Youth Work Summit Musings Part 1: Exploring Culture

on Saturday, I attended the youthwork summit in Manchester: An incredible thought provoking, God soaked, challenging and inspiring day.

Over the next few days, I hope to explore what I thought worked well (as well as what didn’t), what inspired and challenged me, what I disagreed with and what, frankly, bored me. sadly I couldn’t make the retreat or the other activities on the Friday so my posts will focus solely on the Saturday event.

So let’s dive in.

Coming on like a Jesus-centred Mumford and Sons, ‘The Rend Collective Experiment’ blew me away and allowed me to enter into one of the most freeing and worshipful ‘worship times’ I have had in quite sometime. For once my identity wasn’t found in being the church youth worker and the time allowed me to drop my cynical walls and sing and cry to my Creator. I am still reeling from it.

After that blistering worship time, and the introductions were done and dusted, we started in the first stream of talks. The day was split into four of these ‘streams’ and in each, a handful of youth workery types were given between 5 and 15 minutes to ‘wow’ us, challenge us and make us think. The structure was similar to that of the TED events that take place around the world. The first stream of talks centred around the theme of exploring culture.

The first talk had the title “The Messiah wears Prada'”given by Dr Katie Edwards and looked at how advertisers use the biblical images of Jesus and Adam and Eve. Now, I know from speaking to others, that many people took a lot from this talk but throughout the various adverts I was left asking, “so what?”. For me, there was a lot of theory and very little application. I know advertisers use these images but I didn’t really see what I could do with any of the info. Maybe in the comments section people could let me know how they are going to use what was said in their youth work contexts.

Up next was Mark Roques talking about “James Bond and Rat Worship“. After around ten minutes of nonsense, Roques finally got to his point, which was the four responses that people will have to the faith:

1) it’s not scientific so bin it

2) believe what you like

3)believe and worship

4) ignore it and follow Jesus

He then discussed how and why we should help young people engage and be critical of culture. Now, I liked what Roques was saying but felt he could have missed out the james bond and rat stuff and focused more time on the last few points but that’s just me. Again, feel free to disagree in the comments section.

Nathan Shepherd then got up and explored how “facebook is killing youth ministry

I agree with Shepherds point that those who are part of facebook (and I included myself in that) may be suffering from hyper-connectivity. We have too many friends and want to keep constantly up-to-date with what’s happening which can result in us not being ‘present’ with people in the offline world. I know I am guilty of that. I’ll be sitting with family or friends and I hear a little voice in my head saying,

“just think about all the funny things people might be saying in their status updates. if you don’t log on now you’ll miss the chance to comment and so people won’t get to ‘like’ the next witty thing that you say.”

As I said, I liked what Shepherd said but felt he only covered one side of the argument. What about those who ‘do’ youth work on facebook? Yes, there are downsides to facebook as it pulls us away from ‘eye to eye’ contact but is that any less important than the ‘screen to screen’ contact? Some of the most profound and honest conversations I have had with young people has been online. I feel Shepherd missed a trick there. Nevermind.

As funny as Jo Davenports sale pitch for “i-merging church” was (and for the first few minutes I was sat thinking, “surely this a joke”) I felt the time could have been better spent looking at the issue of facebook and online youth work in more detail.

Next up was “the imagined self in a digital world” with Andrew Graystone. Now, this was more like it! I loved what Graystone was discussing here and his use of the demon possessed man ‘Legion’ in Mark’s gospel was eye opening and engaging. It challenged me on the various avatars that I project online: whether it be twitter, facebook, or this blog and whether they are true representations of my offline self. I think it’s a great challenge for us and the young people we work with.

It also gave me a way of communicating the trinity to young people by speaking of the different avatars of God. I know it may not be theologically robust or entirely orthodox but it’s definitely a good way of introducing young people to the theology of the “3 yet one” God that we serve. fascinating stuff.

Finally, Helen Gatenby gave the impassioned and highly subversive speech, “what are we to make of the riots”. It was a talk that stirred me up inside. She spoke of the injustice of an MP who spent 1000s on expenses such as TVs (yet no action was take against him) in comparison to the teenager who stole an ice cream during the riots and was imprisoned for 16 months!!!

What do we expect of our young people when they see the so-called ‘elite’ stealing and lying?

How can we model a better way? A stirring and challenging way to end the first stream of talks I’m sure you’ll agree.

So it was a mixed bag. There were some talks that inspired me and provoked me and some that simply passed me by. But I think that’s what makes the summit great. Every speaker and topic is not going to engage me. For every talk that bores me someone else will find it compelling. I’d rather spend 90 minutes watching 8 different talks that just one or two.

My next post will focus on the 2nd stream: “inspiring ideas” which was just as mixed as the first stream.

12 responses

  1. I agree that while the first talk was very informative, it completely missed any practical application. What I took from it was that ads have an enormous influence on young people and that we need to be aware of this, especially since they are using religious imagery. I think we should discuss this more with youth and make them more aware of how they are influenced by this. I felt that was especially the case for the girls, since the Eve-type gives such a wrong and damaging example. But I completely agree that it was fairly theoretical, though very interesting.

  2. Hey Steven, thanks for sharing your thoughts on YWS. I have to say I agree with your analysis of the talks from the first section.

    I was looking forward to Nathan Shepherd’s session on Facebook, but was disappointed that he didn’t go further and look at the positives. Like you, some of the best, most honest conversations with young people have been online.

    PS It was Andrew Graystone, not Garfield, who was talking about the imagined self in a digital world. I’d heard him deliver a similar talk previously, but still found it challenging. Seriously considering changing my Twitter name from ‘easyrew’ to ‘rickyrew’ as a result.

  3. […] Youth Work Summit Musings Part 1: Exploring Culture ( […]

  4. I also attended YWS and loved every minute. I feel you may have missed a trick though; the biased title of Nathan Shepherd’s talk was intended for the purpose of debate and titled: “Facebook is Killing Youth Ministry…Discuss.”

    I imagine if he or the organisers had intended to look at the positives and profound conversations that occur on Facebook along with the Youth Leaders/Pastors that seriously lack any integrity online, then the title of the 7 minute talk could have been called: ‘The Good and Bad of Facebook in Youth Ministry’ – but it lacks that kind of provocative ring to spark debate.

    I personally took on board the remit of the entire day, and presumed it was for us to debate in response to the purposefully provocative one-sided arguments.

    To say we are ‘disappointed’ at Nathan Shepherd’s talk or anyone else’s for that matter would be to miss the entire point of the day. Nevermind.

    1. Thanks for your comments Adam. I take them on board and maybe i did misunderstand the title, however I am entitled to have my opinion even if you disagree with it.

  5. Read you write up on me with interest,”full blown assault,spouted,tornado,could be a very difficult person to work with” amazing to think this describes little old me,every blessing,….

    1. I hope no offence was taken Lyn. I loved hearing what you had to say and what God is doing through you.

      1. No offence taken but it did make us all laugh here in isolated Seascale.

    2. Hey Lyn, whilst I probably wouldn’t have used some of those terms to describe your presentation, I have to say that I can see where Steven is coming from. You have a unique presentation style which at first appeared a little chaotic until I ‘tuned in’. You appeared to be speaking entirely in bullet points, which was a little confusing. I have to say though that by the end it was one of my favourite presentations, and one which God has used to challenge me most. So thank you for sharing…

      There’s no doubting your passion though or that God is doing great things through you and the project.

      Keep up the excellent work!

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