A few weeks ago I attended the 4th Youthwork Summit, this year in West Bromich. If you’ve never heard of the youthwork summit click here for more info.
This is the 3rd Summit I’ve been to and my expectations were high, not least because we travelled to Scotland on Friday night to drop our son off before heading down to Birmingham and then had to leave the event early on the Saturday to return to Scotland to pick up said son. The two previous Summits I attended were both engaging and dymanic and on both occasions I came away with a head full of thoughts and ideas.
I say all of this because I want to make it clear how much baggage I brought to the event. We had sacrificed a lot of time and mileage to attend. And I guess its a way of me explaining why I found this years one a little, well…underwhelming.
It’s taken me a few weeks of thinking and talking to work out exactly why I left the event rather disappointed and I want to share that with you now. I’ll outline what I liked and didn’t like about each of the sessions and then give a brief summary at the end. These are just my own opinions and as I’ve made clear above, they are subjective. There are many factors that contribute to how someone evaluates an event and the fact that we travelled so far to get there does play a part in that.
What was clear from the start was that Martin Saunders, Matt Summerfield and Chris Curtis (the organisers) wanted more of a flow to the event talks and they achieved this. In previous years the talks have felt more disjointed but this year each talk was connected to the one before. For me, by doing this it meant that many of the talks seemed to repeat themselves. What I loved about the Summit in Manchester was that you didn’t know what would be said from each talk to the next. It was a wild flurry of ideas. It hurt my brain but I loved it. I didn’t feel that this year.
Highlights in the first session “He is Greater” were ‘apologetic for the apathetic’ by Ruth McGarahan and ‘Disrupting Chaos’ by Dr Kate Middleton. Both of these talks had something important to say and they were both full of information and practical advice. Ruth explained how important it is that our youth work seeks to unlock the head issues to that people can open their hearts and to keep asking questions as they make people think, get rid of assumptions, expose faulty logic, expose motivesand show we care. She left us with the a challenge from 1 Peter 3:5: Does the kind of life we are living provoke people to ask questions? “The gospel should be simple enough for a child to understand but deep enough for scholar to spend their life discussing”.
Dr Middeton shared how as teenagers are literally learning who they are through their teenage years, they can appear to be completely different people from one day to the next. She also made us aware that young people struggle to think about the consequences to their actions and so there is a need to communicate with teenagers in a very different way.
Both of the speakers used their ten minutes to communicate a number of ideas and it didn’t feel repetitive. I also thoroughly enjoyed ‘Slam Theology’ by Conrad Gempf and Harry Baker as it was something fresh and unique in an event which became increasingly stale as it went on. A mash up of theology and poetry that was challenging and inspiring.
It seemed odd to me to get the futurist Dr Patrick Dixon to talk about ‘future proofing your youth work‘ instead of actually talking about future technology and what we should be aware of (although his powerpoint was very good), ‘Let Muslims change you’ by Tim Fawssett was good but nothing I haven’t heard before and ‘Broken Sex’ by Beth Stout felt a bit like a re-run of Ruth Cordon’s talk from last year.
The talk I was most looking forward to in session 1, Dr Maureen Funkle talking about why ‘Harry Potter is Evil’, turned out to be a joke talk and I was quite angry about that. The last two Summits had talks that I strongly disagreed with and they provoked me to think. What concerned me this year was that I didn’t disagree with what anyone said. The voices were all from the same ‘pot’ and there was nothing particularly controversial from either side of the theological or cultural spectrum.
Session 2 “You will do greater things” started brilliantly with more ‘slam theology’ and was the most consistent in terms of its quality of talks. Dave Sharples heartfelt speech about ‘meet the parents’ brought a lump to my throat and Oliver Wests talk about ‘how the other half learn’ was interesting but was frustratingly short and I don’t think he really had the time to communicate what he needed to. It was also ironic that his talk was on visual thinkers and the video didn’t work.
Camila Batmanghelidjh talked about ‘hope in the inner city’ and the power that love has on the brain. It felt like she waffled a little but her talk was inspiring and gave practical evidence to the power of good that the concept of God can have on the brain. “The greatest gift you can show a person is your ability to love” Amen. ‘Growing up Poor’ by Lille Jenkins took a little while to get going but the lunch charity is an incredible project.
Sadly the session ended on a whimper with ‘your youth group can raise Lazarus’ by Lydia Corbett. I believe miracles can happen and that we should expect them and clearly God is doing some incredible things through her youth work but I found her talk to be a little naive as it didn’t address the issue of what happens when a miracle doesn’t happen? What happens when someone’s gran gets healed but then someone else’s gran doesn’t? We need to manage expectations and help our young people grapple with these issues but I felt Lydia’s talk was too simplistic.
The next session was titled “the takeover” and consisted of young people leading, speaking and singing. I’m not going to evaluate this session as I don’t think that’s right but what I will say is that the presenter of this session, who I think was 24 so not technically a young person, came from, what I title as, the patronising youth work factory.Now that probably seems rather judgemental and I’ll take that because it is. One of my ‘buttons’, the things that really anger me is when it appears that youth workers are talking down to young people. Now this youth worker probably wasn’t doing that but it definitely appeared that way to me.
“He must become greater” was the final session I was able to attend (I’ll watch the videos I missed online once they’re up) and again the talks were pretty inconsistent.
Jill Garrett’s talk on “Followship” really puzzled me. It was billed as a talk about being a good follower but it seemed to me that it was really a talk about what a good leader should be like and how a leader should manager their ‘followers’ so it was really a talk on leadership. Again maybe it’s just me.
I’d pretty much heard the talk ‘Faith in Crisis’ by Gavin and Anne Calver before but it was still engaging. Less could be said, and will be, about ‘Dealing with your dark side’ by Rachael Costa. I found the talk lifeless and, at times, bordering on parody. She didn’t really appear to know what she was talking about and just kept talking until the time was up. As founder of Think Twice I believe rachael has some important things to say but none of them were said in this talk.
‘Prayer without ceasing’ by Celia Apeagyei-Collins wins the award for most awkward moment at the Summit when she asked people to pray for Satan to come. It was a lively and passionate talk but I left without any real practical application.
Unfortunately we left during Danny Curtin’s talk on ‘it’s not your ministry anyway’ as our little girl was fed up so I’ll review that when I see the videos later.
Reading back over this post, I do appear to be incredibly negative about the summit this year. I still think it’s a great event but the format may becoming a little stale. Or it may be that the ideas around the talks have become a little stale. The concept comes from TED talks where people are given ten minutes to give the talk of their lives. Out of the 14 talks I heard, I’d only consider three of them to meet that standard. There seemed to be a lot of filler which is odd when people only get ten minutes.
The organisers wanted more theology in the event and that was partly successful but the problem was that the theology that was spoken about was very shallow. There wasn’t much depth to the talks or to the ideas being presented. Much of what was said seemed almost superficial.
The best talk at the event that had a good depth of theology wasn’t even in the main session. Conrad Gempf talking about his new book about Paul, during one of the afternoon breaks was engaging and challenging and highlighted what was missing from the main sessions.
Also, I felt there wasn’t much engagement with culture. Film, music, drama, art, design, sport. Young people are immersed in this culture and no one really talked much about it.
Again, these are just the thoughts of one person and there is no doubt that I’ll attend the next event (especially since it’s half an hour from my house) but I want more than I got this year. I want to grapple more. I want to disagree more. I want to hear from the best that youth work has to offer.
Were you at youthwork summit this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
It’s been over two months since I’ve posted anything on the blog. A lot has happened in that time:
I finished up as youth worker of South Beach Baptist Church.
My family and I have moved from Scotland to Preston.
I’ve started a job as Youth Minister at Hutton Grammar School.
It’s been a great couple of months and letting go of the pressure of spending so much time online has been good for me. Being absent from the social media has been good for me.
But now I’m feeling a little more settled (at least until my wife gives birth to our second child) and my mind has started reflecting again on youthwork practice, theology, fitting in and a whole host of other random interjections.
So hopefully I’ll be posting up some thoughts soon.
The following is a short talk I gave at the commissioning service of “Faith in Action” in July.
Faith in Action is a three day social action initiative in South West Scotland.
Yesterday, the sermon at church was about discipleship, specifically around this passage in Luke 14:
“25 Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
The preacher said that your love and allegiance to Jesus must be above that of your family. He said it was that simple.
I don’t find that simple. I don’t think it’s that straightforward.
In two weeks, I’ll step down as youth worker of South Beach Baptist Church in Saltcoats and move my family three hours away to Preston where I’ll take up the position of youth minister at Hutton Grammar School. My last two weeks will involve a number of meetings where I seek to hand the work over as smoothly as possible to the youth work volunteers as the church is not seeking another full time youth worker for the time being.
I have many questions about moving away from the church. Is this God’s will? What about the young people who feel I am deserting them? Is this the right thing to do? How do you know if you’re following God’s will? Does God even have a plan for my life?
I know there are people in the church who will be quite happy that I am leaving; people that believe I am unbiblical. But there are also people who are really upset that I am going, including some of the young people. I know some of them think that I am abandoning them.
One of the older members of the congregation, who took the news quite hard, said to me, “well if you’re sure it’s Gods will for you…”
The truth is, I don’t. I’m not sure I’ve heard anything from God on the matter.
Around Christmas time, a friend of mine said that there was a job coming up near where he worked that I should apply for. He is doing a similar job in a school and I saw how much he enjoyed it (and that the pay was really good too). So when it came up, I applied for it. There was no lightning bolt from God. No clear word that this was ‘right’ but I went for it and got it.
I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable doing church youth work as some of my theology is not ‘mainstream’ and I’ve had a lot of criticism for it. Also, church youth work does not pay that well either. The new job allows me to share my views without fear of judgement and gives our family financial security for the next few years.
So, I sat in church yesterday hearing that Jesus should be put first and I’m thinking, “well that’s all good in theory but does it work in practice?” It may have been Gods will for me to stay in the church (and get further into debt financially) but instead I’ve thought about my family and went for the better paid job. I’ll be honest. the wage was the reason I went for it in the first place. It’s the only reason I would move from Scotland to England; move away from the rest of my family and friends. Yes, the job will be challenging and exciting and play to my strengths but, first and foremost, it will provide for us as a family.
So I’m left wondering, am I putting Jesus first or my family first? Am I putting security and a ‘comfortable’ life over being a true disciple?
It’s a hard one isn’t it? It’s not the first time I’ve wrestled with this and it certainly won’t be the last.
On reflection, I guess this situation has taught me two things:
1) Trust. I have to trust that things will work out for my family as well as the church. In everything we do there is an element of trust that we are throwing out there and this situation is no different. I have to trust God. I have to trust those that have been left with the youth work.
2) I really don’t like pithy statements about faith. It’s easy to say you should love God more than your family but it’s far more difficult to know what that means in practice. Let’s not pretend that things are that easy. Life is complicated. Decisions and motives are complicated.
Do you agree? Surely I’m not the only one who thinks like this?
What do we do when the system fails us?
I believe it’s a question that is at the heart of the Nolans’ Dark Knight trilogy but one that the films fail to answer.
For Bruce Wayne, the system that is set up to protect the people of Gotham has failed and he becomes Batman to rectify that. He removes himself from the system and becomes a vigilante. But as I’ve discussed in my previous post, he doesn’t succeed. Batman is part of the problem. It is because of him that the violence escalates. Gotham is worse off because of Batman.
Raz A’Ghul in Batman Begins also believes that the system has failed but his response is to burn Gotham to the ground and start over. He believes that a fresh start is the answer. But we can all hopefully agree that this is not the way to do it.
At the end of The Dark Knight Rises (SPOILER) John Blake also believes that the system has failed and takes the drastic step to follow in the footsteps of the Dark Knight.
The films are full of people for whom the system has failed. But what is their response? Work outside the system? Destroy the system? None of these ultimately work.
So what’s the alternative?
It’s a question I’m not sure I have the answer to yet but I want to continue the discussion. As a youth worker, I feel these are important questions to chat through with young people.
We live in a corrupted world in which the system has failed us. MPs, police officers, bankers and the church have all let us down. How do we respond?
How do you respond? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I know a number of people who were disappointed with the character of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Some had issues with his voice but many felt he had no presence and paled in comparison with the Joker.
One reviewer complained that Bane was too similar to Batman.
I think that was the point. I believe that Bane is the yang to Batmans ying (just as the Joker was). Bane is what Batman could have been had he chosen to follow the league of shadows.
Film critic, Mark Kermode made this interesting comparsion. Batman wears a mask and has his mouth in his full view but Bane has his mouth covered and his face in full view. They are opposites. They are versions of each other.
I think that’s the great thing about the villains in these Batman films. Each of them are versions of Batman. Each of them are what Batman could have been.
We cannot change many of the situations and events that we encounter in our lives. Both Batman and Bane ended up in the pit. But we can change how we react to those events. Batman chose one path and Bane chose a different one.
How will you deal with the situations that you come face to face with today?
It’s always the same.
Every time an atrocious incident takes place (eg the Colorado shootings) films are blamed. Many people have come out to complain about “The Dark Knight Rises” and how it is responsible for corrupting minds with its violence.
On the website, “red letter christians” there is an article about the link between the shootings and the film and towards the end of the article, the writer says this:
“It is truly a tragedy when 12 people are killed by a deeply senseless act of violence. It is also a tragedy when the human mind is molded to enjoy and celebrate similar acts of violence on the big screen.”
What the writer seems completely unaware of is that in Nolans’ series of Batman films, the filmmakers are keen to state that it is because of Batmans violence that more violence takes place. The violence in the Dark Knight series escalates because of Batman himself.
If there were no Batman there would be no Joker, there would be no Bane and there would be no (spoiler) Talia Al’Ghul. These people exist because of Batman. The Joker strikes Gotham to show Batman that every one of us will be come a blood thirsty murderer if pushed far enough. Bane and Talia want to destroy Gotham because Batman killed Raz Al’Ghul.
These films demonstrate the circular nature of violence. These films are not pro-violence.
This is a great message to discuss with young people.
Where does violence take us? Does it really get us anywhere?
In fact, the only way that evil is dealt with in these films is through sacrifice. It is Harvey Dents supposed sacrifice (really Batmans) in the Dark Knight that leads to the Dent Act that removes criminals from the streets and it is Batmans sacrifice at the end of the Dark Knight Rises that brings victory.
The Batman films, rather than promote violence, shine a light on its fallacy and show that the myth of redemptive violence leads us straight to the pits of Bane’s hell.
Here’s a post I wrote for the website “reel faith”
We all love a good ending don’t we?
The problem is, Hollywood (and every other network) does not seem to want to give us one.
And it’s not just films that are guilty of this.
I enjoyed the six part ‘Hit and Miss’ drama on Sky Atlantic a couple of months back until the last episode which refused to tie up any plot strands and left us instead with a “second series cliffhanger”. Can’t we just have a TV series that ends well and doesn’t force us to watch the next series in the hope of some resolution?
The truth is, this is nothing new. Films and TV shows have been doing this for years. I gave up on ‘Lost’ a number of years ago after failing to resolve any plot strands after two seasons.
This probably all sounds like I’m against ‘cliffhangers’ in TV shows and films but I’m really not. There are plenty of TV shows and films that weave it in successfully. I enjoy ‘Fringe’, ‘Dexter’ and ‘Breaking Bad‘ and they all tease another series in each of their season finales.
Films like ‘Batman Begins‘, ‘X-men 2’ ‘Spiderman’ (admittedly all super hero films) all end with a sequel tease and, in my opinion, pull it off well. In fact, I think these examples make the film better.
So why do some work and others don’t?
Films and TV shows need to be able to stand alone. If I choose not to watch the next series or the sequel, I need to feel like that film or series’ main plot strands have been wrapped up. Let’s use ‘Batman Begins’ as an example.
At the end of the film, Bruce Wayne has become Batman and the villain (Raz Al’Ghul) has been defeated. The films’ main plot has been resolved. Yes it then sets up the introduction of The Joker but if I decided never to see ‘The Dark Knight‘ I’d be happy that the film delivered what it set out to accomplish.
The problem comes when a TV show or film fails to tie up its main plot strands and expects the audience to tune in to the next series or sequel to find resolution. That’s not right. I’ve spent my money; I’ve sat through a series; I expect a conclusion.
For me, I have similar ideas when it comes to my Christian faith. I like doubt. I like questions. I like the grey areas of faith.
As a youth worker, I walk the fine line between answering all of the young peoples’ questions and leaving room for ambiguity. Faith shouldn’t be wrapped up in a neat little box. We shouldn’t be able to answer all of the questions. We need to leave room for the ‘what ifs’. We need to need to help young people find some answers but also leave them wanting more.
It’s okay not to resolve all the ‘plot strands’ of the christian faith but we need to be sensitive to the young people we work with in order to know which ones to resolve and which ones to leave open ended.
One of my final preaching opportunities at the church I currently work for (I am finishing up as youth worker there on the 19th of August) is on the 22nd of July where I will be speaking at both the morning and evening services.
In the morning I have chosen to speak on “the (re)newed heaven and earth of Revelation 22 as a symbol of hope in a hope-less world; the title being “God is not finished with you yet”.
I want to to tell a number of ‘hopeful’ stories during my sermon. For example, I’m going to share this story which I read in ‘the week’ this morning:
“when barry eastwood fell over on his way out of a bank in manchester, sending £1000 in cash flying off in the wind, he didn’t expect to retrieve it- especially when a crowd of youths began grabbing the £20 notes. the 54-year-old told his son to find what he could, and went to recover in his car. But then a young man came over and thrust a handful of notes through the window. Another followed…By the end, all but £20 of his £1000 had been returned”.
It’s a great story of hope but one with a challenge. This story challenges our view of young people.
Hope challenges our view of how things are. Hope has to be worked out, by us, in reality.
So, here’s where I need some help. I’m looking for other stories to use in the sermon.
Do you have any stories of hope that I can share? Any stories that bring hope but challenge you on your outlook of things?
I’d be most grateful if you did.
- Moving On (smoorns.wordpress.com)