Rowan Williams asked how do you balance being accesible and yet not being banal

I thought this was an interesting exchange from a recent conversation between Ian Hislop and Rowan Williams. (transcript by Ruth Gledhill). The whole conversation is worth reading.

Ian Hislop: .... How do you balance that attempt to be of the age, to be accessible, and yet not be banal.

Archbishop of Canterbury: The point is often being confident enough about what you are inviting people into, which is not simply an entertainment but a journey and process of change. ....I went with the family to Taize for a few days in the summer.... one of the things I shall remember for a long time is the sound of 5,000 teenagers being quiet. That was an environment that didn't make any concessions to entertaining anyone. It assumed that if you were there, you wanted to be taken a bit deeper. That's the crucial thing.

IH: I remember being told by my teenagers that Church was boring and thinking, good it's meant to be boring. You need a lot more boring in your life and in the middle of it, you'll find something.

ABC: I have to confess that has been in the past one of my regular confirmation sermons. Get used to it. It's not always going to be fun. Life isn't always going to be fun and there's something to be said for sitting things out.

IH: This particularly applies to young people...there is a tendency to assume they have no attention span....

ABC: We set our assumptions and expectations very low.... It's a downward spiral.

IH: Keeping it simple may not be good enough, enriching enough.

ABC: That's right. While I hope that I don't set out to be boring in church - shut up everyone! -  I also hope that when I stand up and perform the liturgy, I am doing something that is not just reflecting to them what they already know and what they feel comfortable with. That somehow there is a journey forward to be undertaken. We expect people to grow.... if we don't provide an environment where people grow we only have ourselves to blame. Very often what the Church past and present has been in danger of doing is offering people a thinned down experience whereas I would like to say it is utterly the opposite.

are youthworkers too expensive or too cheap?

If you read this please see Tom Allen's response and my reply.

My church is in the early stages of looking for a new youthworker and as I look at youthwork magazine I am left wondering whether we've lost the plot a bit on youthworkers. It seems to me we've created a culture of competition where churches, of all denominations, are competing for youthworkers. so the larger churches with more money and larger youthwork tend to get the best of the crop. Smaller churches, like Clapham Baptist, where my friend Amie currently works, is unable to attract a youthworker because it can't afford the prices and perhaps Clapham doesn't have the attraction of a suburban setting. I'm also concerned that the youthworkers being churned out by CYM, Oasis and others, are expecting (some maybe demanding) wages that are equal to the secular youthmarket. So some youthworkers cost more than a minister. Youthwork magazine a few months back asked the question whether youthwork was a calling. I want to firmly say yes that christian youthwork is. The first question for every youthworker is where is God calling me, not how much are they offering. I have to wonder how much this is down to youthwork magzine, who charge over £300 for an advert. Again not all churches have that kind of money, so they lose out, by having no advert or a small one.

I am pleased that the BU council last year voted against allowing the Baptist Times to advertise churches in their paper. Instead, they decided that the settlement process where the names of ministers seeking a church are placed on a list, where upon the regional ministers across the country gather together
and pray about where the ministers names should be sent. A church can only proceed with considering one minister at a time. I wonder if at list as Baptist we should youthworkers (or perhaps youth ministers is better) to do the same.

Another related question is most youthwork training is generic, that there seems little or no exploration of whether there is an Anglican understanding of youth ministry or a Baptist understanding of youth ministry. Certainly with regard to how denominations understand church and understand decision making there are some big differences. So working in a Baptist church is and will be different to working in a Anglican church.

Yes we should applaud the growth of Oasis, CYM, Moorlands and the such like, but there are some serious questions that arise with the emergence of the 'professional christian youthworker'.

Noticing, Naming and Nurturing

At my local church we are in the process of trying to think through what our youth ministry looks like. I think we will find help in the three chapters of Mark Yaconelli's Contemplative Youth Minstry (2006) which talk about noticing, naming and nurturing. 

Noticing says Yaconelli 'refers to the way in which we help people (through careful attentiveness) become more aware of their experience of God.'
Noticing requires the youth minister to point young people to God and his work in their lives; to question and ask them how is God present in this or that experience; and to invite them to pray; and to create circumstances where they can see the presence of God.

Naming he says 'involves aiding people in finding language and theology for their experience.'
Naming is about the youth minister encouraging young people to talk about who God is (who do you say God is?); it is about telling stories of God that allow young people to not only hear, but enter into the drama; it is about hearing testimony from a wide range of people of how God is working and has worked in their lives; it is about going beyond words and using signs and symbols.

While Nurturing he suggests 'concerns the ways we help people develop practices and disciplines that deepen their relationship with God.'

Employing Youthworkers Update

A week ago I asked the question: should churches employ youthworkers? and its good to see its generated some feedback. Jon Bishop, Lewis Pearson and Pete Leveson (two of whom I know are Baptists) have offered their thoughts either in the comments or on their blogs. And someone called Tim has commented and started a discussion thread on the Youthwork website. I'd be interested in any further thoughts, especially from the likes of Ian at Youthblog (who was on holiday when I originally posted). I've followed up my original post with Considering a New Role for Youthworkers. It's good to try and shake us out of inherited or accepted thinking, which says youthwork and youthworkers must look like this and this and do this and this.

Considering a New Role for Youthworkers

I guess this is a kind of response to the comments and emails I've had so far to my post should churches employ youthworkers?

The predominant role of the church youthworker is to work with young people - those who belong and do belong to the church - and either keep them in or draw them in the church community. The youthworker will create youth orientated acitvities and programmes running at the same time and at separate times to the wider church services and programmes. When the youthworker is doing a really 'good' job adults and young people rarely come into contact in the church.

What about if the predominant role of the church youthworker was not to work with young people, but to encourage, equip and empower parents and other adults to be those who engage young people? Here the youthworker facilitates the whole church to be youth and children orientated. Their role is to help integration and communication, to give the church the means to be responsible for reaching out to young people, to give the church the means to fulfil their dedication or baptismal promises. This, I would argue, require a reimagining of church, for the implications of changing the role of youthworker would affect and impact who and how we are church. Children and young people would be present and visible in our churches. They would become active worshippers and disciples. This would cause us to (re-)examine what it means to be a community of God's people - who we are would now includes children and young people all the time and not some of the time. This is sorely needed not only children and young people, but for all of us who have become church consumers, where attendance at a worship service/small group has become the badge of Christianity. Ending a specific and separate youth ministry would demand that we face the questions of what it means to be God's church. From a Baptist perspective it would face us with the questions of are we a prophetic, inclusive, sacrificial, missionary and worshipping community? Youth ministry avoids us having to ask those questions, at least not in the same way, with respect to our children and young people. I would argue that provision for children and young people - in the form of youth and children's ministry - is not what being an inclusive and worshipping community means.

This post follows on from a number of previous posts and represents the next stage in my thinking as I continue to wrestle with questions of church, youth ministry, children and young people. To see some of my previous thinking go to 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Should churches employ youthworkers?

The accepted answer is yes. The number of trained youthworkers is increasing. The Baptist Union now recognises youth specialists as an accredited form of ministry. Churches without a youthworker are slowly becoming the minority. I am myself employed as a church youthworker. However, recently I have found myself wanting to question the whole enterprise of youthworkers and youth ministry. I am unsure that the positives of having a trained youthworker to work with young people outweigh some of the negatives that often emerge from this type of youth ministry.

The notion of youth ministry is something that in many cases develops into something separate and outside of the church. A growing youth ministry will in most cases result in a lack of integration of young people into the church. An employed youthworker will be given the responsibility of discipling young people and the church finds itself (often happily) uninvolved. An employed youthworker gives the impression that the world of young people is foreign and strange and that one needs to receive education to understand and be accepted by young people. Discipling young people requires a professional. An employed youthworker gives the impression that who we are and what we do as church is either irrelevant or inaccesible to young people, so we need some to be a bridge into church or to develop 'revelant' and 'accessible' forms of church that engage young people. Often these forms of 'church' involve lots of entertainment.

Do we need youthworkers? Do we need youth ministry? Does the development of youth ministry hinder the discipleship of young people in the life of the church? By taking young people out of the church - separate bible groups and social events - encourage them to think church is not for them? Mark Yaconelli in Contemplative Youth Ministry argues that teenagers make adults anxious and in response he says

most congregations create youth ministries that are about control and conformity ... this means most adults want programmes and professionals. Church leaders want experts and predictable systems that will remove the doubt and ambiguity that surround most interaction with young people ... The youth are quarantined. They're placed at the margin - incubated in basements or gathered off-hours when  the congregation won't be disturbed ...
     Some youth ministries are created in response to adolescent anxieties. Noticing young people's discomfort with adults forms of faith and desperately seeking to keep youth engaged, some churches develop ministries of distraction ... ministries of distraction keep young people moving from one activity to the next: rafting trips, pizza parties, game nights, ski retreats, beach fests, music festivals, amusement parks, taco-feeds, scavenger hunts, crowd-breakers, raves, skits and whatever other activities attract kids. This is the Nicklodeon approach to youth ministry, appealing to kids' propensity for fun and recreation. This is how churches respond to young people who cry, 'Church is boring!' It's the ministry of excitement; discipleship through fun, culture-friendly, 'Christian-light' events. Like parents of a toddler who pop in a video when relatives arrive, the idea is to keep the young people from running out, keep them in the general vicinity of the church, keep them happy until they're mature enough to join the conversation.
    Ministries that simply respond to adolescent anxieties often become ministries of diversion, providing virtual environments with virtual relationships that keep youth distracted from the deeper rhythms and practices of the Christan faith. Programmes and activities are often chosen on the level of excitement that's generated. No one wants to act like an adult for fear of scaring the kids. Leaders become hesitant to engage youth in any activity that is in contrast to the consumer culture. Prayer, spiritual exercises, theological conversation and spiritual disciplines that challenge the status quo are dumped, fearing youth may cry: 'This is like school! or 'You're just like my parents!', or worse: 'This is boring.' And so the ministry never addresses the deeper needs of the youth, never challenges young people to explore the alternative way of Jesus ... (pp.23-24)

That was a long quote, but so close to the way we do youth ministry. What would happen if we got rid of it all - no more youthworkers, no more youth ministry? Would we see churches empty of young people? Maybe and in some cases, probably, unless the whole church took responsibility and risks. We do need people who understand and can communicate with young people, but I'm not sure we need them so visible, that they become the only means in which the church engages with and seeks to disciple young people. The pressure on youthworkers means too often they become experts in entertainment ministries and running amazing acitvity-filled programmes. Because of this, and I speak from my experiences and observations, I believe that our young people (and let's also say most of our adults!) never encounter and never explore the alternative way of Jesus. And as Pete Ward once said in one of my lectures the danger with youth ministry is that when and if young people grow out of what we offer they will grow out of following Jesus. We need to reimagine youth ministry, which I think we need to reimagine church.

Contemplative Youth Ministry

028105782602lzzzzzzz A lot of bloggers have posted about this book recently. Maggi referred to this review today; Jonny Baker here and here; Ian at youthblog; and many others. I picked up the book this weekend on these recommendations. This is an important book to be read alongside Kenda Creasy Dean's Practising Passion. The first chapter is spot on in its analysis of how many adults feel about young people and argues that much of this in due to the separation of child and young people from adults. The growth of youthworkers in churches is both positive and negative - positive because its recognising that young people are not yet adults; negative because it takes away our responsibility as churches to be involved in the discipleship of our young people (i.e. the responsibility gets shifted over to the youthworker/s). All of us in our churches need to read a book like this, especially those in leadership and who shape the way we exist as church. A book like this only serves my frustration and belief that the way that many of us are and do church is flawed and cannot  ultimately help our children and young people grow in Christian discipleship (see my earlier post here for some related thoughts on this subject).

Kenda Creasy Dean Notes

Youthblog has some good notes from conference in Oxford with Kenda Creasy Dean. It sounds like she was giving a summarised version of her book Practicing Passion. The question that she asks and he asks is how much of our youth ministry could happen without Jesus? That is, is Jesus tagged on to what we do? I can't help but think that we do and are church makes it very hard and maybe even impossible, without serious reimagination, to put into practice what Dean suggests is needed (and I agree with her). The way so many of us do youth ministry means we can only unwittingly foster Moralistic Therapeutic Deism among our young people. We need to ask some serious ecclesiological questions.

Young People and Spiritual Formation 1.1

In my previous post on this topic, someone in the comments recommended I read Practicing Passion by Kenda Creasy Dean. This is a book I'd seen and Jonny Baker had recommended it, but I'd not yet picked up. This morning a copy arrived in the post and doing my customary flick-through read, I came across this quote:

Now may be a good time to ask yourself: Does youth ministry as I know do these things? Does ministry with adolescents where I go to church resemble the faith community in Acts, or does it seem more like a moral club or a service organization? Is my canvas for ministry with young people stretched onto the beams of wholesome entertainment, content mastery, and good works - valuable services, but bereft of power to bestow identity because their transformational connection to Christ's life, death and resurrection has been lost? Immersing young people in practices of self-giving love in a self-fulfilling culture makes them subversive, dangerous, odd - much like the Christ they follow. How subversive, dangerous, or odd are the Christian youth I know? For that matter, how subversive, dangerous, or odd am I?
                                                                  (Practicing Passion, 2004, Eerdmans, pp156-157)

Good to know I'm asking the right sort of questions. I'm hoping the rest of the book will help me work on some answers.