Is the biggest mistake in youth ministry to keep making presumptions about young people?

I was at a conference on Saturday, and, you know that thing where you’re listening to someone from he front, or in church involved in something, and what you know you forget, and you kind of get stuck in the trap of agreeing with the perspective of the person, and not engaging critical mindset, because youre thinking No No No – but you get stuck in with the flow, and cant stop yourself?

Well that was me. Critical guidance system off, trying to be slightly but only slightly provocative on.

Before the series of seminars about to take place, I was leading one on ‘having risky conversations with young people ‘ (if you’d like to book me to repeat it, just send me a message and arrange) – we as a large group were hearing a main plenary talk by one of the local Bishops in the North East, who, after sharing his own story, and his own love of youth work in the church – and imploring us all to think about ‘why should churches work with young people?‘ a great question by the way , one that gets wrestled a bit on this blog sometimes (just look up ‘church’).

But then, in a packed room of volunteers and youth ministry organisation leaders, the speaker began a conversation about ‘whats different about culture and society’ and what this means about young people.

Image result for generation sensible

This didn’t include the recent stats on the BBC website regarding generation sensible, but this was voiced from the floor. But included aspects of culture, such as technology, planned obsolescence (something Andrew Root mentions in ‘Faith Formation also) , though this was described as a throwaway culture, there was stuff on social media, and instagram, on online shopping vs high street, and a few others besides. With the overall thought that if we begin to understand what life is like for young people looking at these cultural artefacts churches and youth ministry might prepare accordingly.

Image result for generation sensible

The problem with this is that its the discussion around nominal relevancy in youth ministry.  But before then, this was the moment where i made a contribution, and going with the flow, rather than against it, I suggested that Austerity should also be included as young people have been oppressed by 8 years of budget cuts, a theme i pick up in this post; 8 years of austerity  (and young people are still to blame).

What I could have done was challenged the notion of nominal cultural relevancy that pervades youth ministry, enhanced by contextual theology practices. These generalise the world of young people, and make assessments and judgements of young people before anyone has even met one.  The thought being is that programmes and practices can be made relevant to the culture. But i didnt, i just added another category that of austerity to the mix, as another generalisation, a real one, that i think affects probably 90% of young people, if you include restrictions to school funding, target driven schools, loss of youth services and mental health provision, but it is still a generalisation. The best thing was that the younger people who attended my seminar afterwards were honest enough to share with me how being generalised felt. Imagine that – young people dont like hearing that they are being generalised!

I have written before about the problem with generalisations and generationalisms (millenials, generation z) , and so I am not going to go over these again. However, what I have done since is think about the many myths, many presumptions that adults make about young people, and even asked a few young people what they think adults presume about them. These were some of them:

Image result for arguing with parents

The like going to large groups to meet other christians

They like singing at all

Young people are interested in different things to us.

They only want to listen to charismatic speakers.

They’ll do anything for a packet of sweets

Young people are always rebellious

Young people are all interested in sex and relationships!

Young people like loud noise and bright lights. And interactive sermons. But not “old language” or “old hymns”….

Young people only like loud activities, and loud music.

Young people are self-interested, rather than interested in the common good.

Young people always prefer to be using technology/screens.

There’s cultural readings and then the presumptions made about young people as a result of them.

Other presumptions are often also made in regard to adolescent, faith or moral development, and though these theories have undergone much research, we should call into question their adoption and usefulness to the practice of youth ministry, given that young people develop differently and poverty, family life, trauma all have a considerable impact to deem these things almost worthless.  Some of the time, in Youth Ministry, there’s a pandering of these presumptions, to maintain the same kinds of practices, often because the youth leaders themselves were like that as young people. Maybe. Maybe its laziness. Maybe its about trying to sell resources to a general market, and thus about making money, surely not… 😉

This sentiment isnt new. Pete Ward suggests that incarnational youth ministry is about meeting young people where they are at. Because that is where Christ meets us (Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997, p 26-30), stating that

‘youth ministry contextualised in youth culture will see physicality and image transformed in Gods sight. We can sell out to relevance, we can drown faith in culture. The cross of Jesus calls us to prixe costly relationship over product. Being on the cutting edge of youth ministry means that you bleed for others, not for art’

He calls into question the reading of universal cultural signs and symbols, and instead places the emphasis on being in the midst, in the really physicality of the action of God and humanity. We can be lazy with generalisations and hope for the best with them, but they hardly offer the best way for connecting young people with an ongoing personal relationship in faith. Nick Shepherd picks up some of these points in Faith Generation. Nick, like myself is a fan of Wyn and White, who in Rethinking Youth, say that; 

There is no such thing as an American Youth (Wyn and White, 1997)

Because there is no one specific young person who epitomises this generalisation completely. Just like there is no UK youth, Australian youth, every single one is different. This should be the starting point. There is also an imperative from the field of youthwork that is pertinent here. To ‘Value the individual young person’ having a respect for persons (Jeffs and Smith, 2005, p 96), this means that instead of making generalisations, respect for persons

‘requires us to recognise the dignity and uniqueness of every human being. It also entails behaving in ways that convey that respect. This means, for example, that we avoid exploiting people for our, or others ends’ (Jeffs and Smith, 2005, p95)

What might it mean, then for us in youth ministry to take this seriously. To value and respect individual young people. We might say we work in a non-judgemental way, but if judgements have already been made – what then. Carl Rogers says that

it is impossible to be accurately perceptive of anothers inner world if you have formed an evaluative opinion of that person. (Rogers, Carl, 1980, p154, ‘A way of Being’)

Does reading culture and making presumptions about young people offer young people the greatest level of respect? does it offer the best pathway to developing empathy for and with them? Does it instead try and maintain distances between adult and young person, when actually being in the midst, and as Rev H Hamilton, said in 1967, we need in youth work to develop strategies from the point of action. From in the point of being with young people, learning and exploring together. That in that moment offers, i think the way which creates open conversation, ongoing learning and a collective form of discipleship.  We only, in youth ministry, work with specific young people, in our local community, we need to be with them, listen, have conversation and develop practices, encourage practices and display practices from a point of respect, a point of reality, and a point where we also trust God to be working in the midst already. If culture is there to be read and interpreted, then might we use it positively and ask the critical questions, and not make easy presumptions. There is after all no-one such young person. And God made all unique.

References

Pete Ward, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997

Rogers, Carl, The Way of Being, 1980

Jeffs and Smith, 2005, Informal education.

Nick Shepherd, Faith Generation, 2017

Wyn and White, Rethinking Youth, 1997

Goetschius and Task; Working with unattached youth, the appendix by Rev Hamilton, 1967.

Advertisements

If todays young people really are sensible, then church is the perfect place for them

Todays broad research published by on the BBC website with the headline

Generation Sensible’ in five charts

might reveal a number of interesting trends with young people currently – or where the media had once got it wrong about young people and stirred up viceral degrading of young people and affected government policy before based on a few individual cases (and I am looking at you Daily Mail) .

So, young people are , according to the data

Drinking less alcohol

Chart showing the decline of youth drinking

Taking less drugs

Smoking less

There are less teenage pregnancies

Less arrests of young people in crimes

On one hand, though the trends are reducing in these, some of the numbers could still be reduced especially in some areas. Evidence a few years ago was also saying that though the majority of young people were drinking less, as many young people were still ‘harmful’ drinking, so the laws of averages might be hiding a few issues. However.

Praise is due to the young people, if they are making different choices about their behaviour

Praise is also due to those who have brought up these young people, parents who might have also had uncertainty in their jobs in the last 10 years, still bringing up teenagers who are doing broadly well.

Praise is due to the teachers, after school club leaders, voluntary leaders, youthworkers, guidance staff and anyone else who over the last 10 years has been involved in bringing up this generation.

Praise to the government for the credit crunch. For all the cut backs in all the benefits, reductions in ema and large student debt. That this generation are far too concerned about money, debt and their future that they dont have extra money to go partying as much as before. no really.

The question is – has the rise in ‘generation sensible’ also got faith and religious attendance as a factor?  Are any young people more likely to go to church now, than they were 10 years ago? Has faith had any part of this?

The other question – is that if young people are dull and sensible – hard working and future orientated – might they be perfect young people for the church, alot easier than the drug fuelled, teenage pregnancy, asbo kids of a previous bygone era (and i joke). Church doesnt need flashing lights, it needs just to have homework clubs, reading clubs, book clubs, philosophy lectures, volunteering opportunities, all the things to create thoughtful learned citizens…

Can churches respond to the sensible generation , because, frankly a generation that does want to learn, to be conforming and avoid risk – then the church is the perfect place or organisation to be…. and if church cant attract or keep a sensible generation….

Problem is that sensible young people are already far too busy trying to acheive and put lots of stuff on their CV. Question might be – what opportunities can churches provide that are CV worthy? and other questions about making sensible young people busier…

The question is also, though what is the place for the youthworker, and how on earth will they get any funding when this is now a new generalised reality.

And it shows that youth culture is just about dead.

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.

Are young people born since 2000 to be known as the Austerity Generation?

Imagine being 10 and at youth club that evening the leaders pass the bucket around, and ask you to make a cake to sell to keep the youth club going.

Imagine being 11 and the youth club that you went to closing.

Imagine being 12 and your parents have to move house because, after your brother moved out last year, they cant afford to stay in the same house, and they need to be in something with one less bedroom.

Imagine at 12 1/2 having to change school and friendship groups because of this.

Imagine that at 13 your birthday meal has to be got from the foodbank because the universal credit payment didnt come through on time after the house move.

Imagine being 13 and not coping with your new school, and you ask for help and counselling, but no one really though you were serious.

Imagine being 14 and developing an eating disorder

Imagine being 14 and having to wait 6 months for a Camhs referral and appointment.

Imagine being 14 and just having to cope and be told you need more resilience.

Imagine being 15 and trying to cope in school, where there was no let up.

Imagine being 16 and advised to stay in school or college

Imagine being 17 and realising that in college, that you get to do a 1 day timetable in something that you really dont want to do.

Imagine being 17 and the thing you want to do, you cant because the education maintenance allowance doesnt ‘exist anymore’

Imagine being 18 and realising that college might be the answer, but a bus ticket to it is too expensive.

Imagine being this young person.

Imagine that every year since you were 10 you were directly affected by the underfunding of youth services, education, travel, housing, social services, mental health provision, imgine that every year there was a change to be made.

Imagine how that uncertainty might have an effect.

When its not just one thing.

Its been one thing every year.

Imagine that being 14 might have been easier with a youthworker around.

Imagine that being 16 might have been easier with a youthworker around to help think through education choices or help realise dreams and potential.

There will be 17 year olds, who for the last 7 years all they have experiences is something that had, being taken away. Something they want that might be good for them being out of reach, something that used to exist not being there anymore, something that makes their already challenging life even more difficult to try and reach. I guess thats tough love by the tory government, or just tough luck.

Imagine thinking that it wasnt just your postcode that you feel left out in, but that its the wrong time in the world to be a young person.

Imagine how being 10 was a time of hope, of dreaming and of looking forward to the rest of life with excitement. Imagine having all of that dashed by austerity cuts.

Imagine being blamed because you’re now a bored teenager who hangs around the town.

It isnt what you dreamed for. what you wanted. But dreams are dangerous now.

Imagine that you are still the problem.

Imagine that no one still wants to listen.

Imagine being shunted from one 6 week course to another.

Imagine being in between. Out of one home, not in another.

When a secondary school teacher in a Northern Secondary school said to me a few weeks ago;

‘Young people perceive that no one cares about them’

‘Children and young people deserve investment, they have been at the rough end of austerity’

‘They are vulnerable first and foremost, they need people who care and then be alongside them’

They might just be right.

Yet, that doesnt seem to matter to the current government.

In a discussion at the UK prime ministers questions yesterday there was the following exchange:

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

Q7. Last year, a quarter of young people thought about suicide, and one in nine attempted suicide. Young people are three times more likely to be lonely than older people. Knife crime is up, and gang crime is up. There are fewer opportunities for young people than ever before—68% of our youth services have been cut since 2010—with young people having nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to speak to. Is it now time for a statutory youth service, and will the Prime Minister support my ten-minute rule Bill after Prime Minister’s questions? [905633]

The Prime Minister- Theresa May
I think “Nice try” is the answer to the hon. Gentleman, but he said that there were fewer opportunities for young people here in this country. May I just point out to him the considerable improvement there has been in the opportunities for young people to get into work and the way in which we have seen youth unemployment coming down?

Whilst the question may not have got to the hub of the whole matter and the situation facing many young people who have now experienced 7 years of austerity, and have a firm grip of how their lives are and have been affected. It is as true to say that the response from the Prime Minister is one who has no idea on what 8 years of targetted cuts that have affected families may have had on young people.

Young people still the brunt of the cut backs. Still demonised by the press. They deserve much better. Even just to catch up with what young people 10 years had the benefit of, no not the benefit of, the right to have.

‘Nice try’ – even the question about young people is belittled in response.

Its as if no one is pretending to try, and helping young people to survive is a mish mash of agencies scrambling around for the crumbs off the plate. The gaps are huge and many are falling through.

‘Nice Try’ nah when it comes to young people, this government have barely tried. And dont even start on NCS.

Mark Smith has written this piece at length on the http://www.infed.org site detailing all the research and reports which indicate the effect of austerity policy on young people education. Harrowing. austerity affecting young peoples wellbeing and education

FYT Streetspace Gathering 2018; feeling the movement

The pressure was on.

After raving about it every year, writing blog pieces on it each year (including this post, my second most popular in 2017), This year, I, as part of the staff team was part responsible for planning the FYT Streetspace gathering, The national gathering of pioneer youthworkers. The pressure to make it work, or make it better, or make it more original, more radical, more provocative and be what people needed, wanted and would want to come along to. Before as a punter, a project leader i could come along (and bring my son) for a ‘ride’ take part and enjoy it. This year, it was going to be different.

This year, the gathering was also different, for me at the end of challenging month, with the job itself ending, my wife having an operation, and then also at the same time the dog getting ill.  Head and Heart space was severely distracted away from doing the last minute, stuff, (and I am so thankful for John and Dan for picking up alot of my slack on this) , this year i struggled to want to go to the gathering, because I knew it occured at the end of a month that i was already shattered, being practical all day every day in the house, and trying to do work, and even apply for new jobs. I neednt have worried. But i was, worried too about the awkward conversations like, so what are you going to do be doing on monday? when theres nothing in the diary. The pressure, though, to make something good, still good, make something meaningful, still meaningful, was kind of on.

 

The themes of the weekend were to reflect on the current strategy of FYT, create a Home for pioneer youthworkers, improve practice and encourage risk taking with practice and be prophetic raising a voice to challenge structures, oppression and stand up and stand with those in the margins. It had also been agreed, and pushed that we wanted to continue the conversations that had started in 2017 (and before) on gender, sexuality and inclusion/participation, pinning the colours of FYT to the rainbow coloured flag both metaphorically and literally.

Thats the background. The reality was that everything, and more that was good about the previous weekends happened again and more.

A place of home was stated and created, with cushions and lights, and coffee and comforts. Like crumble and custard, and board games and mealtimes. Yet that held a space of challenge, of hurt, and reality. We should be sick of pretence, when the real is far more beautiful. The pretence might want to be bouyant and hopeful, but it is false hope. Real hope is found in the ditches of the margins. When compassion meets determination. The cross is where hope is found, and that cross was dug deep into the ground. In the dirt and soil and mud. Hope goes deep. Starts deep. Foxes have homes, ‘I have friends’ said Jesus. His friends were his home. Friends make homes.

A place of family was created, as the home had practical things to do like cooking, and washing up, outdoor spaces, the sound of babies, toddlers, children and a couple of teenagers. Not grumpy sullen teenagers, but people who raised their game for the occasion where they were given the space in the home to be able to. Space to raise their game, space to try and fail, space to take a risk. Not excluded, given something ‘instead’ teenagers. But young people given the chance to be youthful and adult, to dream the possible. Space to share a personal story, a personal prophetic challenge, or to play the comic at the evenings entertainment and hold an audience. Teenagers who could raise their game, and at 15 weren’t barred from a youth workers conference. (fancy that) A place of home where toddlers has space to be free, and parents kept a long ish lead and a watchful eye was maintained, by 35 other surrogate aunts and uncles for the weekend. But the noise of a joyfilled toddler filled the room that they occupied.

The real got shit real

The youth participation cranked up considerable notches.

The provoking came from the young people.

The needs of the oppressed was told by their voices

The provoking came from being present.

A session to learn about LGBT and diversity, wasnt enough.

For ‘theyre’ not a token. ‘Theyre’ not an ‘other’.

they needs to become we.

 

It was a place to cry and dream

A place where the magic happened in interactions

Where the movement took off its masks

and shoes

and was served by those used to being pushed down.

The young, the queer, the female, the new

but that wasnt enough. no it never is.

 

For the movement of friends is not service and served

and many are missing, who we want to include

in the home of the movement, the pioneer dreamers

make the movement not ours, but yours to be part of.

Im not sure I could do emotional this weekend, friends. Many did. And many who grieved, and wept, went deep. A movement of pioneer dreamers, with feet in the mud. With hearts made of soft stuff, the clay of the earth. A group of youthworkers whose default chip wasnt frustration or angst, or pie in the sky. But dealing with tough stuff, the stuff to ignore. The stuff to push down on and hope it goes away. So the corks were opened. The bubbles emerged. Shit got real.

There was just empty space. No music or drums. No carrion call or manipulation. But silence and space. A place to grow up in, to grow out in, to grow deep in.

Like the seeds in my shed, that on thursday were nothing and today: 

Just space, silence, food, light. Growth happens. In the dark, with light poking through, and warmth.

From the deep came the song, the poem, the voice. The margin spoke, and not spoken for, and it felt.

The movement was felt.

Step up was the call.

That rose from the deep.

Do better.

Take risks.

Stand with.

Love courageously.

Step up.

Step was was the call, the rose from experience

and called us do better.

And say that we mean it, and take risks and challenge, ourselves to a new place.

 

And as we tidied away, the yurt was folding down. The kitchen was a mess of left overs, and the plan for take away lunch was crusting at the edges (though i dont think anyone went hungry all weekend, just death by midgie bite). Nature came knocking, reminding, provoking. As from the distance, one by one, three Red Kites started circling above us.

So over that yurt was a pocket of air, that was thermal and warmed. Where Kites came and played. For a while, then they soared. Stopped off for a breather, then went back on duty. Our eyes looked above, we stopped all the rushing. And paused. Again.

Our path from gathering was not feathers and flight. Though step up to the plate is the task that we might. The kites did not land, for their task was too great, to stop off too long.

They felt the movement, the warmth in the air. And us on the ground. Our flight path all wonky, and broken and beaten, But homes are all messy. And risks can be taken.

I write this on Monday, and life does not stop. The future still blank and open, uncertainty raging. But back to the living and dealing and busy of coping. May was a tough one. But im not alone. Our kites felt the movement, and are now soaring away. And Jesus, he washed the feet of his friends, their feet full of sand, taking the mud and the dirt with a cloth, and making them free, clean and able. To step up to the challenge. Yet its love that cleanses.

And this love is not selfish. It gives it away, and away and away. It gives and it gives. It loves from the deep, and the tough and the real. It loves in the risk.

What is Frontier Youth Trust? and what does ‘Frontier’ mean? lets not get stuck in the wording, stuck in that mud, but be a movement of dreamers who love to the depths – of our faith and our being.

Thank you all, in the small, in the significant and stupid.

Now to Step up.

 

To read of Streetspace gathering 2017 click here: Gathering 2017 , and FYT click the link above.

To buy Gemma Dunnings resource on Pastoring LGBT teenagers click here: http://www.gemmadunning.com/p/4-views-on-pastoring-lgbtq-teenagers.html?m=1  as a way in to start thinking about LGBT and young people, the language and develop understanding, start here. Step up might be your call too.

 

Churches should work with young people- but does it matter which ones?

I have mellowed and calmed down a bit since yesterday.

Yesterday I had started to write a piece in which i felt angry and frustrated, and it was passionate and raw, probably too raw, as i was frustrated and angry about the tens of thousands of young people the church has opportunities to work with, but doesnt, and then doesnt create the right environment for discipleship for those it does. I was frustrated that young people had been systematically let down an forgotten by the church, when churches themselves had opportunities to do otherwise.

But no one gets anywhere with passive aggressive spewing in the etha. All it does is create a storm and makes people feel worse. And though i thought myself that things needed to be said, I have calmed down, because fundamentally underneath the anger and frustration is a question, and that question is;

Does it matter which young people the church works with?

and this is the question that im wrestling with in what follows:

I was once told ‘Sometimes we cant choose which young people God sends us‘ , but theres a reality that the church has chosen to ignore some young people more than others. But should it matter? In a church that has finite resources is it better not to just ‘do something’ with the young people whom are known, than do nothing at all? Yes of course.

But in a way then, this is not directed at the local church and its finite volunteers, though it could be. It is to those who put young people in the strategy document, the vision statement and the deanery/diocese plan. The problem with a strategy in which young people are measured, then young people are treated all the same. Despite the different approaches, needs, and energy required for them. Having young people in a church becomes a race for the easiest. Having photos of large gatherings of young people to justify a ministry becomes a race to be the most attractive, well promoted, publicised event, that will gather young people, but which ones? But again, I am prompted- does it matter which ones? 

Thats as long as we arent using young people as a pawn in our game for the most successful ministry? Or that a certain approach to gather them is ‘working’? of course not, 

But does it matter which young people the church devotes its energy to working to?

Maybe it doesnt, but maybe it also does.

Maybe it should pull on our compassion strings more about young people in and out of care, young people trafficked, young people being the victims of crime, young people running county lines in the drug trade, young people victimised in the media, young carers.

Maybe it should just tug on our civil society altruism, that young people who might be on the streets in our local neighbourhoods, outside the shops, the park and beaches might also be part of the same group of young people who ‘God is sending to us’ as they are being raised in public consciousness through local news and conversation.

It may be that the institution problem of young people is the one that causes the heart stings to flutter the most. The future of the church depends on what we do with these young people, and keeping them – rather than any other young people. 

There have been three things that have influence the way of working with young people in the UK since in the 1800’s, first came the need, second the word, third the statistic.

Churches working with young people as a specific group emerged out of needs. Needs for the church to educate its young people specifically, and needs being felt in society caused by the urban young people terrorising the status quo, being undernourished, unfed and ‘sewer rats’. What is documented is that a few churches, people got on and did something (what isnt documented is that 1000’s didnt) , started Sunday schools, and other provision, which others soon copied. Someone had to take the initiative. But its was needs that drove the practice. Image result for urban poor london

Then in the 1950’s it was the word of God, sorry Billy Graham, that began an influence of youth ministry that continues to shape practice, and the church in the UK today. The implicit influence of the large gathering an rally, and the simplified message that garnered a mass appeal, and put success equating to numbers at the gathering as a way of measuring it. But the word spoken was that the church in the UK was devoid of young people. There was no sense of which young people, but in a context of moral fears starting to emerge of post-war frivolity of lifestyles (The Beatles, mainly) , counter cultural youth ministry was born. To create an energy about the alternative, and leaders of it stayed within.

Image result for billy graham crusade

Then became the statistic. Peter Brieleys research in the early 1980’s that over 300 young people had left the church every week since in the 1960s caused a clambering of action. Youth ministry went pro. Youth ministry went theologised. Youth Ministry became even more about fixing the leak, plugging the dam. Regardless of anything else, this statistic spurred youth ministry into a new form of life. But what it also did, was shift the conversation even further from ‘what kind of young people’ to ‘we need to keep the ones we have and employ youthworkers to do it creatively’.

Barely a stop to think about which young people might matter. And how much do all three, or something else be the driver of youth ministry today. What if its young people knocking at the door- should our predominant cue be the immediate and local context – not the institution? Back to the need of the person?

Barely a stop to think about which young people might matter to God?

It would be easy to say ‘all of them’ but that deems that the vulnerable are often the easiest to ignore. In this post last year I suggested that ignoring the poorest young people has been done for years.

Whilst ‘all children’ should come to Jesus, there are as many pleas to connect with the least, weakest, widowed and fatherless that permeate through scripture as a prompt, and provoking passionate prompt, a provoking stick of conscience towards those who are mistreated, oppressed and victims in society. And whilst all young people are victims in society through generation brush spreading, there are some clearly who have been and continue to be more abused by the system and society than others. It is not our fault we’re poor – ran a recent BBC piece its is also not many young peoples fault that their only experience of the christian faith is through its derision on the TV, a christmas service at the local primary school and an assembly. It is not their fault.

Will the church be judged on how it has survived? or judged through whether it has worked with ‘the least of these’

Only Jesus had the large gatherings, he told the disciples to work in pairs, and go and find accepting people in every village. Its what the disciples did an how the church grew, from a few, to small groups and continued. That method worked for the disciples, its what we might use on the streets, and in the public spaces. Go and be vulnerable in a new place and find people willing to accept. Go to the people and be the message.

Does it actually matter which young people the church works with – wont any young person do?

If we’re as passionate about Jesus and being his followers, then we’ll be out in the margins, pushing boundaries and investing our lives, our wares in the poorest. We might need to come clean and say that data and word has a greater hold on youth ministry than need, or for that matter theology. Its been the call since the 1980’s, but if our youth ministry really was theological – what would it look like? Evangelical youth ministry might actually mean following the call of Jesus to the margins and working like he did. Couldnt be more evangelical.

If the church has the opportunity to work with young people who are being sent to it, children whose families go to the food bank, young people on the streets, young people waiting for mental health appointments, and the rest, young people for whom it is not their fault. Young people raging against their poverty, against the system. If only the church could harness a piece of this action.

So, a question for this week;  does it matter which young people the church works with?

for some churches it is ‘any young person will do’  but mainly the ones the church decides it needs to keep. For others, dont ignore those playing football in the church car park (or worse still tell them to go away), or those on the park benches. View them as a opportunity, a provoking call to have your heart strings moved.

(If you dont feel equipped, with the skills or experience to work with more challenging young people, then please do get in touch, training i provide might be able to help. For more information on developing detached youthwork- starting with where young people are – please do contact me via the menu above.) 

References

Joined Up, Danny Brierley, 2003

Youthwork and the Mission of God, Pete Ward, 1997

Various pages on the emergence of Sunday Schools, Ragged schools on the http://www.infed.org site.

What if churches signed up to be ‘Young people Friendly’?

Fresh from my last post on the 16 statements of intent from IDYW (please give it a look) to re-imagine a new youthwork provision for young people in the UK, it crossed my mind that there might be a necessity for churches to have or create a similar statement of intent for its involvement with young people. Call it a charter or statement of purpose, or a set of common principles, that help young people to know not only how they might be treated, but also what might be expected of and on them. One of the ongoing discussions, both north and south of the border is whether youthworkers themselves should be registered into some kind of professional standard, equivalent to the kind that teachers and doctors do. I wonder whether, instead of the person of the youthworker, if the faith sector adopts it, being registered, that the settings or churches which are in reality individual organisations should be encouraged to make some kind of pledge, or commitment that begins a process of culture change within them, rather than have the youthworker be responsible for being the catalyst of that change.

So, there are many charters, red kites and certificates, but I am yet to find one that doesnt instill confidence in the viewer of it, whether its the hygiene certificate at the restaurant or the first aid registered persons on the wall of the church kitchen. There, at least is something of confidence that is created when persons or an organisations signs up to something. It gives credibility, to a point. The same could be of a church or organisation that goes out of its way to sign up to a pledge, a charter for young people. It shows that an organisation is for young people as a whole. A statement of intent to be a young person friendly? Image result for youth charter

It might mean that parents, or young people themselves have that same confidence, either of a group of volunteers or ‘paid’ group of people who are facilitating the youth provision, confidence in being treated well, confidence in being listened to. Confidence too in terms of safety. Interestingly, that ‘base’ line has often been met, as a reaction to culture and controversy, the base line of ‘safety’ in terms of policies, disclosure (DBS) checks and risk assessments is usually the first on the ‘basic’ list of any youth provision. So that is why I think its should just be lumped together in ‘safety policies’ – there needs to be space in the 10 points in the charter for other, maybe more productive, positive aspects of what a young person might want to expect from a church or faith organisation.

If a church is really keen and committed to developing a welcoming culture for young people- then there wouldnt be any reason not to publicise a commitment to do these things.

So- What might be in such a Youth Charter for churches or faith organisations? I am sure many of you will be able to articulate these things better than me, and add or want to change things, but as a start- what about a commitment to do these things? Importantly – how might it be worded so that young people themselves are the hearers and readers of it, and they have confidence in the church?

 

  1. We believe that you are made perfect and we will accept you as treasured and part of Gods ongoing plan- and nothing you do will change this.

  2. This Organisation has done everything possible to ensure that the setting and people are safe for you, and we will listen to you if you think that we could do better, or we let you or your friends down.

  3. We want you to be involved in this provision and contribute to it – create it with us, we pledge to give you space to make decisions, lead and for your voice to be heard at all levels of the organisation.

  4. We want this to be a place where you feel at home, where you can make a cup of tea, find a space and be yourself.

  5. Please do not be afraid to ask difficult questions, provoke and challenge us – we want to hear your voice, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

  6. We promise not to make changes to the youth provision without consulting you

  7. It is our dream to help you grow, to be more fully human in the process of exploring faith within this faith community.

  8. We might fail together in trying new challenges together, but we commit to create risks so that we are all challenged in discipleship.

  9. We want to create spaces for you to use your imagination, ideas, and dreams for church, worship and serving the local community

  10.  We believe that you deserve better from churches who have let you, or others in the community down, please accept that we want to do better.

  11. We promise that this is a space where you can talk to anyone about anything.

  12. As an organisation we pledge to use positive language about young people – even young people we dont know yet, and who we want to get to know, you deserve much better than what the media say about you.

It might be that some of these things are a ‘given’- but so should be having a food hygiene certificate in a kitchen. What would happen if churches and faith organisations singed up to something like this kind of 12 point charter, which recognised to young people either in or outside the church that it was committed to creating a young people friendly culture, not just ‘appoint a youthworker’. A church that reimagined its youth provision as part of its whole ministry and organisation, a church that saw young people differently.

Maybe I have taken too many hopeful pills – but what might be the dream for every church that began to work with young people? What might young people like to know as soon as they walked in..?