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!

endings need preparation?

moleskine Some endings can be far easier to deal with than others. Time specific endings given in advance can be far easier to deal with emotionally and mentally whereas unexpected change leaves a deeper grieving process. In the current financial climate there are those that have been given redundancy papers without warning and the cost to their emotional and mental health may be strong. They have had no time to prepare themselves for the things coming their way and so it has become more difficult to adapt to new things overnight. The pain is not just of those who are leaving but also for those that remain. They have to learn new systems, new responsibilities and all this without their friend/colleague to support them.

I am uncertain that you can leave any youth ministry role “well” as there are such a varied list of expectations from those people with whom you engage. I believe it is possible is to prepare people for the leaving and to leave a decent platform for those that may follow. This will allow for the opportunity for new growth and development for others.  How are you preparing?

salaried or volunteer youthworker?

For the last few years, I have ceased to be a full time salaried youthworker/minister/whatever.  Thankfully, the role for which I now draw a salary has some engagement with young people but it is no longer the primary role.  This means that much of my contribution in the youth work world is done as a volunteer and after over 15 years in salried roles, this has been quite a change.

The advantages of being a volunteer in youth work and ministry?

1) The politics of organisation can be more readily avoided (not ignored though!)

2)People in authority often treat you better

3) It is easier to avoid the red herrings to effective work

4) Influence on behalf of the youth team is expanded

These were my top four – it has to be said that I miss aspects of that salaried role but nevertheless, love the things I am doing now.  Neither is better, or worse, its just different.  A little like the Starbucks logo change……hmmmmmmm.


Book Review – “The Faith of Generation Y” Pt2


The 2nd part of “The Faith of Generation Y” sees the sociological aspect of the research meet with theological reflection through the work of Stanley Haerwas.  The premise that christian “youthwork is only moderately successful in bridging the gap between church and society and raising young peoples Christian consciousness” is, according to the writers, that a ‘strategic liberalism’ has been taken up youth workers and that this is done outside , rather than rooted in, christian community.

The words that should adorn our lips in BOLD are ‘ story and engagement’ and these need to be rooted within the context of a wider christian community.  Tradition is important and whilst the “church appears to want the young people to discover their own way of being church”, the young people of GenY “do not want to be left to their own devices”.  This is a challenge to those of us working in the church with young people.

The conclusion that is reached from the research in this book is that  …..”the primary theological responsibility for the church is to give glory to God, the primary social responsibility for the church is simply to be its own authentic self”.

This is a whistlestop review – the book is far better than I have portrayed and one to read.  Read it and be challenged

sitting in the stairwell

The phrase “sitting in the stairwell” from Marko’s Youth Ministry 3.0 has sat with me for some time now.  It is a challenge to find those places in which we can sit, ready to serve.  Looking for those places has led me to think of those people that have ‘sat in the stairwell’ on my behalf, those people that have chosen to place themselves in a place of service, those who have given me time and space, those that have been as a friend.

A few years back, I left a job that was special.  It was one that had its challenges but the momentum was all forward and there were many positive results.  There was the usual politics, but that goes for any role we have, and things were looking good for the future, despite various challenges on the table.  However, during a long season where the politics, hurdles and personal things came together in an unnatural way, I chose to leave.  My spiritual life was crumbling as the circumstances battered the fragile shell of mine – there was no alternative.  No-one questioned my decision (to my face anyway) and I believed that there would be people to help me re-form my spiritual life as these were my friends.  Unfortunately, it was not that easy and those I relied upon became too busy.

I entered a wilderness, yet one man whose path crossed my own chose to ‘sit in my stairwell’.  In the 18 months that followed he spoke few words, he spent little time with me, but he provided me with everything I needed.  He welcomed me into his tribe, he engaged my family, let me know he was there, encouraged involvement at my own pace and demonstrated that he understood my struggles.  During this time, spiritual life returned and balance of life returned.  I owe him a great debt as he was willing to sit in a place that my friends did not – that type of thing cannot be bought.

My friend has since moved on to new pastures but our paths crossed again the other week.  It was a privilege to share with him in ministry and over lunch had an opportunity to thank him for sitting in my stairwell.

My friend has mentored me – albeit in an unusual way – and now I am looking for the opportunities to do the same for others.

youth ministry 3.0

The last few days I have chosen to revisit Marko’s book Youth Ministry 3.0.  It is an easy read but provides great food to fill up on and a challenge to move forward.  If you have not read it yet, go buy it and sit in a coffee shop, it will be worthwhile.

The discussions that were quite lively have died down a little and there is less ‘euphoria’ over what was written, maybe because we have settled back into our contentment as we recognise that some of our YM 2.0 ways still work and therefore the cost of moving ahead into new ways is too great a burden to bear.

Here in the UK, the youth ministry scene is slightly dfifferent to the USA and it is my belief that we may be a little ahead of our friends from over the pond, however, the principles still stand.  The book continues to deliver for me, even missed my stop on the tube as I was so engrossed again, therefore a second read was essential.

So what reflections after a 2nd reading months later?  For me the challenge is the timing.  We are in transition between the YM 2.0 and YM 3.0 mindset and the culture we dwell in is also split.  Yes, youth culture is ahead of the game, this is not news, but the way the world around us deals with such things is also divided.  I believe youth culture adapts to this better than the adults do – but there are some young people who are themselves in the second era.  Look at the difference in rural and urban settings, the young people are worlds apart in terms of culture, even in the UK!  But that is the beauty of YM 3.0 – it covers both bases, it gives room to work and a freedom to try new things, fail sometimes, laugh and cry, as well as permission to break a mould that some of us may be trapped in.

The challenge of adapting to the changing mindset will require sacrifice and time – my dream is that there will be plenty of us who are prepared to pay the price and give it the time.  I, for one, am willing ‘to sit in the stairwell that leads to the youth culture underground‘ and play my part.  Am trusting that others will sit with me and that we can support one another through this wonderful time in the history of God’s world.

redundancy – time for change

Seems as if news of redundancy is everywhere at the moment, both known and those about to hit – taking various forms and done in different ways – yet the result remains the same, pain, hurt, mixed emotions, hope, promise and change.  In the world of youthwork and ministry we are seeing significant losses as a result of finance, restructuring and new circumstances.  We should not be surprised as there are limits to the financial pots that remain, cuts have to be made somewhere and although we care passionately and will shout for our friends there are often the forgotten people….the friends and colleagues who remain.  They also have emotions to deal with and have to develop new ways of working, new systems and strategies – let’s not forget them.

However, there is another thing on my mind…..change.  In my 20 years in youth related activity, the ones who usually shout the loudest for change have been the youth bods, they deal with it everyday and have to respond quickly and efficiently.  Yet, our responses to the redundancies, and proposed redundancies, seek to maintain the status quo.  Why is that?  What if we looked at the changes thrown at us in a different light?  What if the changes being thrown at many in the youthwork world were the beginnings of a new way of working?  What if the redundancies, that we are becoming aware of, are just the start of something stronger, something more able to accommodate the needs, aspirations and dreams of young people?  We have ridden a wave these last years, maybe the bubble has burst, just maybe something better is around the corner.  I may just be dreaming but there has to be hope, there has to be something we can cling to.  Surely?  Please?

Don’t get me wrong, I am hurting for those who have received letters and meetings.  I have been on both sides of this fence in these last 12 months and the pain is very real but I am beginning to question whether the systems/models we have created in youthwork and ministry are the appropriate ones.  If the current financial meltdown is anything to go by, we have created a way of working that is not altogether sustainable in financial terms for the cycles of boom and bust or, at the very least, a model that the financiers are not seeing as priority when credit is at a premium.  I think we need to face some changes in the way we operate and the way we finance youth work and ministry in the coming years – there has to be a better way and in my belief there are no better people than youthworkers to begin to make those changes.

So what is a/the solution?  That is something that I am thinking through.  We are seeing networks beginning to develop into partnerships more than has happened before, just maybe this is the firstfruits of something special.  I hope so.


death of a youthworker?

end of the road The last 9 months have been an interesting journey.  My change in jobs has meant that I am no longer considered a “youth” worker/minister/pastor.  For some, this is not an issue but for others it is – and for me it has been a time of reflection.  20 years in youthwork has been fun, exhausting and the best ride of my life.  However, I still consider myself part of the youthworker club (couldn’t think of a better name – youthdom??!!) and still engage with youth – the difference is that it is as a volunteer and no longer as a salaried role.

Over the years my priorities changed, my ways of working altered and my views on success changed radically.  With so many years experience people view you as some kind of authority and whilst the experience counts for a great deal, even those of us with significant years under our belts can make mistakes.  My job role may have changed but I still consider myself a youthworker and will always fight the youthwork corner in any debate – this youthworker has not died.

So, as a volunteer and as a vocal supporter of  youthdom in my salaried role, I have found the same struggles, joys and exhaustion as before.  Even last night my sleep was restless as I pondered the youthwork of my local church – my desire is still the best, my passion still for the young and my heart beats with the same old drum.  Is this the death of a youthworker?  Not a chance – here’s to another 20 years!

youthwork after christendom

youthworkafterchristendomhave finished reading “youthwork after christendom” and enjoyed it.  It is not a huge book but is packed with nuggets that are useful for youth ministry and rather than providing a way forward in youth work it provides a few roads that you may wish to travel as you work with the young people.

A historical context of christendom and youthwork is the starting point (very much in a UK context) that then develops into a perspective on spirituality and young people leads into Mission and the directions we can travel in youthwork in the new environment.  The 4th chapter dealing with the mission of God and the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP) were interesting and provided some insight into how this can work in different settings.  Some short work on the “process v product” of the ministry was challenging and for some youth bods would be worth the price of the book alone.

The book does not provide a “how to” guide but does ask questions whilst underpinning the need to KNOW THE CONTEXT of your work.  Yes, I am shouting that bit – whatever your work/ministry is, it needs to relate to context.  There are illustrations littered throughout and it is definitely worth a read.