The difference between ‘being the leader’ and actually leading

One is based on an assumption, the other is based on an action.

Being the leader is assumed. It’s on your name tag, written in your job description, and comes with the territory. It does not – on it’s own – make people follow you.

‘You know what they call a leader with no followers? Just a guy taking a walk’ (immortal wisdom from Vice President bob in the West Wing).

Actually leading is acting like the leader. It’s earning the right to the name tag, living up to the job description, and owning the territory. It inspires followers.

In churches we can be a fickle bunch, and we don’t often care for our leaders the way we actually should. It’s hard today to meet a Christian who hasn’t got some story of how a leader was abused, or some juicy piece of gossip about how poor a leader was. It’s also hard to meet a leader that hasn’t been back-handed in exactly this kind of way. We don’t make it easy for our leaders!

When a leader starts a new post, they can either become territorial, dictatorial, and then defensive about their shinny new leadership role, or they can grow into it.

How to act like a leader:

1. Take responsibility.
Roll up your sleeves and start working on solutions… including for things within yourself.

2. Don’t enable.
Steer clear of gossip, judgement, and criticising what went before. Challenge those who do.

3. Don’t take sides.
Engage in active conflict resolution and mediation.

4. Pick up the phone.
Rather than leaving problems unanswered get on them immediately and personally.

5. Don’t be afraid of conflict.
Avoiding conflict tends to breed more problematic conflict. Look it in the eye and work at it.

6. Listen activity.
Practice the art of good listening, remembering, and personal critical thinking.

7. Spend time with difficult characters.
Don’t just surround yourself with people you like. Spend intentional time with those you struggle with.

8. Guard your own time.
If you don’t fill your calender, someone else will. Craft your week and stick to it.

9. Guard your contact details.
Give out ways to get in touch with you that you can turn off when necessarily. Not everyone needs your personal number or home address.

10. Say no.
Some ideas are not where things are at, and some times you’re not available. Learn to say no with compassion but finality.

11. Build a team.
Develop a group of core people around you to share responsibility and steer the ship. More on this soon!

12. Take time off – seriously!
ALWAYS guard your time off. Don’t change it.

13. Don’t overstep your resources.
If you can’t resource something (money, people, time, space) then don’t do it.

14. Be sacrificial.
Just like Jesus. Don’t lord it over people, but roll up your sleeves and get stuck in with whatever.

15. Look after your health.
Diet, sleep, and food. A healthy trinity of things you’ll need to function well while leading people.

16. Don’t be afraid of people leaving.
It happens every time leadership changes; for good and bad reasons. Build on what God has given you, and take your time over the foundation.

17. Love what you do.
Take pride and joy in your ministry. Let the best bits fill you, and embrace the bad as learning opportunities. God has called you – so believe in it.


Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Is youth ministry too ‘anti-academic’?

Naaaa…. not really. Well, yes, maybe. Kinda. Hmmmm.

This is a tough nut to crack!

So I’m a youth worker and I like to at least think of myself as an academic. I’ve studied at Oak Hill Theological College, Oxford University, and I’ve just finished a Masters in mission from Cliff College with a distinction. So me likey the thinkies!

Moving in these circles has meant that I have had the chance to spend time with other thinky youth workers who love to plumb the depths of theory and debate over the finer parts of nitpicking for long hours into the night. However this isn’t always the case.

A lack of theoretical depth

Sometimes it feels like youth work conferences and seminars are aimed at occasional volunteers in need of entertainment and very light topics. Sometimes youth work groups and forums don’t make it out of the ‘anyone got any game ideas’ threads, and then delete deeper areas for fear of heated debate or strong opinions. Sometimes casual conversations with fellow youth workers make me ashamed for wanting to go deeper. Sometimes ideas like ‘critical discussion’ or ‘peer review’ make people squint and jerk their heads, like they’re being offered something that could be poison.

According to every piece of research on the topic less youth workers are being hired, and they just don’t last long when they are. There is obviously a problem somewhere – and I wonder if the lack of depth and internal understanding of the job is a large contributing factor.

I’ve often been told that I’m overthinking, making things too complicated, or ‘straining a gnat’. Sometimes that’s fair – sometimes I am. Sorry! Sometimes I’m not though, and it’s these times that concern me.

Isn’t what we do pretty deep?

As youth workers, we need to take our profession very seriously. We navigate a landscape of  risk assessments, safeguarding law, adult ratios, additional needs, conflict resolution, mediation, teaching styles, personality types, consent and privacy law, social services, multi-agency intervention and support groups, volunteer management, charity commission reports, accountability boards, time management, inclusivity, digital awareness, and technology.

We really are in a theory-heavy and legally accountable profession.

Without deep thinking, constructive training and expertise in a lot (if not all of these areas), our youth work raft will eventually start sporting holes. We need to proactively and preemptively think through a whole range of areas before they become a problem.

With this foundational, structural safety net in place, we then turn to the level of teaching and welfare instruction (DBS terminology for regulated activity) that we are called to give:

Youth work mostly focuses on contemporary missiology and practical theology, but according to Deut. 6, there is a responsibility to pass on the whole nature of God’s ways and character to the next generation. Our theological understanding should go way beyond the scope of just ‘God loves you’. We should be able to helpfully travel the waters of adolescence with a firm enough understanding of the Bible to respond to complicated questions and steer young people towards God in the middle of confusion. This needs more than just a cursory understanding of scripture and is exactly why I wrote Rebooted.

What’s your point grumpy Tim?

I’ve not met many youth workers who 1. have a serious enough understanding of the fabric of their work or 2. have a deep enough relationship to biblical theology – to trust that they’ll still be doing it in ten years time. This makes me really sad, because they are good people with an amazing passion for young people, and clear gifts for this purpose!

As highly as we value it, however, passion just isn’t enough for the long haul. We need our conferences, seminars, online spaces, and conversations to deepen into the theory that surrounds us. We need to make our peace with study, training, and academic reading.

Again – I happen to move in some circles where this is prized, but the more time I spend with youth workers outside the academic realm, the more I wonder if it really is taken seriously on the whole.

Maybe it is and maybe you do – which is why you’re here.

If not, consider joining some groups, or doing some more professional development training. Read youth work journals not just magazines, and check out the work of the IASYM. Go to education conferences, and if you’re in the position of leadership at a conference – deepen some topics and broaden your speakers. We’ll all thank you for it when our profession is still alive and thriving in twenty years time!

At very least, let’s all surround ourselves with people who are smarter than us and let’s ask lots and lots of questions!

Thanks everybody.

When ‘NOT’ to love young people.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Of course, you should love all young people unconditionally as Jesus taught us(!!!); however, that is assuming we all mean the same thing by the word ‘love’.

Love is unconditional, but that doesn’t make it inexcusable. Love is tolerant, but that doesn’t make it unaccountable. Love is forgiving, but that doesn’t make it negligent.

There are times when how we express love for young people could actually create an unloving environment for others. At worst, misapplying love can create a dangerous, disbalanced, and even hostile environment where the community of God just cannot be grown.

Love is love, but sometimes we need to dial back what that means exactly in a practical way for our projects. For instance…

1. When it poses a safeguarding risk

Unconditional love still needs safe boundaries. Love doesn’t mean we can keep secrets, ignore risks, or waive boundaries.

Loving a young person doesn’t mean that they can come on camp without a parent’s consent for instance. Loving a young person doesn’t mean you won’t tell anybody what they disclosed. Loving a young person doesn’t mean you won’t keep them in line with the rules or open yourself up to a ministry-ending accusation.

2. When it creates a dangerous environment

Loving a young person in some instances could mean tolerating their behaviour without posing discipline or creating boundaries for fear that it may come across as ‘unloving.’ But what if this young person is prone to aggression and violence? What if they create a safety risk for your team, yourself, or your young people?

As God disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:6), we need to provide consistent consequences, correction, and challenge to those who become violent or aggressive. (link)

3. When it is enabling

Sometimes it’s easy to love a young person by just agreeing with or accepting everything they say without challenge. However, many young people that I have worked with have had a problem with self-esteem and so regularly make up stories or fabricate adventures to make themselves look more impressive. Not challenging this enables these habits and actually unhelpfully allows them to keep building shallow value in their lives.

There are plenty of other ways we can enable bad habits, poor theology, inappropriate behavior, or even dangerous relationships by ‘lovingly’ not challenging them. Enabling is not love, but sometimes it’s just easier!

4. When it becomes dependent

It’s easy for young people to get too overly attached to a leader. Loving a young person is creating boundaries where they can exercise their independence and grow in wisdom without needing you.

Counsellors all plan an exit strategy where the client does not become overly dependent on them. This often includes protecting family time, turning off your phone and not giving out your home address. The popular ‘incarnational’ model of youth work has a lot to answer for here.

5. When you’re trying to be God

One of the top reasons good youth workers burn out is that they’re trying to be God. It’s great to exercise Christ-likeness in our ministries – but we are not God and cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit.

Having an unconditional openness, sacrificial approach, and constant care and attention approach to every single young person who crosses our paths without healthy boundaries is trying to be God. We’re not – and it’s God the young people actually need, not us.


On the flip side, here are 55 ways to love young people.


Photo by Will O on Unsplash

Why I Wrote ‘Follow Me’ – By Ali Campbell

Ali Campbell, youth work consultant and founder of ‘The Resource’ takes us behind the scenes as he releases his new book ‘Follow Me: Transforming and shaping lives for the journey.’


I wrote “Follow Me” because I am fascinated by the relationship between Jesus and Peter. As I have worked with young people over the years, I’ve not found a more helpful picture for young people of what it means to be a disciple than to have a look at the life of Peter as we find it in the Gospels, Acts and his letters.

The title of the book is because these are among the first words Jesus speaks to Peter and among the last as he says after his resurrection: Follow Me!

What is most fascinating about this interaction at the end of John’s Gospel is just how human Peter is. I know he is a human; I just mean the honesty of the narrative. Here is Peter, having stuffed up big time, denying Christ as he was tried and then crucified. Then we have Jesus lovingly re-instating him afterwards. And what does Peter say? “Thanks Lord, I don’t know what to say?” Nope, he says, “What about him?” pointing at John!  Unbelievable, but so like us. Another reason for the title is right there, Jesus is saying “Follow ME”. He isn’t saying follow your youth leader, or that dude over there who seems to have it all together. When he calls us and when he calls young people he says, as he did to Peter, “Follow Me”.

I wrote ‘Follow Me’ a devotional following Peter’s conversations, interactions and the times he is present with Jesus, witnessing all that Jesus says and does. Sometimes Peter is amazing, sometimes he is a bit of a dunce – just like us.

My prayer is that – through following Peter’s journey – young people (and anyone else who wants to read it) might be encouraged and inspired in their own walk with Jesus.


Fantastic. Get your copy of ‘Follow Me’ from here.


What are people saying about Follow Me?


“Deep thinking and really relevant ideas that will help young people get to grip with what it means to give their all in pursuit of Jesus.”

Rachel Gardner.
Director of National Youth Work at Youthscape, President of Girls Brigade England and Wales


“This is a generation in desperate need for relentless love, rock solid truth and game changing role models.  Engaging in Follow Me will warm the bones, strengthen spiritual muscles and captivate young people with the compelling person and message of Jesus. It is punchy, fun, innovative and inspiring. It will change the lives of all who throw themselves into it.”

Phil Knox.
Head of Mission to Young Adults, Evangelical Alliance

“Ali’s heart, to put the voices and lives of young people at the heart of our engagement with them, has yielded this great resource. Creative, informative and full of wisdom it stems from his many years of experience working alongside young people and enabling discipleship, centring on a passion for Jesus and a commitment to Scripture. I can’t wait to use it with my own nurture group and am sure the depth of material here will keep us pondering far beyond the 40 days!”

Alice Smith.
Lead Tutor for Theology and Youth Ministry, St Mellitus College

“Follow Me is an engaging resource which will enhance the spiritual lives of young people in the church.  Readers are invited to go on an explorative journey through 40 concise chapters that are rich with knowledge and relatable stories.”

Liz Edge.
Youth Work Practitioner

5 Differences between today’s young people and Millennials… with Jonny Price

This week, Jonny Price, Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader in York, returns to give us some insight into his research into ‘GenZ’, and how young people today are actually quite different to ‘Millennials’ – just like him!


Millenials are everywhere, saving the world or destroying industry depending in your point of view. But the young people we work with today are not millennials. Instead they are Post-millenials, GenZ, iGen… they go by a few labels.

But the important thing is, their values are significantly different to the values of millenials, and so we need to engage with them instead of getting sucked into the church’s (slight) obsession with engaging with ‘millennials.’

However, before I do, I just want to sound a note of caution. Much of the material that I have found comes from the marketing industry. While it is slightly concerning that those most interested with the attitudes and beliefs of the next generation are those wishing to sell to them, that is not the main concern. We should be wary as to how much marketers are reacting to generational trends, and how much they are setting them. If a group of people grow up confronted regularly with a certain set of values, it is only natural that those values will affect how they see the world.

Here I have tried to look past the obvious ones like ‘shorter attention spans’, or ‘better multi-tasking’, and instead dig into the values they hold and the causes for them.

Now, on with the list

1. Progress, but not seismic shifts

Millenials seem to believe that if they can just sort that one thing out, then everything will be better. Whether they are talking about racism, sexism, exploitation of the workforce, wealth inequality (they are such an earnest lot), that in each of those issues there is a key point, and if it could be changed it would improve. This is unsurprising in a generation that have seen the growth of the internet, the change in the world since 9/11, and the impact of the global recession in their lifetimes. If it goes down, it must go up.

GenZ are much more pragmatic in their approach to change. They believe that small changes will lead to big change, and that improvement in life will come slowly. This makes sense; the phones, computers, and tablets that influence so much of their world are constantly being updated with new fixes and small improvements. It makes sense that they would see the world this way.

2. There is only sub-culture

Millenials see themselves as part of the wider world. They see the shapes and trends in culture and react to them. While there is significant individualisation in their own particular subcultures, through the things they consume and the values they hold, there is still an overarching culture they see themselves as part of

For GenZ, the wider culture has far less impact on them. In many ways there is now only sub-culture, with each individual or group of friends setting the norms and values for themselves without recourse to the adult world.

3. If we can’t influence it, we’ll make our own

Millenials have regularly been described by both their lauders and detractors, as anti-authoritarian. They want to push back against the world, they want to challenge those in authority and want to make changes to the way the world is.

GenZ are also anti-authortiarian, but in a very different way. Instead of imposing themselves on the adult world and attempting to change it, they will instead create their own spaces in which to flourish and grow, ignoring the external society and culture, although to what extent this is a result of the life stage they are at is debatable.

4. I’ll do it my own way

Millenials are a communal generation. They want to work together to achieve their goals, they value community life, and will search out those with similar interests or experiences to them to form communities.

GenZ are far more independent. This has implication across this cohorts life. They are less likely to attend higher education and more likely to enter the workforce sooner. They are less likely to seek work and are more entrepreneurial. They want to do it themselves.

5. ‘Internet famous’ isn’t a thing anymore

Millenials, remember a time before the true growth of the internet, and have inherited their parents slight snobbishness about the internet. However much they invest in it, it still isn’t quite real.

GenZ have no such compunctions about the internet. Influencers actually influence them, internet famous is actually famous. While this may seem a trivial point, it has significant implications. That YouTube celebrity you dismiss as just another internet guy? That person probably has more influence and impact on our young people’s life than we do.

So where does that leave us?

It is still early days for GenZ studies. Like millennials, they will lauded and lambasted, they will be the generation to save the world, or the one that is destroying the way things are.

How should we as youth workers react to these changes? That is a topic for another blog.


Jonny Price is the Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader for a Clifton Parish Churches in the North of beautiful York, where he lives with his wife, Carly, and son, Ethan.

When time allows he can be found cycling, either road or mountain, cooking or reading.

He holds a BA (Hons) in Mission and Ministry with a specialism in Youth from Cliff College, and is currently studying for an MA.

He loves Jesus and the Church, and wants to see the Church work to help young people live transformed lives by experiencing the redeeming love of Jesus.

Photo by Kendra Kamp on Unsplash

Youth Ministry that’s Genuinely Relevant without Faking It

Last week I had the privilege of writing this for the IVP blog. Check out the original online here.

There’s a classic episode of The Simpsons where Ned Flanders, the show’s exorbitantly cheesy Christian stereotype, runs a Bible study in his home. The group has one teenager – an air-headed bully called Jimbo. In order to keep the study relevant to Jimbo, Ned keeps throwing in techy terms, ‘Now let us download the holy tweet of the Lord!’ When Jimbo begins to get bored and heads for the door, Ned yells desperately, ‘Mousepad! Double-click! Skype! Skype!’ Anything to give off the pseudo air of relevancy.

Relevancy is one of those magic words that we youth workers love to throw into our strategy statements and mission plans! Relevancy is as relevancy does though. On the one hand, relevancy genuinely can help us connect with young people at a deeper and more meaningful level. It can create a bridge into their world and smooth the path of the Gospel into their lives. On the other hand – as Ned established – relevancy can also become simply a disjointed and awkward attempt to look trendy and fashionable without any real depth. What makes the difference

Authentic Relevancy

A couple of years ago I knew an elderly gentleman who, before he passed away, rode the bus every morning when the teenagers got on for school. He struck up conversations with them, told them about Jesus, and somehow had them hanging on his every word. It was incredible! He was doing my job – in his eighties – better than I do it! This was more than a little humbling. The thing is that he wasn’t trendy, he wasn’t tuned in to their music, books, or box sets, and he wouldn’t know what a ‘skype’ was if you whacked him around the head with a webcam. What he was though was incredibly authentic.

Authenticity is what makes relevancy real. Authenticity is the magic ingredient that creates a connection with people who are different to us. Authenticity is what actually makes us relevant. This elderly chap would listen actively and intently, he would show genuine compassion, he would remember names, make eye contact, and be honestly interested. It didn’t matter one bit that he didn’t know who Chris Pratt or Kanye West was. He was authentic. He liked them, and they liked him. He was authentic – so he was relevant.

Getting on Trend without Being on Trend

It’s not that understanding teenage culture or following what’s ‘on trend’ is a bad thing. Of course it’s good to know, understand, and engage with what’s happening in their world. It’s healthy to be able to speak into the activities they’re committed to and the media they’re consuming.

It is their world though – and when we come off as being as much in it as they are we kill authenticity dead. Teenagers are super smart, and they can smell a rat a mile away! If we try to understand their world by being in it as much as they are – buying the same things, dressing the same way, watching all the same shows – then it’ll just end up weird. A little knowledge and some common ground is great, but it’s not what makes us genuinely relevant.

Cultivating Authenticity

Authentic people engage with teenagers in meaningful and lasting ways. Let’s prioritise authenticity. So, what makes us this kind of authentic?

• Active listeners are authentic
• Honest and transparent storytellers are authentic
• Humble people are authentic
• Compassionate and interested adults are authentic
• Those who generously give time are authentic
• Those who set consistent and healthy boundaries are authentic
• Those who cultivate thankful spirits are authentic
• Content people who trust God for what they need are authentic
• People who create situations for multiple voices to be heard are authentic
• Those who ask good questions, yet don’t have all the answers are authentic
• Those who talk clearly, and unapologetically from the Bible are authentic
• Those who mention Jesus; His life, death and resurrection are authentic

And these authentic people are genuinely relevant! Trying to understand culture without understanding the things above will leave you as a desperate square peg, forever jamming yourself into a round hole. Irrelevant!

I recently got my hands on a copy of Jessie Faerber’s new book More Than Just Pretty, and it’s a great example of what I’m talking about. More Than Just Pretty is a book that connects with the genuine struggles and ambitions of young girls in a solidly relevant way. It’s relevant because it’s authentic. You get the feeling as you read it that Faerber has really been there, and can empathise with girls while simultaneously giving permission for them to be so much more than what culture expects. She’s authentic – so her message is relevant! With my own book on the Bible and youth ministry, ‘Rebooted’, coming out in September, I hope that I come across with even half the authenticity that Jesse does!

With the Jimbo-generation in our projects, let’s not cheapen their experience of Christians by Ned Flandering all over them; ‘skype! Skype!’ Instead let’s be compassionate, interested, actively-listening adults who share with them authentically. Then we and our youth ministries will be truly relevant!