Archives For Youth Ministry

Posts relating specifically to working with young people in a Christian context


Youth Leaders Academy: worth a read


A blog that I’ve found myself reading more and more over the past few months is Youth Leaders Academy written by the lovely Rachel Blom. Originally from The Netherlands and currently residing in Germany, Rachel writes in English on experience of working with Christian young people and is consistently coming up with brilliant, practical advice for workers.

For examples, check out this post on preaching to young people, or this one on allowing mistakes in ministry.

I keep coming back to the site and find the wisdom and detail really helpful. I wish I had written some of the posts on there! Seriously, you should add the site to your blogroll. Got it? Great.

I was recently interviewed by Jeremy Zach for his website

Jeremy has been a youth pastor in the states for a number of years and currently works for Orange in the Student Ministry department. His writing on his personal blog has always been passionate and not afraid to put things out there to try something new. For the interview (conducted via email), he asked me about UK youth ministry and the differences between here and the US. You can find the original post on his site here. This is how I responded:

  1. What are some of the challenges youth workers are facing in the UK?
    To answer that question, you need a little context! Youth Work as a profession has grown and diversified greatly in the UK. For many years the government has financially supported their own (non-faith) youth services, while charities and Christian community projects also gained funding for their work by showing they could achieve prescribed targets. Now we have hit a funding crisis, much of that youth provision has been stopped with many workers losing their jobs and young people left with no support. The big challenge is for youth services, youth workers and young people to simply survive without the structure and security that was there before. 

    However Christian ministry within youth work has traditionally been given little recognition despite being one of the biggest areas of work supported by thousands of churches and volunteers. It seems to carry on regardless as it is financed through the local church and is far more sustainable. So the challenge and opportunity for churches is: how can they continue to be distinctively Christ-like, yet develop key support services and opportunities for young people with nowhere else to go?

  2. How supportive are churches/organization of youth workers and youth ministries?
    My personal experience has been very good. I’ve worked with some amazing churches and organisations who simply love people and want to see youth thrive. In these places (including my home church) there is an attitude that although individual activities, events, or people might not work out, it’s still worth doing it anyway! 

    Of course, that’s not always the case. I’ve talked with many youth ministers who feel burnt out, misunderstood, depressed and sometimes even victimised in their churches. This is not solely a UK problem, but I believe it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what youth work is and does. When youth work is seen as a babysitting service, it has already failed.

  3. What are the best ways to deal with teens who don’t care about God, church, and youth group?
    Love them, love them, and love them some more. I spent 8 years working for a Christian-based community project. On my first day I was introduced to a very troublesome young person, yet it was four years later that they finally trusted me enough to tell me the terrible things they’d been through. This individual wasn’t interested in God, church or a youth group, but needed a safe and consistent presence in their life. Through the years, we’ve had many conversations and experiences of God together. As a result I’ve become passionate about serving the ‘church-grown’ young people develop their relationship with Jesus, but also to bridge the gap with the ‘community kids’ who have no connection with our faith.
  4. What are 2 clear features that separate UK and US style of youth ministry?
    Our countries have a lot in common. We eat similar foods, listen to similar music, wear similar clothes. Our culture is influenced by yours and we speak a common language. But while the majority of the US still recognise church attendance as a normal practice and would quote Christian values as their own, the UK has changed. We are pretty much a Post-Christian nation now with faith seen (at least through the media) as largely irrelevant, and a very aggressive atheism trying to denounce faith as dangerous! This may seem like a bad thing, but it gives us GREAT opportunity for ministry and evangelism. While most children may have heard the name of Jesus mentioned somewhere, very few have any understanding of Him or have had an opportunity to hear the Gospel explained clearly. This is our privilege. 

    The second feature that is different to the US is the potential freedom we have within schools. It is still law in England that schools have a regular act of worship, which is largely problematic for non-faith teachers who will often ask local ministers to come and do “something religious.” There are thousands of youth workers who have built positive relationships with schools and who spend their time going in and taking lessons, presenting assemblies, and doing support work – all with a clear Christian purpose. So there is some very creative work happening in schools, including large interactive prayer spaces and art installations.

  5. What advice would you give US youth workers?  What can US youth ministry learn from UK youth ministry?
    My observation is that the US have the youth ministry thing sewn up pretty well. You have great conferences, resources and speakers, and I regularly read books, articles and blogs from some amazing US youth ministers. So I’m not sure I’m in a position to give advice, but I would be very encouraged to start hearing more stories of churches, youth workers and young people challenging and transforming their communities. There’s a lot out there on practically supporting youth pastors, and running a ministry, even going on mission trips. But grass roots community engagement with young people seems to be an element that’s missing from the US youth ministry world right now. 

    Aside from correct grammar and spellings, I believe US youth ministry could learn a couple of things from the UK! Firstly is the vast creativity in engaging with young people. I am constantly amazed by workers I meet who are thinking differently about church and young people, and experimenting in different ways with amazing results. I think there is more of a freedom here to try new things, which would be great to see happen in the States.

    Secondly, I believe one of the big strengths in the UK is partnerships. Our church alone regularly meets with 7 other churches, runs a community centre, and works closely with 3 local government organisations. There is amazing opportunity to be had in drawing alliances and developing relationships with other groups outside of church. This is increasingly common in the UK and we now have people approaching the church with money, asking if we could start a dance group for the community, or employ someone for pastoral care! I would encourage US youth ministers to think carefully about how they might connect with other organisations to further the work of the church and make Christ known in those places where churches aren’t normally welcome.

So what do you think?

Is there anything I missed out or got wrong? Do you have a different perspective? Let me know in the comments!

So yesterday, @sparticus started a conversation on twitter that quickly gained momentum with a number of Christian youth workers. His original tweet was:

He later explained it in a post on his site:

As far as I’m aware [my tweet] a complete lie, but it sparked a discussion around what was reasonable to pay a youth worker as a salary, and that some churches seem to be advertising less than reasonable salaries…

Is this pay or compensation enough to allow the worker to live in the area they are ministering to?

Over the day the discussion about youth work pay developed into other aspects of youth ministry including longevity, volunteers, and church leadership. This prompted people to start thinking about a tweetup to discuss some of these ideas. However, as more people got involved, the messages became quite comical:

As I understand the conversation (I dipped in and out during the day), there is a concern about the amount of pay being offered by some churches for youth workers, and a recognition that many churches simply can’t afford to employ a worker. In this situation, how are churches supported and encouraged to develop work with young people?

In addition, once a youth minister has significant experience and/or training, there seems to be even fewer opportunities for them. At this stage of their career (or in some cases ‘calling’) they often have families, mortgages and other responsibilities, yet there are no senior positions that reflect their abilities.

I need to point out that getting a balanced and detailed view from 140 character messages is very difficult! I’m not sure how many denominations the tweeters represent, or even their own background or experience. Therefore it’s hard to say if this discussion truly paints an accurate portrait of the situation in across the UK, although it does sounds familiar.

It does link in to points raised by others recently. Ian from Youthblog wrote about the Joint Negotiating Committee (the body which sets the national framework used to grade and pay youth work jobs):

Is the JNC dead as the underpinning framework for Christian Youth work?

Up until now the likes of Oasis and CYM have run JNC validated courses affiliated to a university body and enjoyed the fact that the Government has contributed financially a whole heap to the education of Christian Youth Workers.

However we are now in a very different world though where students will need to pay large fees to access a degree programme. Given that there is no career or structure for faith sector youth work, how attractive an option is that going to be? Allied to that is the fact that the statutory sector has cut so much of the youth work that is fuelled by the JNC values, and instead moved to a model of targeted work more akin to Social Work than youth work. Does the ‘JNC’ as a currency still have any clout or is the JNC a bit up in the air at the moment

These are valid points. But where this conversation goes next is hard to say. There are already some good outlets for this kind of discussion, including the upcoming Youthwork Summit which was designed to open dialogue among youth workers, but it is really interesting and encouraging to see such active participation over twitter from youth workers and I’d like to encourage it to continue.

Personally, I would be keen to see a group get together and start honing down some of these questions, before posting a clear summary of the issues which could be disseminated wider. If any action is needed at a national level, then it may take events like YWS, media like Youthwork Magazine, or movements like ‘We love our youth worker‘ to get things going.

Whatever the outcome to this, I’m enjoying the discussion. It’s feeding ideas for some future projects I’m thinking through…


8 April 2011 — 8 Comments

As usual, Paul Martin got me thinking! In a post last week he proposed that the common phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do’ (WWJD) while a reminder of Christ’s actions, is actually missing the point. He points us in the direction of [youversion]John 5:19[/youversion]:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Paul’s got a thing about discipleship – something you realise pretty quickly when reading his blog, and he asks the question should our ultimate goal be to imitate Christ and encourage others to do the same?

Is discipleship spiritual formation where the goal is to make people like Christ? Or is the goal of discipleship to reveal the particular characteristics and qualities that a person is created with?

According to the passage we should be looking, as Jesus did, to what the Father is doing. While it may seem a small distinction, it does have implications. In our work and discipleship with others, are we simply teaching them to copy the Jesus we see in the gospels, or to live beyond that and understand the living truth of what God is doing around them?

Asking ‘WWJD’ may help us to live more the Son, but Paul suggests a better question might be WITFD: What Is The Father Doing?

Do yourself a favour and subscribe to his blog!

The Christian Youth Work Awards

Mark (@sparticus) brought this to my attention on his blog. It’s a new set of awards for Christian youth work run by the ‘We Love Our Youthworker‘ charter, Youthwork Magazine and The Archbishop of York Youth Trust. From the website:

The Christian Youth Work Awards are all about appreciating and celebrating the incredible work done with young people in churches and through Christian organisations up and down the UK. Thousands of youth workers, paid and volunteers, run clubs, Bible studies and groups every week. They spend hours talking and listening to young people, just hanging out. They don’t just give their time, they give themselves…

[We] know how important it is to encourage each other in the Body of Christ, and that’s why these Awards exist. By highlighting just a few of those doing youth work, we hope we’ll inspire and encourage us all.

As a worker, I confess that I am slightly cringing at the concept. I’m not sure if it’s the fact the awards are focused on the Christian sub-culture (there’s no national awards for non-faith youth workers), or simply that it’s an award for youth work full stop. Having said that, I would love to nominate and thank a huge number of (mainly volunteer) youth workers who have impacted and inspired me. Recognising the effort these workers invest into young people is a significant thing, so maybe these awards are well justified!

The various categories for the awards are:

  • Youth worker of the year
  • Volunteer of the year
  • Best youth work employer
  • Best innovative youth work, and
  • Best youth work resource

Anyone can nominate towards the awards and the closing date is 1st June. It will be interesting to see what happens. Go nominate here.

Orison Prayer Space

15 March 2011 — 1 Comment

"Sign" - A prayer written by a young person

This week I’m helping to run an interactive prayer space in our local secondary school. The chaplain and team invited Orison to come to the school and set-up their brilliant exhibition, so yesterday I got stuck in! In case you’re wondering:

Orison is an interactive spiritual experience, encouraging people of all ages to engage with prayer using creative, hands on activities.
While I’ve known about Orison’s work for a while, yesterday was the first time I had seen it in action. We are set up in a hall and one class at a time, young people came into the space as part of their Religious Education lesson (it coincides nicely that it’s Celebrating RE month at the moment). The Orison website explains how it works:
Set up in a classroom, school hall or even a tent on the field, pupils are given a brief introduction to the experience, including a short video about prayer, before being guided through the space, exploring different themes in each zone. From writing prayer requests on post it notes, considering the bubbles going up a large bubble tube, dissolving sugar cubes in water and sticking prayers on maps, pupils will enjoy activities which are fun, interactive, thought provoking and challenging.

"Your Country" - A prayer written by a young person

We split each class into four groups and they rotated round the four zones; Image, Sorry, World and Bubble (more on zones here). I got to host the Image and Bubble zones today. Some of the young people really got into it, questioning things, writing, thinking, and ultimately, praying in a natural and gentle fashion. Some of the young people didn’t quite get so enthusiastic, but I was surprised that there was no awkward or difficult behaviour. In fact, they all seemed to appreciate the interactive style of learning with many saying they wanted to come back.

Credit is due to the Orison team who have spent a lot of time designing and refining the activities in the zones, and resourcing the equipment to make it happen. Having said that, it was something that many people/groups may be able to do themselves if they have a good relationship with a school. We’ve done similar sorts of interactive prayer experiences for our church young people – we’ve just never thought of taking it into a school! And that’s where this sort of thing is breaking new ground. By using church tried and tested prayer spaces and applying it to the National Curriculum for Key stage 1, 2 and 3, organisations like Orison are able to offer something unique to schools who sometimes struggle to address issues of spirituality in creative and engaging ways.

"Why?" - A prayer written by a young person

If you do any sort of schools work, I highly recommend checking out Orison and getting them to come and lead, help or advise a prayer space in your school. You should also visit the Prayer Spaces In Schools website. It is an initiative of 24-7 Prayer and they are doing very similar work across the UK with lots of resources and ideas on the site.

Youthwork Magazine

14 December 2010 — 2 Comments

The new-look Youthwork Magazine

Youthwork Magazine has been running in the UK for around 19 years and is the only dedicated youth ministry publication that I know of. In fact, it’s possibly now the only regular dedicated magazine for any work with young people in the UK!

It has been a regular part of my diet for the last 8 years or so and has always carried interesting features and articles, but for some reason it has never become one of those essential, staple foods that I need to survive. Despite subscribing, I rarely read a whole issue. Instead I usually put it in my bag, carry it round for a while and then dip into it here and there when I have a few moments to kill – I guess I snack on it occasionally like a guilty binge on a chocolate bar. Now though, I think my eating habits are about to change!

The new-look magazine launched this month (as Volume 2, Issue 1) is quite a big departure, at least stylistically, from what has gone before. Instead of the glossy, staple-bound product, we’ve now got a sharp matt-finish magazine that uses sustainable, chlorine-free paper and is spine-bound like other major monthly publications. The result is that it somehow feels much higher quality.

This quality is also reflected in the design. Taking on their very first Art Director for the magazine, Phil Revell has simply got rid of everything that went before and rebuilt it from the ground up to better reflect the focus of the content. Gone is the familiar but tired logo and title on the cover, replaced with a simple capitalised block title and a variety of different stylish fonts, shapes and translucent colours highlighting each feature over a simple, yet beautiful shot of a young person. Inside, the whole magazine makes much better use of fonts and layout, forgoing gaudy colourful text boxes and backgrounds for simple and crisp black-on-white text with occasional and subtle highlights from a defined palette. The effect is a far cooler, relaxed, and more mature magazine.

While much of the content is familiar (editorial, lead article, case study, session resources, etc), in this new format it strangely has more gravitas and holds your attention longer. Its the sort of difference between reading The Beano and picking up Frank Miller’s graphic novels: it’s the same art form, yet an entirely different experience.

Essentially, to use a youth-related simile – it feels like Youthwork Magazine has come through the awkward stage of puberty, putting aside some of its childish habits on the way. It still has that same character, but has finally found its confidence as a young adult in its own identity.

As a bonus, the new website launches today as the companion to the magazine. While I’ve no idea what content will be featured online, I’m excited as the previous website was a missed opportunity for engaging with workers. If it’s anything like magazine, it should be good!

Being Ministry

13 December 2010 — 2 Comments

One of my new favourite blogs is Being Ministry. Written by Paul Martin, the website has a focus on youth ministry and in particular, discipleship. He’s written a number of thoughtful posts over the past month that have got me reflecting on my own practice and I really enjoy seeing what the next post will say! From the site:

An experiment on the art of being the ministry instead of just doing it.
You are not what you do. Your ministry is not what you do. Your value for yourself and from everyone else comes from who you are not what you do.
Welcome to Being.

Go check it out and leave a comment!

From the archive is a series of posts highlighting content previously posted on this blog that may be new to some readers or helpful to revisit: This post looks at a news article for a US church planning to give away an Assault Rifle during a youth event and argues against such an approach from a Christian Perspective.

The original post was published on 20th July 2008 and can be found here

Kids With Guns: Assault Rifle Giveaway at Youth Event

As crazy as this sounds, The Register is reporting that a Baptist Church in Oklahoma recently tried to give away an AR-15 Assault Rifle as a way of attracting young people to attend the church. Apparently a local TV station intervened to stop the annual shooting competition. A statement is now posted on the church Youth Conference Website about the media attention.

Although the shooting competition that was to take place during the Youth Conference had been canceled, due to false statements made by the Oklahoma City TV Channel 5 (KOCO) and subsequently reported also by media outlets across the country, a shotgun was donated last Saturday so that the competition could go on as planned.

If Congress, back when our country was fighting for its independence could give engraved muskets to the fifteen or so eleven year old boys that their teacher, Mr. Akins, led into battle against the British, then we can give away a firearm still today, especially since our Supreme Court just re-emphasized our Second Amendment rights.

The Register also has a quote from the Youth Pastor:

Bob Ross claimed the main thrust of the conference wasn’t about guns but rather “teens finding faith”. He stressed that the event featured 21 hours of preaching between bursts of gunfire, and defended: “I don’t want people thinking ‘My goodness, we’re putting a weapon in the hand of somebody that doesn’t respect it who are then going to go out and kill. That’s not at all what we’re trying to do.”

Shooting recreationally is a sport and arguably an acceptable activity for a youth group, but why then make a big deal of giving away a rifle? Is that really necessary?

Using examples from America’s independence and the Second Amendment, the church now seems to be vehemently defending their right to bear arms and enjoy recreational shooting as shown by the emails of support published here.

I personally find it very difficult to reconcile the teachings of Christ with defending yourself and your property as this church seems to advocate. In fact Jesus was famously non-violent when faced with accusations, criticism and torture.

“Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39)

Jesus taught enemy love with imagination. He gave three real examples of how to interact with our adversaries. In each instance, Jesus points us toward disarming others. Jesus teaches us to refuse to oppose evil on its own terms. He invites us to transcend both passivity and violence through a third way.
Shane Claibourne and Chris Haw: Jesus For President

I think Gorillaz helpfully articulated the horror of encouraging children to shoot each other:

Kids with guns, Kids with guns
Taking over
But it won’t be long
They mesmerized, skeletons
Kids with guns, Kids with guns
Easy does it, easy does it, they got something to say “no” to

I have to say from the outset that I really enjoy Youthwork the conference each year. While the seminars and sessions are great, the main reason I go back each time is that it gives me space and time out from the busyness of regular life and I can catch up with other like-minded people. This year, after years of banter and quick conversations, I got to hang out with Chris Kidd (Official Blogger ™ of Youthwork The Conference) and his colleague Lydia which was great. Due to other commitments, I only went for the Friday and Saturday this year so my reflections are based on the half of the weekend that I attended.

I was delighted to see that Danielle Strickland was doing a number of sessions over the course of the weekend as her teaching has been inspirational in the past. I was initially concerned about a possible over-saturation effect since she has already spoken at prominent events like Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor this year, but after hearing her on the Friday evening these doubts were quickly dispelled. She is an excellent and thought-provoking communicator.

Having the Breathe prayer space upstairs was a good idea and much better use of otherwise wasted space. Also the more simplified programme worked well – it was easier to plan what you wanted to attend!

The other big plus for me this year was Nick Sheppard leading a main session on ‘Trying to be Christians’ where he explored the faith development of young people in today’s society. Although it was quite a big subject for an early morning start, Nick was engaging and captivating; expanding on his PHD research with a practical and theoretical driven presentation rather than preaching nice wooly ideas or isolated theology. He proved that the academic doesn’t have to be dull or boring and I’d love to see more research-based content in future.

However, sadly the same can’t be said for the CYM (Centre for Youth Ministry) sessions. I fully applaud the effort of bringing in some more practical training to the conference, and after reading the session outlines I decided I wanted to go to them. The two themes were around ethics in youth ministry and strategic planning. Both were interesting subjects and seemed promising, but unfortunately missed their mark with dry PowerPoint-heavy presentations featuring long lists that were parroted by the speakers. While there were some real gems that could be drawn out of each one, there was too much information and not enough application. In addition, both sessions overran and allowed no time for discussion or Q&A. Shame. I believe there needs to be more content like this at Youthwork The Conference aimed at trained and experienced workers, but it needs to be much better thought through.

Overall though, it was another good conference. Considering there have been some behind the scenes changes to the event organisation over the past couple of years, it was encouraging to hear such positive feedback towards Wendy Beech Ward and her team. I hope that they can continue to make the conference viable for the future.

With that in mind, the dates for next year are set at 18-20th November 2011. The cost is only £70 if you book before the end of December. Get booking now!