Save The Pumpkins – a wee tract

So this is the text of a tract I wrote for my younger London youth group (age 11-14) about 6 years ago. It’s not the best, it’s not incredibly well written, but it’s something. Feel free to use, change, adapt, laugh at… whatever!

Tim

 

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Do you like pumpkins? Have you ever tried Pumpkin pie? Yum! I sometimes think it’s a shame to see what Halloween does to those poor pumpkins. Really, think about it!

We start with a lovely big fruit, full of life, yumminess, and seeds which could grow into more pumpkins. We then cut its top off, spoon out all of its tasty life-full goodness and seeds, cut a miserable looking face into it and hide a candle inside it.

It all looks a little bit dark and gloomy to me. But I guess that’s the point of Halloween isn’t it?  Halloween is all about being dark, and scared, and gloomy. You don’t think so? Then why do we dress up as ghouls and ghosts and all things evil and scary?

The ancient Celts believed that at the end of summer evil spirits could pass through into our world and we needed to dress up like them to ward them off, which is kinda why we do it today.

You may think I’m trying to be a killjoy by putting Halloween down – but I’m not at all, I promise! Evil, scary, nasty things (like the things Halloween likes) tend to kill our joy. I want to tell you about something else that could bring you real joy!

You see, I believe that God created the world. I even believe He created those delicious pumpkins! But Halloween (which prefers dead and dark things) takes God’s good creation and spoons all the good out of it – just like we do to a pumpkin!

I also believe God send His own son Jesus Christ to show us where real, deep, and lasting joy can be found.

Jesus calls himself ‘The Light of the World,’ which is a little bit like the candle you put into your pumpkin. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a candle in a really dark room? All the darkness leaves the candle – it runs away! You see, you can’t have dark and light together, light always wins!

I believe that Jesus is the good news, the best news – Because he chases away darkness, just like a candle in that dark room does.

I believe that Jesus saw a dark, scary world destroying itself, he also saw all the darkness in our own lives that comes out in all the bad things we say, and think, and do – and He came to die, so that darkness wouldn’t win, but light would.

Jesus loved us so much and wanted you and me to be so full of life and free of darkness that He died for us on a cross. When Jesus died, He paid the price for all that darkness; He chased it away!

But Jesus didn’t stay dead; He rose from the dead showing that He’s bigger than death itself! He’s the light that chases away all darkness!

What an AMAZING free gift! Jesus wants to chase away your darkness, even death itself! And He wants to give you life and light itself, even eternal life after you die here! How incredible is that?!?

But to accept this we need to ask Jesus for it. We need to tell him that we believe in Him, and that we want him to forgive all the darkness inside us, and come to be our best friend, and give us light and life!

Now this isn’t something I’d expect anyone, young or old, to do without thinking a lot about it and asking lots and lots of questions about it too! Christianity isn’t a cult, its about people really searching and finding Jesus to be true.

 

Save The Pumpkins!

Social Media Safety Lesson Plan (free download)

Social Media Safety Lesson Plan.

This is the first of a 2 part lesson plan we offer to Schools on the issues of Social Media Safety for Students. This has minimal explicit religious content and is aimed at building trust for the school while providing valuable training and awareness for young people on the issues of Social Media Safety.

This should happily fill a 50 minute lesson for most secondary school age groups. It’s based around dynamic conversation and group work steered through you the facilitator. This is a far less authoritarian way of raising and taking these issues.

This is a free download and you are free to use, adapt and it as far as it is useful. Please do point people back here if it has been useful to you. Thanks!

Download Here: Social Media Safety pdf (3 pages)

Viral Youth Ministry Part 1. Online Community IS Community.

Social-media-for-public-relations1Ask FM, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter et al – the city gates of a new century. They are what coffee shops and pubs we’re to the generation before: the hub of community, gossip, news and living interactions with real people.

“Communities have social rules, cliques, groups, hierarchies, activities and spaces. You will find all of these in the villages of social media.”

About this time last year I ran a training day on how to juggle social media and child safeguarding in youth ministry. The aim was to dovetail the two together and empower youth workers to be involved in online spaces responsibly.

The session was a success and has since been highly requested, so I will attempt to unpack some of the presentation parts of it over the next few posts.

Part 1. Online Community IS Community.

Community is defined as the condition of gathering and sharing with real people with real attitudes and experiences. Communities have social rules, cliques, groups, hierarchies, activities and spaces. You will find all of these in the villages of social media.

The inter-connectivity of social media sites within themselves, with each other and with off-community internet sites through via sharing creates a very real social digital world. Social media spaces are villages with easy public transport between them. Your avatar travels, takes photos, has experiences and leaves marks. Avatars are born and die all the time, and are not always what you think.

Digital community relates to ‘natural’ community (that which is outside the online world) in three potential ways:

1. Digital Community as Extension of Natural Community

2. Digital Community as Distinct from Natural Community

3. Digital Community as Memorabilia of Natural Community

God loves community and it is his plan to see his community ideals put into effect everywhere that community springs up. Wee need to be his fellow workers, on His team to create this in the digital world that is flourishing.

1. Digital Community as Extension of Natural Community
A foot in both worlds might be another way of putting this. One has a natural community experience then continues it on through sharing in social interactions online. Or a friendship that blossoms through meeting in reality takes on new layers and depths through online interaction.

“Ask FM, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter et al – the city gates of a new century.”

Extension of natural community is a hi-tech way of sending notes, owning walkie-talkies or sharing scrapbooks on the life and experiences that happen to you and your friends.

This in the main is a relatively safe way of belonging to the Digital Community. It all comes down to balance – does the digital extend and supplement the natural, or is it the other way around?

For a youth group, a Facebook page is a great way of sharing memories, carrying on conversations, creating deeper friendships and advertising projects. This works as an extension of the youth group meeting in reality.

2. Digital Community as Distinct from Natural Community
This is perhaps where most unhealthy interactions with natural community crop us. Distinct is when one has a totally separate identity or life online from the one that is lived in reality.

Distinct online life be as simple as telling a few fibs to test some social waters or make yourself look cooler. It can however be as full blown as multiple personality disorder leading to a segregation of the self with some disastrous results. For instance, this is from where cyber self harm often originates.

When the two communities are thrust back together (like meeting someone in reality that you met online first) the pieces often don’t fit and at best expectations are let down and at worst you have situations that you read about in the news.

For a youth group, you can inadvertently create groups online that allow different characteristics of your members to surface unknowingly which can feel like you have an online group and a natural group of the same people but with different personalities. We need to manage and moderate content well and not be afraid to talk about the differences we see as a result.

Excursus: Digital Community as Replacement for Natural Community
In the worst case scenarios, distinct turns into replacement when again the balance shifts (just like in extension) and the individual starts to see the online world and persona as the real world and persona. For all intents and purposes they live online.

This is incredibly unhealthy as it bears all the marks of escapism and denial which can fester or awaken bipolar, mania, paranoia and other serious mental / social health difficulties.

“God loves community and it is his plan to see his community ideals put into effect everywhere that community springs up.”

3. Digital Community as Memorabilia of Natural Community
Remember the ‘find your classmates’ site? This was – for many of us in our late 20s and beyond – how social media began. Digital community can simply be a place to catch up without actually relating. You view pictures, and read what people are up to – and you share the same, but you don’t comment and you don’t seek responses. It is simply a bulletin board of memories and experiences.

For a youth group this is the safest (albeit most boring) community space to set up. A site that shares photos and stories of your group’s exploits but without having any real time, or roving avatar interactions.

All a Question of Balance
When it comes to online community you need to think balance. How do you as a youth worker keep the balance on the natural and the real, without diminishing or disregarding the digital. How do you keep a check on spaces  that you manage to ensure that real interactions are happening safely and unmolested while creating boundaries that allow only appropriate interactions.

For me, this means 9 times out of 10 I use pages rather than groups. I have several adult moderators from within and outside the youth group structure within the spaces. I avoid personal spaces (like private chat) and I avoid off wall content. I keep a daily check on what is being posted and I call people out – in person, not online – for abusing the community space.

Next time – Social Media Spaces: from the playground to the bedroom, do you know where you are?

 

Viral Youth Ministry.

3 Overlooked Reasons for School’s Work

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There are lots of well known and accepted reasons for school’s work, not least of which is you can kiss your youth ministry goodbye in a few years if you’re not. Here’s a few though that came to mind that are maybe sometimes overlooked:

To challenge stereotypes
Young people are several generations removed from the world of habitual church attendance and Sunday school. This leaves their systems wide open to lots of misinformation and tabloid-infused stereotypes of who Christians are and what Church looks like.

“By being present in school you can continually challenge the stereotype of what Christ-followers look like.”

Last week I asked 140 year 9 students in groups of 5 to give me a freeze frame for the word ‘church.’ The vast majority had people kneeling on the floor bowing to a vicar figure who was stood up on a chair looking posh and disinterested. A few did funerals, and one did an image of ‘togetherness.’ One in nearly 30 groups caught at least something of the heart of church.

By being present in school you can continually challenge the stereotype of what church and Christ-followers look like. Yes we look normal, we dress normal, we don’t have secret handshakes, we like good music (most of us) and some of us even have tattoos! Weird eh?

To create dynamic, tolerant conversation
Christians – being in a spiritually aware world inhabited by theologians and philosophers with a rich history – are expected to provide stimulating thoughts, deep questions and engaged conversation.

“Teaching young people how to think and how to talk cultivates the ground needed to hear the Gospel.”

Rather than coming with ‘look, here’s what I think!’ all the time, use your unique space and persona in school to develop activities and spaces that grow conversation techniques, tolerance, listening skills and opinion articulation. Teaching young people how to think and how to talk cultivates the ground needed to hear the Gospel.

We do this in North Wales by through running RE conferences that massively rely on small, dynamic conversation groups. The result is lots of young people who feel genuinely listened to, accepted and yet challenged. This means they have a memory of being respected and heard, and that memory is attached to Christian adults! Well worth it.

To constantly show that faith is not a bankrupt option
The world isn’t split into smart people and Christians. Using helpful and memorable illustrations you can allow young people the space to open their minds to possibilities beyond the mundane and quite easily back this up using classical philosophy and modern science.

You need to keep saying and demonstrating that faith is not intellectual suicide. You can do this in science classes with science teachers if you approach it properly. Develop a language in school through your involvement that allows young people – Dr. Who style – to consider more than what is simply in front of their noses.

Young people are incredibly spiritually aware so you have an opportunity to dovetail supernatural alertness into academic rigor.

Compassion Ministry, The Future of Christian Youth Work

Christian Youth Work is still in essence, a new principle for Churches. Unlike other areas of pastoral Church work, it hasn’t accumulated centuries of wisdom to stand upon. This is probably why it only takes a few years to be considered a ‘veteran youth leader’.

At it’s most basic level, working with young adults and children with specific needs is as old as the world itself. However, embracing youth work as project ministry with clearly defined parameters, staff, budgets and gift sets outside the immediate purview of Church elders and parents is certainly still in infancy.

As with anything in sapling stages, we must be continually open to various ideas to make sure we’re not growing against a wonky stake. A forced change in shape at this stage will simply mean deformity later.

Christian Youth Work in the west has cycled around clubs, events, mentoring, short term mission projects and in more mature ministries youth leadership. Generally we transition through incarnational youth work, into funnel models of youth work aiming at two ends of a spectrum: the large crowd event and the small discipleship group. Usually we stick a middle ground youth club in to create the funnel link (and many of us don’t go further than this). If we are developing both ends of this spectrum with reasonable consistency and are keeping a mid-layer youth group solvent then we give ourselves a hearty pat on the back and start training others to do the same.

“Compassion ministries are driven by the conviction that Jesus meets needs, heals hurts and brings the kingdom to earth – not just to church.”

Developing Unease
This has led to increasing unease in the Youth Ministry world. With further distance between the polarising worlds of church and culture, and a mighty drop off of young people church attendance we are starting to find holes in these classical methods.

For instance we keep meeting young people who really need something different and something more substantial than what these well managed systems can produce – and even more frightening we keep not meeting young people in general because they have no connection point within the models we manage.

This has led many over the last few years to wisely abandon classical youthwork in pursuit of specific mission focused projects working with marginalised young people, young people in poverty, young people from other faiths and young people with various behavioural and social difficulties.

“The future of Youth Ministry is, I believe in these compassion ministries.”

This is a colossal step in the right direction! These are compassion ministries – ministries driven by the conviction that Jesus meets needs, heals hurts and brings the kingdom to earth (not just to church).

Compassion Ministry
The future of Youth Ministry is, I believe in these compassion ministries. I want to challenge all of us to step out in faith and think about the following list, and I’d like to urge Bible Colleges and training centres to teach these things at the highest possible level:

– Support groups for those will mental health issues

– Mentoring, Counseling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

– Art and creative therapy

– Stress and anger Management

– Conflict resolution and mediation

– Social Enterprises to get young people vocationally trained for work

– Social Enterprises to teach young people fundamentals of emerging adult life (hygiene, social interactions, literacy etc.)

– Integration and support for those with learning and social difficulties

– Social work projects for whole families

– Parenting and ‘big brother / big sister’ training

– Local social action groups

– Trusts and funds to support those 13-18% of families that are living in genuine poverty

Compassion Ministries meet genuine needs, make authentic connections and drive holistic community. They are the modern equivalent (along with others) of ‘having everything in common’ that the church in the book of Acts teaches to us.

If I could take 5 years out to ‘retrain’ as a youth worker I would study law, cbt, and conflict resolution. I would get accredited as a counsellor and mediator and would start setting up social support groups in every school and hospital I could find.

The First Steps
I have some amazing leaders who naturally get this.

One of my leaders is passionate about mental health resources for young people. I’m convinced she will do enormous things in this direction and she is starting by simply chatting, asking questions and studying what is currently missing in her local context.

Another of my leaders works as a teaching assistant in a local school for young people with various learning and social difficulties. Every morning he packs cereal bars in his bag and gives them to young people who haven’t had any breakfast.

This is the future of youth work. This is how we must move forward. Small acts of compassion aimed at meeting genuine needs in young people. Any youth work strategy that does not include these things in the next few years will be as irrelevant as the dinosaurs.

An Attitude for Christian School’s Work

Heiwa_elementary_school_18Last week I was hosting a Q&A for the year 9s from our local school when we broached the topic of suffering.

“Why doesn’t God just control everybody to stop them doing bad things!” a young lad asked me.

“If He controlled everybody all the time,” I responded “then He could decide to make you a ballerina right here and now in front of all your mates, which would probably be a bit awkward.”

We followed up by looking at the importance of God allowing us to make choices and giving us dynamic (not autonomous) freedom in order for us to be fully human.

At the end of the session while his friends were boarding the coaches, he came back up to me with “we’re gonna have this out! Why can’t God just give us some basic guidance when choices come up in our lives, or some basic help when we’ve got to make hard decisions eh?”

“That’s exactly what He does do,” I replied delightedly, “but in order to hear His voice you need to know who’s speaking, you need to pick up the phone and dial the right number, you need to start a relationship with Jesus.”

“Wow, I should convert then!” He yelled jubilantly (and possibly slightly tongue-in-cheek) then he bounced off.

Without a solid relationship with my local school and the golden opportunities that it provides I don’t think I ever would have had that important (albeit flyby) conversation with that young person. It all comes down to having a quality attitude for Christian school’s work.

The Silver Bullet

School’s Work is the silver bullet for youth ministry – if you’re not involved in any kind of school’s work you can almost all but guarantee that your youth ministry’s days are numbered.

School’s Work provides a rolling community of young people who add longevity to your ministry projects. The days of the drop in, bring a friend youth club are ticking away. You have to build relationships with young people in schools where they are at and you have to do this in a way that adds value to the school itself.

Adding Value

Our attitude to School’s Work should not be ‘trying to get in,’ but instead a compassion-driven, servant-hearted desire to add value to that school.

“I ask lots of questions and I say ‘yes’ a lot.”

My first conversation with a new school is around how we can serve them. I go to meetings armed with knowledge of the curriculum and with understandings of extra-curricular requirements that they might struggle with. I ask lots of questions and I say ‘yes’ a lot.

I’m confident that what we do in our local school’s work adds educational and social value to the students, I’m confident that the staff are happy and I’m confident that this provides opportunities needed (without being subversive) to share the Gospel with Young People in an honest and open way.

Some ideas to consider:

1. Look for the unconventional.
In my current ministry we’ve taught RE yes, but we’ve also taught drama, PE, social studies, critical thinking, CV writing skills, street dance and internet safety. We also fill requirements for acts of worship, enrichment, Duke of Edinburgh and work experience. Go with what they ask for and provide what they need.

2. But work with what you have.
Can you provide a learning experience at your local church? A day out with a tour, talk and quiz in your church building can tick a whole load of academic boxes and is often a great way in while challenging stereotypes.

3. Don’t be afraid of giving it time.
If your mission is to go from 0-60, from first contact to school concert to setting up a CU in a few weeks – good luck! Finding a niche in a school might take a couple of years of providing different services, but it’s well worth it.

4. Make specific suggestions.
Schools don’t often take initiative with outsiders, especially with the volume of potential visitors they have to consider. Give the school specific options with outline plans and learning objectives. It’s far more likely that they will consider something if they don’t have to put that amount of extra thought into it themselves.

5. Make the right friends.
Specific senior teachers, caretakers and reception staff – the Holy Trinity of the school and those who really have the most access. After every weekly club I leave all the ‘extra’ doughnuts with the reception staff, I’ve been for drinks with heads of RE and I’ve always tried to set the rooms back before the caretaker arrives to take over.

6. Actually make friends.
Teachers are real people and we should be seeking to develop real relationships that are personal and open to life outside the school.

“Be low maintenance and high value!”

7. Be professional.
School is not youth club, it has specific learning and social development objectives. At PGCE you are taught how to work within this structure, at YouthMin training you are not! Learn how to write formal letters, dress appropriately, follow up clearly, have short and efficient meetings and communicate with different levels of staff properly. This will go a very long way. Be clear about your objectives and don’t be overly demanding. Be low maintenance and high value!

8. Care about what they care about.
School’s take a lot of time committing to a small group of charities and local community work. Rather than trying to add to this list, look for ways you can work with them on the same projects for the same causes.

9. Don’t push your luck.
You are in the school as a guest. Always be honest and open about why you are there, be clear with your opinions, don’t overreach for more than you know and don’t encourage an ‘us and them’ mentality with you and the teachers. Subversiveness doesn’t serve anyone!

10. Get a shed load of people praying!
Not only for the ways in and for the developing relationships but for protection. A surefire way to loose your hard earned connection with a school is the one phone call from the one angry parent who thinks you are there to indoctrinate. So see point 9, and get people praying!

The ULTIMATE Youth Work Car

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Over the last two years I have demolished and devoured four whole cars, but with number five clocking up about 8000 miles in 6 months under the mistress of youthwork, I may have just found a keeper!

The ideal youthwork car is Bumblebee the Transformer – failing this though, finding something that is affordable, flexible, reliable and still cool is a nightmare.

Before I unveil my sneaky little diamond in the rough though, what of the other four?

The first, a cute little Seat Ibiza was a re-buy of my first ever car. It was a gorgeous little golf wannabe that I had cannibalized by ripping out the back seats and replacing them with a flatbed, railed wooden floor which effectively gave me a micro-minivan with a shed-load of space. A few carefully chosen decals and some homemade metallic green interior and it was ready to go! And go it did – right off a bendy wet country lane and down the side of a thirty foot ditch into an angry Gloucestershire farmer’s cow field. Good bye Seat.

The next was a bargain bin special. A 98 Ford Escort bought from Auction for £175.00 in cool grey with eight layers of seat covers included in the price. This lasted me two wonderful weeks, until the engine ceremoniously blew up with a whistle, fizz and bang in the middle of nowhere en route to Valentines Day lunch with my lucky wife. One flat tow and scrap collection later I was down seventy five quid.

Then there was my trusted super-mini, the Japanese Daihatsu Sirion. Other than being possibly the ugliest car on the road in the whole of North Wales, there wasn’t a lot to complain about. Granted, there wasn’t a lot to it in any sense; it weighed less than a pair of shoes and cornered with roughly the same amount of accuracy. However at 1.3 liters, the SL (that’s ‘sports, luxury’ to you) really could shift off the mark – all the way to 80 mph before it screamed in agony and lost compression. This wasn’t helped by the massive oil leak that ended it’s poor little life.

Finally we have the top spec, 2000 Nissan Primera SE+ with heated leather seats and a wooden steering wheel. It felt like a mini limousine, made more so by the enormous size of it’s turning circle. I went to a back-road wheeler dealer in Birmingham for this, who it turns out put an illegal MOT on it. We discovered this when – after hearing the unnerving knocks from the back – we discovered that the entire bottom sub-frame was rotten and the suspension arms we’re effectively held on by witchcraft. Another treasure for the scrapyard.

So Why Do Youthworker’s Need To Think About Their Car So Much?

Well if you don’t, stuff happens. Bad stuff. Bad stuff like the stuff above! Bad stuff that costs you money, time, stress, embarrassment and angry phone-calls with Gloucestershire farmers. My experience as a youthworker tells me that money and time are in short supply, whereas embarrassment, stress and angry phone-calls are ten-a-dozen.

“It’s just one of those things that needs to work!”

One of the biggest extra stresses I’ve had to deal with in all the years I’ve worked with young people is my car. It’s just one of those things – like your home – that needs to work! There are a few key bits it needs to do:

  • It needs to be cheep to run! Mpg is king. Diesels preferred… but y’know, good ones. Tax and particularly insurance need to be low – especially because as a youthworker you should be fully comp.
  • It needs to be cheep to buy – I’m guessing less than £1500 is ideal for most youthworkers.
  • It needs to be reliable. This can mean good service history, a newer model, a good make or common enough to find parts and garages easily.
  • It needs to be spacious and practical – without being a tank. Smaller estates or at least good sized hatchbacks are a must to get all that camp gear in. Big boot opening and back doors to make packing work is also a must… as are rear folding seats which means more space or more passengers.
  • It needs to look some kind of cool because… Well it does.

This doesn’t leave you a whole load of options. But some great options that are usually available at this price and with these equipment options are:

  • VW Golf estates
  • VW Passats
  • Rover 200s
  • Vauxhall Astras (vectras are too wide!)
  • Honda Accords
  • Mazda 6s

Or….. what I’m now driving an Audi A4 estate. This thing is awesome. 2ltdi (red i) estate, metallic blue, big enough to sleep in (which I’ve done for about 30 nights so far with a good futon mattress in the back), roof rails and it’s averaging 55 mpg.

It’s bomb proof, well looked after, and it’s good for probably another 100000 miles. It keeps up on the Motorway, is small enough to nip around town, has a great turning circle and a cracking sound system!

There’s space in the boot to pack enough tents and weapons to run a small war, and comfort enough in the front to drive for hours.

Do you have an ULTIMATE Youth Work car? Leave a comment!