since Cockburn and Wallace wrote that youth work plays a role in Border pedagogy, and they referred to Giroux in that book which i read about 4 years ago, and so this has been on the radar since. It didnt disappoint, especially for the few pounds I paid for it. It was like reading Freire with the politics cranked up a notch, and where Giroux was talking about Reagans American and a slide to neo liberalism and an eduation for the economiy which had no regard to for power, identity politics and equality. I was reading the same criticism but with Trump and the current tories in mind. It made me angry, passionate and determined to persue a path of equality, education and constantly helping young people be critical reflectors in their place in the world. Worth it, and an easy pick for number 10.

‘Cultural workers (that could be youthworkers) need to unravel not only ideological codes, representations, and practices that structure the dominant order, they also need to acknowledge “those places and spaces we inherit and occupy, which frame our lives in very specific and concrete ways, which are as much part of our psyches as they are a physical or geographical placement’ (Giroux, 1992, 79)

when Giroux described the institutional racism in schools, (p138) and within the curriculum of history, then it was easy to draw parrallels with the charlotesville protests and dismantling of statues that embodied that colonialism.

So there we go, I hope, by the end of this you might be inspired to buy and read for yourself one or more of these titles, and I hope that they cause you to be inspired in your community practices in churches, with young people and also the playing of your part in the drama of ongoing redemption that is the Gods ongoing Drama. Please do send me your reads in the comments below, or upcoiming titles you think I should give a read. Thank you, and Happy 2018!

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