It’s the most wonderful time of the year… ish.

Hi folks. It’s great to be back! And a massively Merry Christmas to everyone.

It’s been a fabulous Christmas season here in North Wales working with the most amazing young people, and an incredible team. We’ve had Christingles with chips, movies with muppets, and even hobbit-starwars mashup nativities! (Really… but don’t tell New Line or Disney… shhh…)

To be honest though, this has also been the most difficult Christmas season that I can remember.

After a week of deadlines (book manuscript, postgrad essay, and magazine column), my brain effectively stopped working. I couldn’t read, write or even speak properly, and I was having flash headaches when looking at screens. This was then followed by a week of about nine different seasonal events and school assemblies. My cool exterior was starting to show cracks from the emotional underbelly that I usually keep comfortably hidden under a tonne of peat.

However, with the help of an indescribable God, an unbelievable wife, fabulous friends, and a servant-hearted team, I seem to be back on the mend.

It’s been a weird experience though. My brain has always been the muscle that I can trust when everything else stops working. Not being able to string a sentence together while navigating continual brain-fog was a totally new experience for me. I went through a few days of carnal fear. There was one point where I was afraid that I may have done some very real cognitive damage. It was horrible!

So what have I learned? Well, it’s too soon to tell really, but here’s a few things that have drifted to the surface…

– Humans really do have limits! That stinks.
– The brain can get hurt too. Look after it.
– Good people are worth many times their weight in gold. Treasure them.
– Taking time out to do nothing actually needs you to do nothing. So do nothing.
– You don’t always need to justify a reason to grieve in order to feel grief. Let yourself grieve uncritically.
– Proper food makes a difference to everything. Eat right.
– As does sleep. So sleep!
– God doesn’t want your quality, or your ability – He’s got plenty of that already; He just wants you. Be His.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Let’s stop telling future youth ministers to skip training!

(Sorry – slightly ranty post)

Over the past decade, Bible Colleges in Britain have really started to struggle getting people to apply. This has been most clearly seen in youth work courses. Not only have several large and well-established youth work training centres now closed, but many of the biggest Bible Colleges in the UK don’t even have a dedicated youth work teacher.

I find this really weird, because also over the past decade, loads of deep-thinking books and resources have come out on youth work. There is now a plethora of relational practice books, educational theory journals, and theological youth work PhDs published each year. The knowledge base is constantly growing. I thought we were just starting to get it?

Ministry Lite?

Youth ministry has been seen as ministry lite for a while now. From the outside it looks like underpaid, entertainment-driven purgatory, where a Nike-sporting young wannabe is waiting for ‘real’ ministry to start later. Only a cursory glance into the youth work world, however, would reveal just how many areas youth ministers need to be carefully developed in.

Youth ministers need to be trained theologically for sure; but they also need to understand HR, safeguarding law, project management, team development, conflict resolution, additional needs, mental health, and a mountain of other very specific, and vocationally professional areas.

Youth ministry is no joke. Done badly it can bring down a church, done really badly it can bring the entire Gospel into genuine disrepute. It’s now easier than ever to make these huge mistakes without even being aware of the issues that cause them.

So why are we so blasé about formal training?

Paediatric doctors will train for years. As will mental health nurses, psychiatrists, counsellors, sports coaches, and of course teachers. We see these as professions which require real training efforts. We take these seriously because they are all involved with the care of vulnerable young people. But wait – isn’t that exactly what we do in youth ministry?

Taking Youth Ministry Seriously

Youth work is no joke. It involves holistic care and theological security. Youth workers – especially those in lead ministry positions – need training. Experience alone simply doesn’t cut it; theological illiteracy is too epidemic, laws change too quickly, and young people vary too widely.

I’m not saying that youth workers need to be more intellectual or more academic. Not at all! We’re not running a school after all… but come on! A little hard effort into understanding complex issues and deep truths about young people goes for miles in ministry.

In most of my posts I’m totally on the youth worker’s side – but in this one I’m asking the impertinent question: What are you doing to show that you take your own ministry seriously?

Are you enrolling on courses, reading books, going to training regularly, and asking for a bigger budget to do just that? Do you know the options for degrees, further professional development, or even research? Do you know the gaps in your knowledge – and where to go to fill them? Are you intentionally putting yourself in situations where you’re challenged? Do you surround yourself with people smarter than you?

I really believe that youth workers should see their role as a calling – something long term. If you believe that’s you, then taking a few years (yes, years) out to do proper foundational training should be seen as an obvious thing to do.

Training doesn’t replace experience of course, nor should it eclipse your own reading, but you can build concurrently and afterwards. The first time I did a theology degree, I spent my free time volunteering in several youth projects – and worked part-time. It’s much easier to gain experience while training than it is to train while working.

Why would you not?

There are several routes into youth ministry, and many of them don’t require any formal training: Internships, apprenticeships, or graduating from voluntary work are often the most regularly travelled paths.

I love these options and I’ve seen some great youth workers come out of these routes too. However, these options often (if not always) leave signifiant holes that need to be plugged. They tend to be too particular, too basic, or too unaccountable.

When someone asks me about youth work training – and specifically about getting a degree – I always ask: why would you not?

Yes, some people hate the classroom and really don’t do well with traditional academic methods – but there is now so much choice in the UK for youth workers who feel just like this. There is also a wide range of funding options, distance learning courses, and timeframes to consider. You can usually discover a good fit if you are willing to put the effort into finding out.

There is also a lot of criticism levied against formal theological training: It’s not worth the money, universities are too hampered by their awarding bodies, youth don’t need another pasty-faced academic, I’d rather just be doing it, I can get all the same information from books etc. However, I’ve only ever heard these arguments from people who decided not to train. The Dunning-Kruger effect comes to mind.

The fact remains for me that the best youth workers that I’ve ever met personally are both well-experienced, and formally-trained. They didn’t feel like they we’re already ‘good enough’ to skip it and move on, and they didn’t feel like youth work didn’t deserve the time or the effort. They are all doing amazing work today that will long outlast them.

Is it always necessary to get a degree?

It probably sounds like I’m saying that right? Well, no it’s not… but I’d like us to start seeing degree-level-trained youth ministers as the norm rather than the exception. At the moment there are a lot less formally trained youth workers out there, and I’d really like to see that balance tip.

So there are genuine ways you should be able to go into youth ministry without getting formally trained – but I’d love to see that as the exception, not the rule. And I’d hope, if you are in that position, that you’d be looking for options as your ministry develops.

There are experiences, information, and learning environments that you just cannot get any other way – from people who are paid to stay up-to-date and informed – in a space designed for you to make lots of mistakes and ask lots of questions. Why would you not see that as the first option?

I kinda think about it like cyclists legs. Cyclists legs really creep me out; it’s like they have a chicken, or half a ham wedged into their calf, while the rest of their leg is super skinny. Experience might build a couple of big solid muscles, but training should give you what you need to develop everything in balance.

So get on it!

Formal theological and practical training in youth ministry is worth every minute.

Rather than asking ‘what else could I do’, start looking at formal, foundation training as the first option. You wouldn’t want a doctor working on you without proper training, or a mechanic working on your car with big gaps in their knowledge. Lets take youth ministry at least as seriously.

😛 That is all.

Rant over.


Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Can you be a Christian and watch Game of Thrones? 5 Better Questions to Ask.

I’ve had a lot of these ‘can you be a Christian and…’ questions recently. Although they usually come less in the form of the genuine and curious, and more in the form of the judgemental and arrogant, thus ‘how can someone possibly be a Christian and…’

So lets’ break this down. Can you be a Christian and…

  • Watch Game of Thrones
  • Watch Deadpool
  • Read Harry Potter
  • Read Twilight
  • Like Rob Bell
  • Listen to Iron Maiden
  • Smoke
  • Swear
  • Not go to church
  • Have ginger hair
  • Support Blackpool Football Club?

Yes. Yes you can. The only action that can actually and effectually make you ‘not a Christian’ is denying Christ. We are saved by grace through faith, not by any other peripheral actions that we might or might not do.

Paul was a murderer who was saved by grace. David was a murder and a rapist, and saved by grace. I’m an ass – saved by grace.

So yes – it’s possible to ‘be’ a Christian and do all kinds of things. So let’s think about some other ways of considering the question:

1. Could it eventually steal your salvation?

Well, without getting into the ‘once-saved-always-saved’ debates, it’s worth noting that the Bible does distinguish salvation (coming into relationship with God) and sanctification (growing in that relationship with God).

In the same way that the wedding it not the marriage, and your partner might still marry you after knowing your darkest issues… she might reject you eventually if you make no effort to change them and grow once married.

Being addicted to pornography, for instance, can steadily pollute and corrupt a relationship, first through secrecy, then by objectifying your partner, and finally through rejecting their comforts in favour of the internet abstract. Thus the intimacy and commitment of marriage breaks down.

Indulging in areas that pollute your relationship with God can do exactly the same thing; leading you to know Him less, and eventually either reimagining Him into something He is not, or just rejecting Him altogether.

Does Game of Thrones do that? After reading the parents guide on imdb, I decided it would not serve my personal relationship with God, so I decided not to watch it.

2. Is it helpful?

Twice in 1 Corinthians Paul says that all things are permissible (saved by Grace right?), but not all things are helpful.

‘“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.’ (1 Cor. 6:12, ESV)

‘“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.’ (1 Cor. 10:23, ESV)

Both of these appear in the context of honouring God and not giving over to idolatry – including sexual immorality (ch. 6).

In the first verse Paul hints at becoming mastered, or under compulsion, or even addicted to something. There’s a lot of stuff that we indulge in that places us under compulsion and easily leads to addiction. This list includes porn, drugs, and gratuitous violence to be sure, but it also includes simple and mostly innocent things like sugar, exercise, food, cartoons, and action films. Anything that gives us a isolating comfort or an unnatural spike of dopamine in our systems can become addictive – and needs to be held accountable to our worship of God. Does Game of Thrones do this for you? It might – it might not. But it’s a good question to ask.

Another way of putting it might be like this: if it seems that giving something up for a while (fasting) would be a really hard, then you might be under its compulsion and possibly might need to be without it for a while.

In the second verse, Paul opens the net wider, pulling in the community in which we live and serve. Our passion, he said, should be to love and serve the world around us and support our neighbours. If watching or reading something subtly shifts our priorities consistently away from serving others to serving ourselves then it needs to be pulled back on.

I think you can add this to serving your partner too. Does my wife want me to be entertained by another woman simulating passionate sex acts? Is she served by me spending time enjoying the intimacy of private relationships with someone that is not her? Does this serve her or serve our marriage in any legitimate way? For us – I don’t think it would.

3. Can you honour and worship God with it?

Staying in 1 Cor. 10, Paul says that everything we decide to do should honour God as an act of worship:  ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (v.31, ESV). This idea is again repeated in Colossians; ‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (Col. 3:17, ESV).

So, crux time should be asking yourself whether or not you are able to engage with God at the levels of honour, worship, and self-sacrifice, for the building up of His glory, as you engage with something.

Again, I decided that I wasn’t able to do this by watching Game of Thrones. However, I also decided that it was doable for me reading Harry Potter. What do you think?

4. What if I’m just a ‘stronger brother’?

This comes from 1 Cor. 8, which is one of the more woefully mismanaged and misapplied verses in the Bible.

Paul is saying that those of you who have accepted grace enough to understand what food will and won’t effect your salvation should eat away – but not if it causes others still working through that process to struggle. The focus is not on you, but on your ability to love, serve, and help those who are working through different issues than you.

Frankly, its not for us to decide what we can get away with based on how ‘strong’ we think we are in comparison to others. The focus of that passage is on serving others. Deciding how much your faith can ‘tolerate’ before it corrupts is just a spiritual car crash waiting to happen.

5. What is I’m just trying to be relevant?

There’ll be a longer post on what actually makes us relevant coming soon, so watch this space. For now I’ll just say that the peripheral things that we think make us relevant actually give our relevancy a shelf life. Things that make us genuinely relevant don’t require us to expose ourselves to corruption, but more to the Holy Spirit.

So what?

We shouldn’t ever chose to do something because we can ‘get away with it’ – we should choose it because it draws us closer to God, builds up others, and helps us honour Him.

This, honestly, might include Game of Thrones for you. I, personally, cannot imagine how it could; but I know myself and not you.

Sometimes sacrificing something we enjoy is just the right thing to do if it means giving God that extra devotion, love, worship, and time. The question should never be ‘can I watch/do/read…’ but should always be ‘will this help me worship Him…’

Food for thought.

How many things can a youth worker squeeze into a year?

This year is shaping up to be pretty full on. The blog will be soon going through a complete overhaul and rebranding process, I’m studying (technically full time) for an MA in pioneering ministry, learning to snowboard, climbing the 3000 challenge again, doing Britain’s largest bungee jump, and still working for Youth For Christ! Oh, and I got my first tattoo. My wife and I have also joined the Banff Film team, and are aiming to open an online t-shirt store too. I’m also working with a publisher on a book! Full. On.

I’ve always been someone who needed a portfolio of activities to keep me motivated, but for the past couple of years I slowed that down thinking it was a sign of immaturity. I listened to the older, wiser voices of reason who perpetually encouraged me to settle down, and so I chose one or two things. I did indeed find myself settling, into deeper patterns of restlessness, boredom and depression.

Some people, I think, are just geared for activity. The pioneering spirit in them needs to keep moving. When I started to embrace this early last year I faked my way into becoming a freelance writer and designer, and had some incredibly wacky experiences. All of which helped me in my youth work! Well, most did. I then took an online course with Oxford University, and started to push out into more academic study.

The result was simply feeling more alive again! My blog won an award and started to get noticed more, the team really started to come together at work, and issues that had been buried, started to surface and be addressed head on. We joined a gym and started committing to people more broadly than we had before.

Who knows how this year will end, or what state I – or my wife – will be in at the end of it! For now, however, this simply serves as a short encouragement to push out if you feel a nudge of God.

I believe many youth workers are multipotentialites, and that we are living in a new Renaissance for creative people – a kick back against the right-leaning fear of the Western establishment. These youth workers need to be nurtured, and shouldn’t quickly be dismissed by the overflowing baby-boomer generations as simply unstable or immature.

Accountability is key, but living life on the edge with God is essential.

Let’s see how this goes!

The Top 8 Reasons Why Youth Workers Burn Out

Youth worker burnout is a very real issue. In the UK youth workers last an average of 2 years in a position, and around 3-5 years in total before throwing in the towel.

I spent some time with a great youth worker yesterday who has put some real energy into properly researching this dilemma, and has made some very helpful observations. He has agreed to write up his findings for us – so watch this space!

Now our appetite is whet, I thought I’d compile a list of what I think are the top reasons Christian youth workers burn out. Enjoy!

1. Expected to be each Biblical office

Is the youth worker an elder, pastor, teacher, apostle, evangelist, prophet, deacon, or overseer? The truth is that this will depend on the unique sensibilities of each role in context, however most youth work positions expect their worker to be most if not all of them!

The problem is that the gifts and personality types of an evangelist are very different to pastor-teacher. The same is true for elder and apostle, prophet and deacon – there is a reason they are distinct roles within the church, and why it’s unhealthy (for ministry and minster) to be all of them at once.

As a pioneer will be frustrated, and likely to cause damage trying to be a pastor-teacher, and an evangelist will not have patience for the polity behind eldership. You’re heading for an emotional car wreck trying to contort yourself into these positions.

2. Mixed or no accountability / management

A common problem youth workers complain about is an unclear line of management. In some cases the management structure can be so arbitrary that everyone in the church tries to fill the void and become ‘the boss.’

Parents, kids, elders, pastors, wardens, caretakers – can all try to hold you accountable to their own standards and particular sets of expectations, whether or not they are in your job description, or conflict with the other 300 people you are trying to please.

In other scenarios you have a line-manager, but in reality they are  really trying to mentor you. Or you have a line manager who is also the Senior Pastor, thus has conflicting aims when you meet.

In *this post* I argue for a threefold structure of manager, pastor and mentor, which – when communicated properly to a church – is surely the healthiest model.

3. Isolation

Youth workers are often mavericks, and can find themselves easily in the role of ‘lone solider.’ Timetables are full, friends are few, and most of the time is spent with people in a completely different stage of life than you.

Youth workers need friends who are totally unrelated to their work – and youth workers need to know other youth workers.

Making the effort to get to network days and training are essential, as is carving out the time for just going out with mates.

There’s a lot of lonely youth workers out there, lets take it seriously.


4. Unrealistic expectations

I was also told a story yesterday of a youth worker who was expected to double her youth group numbers in six months. Really? Then there are training manuals and courses that leave you with the impression that you should be ‘always on’ for the young people and ‘make every opportunity count.’

A lot of these expectations come out of poor management. Having real goals that genuinely make sense of working hours and are regularly evaluated is key. As is holding the youth worker accountable to their working week, holidays and days off.

Focus, identify clear objectives, work to your resources, build a healthy team, take your time off, have a life and settle in for the long haul.

5. Having no idea what they’re doing

This might be the biggest issue. Youth workers, let’s admit it, we don’t have a clue! We’re expected to understand and relate to the monstrous and mysterious beast known as ‘youth culture,’ develop professional plans to execute sophisticated projects, and hold in tension conflict, personality types and genuine spiritual needs, emotional abuse and organic community.

We are expected to be team managers and recruiters, teachers and trainers, counsellors and mentors, sociologists and missiologists, scholars and facilitators – and expected to look like we’re none of these things so we can ‘fit in’ with the young people. Usually a youth worker has up to 1 year of training to learn all these areas where genuine practitioners have spent half their lives in school to develop.

We don’t know what we’re doing!

This can be helped by defining the role and having realistic expectaitons. It can also be resolved through ongoing training, professional development and support. Mostly however, we just need to hold tight to the expert… which is God.

6. Forgetting who God is

This is, unfortunately, probably the saddest, but most frequent. It can be propagated by all the above, and exacerbated by a lack of genuine spiritual mentoring and accountability, but mostly it just results from being tired all the time.

In my experience youth workers tend to be badly trained in how to use their Bibles. This means a shaky foundation and an especially insecure problem-solving mechanism. Without having a solid understanding of where their role comes from, and what is needed when the rubber hits the road, the proof-texting they have grown up with tires and leaves them wanting.

The worst thing is starting to forget what God’s voice sounds like, so you stop recognising him when he leads, warns and protects you. The security fails, the passion dies up, you start to feel guilty, believe you’re a fraud – and give up.

The most important thing a youth worker should take seriously is their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Before you are a youth worker, you are a child of God. When that turns round – so does everything else.

7. Just getting bored

I sometimes wonder if the reason that youth workers come across as so wildly creative is that they’re just desperately trying to break the monotony.

On the surface, youth work looks like a lot of activity, and it is but I’ve found that for every hour of creative fun, theres two-three hours of planning and then at least an hour of cleanup. Because you’re working with volunteers, this can often be alone and repetitive.

Add to this a lot of written work, planning, management, conflict resolution and reporting, it can start to get to you. Then you need to consider that you are spending your time dialoging with people of a very different maturity and life experience, having the same four of five conversations.

8. Low pay

Ok, this is going to sound weird, ungrateful and materialistic – but it’s still true. Youth workers get paid usually less than entry-level teachers for a similar job, expectation set, and working hours; and we all know teachers don’t get paid enough!

There, of course, is a pastoral humility required for ministry, a lack of material desire, and I’m not sure that the youth worker should be paid more than most of the congregation. However, for such a stressful job, the low pay can put a massive amount of pressure on the youth worker’s family.

This can affect a lot of life choices: Does my spouse also need to work full time? Can we afford to have children? My biggest stresses throughout my youth work career has been a secure place to live (we’ve had to move six times) and maintaining a car (been through seven in five years). We also once went two years without more than a half a tub of hot water a day and no heating. With a very unwell wife, this was insane!

I know a lot of youth workers who survive off credit – lease-agreement cars, back-paying bills, and crazy mortgages – just so they can maintain a family alongside their work. I know it’s a difficult economy, but churches should carefully look into how their youth worker is living and consider the church’s responsibility for them.

3 Things A Youth Worker Learned In The Gym

I thought, for this post, that I would share a little bit of my recent story, and maybe pull out some unexpected lessons that I’ve learned.

Over the last decade my health took quite a knock. Tension headaches and migraines, lots of spontaneous fatigue and a very erratic sleeping patten. A couple of doctors told me it was just work related stress, which, as it made sense for a youth worker, I didn’t question. Even with treatment and a change of circumstances, however it wasn’t getting any better. In fact, it got worse.

I started getting dizzy with strange sudden feelings of vertigo, then I randomly would black out. Not so good! I bit the bullet and went back to the doctors. It turned out that the root cause is much simpler than stress – I have very low blood pressure due to being underweight.

I’m, in fact, very underweight. My bmi is around 18, rather than 20-22 where it should be. This puts me in a very close bracket to conditions such as anorexia. My body just doesn’t break down or store fats very effectively. This means I don’t retain any energy reserves, which – when linked to low blood pressure – just wipes me out.

The treatment for this began a year ago with big changes to my diet, the most significant of which was trying to consume 8000 calories a day. This was ridiculous! I can manage about 3500 on a good day, but any more than that and I’m risking other issues – and I just can’t do my job with constant nausea! Step two, therefore, was to get seriously stuck into the gym – which is where my little bit of hell began.

Enter The Gym

In the gym, I’m on a workout routine that blends exercises from both anorexia recovery programs, and super-human muscle mass gain workouts. No cardio, very little warmup, and big hit ‘heavy’ weights three times a week. I’m now on my fifth week and doing relatively well. I’ve not gained any weight, but I’m sticking at my higher average, which is a good sign, and I’m not randomly falling asleep in the middle of the day.

The gym doesn’t really sit with me as a ‘happy place’ though. It’s smelly, sweaty, inconvenient and incredibility good at poking all of my insecurities. I’m the only guy in the weight section that’s not already built like a tank!

After the first couple of sessions, however, the routine and the sense of personal challenge kicked in, and now it’s starting to make some measure of sense to me. Here are three (and a bit) unexpected lessons that I have learned so far.

1. Mobile Phone Bliss

I made a very early decision that the gym would be a mobile phone free zone for me. It’s just too tempting to do business or panic about something if I have it. For the 5 minute walk from my house and back, and for the 45 minutes I’m there, I am mobile phone pure.

These three weekly hours represent the single longest times in my week without my phone. That’s no access to calls, messages or emails. No evernote and no calendar. For the first few sessions, this was horrible. Like kicking an addiction, my hand kept reaching for my pocket, but the phone wasn’t there. No constant undercover bubbling of panic or quick relief when I checked my notifications.

The gym has given me real time not connected to anybody. No one can get me, unless they pay to get in to see me! This has been a wonderful habit kicker, and has helped me prioritise my ‘check in’ times online much more sensibly the rest of the week.

2. Focus, Focus, Focus

I am a natural mental multi-tasker. I’m always thinking of some new idea – or panicking about some unfinished project or unfulfilled suggestion. If my mind wanders at the gym though, I get hurt!

It’s very hard to think ‘did I send that email’ or ‘I wonder if I used the right tone of voice when I spoke to x’ when you’re trying to lift weights that desire to kill you. If you take your mind off the suckers, they will tear your muscles to shreds!

The gym, has taught me in 5 weeks, what years of trying to contemplate Jesuit and Ignatiun mindfulness techniques couldn’t – to shut my mind off and just focus on the moment.

This has also transposed over into my life as I have recent and consistent mental-muscle memory of what single focus feels like.

3. Non-Work Related Commitment Is Really Healthy

I’m committed to my wife, and I’m committed to my job. Beyond that, I’m a bit woolly. I have hobbies – things that I like to do like painting and playing the guitar. Mostly, however, real person-development-based commitments only focused on what I get paid for or to whom I’m married. Sometimes it’s even hard to include God in that list, as my relationship with him is often so tied up with my ministry job.

Fifteen trips to the gym, however, and I’m finding a new commitment that has nothing (directly at least) to do with either my job or my wife. This has created a real sense of balance to the flavour of my life. A commitment that just focuses on health and personal growth has been fantastic – it’s reminded me that I’m valuable before I’m a husband or a youth worker. It’s made me more thankful and a little bit more receptive to my Dad in Heaven.

3-and-a-bit. Health Is Apparently Important!

I’ve been through clinical treatment for stress and counselling based therapy. You really do have to look after yourself to thrive at God’s plan. Your body is a temple that needs to be respected, and proper diet, sleep and exercise have such a huge impact on the chemical balances of your body and the acuteness of your mental processes.

Thus – you will be more receptive to God and a better youth worker if you look after yourself.

That said – working out sucks! 😛

Youth Work and Mental Health Pt. 1 – A Gentle Poke

When I was 14, one of my best friends was Daniel. I didn’t know Daniel was clinically depressed or that his random outbursts were actually early signs of bipolar disorder. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t normal that Daniel’s room only contained a mattress, a guitar and a pile of black hoodies. All I knew was he was fun and unique to be around, and that he had an unusually broad talent for music.

We drifted apart over the years, which meant it came as a bigger shock when he was found in a flat, dead at age 23, after swallowing a mix of alcohol and methadone.

Daniel was a disruption to the classroom environment. He was always in trouble and – as far as I knew – had no-one working with him to identify or work with his root causes. To me though, Daniel was just a mate who I’ll never see again.

I’d like to think that I’m a passionate advocate for the mental health world. At least I believe that we neither spend enough or research enough to develop treatment for those who really struggle. Classrooms are simply not geared for it, and the health service doesn’t really step into that gap. Self medicating is all too often the only option that seems available.

I also truly believe that the Church is supposed to define and lead culture – that we should be setting the trends, making the calls and leading the charges. Can we then, as youth workers and as Church develop programs that specifically work with young people during the early signs of mental health issues? Can we cultivate a culture in our programs that leaves room to observe, identify and even treat young people who are going through these struggles?

Daniel was my mate, but there was at the time no language to discuss these problems, or develop an awareness that this could be happening to someone I knew. The language is more available today, but I’m not sure if we’re any closer to implementing real, culture-saturating change.

Bill Hybels said “the local church is the hope of the world.” Can we be this hope that the world is so desperately craving? Daniel’s mum said, “I hate to think another young life could be wasted as tragically as Daniel’s has been.” Can we be the answer to her prayers?

Please, talk to your young people regularly and clearly about mental health. Talk to your team about how to organically identify and respond to needs. Finally, lets keep talking to God – crying out to him for healing and restoration; for the redemption of a culture that lifts up the broken and downtrodden, and helps all people live a life to the full as Jesus taught (John 10:10).

Writing, Research & Study – What’s Going On?

Summer is always a quiet time for the blog – too much going on with everybody! This year has been even more inordinately so, which leaves me – once again – grovelling with apologies and explanations of where I’ve been!

First off, I’ve had a booklet agreed with a publisher on a Biblical Model for Youth Work. This is exciting, but the first draft is due early October, and I’ve only just really started serious work on it in the last fortnight. Watch this space though, because if they like what I’ve produced, we could be moving along for a publication date next year.

Secondly, I’ve been accepted as a member of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry (IASYM), which is cool – but opens up a whole new wing to my portfolio and time-constraints.

Finally – I finished a part-time philosophy course at Oxford, and decided I wanted to keep studying. I’ve enrolled on a distance learning MA at Cliff College on Mission, Pioneering Ministries and Fresh Expressions.

Mix this with the September launch of my own projects, and a lot of movement in my team, it has left YouthWorkHacks sadly wanting!

More will come though! Please don’t loose touch 🙂


I Kissed Dating Goodbye – a personal response

Joshua Harris has bravely asked for feedback and stories to aid his understanding of the difficulty some have had with his first book ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ which was a best seller when he was 21 years old. You can add to this yourself here.

Here is the story / feedback I left:

I’d first like to say that I’m humbled and impressed by the bravery, teachability and vulnerability expressed here. Thank you. I’ve been a youthworker for over ten years, and I’ve always wanted to sit down with 18 year-old Joshua Harris in my youth group. I’ve wanted to talk with him about dating and the beauty of grace that I feel was sadly missing from his worldview.

I first read IKDG when I was in my first year of Bible College. I was young and very impressionable, and as such was impacted by its message and found easy applications in its method. It effectively gave me a way of approaching dating that didn’t require the mess or organic growth. I could skip those steps. In their place it gave me measurable checks and balances. Just what a lonely, hormonal and legalistically-bent young theology student needed!

The book also gave me license to be ‘in control’ of my godliness, in a way that totally disregarded the responsibilities and mutual partnerships of those around me, especially women. It also subtly  took my dependence away from the mercies of God and placed purity back into my hands: The worst possible play for it.

As a result of reading this book (in two short sittings), and immediately after reading the sequel ‘Boy Meets Girl’ and the now renamed ‘Not Even A Hint’, I split up with my long time girlfriend. This was a bad breakup. Unexpected, and incredibly hurtful for her – while feeling uncomfortably victorious and proud for me.

These books made me feel – in equal measure – hopeful about a magical and yet strangely attainable wife; and dirty and sinful in a way that could not be saved by grace, but would need to be tamed by hard work and determination.

In the year following my breakup (which wasn’t handled well), I effectively withdrew from all my female friendships. I wouldn’t talk to girls on the phone, email them individually, add them as Facebook friends, or spend any time alone with them anywhere. As someone who naturally gets on better with girls, I became increasingly dis-balanced as a person and isolated. I was moody and lonely.

At the end of the year I watched a movie with a female exchange student and went on a walk with her. Nothing romantic, but really friendly. That was the last evening before she – and her classmates – would get on a plane and leave. I remember the piercing feeling of lament at how stupid I had been and the painful sense of what I had lost that year.

Re-reading the book again years later it was easier for me to notice the simple theological errors which leave the reader with legalism. It was also easier for me to see the power of suggestion sewn into it’s stories.

IKDG is not necessarily a legalistic book. Not intentionally. It’s a story book written as teaching material from someone who did not have the experience or responsible burden of a teacher. It subtly suggests legalism in the fallacious and simplistic ways it compares the dating and non-dating worldviews. Neither of which are properly explored, or put into clear Biblically relevant context.

It’s so close to the truth! So close. It made me long to be like Jesus – but it did not make me long for Jesus.

I recognise young Joshua Harris’ heart in those pages, however. A beautiful and stunning longing for purity from a wise young lad. But it unfortunately clutches at simplicity rather than relational grace. With some guidance and mentoring, it could have been stunning! It could have been a story of life and triumph – rather than a pseudo self-help book that left me seeking some form of Christ-likeness rather than seeking Jesus.

And therein lies its fatal flaw.

I remember a few years later listening to a Joshua Harris talk on good deeds as the assurance of salvation – which was unpacked in a very Jonathan Edwards like way. Brilliant and well communicated, but with the same misdirected theology. Just like Edwards, Harris had misunderstood the purpose of good works, and was using them as demonstrations of salvation almost to the point of creating it. This theology litters the pages of IKDG.

I would not recommend the book IKDG to any of my students or young people. However, I would commend the purity and passion of Joshua’s heart and wisdom to everybody.

In love.

Tim Gough


Persevering and Pushing Through In Youth work

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 09.28.50Guest post by Bex Baillie. A Youth Specialist at Trinity Network and Theology student at Bristol Bible College. Full bio below and check out her blog here.


Perseverance plays a big role in every generation of faith. If we stretch our minds back, we can see how our Youth Workers committed endless hours to supporting us, pushing through the tough times with little response in return. The art of persistence is a beautiful thing. It’s exercise for our hearts, and it helps to stretch our imaginations into new ways of thinking. Most of all, it’s a massive test of our faith.

‘Find out what God’s doing and join in.’

I love this motto! It’s a good saying to keep you grounded. Who says it has to be our original thought or creative new way of connecting with the young people? God is already there, doing great things in their lives. As the world’s greatest Youth Worker, He is their constant supporter and encourager, pushing them to think about what they believe and why.

Sometimes, maybe it’s best for us to take a step back, shadow what God is doing and then simply join in. While this might sound a bit vague at first, let’s look at our own lives for a moment. Have a think about the times we may have plowed ahead with our own great ideas – without watching out for God – and then finally given up after hitting a dead end. By tuning into God’s work, we can stay on the right track and follow the Master.

An Attitude For Perseverance

In all that we do, I don’t doubt that we have the intention to see young people grow in their faith and stick at church, but sometimes I wonder if our actions say otherwise.

If we want to produce healthy fruit that will last, it needs to grow from a well-rooted tree. While we may be well-rooted in our faith – and in many other ways – sometimes our attitude toward our work begins to lag. If we express flakiness towards our jobs or the young people, we shouldn’t expect it not to affect them. Even our attitudes teach young people. Part of perseverance is sticking at it and being committed to your plans. This means that the young people will be your priority when they need to be. When you are the best example of dedication, the young people will see it and adopt it as their own way of living.

Don’t feel like it is all up to you though, we are just one cog in a very big operation. We might be able to plant a seed in the young people’s lives; we can talk about God, tell stories and testimonies, provide pizza and give chunks of thoughtful advice here and there. Ultimately however, it will be God who will see that seed grow.

Don’t feel the pressure to complete His job and have each of your young people ‘fixed’. You have the wonderful role of Youth Worker, but you’re not God.

Perseverance For Long Lasting Ministry

Persistence. Staying Power. Tenacity. It’s not the art of proving your point, or finishing the ‘job’ for the sake of it. We want something that is long lasting, a ministry that will stand the test. Colossians 1:11 leads us to pray for “…not the grim strength of gritting your teeth, but the glory-strength God gives.” If we live by this sort of perseverance, our energy will be long-lasting and enjoyable!

In all the many ways that we attempt to strengthen our projects or clubs, we must remember that there is no quick-fix trick to success. As youth workers, we are all trialing different approaches all the time. Sometimes our ideas will take off and – BAM! – we’ve got it. Other times, we will have to ditch a plan and start again. Remember to stay on track with God, following His trail as you work with young people. Stick with it, and be glad that one day your fruit tree will blossom.

Galatians 6:9 says, “So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up or quit.”


Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 09.28.50Bex is a Youth Specialist working for Trinity Network Churches in North Bristol. Alongside her job, she is studying for a Degree in Theology, Ministry and Mission at Bristol Baptist Bible College.

Bex’s heart is in mentoring and inspiring young people. The favourite part of her job is meeting with young people over a Costa and tackling life’s big questions. In fact, the most likely place to find Bex is in Costa, with a Latte and slice of cake, scribbling down bits of wisdom from books, or typing out the next blog.

With a real sweet tooth, Bex loves to bake and trial new recipes. To burn off those extra calories, she loves to do park runs and go walking in the Peak District

Check out Bex’s blog here.