10 threats and opportunities for churches as posed by Detached youth work

Recently I was in a conversation with someone who was asking about my working experiences (no it wasn’t a job interview), and having talked a little about my experiences in working in a call centre, then making the leap to begin youthwork and theology training, I then mentioned that I have been involved in detached youthwork for the best part of the last 12 years, in one shape or another, either through coordinating a project, trying to start detached work, or managing and volunteering detached work back in the north east. The person, seeming knowledgeable about detached youthwork (for I didn’t have to explain it, there’s a surprise) said;

Detached youth work, Thats a real threat to the church – isnt it?

Image result for 6 and 9
Picture of image of the number 6 or 9 realised differently depending on how it is viewed

I kind of hadn’t thought of it in this way before. But in the subsequent couple of weeks I have realised that aspects of detached youthwork that are threats to the church, are also aspects that present churches with opportunities. I guess its where it depends on how the threats are viewed, as threats or opportunities.

So, what might these threats/opportunities – or thropportunities be?

  1. Detached youthwork deals with the reality. Countless times I hear about the perceptions of young people in the local community, their behaviours and issues that are occurring. But the reality of being out on the streets is a whole different scenario. Its not always like this, but the reality compared to the perceived reality, or talked about stories is very different. A reality discovered about young people from them, is usually far different to what people who dont know them make it out to be. Especially in terms of situations like ‘boredom’ or ‘alcohol use’. A threat to church is that detached youthwork is about a reality of a situation. Also, it threatens the universalisms of ‘gen x’ and ‘millenial’ thinking for ministry that are used to shape programmes, detached youthwork deals in the local and reality. And this is also an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and listen from the local and real. There are no millenials on the streets of your town, trust me, just young people who want a bit of time and respect, and to be treated for who there are, and not what people expect them to be.
  2. Detached youthwork shifts the big idea. The threat here is that the source of the big ideas about developing work with young people gets shifted from the corridors of power erm ‘youth ministry planning meeting’ which is when adults talk about young people and try and discover an idea to work with them, and shifts the idea making space to the young people themselves. The threat is the loss of power, the opportunity is that young people become invested in and the opportunity for high participation and creativity into the nature, practices and regularity of next provision. Its a threat because the assumed knowledge held in churches gets shifted. ‘Why not find out what young people like, want and could contribute’ is a both an opportunity and a threat, isnt it?
  3. Detached youth work opens up the empty space. The threat here is that pandoras box of the local community may be opened up and the church may feel provoked as hasn’t been as vulnerable or willing to open it before , to experience the reality, or face its own cultural boundaried edges. But this is also an opportunity, of course it is, an opportunity to be provoked into cultural change, an opportunity to listen and respond, an opportunity to realise that the empty space is already a God at work in it space, and therefore an opportunity to join in the party already happening. Image result for empty stage
  4.  Detached youth work makes the relationship ministry. A report the other day suggested that clergy like being clergy because they cant stand being with people, that its a way of being able to stand aloof, now I imagine that might be the same for a number of professions. In youth ministry, with the exception of the summer camp or weekend residentials, there can still be a temptation to the let the game, talk, activity, do all the ‘talking’ and that it not be about personal conversations and educating through them. The Ministry could do all the talking. In detached youthwork, the gloves are off, for, aside from what might be spontaneous activities like a game of football on the park, detached youthwork threatens as it is about personal rapport, personal conversations, and developing a purposeful relationship with a or a group of young people. It is a threat because it asks more than ‘new skills’ but asks that we become closer to who we are with young people, we do the talking (and listening). There is only the possiblilty of relationship that exists in detached work, rather than the offer of a next game, activity or session. Its why young peoples questions on the street, whilst sometimes challenging, are versions of ‘can I trust you?’ Its the young people that are testing us and whether they can trust us in that place. The threat is that ministry doesnt do the talking, and that we as workers and people who are out there do relationship building as ministry. This makes it still an opportunity- doesnt it… ?
  5.  Detached youthwork does not raise any money. Sorry, I had to mention the ‘m’ word. But no its pretty difficult to make detached youthwork pay for itself. Given that its about vulnerability, reality and conversation, its kind of difficult to charge young people for it, unlike subs or tuck shops or other ways in which churches generate small amounts of income from young people in the clubs and groups. But that means that detached youthwork is free at the point of access, and that, makes it an opportunity for young people who cant attend groups, who feel awkward about paying.
  6. Detached youthwork values young peoples group making. Have you ever noticed how group work develops in churches, usually its a mix of people who like an activity, gather together to do it, so the choir, the homegroup, the bible study. In working with young people, often young people have to try and develop group work even though they can be a dispersed group for the rest of the week (not unlike a sunday morning congregation at times) , so any group work is slow because it has only an hour or so a week to occur, and normally most Sunday nights are ‘storming’ events in the group cycle, and only over a weekend residential, or some collective activity does further group work happen. I wonder whether we attribute God to nights when good group work happened… ‘look how they worked well together, im sure God did this’ , it could be more sociology than spirituality as to why a group of young people functioned. Image result for group developmentDetached youthwork meets and tries to work with young people in the groups they have already chosen, spent time with and created for themselves. They are not created groups through a ministry practice, but groups in which young people have already found an identity, role, space and support from, and so detached youthwork if we do it well, forces us to recognise the possibility and strength of this already established group and try ourselves to become accepted as part of it in the way they might want us to be. But detached youthwork values that young people can make their own groups, find sanctuary and space to be in their own groups and as an opportunity to meet and connect in and with them, taking the pain out of trying to force group work upon a gathered group of young people.
  7. Detached youthwork connects churches with the other 95% of young people. (Scripture union suggest that churches are only connecting with 5% of the young people in the UK) I guess that’s the opportunity. It is more of a reality that detached youthwork may help connect churches with the 10% of young people who are out on the streets. It is almost guaranteed that none of these young people are the usual sunday youth fellowship young people. Its also as guaranteed that even if the church is involved in local schools assemblies or groups, there’s likely to be better conversations with young people on the streets, and this is where there’s the greatest likeliest long term ministry to be started from. There are projects in the UK who now have a small number of voluntary and paid leaders who were all the ‘destructive’ kids in school, but who with a dollop of patience, listening and availability for conversation over a long period of time from detached workers have flourished as part of a faith community. Far more than any in the ‘schools groups’. Detached work threatens the church, as it says, young people who no one else hopes for have value. It threatens the church because it asks the church to believe differently about young people and believe differently about the future leadership of the church and where it resides from. Its not the ‘other 95%’ of young people, but the 10% who have been left behind. Detached youthwork can be the standing in the gap people, the borders and margins, the opportunity to lift others and cause them to fly, even with previously clipped wings.
  8. Detached youthwork is a threat, because its unpredictable and open ended. Sadly in a world where the church has opted into ‘value for money’ ministries in which outcomes and outputs have to be tightly negotiated and planned for. Detached youthwork is a threat, for, like chaplaincy, it doesnt play that game. Detached youthwork may be the chaplaincy to young people on the streets, but it is a threat because it challenges the outcomes agenda. Yet it is an opportunity, because it challenges the outcomes agenda. It has the possibility of opening up the space, the empty stage and creating something new, improvised, that wasn’t thought of before, because that’s the tangent that young people trusted us with.  We might want to predict the number of sessions, hope for the number of conversations, plan for recruiting volunteers and measure the training hours, but to know whats going to happen with a group of young people in a period of 6 weeks? hmm… its a threat because it is open ended, but its also a possibility that being open ended might allow a church to follow and not lead, to be responsive and less in control, to challenge ‘value for money’ with values of ministry. It is therefore an opportunity of space creating within existing places instead of planning created spaces of expectations. Its not A + B to make C happen, but A + B and why not C what does…   Being open ended is an opportunity, but its also definitely a threat.
  9. Detached youthwork present a new lens for theology. When we explore, observe and feel the reality of life on the streets, when we’re in conversations and hear stories – we give ourselves a new lens with which to view scripture and the theology we held to. (and I know all experiences will do this) there is something about the fluidity of detached work and the same street occurences that we read about that Jesus and disciples had, that take on a new meaning through the lived experiences of detached work. It is also a lens from reality, from developing new conversations, from being involved in young people where they are, a lens where we ecounter God in the midst of the action, in the dark spaces on the streets. A lens of hope. It makes faith seem a whole load different and different from a Sunday shaped view of buildings, rows and order, or academia, reading and reflection (all valid, just different). Theology from the context of the streets, not just contextual theology for the streets. An opportunity and a threat.
  10. Detached youthwork is everyones game, not just young families and the young leaders. Having bought into the attractional game of youth ministry, where only Mr or Miss trendy can work with young people, detached youthwork is a threat to this. Image result for trendy youth leader

 I want you to think about when you were a young person. seriously. What kind of person did you want to connect with? Someone like you, or someone who liked you, someone who respected you and gave you time, or someone still trying to find themselves, someone who listened, or someone who wanted to only tell their own story?  Did it matter to you what age they were?  Detached youthwork is a threat, because its not for the young leader. No it really isnt. Its for those who are willing to be vulnerable and take a risk. Its for those who are good at talking and listening, for those who have a deep call to hope for young people. It is not a young persons game, because it is not a game, it is real. It is a threat to the gravitational pull to the attractional youth leaders, and an opportunity to take years of experience, life wisdom and patience, and even deep maternal or paternal instincts out onto the streets. It is an opportunity to be surrogate uncle and Auntie, and respected as an adult for being an adult. The best detached youthwork volunteers i ever had – they were in their 40’s and 50’s. And i have had some good 20 year olds too. With churches that are ageing, 50 year olds – come on, do more than be a street pastor once a month, get out and connect with young people on a weekly basis.

So, 10 aspects of detached youthwork, and maybe also open club work and chaplaincy type work, that feel as though they both present threats and opportunities to churches in the current context of missional practice. The good thing about threats is that they cause us to rise to a challenge, to take a risk, and provoke, the mission field of the streets is still pretty much open, and young people are still there. Some of these threats may help to take churches to a new place, should they be vulnerable to go and learn, some may be opportunities to do good in a local community, just being in the place of reality and opening up the streets as a space of opportunity is an opportunity in itself. Its a threat to often how mission has been ordered before, but thats not a bad thing. Surely?

If you’re up for starting this opportunity, and want some training or help with it, let me know, contact me via the menu above. Thank you for reading and sharing, and I apologise for the adverts below:

 

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How will we find the good in youth ministry, if we don’t even look for it?

Oh well at least no one died tonight. 

This can often be the mantra at the end of a crazy out work session. But its not setting the bar very high in regard to evaluating or reviewing a session. Duffy Robbins in a piece on Youthwork Magazine 12 years ago wrote a piece on evaluating youth ministry, describing how for some volunteers, a good youth programme or activity or weekend event occurs when ‘young people cry’ at the end of it, and this was something that in the piece was manipulated by leaders though ‘inserting appropriate music’. Crying or not dying? are these the only factors that we’re looking for in youthwork practice? I would hope kind of not. The other measure, i hear very often, by clergy more than anyone else is well ‘if young people came back, then you’re doing something right’ this however also has its limitations for what constitutes appropriate or good practice, leaving little other than the unpredictability of attendance as the key marker.

If having successful youthwork is what we crave, then what we measure is critical.

There has been a trend to develop good reflection in youthwork and ministry practices (a trend, more a core component in youthwork, but hey), and yet, reflecting after a youthwork session can still feel like a painful delay, and pointless exercise in the midst of putting the chairs away and I wonder whether this is for a number of reasons, firstly that we’re asking the wrong questions, well at least we’re asking questions that have little context to them. For example, we might want to ask, and legitimately so, ‘in todays session, what went well?’  this is a great question. The problem with this question, is that without knowing what ‘went well’ looks like, and volunteers have an understanding of the identifyers of ‘went well’ then this ends up being the ‘nobody died, someone cried, or we had young people attend’ response.  ‘What went well, is a great question, if those involved know what is being looked for.  The opposite question, is then usually asked, what didnt go well. And this section can take ages to fill. Reflective youth workers can nearly always fill that box, as we’re never more than a footstep away from the precipice of doom that always finds ways to do things better, or on a bad night finds faults in everything or everyone. But this needn’t and shouldn’t be the way. We need to ask ourselves better questions. More to the point, youthworkers themselves should decide upon the questions, and not have questions imposed from above, which doesnt work.  (Sue Cooper, 2012)

Asking these 5 questions at the end of every session will transform your youth provision. Related image

It is a bold claim.

But I am willing to make it. If you’re as serious about young people in the ministry as the ministry itself, then these are the questions to reflect on at the end of every session with young people. If we ask these, and have responses to them, then we will know that a ‘session went well’ or didnt – because these happened or space was created for them to happen. The other claim I make is that it doesnt matter what your youth provsion is – these questions will transform it. It could be a youth worship event, an after school club, mentoring or youth fellowship group. More to the point, i am willing to also suggest that if we cannot put a positive answer to these questions on a regular basis in the youth provision, it is likely to not be enjoyed or attended by young people after an initial buzz or excitement of it existing. So, what are the questions? 

1. What were the quality conversations between leaders and young people?

A youth provision in which there was no conversations between young people and supportive adults is just an activity centre, a creche, a place to be entertained. Developing conversation turns a place of activity into a place where life happens, where shared understanding happens, and is the basis of purposeful relationship building. Our role is not to watch young people do an activity from the comfort of the kitchen, but to be involved in it, not youthworkers are not observers of young people, they are involvers with, and this is about conversation. So its a good idea to ask a question about conversations.

None of the conversations need to feel deep or meaningful – but thats only ‘to us’ they might be deep and meaningful to the young person

They dont have to feel significant- but they might be

It might be just a short chat about football with a young person who hadnt spoken to anyone for a few weeks, but its still of value.

Yes, for recording purposes we dont want to write down names of young people and who said what, but we can record initials, and general content like school issue, or family, or health, or sports, or housing or hobbies, and then any tangents that this took us into. If we’re good at creating a space for conversation, then this might take time. But thats a good thing right?

We could do stuff with all the subject matter and upload into charts or graphs, but more importantly is that these conversations are happening, and continue to do so. They represent that young people trust that the space is safe for them, because the people in it are safe to trust with the daily stuff of life – or the personal stuff of challenge. So, the first question, is about conversations – are they happening, who is having them (to develop training) and what are they about? and are they of quality – not just abusive banter (though they might be the start) .

2. In what ways did young people increase participation?

I am indebted to a student who I was delivering training to yesterday for this question. This was theirs. And so thank you. It is too good not to share.

During the activity, session or club – in what ways did young people increase participation? Is an absolute gold gem of a question. I have written on Participation before, so am not going to repeat myself here (see the ‘participation’ tag in the menu)

Participation can be seen in a number of different spheres. Young people may increase their participation in the current club – through helping with something, suggesting an idea, responding to an instruction – that sort of thing, but they may increase in participation as they take part in something of their own choice that they wouldnt normally (and being a volunteer in the god slot activity doesnt count), they might participate in deciding future activities, or decision making in the style of the group. I remember once when a group of young people who didnt like a youth event, went round as a group to the leaders house, shared their ideas, and the event changed direction completely as the ideas were responded to, and from then a open youth music cafe was started that gave young people space to play their own music, that ran for 7 years. (It was about to close otherwise) . The participation from young people at this venue went from merely observers in it, to high participation almost overnight. At their call.  Image result for participation ladder

This ladder might help in thinking about what increased participation might look like. It doesnt help us think about where the areas are in the activity we run where participation can happen. It may be easy to create spaces for participation in the areas such as food, or games – but can we increase the space for participation in areas we as adults prefer to be more in control of? There are a few examples here, in a journal piece ive recently written for CMS.

But what about where young people want to make a positive step to have greater participation in the organisation, school, charity or their local community? Through positive action and decision making, can this be facilitated through this youth provision – when we hear this is what young people want to do? Facilitating young peoples participation in the wider society, might be our role as purposeful adults – especially when we are trusted (via conversation! ;-))

But hang on, what if you’re thinking ‘our group isnt about participation, its about giving young people a fun space and telling them a story about faith’ – well if it isnt about young people developing participation in the faith community, and in the story itself, and this is modelled by participation in the group or session – then the story will remain only a story, and not one that young people can or would want to involve themselves in. No participation, will also mean eventually, no young people. Or at least none of the same ones after 6 months. And none very interested to be there at that. (its then we resort to bribery, ‘if you dont keep coming, you wont go on summer camp’.. shudder) . If young people are bored, then its not better entertainment they require, usually it is more meaningful participation.

Participation is key to everything, and so creating spaces for increased participation (even if it is counter cultural to the rest of the church, or organisation) is essential and as is a question at the end of every session to encourage it to be continually important.

3. What did we learn?

Young people are key to youth work – agreed? Good, thought you’d say yes to this one. And youthwork and ministry is about education – agreed? lovely. Therefore, one of the questions we need to ask at the end of every session has to have something to do with education, or learning to do with it.

In asking the question we put ourselves in the role as continual and ongoing learners, a place of humility and discovery, a place of wonder.

We might learn something about ourselves – our strengths or limitations (and think about how to enhance both) we might learn the same about young people

We might discover a gift, an ability and unseen talent in a young person (or volunteer)

We might learn about an attitude, a belief or a desire in a young person

Who’s voice have we heard from? 

We might learn to change our own views about something – because we’ve been open to learning from a young persons perspective

or something else…Image result for learning

We might be tempted to ask what did young people learn (because we tried to teach them something) but thats a path fraught with difficulty, because, what they heard and what they learned might be completely different, what they learned and what we wanted them to learn again very different. Young people may have learned who to get attention from in the session, yet we hoped they learned how to behave better. So the question is for us – what did we learn? 

The fourth question is this:

4. How did we take a risk with young people, or encourage them to take a risk? 

Unchallenging youth practices are boring. Or at least they will be fairly quickly. But you really dont need me to tell you this. If we’re not careful though, youth ministry takes the relevancy route and makes faith as easy to believe in as technology is trying to make everything as easy as possible. Making youth provision challenging is counter cultural. But challenge is what young people need.

If you ask any number of young adults in their 20’s why did they attend youth provision in their teens, aside from social friendships and fun, they will nearly all say learning, new experiences and being challenged to try new things. Challenge is part of the risk taking. Challenges are good for the self esteem of young people ( Baumeister, in Jocelyn Bryan, 2017 Being Human). It is good for young people to be challenged, therefore – we need to take some risks.

We might need to ditch the programme for the evening and host space for conversation, listen and learn. We might need to do an experiment in regard to discipleship, or had over an activity to young people for their participation in running it, bottom line, we take a risk, and do so because we want young people to be challenged and to raise their game – and we give over to trusting them. A risk might be to try and talk to a young person who doesnt normally say anything, or to create space for the quiet ones to participate, or something else… Risk taking and encouraging it turns us into the kind of youthworkers and volunteers who are still dreaming for something better, we havent given up. Trusting in young people to rise to the risks and challenge we offer causes what we do to stand in the face of prevailing opinions about young people.

Asking about risk taking – is question four of five. We should be thinking of taking risks each time we meet with young people. Even if that feels like we took a risk to try and talk with a young person at the pool table, well done, even if it was just a game of silent pool, you did at least put yourself in the place.

5. What do we need to do before the next session? 

This might sound intensely practical, and it is. But this session with a group of young people may have caused a whole host of things that need to be done to be done, so, write them down, and decide who and when they need to be done.

Is there a referral to an agency needed to be done?

do we need some training on an issue young people are raising?

is someone going to contact that young person the day after their job interview – see how it went? 

what about a talk with the leaders of the church about that idea the young people had – or creating a space for the leaders to meet with the young people directly? 

is someone going to fill in that funding bid? 

how might we change something about what we have always done, and need to prep for it this week? 

not just ‘practical’ but this could also be an opportunity to develop ongoing learning and reflection, training might be needed, but it could be that before the next session everyone of the leaders reads an online article or blog, or chapter from a book (if it can be photocopied) , or watches a film, listens to an album. It is about the ongoing desire to keeping learning and doing this collectively. So – what to do before the next session might not be to ‘plan’ the next session, or follow up pledges or promises made to young people (which are definitely needing to happen) but an opportunity for reflection.

It will transform your practice, sounds like it is hard work, but if we’re serious about helping young people take risks and developing learning, then its to be part of our own culture. (Even if, again, its not part of the wider church or organisation culture) As volunteers and workers developing provision for young people, its our game that we can take responsibility for.

So, there you have it. 5 essential questions to put on the after youth session review form. That will transform it. 

Why?  Because if these questions are asked, they become important, and what becomes important becomes part of the culture, and creating a culture of conversation, learning and participation is core to youth practice. If youthworkers are setting the tone for what makes a session ‘successful’ then young people will benefit. Success or failure is not part of good youthwork, its about conversation, participation, education, reflection and risks. A session that went well, will be because of these things. Not because someone cried or didnt die.

So – why will these questions transform your youthwork practice?

If we ask them at the end of every session, and make time to do this, not running home quickly after volunteering, then these become core to what the group is all about, and volunteers and leaders will be focussing on doing these things during the session, knowing that its whats going to be asked in reflection later. There is no magic quick formula to better youth provision, but I would hazard a guess that using these 5 questions, and in each session trying to work towards these things will make a significant difference, transform it? it may well do. Take it out of your comfort zone – almost certainly, hang on and enjoy the ride.

 

References

Jocelyn Bryan, Being Human, 2017

Jon Ord, Critical Issues in Youth work Management, 2012 (Chapter by Sue Cooper on Measurement)

Where is Voluntary Youth Ministry happening in the UK? Volunteers plot yourselves here:

Where is voluntary youth ministry happening in the UK?

Is there youth ministry happening in the whole of the UK?

Although I started by creating a map for where the employed youth workers are in the UK. I dont say this lightly, but the true heroes of youth ministry in the UK are all of the people who voluntarily give up time of an evening, sunday evening, weekend away to spend time to help support, educate young people and to give them positive social, physical and spiritual experiences. Doing so without a paid youth worker in sight. And going by the results in the previous map, doing so in some cases without a paid youthworker within 50 miles.

Image result for volunteers

This is your chance, volunteers to put yourself on the map. To let everyone know how significant you are, and how complete the UK is for where youth activities are being delivered for young people by church based volunteers.

So, here is the criteria

Plot your location in the below map if:

  • It is where young people aged 11-18 gather voluntarily and do not pay a subscription (though they may pay a nominal entry fee) , so an after school drop in, a Sunday evening Youth fellowship, youth/community meal, a messy church (where young people volunteer), Sunday morning study group, detached youthwork, mentoring, or something equivalent to these. Only add one pin for the location of the church, not one pin per different activity!

or

  • OR; It is where young people aged 11-18 gather and contribute as leaders to a group for children younger than them (where you help support them to do this, this is positive young people engagement!, ie they are leaders in the messy church, or sunday school )
  • AND, There is not a paid/employed FT or PT youthworker within the church setting to help with this. There may be paid clergy or curate or other minister, but not a specialist in youthwork/ministry as a designated role. Neither is there a voluntary gap year type person. There may be a youthwork specialist who is offering their time for free (ie they are paid elsewhere) This is a map for the purely volunteers that have developed groups and activities and continue to do so without a directly paid professional influence.
  • AND it is a faith setting, so a church, church run club or group (that may occur in a neutral setting like a church/community hall)

And it is not a uniformed group, so do not include scouts, brigades, guides or cadets. Nothing that requires a subscription basis. As data of these clubs and groups is likely to be collated by the organisations like UK scouting. This is all valuable and much significant work, but it is not for this map. This is for voluntary open clubs and groups or spaces where volunteers connect with young people without an employed youthwork influence or guidance.

So, faith based Youth work volunteers – put yourself on this map at this link (though you might want to read the instructions first):

Volunteers Map

  1. Just plot 1 pin per church/faith organisation responsible (not one pin per activity ie church and church hall!)
  2. Zoom into the area where you want to add a pin.
  3. Click on the pin button (‘add marker’) and drag it to the location. If you want to write the location in the dialogue box, you can, but you dont have to.
  4. Then save
  5. Then exit the map, and click out of the map page on your browser.

Please do not stay in the map, it will prevent others from adding theirs. Do not add layers to the map, it shouldnt be necessary to do this.

Remember add one pin if your church works with young people aged 11-18, where they attend, participate, lead an activity and where there is no professional youth worker involvement. One pin per church. But do not add a pin if your church currently pays for a FT/PT youthworker or gap year person.

So, Volunteers – Please put yourself on the map!

Please do share this around the networks, dioceses, affiliations, lets see where voluntary youth ministry happens in the UK! Where the church is involved in working with young people. Clergy, you might want to add churches on behalf of your volunteers.

The Map will stay open for one month, until the end of July.

Any problems with the map, do let me know – my email address in the above menus.

Thank you.

Lets put voluntary church youth ministry well and truly on the map! Volunteers please do put yourself on the map. Where is youth ministry happening in the UK?

Thank you for visiting this blog which is maintained for free, please do have a look around, click the categories and tags for articles on a range of subjects on youthwork and mission, youth ministry and theology. If you would like to contact me to do some training or consultancy for your church, organisation or volunteers, please do use the menus above.

Managing in Youth Work: Reflecting Spiritually, Closure and Endings

As I write this it is Saturday afternoon (though not finished until Monday), and I have 1 week left being the Manager of a youth work organisation. The organisation itself is also about to close down during the summer. So if there was anything i would be able to reflect on right now it writing from the midst of the process of managing a personal ending in a role, whilst at the same time also managing the closure of an organisation. Obviously it would be dead easy to write this piece in a few years when things were rosy and I had moved on to bigger, greater or more fruitful youth work opportunities ( though the climate for these is pretty scarce) . But that could be ‘after the event’ hindsight, tainted by new positivity.

So this isnt that, this is writing about closure and endings in the midst of the final few weeks of an organisation and the final week in it for me.

If it was just the youthworker leaving a post, then this is quite common, say goodbye to the young people, parents, church leaders and clergy, or  young people, volunteers, sessional staff, manager and office colleagues (depending on your context) . That is difficult enough, as they stay in the same situation as we as the youth worker move on, for whatever reason. And, not making light of any situation, but it feels different to also be closing down the organisation of which im also managing, (along with the trustees). So i have had the dubious honour this week, because I’m the only person left in the office, to raise the final payment of the salaries and include my own redundancy payment. Its weird, and to others it might be odd. But in a way being a manager in a small organisation has meant just doing everything a little bit, not everything brilliantly, but trying to stay afloat by keeping the show on the road. So paying myself has been the norm (the treasurer has checked the payment- dont worry).

The other thing within small organisations of a few trustees, small managerial group and then projects and face to face workers, is that unless there is large amounts of active involvement from volunteers in the governance, to do admin, or fundraising, or publicity, then paying for this role within an organisation can be a large drain on resources. However, more than that, causing it to be the manager who is responsible for finding funding, through writing grants, communicating to donors and events (if there is resources to do such things), it also means that taking on the responsibility for these, along with the other responsibilities as a manager, comes at a price, the price of what happens when these things dont work out.  In a way assuming the responsibility for finding funding for my own role is one thing, finding funding and being responsible for others is another.

The other things to manage is also the ending.

Or at least, the process of decision making towards the closing time. For on one hand it would be hopeful till the very last day, and hope and pray, beg and plead that funding or resources arrive, so that the work of an organisation can go on, week by week. Is that blind faith? But this is also quite an ongoing stress or pressure, and not really fair on young people in groups and projects. ‘oh by the way we wont be here on monday’ . Of course even with all the spreadsheets, projections and knowledge of funding, making difficult decisions about redundancy, closure and notice is about making judgements based on time, and what is likely. Worry about funding and money can easily set in. My previous post on Hope, talked about status anxiety. This could be common in the youth work organisation, especially those for whom have too many barriers to guarantee funding from one source, or are set up with limited local knowledge or pledges of support. Making a too early decision helps people to plan ahead, to communicate with schools and partners and for employees to get new jobs. Clarity of decision making is crucial. The opposite problem might occur, a decision too far off could encourage resentment, or lack of faith. Or be seen as a ‘business’ decision, not a ‘spiritual one’. In a way, decisions about organisations and management are also about trying to respect the needs and dignity of employees, so that ending isnt a shock, neither is the effect this may have on peoples rents, families or stress. So, its intensely practical, but it is also spiritual.

There wont ever be the right time to begin the process of closing an organisation, making sure it is done with the right information to hand though is important. Assessing how the governance feel about taking risks, or making changes to innovate are key, as is the local support for the work. These are all factors in making decisions to close something.

Either way when this kind of change happens, there can be alot of managing and reacting to the Bees. The must Bees and the Mustn’t bees, the must-be”s like:

You must be excited going to a new job, or

You must be disappointed the way its ending

You must be feeling pretty rotten

That must be tough

or theres the must’nt bees

You mustnt be losing your faith over this

You mustnt be letting this affect your ministry

And what happens, is that people sort of try and read how you might be feeling about changing jobs, the ending of a project, and the upcoming change, without actually giving you chance to say exactly how. Its as if they have an idea already and you have to kind of ‘defend’ or contradict their pre supposed view. And this isnt meant to be harsh, as its natural to do this. But when in the firing line of being in the middle of it all, it can make conversation awkward. Of course, conversational support is better than none. And people can give you a wide berth, especially if they had dreams or plans for something that you were meant to be enabling to happen. Or that wide berth reflects actual lack of support, or them being awkward about not knowing what to say. It could be a difficult conversation remember. And difficult conversations about reality of ministry are hard to find in churches. arent they?  It might be that its easier to keep a distance and think ‘what a shame its happened’ but actually not have ever supported the project or venture. And deep down, we in those projects and ventures know who supports us.

So, this week, its about sorting through the piles of paperwork, its about clearing an office space, its about the final staff meal. Its about clearing the emails, closing down passworded accounts and ending the mobile phone contract. Managing the ending of an organisation, its a tough one as its only a practical task, of difficult monotony.

Someone said to me that it could be a spiritual task. And so where might i go to reflect on this spiritually and within the context of the Biblical drama?

And like a bank holiday monday, there is a therapeutic element to getting rid of the rubbish and boy does admin pile up. There are so many bits of paper with to do lists on…

There are Biblical endings. There is tension is every dramatic scene change. The ending of each age is frought with fear, promise and uncertainty. The 400 years of quiet before Christs arrival, the confusion of the disciples post resurrection, and pre crucifixion. And there are specific endings relating the old age of key people like Moses, Abraham and Joseph.

It is interesting that in Ministry Jesus commands the disciples to shake the dust off their feet whenever theyre not in a place of welcome, and to move on. Now thats not a presumption on a projects part that everyone has to like it, but reading the context and culture and being in receipt of hospitality, especially when a ministry needs it is important. For the disciples sent out, there wasnt an issue about staying, it was to find a place of welcome elsewhere. Don’t over commit in an area, move on and out. Make endings swift. Not sure how that translates in a world of rents and mortgages, of family life, schools.

Of course, all of this doesnt take into account the final ending. As Julian of Norwich said, “Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time—that ‘all manner [of] thing shall be well.‘or paraphrased; ‘All will be well in the end, and if it is not well its not the end’. The church of SS Andrew and Mary - St Julian of Norwich - geograph.org.uk - 1547398.jpg

And as i said in a previous post on ‘Hope’ – the final act of the whole drama is a hopeful one, it is not the end.

I read this this morning from the common prayer:

 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — ​and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”

Yes, there is an imperative to end well, and sometimes that is through gritted teeth. Sometimes its to hold back the tears. Sometimes its relief, on other occasions its a mutual reality from both sides that it is time to move on. And so, Managing an ending in Youth work and ministry is hugely specific, obviously. It occurs in the midst of the lives of young people, their parents, a local community, the church leaders and congregation, and involves obviously emotions, relationships and dealing with these. Managing and attending to relationships is tricky and delicate.

A post from the heat of the fire, not that we’re buring down the office, but the heat of the moment of closing and of managing an ending is this piece, one of a number I have written on management and youth work. For the others see the ‘management’ tab in the topics.

 

A (critical) response to losing heart – make homebrewed disciples

I cant imagine how difficult it must be to talk to young people about Sex. Especially young people in churches. Back in the early 1990’s Steve Chalke helped a load of youth leaders out with the ‘lessons in love’ videos. I know, i watched them. Fast forward 25 years since then and YouthScape have done some research in churches which revealed that one of the key struggles youth leaders in churches faced was how to talk to young people about challenging issues about faith, about sex, about relationships and a whole host of other things. The news report which accompanied the research is here: http://www.christiantoday.com/article/churches.report.dramatic.loss.in.confidence.over.youthwork/102741.htm

As soon as the report landed, a long line of resource orientated youth work organisations stepped up to the plate with what tantamounted to advertising of the resources they could provide. And i am sure Youthscape themselves will have some too to fill a void in which their research has highlighted.

The Question to ask however; is given that this is not a new situation, given that resources – yes even before the days of Steve Chalkes Video- have been distributed to churches across the UK to ‘help’ with youth ministry – From Youthwork Magazines ‘ready to use sections’ to Christian aid resources on World Poverty – none if it is unwelcome, most of it is incredibly useful, thoroughly researched and even put together by youthworkers in some cases.  But if this is not a new problem – does the problem reveal something that needs to be thought through further?

What if actually instead of filling the old winepress with the new wine that theres a winepress that needs envigorating with new wine making approaches first? And talking about wine, is it better in the long run to make your own rather than just keep buying from abroad?

A few questions:

a) If youth ministry is about teaching and telling young people things – do those teaching methods need to be changed?

b) What is youth Ministry for?  – yes the big one…

c) Has resource based youth ministry fulfilled the task of the above question? is it working?

Lets start with point b. What is Youth Ministry for?  Well if one observation of it claims that ‘youth ministry at its best attracts a few young people to church and temporarily keeps a few’ then this is damning. Given that especially no one quite knows ‘what youth ministry at its best looks like’ (clue: its not Soul Survivor or Youth Alpha)  But going back to the question.

what is youth ministry for?

I would hope that the answer to this for most youth leaders, volunteers and ministers is that ultimately it is to help young people in the community of the church become disciples of Jesus – one that, as Jesus did it, is a collective task involving groups, and an individual one, with attention to Peter,James and John  (not to mention the ‘special’ attention Jesus gave Judas at the last supper – a profound move of restoration for the betrayer… one to reflect on)

So, Youth Ministry is about Discipleship.

What did Jesus say about Disciples?

Disciples are made. – He said go and ‘make’ them.

He also told the whole church to be involved – all 11 disciples were given that instruction in Matt 28.

Ive written recently about Nick Shepherds book ‘Faith Generation‘ (2016) (see here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-HN) given that its for the Youth Ministry market in the UK, it is worth repeated here what he calls for. What he says is that effectively young people have been treated as learners throughout the predominant history and narrative of youth ministry & the church. Its fairly obvious then – but what are the implications on the methods of youth ministry that young people experience if they are viewed predominately as ‘learners’ ?

Does it mean that young peoples experiences of learning in youth ministry feels not that much different to the learning of somewhere like school?  More that they have no input into the curriculum, how things are taught, what is taught, who teaches it, of course there are no exams in churches… what i mean is;

Do young people have no input into the curriculum, how things are taught, what is taught, who teaches it, – because as long as there is a resource published on it somewhere the volunteers and leaders can grab it off the shelf and hey presto deliver!  They are receivers of information. They are vessels to be filled. They are only the glass for the wine. 

So if young people, because they are older versions of the same children in sunday school, if treated and viewed principally as learners, then resource instigated, or off the shelf teaching methods of youth ministry can fill a definite void. And when youth leaders, volunteers and Ministers are continually disempowered by research that indicates that confidence is lost in them, then there is a recipe for disaster. Maybe the resource for the youth ministry has to be more homegrown. Maybe like the deliciously syrupy elderflower wine we made this year, it comes from the homegrown wild.

What Nick Shepherd advocates is that, like i have intimated above, young people need not to be learners, but learners and deciders.

About 10 years ago now, I had done 15 months of being involved in a typical sunday night type of youth group as a volunteer/student leader in a small church with about 12 in the youth group (regular attenders 8). The culture was set before i had arrived, the leaders would meet every 6 months to decide the programme, the special activities, and effectively there would be games, tuck shop/food, some kind of discussion on a topic and then spIce for praying. I dont think anything particularly unique or distinctive. So i was tasked to come into this situation, as a student, to develop the programme and begin to run and organise the group. And for 14 months id like to think i put alot of effort into the programme, i had a bit of time to, we did sessions on Heaven and Hell , and in the main it was great, but i was putting in the wrong kind of effort!  

The Situation shifted when i physically couldnt carry on doing this anymore, no it wasnt burnout, it wasnt stress or the worry that my highly original ideas were running out, no its because my knee gave way and i was on crutches for 3 months. Physically i couldn’t do the same anymore. But i had to be there, because not working for 3 months would have meant not fulfilling time for college and having to retake the year.

So, out of necessity, a new approach for the group was born.  It took a while, and a few activities prior in which the young people were given tasks and activities to share their opinions on life & faith – but fundamentally they went from learners to deciders; how? 

Their idea, because their leader was on crutches, was that they would split up the programme of every evening and in pairs they would work on each section.  So, two of them would run the tuck shop, two would do a prayer activity, two would organise, and lead the games, and a different two would be responsible for planning, leading and running the ‘teaching session’.  How, you may ask did they know what to teach? well that was one of the prep sessions, they had already put together a range of subjects they wanted to talk about – from ‘other faiths’ to ‘abortion’ to ‘creation’ . The subjects were theirs, the delivery was theirs.

All i would do each week would be ring one of each of the pairs each wednesday to see how they were getting on and suggest ideas if necessary. They created panels ‘for’ and ‘against’ abortion, and did research on other faiths (something that they spent 2 months on looking at different ones). We may have interjected every now and then during the evening, i honestly cant remember now. So, not only did they learn, they learned as they decided, and they learned as they decided and created. They also were able to share what they already knew, and the other young people learned so much more. They had to work out what one or many bible/christian perspectives might be…

We didnt force the young people to do every aspect, and for some pairs ‘doing the prayer’ section was a huge step, some wrote their own, some used pictures and objects ( this was before ‘prayer stations/prayer spaces’)

At the beginning of each few months we would then sit down and plan with the young people who was going to do each of the aspects. games, food, talk, prayer – but in your groups these could obviously be much different.

They found the resources that suited them, they were trusted and they were given an environment of support where they could try, think and work through their ideas. This is only one approach change, but one from experience. Yes it involved a bit of time planning, and a broken knee as a catalyst. But on one hand what is the rush with discipleship? – is it better to think and develop with young people in order that discipleship is the long term aim of their involvement in a local church – which may or may not include a youth group.

But i was an expert you might say? – no i wasnt at that point i had done one year of training and only ever exposed to a ‘teaching’ method of youth ministry. I know more about the theories of education (Friere, Dewey) now than i did then, so practice rather than theory was the driver.

Was it sucessful? No – it was different, and tried a different approach, did young people grow through the process, yes, did we learn – yes, did young people have more of a chance of becoming empowered disciples. its difficult to pinpoint any sucessful youth ministry though…

Was it hard work- yes– because doing something new requires time, buy in and cultural shift. But most of the young people got it, some opted out and we could give them the chance to during exam time when we took the flack up again as they requested it. The hardest point was not to take over, when young people had all the knowledge and resources, not to have the ‘final’ point,.

Did young people find the change too much? it took a while but because they worked in pairs (obs it depends how many people you have) as any young people joined they were involved at some level – games/prayer/food being the first and easier, but its often easy to say young people should have an easy ride with youth ministry – it shouldnt be like school – no but theres something in between to be negotiated  in conversation. Developing the curriculum, its subject, content and delivery could be a task of the young people themselves.

Asking young people to develop their own programme means that we start to use the greatest resource each of our youth groups have. The young people themselves. Why not use their passion, energy, critical edge and humour, spend time developing with them so even if teaching is one aspect of youth ministry – that it is teaching in order to make disciples, and emulate the first disciples who went from receivers of information, to eventually developing churches of their own.

I dont think that what happened above was particularly revolutionary or unique. But its the kind of thing that a youth ministry resourced by external resources of programmes, or even external resources of volunteers who often have ‘their ministry’ obligations to fulfil, might mean that those ministries shape youth ministry more than the local resources of the young people you might already have.

The winepress might also need re configuring even if homegrown wine is made instead of importing wine, and the call to rethink discipleship in the church has been made extensively elsewhere – even on this blog if you look at the ‘discipleship’ topic.

If young people go from being solely learners, to deciders, and then ultimately creators, then they will shape the resources, they will be the resource your church and the community needs. If external resources are then needed, then use them as the young people feel the need.

Developing local expressions of faith and discipleship with young people, developing work with them might be a start. Other people are more radical saying that youth groups need to be shut down, not necessary, but young people are the greatest resource, second only to you faithful volunteer, paid youthworker, curate or minister. Start making home brew.  Make the young people your key ingredient, forage from the local and the wild and discover what kind of resource they can be.

 

 

 

‘Confirmation’ as an opportunity to launch relational group discipleship.

A few years ago I had a conversation where I caused a Vicar to cry. I’m not proud of it. It wasnt clever of me, neither did i think i was being provocative, neither insensitive, or insightful.

The vicar was recalling the progress that they had in their local school and describing the process of advertising, ‘selecting’ and developing the confirmation group in a local cofe school, they were a few weeks into the course and getting ready for the ceremony itself, or it had happened a few weeks previous, i cant remember exactly, but you get the picture.

The church also had a youth group, which met on a weekday evening. A kind of open club, with largely social games, activities and some faith content or activity, nothing ‘heavy’.

The Vicar was talking about how the hope was that the young people who had been confirmed would start going to the youth group. for no other reason that he would let them know about it, and some of their friends in higher school years go to it.

What i said was ‘well, _________, the problem with that is that you have built the relationship up with them, created a group space for them as a group where they feel safe, and comfortable discussing possibly deeper spiritual things and after being confirmed, this group is dispanded and they dont have the opportunity, in this group to continue being discipled by you’ – The youth group isnt the place for the kind of discipleship, effectively, that the Vicar in this situation had actually started. Yet they had begun to create a group where young people trusted them and a space opened up to discuss things of faith. The most intentional faith group for mostly ‘unchurched’ young people in the diocese. It’s then that they gulped, took breath and were on the brink of tears.

I didnt think this was a particularly rocket scientist thing to say. But it revealed something of a ministry and activity first culture in the church and relationship second. As long as young people attend ministries, doesnt matter which ones, or how, then this is the requirement. Or a failure to recognise what was being created in the form of group discipleship, and relational connection with the member of the clergy, and no real desire to maintain this, or see discipleship through beyond a ceremony.

Practically; What if every confirmation group is started at a time – near the beginning of year 6 so that there can be a whole year of establishing a group dynamic before they head to secondary school. Can clergy dictate this with the school?

What if it occured outside of the school and in a local church/community centre – so that this space becomes familiar to the group and part of its identity – (when confirmation groups in schools become harder to maintain. )

What if the young people know from the outset that part of the confirmation is a continued process of learning and developing after confirmation ceremony and that they have to think of activities and discussions they want to discuss further once the formal confirmation group is finished.  Just so its not just to be thought about at the end..

What then, if every confirmation group (say there is 10 in the group) continues to meet with the clergy & volunteer once a month or fortnightly after the confirmation ceremony for 6-12 months – what kind of group work is developed, what opportunities for discipleship would this bring, what training for formational leadership could this spurn in them? (or alternatively they could ‘go’ to a youth group) 

What if this group continued to develop spiritual curriculum, relationship and faith throughout the next 7 years- building on what they started – yes a few might ‘drop off’ but it might be the best way of ensuring some kind of small group for young people of a certain age as they progress through the ages?

How do you go about helping the group continue? ask them, plan with them, pose scenarios and options. (dont buy a resource, every group will be different to the previous)

Then another group starts the next year.

And the next.

Until every year group has one group in it of 6-10 young people – all are different because of different interests, issues, choice of topics, learning methods. 1 group per year band. Yes they might mix and do socials together, but they have key group identity as the confirmation cohort of the year 20__. They neednt invite their friends to the group, in one way – that is what the open youth club is for, to a degree. (and inviting new people to this type of group rarely works)

Currently the church only keeps 1/3 of its young people.  If 6 year groups of 10 young people are confirmed at 11 (60) and say 2 of each group drop out, and only 8 of the 10 start. Then 6/10 in a group might just stay until they are 18. Especially if they are trained and discipled well, given opportunities to serve in the church (and change the world), develop skills and find their identity in the local church. I think from 1/3 to 6/10 might represent a 100% increase, and yes i know this is hypothetical. But if the scenario above is replicated then currently barely any who are confirmed are involved past 12.

Yes i know itll involve man/woman power and resources. But it might need 6 people (+ stand bys) to work with the clergy in each group, if they each meet once a month then this shouldnt be too much of a challenge. And if the oldest group – the ‘first’ ones once they get to 15-6, part of their discipleship is to mentor and help with the new ones… then theres a ready made cycle and further training ground for disciples.  What if this was core volunteering for the church, discipling young people. Not youthwork, not scary young people – but giving young people the opportunity to be discipled.

It might involve a change in culture. It might involve a re prioritisation of tasks, or a training of clergy in relational group work, education and some youthwork skills, or it might involve realising that the future of the church and young people into its future calling is staring at them in the face, but it means a shift to continually invest and build on the mechanisms in place, effectively building and using the young people who are effectively sent to us in the confirmation group and making the best of this gift. Honing and encouraging long term relational group work discipleship. The clergy cant be consumed with discipling young people , can they?  Well i guess this might have to be another culture shift, one like all the other ministries will yield long term results. And have more impact than a considerable amount of meetings and emails that clergy have to also deal with. Is it adding pressure to the clergy to do more, yes, well if people are concerned then they need to fill other gaps, to help out in this work.

It can work, ive seen it, it takes time, and desire and patience. Youth ministry isnt working, but confirmation as a ceremony and an opt in for young people to explore faith – might be an opportunity to develop, to reconise the gift horse that might be starring us in the mouth.

Does the church benefit from youth ministry Gap Year students?

Talking about the very popular, and they are in many shapes and sizes, the Church/youth ministry Gap year.

Let me put this out there. I was one of a long line of young people from my church in Market Harborough who participated in the Oasis Trust Frontline Team, Gap Year scheme, which ran for most of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. It’s 20 years this week that I left home and was sent to a Hartlepool church with 3 others.  In the main, it was an enjoyable experience, in fact it was more than enjoyable, and one that set me up and ignited and desire to be involved in missional youthwork that has barely been dampened since. During my time in Perth, i was involved in a project which was able to take on Placement students over a period of 3 years during their time of studies at ICC, and in my current role and situation I am involved in training or supporting people on Gap year type schemes too. I am also in the process of trying to start up a gap year scheme with a number of partner organisations in the North East (See Launching Equip NE EQUIP)

So, there’s my experience stuff out of the way, you’ll be glad to hear, what want to share are my thoughts on what situations make for a good gap year experience for a student especially in church type situations, some of the issues about Gap years, and also where the positives are. I realise that my last post was a tongue in cheek list of reasons why Gap year people are often put upon to work with young people when adults make excuses for not doing so, but as this is a reality, its probably worth giving the whole Gap year programme situation some further thought.

  1. Gap Years can cost a lot of Money for the individual Student – even if they get some of it back in ‘pocket money’ – mine for example pretty much wiped out my savings at the age of 18. And if they are expensive – what does this say about the access of future ministry for those for whom finances might be a barrier. Some Gap years do offer the options of PT work during the course, but the equality and access issues remain, especially in a team situation. let alone a burnout situation during the year, and is a year of burnout a good starting point for a ‘taster’ time in Ministry..?
  2. If a church is lucky to have a team of gap years, then as they are able to create lots of new opportunities, groups and clubs, because there are more than 1 of them – then how might a church sustain this new work? or more importantly not just the work, but the hopefully positive relationships that have been started between the workers and young people. Not letting gap year teams ‘just get on with it’ in the course of a year would be beneficial for a church in the long term.
  3. Gap year people are trained during the year – and not always on the most immediately useful aspects of youthwork, or mission, or ministry. Ill let the Oasis 1996 guys off this one, as Youthwork/ministry was still relatively in its infancy even then, though the book list and reading was impressive, it did include Ashton and Moon, David Watson and Jim Packer – the latter two being evangelical theologians, all of only some use for community work amongst (oppressed) young people in Hartlepool. But the point being, the gap year person may only have a small bank of reference (personal experience & theory) to draw from in their development of groups, activities and mission locally. And, thinking about point 2 – in very few occasions might gap year people be able to increase local capacity of volunteers by training and supervising them, when their own practice is in a formational stage. It can happen, but unlikely- this is still the churches/agencies role.
  4. Will taking on a Gap Year person/team – diminish the role of your current volunteers, or disempower them? Does the ministry of your church need to ‘grow’ with new people. or deepen with the equipping of existing people, including the young people as junior leaders for sunday school, or leaders at all. Would i as a young person be given more or less opportunities to serve in a church if there was a group of ‘strangers’ imported to do some of the roles? Is it better to be a sending church of young people on gap years elsewhere, or a receiving one.. and how can you enable this to happen…?
  5. What long term strategy do you have as a church? And how is a gap year person/team part of that strategy? Is a critical question – for then at least they and you will know what they are needed to do as part of their role.
  6. Will having Gap Year people for youth ministry in a church reinforce the notion that working with young people is a young persons game? what does this say about how a church values young people – that they’re not worth personally investing in, but paying for potential outsiders to deal with..? And people who pay for the privaledge at that. Are there different options available for a church if they dont have resources to maintain current youth provision, that a gap year person? Will your young people benefit from ministry from people in the congregation of experience, from faithful disciples, or… emerging adults who are in training?
  7. Having existing work with volunteers will enable the gap year person to settle in, but for them to be challenged they might need space to develop and have volunteers ready to help them, so its worth having a pool of people ready.
  8. Give the Gap year people the chance to be thought of in their own right, actually this is the same for youthworkers, and ministers. No one likes being compared to the previous team, minister, youthworker, what they did/didnt do. These Gap year people have this one year that might help form them into a future vocational calling, help them to make it work for them too.
  9. There will be a culture shift and shock- especially if the student is new to the area and just left home. Maybe not so if theyre older, or have been to Uni – but your context will be different to what they know. And it will take time for them to understand, settle and be able to be effective in that context – some say, and id agree, one year isnt long enough for this to happen. But no one wants to do a gap year for 7 years.
  10. If you’re in a situation where you host a gap year student or team, and they have signed up to a charity/organisation to do this, and they send the team to you – is there a ‘serving a poor’ area power imbalance, and might you be in danger of being a CV filler for a young adult on their step to a university education who need to show ‘compassion’. But seriously – are you wanting to be viewed as a charity case? or your young people as needy, underprivledged (compared to the ‘rich’ gap year person, from X place where they can afford to pay for the gap year) – is this a power imbalance that you feel is appropriate for you, your church or the young people?  Nothing worse than being on the receiving end of charity for a long period of time, or the place where people are ‘sent to’..?
  11. Saying all this, The Gap Year, is often highly beneficial for the person participating in it, and that is a good thing. Many develop new skills, life experiences and even stay in ‘the ministry’ in a number of forms. If they can do a gap year that has decent qualifications, like level 3, diploma or degree then all the better. If they have good supervision, management and support than better still. However, i do wonder whether the gap year person stands to benefit more than the church at times, in the long run.
  12. Oh, and lets not forget the young people again. This is a relationship, relational orientated type of work. Yes, gradually if more and more gap year people are involved in a church the young people might become desensitised to the emotional connections that could be made, ie ‘theyll get over it’ or ‘we’ll get another one’ but that means that young people are having to cope with another potentially emotionally difficult situation, caused in churches, at the same time as all the other emotionally challenging situations in their lives already. Young people and new, ‘even for a year’ gap year people will make some kind of emotional connection. It happens, so be ready for it, and think about the effect of this on the young people you have in the church. There is nearly always a leaving moment for gap year people – even if they do 2-3 years, they usually leave. If your youth ministry in a church is based upon a relationship strategy, then will a gap year student help with this? especially if they will only be able to connect with young people for a year?  Different if its a programme or ministry strategy where they don’t connect in small groups with young people, and just preach or do assemblies or lessons.
  13. On a positive, I have found that being a youthworker in an organisation and having a gap year student alongside can be really helpful to start new work, or maintain activities, the questions over whether this is in the long term helpful for upskilling existing volunteers and young adults in a church is still valid though. But in an ecumenical type organisation this is a very helpful resource.

Yes taking on gap year people or teams, can be a great way of increasing ministries in churches, existing groups, giving volunteers an extra hand, and meeting new people, sharing your ministry and work with them, and educating them, discipling them as part of their time with you would be of critical importance, and they use the time to build on experiences and knowledge of your setting, and so it is then less about what they can do for you, and what you can do for them in practice, knowledge and life experience. Will a gap year person light sparks, yet – might they be disruptive – yes – will they realise it… probably not!, Will they be keen to learn, hopefully, will they transform your church and save a lost generation…only if you as a church are already in that business already and not leaving it up to them to do on your behalf.

So, my year on Oasis Teams was a hugely challenging, formational and informative one, some things ill never forget, some things ill want to but cant. Im still involved in youth work and mission, as are a few others in my year, and others before and after. Undertaking a gap year, in the current economic climate is a risk, or an opportunity for someone who wants to have experience in ministry before academic qualification. Its a risk for a church too, and young people, and also an opportunity. But undertaking it without thinking it through for the student, the church congregation and more importantly the young people is crucial.

Investing in volunteers is better that employing a professional youthworker

Yesterday i wrote a piece about what a church needs to do, if they were thinking about employing a youthworker as a member of staff within a church, to help with the designated need and work required. However, during today i have realised that this is a luxury that many churches have absolutely no hope of even thinking of, given tight resources and budgets. Having no young people is not an excuse however, as id argue that a youthworker should be employed to do mission work in a local community amongst young people whom the church doesnt yet know in a pioneering way, more so than in situations where their role is almost solely within a church & groups setting. But thats another discussion. So if its resources that prevent you from being able to employ a youthworker, or some other reason, then there are a number of alternatives open to you, that as a church should be done and are probably being done, with a few hints & tips that might be of use.

  1. Invest in current volunteers by giving good supervision, training and opportunities for challenge, growth and reflection. In effect disciple them in their current roles. If you have no volunteers- see point 9.
  2. Develop opportunities for training for current volunteers, like a rat in London, you’re probably not more than 10 miles from an unemployed or youth worker in need of a small extra job to deliver some training for your volunteers.  In house training in the context is ALWAYS more beneficial than sending volunteers to conferences, dont believe the hype about conferences. Get training you need specific to you and ask a youth worker about what they can offer, many should be able to lead sessions on group work & dynamics, ways of using the bible, reflection, conversations, young peoples issues. Yes you might have to pay for a days training, but itll be worth it. and more value for money than most conferences. and specific.
  3. Use some of the latest books on youth work & youth ministry as study materials in home groups for the leaders, yes its not the Bible – but neither were Nooma DVDs. As a start, ‘the art of youthwork’ by Kerry young, or ‘youthwork and the mission of God’ by Pete Ward are accessible and informative.
  4. Use the resources available from affiliation staff, Diocesan youth advisers those sorts of people.
  5. Facilitate ideas and vision days for the work with young people, and again arrange for someone to help you with that.
  6. Develop leadership skills with the children and young people so that they take on responsibility and decision making as part of the groups, as part of their discipleship – surely you dont need a youthworker to do that..
  7. You may be able to find a year out type youth worker locally depending if an organisation locally has them, but be aware they often take as much managing and will arrive with little training (regardless of what the leaders tell you) and may take a while to fit in. They also usually leave after less than a year. (this isnt the time to do a pros-cons of gap years, but getting ‘one’ is no walk in the park, but its an option)
  8. A similar option might be a placement student from one of the few university courses doing christian youthwork/ministry. This will depend on your location, and on resources again, its an option. You could ‘share’ a student with another local church, again an option.
  9. You, if you’re clergy reading this, might have to lead in discipling the young people, and thats maybe not your calling, but if taking a lead disciple role in discipling others isnt the role of clergy..? Maybe the young people currently in the church are too important to not be given the professional spiritual guidance that you are equipped to offer. For their sake, building a supportive relationship with a member of the clergy might have a much more significant impact on them, than effectively outsourcing it to dare i say it ‘ a youthworker’ or a one year gap yr student. There’s plenty of help around if you want it, see points above.

Sometimes the best option isnt to get the external person in, invest in who you have already. Especially as these people might be less likely to leave, and be able to support the young people for longer. It’s then about finding ways and approaches of working that enable both the volunteers and young people to be discipled. It’s not about running groups, but about discipling young people, so find ways that work. If its movie & sports nights with prayer, bible chat and lighting candles, then do this. And not unlike the

And not unlike the emmaus road, sometimes joining them in that discipleship, and other times be prepared to allow them to walk alone to discuss, think and reflect, question and react. If the group work model requires too many helpers, then find another one. Be Creative and consult with the young people. Let them lead you in this process.

The alternative to a youth worker, might not be a youth worker at all. it might be a church with a culture that all are disciples with responsibility to disciple everyone else. Young people might not be so different- just need time, space and respect, theyre not so separate or distinctive in any way.

 

 

What do you do on a quiet night on detached?

Over the years, there have been countless wonderful, engaging moments with groups of young people on detached, and you’d be forgiven that us detached workers give too good an impression of the amazing time, like some kind of evangelist for the work. Yet as well as the good/busy/interactive nights there can be plenty of nights where this is not the case, and if you’re a detached worker, and the night is quiet, here are a few tips to keep you going:

1. Remember that as a youthworker, your regularity in a space is a good thing, young people can choose to interact with you if you’re there, they cant if you’re not

2. Its a good opportunity to team build with your volunteers, chat with them and have conversation as you walk around.

3. Continue to observe the nature of the community in the space, the movement of people, buses, travel through, dog walkers, other adults

4. Reflect with your volunteers about of their experiences of detached thus far, personal challenges, essence of the work, conversations, referrals, groups thus far

5. The community will still see you, whether its young people on the streets, but others will and may be inquisitive, being involved in the wider community is no bad thing, use this to help gain acceptance and influence

6. Use the time to do informal training with the volunteers as you walk around with them, pick a theme, ie ethics, boundaries or challenges and talk through it with them

7. On a quiet night use the opportunity to maybe walk to areas that you wouldnt normally do, expand your remit, just for the odd occasion, take on a wider span

8. Realise that every night you are in a particular area is another opportunity to be accustomed to the space, whether its dark or light, and to be more confident in the space, so that its easier to use when its full of young people.

9. Keep a sense of humour, make the most of a quiet night, if you’ve done your research you’ll know its just a blip

There may be other things you can do, and please comment here to add your own to help other detached youthworkers. There is no such thing as a wasted evening on detached.

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