Can detached youthwork be ‘asset based’ and develop young peoples gifts?

We’ll not speak to those young people – they’ve not got alcohol on them

They appear to be ok, we’ll leave them alone

I doubt if its them who are causing the anti social behaviour calls

These are all phrases I have used on detached youthwork. Its that thing where you go out, of an evening, to try and talk with young people on the streets, develop contact and relationship, and all of sudden in the heat of the moment, a whole load of baggage arises to the surface that kind of stops me from doing what i might be meant to be doing.

In a busy environment like a city centre where i did detached youth work a few years ago, it may have been possible to make those filter judgements because it was always busy. On a smaller community estate where there might only be a few groups of young people having this in built filter might mean it could be a quiet evening.  At least quiet because all the young people we see are being normal decent young people, playing in parks, kicking a ball around, and not really need us. More importantly, that we in those moments dont see that they are worth working with.

Because they dont display needs

Because they dont show us in their actions that they fulfil funding criteria

Because they seem sorted

Because we might not be able to tick boxes in working with them

Because its not what we’re about.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of delivering detached youthwork training to a group of sessional staff just north of Inverness. The feedback from them was really positive and it was a great 2 days. One of things that shaped the planning of these sessions for me was how focussed on ‘needs’ the teams, and communities were in relation to developing detached youthwork. There were kids playing near railways (single track lines with one train per 2 hours- not intercity lines, ((and even the intercity line has 2 trains per hour, hardly busy.. however) , young people starting to gather near to some town centres, vandalism and stone throwing. Whilst none of these issues are in any way pleasant, positive and they cause significant harm, and fear and isues about safety, of course. Often detached youthwork starts off from a perspective of need. Though to be fair also, much reactionary youthwork in buildings has done the same .

Conversations about moving from needs to gifts have occured in community development practice, and in youth work generally.  Peter Harts article in Youth and Policy 117  does identify that asset and needs based approaches do run concurrently in youthwork at times, he argues that

However, I would argue that as a general framework in which to understand the differences in
approach to out-of-hours work with young people between secular and Christian organisations is
through their occupational paradigm, model of youth work and assumptions about young people,
approach to risk, and dominant philosophy of ethics. (Hart, 2015, Youth and Policy 115)

Saying that needs and gifts are both part of the equation.

One of the recent new books I have been given for free from the North East Resources centre  is the following one : ‘Dont Shoot I’m a detached youthworker’ by Inez and Mike Burgess. Im reading the first few pages and see the following:

  • The service we provide is ‘needs‘ led (page 8)
  • identify groups of young people in patch and record any relevant dialogue linked toissues and needs…….(page 10)
  • listen carefully to young peoples thoughts allows a good detached youthworker to develop a while range of dialogue, as well as gaining information about the basic picture of young persons needs (page 12)

Now,  this is one of the few recent detached youthwork books that i hadnt read, and its why i lapped up a free copy. However, I am acutely aware of how influential this book is. I am also aware that issues and needs get youth workers to the streets  (i feel its like fascists bring citizens with milkshakes to the high streets) . And Peter Hart may be on to something, and my experiences, not just in Inverness but with FYT are that detached youthwork that is not primarily funding or community police set up can have a more positive footing.  It meant that to talk about young people and their gifts, their assets and use detached youthwork to focus on their was refreshing and powerful to the group of workers in Inverness.

Yet, I wouldnt be sticking my neck out too far to say that developing detached youthwork on the basis of the gifts of young people might be rare. To start with viewing young people with more dignity and humanity. To start by enabling young people to be part of the decision making process about any youthwork provision, to have conversations with them about their passions, their dreams, their abilities and how they might contribute to enable these to occur. And that could be all young people.

Somehow sadly, detached youthwork may be stuck in a needs orientated paradigm, created by those who need it a soft way of addressing community fears ( by the police) and this, as Peter says above, will shape the approach, or at least be the guiding lenses within which to develop practice into. Have predetermined issues, discover needs and then bam!, problem solved. But it isnt is it.

It is almost as if detached youthwork really isnt caught between the two stools of assets and needs, more that it is caught between a rock of funding and reaction – or none at all. Because of this, the many young people who are just being around, who are still victims in a society which has cut services to them by a staggering amount, are even likely to be given opportunities to thrive, to participate and to be decision makers in their own provision.

I wonder if it is more difficult to do ‘asset based’ detached youthwork out on the streets, because the setting is already so politicised and deemed ‘anti-social’, ‘frightening’ – that its difficult to see past all of this when trying to talk with young people. This may be different to when young people are in buildings that are youth orientated, its only a guess or a thought. Can young people show their gifts on the streets – of course they can – it is just up to us to look and maybe intentially look and find them.

Maybe any detached youthwork in the UK is better than none, and it wouldnt take a university study to reveal how decimated detached youth work has been in the last 10 years. But, if detached youthwork is to come back – and there are signs it might do – can those of us who develop it do their level best to shape it in a way that is about not identifying groups and problems, but discovering the gifts, abilities and good things about young people, and enabling them to explore their dreams, potential and how they want to make a difference. In this case, we have to sort out our langauge, our questions, and how we start from scratch. What if detached youthwork could enable young people to develop their gifts?  What might asset based detached youthwork look like?  (and im sure its happening, please if you do this, share details below)

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‘To solve the church and society’s problems; we just need to get those feral young people into church’

Or at least, that’s what we want to pay a youth worker to do.

Harsh? Or deep down is this what churches are really thinking?

Twice in the last year I have heard the word ‘feral’ used to describe groups of young people.

As many times more have I heard that getting young people into church is the only answer to solving their problems.

Forgive me for just a little over sensitivity.

But WHAT THE ACTUAL F***?

Has brexit unleashed a whole new generation of intolerant uncompassionate baby boomer/late retireds who have a compassion and humanity chip missing?

Have church leaders forgotten what love and ‘people made in the image of God’ looks like?

Has personal blame, rather than community responsibility and societies ills been sidelined?

Or is church still set in Victorian ways.. still happy to feel colonial and superior and retain this by the use of Victorian language.

So I’m bloody mad.

But if this is actually what we’re thinking as churches when it comes to working with young people, then churches and the congregations in them have got to own this.

Own that this is how they actually feel about young people. Own that working with young people is only code for ‘bringing them into church’. Own that they are scared and frightened of young people, and where these feeling originate. Often from the media, and when powerful leaders in churches use negative stories of the world outside and young people’s actions. Own it and be honest. Own it and challenge i. Own it and be collectively self aware.

I just don’t think the problem is with young people.

It’s with us.

It’s with the us who know better

It’s with the us who still believe

It’s with the us who hope that change is possible

It’s with us if we have any desire to realise that God’s love is inclusive.

It’s our problem. It’s our problem as church if this is our starting point. Or what we actually mean, but try and hide it.

It’s our problem if we believe some young people are worth more in the kingdom of God than others.

It’s our problem if the culture of church favours the behaved. Or people only like us.

It’s these expectations that cause challenges with employing youthworkers. But if it’s out in the open. We have to own it.

I may be critical and angry. But this is also heartfelt passion.

‘Sorry and We have got it wrong’ have to be the starting point. We will not provide reconciling spaces if we’ve already judged.

Whole communities do need restoring, encouraging, loving, understanding and being present in.

Those feral young people might be the key.

Those feral young people have had their life opportunities restricted by austerity policies that weren’t their fault.

Those feral young people are angry. Those feral young people need compassion not criticism.

Those feral young people are creative, determined, passionate and resourceful, and God is provoking us through them. They are the visionaries a dying church needs.

Those feral young people, and not other, they are not scum.

Those feral young people… are not other, they are us.

Maybe we do need to understand before were understood.

Maybe hearts need breaking first. Ours.

Maybe anger is a good thing.

God, please one day might there be a church where ‘those’ young people are welcome, understood, loved and cherished. And I hope it is in my lifetime and I am able to play a part in it happening.

And I haven’t started on the ‘getting them into church bit..’…

How has austerity left struggling young people behind? A teacher speaks out:

In between the all- consuming story of Brexit on the main news over the last few weeks, the BBC ran a story a few weeks ago on the challenges that young people who display challenging behaviour, or who have diagnosed conditions have in school. More to the point the piece focused on the isolation procedures and in the same week the guardian did a piece on the off gridding that schools were seemingly resorting too.
The BBC piece showed the isolation booths being used by schools as part of discipline procedures, and then the effect this had on young people themselves.
The article from the BBC report is here: ‘I felt like i didnt exist’    and the report itself is here
do have a look before reading further.
As a result of me posting this report on social media, a teacher, who wanted to stay anonymous, wanted to share with me, and via this blog, their story of being involved in education, and the effect of and on young people. It is a fascinating read and response to the piece.
As youthworkers – who will mainly read this, or teachers who might also do so, there is much to reflect on. There is also a system to continue to challenge for the sake of everyone that has humanity and the flourishing of persons at its heart, anyway, here it a teachers view:
Having been a teacher for nearly 20 years in an area with selective and non-selective schools, I have seen the effects of poor behaviour on education. Schools must cater for a huge variety of students with varying conditions and issues. Unfortunately, educators are not always equipped to cater for and manage these issues in the classes they teach and, when things get really bad, schools must show they are doing something to offer a suitable provision to the students; maintain a semblance of education for that individual; whilst also allowing the class they were in (and the teachers affected) respite from the anxieties and actions of said individual.
When I began my teaching career, schools were able to refer students to ‘alternative provisions’. Though difficult environments, these provisions usually offered affected students a smaller, safer, more intimate environment to engage with teachers and education.
Unfortunately, funding has put a halt to these provisions running effectively and, in some cases, running at all.
Schools have found that teaching is out-dated or poorly supported so students make no progress and, if there until Year 11, leave with no qualifications.
Schools are,  more and more often, managing exclusions (temporary and permanent) within the mainstream environment.
Effective provisions can be a safe inclusion zone within the school where a child is ‘isolated’ from their peers in a room, usually with a supportive member of staff or school (senior or middle) leader to monitor them. These staff members will usually engage in conversation and offer support with work. The meaning of ‘isolation’ has perhaps been sensationalized in the press of late with some students (and potentially their parents) realising a voice is being given to their complaints of infringement on human rights…sadly many people fail to realise what this truly means. Isolation should not be confused with ‘solitary confinement’ and is a part of the education environment which focuses on learning both academically and socially.
The need for classrooms to be consistent and effective learning environments whilst also facing the challenges of increasing class sizes (teacher recruitment and retention is a whole other factor to figure in) will undoubtedly mean this issue does not pass by quickly. Schools are, additionally, judged on the exclusions made and, in order to show they are not opting for exclusions as the immediate response to more severe behaviour breaches, they are putting the above mentioned isolation rooms in place.
It should be noted that external exclusions – where students are sent home to be supervised by parents – have become more and more ineffective. Working parents cannot monitor their child at home and, if at home, most parents are not able or willing to enforce the need to complete school work on an excluded student. Thus, an external exclusion becomes a ‘day off’…more of a treat than a punishment. The internal isolation provision allows for student to be monitored in school.
Some schools may cultivate an environment which allows for the brightest and most compliant; though many non-selective and comprehensive schools are working tirelessly to instill in students of all social and cultural demographics to abide by rules which support being resilient, caring and co-operative. Work is constantly done to support students beyond the school gates and now, much more than when I even started teaching, students are seen as a holistic person with feelings, anxieties and experiences which may affect so much about their learning.
Many schools are providing counselling services, support services and educational services in order to support students and their families. There are very few external support centres (Sure Start type provisions exist in very few areas). Funding is pretty much non-existent and (already stretched) school budged must now factor in so much more than just teaching and learning.  Links to churches and youth services are invaluable – where available.
It saddened me that, the other day when I mentioned a youth club, a 14 year old boy asked me ‘What is a youth club?’. I became a teacher out of youth work experiences and have seen a steady decline in what is provided out of school for students. The traditional clubs (Brownies, Guides, Scouts, Boys/Girls Brigades) seem to be less popular amongst certain groups of teens and there’s a gap in what can offered to them.  I still dream of owning a house a la Byker Grove and allowing a safe space for social interactions, sports and activities out of school because, ultimately, teenagers need to believe they are ok: their struggles are real, their anxieties are fair; their failings need carefully patching up and pushing back on into the world again.
Schools can’t do it all and get it all right…so somehow there needs to be the funding because it’s the perpetual truth that the teenagers are today are the adults of tomorrow and we should be nurturing them.’
There is much to reflect on, here, and I thank the teacher for wanting to share these reflections with me, and with you.
To conclude, and in support of teachers, i will end with the words of Paulo Freire:
‘There is something mysterious, something called ‘vocation’, that explains why so many teachers persist with so much devotion in spite of the immoral salaries they receive (though this may have changed a little) . Not only do they remain, but they fulfil as best they can their commitment. I would like to emphasise that even the loving commitment to ones task does not dispense with the political struggle in favour of ones rights as a teacher, the dignity of ones profession, and the care due to the students and the teaching space that both teacher and student share’  (Freire, Ethics, Democracy and civic courage, 1998, p128)
What needs to change – where do we start..?
Thank you for reading, another of the pieces on this blog on austerity and its effect on young people is here , and there are many others on this theme.
All my work on this site is done for free, if you would like to make a donation, you can do so on the link on the right. Thank you

Youthwork is good for young people and society , heres 50 reasons why (#yww18)

Its Friday of National Youth work week and to celebrate all things positive and empowering about youthwork practices in the UK.

The NYA have run a campaign on describing youthwork, and the evidence of these can be seen via Twitter here are few of the images, from the twitter feed, to capture some of the sense of what youthwork means to many people involved in it:

 

But what does the sector and the many 100’s of youth workers say about themselves- for, it is one thing stating what youthwork is all about – another describing the good it does for young people and society. Over the last 24 hours I have shared on twitter and facebook

(via the In defence of youthwork page)  the question as described above:

In what way is youthwork (or ‘are youthworkers’) good for young people and society? 

These were the responses to this question, unfiltered and unsorted:

  1. Believe in them
  2. Support, encourage and cheerlead
  3. Trust them
  4. Love them
  5. Deal in hope
  6. See potential, not problems
  7. Meet the needs that teachers struggle due to the formality of their jobs
  8. Guide, support and enthuse
  9. Start where the young person is at
  10. Be there
  11. They are trained listeners
  12. Advocate rights
  13. Helps young people develop real life skills to cope as adults
  14. Transforms young peoples lives through meaningful mutual engagement, allows young people to fulfil their potentials
  15. Provides young people with a safe space where they are able to be themselves and realise their potential – coming from someone who has been youth worked since she was 11 and loved it so much that 10 years later she’s a youth worker!
  16. Gives spaces for young people to throw off pressure to grow up too fast & be young, have fun.
  17. Gives vulnerable teens a place to be safe and access services that can help and support them
  18. Offers young people the chance to access a vast range of opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t
  19. The encourage growth and enhance their future chances
  20. To give young people a voice and give them a listening ear to hear and reflect issues that are important to them an not the system
  21. Enables young people the opportunity to develop unique relationships, where they can question, be heard and feel valued. These relationships are different to parents, teachers and peers, being based on mutual trust and respect, with the young person at the centre.
  22. It’s a relationship which the young person chooses to participate in, in which the young person is valued as a whole person. This relationship is a safe space to explore and the only agenda is around the young person’s growth and development as a whole person.
  23. Because it offers safe relationships with adults outside of the family which is beneficial for young people
  24. It’s the only service that has a voluntary relationship with young people for me it was the first time I ever felt listened to and valued inspiring me to become a youth worker which I feel is a privilege
  25. A youth worker advocates and protects the interests of young persons
  26. Enables young people to build positive relationships with other young people and adults outside of their family
  27. It may make better adults!
  28. Providing valuable informal education that is not provided in schools and homes. This can be life changing for some young people
  29. Youth work provides at least one example of an adult who can empathise with and think like a young person – bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood. An example of how you can continue to be yourself even into adulthood, rather than change to ‘become and adult’
  30. Give young people some time and space to be their true selves
  31. Empower them
  32. Actively inspires and enables self determination
  33. Takes support to them, in their community, in places they feel safe and people they feel confident around
  34. Offers a space for young people to develop their authentic self through an accountable social education programme, which allows for mistakes and growth
  35. Youthwork offers a safe space for young people to be themselves be heard be supported be empowered and treated with respect
  36. All young people feel respected and valued
  37. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve met now “grown up’s” who tell me how brilliant a youth club session/residential/activity was which they took part in and others who sought me out for support as adults because they remember what we did as youth workers.
  38. Inclusive and challenges young people to explore their identity in society
  39. An adult yp can laugh/ have fun with but also be safeguarded by! Without youth workers referrals to early help services and social care would be higher!
  40. when a young person see’s that a youth worker doesn’t hold the weight of judgement in their eyes when they look at them it makes the young person lighter, they feel that they can shed the weight of years of being taught they are worthless.
  41. Youth work can be a place of political education and political participation of young people, with the aim of having social action.
  42. It’s a place where young people can test out ideas around identity, belonging etc and open up their world view by meeting people they may not normally come into contact with, trying new things and having their viewpoints challenged.
  43. To help with transition to adulthood
  44. Youth work changes young peoples lives for the better. It plays a transformative and educative role in the personal and social development young people. It helps young people explore and understand their own and others identity and gives them the skills knowledge and tools to positively impact, change and shape the world around them
  45. Helps young people connect with their community and become valid members of it
  46. Youth work embraces and celebrates young peoples lived experiences without judgement
  47. Youth work enables young people to grow in understanding of themselves, those around them and the society in which they live. In addition, to having their own space to have fun, free of judgement.
  48. Despite the overall feel of some of these statements, I think it is also important to note that youth work as a practice does not see young people as victims or in need of ‘saving’ as such, unlike many other professions working with young people. Youthworkers work with young people to empower them, and believe they can source their own power. Youth workers aim to understand the world from the young person perspective, respecting their choices, feelings and views, and providing accurate information so young people can make their own informed choices. This also means sometimes (often) we have to watch as they make, what we believe are mistakes, and be there, without judgement when they are ready to engage.

With two from me: 

49. Youthwork give young people the opportunity to build a relationship with an adult in which they can choose to say no. 

50. Youthwork provides a way of helping communities think better of young people through social and community activism, narrating a positive story of young people. 

 

Wow…

 

At the end of youthwork week, lets endorse, celebrate and cheer for all the good that youthworkers do, in all the many places where voluntary relationships occur between themselves and young people, in organisation buildings, on the streets, community centres and churches, lets remember how much of what we are all doing and trying to do for young people we share many values, dreams and desires for the discovering of young peoples gifts, abilities and exploring with them places in the community and the future orientated , youthful fight and frustration we need to accomplish this. For all who stand in the gap, who take on the fight of funding bids, trustee meetings, community hostility and pressure from systems, outcomes and managerial expectations for the sake of young peoples rights, participation and welfare, be encouraged, and thank you.

Is the tide turning ? We hope so. And if these 50 reasons aren’t good enough to convince policy makers and funders of the value of youthwork, then Im sure we can think of 50 more.

Thank you for all you contributed to this piece with your comments and responses to this question. It would take another piece to credit you all individually, so thank you.

Church; Be thankful that being young and trendy isnt the starting point to developing good youth work

Which is quite a relief. Isnt it.

The amount of times I hear, ‘but we’re just a bunch of old people, no young people will relate to us’ – or ‘we’re just too different from them’ or ‘we’re too old’  … And it makes me sometimes want to scream.

The fact may well be that unless youv’e been blessed with an eternal youth or maybe even decide that you didn’t want to grow up since being a teenager, then the chances are that in a number of ways you will be distant from the exact goings on in the lives of young people. Even this year all the exam grading changed again, so yes, GCSES are 1-9, not A** to F. Not to mention that they don’t buy singles anymore. (i know..) They use words like woke, and sick. Image result for trendy

So, when it comes to working with young people an ageing church could feel like it is unable to , because it feels out of touch, only ‘in touch’ because of the ad hoc moments with grandchildren, or ‘what they see on the news’ about young people. That distance keeps widening. And at the same time as young people are into well, who knows what they are into, you’re more likely to be found in the garden centre than the shopping centre.

There have been two competing strands in youth ministry, and they seem to be at loggerheads. The first is that youth ministry has strived to be relevant. Which can mean trying to keep up.

The second is that there is a call for those who work with young people to be authentic.

I dont think it is possible to have both. And young people normally see through the former, and ultimately prefer the latter.

The problem is that in churches we have convinced ourselves that the former is more important, trying to keep up, trying to ‘entertain’, trying to ‘keep’ and ‘attract’ young people will take a certain kind of youthful looking energy driven relevancy. But will it? Of course the problem with this thinking is that the numbers of 20-30 year olds in the church has dropped so significantly (because the previous generation of young people in the church escaped by 1/3) – then its left to the few 40-60 year olds to do youth work. Including the retired teachers, the clergy, the volunteers, the mums and dads. And there is no point in all of them trying to be cool. Because for them cool was wicked. Cool was the 80’s. Cool may have even been the Beatles. And so, if this generation of people thinks that they need to be cool, trendy or relevant to work with young people – then frankly there wont be any youth work done by churches in the UK. or at least not soon. And trying to be trendy is hard work and counter productive, because its fake. Its also not hugely respectful of young people and the space they might be trying to create for themselves.

Image result for trendyFortunately, and thankfully, there are ways of making youth work not about those who lead it. Its not about us, thankfully. Its about the young people. (and its about God, but thats for another piece). Very early in my youth work vocation i realised that the sooner we realise that youthwork is about being interested in young people, rather than them being interested in us, the better. We do have to be interested in the lives of local young people. That just takes some hard work, listening, learning and being present. What is going on?

What is going on with young people and how they communicate, how they travel around the local area, how they use local facilities, how they cope with situations, how some have access to opportunities compared to others…

What is going on in regard to young peoples mental health, well being, fitness, spirituality?

What is going on in regard to pressure, expectation, fears, dreams and ambitions?

What is going on in regard to helping young people use their gifts, skills, abilities not harnessed elsewhere?

If we can re-tune our thinking to think about young people and be interested in them, have empathy with them, connect with them then this causes any youth work to be about them, not about us. And ask – what might we be able to do to help young people? to be practical in their situation? What if the church can provide spaces and resources for young people to develop their own space, activity and community action? Rather than be ‘leaders’ of it?  Running a youth group is tiring, energy sapping and sometimes feels a lost cause, but – from the outset why not develop a participative approach where young people gather to make it happen using the safe welcoming space that could be in the church hall or main building.

If were interested, and have a desire to do good, and desire to show empathy – a desire that might be counter cultural in todays polorised generational society where young is pitted against old, and vice versa- this isnt Biblical its the Daily Mail remember. Then this might go a long way to trying to be authentic. It may well also be relevant, but in a more meaningful way that ‘just trying to be trendy’.

You dont have to be trendy to empathise, or trendy to listen, or trendy to walk alongside a young person, or to help them flourish, or to build rapport with them, or to mentor them, disciple them.

Maybe we do have to be youthful though, a kind of youthfulness that believes that young people can dream, can hope, can make something of themselves in the community their are in, a youthfulness that has hope for the future. A youthfulness that wants to still make a difference, however corny that sounds, and accompany that with a state of mind that doesn’t want to be the person who takes the credit for being that ‘difference-maker’. If we’ve given up on youthfulness and a that state of mind, then it might be argued that we’ve also given up on God and his redemptive transforming power, and lost sight of the eternal goal.

Be thankful you dont have to be trendy to start working with young people. And there are countless ‘un-trendy’ people who are being the saltiest salt and brightest light in the light of young people across the UK, but by providing places of welcome, conversation, listening and hope. Someone to talk with, a person who is there. Something this seemingly insignificant to our large ministry or weekly activities is hugely significant to every single young person, lets not forget this.

That doesnt mean to say you might not need advice, or guidance or support in trying something new – remembering that you may have survived the type of youth ministry you were subjected to – but others didnt and that might not be the best starting point today. But start with young people now, not history, or programmes, start by listening and learning in the local and the present. Shake off the shackles of falseness and attraction thinking and build from the ground, and build with young people not just in mind but present from the outset.

 

Should churches view young people as ministers?

What shall we do with young people when they grow out of messy church?

How do we integrate young people into the life of the church?

We do really great childrens work, but youths..?

These are three of the most common questions that I hear on a regular basis from church leaders and congregations in regard to a church working with young people.

I wouldnt say from the outset that there is a magic answer to solve all of these particular questions. however I do think that there is a game to be raised when it comes to thinking about how churches think of young people, which may be a start.youth[1]

There has been notable advances in recent times at churches starting to use terms like ‘learning from children and young people’ rather than ‘teaching them’ and these are creditable. A shift to more child and young person centered education methods (though espoused in the 1960’s in Sunday school unions¹) have put specific young people at the forefront of curriculum design, rather than external programmes, again, all positive. So how young people are regarded in churches is a big deal. As you may know I have written before on the different attitudes that are had in regard to young people, from them ‘not being ready’, to being ‘aliens’, ‘scary’ or too precious and wrapped up in cotton wool – all of these attitudes are featured in this post : young people as saints of the present, not church of the future . In this post, I reflected further on young people being seen as theologians and using some of the themes within adolescent development, think about how their theological reflection changes. More often than not implicit messages like ‘you’re not ready’ or ‘you dont know enough’ are put as barriers to young peoples perception, and many of these are projections, fears and attempts to maintain control.

But, if youth ministry, is all about Ministry – why not conceive the idea, or permeate the concept, that young people have a Ministry and this is what the church is to enable to develop and flourish?

When I say ‘ministry’ , i don’t mean that they get to be underpaid, undervalued and be lumped with a whole load of initiatives and administration for little thanks…what I  mean, what if young people were thought of, not as followers, disciples or ‘a group’ – but as Ministers of the gospel? But i do mean called, and prompted and hear the voice of God in the midst towards acts of ministry.

Would churches, sunday schools, messy churches and youth fellowships be transformed if their primary task was to discover and enable the ministry of young people to occur – rather that be bent on programmes, learning, containment, safety and entertainment? 

What if each young person has a ministry to give to the local church, to the local community that needs awakening, acknowledging, and then using to its full potential? 

I hazard a guess at yes. What if, as I suggested in my previous post. Youth Ministry was about the ministry of young people – and not the ministry of adults teaching at young people?

One of the sad truths is that for many in their churches, many adults, they have pottered along in churches for such a long time and not realise or have their own ministry recognised, because it hasnt fit with the norm. Only the other day someone in a church suggested to me that they felt passionate about litter, and the environment, and they aged post retirement had discovered a real new passion for this, but I wonder even if it was suggested how ‘ the environment’ might become a church’s overall mandate – for some it does and there are eco churches – but my point is that for many even in churches their ministry goes unnoticed and they are put onto rotas, leadership and organisation.The trouble is is then to ask questions about how young people might be ministers is to do so possibly in cultures where what determines ministry is already set.

So lets open it up a bit.

Starting with Andrew Root. For, though I have on many occasions in previous blogs talked about developing young people as ‘performers of the Gospel’ within churches and communities, it is Andrew Root, in Faith Formation who put forward, for me, the concept of young people as Ministers. In Faith Formation, one of the main thrusts of of Root is to ask ;what is faith? and ‘how is faith formed’ and though not always specifically related to young people, he highlights the issues created in practices of MTD youth Ministry stating that faith it seems has been more about an addition to life, rather that , as he suggests, a deduction within life. A Calling out of the material towards the sacrificial. a discovery of the ‘in christ’ of Faith- and what that might mean to be active in the same faith of Christ. stating:

We become like God by sharing in Gods energy, which we do by joining God action and being ministers²

For young people, what might faith formation look like if it was about joining in with God’s actions and being Ministers?  Its a challenging question. I think. For so long we’ve thought of what weve done as youth ministers to be the ministry, and not think so much about how our ministry might be to harness the ministry of young people. If i was to be critical of Andrew Root, it might be that the view of Ministry that he espouses is somewhat limited, albeit probably confined to the ‘application’ section of the book. I may also want to suggest that Theodrama provides a better platform and structure to some of his arguments about divine action, but thats for another piece (or a previous one somewhere in the archives). But back to young people as Ministers.

Developing this further, if Young people are to be regarded as Ministers in churches – this becomes a question about ‘what ministry is’ and also what is the church and how is ministry part of it? All too big questions for this piece. Anthony Thiselton in Hermemeneutics of Doctrine’ brings together a number of perspectives of church, ministry and mission, and ministry and the church relate to each other. But an eccesiology question and ministry question do go hand in hand. What if the church’s main purpose as Thistelton writes (based upon Moltman, Pannenburg and Robinson)  is that the church is 1. moving towards the eschaton (ie in act 4 of a 5 part drama) , it exists to fulfil Gods reign in the kingdom and secondly the church exists for itself and its own sake, more that Christ came to save himself, It exists to participate in Gods Mission to the world³. There is clearly a Theodrammatic view of the church coming through, and this also helps. Nicholas Healy (4) urges a view of the church that sees itself as being within the Theodrama (act 4 towards act 5) , and cultivates that the church in its nature (and thus its ministry) is to be both Practical and Prophetic, being present in the moment, recognising the past and the future, being practical to humanity in Gods world, and also prophetic to care for it and challenge the idolotors and narcissists who seek to destroy it.

Image result for Ministry

Now, in a way this is not about burdening young people with all of this responsibility. However, the responsibility is our shoulders to facilitate young people as ministers within the church and within the world. There is a larger role than what Andy Root suggest for young people, faith formation might not just be ministry in the church, a ministry of sacrament, of generosity and gratitude – though all are important, but in thinking about the role of the church in the ongoing Theodrama of the world – the grander story that we are all participants of – then our task might be to discover how young people are being called and challenged by God into being ministers in the world in which the church plays its part, participating in mission- and thats mission in the grand sense, not just evangelism, which is one part. I have suggest that developing young people as ‘performers’ of the gospel is something that is required as part of faith formation before, and this only adds weight to thinking about young people as ministers, developing action discipleship might be the first paradigm shift we have to do, the second is to be looking for the ways in which the ministry of each young person is being revealed to us through their actions, communication and behaviour – and if this isnt being realised, then maybe our approaches have been deficient.

How might we keep young people in our churches? well, if psychologists (5) and a recent survey that I conducted indicates, its is community, challenge and autonomy that young people, and ourselves crave in situations – then supporting young people through faith formation through a enabling their ministry in the world might be the way of doing this. Entertained young people are not staying in churches – only those whose ministry is harnessed, so we need to harness the ministry of young people in the church and the world from as early an age as possible. If we have worked with young people and their families through messy church for 2 years, then we should know by now or at least be able to identify aspects of that young person, their qualities, passions, beliefs and spirituality to help us help them to find a place in the church and world where they can do ministry? cant we?

It will also help if they can be ‘included’ in practices of ministry – until they choose to reject them. And yes i do mean communion. As ministers children and young people need to be part of the ministry. Theyre not too young to be used by God – are they?

Let help young people be divine actors of Gods performance in the world- and see what happens then?

Might churches and Ministry be transformed if young people were regarded as ministers?

And i dont just mean the ones with ‘leadership’ potential, I mean all. I mean the example in which a young person didnt want to participate in an activity, but found real purpose in helping in the kitchen instead, the young person who wanted to raise money for charity, or the young person who wanted to use their generosity to be on the welcome team, or the young people who use the resources of the church to develop social action (something Kenda Creasy Dean is recommending) , the young people who protest against development or the reduction in green spaces, is this not prophetic?

What if young people were regarded as Ministers in the church- what kind of transformation might this cause?

And what kind of role, skills and abilities might we need to be, those in leadership in churches, to facilitate young people as ministers?  And yes that might be following Gods calling and prompting to pick up litter. To be vulnerable in the task of divine action.

 

References

¹Thompson, Naomi, Church and Young People since 1900, 2018

²Andrew Root, Faith Formation, p176, 2017

³Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 2007, p 486

(4) Healy, Nicholas, Church, the world and the christian life. 2000

(5) (Deci & Ryan), Taken from Jocelyn Bryan, Being Human, 2016

 

How should a church start working with young people? (pioneering advice from 15 youthworkers)

There is a stark reality to be had. Most churches in the UK are not places where there are many young people, and this appears to be an issue. An issue so much that ‘young people’ is a strategy for some dioceses, and also probably part of the motivation for the Church of England recruiting and appointing a youth evangelist in the last 2 years. So, for many there is a church problem with young people. And it has to be that way around.

I am encouraged though. Encouraged by the pockets of endeavour happening where spaces and places of faith are being opened up with young people in communities, especially in the north east, that include after school clubs which have reflective meditative moments around the cross, or where young people become involved in whole church activities like walks, social events, and eucharists, or where there are dedicated committed people open to learn from and journey in faith with young people. So, there are signs of hope, signs where young people are encountering and experiencing faith.

But these are the minority not the norm.

So, what advice would I give to a church – who was either thinking about, or having to think about starting work with young people? 

I put this question out to youth workers on social media the other day, here are some of the pieces of advice that returned:

(in no particular order)

  1. Look at the needs of the local community and look at your own resources  (@smoorns) 
  2. Don’t be afraid to start small. But start somewhere and learn as you go. Some things you try won’t work. Try stuff anyway. (@loydharp)
  3. Talk to God about youth, before talking to youth about God (@katneedle)
  4. Stop doing Sunday School and move to all age worship 10 years ago. (@revmadbull)
  5. (host it) Not in the church (@seanusx)
  6. Stop expecting young people to come to you, go to the young people. God sends us out for a reason! (@ccwgcyouth)
  7. Find them, listen to them, be with them, no commitments or invitations, just show up consistently. (Can I get away with that as a sentence?) (@abbiebeale)
  8. Make friends with other youth & community groups- uniformed, council, sports, schools. Find out what young people in area need. Pray. See which yp are hanging around in your area, where, when & why. Invest in the children your Church has. (@helenwolsten)
  9. What would welcome/hospitality look like to a young person in your home? If positive then replicate it and make church space part of this. (@stalbansdyo)
  10. Focus on serving young people, not on growing Sunday attendance. Trust your youth worker.. (@hdschutte)
  11. Pray. Pray that God will choose one among you who has appropriate skills and lots of energy! (@relmelrose1)
  12. Gently and with love. (I agree with everyone else). What are the community saying and how do you provide for them? (@lizskudder)
  13. Listen, look and seek beyond your own needs – what is it that you have to offer? (@mizenben)
  14. Find out where the young people are, get a bunch of loving and generous adults to hang out with them, and then build from these relationships. (@the267project)
  15. Take time to listen first, what are the needs and what resources do you have. (@youthworkermike)

It is often that the ‘Why’ of starting working with young people is focussed on alot more than the ‘how’ , though there are a number of ‘how to’ books that circulate , many of which reduce the long graft of working with young people to a series of formulas and ‘quick wins’ – when there is often no such thing.

One thing to be positive about, is that if you are starting from scratch, then you have the opportunity to try something new. As, it looks like previous attempts, and previous approaches didn’t work, or weren’t right for that time. Starting from scratch might also mean thinking differently, and not just about blaming the world for not being as christian as it used to be, but thinking differently about young people, faith, spirituality and mission. A new way might need embracing – that goes beyond strategies and attractional programmes. And embraces the incarnation, the improvisation and being vulnerable. As Richard Passmore says in ‘Here be Dragons (2013); Mission and Church are two sides of the same coin, and there is need to know stories, scripts and tools – but be ready to improvise in spaces where the wind blows (Passmore, 2013)

Being prepared with tools to understand the landscape, and tools that help with thinking on pioneering might be required, and Here Be Dragons might be one resource on this, especially as its written with youth work in mind (see the menu above for how to get hold of a copy)

One of the key aspects in developing something new is the waiting, the observing and the preparing phase, and im generally not sure this is done often or well enough. It is more common that a top down strategy is needed to be implemented to work with young people, and this dictates the process. Where, as many of the contributors above said, watching, waiting, listening and learning are key. As Friere said, we have to watch, for todays flower is different tomorrow. Watch and learn on how young people engage in their local community, or dont, watch and learn about how they gather in the parks and why, watch and learn about other community resources and partnerships. Learn about the needs of young people (and any school in the land will tell you these) – but also the gifts and talents of young people that you can enhance that arent being harnessed because of lack of opportunity, access or funding.

Participation is another key, (it might even be the key that unlocks the ongoing toolkit) How might young people be involved in an ongoing process. Dont just invite them to an event with free pizza, invite them to be part of a conversation to create youth provision (with free pizza) – theres a big difference. Between treating young people as consumers, or treating them with respect and as possible creators and contributors. After all, its not like we have any clue about young people (thats why you’re reading this and trying to get an idea or two..) ., but every young person is different, and, worth being specific not general. Work with who you have, not the fabulous young people it seems everyone else seem to have.

There is nothing wrong with trying to do an activity. As i said, the after school clubs and groups are fantastic, but both were started after conversations with young people, and not just an idea that was started without young peoples involvement. It might be necessary to, as someone above said, to ‘go to where young people are at’ – and so detached youthwork might be the thing to do to learn, listen and have conversations with young people. (Further training on this can be found above in the menu) . its a big difference between opening a space where young people have conversations, are given respect and feel a sense of home and then develop faith – from an activity space of high programme, curriculum and activity where it could feel not much different to school and where young people have little involvement, other that to kick off or out.

Some of the advice above is assuming that there are at least a few young people in the church. Some is about how we might in church convey messages that the whole of church is for everyone, such as the ‘all age service’ – and reducing the moments of separation, and encouraging children and young people to participate in the meaningful acts of the service. (And if the service isnt meaningful or inclusive for families (and families who want to be there)  then maybe theres a problem, … ) .

Starting something new with young people – go on, give it a go – be pioneering…

I hope this post has given you some pointers, pieces of advice, and been helpful to you if you are in the process of starting work with young people, especially from scratch. There is plenty on this site on detached work, participation, improvisation and mission, (search via the category tabs) as well as thinking differently about young people, so do have a look around if this interests you.

How might a church start working with young people?  It hasnt got to, but with the right thinking and approaches, even an ageing church can do something meaningful to help young people. Its just not about trying to entertain, more encourage, empower and embrace (a new paradigm) – sentiments that many suggested above.

‘Mum, Dad, I think I might have become an Anglican’

Fast-forward a few decades, Its 2050, and there’s a small family, just finished their supper and about to sit down for an evening watching ‘strictly’, with former footballer Marcus Rashford and queen of pop, now in her 6th decade Miley Cyrus trying to ear a bit of cash on the now 47th series of the programme, when the child of the house, begins the conversation with the following;

‘Mum, Dad – can you sit down for a bit – theres something I need to let you know, that Ive been wanting to say for a while ?’

A pensive set of parents sit slightly closer together on the couch, abating a deep breath

‘I am hoping that, you know, well whatever i say I am still your little boy/girl, still me in all this?’ is that right?

Parents sort of nod, slightly trying to wonder whats coming next, though Mum pipes up; ‘yes of course you are’ hiding what might be a reaction later on

‘Well its something thats been troubling me for a while, but i thought you may have guessed by now, i think I might be–‘

‘Pregnant’?  interrupted Dad, ‘I guessed it, youve been going out alot lately, evenings and al that, I knew it, youve been meeting boys down the park, thats what it is, I never thought id be a Granddad at 48 but Ill have to get used. to__’

Dad, Dad, stop it, im not pregnant, no not all all

‘Are you sure’, pipes up Mum hoping at least for scientific certainty on this matter, ‘Yes im sure’

Well then, what is it?

Slightly taken aback, the young person starts again, ‘Well ive been often wondering about who I am, especially since I started to think about relationships, and you know the being devoted to that someone, and something just hasnt felt normal for quite a while, and well, I think I might be- ‘

‘Gay?’ Mum interrupted this time ‘ Mum and Dad, looked at each other, a small tear in one of their eyes, a smile on one of them, and a deep breath in another, I sounded like relief, strangely .  Mum went on, ‘We did sort of guess, the way you didnt have a boyfriend, the way in which you were dressing quite sensibly, and of course we’ll love you, and help you through this, and help you be the person you feel you are, and support you in the relationships you have..’

Mum, im not gay’ and there was almost a gasp of disappointment from Mum…

What do you mean you’re not gay?’ if its not that what is it?

This is going badly thought the young person, she was going to have to come straight out with it, and try for a third time

‘Mum, Dad, I really hope I am not a disappointment to you, but i think I have become an Anglican’ 

A WHAT?  ‘bellowed Dad’ AN ANGLICAN? – ‘No daughter of mine is going to become an anglican, what will the neighbours think? , what will you tell grandma? it will change you life?  he sobs. 

Mum, sobbing; ‘But darling, you’ll lose all your friends, no one will speak to you, and it will be so difficult to get on in life, people will bully you, Its just not, not right, I didnt think I had brought you up this way, I blame your father’ 

Dad  Are you sure, I mean , its not just a phase you’re going though?’

‘Yes Im sure, Its been confirmed, I am an Anglican’

Dad, still trying to keep it all together; ‘Well , we’re not happy, not at all, Its going to take a whole load of getting used to, I dont think there is another anglican in the village, and we will have to get used to being parents of an anglican, and all the questions and all that, I heard of Jim down the road, he said his son was a Baptist, but they soon got over it, so I think we will just have to deal with it’

‘Is there support groups for people like you’ suggested Mum, can you go somewhere to talk about being anglican, and all the things you Anglican types do?

‘Im not sure, I think there might be, something in the next village, theres another Anglican there, and Im sorry, but, and you’re going to hate me for this, I havent been out sneaking to the park to see boys, but ive been going to church, without telling you, Im sorry, but I just had to’

A revelation to Dad, and Mum took this better, ‘Really, Church?thats so, well, so, not for people like us,  I am disappointed, and Im not surprised, theres more people, you know, like that, in the next village, but not here, no not here’ – she couldnt say much more…

So, Dad continued; ‘What about the media, they’re all against Anglicans, and people will stare at you in the street? ‘ 

I know Dad, Ill try and keep it quiet, but I will need to start telling people, getting people used to what its like to actually be an Anglican, not just what they hear in the press, and its not as if the press is true anyway, is it?

Mum and Dad, just sort of waited a while, calmed a bit and said – ‘Well we are a little taken aback, but thinking about it, we knew you were different, and acting strange for a while, but never for a moment did we ever think you were becoming Anglican, yes of course we’ll love you still, but it will be strange for a while, while we get used to it’ 

 

With the news that only 2% of young people in the UK are professing to be Anglicans, this kind of coming out might be needed. Though it might be like Tory voters, who don’t show their true colours until the actual votes and not in the opinion polls, there may well be a while load of secret Anglican young people out there.  To be young, and christian might be as challenging, might, as being young and LGBT, especially when, in the few scenarios that it isn’t the same world view or belief as the young persons parents. It could easily feel as alienating, and probably does. As Parents – what are you supposed to do, when your child have become, well, one of them, an Anglican?

Lets face the reality, and I jest. This isn’t about 2050 at all. Its happening now. So what response might there be from those who might have influence over these matters – will there be money where the mouth is in regard to teenage faith experiences in the church? Or – might an underground movement of secret anglican young people be needed to take on the world..?

Theres far too much already on this site about the church, young people, mission and youth ministry, nothing in these statistics in any way is new, the only call to make whether it stirs anyone in power, with finances to action. There are heaps of ideas in these pages on how to start connecting with young people, developing mission and engaging in conversations, by all means bookmark a few articles and come back later. All i can say is that whilst childrens and youthworkers are underpaid and thus undervalued, then a situation where children and young people do not feel valued and connected in churches is no surprise. Coming out as an anglican, might soon be as traumatic in a few decades as coming out as gay.

 

 

 

 

 

Voluntary participation; The perilous pathway for the youthworker and minister to navigate

A couple of questions to start off with:

Why do young people attend youth provision?Image result for perilous pathway

and

What keeps them there?

In all the afterschool, weekend or evening youth provision that occurs outside of the remit of the education or justice system, these are crucial critical questions to ask about young people and why they attend the youth group, the club, the football team, the music or dance group, the theatre or drama group or faith or environmental group. Understand why young people attend, and why they continue to attend are crucial for us all to reflect on. Because as those who create these spaces to happen, we face the ultimate reality that young people do make a voluntary choice to attend.

On one hand it makes it all a bit of a perilous adventure knowing that at any time a young person could leave, on the other its still an adventure, but that when a young person does respond to something and participate they do so because they want to. Now of course, there are occasions when the young person has stopped wanting to attend something but does so for reasons like their parents want them to, drive them to it, or to be compliant with their parents, but in the main they actually dont want to stop going – and so blurring the lines as to what participation is, yet on other occasions they might be being rebellious of their parents by attending.

Thinking further about the reasons why young people keep going to activities, beyond their attendance in the first place, and they might, and do, say:

  • Its where I meet with friends
  • Its a place to learn new skills
  • Its a place where i get experience
  • Its what i want to do when I’m older ( cadets, drama, music- it has career potential)
  • Its challenging
  • Its where I feel safe
  • Its a place to be myself
  • Its a place where I can talk to adults
  • Its a place where I am respected
  • Its a place where I can contribute and have my voice heard

In a way, then these might be some of the incentives for all of us involved in youth work provision of any kind. For any of us in youth ministry we should continually reflect on the reasons why young people continue to attend the provision, as if some of these things arent met, then it is likely that young people begin to leave. Actually, I ran this exercise with a group of older teenagers a few weeks ago, and the reasons that they left youth provision were as follows:

Their friends left, They got too old and there was nothing for them, it got expensive, they got bullied, they got ignored, it got boring, there was an injustice and not just the opposite of the things in the above list, but being unsafe, non participatory, non challenging, no long term purpose – but some of these things too.

Parents also get the benefit of the young person attending something, whether its an evenings free time, a hope that the youth group will do the sex talk, or help with socialisation, or hope that that young person will be safe, and become an upright moral citizen, just by attending a faith group. The parents of a young person may get more out of it that a young person themselves do… (might) .

All of this kind of means that there is a perilous path of voluntary participation that a youthworker/minister has to travel.

Yes there are a number of tactics that are used to keep young people – the carrot of rewards in the future, ongoing payment and subscriptions, rewards through attendance, and even trying to give young people roles, ownership and leadership can be strategies to help young people stay part of something. However, all fall flat if a young person feels unsafe, ignored or bored.

Which becomes doubly perilous in a culture in which outcomes and value for money are key drivers for funding both externally, and internally in groups, clubs, charities community groups and churches. We may have always prided ourselves with creating voluntary groups and spaces, but its a perilous path of maintaining an interest beyond this. Value for money seems to be about attendance, not the glorious treasure that could be unveiled when young people become participants, creators and contributors within. Measuring for participation, rather that attendance might help create the kind of staying environments, means that we have to work doubly hard to create these opportunities, challenges, and raise young peoples. And celebrating that young people participate and that they choose to is rarely done.

It is genuinely the case that young people like to be challenged. To have their game raised, and to be given an opportunity to have their opinion and voice heard and to participate. These arent just great sayings and ideals. But yet, when it comes to thinking about longevity and discipleship or programmes in youth ministry provision – relevancy is more often connected to attraction and entertainment – rather than relevancy because it is meaningful, challenging, and involves cost.

That young people are free to leave the youth provision could scare the living daylights out of us, but yet again that they continue to attend and participate is also a deep joy and privilege, it is a fine line, a tightrope, and one that we must acknowledge and be thinking ahead all the time, to how might the group or activity be maintained in such a way that young people want to stay. Or alternatively, how might the young people within the group or activity be able to create the environment themselves in a way so that they dont want to leave. When young people do participate, when they do contribute or develop conversation and relationship then its almost as though this should count as double, because we take into account that this is something they want to do. Its like the conversation with us on the streets, they could easily walk away or tell us to F off, though they rarely do, and so through choice they converse.

Voluntary participation and engagement causes us as youth workers and ministers to be continually walking a perilous pathway. Im constantly amazed by the amount of churches who say that young people dont attend, but as children they did, well often thats because they now have a choice, and we havent made being a young person in a Image result for sunday school rally day 1900

church a meaningful experience for them, just an extension of Sunday school.  And attending Sunday school, cant feel anything like school can it… (though by this poster there was some strong tactics used to keep children)- its no wonder that young people when faced with the choice didnt.

There are no magic answers, just a realisation, that thinking about why young people attend groups, clubs and organisations is a much shorter list than the many reasons why they stop going. That thinking through reasons why young people stay in groups, some reasons get elevated and thought about more than others (entertainment vs meaningfulness though both would be good), and trying to pre-empt ‘boredom’ by thinking ahead to create new opportunities, new places of participation and develop young peoples voices, creativity and contributions in a way that takes some suitable risks, is within a safe and trusted relationship space might be helpful ways of helping young people along the tightrope.

Have I missed out faith? well, yes. But strangely, when even asking christian young people what kept them or what caused them to leave a group, even a church group – faith wasnt even mentioned. Reflect on that as you will.

 

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