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!”

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!

Quote Frenzy – YAC style

Three Quotes today from the legend that was Mike Yaconelli:

“There are a whole lot of people who are so freakin’ busy—they’ve so cluttered up their lives—they’re at their wits’ end. And if they’d only just stop for a minute, they could hear the God of the universe whisper to them, “I love you.” ”

“I’m in awe of youth workers, and I think Jesus is, too. I just wish the Church felt the same. ”

“We have a room here full of rag-tag, foolish, unsophisticated, unfinished, work-in-progress, weak, disrespected, ragamuffins, who have been called to work with a group of rag-tag, foolish, unsophisticated, unfinished, work-in-progress, wondering young people. What an honor. What a calling. ”


a youth work break

This Sunday sees my last youth meeting for a while.  It has been a tough decision but one that will hopefully benefit the young people, the church and, of course, me!  My daily work for which I am salaried will remain unaffected, so there will be a small element of engagement with the youth work world, but face to face meetings will be rare.

How long?  I am not sure – definitely a term (I am working with a team of youngsters in summer) maybe longer.  My heart is already torn but it is the correct call.  Sometimes the tough calls are important, this is one of those times.

Supervision Thoughts

The whole nature of management and supervision of youthworkers (or anyone for that matter) has been a constant source of frustration and tensions in the Christian world for some time.  In regard to youth workers/ministres/pastors etc., we have raised the understanding in training which in turn has increased the expectation of the line manager by the worker.  Often, those responsible, in church settings, are ill equipped to deal with problems and issues.  Below are some pointers in dealing with problems;

Instead of reacting to the difficulty/problem, attempt to understand why there may be a problem.  Just a subtle shift, but still important.  As you understand the problem and define it more clearly, then there is a greater chance of dealing with the problem in a constructive way.

to do this, think through these questions:
a. What evidence is there that suggests a problem?
b. Where is the problem occurring?
c. How is the problem occurring?
d. When is the problem occurring?
e. With whom is the problem occurring? (Not; Whom is causing the problem at this stage?!)
f. Why is the problem occurring?

None of this is rocket science but it helps to be reminded once in a while

what are you thinking?

You know you will be ok, look he is wearing a hoodie so he is cool and so the group will be fine.

This statement was made in front of me and I was not sure whether to be happy or upset that such a comment was made. Initially, I was quite pleased that a parent was encouraging their child to the youth group that I lead on a voluntary basis, but as the statement sunk in, I realised how poor a statement that it was.

1) wearing a hoodie does not determine the value of anything.  All it says is that the individual is wearing a hoodie.

2) being ‘cool’ was an expression from the 80’s, I am in my 40s’, being ‘cool’ is not even close.  Makes me want to puke!

3) the value of the group is nothing to do with the clothing choices of the members/leaders – it is based on the quality of the relationships that the group develops

The list could go on – the utterances of this parent make me shudder – the good news is that the member settled in well, contributes to the group and has strong relationships with others.  On the other hand, my hoodie tops do not get worn as often!

Book Review – Sacralized Youth Work – Sally Nash

The Grove Booklet Series is one that, for me at least, helps to provoke thinking and discussion.  Their very nature means that they are easy to digest but they are best read when chewed over for a time.  One of the most recent in the youth series is “Sacralized Youth Work” from Sally Nash.

This booklet questions our approach to youth work and helps Christian youth workers bridge the gap between the secular and the sacred.  Many of the ideas expressed here relate with the ‘Generation Y’ books recently published and so, to those that have digested them, this is a whistlestop tour of the developed thinking there.

According to Nash, there are 5 key elements to sacralized youth work which are: Place, Conversation, Shared Experience, Fun and Journeying.  These are fleshed out a little through the booklet and worth wrestling through with your team.

The one quote that has stuck with me over the last few weeks since reading my copy is; “young people wanted to talk more about spiritual matters, more than the youth workers gave them opportunity.”  This quote should challenge us all.

Get hold of a few copies and read it through – it will be worth it!

not as many on twitter as we think!

Being on twitter with lots of youthwork type folk and it feels as if lots of people are on twitter.  However, last week, I was at a conference where there were over 50 attendees and no-one else tweeting from the 4 day event.  Last night in Cambridge (see previous post) there were few ‘tweeters’ active in the 800 or so attendees.  All this is a far cry from the plethora of folk at yws11 and ywc11 – to be honest, it was a surprise.

The truth is, there are not as many people on twitter as we think!


The youthwork summit 2011 was a resounding success with a good mix of contributors leaving the assembled throng plenty to reflect upon, debate with and be challenged by. It’s style was similar to the TED talk approach with short presentation and opportunity for debate following for those that wanted. The worship aspect of the day was more traditional – as if Rend Collective Experiment could ever be traditional, and the end of the day has people wanting more and the call for summit 2012 ringing in the ears.
There is no doubt that the event itself was ‘top drawer’ but it is by no means perfect. There are downsides, an event like this is high energy and drains the reflective soul, the length of the day means that aspects of youthwork practice/theory are paid scant attention, yet for all these the event works extremely well and scores highly in the sense that it achieves those things that are its target goals.
A quality event that is/should be an important part of a youth workers calendar. May 19th 2012 is the date for next year, cancel your champions league final tickets, set your TiVo to record day one of the Olympic torch relay and plan to be in london at the youthwork summit 2012.