The Heart-Breaking Side of being a Long-Term Youth Worker

I’m a huge advocate for youth ministry as a long-haul vocation, rather than a one-stop ride on the way to ‘proper’ ministry. We’ve got to dig in, get comfortable, and prepare for a real journey.

There is, however, a darker side to being in it for the long haul, one we don’t often talk about in the wake of trying to keep people from giving up. In a nutshell it’s this: people leave.

Friends to but not friends with

When you are ministering to young people it is important to remember that you’re not their mate. You can be a friend to a young person, but not a friend with a young person. We’re not their peers (that would be creepy), and as adults with duty-of-care, we need to exercise healthy boundaries that are stricter than the average friend.

All that said, you do grow to like young people. You spend a lot of time with them laughing, making memories, opening up, being supportive; and many of them – over the long haul – mature into fully fledged adults. I can honestly say that I’m now friends with several adults who used to be in my youth group when they were younger.

These are the first of two groups who leave.

When friends move away

When kids become adults, they do things like go to university, get jobs, and move away. This has happened to me more than a few times now, and it’s a sad recurring story.

When you have invested so much into a young person – who then grows into a healthy adult – a bond is made and the relationship can easily grow into an adult friendship. Then quite suddenly there’s marriage, new families, and jobs far away. It’s always sad to see friends go, and there’s a bittersweet irony when these friends used to be young people to whom we invested so much into their maturity into adulthood.

 

When young people drift away

It’s not just these maturing young adults that leave. Over my years as a youth worker I’ve seen many young people come and go. In some cases, these young people stayed around for just one week, but in others they were around a year or so then drifted off without a word.

Sometimes they fell out with God, other times they fell out with me. In some cases, there was an issue at home, a tragedy, or just a change in personality. Whichever way, young people often leave.

The longer you spend in youth ministry the more you look back over the names and faces that you no longer see. There are good memories to be sure, but there’s also grief and loss.

This is the other side of long haul youth ministry that we rarely talk about – and it’s important to remember that we’re not alone. Considering how isolated youth ministry can be, this feels like we should prepare for this more.

How do you handle the loss?

I’m not entirely sure, as I’m only just realising that this is a thing in my life, however I offer up a few simple suggestions to get us started.

  • Let yourself grieve
    It is important to genuinely feel what you’re feeling and to allow yourself to move through the stages of sadness.
  • Make an event of people leaving when you can
    Closure goes a long way and celebrating a young person’s movement into adulthood is incredibly affirming for them.
  • Keep in touch
    Be realistic, but keep a few details and drop a ‘hello, how are you?’ every now and then. It will be valuable to both of you.
  • Remember that it’s hard for them too
    You’ve been a significant part of their life, and you too will be stepping out of their world.
  • Keep healthy boundaries
    Goes without saying, but make sure you do move through your ministry with the right measure of strict and organically reactive boundaries to keep the relationships in safe areas.
  • Pray for them
    Give thanks to God for them, and them let Him have them completely.

Premier Digital Finalist for the 3rd Year!

It’s really exciting and humbling to be going to the Premier Digital Awards again this year, after being shortlisted as a finalist for both the ‘Most Inspiring Leadership Blog’ and ‘Multi-Author Blog of the Year’ categories.

Huge thank you to everyone who nominated Youth Work Hacks, and a big thanks to Premier Digital for recognizing this humble little youth work blog!

It was amazing to win both of these awards last year, and particularly to win ‘Most Inspiring Leadership Blog’ for the second year running.

Do check out the other utterly amazing blogs in these categories – have I’d a wander through them all, and they are fabulous! Special plug to Chris Green’s ‘Ministry Nuts and Bolts’ which is fantastic… and he used to be my New Testament teacher at Bible College!

Most Inspiring Leadership Blog

Campus Awakening

Ministry Nuts and Bolts

Nick Wright

The Additional Needs Blogfather

Multi-Author Blog of the Year

Be Loved

Clarity Magazine

Girl Got Faith

Chapel

The other ‘other’ side of mental health

There are few health-related topics receiving as much media attention at the moment as mental health, and rightly so. It’s been a tragically misunderstood and vastly under-resourced part of human conditions for years.

The NHS says that one in four adults and one in ten children will experience mental health problems, however only a small amount of the NHS budget has been historically set aside for mental health research, diagnosis or treatment. This is getting better (£11.9 billion in 2017/18), but the waiting lists are still too long, and the medical opinions between departments are still too rampantly inconsistent.

I know from first-hand experience with both anxiety and depression, just how debilitating poor mental health can be, and I have friends who have gone through incredibly serious treatment for significant mental health conditions.

That all said, there is another ‘other’ side.

As mental health is dialled up to 11 in the media, and the – much needed – mission to re-educate the public on its seriousness is highlighted, pop-psychology has also been dialled up, and genuine illnesses are in danger of being sensationalised as almost fashionable. There is a tendency to become very reactionary to basic terms, there are thousands of websites where you can get ‘self-diagnosed’, and there are all kinds of misinformed instructional blogs on how to be treated.

Some of these videos and blogs are incredibly helpful, but many are not. With the internet being the shape it is, we have no way of knowing if the guy at the other end of the keyboard is an actual MD, or a college drop-out sitting on his parents couch with a can of Monster and ill-fitting pyjamas.

The dangers of self-diagnosis online

Please understand that I write this out of a genuine desire to get people who are really struggling in front of actual doctors. The internet, even when it’s right, is by its nature anonymous and impersonal. This means that even if you do get a correct diagnosis, the treatment suggested might not be at all helpful for you, and could even be harmful.

With the growing awareness of mental health conditions and symptoms there are, thankfully, more people seeing doctors. This has, however, led to an increased burden on the NHS, which makes it understandable why they have created online ‘mood assessment’ quizzes. Even this quiz, however, with its genuine research and actual stock GP questions is marked with the disclaimer: ‘The quiz is not designed to replace an appointment with your GP.’

Psychology Today warns us that self-diagnosis may be missing something important that a doctor would be able to tease out with you, they say ‘you may be overwhelmed by anxiety and think that you have an anxiety disorder. The anxiety disorder [however] may be covering up a major depressive disorder.’

I have two very good friends with diagnosed, long-term clinical depression. Both receive treatment from doctors for their conditions. One of these friends takes medication, which – in the main – helps, the other isn’t allowed that particular medication because it causes triggers for his (also diagnosed) hebephrenic schizophrenia. They can’t be treated the same way. One of them sees a counsellor at their office, the other cannot be alone in a room with someone unless there are no windows and they are facing the door – which has to be locked. They both have ‘depression’ but different treatment plans made specifically for them.

There is also a blurred line between feeling something and suffering with something. Anyone can ‘feel depressed’ for instance, however not everyone has ‘clinical depression.’ Mental health includes things like chemical imbalances, vitamin production issues, and beta misfires. Self-diagnosis and treatment may be replacing another important need in your life where you should, in fact, be working on resilience and maturity. Mental health and hypochondria have (very ironically) become a taboo pairing.

In Youth Work

When it comes to young people, media-sensationalising, youtube ‘experts’, and ‘10 questions to find out if you’re a psychopath’ online quizzes – many of which are aimed at teenagers – easily throws fuel onto this fire.

I have young people who tell me regularly that they can’t participate in an activity or follow a rule because of their self-diagnosed / undiagnosed ‘mental health.’ This also carries on to personality types and additional needs. I recently was told by a young boy in a classroom that he should be allowed to bang his lunch and disrupt the room because he had ‘dyspraxia.’ Not only is this a poor understanding of dyspraxia, but it made light of two other people in the room who genuinely do struggle with dyspraxia and are trying to manage it.

I wouldn’t want to make light of a young person’s self-identity, of course. There are many young people who do have genuine mental health concerns, and some are still without a diagnosis. However, there is still a line to be trod between total acceptance and total rejection.

I have other young people in my groups who, along with parents, carers and doctors, are working on mental health issues and have asked me to support those efforts. I am all for this!

So, here’s a few things you can do:

  1. Get educated. Learn about conditions and treatments. Find out about the diagnosis procedures and the nuances of what is done in support.
  2. Get connected. Find out what mental health facilities are available in your area, especially for young people. This goes beyond the NHS and will often include support forums and charities.
  3. Get compassionate. Always start with grace and mercy. Don’t immediately judge or write off a young person’s self-identity, but talk with them, ask questions, and work on it with them healthily and compassionately.
  4. Get supportive. Young people with additional needs and mental health conditions often have a ‘one sheet’ created by doctors, teachers and social workers. This single page gives information about that particular person, what their triggers are, and how to help them. Ask them to see it and be a part of their growth and management.
  5. Get honest. Don’t try to be a doctor. Always follow medical advice, and always refer young people to professionals. Strongly suggest seeing their GP, and even offer to go with them. This step can actually be a huge fear obstacle to overcome, especially with some mental health conditions, so be understanding. However, do be firm, challenging, and help them get the help they need.
  6. Get talking. Make mental health a regular topic of discussion with your young people, and work hard at removing taboos. Bring into it the need to medical support, and the dangers of self diagnosis. Do it well, and self diagnosis won’t need to be a thing.
  7. Get praying. Need I say more? 🙂

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Living with insomnia as a youth worker

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with sleep.

Most nights I’ll drift off nice and easily, but then I’ll wake up at the smallest sound, and usually I’ll be wide awake by about 3am, only to have my tiredness return by 7am. This is always fun.

When I’m asleep I grumble, mutter, and grind my teeth. Sometimes I tell full-blown stories. In fact, this was one of the first things that my wife discovered just after we got married. One time, while fully asleep, I opened my eyes, leaned up on my pillow, looked at my wife and said to her:

“Harry Potter… He’s an angel… and he’s got these wings… and he flies around… but he gets really really tired about every fifteen minutes.”

With that I dropped back onto my pillow, but my wife was laughing so hard that she woke me up!

I average about four hours of sleep per night, but that’s not consistent. Some nights I’ll get two hours and some nights I’ll get ten. In fact there really is nothing consistent about my insomnia.

I’ve taken meds, tired therapies, and I’ve talked to doctors. The last doctor I talked to , however, spent most of the appointment telling me about a recurring nightmare of his wherein a giant set of chess pieces were trying to kill him. Fun, but not really very helpful. I haven’t exhausted the entire list of medical options, but I have dug pretty deep.

The thing is, I just don’t sleep well.

For the tech-heads among you, I spend far too long in REM, nowhere near long enough time in NREM, and I tend to only complete the first few sleep cycles, leaving the latter cycles (which mostly deal with cognitive function) incomplete and disturbed. It’s not good for organ recovery, and it always leaves me a little groggy.

Enter the world of youth work

Other than the shadows under my eyes, which I mostly hide with framed glasses and eye-cream, you wouldn’t necessarily know this about me. I don’t talk much about it for fear of the ‘I’ll fix it’ crowd. I’m also slightly onto the ADHD scale, and I’m rarely visibly short of energy during my youth projects. But boy do I feel tired a lot!

I think if I really had to pinpoint when this cycle of poor sleep began, it was when I had a series of operations in my early teens and spent a month in hospital, and no-one sleeps well in hospital! Not long after this I entered into the church youth work scene, first as a young person, then a young leader, and finally a professional youth pastor. It’s all I’ve ever really known.

My introduction to and growth into youth ministry happened on a parallel track to the setting in of my sleep disorder. The two grew together.
The general patterns of youth ministry are simply not well suited to someone with diagnosed insomnia. There are inconstant hours, late nights, early mornings, spontaneous events, overlong meetings, high-energy projects, deep one-to-ones, all-nighters, back-to-back camps, locks-ins, and then reports. If I hadn’t grown into youth ministry while developing insomnia, I never ever would have learned the energy management to go with it.

So what do I do / what should you do?

I honestly have no idea. I’m constantly trying to ‘work on my sleep.’ This is frankly one of the weirdest posts I’ve ever written because I have very little wisdom to give on the subject, despite actually having quite a lot of experience.

I mostly wrote this as a testimony to any other youth leaders who struggle with sleep. Hopefully it will be a little ‘you’re not alone’ post that might offer some solidarity.

I’ll say a few random things though:

  1. Youth leader – take your days off, book holidays, don’t distain rest, turn off when your home, don’t be an ‘always on’ leader.
  2. Insomniac – seek help, develop consistency as much as possible over sleep quantity (waking up a the same time tends to be more important than going to bed at the same time), make peace with the fact that you will just be tired. Life’s too short to care too much. Also – don’t underestimate the power of regular exercise and a good diet.
  3. Managers – Be careful how much you ask from a youth leader that isn’t on their job description, and take care over which meetings you invite them to.
  4. Nappers – if you nap, try to do it properly.
  5. Self-diagnosers – Please see a doctor before you announce to the world you have insomnia. Some of us really do.
  6. ‘Helpful’ people – I’ve read books, talked to doctors, and probably spent more time googling than you have… probably at 4am. Please don’t try to fix me. Encouragement, sympathy and prayers are much better! Thanks 🙂

When youth ministry meets real life – an excerpt from Rebooted

The following is a small excerpt from my book, Rebooted, which was released a week ago. This is the section – which comes from Chapter 5: ‘Youth work through the Prophets’ – that was read by my wife, Katie, at the official launch. Hope you find it helpful!

Youth work is not always pretty, it doesn’t always follow the rules, it doesn’t always show up on time, and it doesn’t always play fair.

I remember getting a phone call at 6am from a local school in London to explain that a very popular sixteen-year-old boy had tragically lost his life in the night. He had been out with some friends, came home late, and – complicated by an undiagnosed heart problem – choked on his own vomit in his sleep. I was asked to attend a memorial assembly that very morning, then asked if I would stay behind afterwards to ‘counsel’ some of his friends.

I got up, donned my suit, and headed through the morning London traffic. The assembly was heart-breaking. Two thousand students, many openly weeping, a confused and unsure shell of a head teacher trying desperately to find words of comfort, and the boy’s parents, fresh from the hospital on the front row in each other’s arms. It got very real very fast. This was nothing however, compared to what came next.

Myself, a local church minister, and a school councillor were taken to a small temporary classroom outside the main hall. This had been set apart for any young person or teacher that wanted time to reflect, or someone to talk to. Students were also told that it was ok to write some messages or stories on the walls inside if that would help them.

Over the next couple of hours, we saw hundreds of students come through that building, almost all of whom left a message. By the afternoon every piece of wall, inside and outside, the carpet, the tables, the chairs, and the ceiling were covered (and I mean covered) by writing:

 

There were funny stories of times when friends had gone out and done stupid things together.

There were shared dreams and aspirations of what they wanted to be when they grew up.

There were heart-wrenching, deepest apologies – the guilt of which you cannot imagine.

 

Myself and the other two counsellors walked around like lost sheep. We tried, very carefully, to talk to some of the young people; but that’s really not what they wanted. I shared a hug with a young lad I knew from my youth club at the time, tears lining his face. I had no idea what to say and no idea what to do.

You learn about these times in college and through books, but nothing prepared me for it. I remember tangibly thinking, God please help me take my youth ministry more seriously.

Of course, this is not youth work going wrong, this is youth work working! This is youth ministry at its most pertinent. The creativity of the school gave the young people an uncommonly valuable way of moving thorough their pain as a community. It was amazing. I was there, at best, to facilitate the safety of the activities and the tone of the room. God was obviously, however, in their midst.

Youth ministry is, of course, not all lock-ins, nerf wars, and happy teenagers ‘getting saved’. There are times when real life just happens; the question is whether we have created a youth ministry context where real life is welcomed, and projects that embrace the fullness of this life – even when it ‘goes wrong.’

When the rubber meets the road and things get real, the question left on the table is ‘have I built a youth ministry that can weather this’?’ Or – even better – ‘have I developed young people who thrive in the midst of suffering?’

Life, ministry, and certainly youth work, can get very messy.

 

The Book of Daniel

I – according to my entire team – have a serious defect: I do not like Disney films.

This isn’t entirely true. I still have a soft spot for The Lion King, I don’t mind the new Star Wars, and I could quote Cool Runnings all day long. However, I cannot make it through almost any other Disney film – especially the ones with cartoon animals that wear hats, but not pants! My problem comes down to formula – I think they are all basically the same. This is probably where I lose some of you. Thanks for reading this far!

Each film starts off with a happy situation. Good friends, cosy family, feel-good music and glitter everywhere. Then ‘the thing’ happens. The thing could be anything that introduces a tragic separation into the film (usually the death of a parent): Mufasa is killed by Scar, Bambi’s mum meets the hunter, Dumbo is separated from his mum by the circus… after being rocked like a baby in tears through the bars of a cage, Nemo’s mum and unborn siblings are eaten by a freakish barracuda, Tarzan loses his parents, Chance, Shadow and Sassy get lost in the middle of nowhere, Cinderella is emotionally abused by her sisters, Bell gets kidnapped, Andy gives away his toys, and that whole opening scene from Up!

Once the thing happens, and all the watching children are traumatised for life, there is usually a ‘thrown far from home’ bit. This is then followed by an ‘amazing journey’ bit, a rapid race through the five stages of grief while ‘accompanied by new streetwise friends who you first thought were jerks’ bit (think Timone and Pumba, Buzz Lightyear, sassy candlesticks, a load of kitchen utensils, or a boy scout and demented Labrador). Eventually they find their way ‘back home’ and ‘find themselves’ in some existential way in the process. The evil protagonists die in a brutal way (they usually fall to their doom), and everyone lives happily ever after. The prophecies are fulfilled, the world is saved, there is sometimes ice cream or toast, and so on. Disney in a nutshell. I thank you.

Interestingly, that however, is also really the story of Daniel. A young lad, happy in the promised land, then the thing happens – which is the Babylonian conquest. He is dragged far from home, meets a ragtag group of friends, finds his way, and helps a king (somewhat) connect with God and (kinda) lives happily ever after. If I could sum up the story of Daniel in one line it would be: Trust in God, because everything else is a nightmare!

It’s likely that Daniel (alongside Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) were teenagers because they were taken from Judah and trained to serve in the king of Babylon’s court (Dan. 1:4-6). They were also specifically called ‘young men’ in v.4.

The fascinating thing we see in these young companions, and especially Daniel, is their immense faith, and connectedness to God’s Word in the middle of a destitute world of sin and godlessness. They would not ‘defile’ themselves with food God had forbidden (1:8), they were divinely given all kinds of knowledge by God (1:17), including the prophetic gift of dream interpretation. They are also kept safe from a fiery furnace (3:6-28) and a lions’ den (6:10-23).

Throughout this whole story Daniel is able to worship his God, speak his word, and challenge the King of Babylon to do the same. Incredible!

Daniel trusted in God, and God raised him up to both speak truth and remain pure Babylon, which probably still rates among the worst cultural environments of all time. Babylon is the metaphor God uses for the Godless world that would be cast into the sea in Revelation 18:21. Young people are immensely resilient, especially when they have a firm foundation of faith and conviction.

We need to do all we can to help young people to thrive under pressure by standing them firmly upon their faith in God. We cannot teach purity, holiness, spiritual disciplines or even a passion for evangelism legalistically or abstractly. We need to continually point them back to God in the midst of tragedy, struggle and grief. We need to help them find God in the midst of pants situations. This is to objectively ‘speak God’ into where He might otherwise have been missed in the middle of the mess. Then they will be equipped in faith to thrive supernaturally.

 

What about you?

What do you do to help your young people thrive supernaturally? Does this only work in good times, or do you point to it in the worst times too?

 

Is Bonhoeffer really the ideal role model for youth ministers?

Recently I wrote a critique of Andrew Root’s approach to incarnational youth ministry, to which he graciously responded.

In many ways, however, Root’s understanding of the Incarnation is not his own. The ghost of Dietrich Bonhoeffer walks each and every page. Even the phrase Root uses, place-sharer, is Bonhoeffer’s (Stellvertreter). Root said that Bonhoeffer’s part in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler was driven by the belief ‘that it was the only way that he could truly (truly = in the imitation of Christ) share the place of those crushed by the wheels of the Nazi political machine’ (2007:85). This would have been the ideal place for Root to have added some words of caution about using Bonhoeffer as a de facto position on Christology, however we are left wanting.

With this in mind I think it’s worth taking a minute to ask whether Bonhoeffer really is the best role model for youth workers. As much as I respect him as both a compassionate minister and a deep thinker, there is another side that is rarely discussed.

Bonhoeffer’s Christology was born out of a very turbulent life experience. He emphasised the this-world focus and concrete nature of Jesus becoming flesh which was then very heavily outworked in a strongly social gospel.

Abstract or internal knowledge of God was almost entirely dismissed by Bonhoeffer. He intended that ‘all Christian doctrines be reinterpreted in “this world” terms… The only way to find God, then, is to live fully in the midst of this world. Christians must participate in Jesus’ living for others’ (Godsey, 1991). This affected his approach to both prayer and worship.

Bonhoeffer, during the later period of his life, also discontinued his daily Bible reading, denying that Scripture contained any timeless principles. He said, ‘we may no longer seek after universal, eternal truths’ by reading the Bible (Bonhoeffer and Krauss 2010:71). Further, as someone who leaned towards universalism, Bonhoeffer also lacked a coherent theology of the atonement or even of salvation itself (Weikart, 2015).

Although Bonhoeffer brings much needed humanity to a sometimes very overly ‘functional’ and ‘formulaic’ evangelical Christianity, his work cannot and should not be used uncritically. Yet this is precisely what Root and others in the modern youth work world do by building on his theology of incarnation. It is little wonder then that Root deemphasises the divinity of Jesus, rarely speaks to any experience of Him outside of concrete relationships with people, and expresses a muddy view of salvation.

What is continually missing from Bonhoeffer is any sense of ‘it is finished‘. There is little to no talk of victory, glory, heaven, Jesus as divine, or the eternal nature of salvation. These have no real presence in his work leaving a heavily dis-balanced gospel.

Bonhoeffer is an inspiration personally, but I don’t think he makes a great role-model theologically when it comes to the practice of youth work. At least, I’d like to see him used more critically.

References (in order of appearance)

Root, A. (2007) Revisiting relational youth ministry: from a strategy of influence to a theology of incarnation. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books

Godsey, J. (1991), Bonhoeffer’s costly theology. Available at http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-32/bonhoeffers-costly-theology.html

Bonhoeffer, D. and Krauss, R. (2010). Letters and papers from prison. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press.

Weikart, R. (2015), The Troubling Truth About Bonhoeffer’s Theology. Available at http://www.equip.org/article/troubling-truth-bonhoeffers-theology/

Youth Work and the Novelty Trap

Today I spent a good twenty minutes choosing a doorbell tone from a selection of sixty-five different tunes. Some were famous hits by Abba and the Carpenters (two of my least favourite bands), and an uncomfortable amount were Christmas songs. Asking for a basic doorbell tone seemed to be far too much to hope for.

Choice can be a killer. Multiple options for innocuous decisions can take significant mental energy and time out of a day. Forget doorbells, you should see me trying to pick a movie on NowTV! The problem is that there are just so many shiny, sparkly things and I’m a sucker for novelty.

Youth Ministry: The Novel Approach

I think this holds true in youth ministry. The fires of novelty among young people are stoked so high, that we keep having to invent things to keep that blaze growing. It doesn’t always occur to us to let the fire cool down. We are always looking for fresh and new activities, and we place an enormously high premium on innovation.

It’s not that new or innovative is bad. I also spent some time today designing an event around Radio Controlled cars! Fun and excitement are an important building block in what we do. The issue comes, however, when novelty takes over as the foundation.

When our projects are driven by the conviction that we should be constantly in flux and changing the shape and content of our work (all in the name of being relevant and up to date), then there’s little hope of building any lasting structure on them.

A few years ago a board game developer decided that he wanted to improve the classic tower game, Jenga. He did this by adding a randomly exploding dynamite platform underneath the bricks. Bless him! At this point the ideal of building a tower is just futile.

If you want your youth ministry to thrive, then you need to build it on a solid foundation. Goes without saying right? However, I think we emotionally bully ourselves into constantly changing things becuase we think novelty is the key to attraction.

Instead, our foundation should allows us to grow upwards from Bible-driven values and long-haul aims. You can build in fun and excitement for sure, but that should never push or drive the direction you want to take.

Novelty is fine in the right doses, but it should never pressure us into reshaping our projects every few weeks. Young people get bombarded by change, inconsistency, and novelty every day. How about we be the one sure place of consistency that they can trust?

Just a thought.

Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash

 

*Cheeky plug: My book comes out tomorrow! Grab a copy from here: https://ivpbooks.com/rebooted-525

Youth Work and the Gravity of the Bible

When I was growing up, my brother was big into mountain biking. He made his own bikes, had all the right gear, and wore ‘biker’ clothing. One of his t-shirts had a picture of an upsidedown guy who had just fallen off his bike with the caption: ‘GRAVITY. I fought the law, but the law won.’

You just can’t fight gravity! Think about the amount of money NASA spends on rockets, fuel and propulsion systems to fight gravity. Gravity is incredible. It’s a powerful force that draws things together, keeps things sound and solid, and it helps things move healthily. If gravity was suddenly just a little different on Earth, then we’d lose the integrity in our joints and bones and even basic movement would become painful. Gravity is a big deal. The Bible has its own gravity: it draws everything together, keeps you on the right track, and holds your ministry accountable. We need to surrender to its pull (it is God speaking after all) and let everything we do be shaped by it.

When we teach young people, we don’t need to be afraid of actually opening and digging into the Bible. Over the past few years I have opened the Bible in every style of youth project I’ve done and – when I properly let them engage with it rather than just spoon-feeding it to them – it is always amazing.

I’d summarise what Peter was doing back in Acts 2 (and the Apostles throughout the rest of the story) as gravitating towards to the Word. They opened it up at every possible opportunity. They used object lessons, full-on speeches, little chats, supernatural miracles – everything they could think of – to illustrate what the Word is saying. These things always accompanied their speaking of the Gospel; they never watered it down or replaced it.

If in doubt, gravitate towards the Bible and use all your considerable creative talents to bring what it actually says alive relevantly. It really works, and I guarantee you that if you can say something well – God can say it better. Remember, it’s His mission.

 

This was a sneaky-cheeky excerpt from my upcoming book Rebooted. Pre-order a copy from IVP here.

 

It’s publication month for Rebooted!

This last year has been a dizzying ride, however it’s finally coming – the publication month for my book Rebooted: Reclaiming Youth Ministry For The Long Haul – A Biblical Framework.

 

Thank You!

I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has been involved. Without the loving support of my friends and family, there would be no book – just a Tim left on the floor in the foetal position muttering vaguely about ‘youth today.’

I’m grateful for my prayer team, who have faithfully walked this journey with me and responded to babbled emails with solid encouragements. I’m grateful to my trustees and team at Llandudno Youth For Christ for allowing me the time to write this. I’m grateful for the passionate people at IVP, especially Eleanor my editor, who greeted the project with understanding and enthusiasm.

I’m grateful for the amazing leaders who have contributed this book and elevated it. To Dr. Samantha Richards, Mark Oestreicher, Rachel Turner, Andy De Feu, and Neil O’Boyle. And to
Glen Scrivener for providing a clear foreword.

I’m especially grateful to my readers – Pastor Rob Beamish, Ali Campbell, John Hawksworth, and Andy De Feu – who read drafts, offered incredible insights, and weren’t afraid to challenge me.

I’m grateful to my wife, Katie, who sat with me through tears, and grounded me during pride. She read every draft, making more than 3500 comments! This book wouldn’t be the shape it is without her.

I’m grateful to God for this opportunity – and for walking with me on this youth work journey for over a decade. This book is testimony to all the mistakes I’ve made, and all the grace He’s shown.

 

Can you help me?

I’d love to get this book into the hands of as many church pastors and youth workers as possible. Can you help me to do that?

Book a speaking date.
Throughout the year I’ll be touring the UK speaking at various venues (including Bible Colleges, conferences, and CUs). If you have an event or a group that you think could benefit from a couple of hours talking about the Bible and young people – get in touch.

Buy a copy.
So this might be an obvious thing to say, but please buy a copy and give it a read. Maybe pass it on to your pastor, youth worker, postman, or dog. You can pre-order from here.

Come to the launch.
It would be great to get as many friendly faces as possible to the launch event. 22nd September, 5-7pm, at Gloddaeth Church, Llandudno, LL30 2SY. They’ll be food, readings, a Q&A, and a fab mesage by Andy Hughes, Impact Team Leader Wales & Celtic Nations Team Leader for Urban Saints.

Pray like crazy!
I want this to be God’s venture though and through. Please pray for the sucess of the book, but also please pray for the shape of my heart throughout.

Thanks everybody!

 

What are people saying.

Rebooted strips back Christian youth work back to its roots (maybe it should be called “re-rooted”?) in the tried and tested pages of Scripture. Tim stays clear of gimmicks and the “gospel” of self-help, offering a fresh take on old themes. Essential reading for every Christian youth worker

Andy du Feu, Director of Youth and Community Work and Acting Vice Principal, Moorlands College.

 

This is exactly the kind of book I needed when I started out in Youth Ministry, it places Youth Work within the context of a biblical narrative and a wide variety of practical out workings. Tim writes really well, he is encouraging, constructive, challenging and provocative in part, and what’s more he combines both theology and years of youth work experience in a well-rounded manner. This is a must read, it will captivate and stretch you!

Neil O’Boyle, National Director, Youth for Christ, UK.

 

Tim’s passion to ensure that the Bible shapes – rather than just informs – our work, is both admirable and infectious.    In this book he presents a compelling model for youth ministry which doesn’t feel tenuously extrapolated from Scripture, but completely faithful to the entire narrative arc of the Bible. It turns out that every page of the Good Book – from Genesis to Revelation – has something vital to say to us about the way we work with young people.

Martin Saunders, Deputy Chief Executive, Youthscape. Author, Youthwork from Scratch. Previous Editor, Youthwork Magazine.

 

I’m so proud to see a book of this calibre coming from a Youth for Christ staff worker. I learned so much! It addresses a key reason why youth ministries are failing to nurture vibrant, mature adults who will devote themselves to serving God in church and society. If we follow this approach to life and ministry we will nurture people who are equipped with a worldview that will help them withstand the challenges that come to their Christian life. May this book contribute to the revival of biblical youth ministry that we so need in the church today.

Ajith Fernando, Teaching Director, Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka. Author, Jesus Driven Ministry (IVP). 

 

You’re a youth leader? Or you will be soon? Or you want to support the youth ministry in your church? This book will be a huge help. It’s a good read, an easy read, an important read, and it will be worth reading it for the sake of your young people. So…. do read it! And then pray for help putting it into practice tomorrow evening.

Phil Moon, Vicar of Bishop Hannington Church and Co-Author of Christian Youth Work.

 

Tim’s book reminds us that the old story of God’s people in the Bible has plenty to say to help direct and shape our discipleship of young people today. Calling youth workers to be facilitators of ministry among young people, Tim shows us how youth ministry is essentially about living out the biblical story with young people.

Graham Stanton, Lecturer in Practical Theology at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia & a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry (IASYM).

 

Tim loves young people, loves Jesus, and works hard to help more young people love Jesus.  This excellent new book is the fruit of years of experience, and he argues powerfully why we need young people to love God and love His word.

Mark Russell, Chief Executive of Church Army.

 

As someone who publishes youth ministry books, and has written many also, I can truthfully write that the vast majority of books about youth work are in one way or another a restatement of ideas or approaches that have been written about previously. What struck me most about this excellent and compelling book is two-fold: it’s 100% fresh, and it shouldn’t be. Read it, and you’ll see what I mean!

Mark Oestreicher, Partner in The Youth Cartel, author of many youth ministry books

 

This is such an important subject and Tim combines a vast knowledge of the Bible and youth ministry with an easy to read and witty style.

 Ruth Jackson, Editor of Premier Youth and Children’s Work Magazine.

 

 

Helping your child process their test results – Kirsten Witchalls

A short helpful set of thoughts on test results by Careers Adviser, Kirsten Witchalls. Kirsten is also the wife of Alan Witchalls from Video Bible Talks – make sure you check them out!

 

I am at GCSE results day in my role of a Careers Adviser. My role is the difficult one of picking up the pieces when things haven’t gone so well.

Here’s some advice to parents based on my observations today:

  • Whatever people say about changes in grade boundaries, the new GCSE’s are much more rigorous than the old GCSE’s. These young people have been put under huge pressure to succeed, regardless of whether or not you think they have worked hard enough for them.
  • Please put aside your disappointment to focus on supporting your child who will feel the burden of not wanting to disappoint you.
  • Don’t add to their confusion by putting onto your child any prejudices you may have towards alternative qualifications.
  • Please be aware of trying to persuade your child to fulfill your unfulfilled aspirations.
  • Times have changed… apprenticeships and alternative qualifications are well respected by employers and definitely not a last option.
  • PLEASE encourage your child to plan for alternatives so they have options if things don’t go as planned!
  • At the end of the day, exams are not the only measure of success. We will all have our own stories on how we have used disappointment to shape us to be the people we are today. How you deal with this disappointment will also have an impact on your child.
Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash