Tag Archives: Youth worker

A Step of Faith…

For those that have read any number of my posts, it is probably clear that I do not hold a conservative view when it comes to the Christian faith.

Now, I am not one for labels as I find there only use is to reduce and flatten people to a series of dogmatic statements. I would never define my theology as liberal because of that. I say it only so you can get a sense of where I am coming from. When I studied at bible college, the New Testament lecturer labelled me a heretic. It was good to see that in bible college there was an openness to dialogue and debate (that last sentence was sarcastic).

I’ll be honest and say that my last position, as youth worker for a conservative baptist church, was a difficult one. Many judgements about who I was because of what I believe were made.

We have since moved and as a family we have started attending a small anglican community church. A few weeks ago I went out to the pub with a few of the other folks from the church and through the various discussions, it became clear that the leadership of the church would be, what I term, conservative. Again, I want to be careful with that label.

This sent my mind racing. Can we be part of this church? What happens when I express my supposedly unorthodox views of sexuality, adam and eve, hell, atonement, swearing, horror movies etc? Will we be thrown out? Should we even bother building relationships with people who have such opposing views to ourselves?

We are still at the church.

After several discussions with my wife, it became clear that I was making the same errors in judgement that I felt some of the congregation of the Baptist Church had been guilty of. I was labelling people. And more than that, I was dismissing people because of these labels. I had flattened these people into a label.

I do not want to be that kind of person. I don’t want to be the kind of person who only hangs around with those who share a similar view point; who make judgements on someone because of the views they hold.

So I’m taking a step of faith. My family and I are taking a step of faith. We are going to invest in this church. We are going to seek truth together. We are going to fellowship with one another.

And I hope I can become more like Jesus in the process.

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Am I in “God’s will?” Reflections on moving on

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?

 

God is not finished with you yet!

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.

How Successful have I been?

I wrote a whole post answering whether I felt the youth work I have been involved in over the last two years has been successful. I got to the end of the post, read it back and deleted it.

Something didn’t seem right about it.

And the truth is, I’m not sure how to evaluate Christian youth work. Yes we can use the questions I proposed in the last post and (kind of) measure if the young people we are working with are developing, moving on, making christ-like decisions but I’m not sure that’s the point.

I guess it depends on the type of work you’re involved in. When I think about our youth fellowship and our house groups, it is hard to evaluate them.

I look at the work that Jesus was involved in. He got to the end of his two/ three years (there’s debate as to how long it actually was) and what had he achieved? If we evaluate the work, what had he really done? The twelve he had worked with had mostly deserted him. On the face of it, that looks pretty poor. If in two months, when I move on from the church, there are no young people there to say goodbye, no young people left in the church, I’ll feel like I’ve failed.

I wonder what Jesus thought as he hung there on the cross. I wonder what he thought of his work?

I worry about the work I’m leaving behind. I worry about the young people. I worry about the church.

But at some point, I just have to trust. I have to trust that God is not finished with him. I have to tell myself that “I’m not Jesus”. I’m not their saviour. I guess that’s why I started writing about evaluation in the first place. I was scared that maybe I’d achieved nothing. That everything I’d done had been for nothing.

And without God, it would all be for nothing.

But there’s God. And I need to trust in that.

Success in Youth Work

 

How do you measure success in Christian youth work?

It’s a difficult question isn’t it?

I’m finishing up as youth worker for South Beach Baptist Church in two months and so I’ve been reflecting on these questions. Sometimes reflecting on how successful your youth work has been is like reflecting on whether you’re a good parent. ie it’s difficult.

One day things can be going great and the young people seem to be connecting but then the following day they have completely changed. It’s as if the Body snatchers have come and switched them.

The youth work website infed.org is a great source of articles around the practice of youth work. In one article, effective youth work is described in this way:

(youth work) has three main goals. To increase the ability of young people to:

  • identify and develop their capacities- physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social and emotional;
  • identify and accept their responsibilities, as individuals, citizens, group members;
  • evaluate the contexts in which they live and act accordingly.

Success in Christian youth work, I believe, can be measured in this way:

Are your young people becoming more Christ-like? Are they, by their words and actions, reflecting the character of Jesus? And do they own that christ-likeness? Does their faith depend on you being there to teach them?

That in essence, in my opinion, is how success in Christian youth work should be measured.

In my next post I’ll talk about whether I feel I have been successful in my time at the church.

Thoughts? Do you agree or have I missed something vital?

Finding Your Place in the Family

As I’m finishing up my post as youth worker for the church in three months, I’ve been reflecting on the last couple of years there and one of the thoughts I’ve been thinking about is on my place within the church family.

In my last two positions as a church youth worker, I’ve found it had to just ‘be’ me and truly be a part of the family of the church. In this current church post, my family and I moved closer to the church but still I don’t think we ‘fit’. I get on with the young people and the other volunteer leaders but don’t get invited to their social events and I get on with the old members of the congregation but again don’t get invited to their social events. I’m neither one or the other. I’m in the middle.

Part of being a church youth worker is about standing in the gap between the young and the old. And that is often seen as a benefit. But for me, its more of the curse of this line of work. You don’t really fit.

It also has something to do with the fact that I am an employee of the church. I’m not there because I’m drawn to the style of service, or because there’s lots of people my age; i’m there to work with the young people. Now maybe the problem is with that word, ‘work’. What does it mean to work for a church? How do you then become part of the church family when you’re there as an employee? Where do you draw the line between ’employee’ and ‘member’? where does the one begin and the other end?

So, it got me asking the question on twitter, “can you ever become part of the family of the church you work for?” And I’d like to hear some responses. I’d like to hear people’s thoughts because I don’t hear much about this side of the ‘work’. I haven’t seen many articles or training courses on how you integrate yourself into the church.

I realised I’ve asked a lot of questions but I’m keen to hear as many varied responses as possible.

So please…respond.

Moving On

For those interested, I apologize for not blogging over the last couple of weeks.

Two weeks ago, I was offered the position of ‘Youth Minister’ at Hutton Grammar School in Preston, England. We, my wife and 3 year old and myself, currently reside in Saltcoats, south-west Scotland so this is going to be a massive move.

The last fourteen days have been spent telling friends, family, the church and the young people I work with that we are going to be moving on in August.

To quite Vinnie Jones, “It’s been emotional”.

There are a number of things that need to get sorted first (getting things organised in Preston and finishing up things in Saltcoats) and I hope to blog about it over the next few months as we make the transition.

One of the big questions I have right now is “what does it mean to finish well?”. In most other work positions, you hand in your notice, do your time and leave. Christian youth work is different. I’ve spent two years building up relationships with the young people I work with and helping them discover the God that is active in their lives. It’s not as simple as saying “goodbye” and walking away.

I believe the role of the christian youth worker is to get the young people to the stage where they do not need you anymore. To train up disciples who will take the work on. That is something I have been trying to do over the last year and will be more focused on over the next two months.

So what do I want things to look like in 3 months? What is the vision for the youth work?

Plenty to get me thinking.

As always, I hope you will join me on this ride.

The Hunger Games VS The Cabin in the Woods Part 1

It’s holy week. It is the time of the year when Christians enter into the story of Jesus’ last days. It is the time of year when Christians think about sacrifice.

It’s funny then that in the space of 24 hours, I watched two films at the cinema that both deal with the theme of sacrifice: ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ and ‘The Hunger Games‘.

I have already written a post detailing my initial thoughts of “cabin’ here but Ill summarise the plot here: (spoilers)

The film follows five college students who spend the weekend at a cabin and are killed off one by one. What soon becomes clear to the survivors is that they are part of a worldwide sacrificial system to appease the Gods who live underneath the ground.

For many the story of ‘Hunger Games’ is more familiar but here is a quick summary courtesy of IMDB:

Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.

The Hunger Games, the annual event where the young people kill each other, was established after some of the inhabitants staged an uprising. The Games are a reminder of what the people did and why they should never try it again. In some way the fighters are living sacrifices, killed to appease the President.

Both films deal with a worldwide sacrificial system, involving young people, that is set up to appease and entertain. In “cabin’ the young people do not know that they are part of it, whereas in ‘Games’ they do. Both films also end with the survivors choosing to turn against the system.

But there are key differences that mark out the films.

In ‘Cabin’ the Gods are angry. They want death and destruction and so the sacrificial system is set up to entertain them and take their minds off of killing everyone. It is a barter system. If they do not get their sacrifices, their will be bloodshed on a colossal level. Millions will die. What the film seems to suggest is that this is a continuation of the sacrificial system that has taken place since before the Old Testament was written and their are glimpses of Old Testament scenes in the opening credits. To sum it up, this systems primary function is to appease the God’s wrath.

In ‘Games’ the primary function of the sacrificial system is to remind the people of their guilt and through that, subdue them. It is not about appeasing a God or Gods but instead, it is a symbol of oppressive power and authority.

As I reflect on these movies and there sacrificial structures I see some similarities between them and the atonement (the crucifixion of Jesus) as well as some key differences.

In the next post I’ll explore this a little further.

Youth Work Summit Musings Part 2: Inspiring Ideas

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. read part 1 here

With stream 1 finished, we had some time to relax, get some much needed coffee, and for me, spot a number of #ywchat folks that I was too introverted to go and talk to ( @dancrouch, @beccadean, @GabriellaRusso and @easyrew).

After that, we were thrown into session 2: inspiring ideas (another mixed bag).

First up was Jason Royce and the “survival school” initiative. It’s an incredible piece of youth work and it was great to learn more about it. There were two challenges that I took from this talk.

1) what do I do with the young people that I hope WON’T turn up to my youth group.

2) Am I too nice? Have I compromised my boundaries because I want young people to like me?

Challenging stuff.

Up next was a full blown assault by Lyn Edwards as she reflected on “lesson from rural youth work”. With a toilet brush in hand, she spouted forth that no dream is impossible with God and that good youth work breaks all the rules.

As Martin Saunders quipped afterwards, she truly reminded me of  OT prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah with just a hint of John the Baptist about her. On reflection, I think she could be a very difficult person to work alongside but there is no doubt God is doing powerful stuff through her.

Like a tornado she entered and like a tornado she left, leaving the Rend Collective to orchestrate some kazoo worship. As Loyd Harp quipped on twitter:

“Just to clarify . . . “kazoo worship” is not the worship OF kazoos, but worship via kazoos.”

It was then the job of Lat Blaylock to bring us back to reality with his mild mannered talk on “God is missing and is missed here” (the schools work imperative). I was familiar with much of what Blaylock presented as I’ve been to ‘prayer spaces in schools’ workshop and am the proud owner of schoolswork.co.uk art cards but it was still great to hear.

We were challenged to join with God in a divine game of hide and seek in school. Brilliant stuff.

Up next was 90 year old youth worker John Langdon sharing why “youthwork needs grand parents”. From the yws11 hashtag on twitter, it was a clear there was a large number of the audience who wanted to adopt him as their grandpa.He talked about the work he does and the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone.

It was fitting that what followed the oldest youth worker in the UK (probably) was a discussion of the biggest youth event in the UK as Andy Croft shared “Soul Survivor: what we get right and what we got wrong”. Glancing again at the yws11 hashtag on twitter, I couldn’t help but smirk (and feel a little inadequate) as most of the tweets referred to Crofts’ physique. I half expected someone to shout out ‘Get your kit off!”

What Croft managed to do was to turn the question round to us. What do we get right and what do we get wrong in our youth work? Too often church youth workers, including myself, can be guilty of not critically reflecting on their own practice and I think this is essential if we are to keep on course with Gods vision.

Croft also stated that “being attractive and being biblical are not always the same thing” and this is a huge challenge. We need to be continually reflecting on our work and aligning ourselves with what Gods big idea for our work is.

To finish off the second set of seminars, Patsy McKie spoke about “what comes from gangs and guns”. There is no doubt her story is a powerful and dramatic one but honestly I felt this talk was a missed opportunity. Personally I would either liked to have heard more about her story and how she overcame the death of her son or what she actually does.

I felt we got neither of those. disappointing. But again,  from speaking to others, I know some people were really challenged and inspired by what she said.

And with that it was time for lunch. Again the session met its aims with a varied mix of talks and there was definitely something for everyone. In my next post I’ll talk about session 3. The most challenging and controversial stream.

 

 

 

 

 

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.