Why might churches (only) advertise for a passionate, excited youthworker?

All together now, you know the tune:

‘The wonderful thing about youthworkers

is youthworkers are wonderful things

their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs

Theyre bouncy, trouncy, flouncy pouncy,  fun fun fun fun fun

but the most wonderful thing about youthworkers is i’m the only one….

Youthworkers are cuddly fellas

Youthworkers are awfully sweet

Ev’ryone el-us is jealous

That’s why I repeat… and repeat

The wonderful thing about youthworkers

Is youthworkers are working all hours

They’re burdened with being all jumpy

They’re running on overactive powers

They’re jumpy, bumpy, clumpy, thumpy

Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

But the most wonderful thing about youthworker is

I’m the only one

 

A cursory look at the most recent job advertisements for youth workers and ministers, not only reveals that a pioneering/creative spirit is required, and so is qualifications, but that the most common attribute for the ‘new’ youth person is that they are the following……

EXCITED! (and closely followed by..)

PASSIONATE!

and the job is usually exciting too!

Everything is exciting, Everything as LEGO says is Awesome… I have seen roles for administrators being described as exciting, in the same way i have seen roles for running Sunday schools as exciting opportunities, and also developing new pioneering youthwork as exciting too. Everything is exciting. The person needs to be excited. The person needs to be passionate. In short it feels as though any new recruit to a youth ministry role needs to be some kind of ‘christian tigger’.

Bouncy, fun, lively, on the go, busy busy busy, no time, no stopping, hours upon hours, happy, smiley, exhausting powers upon powers and ideas and on the go, passionate, excited, creative…

Lets ask a question: Who might be wanting ‘Christian tigger’? the church or the young people?

Image result for tigger

If it is the church in general, why might a church want someone to be ‘passionate’ and describe that their role is ‘exciting’ or that a person needs to be ‘exciting’?

Is this just good sales techniques? and attempt to make the role attractive to the prospective applicant?

Possibly. Or maybe theres something more than this.

What if instead it wasn’t just good sales, but that deep down there’s a fear that the local church needs a pick up, an energy boost, a lift and it is the role of the ‘new/excited/passionate’ youthworker to somehow lift the local church out of a bit of the doldrums.  Don’t get me wrong, its almost human nature to want a new person to add energy or something new to an old way of being (though ironically, how much change is a youthworker allowed to actually fulfil..) . But there’s a deep down fear as well, that Andy Root suggested in ‘Faith Formation’ ;  because of society’s equation of youthfulness with authenticity – and anything that seems old fashioned/old is not authentic – then what a local church might be buying into with the ‘passionate youth worker’ is for that person to be the person that helps them to starting thinking and being youthful again.

There’s a fear maybe that a church is getting old, and the enthusiastic youth worker might be the person that helps the church feel young again. Is that the real reason an enthusiastic person is required… that’s some responsibility… not just bring youth into the church, but bring youthfulness too. What do you think – ever seen this happen?

Whilst ‘passionate’ is flavour of the decade for the youth worker role – whatever happened to compassionate? 

Again, a quick cursory look around the youth ministry job adverts, and compassion is lacking. Even in some of the job descriptions, passion is ahead of compassion – its compassion that may just be what young people need/want – and empathy – well above just someone who might be ‘passionate’ to be there and full proverbially of themselves. Compassion situates the ‘ministry’ of young people with young people – young people as primary. Compassion is about the other. Because as we fundamentally, young people don’t care that much about the youth worker anyway, or the church, or the ministry, or the activities, they are more interested in themselves – so the more compassion a youth worker has the better. The more the youth worker is less of themselves, less of their own powers, passion, ministry – and the more listening they do and being interested in young people the better.

This is nothing new, Young Life in the 1960s, developed contact ministry – in which youth workers would spend more time in the world of young people than the opposite, be in their space. Be less passionate, be more dependable, be more compassionate, or more enthusiastically present.

If young people designed job adverts for the youth minister- would they opt for passion or compassion, what do you think?  Because they’re looking for passion and excitement, are churches are looking for is someone for themselves – not just someone who is for and with young people?  And yes of course it might be a bit of both. But is it passionate excited youth ministers who churches have in mind in their job adverts…

Why might churches want a passionate, excited youthworker ?  Because maybe, there’s too many Eeyore’s in the church already, and a tigger is needed.. What happens when the Tigger cant be Tigger anymore?

What if a youth worker helped churches to be more compassionate about young people in their local community, to fight for injustice and help to remove barriers – would compassion lead for something good happening that the church locally could be part of. Not just the passionate youth worker tries man/womanfully to engender youthfulness or passion in the church and ministry of it. I wonder…

NB – And sorry, the tigger song will be going through your head for the rest of the day now…

References

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a Secular Age, 2016

Ward, Pete, Youth work and the Mission of God, 1997

 

Young people are the saints of the present, not the church of the future. 

There can be two perspectives, in regard to how young people are viewed in the church, actually scrap that, maybe theres three. All influence the way in which people in churches develop ministries and so they’re important to reflect on, some more common than others, all impact the ongoing way which young people are treated, and then this impacts upon how they are discipled.

The ‘not there yet’ perspective;

This has come about through a number of ways. The most obvious one being that young people are often viewed in transitional stages, ie ‘not quite children, but not yet adults’, Young people can be placed against transitional frameworks from human development, and are then thus ‘not there yet’ because they are the ones always developing, changing and trying to become something. What this does is develop a concept of young people as learners. Something Nick Shepherd alludes to in Faith Generation (2016) he is not alone. But it means that because young people are ‘not there’ yet they need to learn to know ‘how to be there’ , becoming recipients of teaching, and being only viewed as learners, because ‘they aren’t there yet’ .  The not there yet is also in the tool kit for the youth evangelist, the trick being that young people aren’t listened to or with to hear about their faith perspective, but that, stereo-typically, they are given a new plumbline to measure themselves against – to be told ‘they aren’t there yet’ if they haven’t prayed a prayer (but have been confirmed), they’re not there yet if they haven’t ‘recommitted’ or ‘been baptised in the spirit’ or something else new to measure themselves, thus creating a need that only the evangelist can fill. Its a ‘not there yet’ perspective that is the starting point. But its not just the evangelist, think about the processes needed for ceremonies in the church – how often is it inferred that young people ‘aren’t there yet’ – to participate? Then theres the old one of ‘young people as ‘tomorrow church’… but ive said enough….it’s also linked to the ‘potential’ perspective..

The ‘scary’ perspective

Also known in youth work terms as ‘The Daily Mail’ perspective. Think of all the media words and their connotations and then what does that do as an image of young people. Yes news is only news because it is bad news, and probably only in local papers do good news stories exist about young people ( which is great) but young people are unfairly generalised to be wary of for the actions of a few, in a way that all motorists aren’t thought of for a serious RTA or others.  Think it doesn’t matter? When churches start using the words ‘disengaging’ to describe how young people aren’t involved in church, then the proof of this is evident. Or other phrases like ‘young people outside society’ then its clear where this influence comes from. Its not a biblical view of young people, or society. Language shapes understanding, and so words like ‘Youth’ ‘Chav’ ‘Disengaged’ portray meaning, which can cause churches to close ranks, and avoid being involved, and creates distances.

The ‘precious’ perspective

‘We need to keep them safe’ is the cry! So because the world is pronounced as a scary place ( because it is full of other ‘youth’ who act Scary) – then Safety measures are brought in to keep young people in the church away from these horrible horrible things that might damage them. Tactics such as busyness ( be at 3 youth services a week), alternatives (lets go to Soul Survivor, instead of Reading & Leeds), Guilt ( Jesus wouldn’t want you to mix with those friends)  all very subtly are out-workings of the precious perspective. It fits a youth alternative culture form of youth ministry that Brierley attributes to Billy Graham (2003, All Joined up), when avoiding the youth scenes of the day (in the 1960’s-1970’s) was done through the development gradually of Christian youth subcultures and was continually fed. It is not that these things aren’t important, but if they stem from churches, church leaders and even Christian parents who themselves were part of the same scene- having a ‘precious perspective’ of young people then this has implications for the young person themselves.

So, whats the alternative?  Have I got the right answer waiting at the bottom of this article? not yet, ive got two examples.

When I was early into youth ministry 20 or so years ago, as a training team we had a question for someone, I cant remember who, who was talking about evangelism and youth ministry back then. We asked them “what do you do when you don’t know the faith position of the group, and you’re giving a talk? , when some have become Christians, others haven’t? (I’m embarrassed by the question now..) the response was – just treat them all as disciples and you wont go far wrong.

There was a discussion on Radio 5 the other day about Dev Patels new film, ‘Lion’ and why the younger Dev Patel (in the movie) and also Dev Patel when he was a child (playing the child character in Slumdog Millionaire, a few years ago) aren’t likely to feature in Oscar nominations. And there are other child actors that could easily be mentioned, such as those in ET. The response from one of the contributors, Danny Boyle, was that it is very difficult to distinguish with a child actor their performance and also what the director of the film is enabling to be seen in the shot. There is no doubt that a child has to perform, but the person who creates the right environment for that performance is given more of the credit. It also wants to protect young actors from the limelight too early. However, the view in the industry is that the acting of the child is the directors responsibility.  The director helps the young actor rehearse, to act accordingly in the scene, to feel their way through the props, context and environment and be guided by the other actors around them. how might this be translated as a metaphor for young people in the church.

What if young people are Saints called  and being directed by God?

Already. Now and in the present.

Being called by God is one aspect that makes a Human distinct from the animal world (amongst other things, Baltasar, Theodrama pt 2, Vanhoozer, 2005). And if young people are saints called by God, then the responsibility for the church and youth ministry is to create environments (direct scenes?) where rehearsal and performance of the saints in the church and the world can occur. Undoubtedly Biblically young people receive the vocal call of God.

The Saint, according to Wells (2005) is someone who knows their place in the drama, in the sidelines but also with purpose (what purpose in the Kingdom are young people acting towards?) , a saint gathers community (is not alone- essential for young people, and us all), a saint is faithful instead of violent, a saint is aware of failings and these give God glory, a saint is in the world where its tense to show an alternative, loving way.

What if young people are treated, not just as disciples but also as saints, directed by God?

Maybe the view of young people as ‘not there’ ‘feared’ or ‘precious’ have clouded a view of discipleship and sainthood available for young people in local churches across the UK, a safe religion is not an attractive one, neither is one that is only about avoiding the good things that exist in the world. What those of us responsible for young people in churches have the responsibility for is not equipping young people for saint hood, but realising that they are already saints, already being directed by God and so our responsibility is to create environments where their acting as saints can take place, and their role of saints, often prophetic saints in the church, is welcomed and encouraged.

Young People as people called as saints currently under the directorship of God.

As CS Lewis said : ‘Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbour, act as if you did. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him’ . We need to act in churches as if young people are called as saints of God.

References

Shepherd, Nick Faith Generation,  2016

Wells S , Improvisation, 2005

Vanhoozer, K Drama of Doctrine, 2005, Faith Speaking and Understanding 2014

 

Losing ‘youth’ and adopting ‘YA’ – taking a lead from the film industry

Most weekdays I drive in my car from my home in Hartlepool to my work at office of Durham YFC in Durham, listening on the way to a couple of Pod-casts, one of which is the wittertainment podcast, with the good doctors Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode with their witterings on film, culture and responding to the various conflagations of the church of wittertainment to which the listeners all belong. However, aside from the meta aspect of this assumed church, a church of up to 2 million people globally..(itd be one of the larger denominations) – that’s not what this reflection is all about, its that over the last few years there has been a profligation of films for young adults that have encompassed relationships, horror, Goth culture, and more recently apocalypse – such as Hunger Games, The insurgent/divergent series and this last week the Maze runner series. When describing these films, they have a new genre- or at least have an abbreviation YA – as in Young Adult. So maze runner is a YA apocalypse/dystopia film, based on YA fiction.

For years youthworkers have tried to rid people aged between 11-20 or so of labels such as ‘youth’, ‘young person’, ‘teen’, ‘kid’, or ‘adolescent’, as they all carry with them associations of biological development, transitions between, storm/stress, victim or perpetrator (for more details read Roche & Tucker or Wyn & White), often the church in its organisations and institution follows suit, with again, each of the notions for ‘young adults’ having some connotation or other.

And so, in referring to the YA film and book genre – has this mega million pound entertainment industry sought to validate the time-period of the age, even for ill gotten commercial gains, long before YA-workers, YA-centres, YA-clubs or YA groups have done? and yet as YA-workers should we not have dropped the ‘youth’ ages ago. See the problem of youth for youth work.

And how might church need to reconsider itself to accomodate the YA’s? – those who do read books, think, and want to explore faith, YA’s who are caring politically, and want to change the world, YA’s who are technologically more literate, have access to more knowledge.

One of the sayings on the aforementioned film podcast and show is that (oft repeated) is that the current generation is more clever, more advanced, and has more access to more knowledge than the previous. If that is just on films in culture and in life – is that the same mantra for the YA’s and their  reality of life in church communities.

What would YA-Church look like? if churches considered how to shape themselves around the actual lives, needs, thoughts and capabilities of  11-18 yr old young adults…