Posted by: Postordinandy | February 9, 2015

A call to revolution in youth Ministry – a response.

Martin Saunders has called for a revolution in youth ministry on the Youthwork website:

Friends, I think we might have a problem. Youth ministry in the UK finds itself, all of a sudden, in a very different and more challenging place. We’re not, as Dorothy once said, in Kansas anymore...

Click on the link above to read his blog article (it should pop out as a new page). It’s stirring stuff.

I had to respond though. My response is on the blog too, but you can read it here if you prefer

—-

Interesting stuff Martin, thank you.

Some thoughts – just my initial reactions, probably nothing you have not also considered, some of which is at least implied in your own text…

“Twenty five years ago, churches were falling over themselves to employ youth workers.”
> well, this is sort of true. There was an increase in activity from (mostly larger, remarkably but-of-course-not-exclusively evangelical) churches who saw youth work as a viable and attractive option to try and stem the ever-present exodus of youth and young adults from their congregations (if not their communities). But many churches struggled to see the need for employed youth workers (and many of them were probably quite right in that thinking).
> Did we ever get close to a church having a youth worker being ‘the norm‘ – really?
> Just over 10 years ago I worked for an Anglican Deanery of 25 churches, one of which had a youth worker (coincidently the large, wealthy, evangelical church…) and the others were still mostly happy to rely on volunteers or accept that that ‘had no young people anyway’.
> Where these jobs did exist the terms and conditions were often very poor (in my first job, I received the princely sum of £25 a month, plus a room in a local families house – admittedly I was happy enough with this, as I believed it was ministry and therefore okay. I don’t regret this time, but would struggle to encourage someone to undertake a similar situation now).
> The training and resources provided were often as close to non-existent as an non-existent thing can get and still exist. The “job description” vague, the expected outcomes vaguer still (and, if they did exist, almost impossible to quantify or qualify).
> Youth workers were often expected to be young enough to ‘be in touch with the kids’ yet have an encyclopaedic knowledge of main-stream theology – but often no regard was paid to the little things like ‘health and safety’ or ‘child protection’.
> Too many youth workers operated in a holy vacuum that struggled to accommodate anyone with a world-view other than that of their parent church – and too many youth workers struggled with issues of their own faith but were unable to access support from peers or elsewhere.

.
“Training colleges were rapidly developing new courses to cope with the demand of people who wanted to respond to the greatest calling God can bestow…”
> Yes – and I am an advocate (and ex-employee 2) of these. But, again often the students who could or wanted to access these were from a pretty self-selecting small pool of churchman-ship and missiological outlook.
> Placement churches were likewise often limited in their expectations of what, exactly youth workers were for, and as tutors we often had – ahem – interesting 3-way discussions with students and placements about the requirements for JNC and/or degree-level experience and qualifications.
> Students moved from both of the colleges I worked for because there was too much or too little theology/youth work theory/hours – and ended up in the other college I worked for
> Many students lost faith in church-based youth work as they began to see it as too limiting or constricting. I saw others who removed themselves from training in order to carry on in youth ministry instead of this ‘secular youth work’.
> As recently as 3 or 4 years ago, other training colleges were still setting themselves up in competition to the existing colleges – increasing the options for students, yet watering down still further the waters for trainees to swim and learn in.

.

“British youth work superstars were born…”
> not necessarily a good thing.
[I count some of those on the list (and still others who might be on an extended version) as friends].

.

“the ‘fields’ were pretty ripe for harvest…”
> yes, they usually are.
> some schools were happy. Some of these activities were good. God moves in these things – and continues to do when these things do not happen.
> But we always, always had people circling above, ready to pounce on new converts, and/or argue about the quality of presentation or depth of theology.
> The glory days are always viewed through rose-tinted spectacles.

          – How many students at those schools were massively put off from Christianity by what they saw?

          – How many were convinced into a saccharine easy-to-swallow version of Christianity-lite that left a bitter taste in their mouths after a few months or years?

          – How many seeds where sown on soil unprepared?

          – How many swallowed by birds we failed to chase away?

> (please note, I am not saying these events and missions were bad or unwise, just that everything is more complicated in real life).

.

“Twenty five years on, British youth ministry suddenly finds itself in a rather different and more challenging place…”
> The world has moved. It always does. Some of this movement is positive, some more challenging. But movement it is.
> If we try to stay in the same place, we will quickly get lost.
> The evangelical address in an assembly was often received by staff and student alike with a lukewarm response at best, Christian Unions can too easily slip into conservative retreat or comfort zone, numbers at events mean almost nothing, ever.

.

“Meanwhile, vision for and within youth ministry seems to be petering out…”
> I want to challenge this quite strongly.
> In almost 30 years of youth work and ministry, I think the pull I have seen on youth workers and minister into ‘grown up ministry’ has always been more than a trickle. And sometimes it is quite the right step for the individual. But, until the ministry to youth is fully validated by the churches as a ministry in it’s own right, this pull will always exist.

          – some are pulled because they correctly discern that the skills and methodology of youth work can also work with older people (differentiated styles of learning?? Whatever next!!)
          – others will explore because they are fed up of being asked when they will be doing a ‘proper job’.
> budgets have been squeezed in all areas of life, and so resources have been slashed.

> At the same time, the increase in fees, and the successive governmental changes to codes of practice have narrowed (or at least changed) the options that training colleges can offer, and who can access these anyway.

.

“I wonder if it is too much of a stretch to suggest that the Church has lost faith in youth work”.

> I think it is too much to say that, yes.

.

“We’ve found one or two things that ‘work’…”
> Ah! I see what you have done with those inverted commas!!

.

> I probably said too much a while ago…. I’ll shut up now 😉

> Your thoughts?

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