Is UK youth ministry too American, and too male?

I read with interest that Tim Gough, from the award winning youthwork hacks blog has listed his 11 most essential youth ministry books, from a collection of 113 in his study.

The list is here, 11 essential youth ministry books

What strikes me, though it’s not a surprise, is quite how influential American Christianity and youth ministry has on this list.

Theres at lest 5 of the 11 that are from American writers, though i confess a number i am not sure of. But the american influence is there.

What is equally as real to say is that are British based youth ministry writers, researchers and students, prophets without honour, in our own homeland? Though Tim mentions Pete ward and almost writes off his incarnational approach ( which cannot be out of place, as it is theologically grounded, yet has Ashton and Moon in there… wow, but Tim and I already know we disagree on ashton and moon..) – and Theres recent Pete Ward that needs to be taken seriously.

However, It might be easy to say that American Christianity has influenced youth ministry in the UK, by too far, and by too far, i mean that Doug Fields gets a mention in this list, what is of more concern, is that in a list of 113, no titles written by women make the short list of 11.

Thats 0.

So it begs the questions?

Is Youth Ministry male? Is it the all boys, old boys network? It looks that way.

It could be argued, that there are no female youth ministry writers, but thats bullshit.

It could be argued that youth ministry titles written by women dont make the grade in academia – but then academia discounts much of the male written stuff (including Doug fields too)

It could be argued that women writers arent given the publishing opportunities, or time, or encouraged to write.

It could be argued that the popular books are written by male writers, because they manage to create a machine our of their ministry and can then sell them. So thats a really great state of play.

As an addition. From the religious resources centre I was given this book today

Written in 2000. Over 30 different youth ministry leaders, leaders of various ministries, churches and organisations have 1 chapter each to make a contribution to a ‘youth ministry handbook’

Guess how many of those 30 are women?

(Answer at the bottom of this piece)

It could be that women writers dont write theological books, more ‘ministry’ books on a topic, though that hasnt stopped Doug Fields getting influence… and see above.. 30 ministry leaders got a space in that book..

Whilst great strides have been made to balance out the speakers and seminar leaders in conferences in the UK, thanks to the work of project 3;28, and where in the UK, youth ministry has been, possibly, influenced by youth work, which has tried to encourage equality, and anti-oppressive practice. But what about the leaders of UK youth ministry organisations, male or female? If there is ‘power’ who holds it…

But if books, and blogs, and writing still has some influence, then much of this is clearly still very much male orientated. And i know it. I know it, because I have few female youth ministry titles on my bookshelf (and yet i quote Kerry Young, Joan Tash, Jocelyn Bryan and Naomi Thompson, alot) – but they tend to be from a youth work perspective, rather than what i would say is youth ministry. I confess I havent bought a UK based youth ministry book written by a woman, sorry Sally Nash, Rachel Gardner, and others. I confess.

I confess the twitter shouting on UK youth ministry is fairly male. And thats me too.

Yet, put it this way, if as many books on our bookshelves were written by UK females, as they are US males, then the shape of UK youth ministry may look far different. It may look like it was birthed from a UK context with a different perspective, not american mega church evangelicalism and a context so wildly different from the UK, it isnt almost worth bothering with. And we’re streets ahead in thinking anyway. We have to be, were dealing with post christendom, and have been for ages.

But if UK youth ministry also revered its female writers, contributors, as much as it revers and looks across the pond at its male ones, then, this has to make a difference.

It could be that I am having a pop at Tim, and im trying not to, what his list reveals is the ongoing influence of a male american youth ministry perspective that still pervades, and is popular. When there are many thoughtful, reflective, articulate female youth ministers in the UK whose voice and words and ministry needs to be as well received, regarded and be shaping the dying fragments of youth ministry in the next 50 years. Maybe it will do ‘it’ good. I cant write any more on this subject. Its not my voice that needs to be heard.

The answer….. 4.

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Is the problem of absent young people taken seriously enough by churches? (enough, even to read a book?)

If only there were lots of books to read that congregations and churches could read to help them think through the pressing issue of trying to attract, trying to keep, and trying to disciple young people in churches. If only there were just so many, that there would be an exhaustion of so many to choose from.

But faced with the task, no, faced with the pressing need of trying to make church, discipleship and faith real for young people – where do churches and congregations turn? Well, its not books.

Therefore it is not those who think through, and do research about young people. For study

It is not the youthworkers of the past who have written up their experiences, shared their story and reflected it in way that makes it accessible for others.

And, without having an hankering for thinking and theory – what do current practices rely on? – just experience? just the latest fashion? just with the second hand learning of others? the youthworker youre about to employ, the student who is amazing, and just hope they know what to do.

What am i getting at? Whats my problem.

Well, i wish I was surprised. Im just a bit disappointed. I thought churches cared about young people, i really wish, the desire to connect with young people, and understand their world was really like. At least try.

At least engage with actual research. Published , verified research by one of the UKs leading statisticians on church numbers and data.

This is what I am getting at.

Are churches bypassing books to read up themselves and just employing someone to get their knowledge?

But reading a book might solve a lot of hassle.. mightnt it?

The following book was given to me last week for free.

(you can buy it for 1p here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reaching-Keeping-Tweenagers-Peter-Brierley/dp/1853211478/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=reaching+and+keepping&qid=1555273495&s=gateway&sr=8-1-spell )

I was given it free from the North East Religious resources centre (RRC), as they were having a clear out.

It was in their youth ministry and childrens ministry section, yes it is a title from 2001. But why was it given to me free?

Because it had not been taken out of the RRC for 10 years.

Actually, the last person who did did so in 2007. That is 12 years.

12 years when no one from any church congregation in the north east took out a book that detailed statistics, findings, analysis, reflections on the lives of, the thinking of, the behaviours of young people aged 8-13 in the UK. Statistics and reflections from one of the UKs leading statisticians on churches and church growth. (his website is http://www.brierleyconsultancy.co.uk)

12 years where it doesnt appear that churches really wanted to do any difficult work around young people and think through things.

It may be out of date now, but it really wasnt in 2007,8,9, 10…

12 years where something else was more important.

12 years where research about young people hasnt defined or shaped practice in regard to young people – but something else might have done.. And im not saying general research is everything, on these pages you will know that i have issues about such general research and making generalisations. But at the same time, what might it say that this kind of book hasnt featured in any thinking about youth ministry, childrens ministry in the north east for over 12 years.

Maybe it also says something about how many people know about the fabulous religious resources centre, and please do register, connect and make use of the fabulous resources. And the books. The many 1000’s of books. Almost free, with an annual fee to join…

So, when youth work books are being given away for lack of use, what is going on? – what isnt going on?

What priority does youth work actually have ? And who might actually be prepared to graft, to read, to think about it, before embarking on the long term journey of it..

Books may be out of fashion, but come on, leaving them unused, unread and not part of the process of developing youth ministry practice… really?

Im not shocked, just a bit disappointed. When a resource this good has been laying dormant. What a waste.

Can youth ministry and youth work really be all joined up?

An article has just been published in Youth and Policy in which Andy du Feu from Moorlands college asks whether there needs to be a larger table for youth work and youth ministry could sit and converse together in dialogue. It is an interesting piece and builds on Allan Clynes article in 2015 on the professional narrative in youth ministry. To read Andys piece have a look at this link:  A Table for youthwork and Ministry . Do have a read.

Andys article didnt get me agitated. But it did cause me to think of two questions:

  1. Havent we been here before?  and
  2. What would that dialogue look like, and how would we know this had happened?

Both of which I explore later in this piece. But first it got me thinking about the levels in society in which Youth Ministry and Youth work operate, in the UK, at least and what is going on (that i know of) around collaboration and the opening of this dialogical table. NB this piece does use terms like secular and faith, to make points, I am uncomfortable with using ‘secular’ myself, but in the context of this piece i think it helps to quantify the discussion.

So firstly youth ministry, it has:

College courses (cliff college, NTC, CYM as examples)

Charitable Organisations /Affiliations (YFC, Youthscape, Urban Saints, SU – and all scottish equivalents, BB/GB)

Conferences

Magazine (C&YW), Journals (Journal of youth and theology, IASYM) a few rare books. The Bible as a sacred text

Social Media

Churches/Diocese/Deanery/Denominations

Practitioners, that include professionals, gap year students, volunteers.

 

On the ‘other side’ of the coin, Youth work operates via;

National occupational standards

Government policies

Colleges

Some Third sector organisations – significantly increasing since Austerity as CIC/CIO orgs take over the running of youth clubs in communities.

Charitable organisations – Barnados, YMCA, Princes Trust, Uniformed scouts/guides

Magazines (CYP), journals, Articles, a few books.

Social Media

Clubs

Practitioners, including professionals, trainees, apprentices, volunteers.

I note that I think there are a number of colleges, organisations and practices that straddle these – with FYT, YMCA’s and NTC Glasgow being ones that spring to mind. There is possibly a spectrum. But I couldnt fit a spectrum on this page. And theres alot more to both than above…

So the question is – how are either youth ministry and youth work currently undergoing dialogue- and where?

From the bottom up. Practitioners on the ground do often connect and collaborate. There arent the resources to go around to stay in silos. Partnerships locally are common. Not everywhere, but where there can be. Strangely the places where there are greater resources, the partnerships tend to be less across faith, more the faith groups and the secular groups separate. Possibly. Just a hunch and especially in evangelical areas.

There have been some opportunities in the last few years for christian youthworkers to be in conversation with their secular counterparts, especially via the ‘in defence of youth work’ campaign, one example was the ‘Youth work and Faith Conference in April 2015’ In which faith and non faith groups were participants. The Federation of Detached youthwork conference often hears from faith based contributions in seminars, articles and reflections (my own and Naomi Thompsons included) So, from this direction – where dialogue is a key component of its practice there seems a willingness to hear and listen.  But maybe thats because individual who believe in the dialogue push to be heard within the spaces- though being fair- there seems always a table at the FED or IDYW for a range of faith based voices. It was Naomi who edited with Mark Smith and Tom Wylie – Youth work and Faith – which brought together a number of voices to discuss faith and youth work, including Nigel Pimlott, Jon Jolly, and those from Jewish and Muslim youthwork. – Is this the kind of dialogue and perspective that could be included at a YFC or NYMW conference? – is that where there might be a ‘table’ ?

It is noticeable that Youth and Policy ( ‘secular’ journal) has opened its table to hear the voice of a prominent evangelical youth ministry person. Again, does this replicate in Youth and Childrens work – a length piece from ‘secular’ youthwork?

But – do non faith groups get a hearing at youth ministry conferences? – Ie does the dialogue on professional youth practices get a platform in youth ministry, at the YFC conference, at the NYMW or YWS or equivalents? I wonder…

Im not sure terms like inclusion, empowerment, participation and community development got any hearing at a YFC conference in the last few years, not by much anyway. It is interesting that  YFC themselves have strategically decided to lump their eggs into youth evangelism basket, and turn away from youthwork. So what might that say about dialogue? Is it dead in the water, sacrificed for serving churches and national programmes of youth evangelism? hmm… or has organisational survival (something everyone is suffering from) is playing its hand..?

I dont know how Urban Saints, YMCA or Scripture Union connect with ‘youthwork’ or ‘youth ministry’ – though FYT have in the past suggested that their approach has been to be at the connection between youthwork practice and emerging church and develop pioneer youthwork that has its value base in detached and value orientated youth work. It is notable that FYT representatives have largely been attenders or contributors to the IDYW conferences, blogs and discussion pieces.

There are a number of ‘christian faith based’ courses that include rightly youth and community work processes, practices, history and approaches. I wonder if the youth and community work course at somewhere like Durham university or equivalent used to include a session on ‘youth ministry’ just for dialogue purposes? Again, is the dialogue at this level only in one direction? but the other way? Where is the table in ‘secular’ colleges for the faith conversations? – im sure there is an its my blind spot to this… As there are christian youth and community workers all around…

So – at an organisation and conference perspective – is there still a way to go. Yet dialogue even between youth ministry organisations, and their collaboration is to be questioned too. The battle for organisational survival, kudos and significance rages, with many collaboration projects aborted for the sake of individual significance. At times.

The last significant published collaboration within youth ministry was the five book series that included ‘Joined Up’ by Danny Brierley in 2003, that collaboration included youthwork the conference, spring harvest, salvation army, yfc and Oasis.  Since then, a few collaborative ventures have been had across youth ministry organisations for the odd conference, but none that would be noted for providing material in the discourse of itself at least that which is published. (whether publishing via books is the only discourse influencer is open to another debate, but this is about collaboration even in youth ministry)

However, overall, the problem with trying to do collaboration and dialogue, is that there is no ‘one’ representative of ‘youth ministry’ in the same way that there is no one representative of ‘youth work’ to the dialoging. There are a myriad of fragmented conversations, occuring on blogs, books, chats calls and conferences, with pleas, urges and desires to do a kind of collaboration that seems to be impossible to ascertain or know what it would look like if it actually happened.  If Kerry Young (1999)  is in any way correct then Youth work itself, and youth ministry its counterpart, both exist as conversation in themselves – they occur as people determine what youth work or ministry is – as although attempts have been made to ground youth work in theory ( Jeffs and Smith) this hasnt happened in the same way in youth ministry – its practice that is determined more by its serving of local agency and church values and motivations – rather than common human values. (*which themselves emerged out of the faith context of their day).

In the same way that talking about youth ministry and youth work in itself contains both generalisations and universalisms of understanding, that actually are only realised through the actions of those who perform or enact it. In these pages i have talked about youth ministry but that could be directed at whole organisations, leaders of organisations, values/motivations of organisations, churches, affiliations, or even the youth minister themselves. ‘Youth Ministry’ not unlike ‘youth work’ is a catch all, and a ‘none of all’ term. It kind of hasnt been pinned down. Even if National occupation standards kind of know what aspects of it might look like.  Whereas everyone kind of knows what teaching, social work or Police is. Mostly.

So, a dialogue between youth work and ministry – it has been said to be being done before. Andys plea mirrors that of Naomi Thompson in Youth and Childrens work magazine of 2016   What is possibly significant about Andy, is that he represents one of the leading evangelical colleges in the UK, and it has often been the evangelicals who have avoided the ‘collaboration with youth work party’ . Though as he also says, his course has had to include the NOS standards, often the evangelical leaders have been absent from being part of the narrative and discourse on youth ministry, and the conversations about collaboration with youthwork from a practice perspective. It has been left to the academic practitioners to sit at the table. So, from Andy, from an evangelical perspective, this is significant as a leading influencer within youth ministry, the course and vocational course of Moorlands. That CYM and CMS as other faith based youth work & ministry courses have already been part of the table, and Moorlands possibly seen as too evangelical  in the past might also indicate a shift on his or his organisations part to open up that dialogue or a desire to join in with the discussions already occuring. At a time when the doom bells are ringing for both, but hope around the corner with labours pledge to refund statutory youth services.

But then again – what are these discussions if they are discussions and conversations about conversations, about approaches and approaches about conversations. Seems like the table might end not in a food fight but much noise.

There are debated, dilemnas and delights with the ongoing dialogue. Is Youth ministry as open to this? as youth work is?

In my piece on the back of the #ywaf15 conference, I suggest that there were a number of common grounds that faith and non faith youth work could easily share, that piece is here for you to peruse.

Collaboration for the sake of young people in the UK is i think crucial. The problem is that Neo liberalism and survival of the organisation fittest is affecting the potential for that dialogue to occur. It was noticeable that a paper presented to the government this week that highlight the effect of poverty on young people came from charities- with little mention of youth work or youth ministry organisations being part of this. If nothing else joining forces might help with the prophetic or critical edge needed to have a voice in these debates. For too long possibly though no one else has worried about the existence of youth ministry or youth work in society, both have also been as concerned about themselves than the young people they exist to serve for.

If everyone is starting to agree that dialogue is what is required… how might this be made to happen, when and where? some kind of young peoples conference that includes many approaches? collaborations on practice, journals and publishing?  could it happen?

But who is going to make it happen?  and how will we know when it is… 😉

 

References

Kerry Young 1999 The Art of Youthwork, RHP, Lyme Regis

Brierley, D 2003, Joined Up. SU publishing

Thompson, N (eds) 2015, Youth work and faith, RHP, Lyme Regis

 

 

 

Does Youth ministry need to stop trying to be innovative?

What do churches mean when the job advert says ‘pioneering & creative’ – has someone before ran out of ideas? – and its a new idea that is always required?

My previous post exposed the frequency in which youth ministry adverts require someone to have innovation and creativity within their personality and skill set. It has been quite a well read piece, with a number of ensuing conversations, especially as innovation and experience and passion and qualification might be a mix often required, but almost now impossible to find. But one of the questions from this is, what wrong with ‘non’ innovative youth ministry – and maybe more pertinently – are there risks to trying to stay innovative?

There has always been the drive for the new idea – since 100 best ideas for youth ministry, 50 icebreakers, 60 great ways to talk about Jesus, 97 stories that will make young people cry and come forward to Jesus all were published (sort of) – it seems finding ideas is tantamount to the style of education and teaching in youth ministry. And it doesnt still stop…. because the vicar is still asked to do an assembly, the youth minister is asked to do ‘a service’ or talk – the market for ideas is still there. Ideas driven youth ministry is still alive and kicking.

The risk might be to forgo the ideas, the challenge might be to develop different patterns for youth ministry. The reflection might be on why ideas are crucial, and what is this saying about what we think about youth ministry or the church and its message? Are we afraid of what the gospel requires of us and young people, and wrap it up into something quite different? Does a drive for innovation cause us to forget some of the good stuff and ways of the past that were good, and are as or more appropriate now than before. Why the trend for innovation? and its bed-fellow ‘risk taking’?  Image result for innovation

A youthworker in the south of England, Loyd, shared with me their story and reflection on ‘risk taking’ on ‘innovation’ and the effect this had on him, his youth ministry and church. His story is as follows:

A few years ago I was at Soul Survivor with my youth group.  At that time I’d been in my post for 8 years (10 now), and was feeling tired and praying for direction.  You know the sort  . . . is it time to move on? switch gears? or dig in and keep going?  I went to the youth worker morning seminar, which was being led by two prominent youthwork/ministry leaders in the UK.  The session was all about the need to take risks in youth ministry and push to be innovative.
While I think that message is needed, I left the seminar feeling very tired and wanting to hang up the whole thing.  Bear in mind, 8 years prior my wife and I felt the call to leave our home in America and do youthwork in a rural village in the south of England.  We then spent the next 8 years carving out a niche for youthwork in that specific context.  I had previously worked for a megachurch in Atlanta, GA (9000 members, 3500 in attendance on Sundays.  We could easily take over 100 kids to summer camp, to get some perspective).  We had already taken a huge risk in moving to another country, giving up all we thought we knew about youth work (at least in an urban, megachurch, American setting) and started over.  We were now reaching 60-80 kids per week, most of whom are non-churched/non-Christian, and loving life.
Fortunately for me, I had an encounter with the Lord that weekend and gained some renewal/personal revival and some clarity about why I do youthwork in the first place (that’s a story for another time perhaps), but what’s relevant for this topic is that while there is a much-needed conversation about risk-taking and innovation, there’s just as much a need for us to talk about NOT taking risks–being consistent with young people, staying somewhere for a long time when possible, building up a youth work programme/ministry in a community that is sustainable long-term, making a real felt presence in a community, etc.’

I wonder, is this some of our reaction when there’s a drive to be ‘risk taking’? In these pages on this blog, I know I have communicated ‘developing dangerous discipleship’ or shared ways of helping conversations with young people take more risks. Can it be tiring to keep trying the something new. Has entrepreneurship and ideas taken youth ministry into a specific rabbit hole of pioneering and ideas creation. with the fall out being the burn out of the youth worker, who eventually runs out, and hopes to read a book or go to a conference, like the story above, just to get a new one.

I asked Loyd a number of further questions, based on his story;

What might be the issues with innovation/risk taking? for the youthworker, for the church/agency and for young people & parents ? 
L: ​Risk-taking and innovation are really valuable tools for youth work.  However, they must not be the only tools in the box.  The youth worker who is always taking risks will risk (sorry!) personal burnout, or frustration for young people, parents and line managers.  For instance, a youth worker who is always changing programmes, or frequently taking on risky projects will lose young people or parents who cannot cope with the frequent changes, or may lose confidence in those supporting the youth work.
Why is there a fixation with taking risks and being innovative? – does it reveal something we might be afraid of? – (being settled/complacency/getting ‘old’/ our own boredom) 
​L: The fixation is driven by a lot of factors: by media/social media obsessions with anything new and shiny; by the fear/anxiety we are not doing enough (cf. Mark Yaconelli’s work on youth work that is driven by anxiety vs driven by love); and as you touched on, it can also be driven by our own boredom.  To this, I would counter–sometimes it is enough to journey with young people and lead them toward the love of God.  Sometimes (not always) boredom is ok.
What about with older young people – could actually growing ‘old’ and settled and having a youth ministry that is ‘grown up’ and not trying to be new could exactly be whats needed… ?
​I have the privilege of working in a rural setting where I often get to see young people grow up from primary school age into young adulthood.  Our youth centre has a trusted presence in the community, simply because we’ve now been here for a long time.  There are some things you can only do in ministry once you’ve been present for 10 years.  The flipside to that, of course, is that it can become ‘old hat’ and there is a real danger of complacency or a lack of self-awareness.  So there is always a need for reflection and evaluation.
What happened when you stopped trying to be innovative? (for you, for your young people?)
​I think there is a certain amount of freedom in not basing your youth ministry on gimmicks or fads.  Tools, resources, and even innovation are great if used wisely, but they will never replace the value of time spent with young people listening, offering prayer, unconditional acceptance, and offering your truest self in love and integrity.Image result for innovation youthwork
Maybe there’s something to be said about being innovative, what if the previous youthworker ‘lost’ all the young people, maybe there is a different way to do things, maybe also there’s a different way to do things that the management and church want, that a new youthworker has to do – that the previous one didn’t do. But innovation is contextual too. A drive to do something different than a God-slot, for example might be ‘innovative’ , yet a youthworker who already doesn’t do this, and has open spaces for conversation with young people, might be already doing the ‘innovative thing’ that is being suggested, already taking the risk. But from the front, from a blog piece and from the perspective of a resource, this isn’t always known.
Thinking slightly differently, what if innovation came not out from resources but from the conversations with young people anyway? What if its innovative to just be with young people in the present, what if its innovative to listen and do empathy? None of these are new, just good, solid, open, young people orientated youthwork that has been going for a very long time. But if that sounds innovative, then so be it. Maybe its innovative to value young people, not the programme, value young people as spiritual, not lead them to a spiritual place, to hope and dream with them and create provision together. Maybe its innovative to not think of the what next and just be. Innovative to slow… right.. down and offer young people silence instead of crazy busy change.
Should we take risks with young people- by doing youthwork we might already be. Sometimes we just need to stop and remember how risky working with young people already is. Sometimes we might remember that young people grow up with intensive change, one thing we can that is risky is to be the same.
Additional:  Having written and reflected on this for the last 24 hours or so, I have began to think on how improvisation might be whats required for youthwork practices, instead of innovation, for if our youthwork is about increasing participation, about conversation, about relationship (which may be the innovative step in itself) – then developing from within the space as the conversation occurs is the task of improvisation, building from where the action is. As Rev Hamilton said in 1967, we need strategy from the point of action, externally imposed ideas and strategies are not appropriate for young people who are nothing like us. So, If its improvisation, rather than innovation we need as youthworkers, then do have a look at the link on this above, and the ‘improvisation’ category tag on this site.

Is it realistic to ask for passion, experience and qualifications in youth ministry job adverts?

 

Are you the excited & passionate, qualified and experienced youthworker we’re looking for?

Being in between jobs for a length of time in Youth Ministry, and also advertising roles within the pages of various sites,  has given me the opportunity to read quite a few advertisements, job descriptions and person specifications for youth ministry roles around the UK.

A few months ago I penned a piece on the low to middling salaries for youth/children/community work that the church is asking for, and then one on the vacancies that seem to be long term . This piece is on the way in which the  expectations of a youth ministry are appealed to on the high certainty end of the scale or an appeal is made for exciting personality and a faith to match.

To start with, here is a few, current questions that are asked as openers to job roles in adverts for youth/childrens ministry in churches in the UK right now:

Are You excited about seeing young people growing in their faith? 

Are you passionate about children, young families and Jesus?

Do you have an innovative and creative approach to ministry that attracts and spiritually grows younger people?

Do you have a vision and passion for seeing lives changed by the transforming love of Jesus?

Are you a pioneer with a passion for the missing generation?

We are looking for an enthusiastic committed member of the Christian faith

 

and honestly – this is the best one of the lot – kid you not – this is being advertised right now:

Are you the creative, mission-focused, change-making, relationship-building, strategic-thinking, willing-to-roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-stuck-in Children and Families Worker ___________________  church is looking for?

 

Having said this, I wrote this article, then went and added in the job quotes – and i found this one – it pretty much sums up exactly what this post is all about – churches want excitement, experience and education – – at least this church does:

We are looking for someone who:Has a passion for working with children and families and will develop, both within the church and in the wider Parish —–, our existing ministry to children, and move us on with fresh vision and energy to create a really attractive church community for young people and their families.

Has experience of church based families work.

Is excited about working in a ——- area

(and though the salary is over 22K its likely that qualification may be required too)

 

So – a quick scroll of the current job adverts in the UK for youth/childrens/family work – and the words passion, excitement, creative, dynamic all spring to the fore. And this situation isnt new. Its not a current thing. But its still just a little troubling. Many also want qualifications, and many want experience.

Often churches want all of the above, and for someone to be passionate and excited all in one bundle. It that too much to ask?  And which one of these things might a church be willing to compromise… ? if they could only pick one..?

The reality is that for many qualified youth workers and ministers, since the dawning of professional qualifications – the process of learning, unlearning and repackaging faith through formal education can often result in increased doubt, reflection and questions – no less faith if anything more faith – but maybe the student/faith/learning process does reduce the ‘passion’. There isnt a module in many youth work courses on ‘how to be passionate’ or ‘how to act dynamic’ – 3 years of essays, learning and probably tortuous student placements gets rid of some of that.. some, not all..

And what about experiences?  How many youth workers can honestly say if they have left one church or organisation setting before time, and not with a 7 year golden handshake, watch and leaving ceremony, that how they left (and gained experience) has created in them to the ‘energetic joy’ that seems to be required for a new role. Feeling like that could feel a world away, when the PCC have just voted you out, and you have the confusion of finding a new house, job, role and places for your kids in schools miles away, and all within 3 months. Try then to be ‘excited and passionate’ – when it feels like a hard slog. Being battered by one experience – or tired or stressed by one at the very least – doesnt really lend its self to being honestly passionate about another. But if a church wants an experience- they may have to take on the baggage.. but they really wont want to ultimately.

The energetic, amazing, dynamic, almost naive youthworker – might only be the person who isnt experienced, or qualified, or for whom hasnt been involved in too many churches and got burned. Chances are then that yours might be the one, especially if you want them to do the 70+ hour a week and take up their summer holidays taking the kids to soul survivor and holiday clubs.

Churches you might have to pick one – excitement/passion, experience, or qualifications – though you might be lucky and get two…

for the sake of the profession – id suggest you dont discount the qualifications – as that learning is vital to help young people do the faith development that many churches ask of youthworkers in the job descriptions…

Joking apart, and im actually not, there is a more serious note here about faith.

What is the reasoning behind wanting someone who has an energetic/passionate/transformational/exciting/dynamic/creative faith to work with young people?

I mean – why those qualities? Why not others – like

reflective/deep/encouraging/prayerful/doubting or even questioning faith?  or coped/when/life/was/shit type faith and survived and got through to the other side? – might that kind of faith be something inspiring for young people?

Is it because the dream of the dynamic pied piper youthworker full of bounce and vigour, like a christian version of Tigger (other bouncy disney characters are also available) , is what adults think young people need in their lives?  or is that a youthful youth minister can weave his (usually his) youthful magic wand and cast their sprinkle dust over the whole church so that it can move from singing songs from the 1990’s to songs in the 2010’s, thus bring youthfulness to a church that is starting to feel old around the edges?

Lets be honest though, churches dont really want the kind of youthworker who might help young people deal with deep questions, ask deep questions or help young people be provocative do we? But wouldnt a youthworker who had dealt with difficulty, and is realistic, be the kind of real grounded person that actually young people right now in real life might just need. Someone who is honest, someone who doesnt put the church performing mask on, someone who well can empathise and listen…

The person who starts a role pretending to be the all singing all dancing joyful youthworker is going to hit the honeymoon period quick, and everyone in the church is going to know it, or will at least find out. And they themselves will realise their own pretence and struggle with it.

I know that the committee who put together the job description for the new youthworker is trying to make the role or entice people as much as possible. And words like passion, excite, amazing, pioneering are all the rage. But they all now sound the same. Maybe it is just me, but experience and qualification come at a cost, and its not that the joy and passion for young people and their lives changed isnt there, but its not as there in the way that some of these adverts seems to want it to be.

Can we do away – just a bit with the over enthusiasm- or is the market place of trying to recruit taken selling roles just too far..?

Is ‘Ministry’ a problem for Youth Ministry?

Image result for youth ministerI am pretty sure that I’m not going to be the first person to wade into this discussion.  There are a few aspects of why I shy away from the term ‘Youth Ministry’ where I can, but at the same time realise that its the common descriptor for working with young people in christian church contexts, so I do have to use it.

But I think there are a number of problems with it. It might be semantics (an argument about words) – but words do have power and influence, and the ‘ministry’ aspect of ‘youth ministry’ need a few questions asked of. Whilst we’re at it, the ‘youth’ aspect is awkward too, and a seminal piece by Mark Smith on ‘the problem of youth for youthwork explores this. You can find it in the link, on the Infed website. Youth is contested and often negative. Even the ‘youth’ aspect of ‘youth ministry’ has issues.

But the ‘Ministry’ aspect of youth ministry might do too.

In his book ‘The Pastor as the Public Theologian’ Kevin Vanhoozer pronounces a crisis of role identity for the Pastor/Minister. Now on one hand ‘crisis’ is strong a word and often crisis’ are used to set the scene for a major point or new perspective that deals with the issue. So I take it lightly. But in effect what he suggests is that the Parish Ministers role has diminished in society, because other people related professions have over taken the role – so the psychologists or counsellor are called upon sooner than the clergy, so might a social worker or school teacher for therapy or education, where once a church might have been the centre of these things. He goes on, but I wonder whether that same crisis that the clergy might feel, is a luxury not even afforded within youth ministry, yet youth ministry aligns itself with ‘church ministry’ oh so quickly.

The reason I think its a crisis that would be a luxury for a youth pastor/minister – is that whilst there might be a historic association with what a Pastor/Minister might be/do (sometimes a curse) and they can often find the roles that are expected – such as funerals, ceremonies, visits etc – the opposite is often the case with a youth minister who job description apart no one has any knowledge of what the role should be, (but strangely many expectations) and so much of the time the new youth minister (if minister is the right word) spends their time carving out what space there might be for what it is they are supposed to do. At least, if I look back to a time when I was based in a small town as a youth worker/minister or based in a church in the same role – much of the time was spend trying to establish either myself or the role, within the established patterns and trying to find either importance or need. Because there wasnt a defined gap for the role.

Goffman in ‘The Presentation of the self in everyday life’ says that it is very difficult for a person not just fit into the role before them, when everything is already established, so it may be easier to be the person who defines a role from scratch – ‘oh yes a youth minister is like ______ its how they did it’ – and the dye it set. But if there isnt a gap – what then? The gap might be an easier place to define a role – but what if there isnt a gap – because being tied up to being a ‘minister’ doesnt help in a post christendom world where young people arent looking for a minister or have counted out the regard for one.

Being a youth ‘worker’ doesn’t quite share this – saying that you work ‘with’ young people – as opposed to trying to do ministry with/for them – is a subtle but significant shift. Just.

So- Ministry is starting to have a problem.

The Language of ministry is barely recognised in society. Except government departments. And this conatation is probably best avoided. Or the Ministry of Sound. So, its pretty dead in the water except for an association with dominance, power and dis organisation – or a compilation album of dance music. The language of ministry as a concept is limited. But its not youth ministry’s only problem with Ministry.

do young people recognise ‘ministry’?

I’d say this was hardly likely, in a book entitled ‘Your first two years in Youth Ministry’ Doug Fields in the very first chapter uses the terms youth worker to describe the person, and youth ministry to describe the role/context . Even in Evangelical USA, minister was replaced by worker.. Maybe this is helpful, given that Arkle Bell, commented on a previous post the following:

The other big moan is the recent trend to talk about Youth Ministry – do the young people recognise that jargon, so are they already excluded. As I said to a Canadian visitor at church today – youth work is my ministry. A denomination wanted to ordain me as a youth minister, I turned them down saying God had already ordained me as a youth worker and wider society had recognised that.

Its difficult enough trying to find an establish role ‘with’ young people, but I wonder whether trying to do that as a ‘youth minister’ is more difficult than ‘youth worker’, neither is easily defined, but one at least has less association with an organisation such as a church, the other locates the venue of the profession as being where young people are. A shop worker works in a shop, a youthworker, well, where young people are. And Kerry Young has already said that youth work is defined as it is practiced (1999)

However, the main concern, i think, with youth ministry, and being a youth minister is, is the notions of power that are associated with it. Or more accurately, how through default within many churches, minister is associated with authority – the ministry of the young people is the ministry of the youth minister – young people are their ministry. Young people as a result can be viewed as little more than pawns in the activities and programmes, a number.. A group of people done to, with the youth minister acting in a way similar to the senior pastor.  With an image that looks like this;

Kids bored. Not listening, and someone talking at them.

However, It has taken quite a while, not just in this piece, but quite a number of years (150?) for someone to come along and say the brutally obvious.

Youth Ministry is about enabling young people to be ministers.

This is what Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean suggest in their recent two books (references below). Up until then, keeping young people entertained, or hearing ‘nice’ therapeutic/moral messages might well have been the order of the day. (Smith, C)

But helping young people develop their ministry?  Not only ‘what might that look like? – but what might that mean? 

For a start if working with young people to develop their ministry  makes the task more like youthwork as a process of supporting, encouraging, challenging and guiding – rather than leading from the front, so much. It has empowerment and participation as automatic bed fellows again more a youth work concept (just) .  In the next part this week, I will explore further what it might look like for youth Ministry to be about developing the ministry of young people. Given that this causes a need to understand what ministry is in the life of the church, and the churchs place in the world. Aspects that both Andy Root and Kenda Creasy Dean do touch on.

What if youth ministry was about faith shaping young people as ministers?

But i think there is more to the play than whats been said so far.

Image result for youth minister

Is ‘Ministry’ a problem for ‘Youth Ministry?’ – Well it might be if the ministry we have for young people, limits their involvement in the ministry as attenders and being entertained, than enabling them to become ministers themselves, including ministers of the word, sacrament, ministers of mission, justice and love in the world. Ministers who participate in the church and the world.

If its just a ministry the youth minister has – not a ministry that they are being encouraged into also having – then its no wonder that many young people find other places to be entertained instead. Ministry might be a problem for youth ministry in a number of ways, its even more of a problem if the youth minister is the blockage that prevents the ministry of young people thriving in a church. Or where the youth minister is employed to keep young people contained in the church, rather than enable their ministry potential be encouraged. As this picture infers, its the youth minister who is called, the ministry that they enable young people to participate in seems secondary.

What role do young people have in the church?  – maybe they should be considered as Ministers – will be the theme of my next piece.   

References

Goffman Irving – The Presentation of the Self in everyday life, 1960

Vanhoozer, Kevin, The Pastor as Public Theologian, 2016

Creasy Dean, A Root, The Theological Turn in Youth ministry, 2011

Root Andrew, Faith Formation in a Secular Age, 2016

Smith, C, Soul Searching, 2003

Young, Kerry, The art of Youthwork, 1999, 2005

 

Could churches encourage young people to become a movement of local community activists?

When it comes to planning and developing a curriculum for a group of young people in a faith based setting – why is that creating opportunities for them to participate in some kind of local social community activism is more than often outside of a default mentality? its not for you? , well at least it felt like it was for me…

I remember when I was 20 odd and running a youth group, it was about to be a residential with the whole church, and I was responsible for planning and delivering a whole weekends worth of activities and sessions, for a group of children and young people, the offspring of the church parents and a mix of ages from 8 through to 16. I was a blank. I was used to planning group work for just the Sunday evening group of 8, 13-16 year olds, but this was a different issue. What to do with a larger group and one spread out over a wider age group. And with three sessions in 36 hours. I was stuck. I tried for weeks to look for suitable material, themes and topics. A real struggle.

That is until I discovered a whole load of material at the local diocese resource centre linked to thinking about social action, charity and compassion for a cause. It may well even have tied in with an appeal at the time, i think it was Christian Aid or Tear fund, it matters not which. But it was so long ago I cant remember. And, interspersed with a few other activities. It worked brilliantly. The young people over the course of the weekend learned about fair trade, justice, poverty and some of the causes, and then as part of the weekend undertook an activity to raise funding for that cause. I think the young people kidnapped the main speaker and begged for a ransom. Don’t judge them, they didn’t have many options on a church weekend away and no planning. However. The point is that this was the first time that as part of a youth programme we had done anything on social justice, charity, and encourage the young people to think about the global world. We didn’t think about the local world. The point also was, was that this subject still seemed ‘an extra’ to what might be considered core Bible teaching that had morality, spirituality or therapy overtones.

Fast forward 8 years, and I am leading another youth group. And the situation remains the same. Education through learning about morality and some Biblical content teaching is part of the youth group programme, however it is taught. Creating and planning for opportunities where these young people give, give generously of their time and make a local contribution to local charity groups, causes and campaigns is still minimal. In fact, the most likely group to do this, I have noticed, is the open youth group, the ‘non church going group’ . Now it may be that the profile of social justice and action in churches has been raised recently through the increase in foodbanks, CAP and other valuable initiatives, but does faithful discipleship for young people and programmes that do the week by week ministry with young people profile community activism in any higher way than they did?

 

Image result for volunteering

We might stop to ask whether the moral, therapeutic, entertainment, relevant orientated ministry with young people is actually working. Kenda Creasy Dean questions this, as even in the US context the decline is occurring. Her alternative – helping young people do social action, using the church as a resource for innovative local projects. An option that may be easier in larger churches, but even smaller churches have resources that could be used to cultivate young peoples ideas. Andrew Root writes that faith formation is more akin to deduction and giving up, and giving away than the insertion of education, and though doesn’t encourage social activism per se, does suggest that forming faith in people has leanings towards social generosity and action, and for young people to ‘do’ ministry. How might young people do ministry in local communities?

It is also worth contemplating about how Young people are participants in the Mission of God. For decades in youth ministry there has been a tendency to regard young people as the UK’s most under resourced and under engaged with mission field, and this is still largely true. But if young people are not just the receivers of the mission activity, but participants in it, participants because we are all part of Gods mission plan, as Vanhoozer (and many others) describes in a drama that requires participation of it on the stage of the world.  Then might we provide opportunities for young people to consider their own participation in ways that are more than being nice to their parents and encouraging a friend to come to youth group?

When it comes to learning, we might want to re think how young people learn, and so if there are opportunities for them to do and plan activity then this means that they are gaining in experiences, and learning through planning, ideas, collaborating, team work and also the act of volunteering, learning is happening through a process of doing. Is it true informal education, possibly. Will it enable young people to reflect on aspects of Gods character such as social justice, community and poverty, maybe. Is discipleship one shaped, where games and fun is a prelude to a talk, and the grand extension of this is the summer festival which, a few exceptions aside, is bigger activities, bigger talks and louder worship? Encouraging a doing discipleship, a faith that includes ‘not giving up good works’ – and even a faith that starts by doing good works as part of its culture, might be what young people believe in, as Nick Shepherd describes, if young people need faith to be plausible, then discovering where they and God might be at work in the community doing something together might be the most plausible thing of the discipleship.

Yes it takes risk, yes it might take a dynamic change in culture. But Christian ministry that focuses on developing morality over ministry, therapy over community transformation might need a seismic paradigm shift. Our role as youthworkers might be to empower young people to be the kind of community transforming and contributing people that we ourselves might be trying to be.

Image result for social actionHow difficult is it to think, and then help to create opportunities that enable, or empower, young people to make positive life decisions that not only help themselves but also their local community.

What might it require of us as youthworkers to have? Good connections in our local community, an awareness of needs, project and initiatives locally, relationships with those who are responsible for these initiatives. As youthworkers we might need to be selective,  but if we might only need to go so far to foster community engagement in young people, because they may already have the desire to get involved. A good resource for beginning a process of active discipleship is the ‘Experiments’ resource that FYT have produced. Using 8 phrases Jesus said to his disciples, they have put together 5 different activities for each which young people decide to do collectively or individual group, and for them to report and reflect afterwards on how they felt during the activity or action and how this might have put Jesus’ words into practice collectively and individually in their family, their school or with friends, it may be the beginning to helping them pursue thinking further about acting out what the Bible says in their local situation.

There are so many opportunities for young people to contribute, many national charities have programmes, curriculums for thinking globally, but finding local opportunities might take a bit more work, but it definately not impossible, such as foodbanks, soup kitchens could really be worthwhile. But if there isn’t something that seems suitable, why not create the space in their ongoing programme to develop their own local initiative? It may be as ‘simple’ as a local litter pick, or tidy of the river, a bullying campaign, or developing a resource or social business. They might want to meet a different local need in some way, something that affects them, in their day to day, so  how might young people doing local community activism change how local communities view young people. How might local activism create opportunities for young people to flourish through empowered decision making, planning and action and even more so, how might local community activism be part of, and integral to young peoples Christian faith? Might it actually be good for young people and be good for the community at the same time?

Does it mean making our role different as youth pastor/minister? from teacher and leader to community organiser..Image result for social action

One question that might be considered is why social activism has been so absent from youth group programmes over the years?

When trying to keep young people beyond Sunday schools – why did entertainment and relevancy become the default?

When trying to attract young people is a movement of change more attractive to some than the flashy lights of a music event, or other club or group work?

We might not know the answers to these questions, but what we might be able to do is take a risk and experiment, and see what happens when as Christian youthworkers we empower young people to change their world and contribute in their local space.  Maybe we need to focus on the real rather than the relevant, and encourage a movement of meaningful ministry that young people participate in. Its not an old old story that happened, but a drama happening now for young people to do ministry in.

 

References

Nick Shepherd – Faith Generation – 2016

Smith, C – Soul Searching – 2003

Root/Dean – The theological Turn in Youth Ministry – 2016

Andrew Root, Faith Formation, 2017

Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith, Speaking Understanding, 2014, also Samuel Wells, Improvisation, The drama of christian ethics, 2004

The experiments resource can be found at www.fyt.org

 

Church with no young people? 3 ideas to start ministry with them (without employing a youthworker)

Theres no point being a youthworker in this church, we dont have any young people

Only 8 churches in this diocese have a paid youth or childrens worker, and less than 6 have more than 10 over 12’s who attend at all

They caused too much damage 30 years ago, we’re not having young people in our building today.

Just some of the indicators, or reasons, why it feels as though churches have given up on young people. A church in a smallish town whose minister stated to me that there isnt a need for a youthworker in the church because theres no young people in the church. But theres a high school of 1200 pupils within a mile of it. But thats not enough of a reason for a church to develop something from scratch. It may be ten times that school will attend soul survivor over the next two weeks. But if there are about 40,000 churches in the UK (rough estimate) then that is only 1 soul survivior attending young person to 3.5 churches. And that’s just the soul survivor attending young people. Vast swaithes of churches have no young people, but I guarantee there are young people living in the parish, in the local area.

So – why have churches given up on young people? How did this happen?

One minute theres hundreds of young people, and then gradually one by one they disappear. Theres churches currently full of the over 60 yr olds, and its not just the under 14’s they dont have, its the under 50’s, 40’s and 30’s. Not even the generations of people these 60 year olds were nurturing when they were young leaders in their twenties have stayed. Generation vibrant youth ministry lasted only for only one period of time.

Those who possibly tried to engage in youth work – found that the buildings did get damaged, or young people loitered. In other churches the volunteers ran dry, and decisions were made that caused young people and communities to leave, such as changing sunday school times, youth group age bands or closing groups all together, because, well, it wasn’t worth it for 10 young people. It wasn’t worth it because the kids didnt come on a Sunday. It wasn’t worth it because the leaders would prefer to be in the service. Gradually, as the evidence about Sunday schools at least indicates, churches made decisions about groups and clubs without any consultation with participants and children and their families exited in their droves.  And for many churches, they just carried on growing older and older. The families didn’t stay, and neither did the teenagers. And Peter Brierleys stat about 300 young people leaving the church every week between 1968-1980, well, that’s where all the 40-50 year olds left.

So, you’re an aging church, with only the grandparents left, the Baby Boomers – and there’s no one under the age of 40, let alone 14 who is part of the church on a regular basis, aside from a few who attend during the summer holidays.

Assessing the cause of this problem is relatively easy, though it is more complex than the quick assessment above.

The encouragement of this piece is to think about what one thing you can do in your church to start thinking differently about young people, to start thinking about young people at all, and begin again. It is possible. Trust me. Three ideas are included below, but first theres a few challenging questions:

Is there anything you can do?

The first thing you can do is pay for a youthworker. Because they will immediately solve all your youth absence problems. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Thats like paying for someone else to deal with your problem. Nice attitude. But the reality is more complex, as I have said before, youth worker jobs in the UK are staying vacant, there is a supply and demand problem as the colleges and courses are closing, and housing costs multiply. So getting ‘a youthworker’ is not a straightforward option. It never was anyway.

So, no thats not the first idea. So, starting from scratch in thinking about working with young people, as a church congregation what would be your responses to these questions:

  1. What could you do to show young people in your town that you care about them? (how would young people know) 
  2. What could you do to value young people in your town?
  3. What cause might you be able to support local young people in?
  4. What talents do young people in your area have?
  5. What resources do you have that might benefit local young people?
  6. In what way might you need to make yourself vulnerable to young people?

Can you answer any of these questions as a church congregation? Would you be brave enough to try and work out responses to them, and responses from reality, ie real young people, speaking to them, consulting with them?

One of the main issues is that the way churches used to try and work with young people didn’t work, and the trying to attract young people and teach them stuff still hasn’t got a huge fondness amongst young people (ie they sit bored in the ‘god slot’). So with that method not worked, it becomes difficult to think about the alternatives. So, if you’ve got no young people, then you can afford to think differently, and start differently. Even Americans are saying that programme based youth ministry is broken, so why bother starting with it? If you want to start theological then head here for a really long post that i dare you to read, but has resources in it to help think theologically about young people and ministry. But then, on a practical level could you think about these questions?

What about thinking of these:.

  1. Where are young people already, during the day?  do they walk to schools, get buses, walk back through the town
  2. Where are there connections already locally – do young people congregate in places at certain times, or where are families active in dropping off and picking up young people?
  3. What are the rhythms of the day in terms of young peoples activities, and what about the weekends? do young people use the shopping area, parks, or prefer to be in small groups in neighbourhoods? 
  4. What might make the church both a spiritual space and practical space for young people?

(if you want a fuller community profile, then get in touch- see menu above)

One church i visited recently had almost no young people involved in its sunday activities, but over 200 used the scout hut during the week. Another realised that the local sixth form kids sneaked out of school to smoke in the grounds of the church. Another church had young people in its porch on a friday night. Another church had young people playing football in its adjacent car park. These are all ‘already’ used spaces that young people are in. One step would be to involve ourself in those spaces. Accidentally on purpose. Just to say hi, or have a conversation whilst needing to open up the church for no reason.

This isnt the only way, but these are opportunities to start making connections.

Idea 1 – Spiritual SpaceImage result for cathedral

There is a rise in spirituality in young people, there is a growing recognition of the positives of mindfulness and quietness in the culture of today. Does your church have a large open space thats often deathly quiet that can act as a place where young people can be quiet, reflect, think, pray even and just ‘be’ for a moment? You know, just like you might like to when you visit a cathedral. Would it be crazy to open up the church as a place where young people could ‘be’ during 4-5pm as they walk past the church to head home from school, or especially during mock and exam season as a space to help with stress, worry and anxiety. Forget the activity type of working with young people, lets treat them as humans with needs, and create a space thats respectful and open. Maybe even a space where they encounter God in the silence, or the lighting of a candle, or the reading, writing of a poem that they do in the space.

Recently i heard of a story of two young people who just wanted to sit in the back of the church whilst the evening prayer was being read. It was a safe space, and also a quiet space. Image result for indoor of church

It may connect the church to young people as a place where they can church weep and rejoice when young people weep and rejoice? Celebrate exam results, or commiserate – mark the anniversary of the death of friends, or relatives in tragedies.

Its one option – but why not give away spiritual spaces for young people. It may take time. Its taken cathedrals 400 years to be popular again…

By the way, no need for the high energy, flashing dancing well lit trendy youthworker – just an open space thats safe, regular and meaningful. hmm.

But what if lots of young people come – well then theres a nice problem to have

But what do we do next? worry about that afterwards

But ow will they come on Sunday ? theyre meeting God on tuesday – is that not enough? 

Idea 2- Church valuing young people

Another option might that the church congregation could find a way of supporting a local cause that young people are also passionate about and join in? Its good to give church money to missionaries, of course, but what about the local football team strip, or the music club, or a young persons bus travel or something else where the church could go out of its way to give to a cause that affects young people. Not for its own gain, but because it would be good to do. What if this equated to giving of time, support and fundraising activities over a year?  What if the church helped to fund the much needed resources that the schools are desperately short of, or where the church could help subside school trips so that even the less well off young people can go on them? Sounds bonkers, but what might it say in the community about who the church is for?  exactly.  Yes its embarrassing for the school, but its got the government to thank for its funding crisis.

Idea 3- Practical space

I was struck recently by the story of Boaz, and Ruth and Naomi. That Boaz left one side of his field open for anyone who needed it to work the land and take the crops. What if this principle was replicated, and that the church in the local area ‘leaves the land’ in order that local young people can work, earn or learn their trade? Can the local college hairdressing apprentices do everyones hair during the coffee morning? How might young people in the additional learning timetable learn gardening skills in the church garden and make a community allotment? what about getting the mechanics at the college to help fix the minibus? The list could go on. But what if the church was a place of work and learning for some young people, learning catering in the kitchen, or hospitality in the scheduling and event organising, or media in the PA/tech systems? Could there be gaps in the church where young people gain work skills? Is there a relationship to be had with schools and colleges that could generate this kind of offer or opportunity?  Again, it might be too much for some, or not even a reality. But one of you reading this might think that its a possibility. You have no young people currently, youve got nothing to lose…

Of course all of these require work and effort and a change in priorities. But they dont involve trying to entertain young people, or trying to keep them, but to try and give them a space where they can find meaning, or usefulness in the church and faith community. If theres no young people in your church, then trying something different, from a place of thinking differently about young people might begin developing something of value, of respect and that could be significant for young people. Making church spiritual for young people, making church significant and meaningful.

Maybe we might be surprised at how spiritual young people are and how spiritual they want the church to be. Got to start somewhere, and i think got to start differently. In short, we need as churches to do the things we should be good at, being spiritual, valuing people and offering practical space. Our place in the world as christians might be just to be prophetic and practical, so why not try this with young people.

As a follow up, 10 tips for starting conversations with young people might be useful, once those connections have been made, or they might make the connection happen.

Thank you for reading, and sharing, theres more ideas on this site, click on ‘youth ministry’ or ‘church’, if you want further training or conversation on starting right, or starting at all, then please do get in touch. Thank you

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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