What if young people are viewed as Theologians?

When it comes down to it, language is a powerful tool. How the church, amongst other organisations constructs practices and policies is often due to the implications caused by the descriptive language of people, from disabled people ( people with a disability, thus need ‘special help’ to be ‘able’), people deemed poor, or specifically Young people. In a previous post here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-Np I critique the more common language descriptors that young people seem to have inherited in churches, these include ‘learners’, the ‘not there yet’ and the ‘deficit’ or ‘development’ theories. I conclude in that piece that young people should be considered as Saints in the present church, not only heroes and leaders for the future one.

What descriptors like ‘anti- social’ or ‘adolescent’ do is provide the church and youth ministry with a whole host of descriptors or views of young people. From Sociological, educational, psychological, social, economical, generational ( Gen x, that sort of thing- sigh), these seem to be common in trying to understand young people, or be common disciplines to draw from in the pursuit of trying to find the next best strategy, model or method for youth ministry and endless search to find the one way to keep or prevent young people leaving the church.

Much from a faith perspective is made of creation verses like Genesis 3, which describe the making of man in Gods image. But that seems to be regarded in substance and soul, rather that it inform the practices of youth ministry, which seem to use the above disciplines as the starting point. Within youth ministry also, there are a whole host of task orientated descriptors, when it comes to tasks that are expected of them, they are often to ‘evangelise’ to their friends, to go on ‘mission’ trips, to ‘attend’ groups, to ‘lead’ sessions, to ‘learn’, to be ‘disciples’. Yes often they are to be ‘disciples’. And this can be contentious. The discussion about the order of  salvation & discipleship is tiresome, but relevant, as it often just means that young people are subject to shallow messages to reaffirm a conversion, rather than experience something actually deeper. Discipleship is a complicated concept, one to leave for now. but one that can often appear absent in the drive to reach and connect with young people. Or even in the pursuit to enable them to conform in christian practices.

What i want to suggest is that a theological view of young people, might conclude that young people are theologians. 

Whoa, hang on a bit, am I serious?  Young people as Theologians? 

Theologians are the geek guys who do dull sermons, theyre the book writers and the academics. Image result for theologianThats who the theologians are, and we dont need them, ‘we just need a simple faith’ , the easy stuff, something relevant, attractive… and theres no way young people want to be theologians, no they want to be nurses, sports physios, teachers and artists, not theologians… 

the trouble is, young people are already theologians. Its too late. 

Thats the problem. Theology is deemed to be for the experts and the geeks or clegy and academics. Theology is in everything we do in churches in youth ministry, we operate as theologians, we speak theology, it is in the every day.

But not only from a creative point of view are young people made in the image of God, but those made in the image of God, as part of the human condition is a continual striving for searching, finding out and curiosity, this is borne out in Pauls speech in Antioch, in Acts 17;27, where Paul reiterates that there is a continual searcImage result for theologianh after God in the hope that he might be found.

A person is on a continual search. They might not study God, per se, but be consciously and unconsciously studying the world to find a source of meaning, a crumb of comfort. Or a way to make sense of the purpose in their life, to adopt a story that enables everything they know to fit together, and this might be a God story ( a sacred myth) or a different one. It is where sacred myths are helpful for young people. But what it means is that young people and all of us, are on the look out for something to believe in to help us make sense, or in a continual state of denial of the need for a story, and be possibly deeply troubled, confused and be struggling.

So what I want to suggest is that it might be more helpful to reflect on the possibility of young people, not as disciples, or converted or evangelists, but as theologians. 

If in working with young people in our churches and organisations we consider young people to be theologians, what might that mean to how resources, programmes and practices are for and with them? How might they be treated differently as a result? If nothing else it means that forms of youth ministry are a theological, and practical task.

It is worth breaking it down a little bit, when I suggest that young people are theologians, they could be one of or all of the following, and what I plan to do over the next few weeks, is to expand further on these concepts of young people as theologians, some I have mentioned above. They might be a combination of the following, rather than these in linear development.

Children as innocent theologians, for whilst age might be a social construct, there is undoubtedly an innocence to the curiosity and intuition of a child in their spiritual awareness, it is from their pure heart that often truths flow out of innocent connections with God.

Curious Theologians, This might be all of us, but maybe most notably in those who deliberately search, who ask questions, who find God in the process of the search, the depth of the soul. This ties in with the references above, but curiosity is part of being human, ongoing life long learning, ongoing life long theologising and being brought into new understandings and expansive understandings of God. Image result for curiosity

Intuitive Theologians;  This thought is common in youth ministry, and my next post will develop this further. So, in the mean time, it might be worth thinking about the creative spaces where young people are intuitive, make intuitions and interpretations, and have the desire for deep meaning, of sense made in the world, for something to believe that might be true. But also that it is in the ‘how’ of something being done that young people might discover the ‘why’.  Anyway, this is a teaser for a post on young people as intuitive theologians later in the week.

Practical Theologians. Young people not only want something to be true. It needs to be Useful. Faith mot just a crutch. But also a hope. Not a self help guide to doing anything ( MTD, Christian Smith, 2005) , but the daily encounter with God in the midst of the ordinary that directs, guides, prompts action and is in dialogue. Its not in the arguments over truth and apologetic where God might be found, but in the everyday spaces.

Performing Theologians. This is part of my subject for my dissertation, and ive written about this previously, follow this link: Helping young people perform, not just learn theology. But it might be worth exploring more, the concept that not only might young people be intuitive theologians and practical theologians, but that how might we enable them to perform theology. For what i am convinced we are good at in youth ministry is creating a whole load of christian practices, such as services, youth events, festivals and concerts, yet often these entertain, reach and make faith relevant. When it comes to performing the kind of life Jesus asked of us, and young people, what might that be like to perform, to perform acts of sacrificial love, mercy , justice – performing out of love for God and in the world to transform it. To be hope in communities, not hope in holy spaces. Young people as public performers of theology. Again, ill develop this further in the next few weeks. But safe to say, that performing theology is not the ‘end game’, performance enables intuition and formation and vice versa.

So, this might be teaser or a turn off. My concern is that even in Christian faith based youth ministry, a theological understanding of personhood, and young people is rarely talked about, or even the starting point for developing approaches to mission, church or youth ministry. Context often rightly does, cultural studies (less rightly), church growth ( less said the better) or ‘what we used to do, or have always done’ , and so the writing a few posts on these in more detail in the upcoming weeks will be to look at them from a range of angles, and consider their implications for working with young people. Thinking theologically about young people, might just enable them to be viewed as theologians. I think this is a better starting point. And lets develop language and ministry, mission and practice around the ongoing belief that young people are theologians first and foremost, and that spaces and practices are created to form them as theologians, who find, interpret and perform out of the faith in the everyday, in the practical and the prophetic. Young people as Theologians first and foremost in youth ministry, a starting point.

 

References

Von Balthasar, A Reader – (his reflection on Persons as searching)

Dean, Kenda (et al) Starting right, Thinking Theologically about youth ministry

Dean, Kenda, & Root A, The Theological turn in youth ministry

Shepherd, N, Faith Generation

Smith C , Soul Searching, 2005

Vanhoozer, K  The Drama of Doctrine (2005), Faith Speaking Understanding ( 2014) 

 

 

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‘Your talk was great! – im sure the young people got ‘something’ out of it….’

How many times in youth ministry (or even any Ministry) might we either hear this statement, or say it to someone else with a little more hope and assurance than expectation in our tone?  You can picture the scene, crowd of young people, all a bit sweaty after playing games for a while. Or it the evening of a Summer Camp, and theyve all had a nice tea after a day of rock climbing, high ropes and canoeing. And it is time for the talk.

It is the talk that helps us to make the environment in our view something ‘more than just a youth club’ or residential experience. It is the talk that is a time for educating. For helping the young people learn something mentally and spiritually. It is time to ‘do theology’. Image result for boring talk

Yet how often do we, even as volunteers, start to lose focus when the person doing to talk is going on a bit, and we’re the volunteer!

Of course, theres the enthusiastic types, and theologically minded types, who have actually prepared ‘The talk’ . And drafted in greek words a plenty, atonement theories , and illustrations from the church fathers. Or theres the overly trendy types of talk, every latest technological gadget is a metaphor for salvation, and the film clips all contain Jesus somewhere. The young persons are very switched on, they get the cultural references, but at what cost to actual theology? God is as immediate as my whatsapp group? on these occasions, young people do get something out of the talk – but what..?

The temptation is that we continue the same practices until young people are grounded in a culture that they accept this as a way of learning, but in voluntary spaces, like the youth group they walk out with their feet. or ‘They get used’ to practice, and it asks young people questions and places expectations on them to stay and cope within our poor theological practices of youth ministry. 

If you have got this far and think, great, you’re now going to get some ‘how -to’s’ for doing a good talk with young people. Then I am afraid you’re mistaken. If you want alternatives to a talk, I put them on this article here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-NG 

First things first:

1. we need to think of young people as Theologians! 

The question to be asked, is not what kind of talk do we do, but if young people are theologians, as well as disciples, evangelists and humans (my next post will expand on this)  – then we really do need to think about ‘how’ they construct theology from within the practices of the faith community. They might get ‘something’ from a talk, but is hearing someone talk to them, even with stories and anecdotes a way of developing young people as theologians?

Andrew Root relays a story of how after a pretty dreadful talk by someone keen on imparting theology for 40 minutes to young people, one of the elderly volunteers said: ” Maybe it is not that young people do not care about Theology, it is that what we gave them, this evening, wasnt theology” Image result for theology

The question then for us, in youth ministry practices, is the same ; “Is what we give young people in our faith practices , theology?” 

Andrew Root suggest that for too long the starting point for thinking about theology is Dogma or Apologetics, or on the other hand, where i might put myself, it starts with the social action or the community. So theology becomes learning about a Biblical theme, or becomes about finding God at work in the actions of the community as it cares. Andrew Root takes a different view;

2. Theology is constructed with others, it is not something we give

Theological construction that means that anything to young people is theology that dwells in questions with no easy answers – not a theology that provides answers to questions not even being asked. 

What this means is that we dont ‘do’ theology when we talk at young people. We do theology when we talk with young people. It is when we accompany young people on the walk, in the game of football, on the high ropes course, in the woods, and in conversation we create safe spaces in our interactions so that meandering questions of the crisis of life, the purpose of life and the reality of future are brought to our attention. We walk the crisis of their reality- and seek God in the questions raised. 

If you’re not sure, take your mind to the crisis confronting the two disciples who were walking away from Jeruslam late on Sunday that first easter, how did Jesus do Theology with them, by responding to their moment of crisis, their questions. He gave them tradition, out of conversation, he shared with them hope and purpose, in conversation. In the moment of existential crisis. So much of the reality of our ‘teaching theology’ in youth ministry might be uninteresting, meaningless, shallow or even boring – because it doesnt start in the perplexity and reality of the crisis. But this causes a problem, because we daredent go to the point of crisis with young people, because that in itself might challenge us and our own theology. The safe option is the program, and keep activity the focus that hopes that excites young people enough to stay, and the hook for our uninteresting theology.

So, how might we help young people and ourselves face the crisis, and develop theology from that point? Well, we have to give the opportunity, and create the spaces where young people articulate the things that they fear, the things that haunt them. The personal, societal, global, local fears and worries. Theology becomes from a point of reality, it is also itself incarnated, it is significant because it doesnt appeal to moral behaviour, or provide a bullet point of knowledge, but needs little case for its significance. It appeals because it has meaning. It might be judged as wrong, but it isnt benign or irrelevant.

For, it is from these depths and walking with young people through the story to enable it to be faithful and trustworthy in the intuitive crises that young people articulate. It is not about providing information that young people ‘make a decision’ it is that the Tradition is constructed theologically in order that young people can make sense of the reality of the world that causes crisis. McAdam suggests that young people start searching for an ideology to believe in and shape their personal narrative around from the ages of 10. Where I depart from Root is that Vanhoozers metaphor of ongoing Drama enables heightened interaction and purpose for the young person as a theologian, and not just that their story is yet to be written, it is also to be performed and added to the myriad of plotlines. However, it is in the historic and future story of Gods creation, covenant, incarnation, church and consumation that addresses questions of crisis and reality. Of hope, forgiveness and participation. Theology doesnt start with crisis just to tell young people that they can be successful in the kingdom, and winners for Jesus. It is that crisis and suffering are intrinsic to the call of faith, it is our context that is the cause often of the crisis.

It is other stories in culture that try and write away the crisis. From materialism, to celebrity, and Tv and Film. However worthwhile, their common root is to distract from the crisis, but they all fall short, and ultimately lead to numbing of the crisis or believes it can answer to it. It is often why Ecclesiastes is helpful as a starting point with young people, they get helplessness and the void. 

Forming Theologians is the key task of youth Ministry, and that means forming young peoples theology. Christian theology is not about rightness and morality, it is about being encountered by truth. It is a call for faith to seek understanding, to love the curious search for the mystery, next to God who acts (dramatically) in the world of death, the thin spaces, and in the yearning.

The best Theology we do with young people is in the conversations with young people, for theology itself is a conversation, between where we are in the moment and the crisis and the overall tradition and the Theodrama.  I notice that after a period of time where Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber ruled the airwaves, and love and identity shaped songs, that the rage of society and personal purpose have found their root, as Fall out Boy, Panic at the Disco and singer songwriters are popular with young people. The tide might be changing that young peoples music is prompting them to think deeply about their existence in the world. But these might be avenues to begin the conversations with young people. How might their films, their music, their writing and artistry help them, or provide messages which help them deal with their crisis.

If we want our talks to do theology, then we might be off the mark. as per Root: “Theology can only be constructed within the lives of people yearning for God in a world of death, love, life and brokenness” 

Young people might get something out of ‘the talk’ – at best it might be moral guidance, but to kid ourselves that it is theology..? Boring young people in their pursuit of their knowledge of God and theological yearning is the greatest crime commited in our churches and youth ministry. Its in our talking rather than our talks where Theologising happens.

References:

Andrew Root, Creasy Dean, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, 2011   

Dean + others, Starting right, thinking theologically about youth ministry, 2001

McAdam, D The Stories we live by, 1997

Vanhoozer, K, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014

 

 

How evaluating youth work & ministry might be about performance

It’s a perennial question in youth work and ministry – how can it be evaluated? Measured or even- shudder – what are it’s measurable outcomes?

It’s a question that has been asked of me in a couple of settings recently. Not going to give away the details of where. But behind the question is a frustration that the wider culture of practice makes determinations of outcomes & success that make what seems good practice to be sidelined. It’s often a numbers game, or an improvement of the individual game, a rush to ensure a young persons CV is full up. All of which fuel a sense of conformity of those cultures, whether the church and attendance or the neo liberal agenda of funding.

But what is the alternative- how else can youth work & ministry be evaluated?

Shall we start with our beliefs about young people? Or even in faith based work- our beliefs about God and what dangerous discipleship is? 

I want to argue that we might evaluate youth work and ministry practice- by how young people perform it. 

Let start with youthwork practice. If theres an agreement about its core values then these include, anti-oppression, developing young peoples interests and gifts, Empowerment,  participation and informal education. 

If we’re brutally honest,   youthwork has been measured on how individuals find support within conversation and measurable outcomes like CV building certificates and activities.  But that ignores the bigger picture and also other values like anti oppressive practice,  challenging inequality, the common good. 

What might it look like to evaluate youthwork practice that encourages young people to participate in challenging issues, oppression and inequality that either they or or they see in others?

 Or evaluate according to the use of young peoples thus far wasted gifts and talents to create projects, activities, or  services for others (and countless other things) . 

It becomes about how values of youthwork are performed by young people.

Indulge me just a bit; but to the faith motivated workers, might we want to think about evaluating faith based youth ministry in terms of how young people ‘perform theology’ .  I contrast this to youth ministry in which attendance and morality is emphasised (being moral ties in with Christian Smiths, MTD). Which is also only about ‘knowing’ stuff. What if we can asked young people less with ‘growing the group’ by solely evangelism, but performing the complexity of Gods character in the world and evaluating accordingly?

The strange thing is that even young people who don’t know God yet, might be performing aspects of Gods nature without realising. The open youth group that does a homeless project,  helps with food bank or sets up a social enterprise for the good of the local community. May be acting Godly, unintentionally.  May be performing the love and justice of God.

If I was being controversial it might be to contrast the young people performing the character of God in the world and how performing theology occurs at the youth worship fun festival. (Insert name here). In a way though, that’s less the point. What the role of the worship gathering or group gathering is is to embed young people in worship , and increase knowledge of God for performance.

It may mean we need to agree on what it might mean for young people to perform values, or perform theology, either way, if these things motivate us to our youth work and ministry practice, then helping young people performing them and evaluating accordingly might be what’s needed. Otherwise we’ll still be in a situation where job readiness or numerical attendance drive practice. Or where young people just ‘know’ things. Or they are self improved by how much they know things.

Young people as performing learners? And practice that evaluates the ongoing possibilities of young peoples actions to love, liberate, challenge and create in their local communities.

Just going to youth group got a whole lot interesting…


7 not-so-Deadly Sins in Youth Ministry

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Review of ‘All Joined Up’ , 13 years on – how does it fare?

There are some books in Youth Ministry that are light and fluffy. The 10 tools, or 30 programmes, or 50 innovative ice breaker type books. Some book in youth ministry that talk about a particular type of practice – such as Spirituality and youth Ministry, and others on something like Detached, or Mission or ‘what youth ministry’ should be in an ideal world. A few months ago I wrote a review for ‘Unattached Youth by Goetchius & Tash (1967) , a book i regarded as seminal in detached youthwork practice. ‘All Joined up’ has become something similar, or at least has been regarded as such from those who start off in youth ministry in England and venture into a brave world of youthwork and try and piece some of it together – so its less about how it fared, but more – is this even more relevant now than before?

So 13 years ago now, ‘All Joined Up’ launched a series of titles that were developed from a collaboration of a few faith based youth ministry organisations ( YFC, Oasis, Youthwork magazine, Salvation army and Spring Harvest) that were for the emerging practices of youth ministry as it was undergoing a professional turn. Without being too critical, the following titles didnt gain the same traction, at least not for the theorists of youth ministry. Though it seemed at though ‘All joined up’ became a key text for youth ministry in the UK, maybe more so in England, than in Scotland- maybe because youth ministry in the form it took in England didnt shape the discourse in the same kind of way.

So – What about All Joined up – how has it fared, given that a whole teenager has been formed since it was published in 2003, I know, my son was born that year.

Lets go back to the orginal work – What was Danny Brierley trying to say?

20170124_145340_richtonehdr What Brierley did was to set up a dialogue, an intertwining of what could quite easily have felt like separate forms of practice, youth work and youth ministry. Pistols at dawn was the image, however from the outset Brierley is keen to call out the unnecessary dualism, created in part because dualism has at times become a default position in the church, out from which the world is sometimes viewed.

What Brierley realised is that the separate practices of youth work and youth ministry had created their own terminologies, infrastructures, publishers, career paths, training courses and conferences. And from behind the walls of each discipline battle lines were drawn.

Brierley then described the differences between youth work from a contemporary consideration of a few youth work books, good ones though, including Kerry Young Art of Youthwork (1999), though absent from his discussion at this point is a discussion on the underpinnings of youthwork – aside from a brief mention of Values; Voluntary Participation, Informal Education, Empowerment and Equality of Opportunity. How Danny Brierley could construct this chapter, and the whole book, that has references to youth work without mentioning Jeffs & Smith or Paulo Friere ill never know, but never mind.  Brierley also establishes youth work as a spiritual activity.

In his chapter on Youth Ministry he argues that Youth Ministry has been described almost exclusively in Spiritual and religious terms. It uses words like discipleship, proclamation, preparing young people for eternity or mission, and so those in youth ministry might be regarded as being more akin to Clergy, who use the same language and share similar vision, to that of youth workers. Other distinctions of within youth ministry are described as being the methods ( sometimes programmed) , a dogmatic approach to teaching that reflects a dogmatic approach to faith, and young people as recipients of programmes rather than initiators and developers of them.

The position Brierley wants to take is that Youth work is a ‘strong philosophical framework’ in which youth ministry can operate, as one specialism or approach within it. And as he argues, there are strengths to either approach that might support the other. Youth work in its ethics and values can help youth ministry to critique moments of manipulation, of box ticking, of coerciveness and controlling programmes – ‘Youth ministry, (sadly) needs youthwork if it is to be ethical and young person centred’ (p11) – this is somewhat of a sad state of affairs isnt it… that the lens of the ‘secular’ practice is a yardstick for ethical practice in a faith based, and hopefully Jesus orientated practice.  On the other side of the fence Youth ministry can contribute to the conversation about spirituality and young people, challenging self-determination and an over-reliance on person-centred approaches that could be too optimistic of the human condition, though might struggle to contribute in conversations about other faiths and youthwork, and the emergence of Muslim youthwork since 2003 to the conversation about faith in youth work has been critical ( more on faith and youthwork in ‘Youth work and faith‘ by Mark Smith, Naomi Stanton & Tom Wylie, 2015)

Sadly, the phrase that Brierley wanted to catch on probably hasnt. What he called for was a critical combination, a co-existance of Christian youth ministry, and youthwork – to be known as ‘Youthwork and Ministry’ – this didnt really take off, though much of the essence of what he described it as has become known in those who define themselves as Christian youth workers – those who navigate between the language of both sides of the discipline that Brierley describes, but who put youthwork philosophy and education and regard for young peoples empowerment centre to practice. This was evident when groups like ‘Youthworks’ emerged in Scotland – a space for Christians who were realising youth work practice that felt, looked and was articulated different to youth ministry practice.  Despite this, Brierley argues for Youthwork and Ministry to be Christian Mission (to the whole world), to be a designated vocation and calling, and this drive for training and vocation was reflected in the development – though also subsequent reduction- in courses for this.

In the 2 further chapters, Brierly intertwines the concurrent histories of youth ministry and youth work. Most of this has been done before.

Brierley then reflects on the Values of Youth work further, Empowerment, Informal education, voluntary participation, in light of the previous regard for a ‘youthwork and ministry’. He clarifies that without voluntary participation working with young people would not be considered a form of youthwork – there is freedom to opt in and out.

For each of the youthwork Values, Brierley develops a theological reasoning that they are adoptable in youth ministry. Its like the current validation debate about fresh expressions of churches, and if they are valid. What Brierley puts out there is that from a theological point of view the values of youthwork could be argued as identifiable with the Christian faith. So, the same for Informal education ( Was Jesus an informal educator) Equality of opportunity and Empowerment ( thats fairly obvious from the formation of the disciples, but also concepts of God and power, and the ethics of power are thought through)

Brierley then adds to these Values- from Youth work- to consider whether the Christian faith has more to add to ‘youthwork and ministry’ and he develops Incarnation ( being present in location, in attitude and within culture), Fellowship (spending time in groups), Worship (creating, forming and articulating places to connect with God) and Mission (being active in the world to transform it). Some of the language of these would be a challenge to the ‘youthwork fraternal’ – though the principle of being in location, of spending time and also connecting spiritually wouldn’t be. But in a way that’s not the point, the point is that these addition things, or core aspects of the church, if you will, also have a part to play within the framing of ‘youth work and ministry’ . There are a few further reflections to be made.

Brierley does warn that once a guideline, or standard is developed – such as ‘youth work and ministry’ then it can become a yardstick to judge other practices. Ie its easy to identify that police officer might not be ‘doing youthwork’ if voluntary participation isnt open to young people. Yet what Brierley also, from a Christian perspective does is challenge some of the key protagonists of working with young people in the UK from a Christian perspective and holds up a youth work lens to them, maybe even a ‘youth work and ministry’ lens. He is as highly critical of the mass evangelism methods perpetuated by Billy Graham, and still evident recently, in YFC (p 46-47), as he is of the Statutory sector who become engrossed in bidding wars and commissioning processes for funding, who place young people as numbers in a funding game, or in tightly programmed Jobs clubs. So, whilst he wanted to avoid making judgements, he sort of ended up doing so – maybe some of these things are on the edges of youthwork & ministry, but if voluntary participation is an essential….

If there were omissions in the piece, it would be that some of the Theological aspects need updating, it might be a surprise to some, but progressions in theology move quicker than the church… another omission is might be that youthwork and ministry is inherantly a political activity if it develops informal education- for what it does is raise the consciousness of young people to see the world differently – this is political, and maybe even Political. The likelihood is that this practice will cause challenge and offence – for it asks different questions of young people and the structures around them that they engage with.

Whilst it is political, what youth work and ministry will also be is prophetic. it will challenge, and cause reflection, and learning. Some of that has undoubtedly cost people jobs, or caused the structures to reject youth workers for stirring, prompting and provoking.

A call for reflective practice is also sadly absent within ‘All Joined Up’ its pretty obvious that its a requirement, but strange it is lacking, given that in a way thats what Brierley asks of the practice – to critically reflect on its own history, its own values, its own organisations and young people.

So if these are a few omissions, what else might have shifted. Well sadly it goes without saying that Brierleys forecasts for statutory youthwork have in 10 years been underestimated, the kind of youthwork that had a history in the youth service has all but gone, though it always had to adapt to government policy and changes in cultural focus. What has also happened has been a shift in the titles for Youth Ministry – and this was not forecast – in 2003 youth ministry was on a crest of a wave, churches were employing, organisations were growing, funding was obtainable. Now this isnt the case. Not unlike the farmers who diversified after foot and mouth in 2000, youth work & ministry is pushed into entrepreneurial methods to survive – whether thats self employment, running charity shops, consultancy, conferences, part time work – all are common place – and this is a shift.

What has occured, is that there have been open spaces from the youth work sector to those who are acknowledged as delivering similar practice. So there are people from faith backgrounds given space to have dialogue at ‘statutory’ youth work conferences, such as In defence of Youthwork, or the Federation of detached youth work, books relating to faith and youth work have actually been produced. If Brierley regarded there to be walls – i dont see them as evident from the statutory side, in fact id say the communities of these practices have been more than, if not more welcome to critical dialogue from a faith perspective, than often critical dialogue in a faith setting of the practice from within. A similar call for being ‘joined up’ and respecting the disciplines was made by Naomi Thompson in a recent Premier Youthwork magazine (September issue i think), on the basis that if there are two sides to the ministry both are in need of each other at a time of cultural shift, change and reduction.

let me end with Brierleys final directive: ‘The churches buildings are available for use in almost every city and town, furthermore it is able to support young peoples spiritual quest without succumbing to indoctrination. The Church’s work must once again be taken seriously. Youth work and ministry ( Christian youthwork)  serves as a challenge to both the church and the state. The church is challenged to look beyond its walls and to develop effective practice. The state is challenged to drop ideological interventions’ (and this has been done, where a Christian youthwork approach is in practice)  The challenge is for the church to faciliate good youth work practice, never more so than now, beyond its current provision.

The world has shifted, but ‘All Joined Up’ has remained significant, challenging and insightful. It started to broker a conversation, that has been beneficial for those who have sought to be involved in the conversation, and might still be worth getting a copy if you’re a new youthworker or edging into pioneering practices of youth ministry. Its definitely worth having a copy on the bookshelf.

 

References:

Brierley , Danny, ‘All Joined up’ 2003

Jeffs & Smith (eds) ‘ Youth work Practice, 2010

Passmore, R ‘Meet them where theyre at’, 2003,

Smith, Thompson, Wylie ‘ Youth work and Faith’ 2015

Young, Kerry, The Art of Youthork, 1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can Biblical doctrine direct organisation strategy?

We need our organisation to be effective!

It needs to be ‘moving forward’ ,

Stagnation is capitulation! ,

Growth is good, efficiency is the name of the game,

Organisations needs to be outcomes orientated!

Image result for effectiveness

Does anyone else wince that these get said in places of work, you know the corporate lingo to often mean job cuts, or reschuffles, or changed focus. Its not far off transformational leadership or management styles. In a way these kind of things are more acceptable in the supermarket chain, the factory or even a building site, but is it appropriate that this kind of language, and the ideologies behind ‘effectiveness’, ‘efficiency’ , ‘growth’ and ‘reinvention’ have become virtually staple language to the faith-based educational organisation like youth work, and even more so the church.Doesn’t it seem a bit weird? that the maxims developed from Henry Ford, Apple and Macdonalds are adapted in and used in the church? Maybe it doesnt seem that weird anymore.

Such as:

 we want the church to have a ‘growth’ strategy,

or a church that gives value for money…

What becomes weird is that the language of business and economics has infiltrated not just the process of organisations, and their strategies, but also in the faith settings become justified as theology.

So, for example, In John Nelsons book ‘Leading managing ministering (1998) he looks at a number of models of management (including those mentioned above, transformational leadership and begins to consider how this type of management can be used in the church, using verses of the bible peppered throughout to seal the models approval to a faith orientated audience. And then as a result it becomes valid to use certain styles of leadership/management in organisations and their associated behaviours because there are biblical resonances. Related image

What i am saying then is the culture of business, and its adopted language becomes the main driver for the theology that is interwoven into faith based organisations. There becomes a need for a ‘growth’ theology, or a theology of decline, or a theology of innovation. Reflecting on organisations, reflecting on how the performance of an organisation in community is mirrored in the character, knowledge, themes or actions of God.

I wonder if this is back to front. Just a little bit.

In Drama of Doctrine,  Kevin Vanhoozer suggests that Doctrine, and theology is for the purpose of directing the performance of the church in the ongoing theodrama, the 5 act play of Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consumation, which the church and present is in the fourth act of five. Theology is for directing and guiding the action, it may also be a dramatic endeavour in itself. Vanhoozer contrasts the kind of Theology that is absolute (epic) and that which is found in community action (lyric) with a directive theology that is dramatic, that maintains Biblical primacy but is for ongoing community participation and is for in real time. The live drama.

So, instead of organisations adopting Business langauge and delivery as the starting point for theological reflection – what about the faith based organisation that performs the doctrine of atonement, or doctrine of love, or doctrine of grace in its organisation culture and structure?

In a simplified example, at some point last year in our team reflections at DYFC we looked at the passages in 1 Corinthians 13 about love. They are fairly well known and get read at most weddings, even 4 weddings and a funeral i think. As a group we looked at the question – is it possible to be an organisation that performs as much as possible the call to be loving, kind, faithful and unfailing whilst also being on the stage of the world in which funding, competition, outcomes, communication, projects, attendance, are all part and parcel of practice? 

Image result for love is patient

This wasnt us trying to perform a theology of love, or atonement not by any means, but it was at least starting to make space for the kind of theology that we might want to direct our organisation, to embody in it, and ultimately to perform. So we did ask – what would it mean to ‘love’ young people – genuinely – how would we do this, what would it mean to ‘love’ each other, to trust and be kind to young people and each other. From these conversations it becomes easier to develop a culture that is theological, and directed by not only propositional statements that show truth, but also the sense that being and performing loving, generous and compassionate propel the theodrama, they reveal and embody God in action, especially in the mini series’s of the drama of every day life in the myriad of conversations. The critical reflection was that it would difficult, and there would be considerable adjustments to be made, but that would only be inevitable. But Theology directs the performances in this way.

In my last piece i was talking about the culture created in a youth ministry setting. Culture creating is a big thing, understandably, Morgan talks about organisations as cultures. So again, in faith settings how might a theology that is performed be culture shaping and creating, even prophetic of others. For in a way what is a faith based organisation that has culture but not love – might it be the crashing symbol?

What would happen in an organisation or church that embodied, or performed a theology of the cross? Its marks would be self sacrifice, forgiveness, restoration, resurrection- there would not  just be ‘acceptable’ behaviour, or ‘enough’  – but beyond compassionate behaviour, laying down life for friends behaviour and respect for others. All actions that propel God at work in people, and the ongoing drama, that foretaste a future existance in the present with shadows of the past.

If churches and organisations are full of saints (rather than heroes) Wells, Improvisation, 2004,  then the saint is someone who is faithful to their call, but also develops community around them. They are faithful to the nature of the call, being gracious, humble and not taking the limelight – that is after all Jesus space in the drama. For many saints they have no choice who becomes part of that community for like St Francis, they identified with the poorest, most needy and shaped theology of the sidewalk, of suffering in the moments of identifying with people. Communities of saints take the rough with the rough and journey alongside and with, because ultimately our Human actions of faith are collective and the land is to be explored together warts and all. Can this happen in organisations who might have other motives, like growth, or innovation, or strategy, or success? where might sainthoodness fit in? or a theology of the suffering of Jesus? But as Christians in groups and organisations, our starting point isnt working out how to biblically adopt Apple or Macdonalds into an organisation – it is that we perform in real time the drama as directed, being wise as saints on the stage of the world, yet start with theology that speaks into cultures.

Maybe Theology as it is dramatic,  comes first after all or least has an ongoing part in being performed.

 

References

Newman – Leading, Managing Ministering, 1998

Vanhoozer, Kevin, The Drama of doctrine, 2005

Wells, Samuel, Improvisation, 2004

 

Making the Bible Inspiring (not insipid) in Youth Ministry

Have you ever noticed that when it comes to describing the Bible and its uses, there is the tendency to drift into dualist language? So, for instance, someone might say that the Bible needs to be ____________, but not ____________. I use the term Inspiring and not insipid above, which isnt one i have heard, but others in the first column can include Authoritative, Proclaimed, Revered, Obeyed, Transformational and in the second category comes things like Informative, illustrative, imagination ‘just self help’ , ignored, – and some of these for good reason. No one thinks the Bible should be ignored in Youth Ministry I hope. However I wonder whether these kinds of distinctions are helpful, especially when it is quite clear that the Bible is a complex book, sorry, collection of many books and there needs to be a renewed thought about how the Bible becomes part of the ongoing practice of faith based youthwork.

In response to the above, what would be the problem with thinking that the Bible in its entirety needed a long list of imperatives for it? So, whilst it is rightly authoritative it is also to be imagined, and illustrative, and metaphorical, and Inspiring, and challenging, and provoking, and directive, and informative, and reflective, and poetic, and soulful, and  and.. well the list goes on, but the point it that with such a large text, how it invokes Human behaviour in accordance with it takes a variety of stances. And a variety of interpretative positions, such as historical, literary or narrative.

Image result for the bibleHowever, what if the Bible wasnt a book anymore? What if it was an inspirational script to be followed and improvised from?

Samuel Wells (and Richard Carter) put it like this;

Before the Bible became a book, it was a collection of scrolls. It was not a vehicle for private devotions, it was a script for performance, a rallying cry for Mission, a tirade seeking repentance and a chorus of comfort (and discomfort too). It was a community forming sacrament, and reading it aloud was a church-creating event. It was not reduced to static meaning or easily memorised fundamentals. When Jesus said in the synagogue “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ he set a template for reading it ever since. For us our response might also be “make our lives and deeds a scripture for the blessing of your people in days to come” (rather than ‘thanks be to God’)

In other words, The Bible is always a Drama. (2014; p224)

If you picture the dynamic of the relationship between an actor, the director and an author in the preparation and performance of theatre, this may help to illustrate it further. Especially as Von Baltasar suggests, we, as Humans are drawn onto the stage of the dramatic arena, where we find not a God to be looked at, but one in action engaging with the world and our free duty is to respond.  However, going back to that relationship, the author, actor and director have a complex symbiotic relationship. All are reliant on each other, all contribute to the success and failings of the individual project and all play different parts, yet in the performance the eyes of the audience, and their participation falls solely on the creativity and performance of the actor to fulfil both the authorial intention (what is to be performed) and directors contextual suggestion ( ie how it is to be performed). Though the Author and director play a huge role in enabling the actor to perform appropriately- but in the real performance, a good actor wont be re-reading the script, they are performing it.

The Bible itself might not just be the script, it also points to a bigger drama, the bigger story of Gods drama that we become part of – known by some as a Theo-Drama ( see my previous posts on Theodrama in the subject index, or Vanhoozers Drama of Doctrine, 2005), one that started with Creation and ends with the Consumation.  It is a drama which doesn’t just communicate to the world but involves and engages it, God communicated to the world throughout, this communication culminating in Jesus who became an actor along with humanity. The Biblical text is a script not to be told, but also acted, and story not just to be told, but embodied. The Script and the Theodrama create a new reality one where many become called into, not just a self help for this world.

If the Bible was ‘originally and should have always remained a drama’ (Wells, 2014) It then stirs the imagination, it is illustrative, it evokes not just the mind, or the heart, but also the body, the senses, and requires a new rehearsal for performance and improvised performance in every new setting, in order that it is fulfilled. The question is not, for the Theodrama proponents like Vanhoozer whether the Bible is authoritative, for it is, it is also the source material for a Dramatic production and an ongoing improvisation for actors as they respond to it and also the holy Author in their midst. But it also must stir the imagination, must stir the feet for action, must stir the eyes to see the world differently and must stir up the call to respond.

The Bible is drama – lets keep a dramatic play of it going on the stage of the world – and not reduce it to classroom testing, moral reasoning or propositional analysis. And Drama is action, Theatre is drama with a live audience. So, when thinking about the Bible and Theology in Youth Ministry lets evoke action responses and embodied re-enactments, of love, of peace, of forgiveness and of reconciliation- and also the stories.

For children and young people lets give them ways of developing creative imaginative views of the Bible, so that its not just an epilogue, or a test, or a stick for morality – but a script of God speaking, and a drama of Gods purposes that they can be responding to. So that their lives are in call and response to him in their dramatic existences.

Before the Bible became a book, it was a story that many people acted in response to Gods call. It is our ongoing role in the drama to do the same.

 

References

Richard Carter & Samuel Wells Holy Theatre, enfleshing the word in Theatrical Theology (edited Lugt/Hart, 2014)

Hans urs Von Baltasar, Theodrama 1, Trans 1980

Vanhoozer, K, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005, also Remythologising Theology (2010) Faith Speaking Understanding (2014)