Posts Tagged “youth”

YA2014 PCard f CropSo… here are my first keynotes from URC Youth Assembly 2014.

As always, your thoughts, comments and observations are welcome…

Here are the pdfs

URCYA14 Keynote 1

“When the world was dark…” Spill the Beans

“Exile is…” comes from Rob Bell’s book Jesus Wants to Save Christians.

URCYA14 Keynote 2

“Open Arms” by Elbow

“And they asked Jesus…” Spill the Beans

“Vine grower…” Spill the Beans

URCYA14 Keynote 3

“exile is not always the darkest corner of the earth. Sometimes it is lush and plentiful, sometimes it is full of life…” Carola PerlaGibbin House



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Here are 5 ways you can improve your work with young people.

1. Consult

Ask your young people what they like, what they don’t like and what they want to learn/do/try.  Sounds simple doesn’t it, but very few youth leaders actually do this well.  Lots of us have an agenda, or we think we do.  The second part of step 1 is to ask the adults in the church what they expect of the youth work to see if there really is an agenda or if it is all in your head!

2. Plan

Don’t just list what you will do each time you meet.  Actually plan.  Plan for months in advance.  Decide who will do what, what resources you will need, how each session progresses the theme or topic.  Set an aim (broad goal) and some objectives (the steps you will take to achieve the aim).

Make sure the plan is interesting, inspiring even (see Kenny Wilson’s guest post to see why that’s important!) and varied.  Don’t do the same thing every week.  And stop telling people the answer.  Questions are good.  Learn to live with the doubt and imagination it takes to answer questions.

3. Now do it

But recognise that your plan is an excuse to build relationships with young people.  I’m sure it is important that your group learn about Job/Jonah/Jesus but it is also important that they learn what a good, healthy, supportive, nurturing relationship is.  They are much more likely to learn about anything if the learning happens in this kind of environment.

And work on practices.  Cramming every night with games/videos/activity/nonsense doesn’t help young people develop and deepen their faith.  Don’t be scared to spend some time being quiet.  Don’t be scared to talk about God.

4. Evaluate

How was it for you?  How was it for the group?  You should evaluate often.  More often than you think you should.  Part of your evaluation should be time at the end of each session to check that the young people have learned something and if that something is what you hoped they might learn.  But also spend time talking through how things are going.

Does your plan from step 2 need to change to take account of developments, progress or unexpected issues?

Does you group still meet its aims and objectives?  Do they need altered?

How are the leaders?  Do they need help?  Training?

5. Communicate

Too much youth work happens in isolation.  It’s almost a secret.  Tell people what you do.  Tell your church.  Tell the world.  Tell parents.

Those are my top 5 tips.  What would you add?  Or take away?

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Chaos Theory

This week I’ve been learning about Appreciative Inquiry (excuse the American spelling).  It’s a way of helping organisations discover what they value and how they can build on that.  It appeals because it doesn’t talk about what went wrong or who is to blame, just that things have changed.

Part of the course focused on a model of organisational life which suggested that for an organisation facing crisis to survive it has to consciously embrace the chaos of the wilderness.  For most established organisations this kind of step is difficult.  We like certainty and structure.  After all, what kind of organisation isn’t organised?

Well… I can think of two.  Youth Work and Emerging Church.

By not being organised I don’t mean without any rules or structure.  The rules and structures are small, limited to that particular group.  It’s not that they don’t relate to something bigger, they do, but they are not controlled by that bigger organisation.

This lack structure means that they can be creative and adaptive.

That kind of group needs a particular kind of leadership.  The kind that works collaberatively, values and develops other’s talents and gifts and isn’t too precious about who’s idea it is.

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In his comment on part 1 of this little series of posts John grasps on of the key criticisms of both Emerging Church and of Youth Work… lack of substance.

I often hear that both are prone to style over content.  Both suffer from a tendancy towards the flash and attractive.  I’ve seen it and can hold my hand up and say that I’ve also done it.

But I’m not sure that lack of substance is a fair criticism of either Emerging Church or Youth Work done well.

At the heart of both seems to be a desire for relationship.

Youth work has struggled to get past the attractional model where we put on some big fancy event that lots of young people will come to and hope that for some strange reason that will be enough to get them to stay for the rather naff games and poor attempts at bible study where we tell them what the Bible should mean to them.

Emerging Church is informed by a similar process where big church for grown ups had a go at being all interesting and attractive.  It was called ‘Alternative Worship’.  Churches discovered that presentation mattered and that people wanted to be involved but many of the ‘Alternative Worship’ experiments were little more than a reformatted version of the standard church service.  People saw through it and discovered that, like attractional youth work, all that glitters is not gold.

Substance is the goal for both.  Depth of relationship, participation, learning, sharing and growing together seem to be the key factors in youth work… and in emerging church.

The cycle has been the same.  Attractional followed by a move to deeper more substantial communities.

I wonder if that is because those who now inhabit leadership positions in the church and experienced the attractional youth work model are now being joined by a younger generation of leaders who have grown up on incarnational youth work and who experienced youth groups where they were loved and valued and experienced opportunities to know God?

It seems to me that both areas are rediscovering something that has been lost.  Both youth work and emerging church are pursuing models where stillness, spiritual practices, relationship building and learning in a collaborative manner are all valued.

These seem to me to be the practices that grow from the values of community work I outlined in part 2.

It also grows from a sense of disconnection.  I heard Mark Lau Branson talk about how he has abandoned the lectionary because the people in his church don’t understand the context of these weekly fragments of scripture as they jump around the highlights of the Christian story.  That seems to bear out my own experience and those of many worship leaders I meet.

I think that’s partly the fault of the attractional youth work model which focused on highlights, particularly from the Gospel because that was the most important bit and the rest didn’t matter much.

Church has been the same.  Scotland has never been big on Bible Study for adults.  The 15 minute sermon on a Sunday morning has been the main teaching for the majority of adults.  In any other context 15 minutes a week would be laughable.  Can you imagine trying to learn a language, to play an instrument or to build a relationship by spending 15 minutes a week on it?

Youth work is about building community.  Church should be too.  Emerging Church seems to be up for going deeper… but still needs to guard against the ‘cool for the sake of it’ phenomena which happens when any group of creative people get together… apparently.emerging

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In part 1 I suggested that the church is full of ‘bored adults’, a product of the phenomena of  having once been ‘teenagers’.

Principles and Values

Youth Work is based on some principles.  Different places have different core principles or core values.  In Scotland the core values outlined by Community Education Validation and Endorsement (CeVe) are:

  • Respects the individual and the right to self-determination;
  • Respects and values pluralism;
  • Values equality and develops anti-discriminatory practice;
  • Encourages collective action and collaborative working relationships;
  • Promotes learning as a lifelong process;
  • Encourages a participating democracy.

Of course these values apply to the full range of community work activity but within that they cover youth work.  I’d like to suggest that if we were to try to write a similar list of core values for the Emerging Church the list would not be very different.

The Emerging Church seems to me to be:

  • respecting of the individual, placing strong emphasis on our own story or faith journey
  • and the right to draw from different traditions and experiences to form our future
  • based in a theology which values all and challenges inequality
  • all about working together in all kinds of ways
  • engaging people in worship, projects and experiences that are steeped in learning
  • centred on people being involved in the life of the community

I wonder if these values that Emerging Churches seem to display are at least partly a product of the people driving new forms of church having been involved in youth work, either as young people or as leaders?

Youth Work and the Emerging Church seem to share a value base.  Is that coincidence?  I don’t think so.

People, these ‘bored adults’, have in many cases had a good experience of church as young people.  They have been encouraged to participate, to learn, to value and respect each other and to be responsible for planning and delivering their own activities.  Imagine their shock when they are faced with ‘church’.  Sit there, be quiet and listen…

Is it any wonder that people are seeking out ‘new’ ways to be church?  But then I suspect that many of these ‘new’ ways aren’t new at all… they were born in youth work.

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This morning the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland heard the report of the Church and Society Committee.

First up was the ‘Growing Up in Scotland‘ report.  I was on the group which wrote the report so I was glad to see some good deliverences (motions) coming from the report.  I’ll pick out the highlights for me…

Child Friendly Churches

3. Instruct the Church and Society Council to work with other Councils to introduce a Child Friendly Church initiative based on the United Reform Church’s model.

This was amended to welcome the work the Mission and Discipleship council has already done on preparing a Child Friendly Church initiative, based on the United Reformed Church model.

Hearing Children

4. Urge Scottish and UK Governments to evidence as a matter of course how young people’s voices are heard in the development of legislation and policy.
5. Instruct the Church and Society Council, together with Presbyteries and other Councils of the Church, to bring to the General Assembly of 2010 a report on the ways in which each is enabling the voices of young people to be heard in their decision-making processes.

Great to see an emphasis on listening to children in decision making.  I wonder how congregations and the Assembly will make that happen?

8. Instruct the Church and Society Council to work with representatives of the National Youth Assembly to develop awareness of models of support in congregations on the issues involved in mental illness among young people.

This issue is one that has become ever more important to me.  My wife is a soon to qualify mental health nurse and her training has confirmed my belief that the church can and should play a role in supporting people with mental ill-health.  Like the other deliverence, the question will be how?

10. Urge Scottish and UK Governments to strengthen their commitment to end child poverty by 2020 and ensure that policies and adequate resources are in place to achieve that aim.
11. Urge the Scottish Government to ensure that resources, including partnerships with Churches and others, are in place to deliver the ambitions of the Early Years Framework.
12. Demand that HM Government uphold, respect and protect the rights of children who are asylum seekers or who are trafficked into our country.

For me these show that the church is where it should be, campaigning on behalf of the poor and those who’s rights are overlooked.

Engaging with Technology, Science and the Environment
Climate Change

16. Instruct Presbyteries, in association with the Church and Society Council, to produce a plan for each congregation in their bounds, setting out how they will measure energy consumption in their church
buildings, ascertain their carbon footprint and achieve a year-on-year reduction of 5% of their carbon
footprint using the Eco-Congregation Scotland carbon footprint module; and instruct the Church and Society Council, in consultation with the General Trustees, to report to the General Assembly of 2010 on the implementation of this instruction.
17. Welcome the proposed incorporation of Eco-Congregation Scotland as a Charitable Company and continue to support the work of eco-congregations.
18. Affirm the current commitment of the Church and Society Council to the ‘Responding to Climate Change Project’ and instruct the Church and Society Council, in partnership with other Councils, to complete the review of this project with a view to its development.

The climate change debate threw up some interesting discussion around how ambitious the church should be about targets, with 5% perhaps not being nearly enough of a reduction.

This raised the question again about the suitability of buildings for me.  Is the reduction of carbon footprints the catalyst needed to get rid of unsuitable buildings once and for all?  Can the church really claim to be good stewards while pouring money into drafty and expensive to heat buildings?  And the church’s central offices in Edinburgh won’t escape the carbon audit…

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Do you ever get those days where you just don’t know where to begin? I’m having one of those days. I’m sitting with a blank piece of paper and a pen. Well a number of pens actually. Coloured sharpies. But that’s not important.

What is important is the topic I’m trying to think of some ideas for. What would make Children’s or Youth work better in the United Reformed Church here in Scotland?

You would think that after 15 years of doing this kind of job that wouldn’t be a question I would still be asking.. But I am. I like to think that shows that I’m still learning, still open to new ideas and possibilities. But today it means I’m stuck.

I have an empty page and it would seem my head is just as empty.

So maybe you can help? What would make a difference in your church? What could someone come and help you with or provide to make your work with children and young people better?

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