Book Review – 4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers


We have a calling to reach out to all people and yet there are some who feel isolated, condemned and unwelcome in our churches. The LGBTQ teens have often been pushed aside and the stories of mental health issues, suicide, bullying etc. are never ending. As Church, we need to do something…our arguments are alienating people from the love of Christ and the fellowship of faith.

4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers is a book published by the Youth Cartel that wants youth workers/ministers/pastors etc. to rethink how we engage with youngsters on the margins who are often isolated and avoided by church. Whatever your theological positioning, the Church does not have a good track record and something has to change, or we will continue to abdicate our responsibility leaving vulnerable young people further condemned and judged.

This book steps into a space to try and help those engaged in Christian youth ministry think through how they may be better equipped to honour those who find themselves in a place where a welcome is less than welcoming.  The book takes a conversational style which includes testimony and practice from one practitioner and has a response from a second contributor. This is done remarkably well although it does not provide all the answers, nor attempt to provide a theological treatise, but rather seeks to begin conversations. It is not possible to join the conversation and not change practice. It is not possible to avoid being humbled by our own failings whilst engaging with our LGBTQ community – this has to be good news! Reading this book and joining the conversation has changed my own thinking and is nudging me towards being a better ambassador of Christ.

The main contributors do a good job of seeking to share their perspective without forcing  a personal agenda although that struggle comes through on occasion. Each viewpoint gives insight to the difficulties faced when pastoring LGBTQ youth and highlights the personal struggles that a pastor goes through when seeking to support the very people they are called to serve, especially when a church congregation holds a traditional conservative approach to sexuality.

I would recommend the book because it opens up conversation – there were moments when I wanted to thank the contributor and give them a pat on the back and moments when I wanted to say, No Way! This for me, makes a good book. It is impossible not to  tread on toes and there were a few moments when I wanted to challenge theological thinking but this does not take away from the importance of the contributions.

Thank you to all involved for beginning this journey. I am looking forward to see how it will unfold.

Personal scoring 4/5

To buy a copy in the UK – follow the link from Gemma Dunning page here

25 years….still reflecting

The comment by Mike and the response from Martin got under my skin. Nothing personal because I love them dearly….genuinely, not just out of politeness. My previous post outlines my initial thoughts. I am still insistent that we should not look back on the late 80’s/early 90’s with rose coloured spectacles but I have continued to mull over these things that they have raised in my heart. 

Why did we get involved in youth ministry in this old era? There was no ‘profession’, very few from whom we could glean wisdom – we were ‘professional amateurs’, people who loved Jesus and concentrated our ministerial calling on a specific target age group known as ‘youth’! We had to learn skills in situ, often making more mistakes than we would care to admit and we were moderately successful. As the ‘amateur status’ grew, we sought to be excellent in what we did and there was the move to the professionalisation of youth ministry were people ceased to be ‘professional amateurs’ but ‘professionally skilled’. This change also transforms the framework in which people operate, the arena is so much wider, so much so that with many years of youth ministry experience, with professional skills, the lack of qualifications barred me from many roles in youth ministry. I left a salaried role. John Piper says;

“Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake….there is no professional panting after God.”

Expectation upon youth ministers/workers/pastors has changed dramatically and it may well be that the professionalisation of this aspect of ministry has impacted the spiritual health of many of those who serve in this area. 

However, this is a church issue as it should be impacted by our discipleship programmes and recruitment of these workers but I am not sure that this is anything new in the life of the church. Every generation needs to understand what it means to live a God honouring life in its context. The context is changing daily and we need to work out how to support those on the frontline so that they can serve well and effectively. This challenge belongs to us all.

I am blessed to know many good, passionate people engaging in youth work who are passionate for Jesus and challenge my own discipleship journey. I do not think that it has got worse over the last 25years but I do believe it has become harder. I am so grateful to those who stand for truth and live to serve our younger generation. I, for one, stand with them and will do all I can to help them in their role….I know that this is not something I do alone.

25 years…sees quality drop! WHAT?

“The best ever…..” titles can sell music albums, provoke debate and allow for wide differences of opinion. Some things are near impossible to determine – which team was better, the Liverpool team of the late 70s or the Manchester United team of the late 90s? It is all subjective and there are so many variables that comparison is nigh on impossible.

When Mike Pilavachi says that “the quality of youth workers has gone down dramatically”, you would be wise to listen and reflect but let’s take a moment…what are the markers? What are the reference points? Mike follows by saying that many of the best youth leaders are moving on to ordination and so there is a wider context to this statement that we must consider; the ‘quality pool’ maybe more shallow because of other extenuating circumstances.

Martin Saunders, another highly credible voice, responded to Mike’s original interview with an article that sought to support and clarify what Mike was saying. This article was more troubling for me. As someone who was a salaried youth leaders from circa 25 years ago, and currently a volunteer leader, it is important that we do not compare the incomparable and we must not look back with rose tinted spectacles of the reality of those years. Some things back then were exceptional, some things not – it is no different today – some things are exceptional, some are not. The references to ‘average youth leader’ in the differing generations are unhelpful, inaccurate (even allowing for artistic licence) and prevents proper engagement with the meat of the discussion

In every generation, the same struggles exist for us all – living as Children of Light. The context of todays culture is different but the struggles are the same. If the issues of holiness, bible reading, devotional life etc. are the issues at stake (and I agree that we may need to look at this more consistently) then this is not something that should be placed upon youth leaders alone but every ministry of the Church. Discipleship is a whole Church responsibility.

In the bigger picture of life, this storm will pass. However, I hope that the heart of both Mike and Martin continue to inspire us all – they are such important figures in championing youth ministry and I value them both. I also hope that others involved in youth ministry do not feel undervalued or discouraged as they serve – you are loved, valued and are appreciated.

Thank you to everyone who engages in youth ministry – you are AMAZING!

Growing Faith

The cries of a new born baby are often followed by words such as “isn’t she beautiful, she is perfect”. A few weeks later, the understanding of perfect may be somewhat different as sleepless nights, countless nappy changes and cries that demand ear plugs demand attention. Years later….the word perfect is rarely heard.
It can feel much the same as we seek to nurture our teenagers in faith. There may be moments when we see a teenager who makes great strides on their faith journey and there are moments when it feels as if we are walking in reverse. How do we nurture our teenagers in a life of faith, are there keys that will unlock the door to success? What could they be?
Relationship – As any child grows, they need the care of an adult and the friendship of others. Our teenagers need to have faith modelled by the wider congregation and friendships that will help them take hold of the eternal truths of the gospel of Christ in a changing culture. These relationships can sustain through difficult seasons and can help sustain others as we work together.
Affirmation – So many teenagers are being told what they do wrong, how much better things may be if they were encouraged for what they did right. Encouraging people changes their outlook and affirmation helps to reinforce a positive identity that nurtures growth and fruitfulness. All people value praise, it cheers the heart and inspires people to greater things.
Celebration – parties for birthdays or Christmas mark out special occasions. We all need those milestone markers that chart our story and it is no different with our faith. There is a need to mark key moments of the faith journey, most notably in baptism and confirmation but also in the more regular events and festivals where we can have reminders of the journey that we travel.
Time – you do not learn to walk in a day, growing in faith takes a lifetime. We need to be patient with our teenagers and provide ample space for them to explore, experiment and to encounter the life of faith for themselves. Providing time and space could be one of the greatest gifts that we give to our young people.
There is no magical solution to growing faith in our teenagers but there are keys that may unlock the door to a lifetime of faith that encourages others to join the Church. And just maybe, we ourselves may encounter something of God’s grace and may look at our young people, at whatever stage of the journey, and say…..”wow, perfect!”

….our buildings shape us in youthwork #ywchat

As I am preparing for a seminar on reaching young people, I am re-reading the Pimlott book (Youthwork after Christendom) and have been stopped in my tracks by one page. It articulates many of my own frustrations and  has made me quite emotional – want to shout it from the rooftops! Can’t do that but I can write a blogpost.

Our missiology tends to be determined by our ecclesiology, which then influences our Christology. This means that the way in which churches and youthworkers undertake mission is often shaped by the buildings they have. This approach gives a perspective and view of Jesus that tends to be building centred rather than lifestyle focussed. This is a big mistake…….”

We need space for our work, we need an arena for doing our work but the space required is determined first by our purpose. A street corner may be adequate, a skate park or an old shipping container, we do not always need property, although on occasions it may be so, but we do need space…..what that space looks like does not always equate to bricks and mortar.

Basic thoughts but important thoughts too!

Youthwork: Something has to change

This is an article that I wrote for “Changing London” published February 2013

Something has to change!

There has rarely been a better time to engage with young people in the city than today. It is a time of opportunity, a time to hope, and a time to engage in the lives of the young, in order that we may make a difference, spiritually and socially, one life at a time. Yet, there seems to be hesitancy, even within the church, regarding people engaging with young people. You may disagree, for the number of youth workers employed by churches is impressive – yet I suspect this may be a part of the problem. Have we abdicated our responsibilities to the ‘professional’ few? And for those church members that are engaging with young people, are we doing so beyond our own walls or do we cater just for our own? There are plenty of church members who have uttered the phrase, ‘I was involved in the youth work once…’ If that is you, is it time to engage again?

In working with young people, as we all know, it would be wrong to say that there are no difficulties; our media paints a less than hopeful story of the nation’s youth, often focussing on headline stories that relate to negative behaviour; and the current time of austerity means that many statutory services which support young people are disappearing. These difficulties should not overwhelm us, however, but should spur the church into action.

Youth work essentially encompasses three things; good and trusting relationships between youth and adults, a positive peer group, and provision of opportunity. The nature of youth work, perhaps especially in an urban mission context, is not glamorous, demands much time and effort, and may feel fruitless on occasions. However, with perseverance and the willingness to be present in the lives of young people we will see that we can be effective.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that ‘every attempt to impose the gospel by force, to run after people and proselytise them, to use our own resources to arrange the salvation of other people, is both futile and dangerous.’ These words also ring true in youth work: we see that the most effective strategies demand great patience and sensitivity as we wait for the opportunities of sharing life and faith. The secret of good youth work and ministry is to have a meaningful presence, where we choose to grapple with the issues young people face (with the young people, rather than for them), over the long term. The issues will vary from borough to borough, estate to estate and even street to street, yet one thing is forever consistent: the need for sustained, positive relationships.

Projects and programmes may need ‘professionals’ to sustain them, but the need for ongoing and positive relationship is far easier to fulfil – and it is easy to begin. Who are the young people in your life? Do you listen to them? How do you engage with them? Give them some time, listen to them and journey with them.

The results may surprise you. You may discover that youth work is not work, rather an extension of your life. And you may then discover that God provides greater opportunity to work with young people. In a wider context, the Christian community is almost certainly the best placed to meet the current needs and requirements of providing good youth provision that transforms lives and communities. The opportunities are endless, the church has the resources, but to be effective… something has to change!

the lies that motivate to destroy

We are selling lies! We are destroying lives!

We are peddling myths to the society in which we live with a sound-byte culture of hope and promise that gets knocked down and destroyed with ease and regularity.  For so long we have promised people, especially our younger generations, that we will “unlock their potential” or help them “realise their potential” and when they do…….it is not good enough, we knock them down and kick them too!

Not everyone can be the winner – in sport there is just the one gold medal, the one trophy, the one championship leader, yet many more will take part. Does this mean that the person in 3rd place is a loser? What if they ‘maximised their potential’?  If they achieved their potential and finished in 4th place, is this success?

If we are to be genuine, we must learn to celebrate when people realise their potential, even if they do not take top spot.  When England reach the Quarter finals and lose, we should be happy if they have performed their best.  This mentality should be spread to all things and all people.  Our maxim should revolve around people giving it their best, doing their utmost and wherever they land, being satisfied in a job well done.

We do not all have the same opportunities but we all have one ability open to us – to give our best to the task at hand.  We must refrain from false promises of motivation and be more realistic.  Let us stop peddling lies to motivate individuals and then destroying them when they do not become ‘top dog’!