Tag Archives: international christian college

Practical ways of using film in youth work: Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about one way of using film with your youth group. read it here.

Today I want to offer another option.

Character Study

In all the youth work books that I have read that offer film clip discussions, I have never seen any offer character studies. By that I mean looking at a specific character in a film and discussing their journey through it. In many films, characters have an arc that they go through. They start at one place in the beginning and end up somewhere else by the end. It may be that their beliefs have changed or they achieved something but in most cases, a change happens.

An interesting way of using film with your youth group (or church) would be to start this change over a number of weeks and look at the decisions the character is making. You could show the film in the first week of the month (similar to the structure of my last post) and then over the course of the rest of the month, chart the progression of the character or simply look at their worldview concerning different issues.

This could result in a rewarding study that helps young people appreciate the characters in film and discuss whether they would make the same decisions if they were in their shoes.

I’ve put an example below of the George Clooney movie, “The Descendants“.

Week 1:      Watch the movie and have short discussion on the George Clooneys character

Week 2:      What kind of person is the character at the start of the movie? What are his relationships like?

Week 3:      Dealing with grief or shocking revelations

Week 4:      What kind of person is the character at the end of the movie? What has changed?

Practical ways of using film in youth work: Part 1

I run a website with fellow ICC graduate Mark Williamson called reel faith which seeks to offer an alternative view on how films should be used in youth work. I taught an open evening lecture on the subject at the international christian college on Thursday 1st March and myself and Mark are speaking about the same issue at the youthwork summit in London on May 19th. I have also written a number of blog posts on the subject of why we should no longer be using two minute clips from films to simply make a theological point. Read them here or here.

As you can see, dialogue between film and faith is incredibly important to me.

At the lecture at ICC I offered a couple of practical ways films could be introduced into your youth work programme and over the next couple of blogs, I want to outline those ideas.

One Month Film Study

Start by showing the film at your group on the first week of the month. Show the film in its entirety and have a discussion using the questions I have suggested previously. What will become obvious is that there will be two or three major themes that the young people highlight from any given film and on that evening you can have a brief discussion about those themes and find out what the young people think about them.

For the three remaining three weeks I would suggest looking at one theme a night. I find this a great way to do youth work as the talks and discussions you will then be giving for the rest of the month have been suggested by the young people. It is issues that they want to wrestle and grapple with and the young people should be more engaged with you because of that. It also means that rather than coming with your own agenda for a particular film, you are letting the film speak for itself and allowing open dialogue to flow out of it.

So in theory you could do two or three films over a year and spend a month looking at each one of them. You are no longer spoon feeding young people about issues within films and instead are giving them the tools to critically engage with film and culture in general themselves.

An example could be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Week 1-      show the film

Week 2-      ‘Going against the flow’

Week 3-      ‘Integrity’

Week 4-      ‘Sacrifice’

Have a go yourselves and put your comments and thoughts up on here or on the reel faith site. We’d love to hear them.

Reel Faith discussion at ICC

On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of hosting an evening at the International Christian College in Glasgow, looking at how we use film in christian youth work and how it could be developed. Below is a summary of what I said:

I started by asking three questions to get folks thinking:

1)             What is your favourite genre?

2)             Can you think of a time when a film changed you in some way?

3)             How do you use film in church or with young people?


Films are stories and stories have been around for thousands of years. Judaism used a form of oral storytelling as a way of self definition. It helped them to understand who they were, how they came to be and who there God was. Jesus used parables (stories) to communicate the kingdom of God. And today, we use film to do the same.

Moses encountered God in a burning bush. Moses would have walked past that bush many times but on that occasion God chose to make that place holy. On that occasion heaven collided with earth. In Celtic theology, this is understood as a ‘thin place’. A place where heaven and earth collide. I believe film can be thin places. Places where we encounter the divine.

Film Theory

Historically there has been five ways in which people have interacted with film:

1)    Avoidance- (steer clear)

2)    Caution (watch with suspicion)

3)    Dialogue (a belief that films can have theological themes)

4)    Appropriation (we can achieve greater insight about god and ourselves)

5)    divine encounter (we can encounter God and be transformed)

Group Question

1) which view do you most often hold?

How we have historically used film with young people?

The Matrix Red/ Blue Pill clip

1)             Who has used this clip in their youth work or seen it used in youth work before?

It’s not wrong to show a two-minute clip but what you need to ask, is, the theme I am communicating through the clip true for the rest of the movie?

What other themes appear in ‘The Matrix’?

The blurring of humans and machines, Sex and sensuality, Fate and freewill, mirrors. The blurring of the real world and the simulated world. Philosophical themes of Descartes, Socrates, Plato, bondage and S&M, sexual ecstasy and orgies.

Do any of these ideas conflict with the Christian worldview? By endorsing one theme, are we endorsing the themes we do not agree with?

Now you make think this is all nonsense and unnecessary. Maybe there is nothing wrong with cherry picking scenes from movies that fit the message we want to share. We realise that we shouldn’t read the bible out of context. the bible out of context. Because it’s wrong and can and has lead to all sorts of misunderstanding and oppression. The bible has been used to condemn and oppress all sorts of people because readers have cherry picked what they have wanted to hear. We come to the bible, not with an agenda, but to hear the inspired words of God. I believe we should be doing the same with film.

So what’s the alternative?

Part 3- A new kind of film criticism

Rather than picking out specific scenes to a film your young people might not have seen, why not start by watching a film and then allowing a discussion to take place over a period of time. Rather than having an agenda, let the film speak for itself. You could then do a whole series of discussions and chats around the themes of one particular film, showing a short clip to refresh their memory.

This also gives young people the tools to be able to do this on their own when their watching films or TV programmes.

Here are the questions that I believe are useful to helping people unpack a film.

What the key themes that this film is trying to engage with?

Ø      What is the film trying to tell you about this?

Ø      Is this the commonly held perception of this?

Ø      What’s your perception of this?

Ø      What’s the biblical perception of this?

Ø      Do these compliment or conflict with each other?

Can you see yourself in any roles / do you identify yourself with any characters?

Are there any background influences from writers/directors that shape the view?

We then watched my short film ‘prodigal’ about a repentant Satan trying to re-enter Heaven and used the questions as a test-case study.

Further Reading

Higgins G        “How movies helped save my soul”
Johnston R       “Finding God in the Movies”
Johnston R       “Reframing theology and film”
Johnston R       “Reel Spirituality”
Ortiz G          “Explorations in theology and film”
Sogaard V        “Media in Church and Mission”

Reel Faith: A Conversation at ICC

Little old me will be discussing film and youth work at the International Christian College on 1st March at 6.30pm. Come along if you can.

details below or check out the ICC website here

Reel Faith: Film and Youth Ministry in Conversation

Submitted on 13th January 2012

Rell Faith ImageThursday 1 March 2012


More often than not we only use film in our youth work in order to introduce a concept via a 2 minute clip. But film is so much more than that. As a filmmaker and a Christian youth worker, Steven Mitchell believes that film can be used creatively to challenge and inspire young people but we need to rethink how we use it.

Come along and be part of the conversation.

Steven Mitchell completed the BA in Youth Work with Applied Theology graduating in 2010, since then he has worked as youth worker at South Beach Baptist Church in Saltcoats. He is also an award winning filmmaker who has created a number of short films in a range of genres including Prodigal, which explore questions of love, goodness, and forgiveness through the fallen angel Satan and Speed Date, a silent romantic comedy set in the world of speed dating, which premiered at the Loch Ness Film Festival.

 Cost: £5 (including light refreshments)

Where to find us:

View Larger Map

Buchan Bus Station is 10 minutes walk from the college. The nearest railway stations are Queen Street (15 mins walk) and High Street (10 mins walk). Buchanan Street is the nearest Underground Station.

Buses 11, 12, 38, 42, 56 all come along Cathedral Street and stop just a few minutes walk from the college.

Theosis Centred Youth Work

My last post was a video of a talk given by Peter Benson on helping young people discover their spark. watch here.

This is an idea I have been fascinated for awhile but, as a christian, I speak about it in different terms.

“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 2 Peter 1:4.

The greek word Peter uses here is theosis (also understood as divinization). It refers to the “attainment of likeness of God, union with God and/or reconciliation with God”.

Eastern Orthodox understands this as “the purpose of life, and it is considered achievable only through a synergy (or cooperation) between humans’ activities and God’s uncreated energies (or operations)”.

I believe Peter Bensons ‘spark’, Ken Robinsons ‘element‘ and the process of theosis are all speaking of the same thing.

Becoming what we were created to be.

I believe this should be one of the main goals of christian youth work.

Through prayer, prophesy, observation and conversation, we should aid young people in discovering who they are created to be and offer them opportunities to be transformed into this likeness.

Whether it be a footballer or a dancer or a teacher, we should name these qualities and help young people become them and help them relate this to being created in the image of God.

Do you do this currently in your youth work?

If not, how would your work change if this was at the centre?



Youth workers, stop using 2 minute video clips!

On Wednesday 16th of November, I will be teaching another lecture to the youth work honours students (and anyone else who wants to come along) at the International Christian College in Glasgow.

The subject will be ‘youth work and film’ and I will be showing my short film, “prodigal” (see trailer below) and then talking about how we use film with our young people.

one of the issues I want to explore is the ethics of the two minute film clip.

You know what I mean. We all do it.

We pick a scene from a film that matches up with the point we are trying to make with our talk. Seems harmless doesn’t it.

But what does that communicate to young people?

Postmodernism has often been described as the pick and mix ideology. We pick what we like from here and there and build our lives around it. Postmodern religion would be picking bits from all different religions and creating a hodge-podge of spirituality.

And most of us would say that’s wrong.

For years, christians have cherry picked verses from the bible that suit their theology and ignored the ones that they disagree with.

And most of us, even though we do it from time to time, would say that’s wrong.

But then we come to film. And somehow it’s okay to cherry pick bits from films that fit our views and ignore the rest.

Well I say that’s wrong!

I believe that we need to move away from cherry picking film clips and instead show the entire film and let the film speak for itself.

Yes, this is harder. Yes, it means that we need to find news ways of doing illustrations, but I believe it is more ethical.

As a filmmaker, I want people to watch my whole film, not just bits that fit their sermons, and wrestle with all the themes that come out of it.Yes they may not agree with everything in them but that is good for discussion.

So that’s what I’ll be exploring and I hope it will be a lively discussion.

If you’re interested in coming along, please let me know.


Facebook and Discipleship

I had the tremendous opportunity this week to teach a seminar to the youth work honour students from International Christian College, Glasgow (and a few visitors). The subject was ‘facebook and youth discipleship’.

It was an excellent morning with lots of discussion, so I thought I would post a summary of what was spoken about.

I started with one question, “how do you use facebook in your youth work”?

Everyone said the same thing.

Predominantly, facebook is used as a method of advertising. Youth workers set up a page and let everyone know what is going and then post photos etc after the event. Later on in the seminar, we looked at possible ways of using facebook for more than advertising. To use it to engage and dialogue with young people. Here are some examples:

1) online bible study using facebook group chat.

2) online youth club using xbox live or the PS3 online network, communicating with each other through headsets.

3) running online youth clubs in RPG games like ‘2nd life’

4) online 1-2-1 mentoring

We then discussed the different effects that using facebook can have on young people. These came under three headings:

Private is the new public, forming an identity and the disconnect between the physical and the online world.

Private is the new public

When I was a teenager, my inner thoughts were just that: inner thoughts. I’d write letters, film scripts to wrestle with my thoughts and emotions.  That was my way of dealing with issues etc. With the advent of blogging and social media, young people can now post their thoughts, photos, videos etc online. They can share intimate details of themselves and have people respond to them immediately.

We discussed the positive and negative effects this would have on young people.


  • Creates a sense of connection with others who have similar likes/ interests Facebook ‘like’.
  • Instant comments on posts
  • Learn more about people quickly
  • Eavesdrop on conversations
  • Stalk people
  • Gives people a voice


  • Breeds narcissism
  • Create false identities
  • Cyber bullying
  • Stalk people
Forming an Identity
We discussed the report that Dr Tyagi delivered to the Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He suggested that facebook users could suffer from an identity crisis:

“This is the age group involved with the Bridgend suicides and what many of these young people had in common was their use of Internet to communicate. It’s a world where everything moves fast and changes all the time, where relationships are quickly disposed at the click of a mouse, where you can delete your profile if you don’t like it and swap an unacceptable identity in the blink of an eye for one that is more acceptable,” said Dr Tyagi. “People used to the quick pace of online social networking may soon find the real world boring and unstimulating, potentially leading to more extreme behaviour to get that sense.”

the disconnect between the physical and the online world

It was this area that originally got me thinking about the effect of social media on young people. There are young people I know who act very differently in person than how they do on the facebook page. They happily post pictures of themselves drunk, fill their status updates with swearing and speak to others in a way they wouldn’t speak in front of me.

A number of the group shares similar stories.

Have you had similar experiences of this?

In our final section, we explored some of the practical issues when beginning to think about online youth work. I used a quote from Katie Bacon (and online youth outreach worker) who I spoke to when preparing for this seminar.

“Facebook can offer a superb mentoring tool to support the young people you are working. It can help strengthen the ambient relationship with young people in between youth work sessions. Enables the young people who are not comfortable to ask in public settings ‘sensitive’ or challenging questions. The youth practitioner can send messages and sign post to relevant websites, music tracks or digital images to help offer advice, support or information.”

“There needs to be CLEAR contracted boundaries between the organization and youth practitioner(s) for how, when and who can use social media platforms to engage with young people. Review the context and issues of the young people you and your organization are engaging and supporting.”

Finally, we discussed a list of questions that are needed to be asked when beginning online work with young people (again provided by katie bacon)

What is the purpose on using the social media platforms ?

How you going to contract informed consent?

Have young people been invited to involved in the planning and development of the social media initiative?

What are their expectations?

All in all, it was a brilliant morning with lots of fruitful discussion.
Feel free to post your thoughts or comments to this.

Auschwitz and Destructive Labels

My first article has been published! It appears in the latest ‘Insight’ Magazine. ‘Insight’ is the quarterly magazine from International Christian College, Glasgow. I’ll be putting up a scanned copy soon but here is the original draft. It is a reworking of an earlier blog post.

As always, let me know your thoughts.


This summer I was fortunate enough to merge two of my greatest, creative passions: filmmaking and youth work.

A former youth worker, now teacher, asked if I would accompany a group of pupils on their trip to Auschwitz.  My role would be to document their reactions to the camp in order to produce a series of short educational films based around the Holocaust.  I jumped at the opportunity, not only because I would get an opportunity to widen my filmmaking experience, but I would get to visit an incredible piece of history.

What I saw and felt there will stay with me forever.

I had heard stories about what happened at the concentrations camps. I had seen films depicting events there. But none of this prepared me for how I felt when I physically stood in a gas chamber where hundreds of thousands of people spent their last few minutes on earth screaming; it hit home.

As I walked through the different buildings and saw the piles of clothes, shoes, glasses and hair of the thousands of people who lived and died there; it hit home.

As I walked through the registration building and saw where thousands were stripped, shaved, hosed down and left to die; it hit home.

This really happened, to real people. Death was allowed to flourish here.

As a Christian youth worker, my beliefs, my worldview, permeate every part of my work and are, in fact, at the centre of everything I do. When I was at Auschwitz, I tried to process the horror. I tried to understand how something like this could have happened and how people could have done this to one another.

I believe that what happened stems from labels. The negative labels we put on other people, those that others force on us, and those we choose for ourselves.  This lesson is found in the first few pages of the Bible where Cain murders his brother because labels have divided them.  Abel was labeled as ‘favoured’ and, by default, Cain felt labeled as ‘unfavoured’. The great sadness of the story comes when Cain, unable to break free from the hurt of a negative label, takes his own brother’s life. Throughout the rest of the Bible, I find countless examples of the labeling of people. Both for good and for ill.

Recognising our differences is not wrong, belonging to a group is not necessarily harmful, but the trouble begins when it breeds a persecution mentality of deciding who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. When we strip people of their humanity and no longer see them as God created individuals, the floodgates open wide.  We then feel able to do whatever we like and say whatever we like because they are now different from us.  It is a truth we find in the Bible and a truth that has echoed throughout history.  At worst, labels allow us to indulge our darker tendencies to bully, manipulate, discriminate and hate other humans.

I believe that, in part, this is how the Holocaust unfolded. The Jews, and many other minority groups, were no longer seen as human beings, and so the Nazi’s rallied against them.  They were labeled as ‘different’ and that quickly morphed into them being seen as ‘less than human’, which then led to the justification of horrendous abuse. The slave trade, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the recent shootings in Norway all happened because human beings chose to label fellow human beings as ‘unimportant’, ‘unwanted’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘expendable’.

What continues to sadden me is that similar attitudes still thrive today. When I see people being singled out as different, and then being ridiculed or bullied because of it, I am aware that the concentration camps are only a few steps away. I recently read an article in “The Independent”, that stated that one in five children are victims of cyber-bullying.  In some cases, this has led to children taking their own lives. All because other people have defined them as ‘different’ and then ridiculed them mercilessly because of that label.

When I read about Jesus’ life in the Gospels, I see a man determined to do away with the labels that constrict, and turn us against one another.  Paul puts the actions of Jesus into words when he states in Galatians 3:28 that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.  These were the religious, political and biological labels of Paul’s day and he claimed that none of them should be used to create divisions.

Instead of starting with what makes people different, Paul urged the early followers, and now us, to find a common identity that unites people, rather than one that forces them apart. And that common identity was Jesus.  In order to heal the rift between mankind and God, Jesus stripped himself of the labels that defined him (Philippians 2:7). To heal the divide that exists between groups of people, we must do the same.

It is this theology of unity that is at the heart of my youth work practice, and it is what I attempt to share with the young people I come in to contact with.  It is a theology that proclaims that we all share a common origin and identity and that are our relationships with one another must start from that place.

Because until we stop casually defining each other with suffocating and toxic labels, there will continue to be casualties.  Tribes will continue to rise up and slaughter other tribes.  Minority groups will continue to be excluded and discriminated against, and individuals will continue to be crushed under the weight of bulling and ridicule. Death will continue to flourish.

Let us stand against this oppressive labeling system and choose to walk the alternative path that Jesus trod.  A path that unites rather than divides; includes rather than excludes; brings life rather than death.


Prodigal DVD now on sale.

My 30 minute short film, “prodigal” is now available to buy on DVD.

“Prodigal” follows a repentant Satan who makes a deal with God to allow him to re-enter Heaven. But a group of angels and demons will stop at nothing to make sure his plan is unsuccessful.

check out the review by International Christian College Vice Principal Graeme McMeekin here.

the “prodigal” facebook page is here.

check out the trailer/ prequel below


The DVD includes a filmmaker commentary, the trailer and the short black comedy “a cheerful giver” starring Michael Montgomery and Stuart Falconer about an overzealous minister

The DVD is available for £5.

Please make a payment through paypal to smoorns@mac.com with your address and it will be posted out to you.