Why Evensong vs Guitars misses the point, in regard to young people and church.

How much is relevancy the reason why young people attend church?

If its about relevancy – then what does this say about what we think about young people? just carried along by a crest of a wave, but what If, and I realise only readers of a certain age will get this , that young people are thinking, ‘So you have a guitar band- that dont impress me much?’

Substance over style is also the conversation when quite a bit of research is being done that is showing that young people are finding faith in the spiritual practices of liturgy, evensong, choirs and these more traditional forms of church.  This tweet was doing the rounds:

Church army report asked unchurched teenagers what worship might attract them, the result it may surprise you, is not soft rock but candles and incense’ (Prof. Alison Milbank) @markrusselluk @ChurchArmy

One response to this on my facebook page was: ‘Somebody asked me about this just earlier today, and I referred them to the case studies in Marilyn Haskel’s book ‘What would Jesus sing?’ What I hear from young people is that you can get soft rock music at any concert, usually better music than the church version, but candles and incense take you into a different universe. I think a reason for this could be that candles and incense offer a contextualized spirituality inasmuch as they take some elements that we enjoy at a concert (lighting, smoke) but transpose them in a way that creates a space for transcendent meaning.’ (John Drane)

There is probably more to it than it being radical to be traditional, a look at culture will reveal a heightened nostalgia. Retro is in. We are living in nostalgic times, where Baking and Craft are popular, and the Churches of liturgies, gowns and choirs represent a long lasting, safe and possibly escape from a world of hustle, bustle and speed. Long live a wifi free zone.

But it could be more than this. Is it more substance over style?

Image result for style/substance

Young people in a big city told me that whilst they were interested in going to the large, new church plant in the town which for the purposes of this piece, rhymed with ‘Mill gong’ – they went along for three months, but then returned back to their home church, the one in their local area. Guitars and Drums didnt captivate this particular group of young people. What did?

It was that they felt at home in their local church.

It was where they connected

It was where they felt belonging

It was where they could make a contribution (and as volunteers in the sunday school/youth club) they were.

It was where they were significant – not just one of many.

It was as though the grass wasnt greener, or more sparkly.

There is another conversation happening, much more on a local level. It is that local churches feel that they have nothing to offer young people, in the face of the bigger churches, brighter buildings and, again, the drums and guitars. On one hand this is defeatist. The other is that there is no evidence that any young people who a local church does missional youthwork with, ends up finding a home in a church, that isnt the one that helps them find faith in the first place. The market for the bigger brighter contemporary churches is the christian young people spoonfed on a diet of consumerism and the attraction of a christian youth music scene. They may have young people – but theyre often a completely different group of young people to those who live in the flats opposite the church, or the ones you work with in a mentoring programme in a local school.

And thats half of the point. Young people are different. Breaking it down to two basic, and horrible mantras, keeping young people from leaving church, and creating an environment of belonging, hope and meaning where they want to be and stay, and start from scratch, makes for two different challenges. And these are crude. but you get my drift.

There may well be research conducted on young people attending evensong. There may be research conducted on young people attending contemporary guitar worship services. But both become a style war, when a substance war is much more complex. For both there can be meaningfulness and relevancy in bucket loads. But scratch behind the surface and theres something deeper often going on.

Psychology might help, the Psychologists Deci and Ryan propose that people gravitate to situations where there is a measure of one or all of these three things; Connection, Autonomy and Challenge/Competance (Bryan 2016). For a moment, think through then how young peoples experiences of churches as a people group, a faith community and as an organisation relates to all of these things. I would dare to suggest that these three things play a significant part in the decision making of young people and their continued attendance in churches.

When the church community doesnt know how to relate to young people – then they’ll find more connections elsewhere

When the young person feels like theyre a new person every week – then theyll find home in somewhere more familiar, and where it doesnt feel they have to make an effort every week to connect with someone

When the young person is one of a crowd and the only challenge is to try and stay standing for a long period of time – is barely mentally challenging, or involving. The same is said for the Evensong.

When the young person is not given opportunities to make decisions – about their youth provision (‘look we’ve employed youth leaders to do this provision for you’) , about faith, and about being involved, as contributors, creators not just consumers – then why stay? Maybe the rise in young people attending choirs, has nothing to do with glee culture, more to do with being part of a community that respects them, and gives them opportunities to contribute through choosing songs or the challenge of using talent.

If we think its ‘just’; guitars or evensong, we might be missing the point.

The point is, is that young people arent as superficial as we want them to be or make them out to be. Image result for style/substance

If we offer space for conversation, space for community and space that respects – and create opportunities for belonging, participation and decision making, this will be more than enough in a church for young people to want to be part of it. If we can be these things, and make young people significant, then, and there are no magic answers, it is more likely that young people will make their home there. So dont worry if this is what you’re doing, that young people will leave, it will take a huge sacrifice for them to do so and effort, given what theyre giving up on. Would they do this for soft rock? – probably not.

Substance over style matters, and I dont just mean a lengthy sermon. Substance that equates to values, community, acceptance, challenge and participation are featured more in reasons why young people stay part of churches, and an absence of these as to why young people leave, than anything else. Young people leave churches because the youthworker leaves – why ? because no one else connected with them. Young people dont go to church because theres no one from the church willing to help with the youth group. Thats a connection question. The same for autonomy- at least having some opportunity to have some decision making, and also challenge.

What about the transcendent? If worship is about helping young people connect with the grander story, this might happen in both settings, but one might create more meaning than the other, or help a connection to a grand story where a young person feels part. Both could feel alien or cold. An ongoing regular connection to the God of the creeds, the Lords Prayer and regular confession, cleansing, prayer and silence might facilitate personal and spiritual connection and challenge. It makes it tough, not boring.

How might substance over style be the conversation within youth ministry? might we recognise the complexity of young people and their increased perception of the faith community and how it is accepting, empowering and respectful of them as people, and wanting them to be participants, disciples and prophets. There is space for many styles, but can we stop assuming that young people only want one style, and focus on creating faith communities of substance instead?

if young people do value substance over style – then might we be thankful thats how God made young people in his image..?

How churches view young people is crucial. In my next post Ill be building on what a number of youth ministry specialists are saying at the moment. That youth ministry, needs to be about helping young people do ministry, not just be ministered to. So, keep an eye out for this maybe about Tuesday.

References

Jocelyn Bryan, Human Being, 2016

Shepherd, Nick, Faith Generation, 2016

 

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Youthworkers may have disappeared from communities – but their legacy lives on (and is more expensive than before)

‘We have to find things that young people are interested in, and good for them, despite it not necessarily being profitable’ 

‘Recently we’ve been trying to challenge young peoples views on society and their contribution in it’

we have problems with the whole confidence agenda, its not a false confidence we want young people to have, but one based on competence, and being genuinely good at something’ 

‘its great to see young people contributing positively in the local community’

theres no point in putting things on for young people, those days are over, we need to find out what young people want to participate in

These are the kind of statements I might have expected to hear from a youthworker, or at least someone who had been trained as one. But they are not. What is more surprising is that they have been said to me in a town in the north east of England in the last few days, a town that hasnt had any paid youthworker involved in the town (from the council) since the cut backs. Cut backs that have desperately affected the town in a number of ways by the way. However, thats for a different post.

These were statements from either school teachers, representatives from the police, council or MP’s.

The unsaid white elephant in the room in many of the conversations with significant institutions in this town was that the best thing for young people in the town was to have youthworkers who were able to develop and work to youth work approaches and philosophies, of inclusion, participation, conversation and empowerment. What was revealed here, and probably occuring elsewhere is that the institutions were having to do themselves was fulfil the roles of a youthworkers , doing so without the disempowered status (one person was a integration officer for the police. another a school teacher) and try as they might, their intention was to ‘be’ or ‘act’ like a youthworker, but status, role and power and the ethics of the relationship prevented it. Despite knowing all the words, and having all the intentions.

But credit to youthwork.

Its what has been recognised as what is still needed in a town that has none, and its legacy lives on. And many institutions like schools have shifted towards it. Some might say trying to fill a gap, or having to, and doing so even more expensively than the youthworker previously. Or it might be said that schools have necessarily adapted for some young people, and common human values have been adopted, ones that youthworkers had as a badge of honour, such as value of the individual (not the system) and inclusion. However, being able to create the right kind of space for the magic of youthwork to happen is more than just words, its about the space being created that has integrity and an ethics that underwrites the relationship. However hard it might be to say otherwise a police officer is still one.

It is of course fascinating to see how a school has had to back fill and provide internally the kind of provision and support that voluntary or statutory youthworkers may have done so in the past (and not all schools had this) and police officers have removed the uniform and donned polo shirts to be ‘less official’. All done at the same time as when there are still youthworkers employed in the local council. But speaking to them they now say:

‘we’re helping out social workers by using our youth work manner to connect with young people social workers are unable to’

‘the youthworkers targets are about helping to support the broken families initiative’

Its as if the jigsaw pieces have been moved around and everyone is doing the back filling, but in the wrong places, and where square pegs and round holes and triangle pegs and square holes dont all match. Youthworkers are needed both in schools and on the streets, but theyre doing home visits for social work. And whilst they’re there, theyre not being youthworkers, when they could still be doing so, and the police and schools are paying double for the role. It doesnt make sense, economically or socially.

At the moment, not only are the services all losing out with the wrong people in the wrong places, but as are the young people, families and communities. Maybe the schools, police and others should just get together and employ youthworkers. Far cheaper than recruiting their own staff to try and do a ‘youthwork approach’ , which is currently going on, without the ethics of the relationship. Maybe the church or voluntary sector could pitch in too.

So, whilst youthworker have been one of the many great losses in many communities, what hasnt been lost is the need for the way in which a youthworker worked with young people, optimistically Id say that the ghost of youthwork lives on, as it is being realised that it is still what is needed where there are young people. Its just that it is all a bit blurred, and and the roles that adults are fulfilling in their lives lacking the clarity, going beyond the normal duty, but confusing the relationship and its nature. Youth workers are demised as social workers, teachers and police try and play less formal roles, some they might want to but its like playing out of position in a sports team. Itll take good management and support to stop trying to resume a default role into safety.

The sentiment of what young people need was captured by this person who said:

‘we can do as many short term interventions as we can, but its having a consistent presence with them them that’ll help young people the most’

Just a shame theres no youthworkers around then..

12 responses to the question; what is youthwork all about?

What would you say the basics in youthwork are? what is it all about even?

One of the things that has tormented many a youthworker is to establish what ‘youthwork’ actually constitutes. It may, constitute only as a conversation, being defined by youthworkers in their ongoing practice (this is also a view shared by Kerry Young, though this is not one her more popular concepts when she talks about the youthwork as an art, 1999) However, beyond what youthwork actually is, there can be a need to reflect on what the basics of developing a youthwork practice actually is.

This need can sometimes be realised when we forget what we actually do as youthworkers, as it has become ‘normal practice’ default in our brains but and we have to then share this with others, maybe even ‘young’ leaders, or teach others on an academic course. And so, for your benefit, I have tried to come up with 12 commandments of basic youthwork practice.

  1. Youthwork is about young people – but its not just about them, but putting them as the primary recipient and creating participatory agendas around them as central is part of it, yet it is about them in and part of their communities and how young people access, reject, use and change aspects of their local community for their or others good.
  2. Youthwork is about creating spaces for education through conversation – it is about conversation with them included and respected in them.
  3. Youthwork is about developing relationships –that help young people to learn, to use their talents and pursue collective and community action
  4. Youthwork is about negotiation and participation – with young people who are principle dialogue partners in the negotiated conversations
  5. Youthwork is about respecting young people and also the communities they are in and choose – it is about group work
  6. Youthwork is about challenging young people – not about just giving them what they want – its about negotiation
  7. Youthwork is about politics, because it in itself is political and young people are politicised- young people are given respect and trust – this is political in itself. Young people are marginalised through media derived policies and taregtted through an underlying current of neoliberalism. Challenging this is political.
  8. Youthwork is about opportunity- not outcomes- our strategies are to create spaces that expand possibilities, not reduce to youthwork to a process of enabling young person to get from A to B.
  9. Youthwork is about Hope and belief – that young people and ourselves collectively can and do enable something new to occur through the relationship.
  10. Youthwork is about taking risks- it is not risky in itself – because that says something about the believing the narrative of young people (to be dangerous etc) – but it is about taking a risk with young people.
  11. Youthwork is about being a youthworker and being a role model – not perfect, but persistent in ongoing learning, and maintaining a critical awareness of the world around, that young people themselves are also part of. Its about temperament, attitude and also about modelling professional boundaries, personal boundaries especially time off.
  12. Youthwork is about improvisation – its about the being ready for anything – but also being ready in the opportunities created to enable young people to take positive steps and changes. If we have a toolbox of resources that are to be ‘ready to use’ in case – not pre determined to use at all costs.

 

I have avoided, or at least tried to avoid using words that have become acknowledged as the ‘Values’ of youthwork – such as equality, as participation, as empowerment – because whilst they are implied in nearly everything ‘basic’ youthwork is all about – they are open to considerable interpretation, and at times need themselves to be challenged and critiqued, and their current use might not be what the intention of them was. Empowerment a case in point. So, instead, I have tried above to focus on the practices of what basic youthwork might be about, so that these are the starting point for developing further practical ideas, and activities for training others, optimistically so that youthwork has a conversational future.  Each of these 12 things might need breaking down further, and often things like communication skills, group work development, conversation, risk assessment, strategy, power, leadership and management are all part of all of these in different ways. It is not always the case the if we get the basics right we get everything else right, because sometimes in youthwork there is no one ‘right’- and why 12 basics might be better than 6, because youthwork practice can be broad, unwieldy and open. It is after all in many ways a continual conversation that includes conversations.  Critical conversations, hopeful conversations and inclusive, participatory conversations, but conversations none the less.

Anyway – Starting right- or at least trying to put words to what we might already do, What might else be included in the 12 basics of youthwork practice? – what are we trying to be about?

Trying to cling onto values based youth and community work, in an outcomes orientated society.

I was prompted to think about writing a piece or two about values in youth work/youth ministry by a friend of mine, yet as i thought about it struck me that I hadnt really written a piece about youth work values for a long while. Then i thought, what is as surprising is that talking about values in youth work seems a bit ‘twee’ or old fashioned and it isnt something I had heard for a while. There’s lots of talk in the youth work community about being against the government directed programmes such a NCS, please see the youth and policy facebook page.

At a recent consultation meeting, representatives from a number of agencies, all of which proposed to be working with young people across a town in the north east were gathered together to think about future services and programmes. In the discussions, not one mention of ‘values’ was given about how things would take place and what activities were for. The talk was about ‘getting the best OUTCOMES’ for young people in the city, or ‘achieving outcomes’ – all of which push services and activities into the direction of meeting targets, skimming off the quick wins, and not necessarily working in a way that looks much like youthwork – just to receive funding. Not much in the room looked like a youthwork process taking place, not much looked like youthwork values were the common denominator on the ground. In a way, working with outcomes in mind tricks people out of doing youth work. Its hardly participative if young people arent even in the room, or deciding with young people and leaving the space of open for them to create it.

In the cut and thrust of the ‘new world’ of efficiency cutbacks, value for money is the game. And deficiencies of this approach are seen in this report, with less interactions and informal services, social care bills are going through the roof: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/social-care-crisis-uk-children-figures-per-day-a7995101.html.   So if outcomes have driven youth work values out of the park, then what about the voluntary or faith sector?

It is fair to say, that ever since Jeffs and Smith brought together 4 Values for youthwork practice, that the faith based sector has magnetically drawn itself to them as the key pillars of ‘secular’ youthwork practice, and sought to adopt, justify, add or build from them. The irony being that the same values have become less and less referred to with the sector that derived them in the first place, and clung on to within some of academia (where it still exists) , in the misty eyes of bedraggled former council youth workers, and in the marginalised, yet galvanised protest groups, such as In-defence of youthwork. Even Jeffs and Smith (Youthwork Practice, 2010) barely mention values.

But back to those values;

Jeffs and Smith in ‘informal education’ regard the first order values in society to be:

  • Respect for persons. This requires us to recognize the dignity and uniqueness of every human being. It also entails behaving in ways that convey that respect. This means, for example, that we avoid exploiting people for our, or others’, ends.

 

  • The promotion of well-being. We must work for the welfare of all. We must further human flourishing. That means, for example, we must always try to avoid causing harm, and seek to enhance the well-being of others.

 

  • Truth. Perhaps the first duty of the educator is to truth. This means that we must not teach or embrace something we know or believe to be false. We must search for truth and be open in dialogue to what others say. However, we should not be fearful of confronting falsehood where we find it.
  • Democracy. Democracy involves the belief that all human beings ought to enjoy the chance of self-government or autonomy. Implicit in this is the idea that all are equal citizens. A fundamental purpose of informal education is to foster democracy through experiencing it. We must seek within our practice to offer opportunities for people to enjoy and exercise democratic rights.
  • Fairness and equality. Informal educators have a responsibility to work for relationships characterized by fairness. Any discrimination has to be justified on the basis it will lead to greater equity. We must also look to promote equality. Actions must be evaluated with regard to the way people are treated, the opportunities open to them, and the rewards they receive. (Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.)

In 1991, a Ministerial conference was held that determined that the Core values in youth work are to be:

Voluntary Participation

Informal education

Empowerment and

Equality of Opportunity¹

Democracy was notably dropped from previous lists.

Whilst this is not the time to discuss these values individually at length, what each mean to practice, and give examples of each. It is striking that the faith and voluntary sector has continued to wrestle, and promote the adherence of values within its practice, or at least, in its writing it continues to use them. So for example, Danny Brierleys – Joined up (2003) gave a description of these four/five values, and added to them Christian principles of hospitality, acceptance, forgiveness and Incarnation. In ‘ten essential concepts for Christian youthwork’ (Grove, 2015) Jo Dolby suggests that core principles are the four values stated above. The same appear in ‘Here be Dragons’ (2014, Passmore R and Ballantyne, J). In Christian youthwork practice there were countless conversations about ‘how to use youthwork values’ but in a ‘Christian way’. Allan Clyne in this paper   http://concept.lib.ed.ac.uk/Concept/article/view/315/322  reflects on the fact that the Christian context of the world from 1800-1950 became the backdrop for determining values in the first place, and so each of the four values have some resonance with the social transforming and redemptive aspects of the Christian faith and within its structures of its time. In a way then, it is no wonder that talk of values isnt cheap within Christian youthwork, and those who might be considered more marginal within christian youthwork tend to be those who cling to giving credence to them and developing youthwork with young people. They may be prefixed by ‘pioneer’, ‘sacrilised (Sally Nash), or Symbiotic (no, it didnt take off) – but youth work in its value orientated sense is retained, as core. In one way Danny Brierelys book feels like it was quite seminal, given that it was published by a collaboration of what might be argued to be evangelical faith organisations (YFC, SU, OASIS, Youthwork the conference), and promoted value orientated work within the faith, even evangelical sector. On a personal level, every single training session i have ever delivered on detached or faith based youthwork has included a section on values. Values give aspiration, hope and meaning to a piece of work. Elevates it to beyond functionality.

This isnt a discussion here on where youth work values have dropped off the radar in the Christian/Religious based youthwork, needless to say, its when the aims of the practice become institution serving, or faith transmission orientated that this can be the case. Discussion of this have occurred in numerous occasions, such as Maxine Green/Sarah Pughs articles in Youth and Policy, 1999 (no 65) and Pete Harris’s chapter in Youth work and Faith (Smith, Stanton and Wylie, 2015). Consequently, there can be dilemmas as to ‘what is important’ in Christian faith based work with young people, and if, like the statutory sector, it is outcomes, (such as adherance to belief, attendance or retention at church) then these blur the lines, and cause tension in regard to the values within a piece of work. Ultimately institutions and funding win this argument. It a reason why youthworkers leave the church… One of the key questions that Nick Shepherd, Faith generation 2016, raises, is ‘what kind of faith has evangelical youth ministry actually transmitted anyway?’. But again, another story.

It feels as if there has never been a time in the last 20 years when talk of value based youthwork has been such a voice from the margins. A prophetic voice that has young peoples autonomy, respect and decision making ability to heart, that has spaces of inclusivity, opportunity and diversity as it rallying cry. At the same time working with young people has abandoned values, its a simultaneously loses its value with young people, for they dont own it, they just get something. So, where we might be able to, the Christian faith based ‘sector’ might do well to retain its sense of core human values and principles, and discover that its Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith adhering practitioners also resonate and connect with these in a broader sense of common good in the restoring and maintaining of the created world. Of course in a world where democracy seems to be taking a shift , as it was in 1939 when it was first introduced might not be a bad thing, giving young people the power to use their gifts and resources might not be a bad thing especially when schools are filtering and narrowing the curriculum and choice for young people, recognising the voluntary nature of youth work, in an era when young people can feel like they are targeted, and ‘selected’ again might be a good thing for young people. Practices are not value free, even if they dont state that they have values, yet, what they value might be the economic value of a young person, and the economic values of the current government policy, or the value that persons in church might place on church attendance. Yet it is very difficult to argue that targeted provision has had any difference, only creating competitive marketplaces for organisation and the overall reduction of the youth service.  The longer the faith based sector can hang on to values based practices, the better for the sector overall, the better for every young person in the UK.

References

Danny Brierley, All Joined up, 2003

Smith, Stanton, Wylie, Youth work and Faith, 2015

Jeffs, Smith, Informal Education, 1996, 2nd ed 2006

Jeffs, Smith Youthwork Practice, 2010

Passmore, Ballantyne, Here be Dragons, 2013

Nick Shepherd, Faith Generation, 2016

Youth and Policy, No 65, 1999

¹(as determined by the second ministerial board of education)

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…


Is Youth work a good ethical and artistic compass for Youth ministry?

In my previous article where i revisited ‘All Joined Up’ by Danny Brierley (2003) (here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-Mf), I came across a couple of sentences in which he described that the overarching philosophy of ‘youth work’ would be a way of challenging aspects of youth ministry where it was promoting unethical practices, faith manipulation, limited voluntary participation. I reflected further on this today, I was thinking of Youth work as an ethical compass but also a lens of interpretation – for practices of youth ministry and how youth ministry might be in need of youth work, or might learn from it to improve its own practices, especially in the current context of the UK.

Youth work as Ethical Compass: 

It is not just the faith sector that the ethical compass of ‘youth work’ can be applied. More often than not it is the pseudo youthwork projects that call themselves youth work – but are really youth support, youth programme, youth development. Youth work as an ethical compass, and its purists probably wield their critical sticks the most, and i know i am guilty. In a way, its not i think that those who wield those sticks just want a pure youthwork functioning for the sake of their tradition, but more so that they honestly believe that without some form of ethical and philosophical understanding that informs practice, young people fundamentally are being treated and regarded sometimes inhumanly, disrespectfully, unfairly, as pawns within an ideology that is in need of critiquing. So its not for philosophys sake, or its art form, but because of a fundamental belief that young people are more likely to flourish and develop within a youth work value practice, for there they are  given space to view the world within it, and be able to make decisions within it, and create within it.

Whilst there is more to youth work than just values, it is worth re examining them again:

Voluntary Participation, Empowerment, Equality of Opportunity, Informal education, Democracy

It as hard to see these things in programmes that have a budget for advertising the size of a premier league footballers signing fee, or where activities have pre determined programmes and activities, or where the kind of young people who participate are the most likely to tick boxes. The ethical stick of ‘youth work’ can be easy to wield, but it is a stick wielded with sadness more than anger, sadness that what is left for young people in their local communities doesnt have young people as its core – less so its organisational survival and programme delivery.

However at the same time, looking through a youth work ethic is only appropriate critique to youth work organisations and programmes that even subscribe to the notion of trying to do ethical practice – after all where the programme or cost or delivery or numbers matter – why worry about ethics?

Youth work as a foundation?

Critically, surely it would be possible to build decent practice that encapsulated these values, surely from a faith perspective these values, combined with faith values of love, grace, forgiveness, human flourishing & justice, can be the benchmark for youth work/ministry practice. They neednt be bypassed, sidetracked or redefined, however it would make something far less controllable, predictable, efficient and universal – and have less power over young people. In short, thinking about these things, control, predictability, efficiency and universality. They are all markers of the Macadonaldisation of the world from the framework of business synonymous with that fast food chain as proposed by Ritzer.  Are young people now just the burger filler to the state ideology, or even extreme faith practices?

The essence of Macdonaldisation stand in polar opposite to the values of Youth work.

When we look at the world , and the world of young people, which has become dominated by by so many aspects of control, predictability, efficiency and universality through a lens of youth work values, of creative, constructive, political educational practice, of social justice, equality, empowerment and global inclusion , the two seem so far removed from each other.

It is as sad to see where proponents of faith-based youth organisations turning to business ideology such as above, over and above values that frame youth work practice (which can be regarded as ‘secular’, yet business practices dont get the same categorisation? )  youth work values themselves stem from Faith organisations in the first place. If the ideology of neo-liberalism has overtaken even the business mindset of faith (not just in the business mindset of commercialised youth programmes) -then thats where at least some kind of ethics and values from youth work might act as a stemming of the flow in that direction. If Faith is an art, God being poetic even? then how might youth work as an art/philosophy help youth ministry – before it uncritically accepts a scientific or business view of the world?

Might Youth Ministry need youth work? 

Where Youth Ministry needs youth work is in that it gives it the ethical base line to encourage reflective practice – and prompt questions such as : How voluntary do young people participate? , How might young people be empowered at different levels of this practice?, What kind of education is occurring? How are decisions made and what decisions do young people participate in? and ‘are we being fair and open to all? ‘  It is in responding to and asking those questions where Youth Ministry becomes a practice that allies closely with youth work further. Youth work values prod and provoke in a way that is in the interest of young people.

Youth Ministry might need youth work because at its heart is informal and ongoing lifelong learning. Education in youthwork is a two way process, where both worker and young person share in learning experiences together and these are ongoing, it requires that worker is dedicated to a learning process, ongoing reflection, the challenge of deepening knowledge through life, not just organised cpd, or a seminar at a conference. Youth work as a process of learning challenges youth ministry as an activity and received knowledge practice where this occurs. Learning is core to the Human experience and Faith discipleship is an ongoing learning process – youth work and its philosophy of education has much that youth ministry can and should draw from.

Youth Ministry needs youth work as a critique of inclusive practice. Some aspects of youth ministry have got themselves so middle class ( as they serve churches in middle class areas) or one ethnic orientated – that something has to be challenged- and yes in some areas of the UK there are predominantly only British white people. An ethic of equality of opportunity, and equality of access from youth work will provoke youth ministry to consider its acceptance of others, its programmes that alienate or isolate young people with behavioural issues, or have a middle class feel to them, or feel ‘white’. and thats before practices that have equal opportunities relating to gender or sexual orientation.  Youth work has been at the forefront of anti-discriminatory practice – not just inclusive practice – Youth Ministry might again reflect on the processes and journey that youth work has been on, why, where it succeeded in being more inclusive.

Youth work might not just be an ethical stick for other practices, it might invoke reflection and a considered look at practice from a value base- but also there might be key ongoing learning points that ‘professional’ youth work has encountered, faced and is now undergoing that youth ministry might well learn from. Does youth ministry need youth work?  I think so.  Passmore goes further, suggesting that there might be a symbiosis between them.

References:

Brierley, D All Joined Up (2003)

Jeffs and Smith,  Youth work Practice (2010)

Passmore R, Here be Dragons: Youth work and Mission off the map (2013)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do youthworkers make the best youthwork managers?

This is a question that is now a valid one in both the faith and non faith sector of youthwork in the UK. It used to be that it was more likely that a manager in the council youthwork was educated as a youthworker, or trained as one, whereas, due to the newness of the academic side of things, managers of faith based youthwork were less likely to have had experience, or training in youth work – before they became a manager of a project, a programme or an organisation. But this is no doubt shifting. Whilst youth work degrees have become more popular in the ‘faith’ based side of youth work, then it would be expected that some reflection on the role as manager is done, in readiness of for the potential face to face and managerial aspects of the role.

In a way the former criticism was obvious, the youth worker could rightly accuse their manager of ‘not knowing what it was like’ to be a youth worker in a face to face role – not that the youth worker would know at that point what it was like to have to be a manager of youth workers either. But the criticism could be made, and easy at that.

The challenge for the youth workers as managers, and I am one of them, is that i know what its like to be on the receiving end of bad management (a good thing to learn from) – but i am also acutely aware of being subject to changes in an organisation that have disrupted the professionalism of the work and its integrity – because of decisions made about funding, funding streams that then affect the youthworker. When i say integrity, i mean in terms of the cornerstone values of youthwork for the youthworker in their interaction with young people.

Right now, for example, at Durham YFC, and almost every year, there is a challenge to find funding for the great projects that we do, such as mentoring work, detached and open access clubs. Now it might be a personality thing, or a believer in youthwork thing, that i find it difficult or have no desire at all, to affect one of the projects and thus one of our workers roles, just to be able to write or obtain funding. For me, as a former youthworker, am i more concerned that a piece of work is done well, and done in conversation and dialogue with the youthworker (as their manager) than just trying to fit their work into any impact shaped opportunity that a funder might provide. As a former youth worker i would hope that this adherence to values and its professionalism would make for a good reason that a former youth worker could be a manager of youth workers.

On the other hand, when funding might be more of a challenge- does this desire to do something in accordance with principles and values of youth work become a hindrance in the sustainability of a youth work organisation?  should i just play the funding game- be ruthless and keep the organisation going by applying here , there and everywhere – is the respect i would have for my staff that i manage, and the community/youth work values that they have (and i understand) just a hindrance.  Maybe understanding youth work, and its profession, causes me to be hesitant about playing such a funding game, Alternatively making a decision to value the integrity of the practice of good youthwork, done by youth workers in a particular situation is ruthless a decision enough.

It might be that as an organisation where good youth work exists it flaunts with survival in this current time, maybe it will keep its integrity and purpose intact to a point, without baying to funding that shifts its focus, this might be the consequence of a youth worker managing youth workers and the factors that affect their decision making. The first thing they might not think about is funding their own role, management roles, or organisational survival, but taking professional and practice integrity first, something that they know their workers also value too. Managing youthwork with community & youth work values might currently mean alot of tightrope walking…

 

Entering the 10th Year

14th December 2006, that was the day I did my first detached youthwork session for the Sidewalk Project in Perth. Aside from a couple of observation sessions around the town with Allan Clyne two years previous, and one or two outreach ones for Perth Council, that was my first dip into the world, the vocation of detached youthwork. It wasn’t until the end of the January 2007 that the team of us actually spoke to young people on the streets

2015-11-28 17.58.27

Although i took this picture only 3 months ago, Perth City Centre 10 years ago, looked fairly similar to this, Just near Christmas, dark, wet, and i remember pretty cold for several weeks in a row. Just perfect for breaking in to the world of detached youthwork .

Last night, it was our first night out on detached after the Christmas and new year break. Not in Perth, but in Sherburn Village, which amusingly was the place i lived in before heading up to Perth in 2004. So on a cold foggy evening this evening i started my 10th year out on the streets, almost every week since 2006. If you’d have asked me even 3 months before this journey started id have thought you were crazy that id do detached and love it for this long, and what might you say is there to love? The main thing , aside from the unpredictability, is the freedom because of not having to make controlling decisions about the young people. You can just walk away.

And the fact that they wonder why you’re there, unlike school or state functions they don’t know why someone would spend time with them.

And that you walk the same path as them, not just in their shoes but in their time.

That the relationships are truly voluntary and negotiated

That it happens, truly in the borders in between the regular functions of the young person ( home, school, work)

I have got a lot to be thankful for what has occurred since, even to mention all the learning, and reflecting that all the young people, volunteers and organisations have given me. Since then I have had the privilege of sharing the joy of detached with quite a few volunteers, trained 50 volunteers or students, delivered the BAYCWAT module on Detached & outreach for ICC (now SCCM), been involved at the FDYW, and got to know the most determined, passionate, artistic people at FYT/Streetspace who deliver 52 detached projects in the UK, and been able to write up some of the reflections from Perth and other materials in the ‘Here be Dragons’ book.   So I have an awful to be thankful for in the last 10 years, thankful to the amazing volunteers, students and young people for those 5 years in Perth, and the dedication of staff here in Durham for their work here too.

So, i bet you’re asking, what happened this evening? anything to remember my 9th into 10th year by? – well no, a very quiet evening, not surprising, its -1, foggy and damp. Young people were too smart to be out where only mad detached youth workers dare to walk.

 

 

 

 

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