Young People and Porn… Dialing back on the Pop-Psychology

Porn addiction is a serious thing, and the very last thing I want to do on here is to minimise or trivialise it. It genuinely messes up minds, and mangles marriages. Addiction (rather than just habit or compulsion) rearranges your neurological pathways and replaces your body’s natural abilities to release chemicals like dopamine. It is a big deal.

However…

You don’t need to have had a massive childhood trauma to want to watch porn. You don’t have to be from a poor background, have messed up parents, have been abused, or be a closet sexual deviant. There’s not always ‘a deeper reason’ beyond that fact that porn is just easily accessible, rarely challenged, and it really feels good.

Can we just let that sink in?

Porn is readily accessible, growingly acceptable, and it feels good.

I’m sorry for the condescending tone but I recently asked a huge group of professional, career youth workers about their strategies for helping young people through porn habits, and it was like I’d turned on the pop-psychology button.

“There must be a deeper reason behind it.”
“Something must be missing from their life, can you find out what it is?”
“They’re probably clinically depressed.”
“Do you know what it is they’re trying to escape from?”
“Maybe they’re homosexual, and are looking for an identity outlet.”

That last one might have been my favourite.

Now all these things could be, can be, might be true. But first off, what are we doing diagnosing clinical disorders and conditions? Secondly, what if we are missing something much much simpler because we’re too busy searching for the obviously buried deep and dark reason. It’s actually pretty easy to convince young people that there’s a deeper reason through this kind of insistence – then you’ve created all sorts of problems.

Sometimes we should seek out reasons behind the reasons, and we should always be alert to the potential for hidden issues. Sometimes, however, porn is just accessible, acceptable, and feels good. Does that make it ok? No, of course not! But the way of addressing it is entirely different than going totally Dr. Phil on them.

Addiction is a big word. It’s a medical word. So is depression btw. Let’s be careful with our throwaway comments and start by looking at what is right in front of us.

Even just 15 years ago (when most of us youth workers were young people), accessing porn as a teenager was hard work, you had to really make an effort for it. If you were going to go to so much trouble to do so then the likely chance was that there was a deeper reason.

Today? Not so much.

Porn is no trivial thing. We must work together to see it less accessible and acceptable, and point young people to things that both feel good and genuinely are good for them. But let’s dial back the Dr. Phil a little ok? My kids are getting sick of it.

Thanks! 😛

What actually makes us relevant?

Relevancy is a word we throw around, and rightly so! It’s essential, as effective youth workers, to be relevant to young people. What we mean by this, however, dramatically varies depending on who you talk to.

Immersion – Being Just Like Them

For some, being relevant means being just like them. So the youth worker will immerse themselves in the TV shows, the music, the books, the clothes, the slang, the hangout slots, and all the latest crazes of youth culture.

A problem with this, of course, is there’s no such thing as generic youth culture. Young people are people and as people they are a varied mix of genres, personalities, and subcultures. It’s more likely that the immersive youth worker is just getting clued up on one type of youth culture; which will inevitably make them outsiders or even hostile to others. This form of relevancy makes you inevitably irrelevant to many others.

Another problem is the rapid pace of products and entertainment aimed at young people. A friend of mine who is a youth worker in China recently told me that they were among the very first to be hit by the ‘fidget spinner’ craze. This lasted a few short weeks before the schools cracked down and they were no longer cool, yet all the youth work resources were still writing about them. Youth culture immersion gives your relevancy a shelf life.

The biggest problem with this, of course, is the creepy factor. It’s fine to like a few things aimed at younger ages (I adore The Minions and Lego!), but immersing yourself in that world as if you were still a 14 year old girl, when you’re actually a 36 year old man is actually a bit weird. The novelty will quickly turn to distrust, and it probably should.

Is there another way?

There are supracultral truths about the state of humanity in general, and young people in particular that are always true. Human beings are

  1. Made in God’s image
  2. Damaged by the fall
  3. In need of a saviour
  4. Longing to give and receive love
  5. Built for relationship
  6. Want opportunities to change the world
  7. Need to be heard and understood
  8. Fighting with identify and character
  9. Have an eternal destiny
  10. Are afraid of lots of stuff

The list goes on. What else can you add to it?

Being relevant starts with treating young people like people, not as some social experiment that you can tune into if you read the right books and watch the right youtube channels. Although it is a great idea to know what’s happening in their world and be able to point back to it ‘relevantly’ in your conversations and teaching, that will only go so deep or last so long. There are other ways to be relevant and lasting.

  • Active listeners are relevant
  • Honest and transparent storytellers are relevant
  • Humble people are relevant
  • Compassionate and interested adults are relevant
  • Those who give time are relevant
  • People who create situations for voices to be heard are relevant
  • Those who ask good questions, yet don’t have all the answers are relevant
  • Those who talk clearly from the Bible are relevant (after all, it was written to every generation)
  • Those who constantly mention Jesus; his life, death, and resurrection are relevant

Trying to understand culture without the things above will leave you as a desperate square peg, jaming yourself into a round hole. Lets know whats going on in ‘youth culture(s)’ for sure – but even more than that, let’s actually try and be genuinely relevant to young people as people.

Why Fivefold Ministry matters to youth ministry – Guest Post by Jonny Price

Another quality and thoughtful piece by guest blogger, Jonny Price. Jonny is an experienced youth worker with keen insights and clear vision for the future of Christian youth work in the UK.

‘Fivefold Ministry’ is a concept that can be found in Ephesians 4:11. In it Paul outlines five roles Jesus has given the Body of Christ to help it to mature, these are:

  • Apostles – Pioneers of new work
  • Evangelists – Fresh communicators of the gospel
  • Prophets – Those who speak out about spirituality and the realities of life
  • Pastors – Nurturers, carers and protectors of the people
  • Teachers – Communicators of the wisdom of God

Each of these roles are responsible for a different aspect of the growth of the Body of Christ. Often this idea is applied to leadership of our Churches, but rarely are those same principles carried across to our youth ministry. I believe that they should be, and that if they are, they can have a great impact upon our work.

Here are four important lessons for youth workers to take from the ‘Fivefold Ministry’ concept.

1. It reminds us that not all youth ministry is evangelism.

Often, the stereotypical youth worker’s gifts are primarily the same as an evangelist, with a lesser emphasis on the pastor role. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as the ministry these youth workers build is not based solely on their gifts alone.

A youth ministry based on evangelism may be great for reaching out, but how do we then build up the faith of the young people we work with beyond their initial commitment to Jesus? A youth ministry based on teaching may be great for developing faith, and teaching the Bible, but how do we then make sure that our young people are being taken care of?

If we build a team of people with a variety of gifts, then our ministries will be able to evangelise, develop faith, care for young people, and equip them to do likewise all at the same time.

2. It helps stop our ministries becoming stagnant.

If we have a team of people who all have the same gifts, play the same role, or place their emphasis and passions in the same place, then it won’t be long until that ministry becomes stagnant, relative and misweighted.

If, however, we have a balanced team made up of different roles and gifts, then there will be a constant, healthy tension between the different emphases of the ministry. This means that the team will always be pushing towards new ideas, exploring blind spots, and growing deeper in what they are doing.

3. It opens the door to new types of youth worker

If we build our teams of people who think and act the same as us, then how are we showing the diversity of the Body of Christ? We risk inadvertently closing the ministry door to people who don’t act the same way as us, or who see things a bit differently.

If we are able to show the diversity inherent in Fivefold Ministry, then we will demonstrate a far more holistic ministry to our young people, and allow them to step into it themselves.

4. It allows our young people to take ownership.

One of the common misunderstandings about Fivefold Ministry is that it only applies to leaders. If instead we approach it as being applicable to the whole Body of Christ, then we will allow our young people to take ownership of our ministry too, and of their own faith development. We will start talking about faith more, inviting our young people to be a part of it. As a result, this will help them to see how they can live out different aspects of faith, because they will see these different aspects in us.

This is exciting! Imagine a youth ministry where you don’t need to meet up with young people week in and week out to see how they are doing because you know that through the relationships they have with each other, they are being taken care of. Or imagine that you know that the teaching you give at youth group is less essential because they are teaching each other from the Bible.

Bringing it all together

Yes, the Fivefold Ministry comes with problems, like all good and new concepts do. Working with people who have different visions of ministry to us causes conflict and strain. But with proper communication, even the conflict can be an amazing tool for development.

Let’s diversify our leaders and volunteers, so that they represent the diversity of the Body of Christ, and so through that diversity, our young people can experience and know more of the love of God, and the plan that He has for their lives. Surely this is the point of everything we do.

 

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.

Seven helpful ANCIENT books for youth ministry.

So here’s an odd post! In the youth ministry world we’re always looking for new, fresh ideas – things straight out of the packet with a long expiration date. However, there is nothing new under the sun, and sometimes the older ways say it best.

Here are a few relatively straightforward and massively helpful books on theology and practice that have genuinely and seriously informed how I approach my work with young people. Some are older than others, and none of them actually tell you how to do youth work. They do, however, tell you how to relate to God and how that should be expressed among his people.

I think they’re all pretty readable too, although granted they’re not necessary Dan-Brown-styled page-turners! Some are just sections – but well worth it!

(nb. I’ve included links, but most of them are available for free as pdfs online.)

Have an ancient(ish) blast

  1. St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation
  2. Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections
  3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. I (Book one, Chs. 1, 2, 6, 12, 13; Book two, Chs. 9, 8, 12-17)
  4. Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man
  5. Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity
  6. Thomas a’Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
  7. The Bible – Cheesy ending to the list but genuinely the ‘timeless’ classic! Read it over and over and over again! I try and spend twice as much time in the Bible as any other book – hard, but oh so worth it. … … Go Bible!

Are our employment practices driving youth workers away? (Research writeup)

This is a great piece of research, conducted and summarised for us here by Jonny Price, a quality and thoughtful youthworker from York.

 

I am deeply passionate about youth ministry. I believe that through Christian youth ministry, we can see lives transformed, chains broken, and bring people to fulfil what they were created to be through the redeeming love of Jesus.

To do this, I believe that relationships are key. The relationships we build during our teenage years can shape the beliefs and values that we hold for the rest of our lives. Youth and children’s workers are essential in leading ministries which allow relationships to flourish.

These relationships, however, take time to build. If our approach to the employment of youth workers doesn’t support this, then the relationships won’t get built, and the lasting impact with be negligible.

The Research

While studying theology, I spent some time researching the employment practices of Youth and Children’s workers by churches. I did this to discover if we are, in fact, negatively affecting the long-term relationships needed for healthy young people.

I have been working in youth ministry for a while and during that time I have seen several skilled and talented youth and children’s workers walk away from ministry, and some the church altogether, because of the way they were treated while employed by churches.

I got in touch with 17 Anglican Diocese (the ones who replied to me), the Methodist Connexional Offices, and Baptist’s Together. I had an online questionnaire, which gathered nearly 100 responses, and I interviewed 12 people who were either youth and/or children’s workers, had been youth and/or children’s workers, or who had managed youth and/or children’s workers.

There were many interesting things that came up in the research. With all the usual disclaimers about sample size, researcher bias etc, here are the six things that stood out most to me that we should all be aware of.

The Results

1.    Too much/not enough freedom

This is a two sided coin, and boils down to the way we are managed. Many of us will be placed under the supervision of the minister of the church/es we work for, and this can be an awful arrangement. For one thing, many ministers have no formal training or experience of supervising staff, which often means they do one of two things:

  1. They have no idea what they or we should be doing, and so go completely hands off.

    This can mean that the worker has no clear idea what their role entails, particularly if this is their first experience of employment, and so can drift from one thing to another with no plan. This can lead to disillusionment, purposelessness, and very little to do. Add to this that churches will pay for a worker out of their giving, it can lead to serious guilt.
  2. The minister goes to their only experience of supervision: training.

    I spoke to several youth workers who had been managed in the same way a trainee minister would, despite being experienced workers. This led to overly specific aims and goals, micro-management, and a sense of being patronised with no creative freedom to approach ministry in their own way.

2. Working to different goals

Generally, church ministers work to a bounded-set model, where membership is based on certain pre-set commitments. For example, church ministers would see attendance on Sunday as a sign of membership. Youth workers, however, often to work to a centred-set model, where membership is defined more by closeness to the centre (Jesus), than attendance at certain events. This can mean that there will be a communication breakdown between church ministers and youth workers, which will inevitably lead to frustration as they will be pulling in different directions.

3. The move to “proper” ministry

Many youth workers go on to make very good church leaders, but that doesn’t mean we all want to do it! There is an assumption, which I am sure we have all experienced, that we will move on to church leadership.

This came out in my interviews with diocese youth advisors, and some ex-youth workers (though interestingly, not children’s workers). Even in church literature about lay ministry, youth or children’s ministry is rarely mentioned. All of this serves to undermine youth and children’s work as valid ministries, and leads to workers in these areas feeling undervalued.

4. Lack of spiritual support

Church ministers, particularly in established denominations, have access to support from wider bodies, as well as having things like sabbaticals and retreats built into their working agreements. These are rarely, if ever, thought about for youth or children’s workers. One interviewee mentioned that they had asked if, as they were entering their seventh year in post, they would be entitled to a sabbatical, as clergy are. They were laughed at.

If we are to avoid burnout, we have to build spiritual care into our employment practice in the same way we do for church leaders

5. The longer we are in post, the longer we are likely to stay

As part of the research I looked at the amount of time people stayed in posts, the number of posts held, and their attitude changes over time. This was fascinating.

There was a definite trend that showed the longer a person stayed in ministry, the more problems they saw with the approach of churches to it, but the longer they saw themselves staying in it, and the fewer roles they averaged. Of those who had been in this ministry 7-10 years, just under half had done this in just 1 role. The average time in any one role was 2 years.

I believe this points to parts of the workforce with a strong vocational calling to this specific work, who will continue in it despite the problems they see, because they see the value of this work.

6. Continued professional development, or the lack of it.

Across all the research there was a repeating theme that Churches are unwilling to spend either the time or money on proper training for youth and children’s workers.

In some ways this is understandable if short sighted. If youth workers are only going to stick around for a couple of years, then why train them? The simple answer: if you train them, they may well stay around longer! They will feel empowered in their ministry, more capable and confident in what they are doing, and will know how to take more care of themselves and their young people.

In short, we will develop a workforce that is more motivated, more capable, and with greater longevity.

Conclusions

Let’s really work this problem together! There is a clear correlation between poor youth and children’s workers management and poor youth and children’s work. Our employment practices (or lack thereof) are driving quality people away who might otherwise have been totally committed to the long haul.

  1. Youth and children’s workers need to be treated as independent workers, not trainees. They need clear goals and accountability, with the freedom to creatively pursue the best in their work.
  2. There needs to be clarifying conversations between minister and youth/children’s worker about what constitutes success and what models they are working to together.
  3. Youth and children’s workers are genuine lay ministers and need to be referred to, celebrated and supported as such.
  4. Further to this, youth and children’s workers need the same levels of spiritual support built into their contracts including training, sabbaticals, and retreats.
  5. Youth and children’s workers need to be encouraged and supported to stick to single posts, rather than moving around every two years.
  6. Proper training and professional development is essential for youth and children’s workers. This should be generously budgeted for and expected.

 

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.

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 life, 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.

7 Ways Not to Complain To Your Youth Worker – And A Few Tips How To

As youth workers, we get things wrong. Lots wrong, in fact, and all the time. How can that be, you ask? Well, we balance a whole mess of varied personalities, quirky projects, disjointed goals and unrealistic expectations. We are often accountable to different people than those we actually serve, and we expertly straddle the line between the easy-to-offend and the easy-to-disengage. We don’t have the odds stacked in our favour.

It also doesn’t help that the UK church is still in its infancy when it comes to hiring youth workers. Actually managing youth workers properly is a fine art that few have really mastered.

It’s not always crystal clear, therefore, where the management lines are drawn. The result is that everybody – parents, teachers, kids, elders, PCC, wardens, safeguarding officers, curates, the post-man, the dog – thinks that ultimately they are your boss.

Cheeky plug: for ‘How To Line Manage Your Youth Worker’ click here.

We get lots and lots of complaints! This is stressful for anybody, let alone hyper-emotionally-challenged and miss-managed, octopus-styled youth workers. When you write your complaint letter to your youth worker, take a minute to think about how to get it right.

I’m going to share a couple of stories with you; these are all actual complaints that I have received.

Disclaimer – looking back over this post after writing it, I realise that it could come across unnecessarily cathartic. This is not my intention. Like all the best training, I believe these examples show lived experience not just abstract theory. So hopefully useful!

1. The Letter from the Fashion Police.

To Tim Gough
7th March 2010

As a member of Christ Church of the older generation, I write to express my utter disgust at your mode of dress at the Morning Service today – tatty, torn trousers at the knees for everybody to see – is that the way to come into any church – (or any Cathedral?)? I cannot think of any other member of the  congregation who would come into the church looking as dishevelled as you do.

I have been coming to Christ Church for well over 20 years now, and have never seen anybody coming in with torn trousers like your display today.

Would you go into Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral – or anywhere else for that matter – looking like you did this morning? I hope not. Wake up in future

A Parishioner (in disgust)

My casual exhibitionism and unfortunately sharp knees not withstanding there are a couple of things to points out.

The letter was not signed.
There is no hope here for dialogue, no conversation and no relationship. This is in no uncertain terms, anonymous trolling. A gentle chat with me afterwards would have had a much better response.

The letter was written angry.
Complaints, like all discipline, should come from a place of loving correction, rather than anger. This was in reference to ‘the service today’, so they went home and wrote it while they were still ticked. Flipping tenses around, making hugely generalised statements and telling me to ‘wake up’ with underlining didn’t endear themselves to me – it just made me feel hurt and attacked.

The letter was missing some perspective.
What does going into Westminster Abbey really have to do with a youth leader gathering teenagers for the youth club? A bit of reflection may have made this person consider the generational difference between themselves and the young people, and instead think, ‘wow, there are young people connecting with God in this church!’

2. The Glitter Covered Turd.

While working at a conference I heard a friend quote the classic missive ‘you can’t polish a turd.’ Immortal and well accepted wisdom. At that point, however, another friend responded ‘but you can roll it in glitter!’ Apt.

Rob Bell talks about ‘chocolate covered turds’ which I guess (in the etymologically sound world of turd-related metaphors) is roughly the same thing as rolling one in glitter. Bell talks about compliments that have sneakily lines thrown in like ‘I think your great, even though you believe this…’ or ‘I’m with you, even though everybody else hates you.’

I once received one monster of a glitter covered turd.

It was a well written, graceful and constructive complaint email highlighting a few areas that I needed to work on with some helpful specific examples. It read well, and even though it was a bit overlong, it was actually a good example. This was until I saw the carbon copy line of the email.

The email was copied into the Pastor, Associate Pastor, two Wardens and few other leaders they got on well with. At this point it was no longer approaching me as a brother, but it had skipped ahead to full on public rebuke (Matthew 18:15-16).

3. The Stealth Bomber Complaint (aka, Gossip).

About nine months into a job, the Church Wardens decided to be proactive in finding out how I was doing. They had received the glitter covered turd emails, had a few ‘backroom’ conversations and went off to do some fact finding. This didn’t include me.

My volunteer leaders started to report to me that they were being subtly interrogated by the wardens to find out what I was up to; how was I supporting them, was I towing the line. They felt a bit weird (obviously), and frankly a little violated.

It wasn’t until two years after this that they actually arranged a meeting with me in order to take over my line management which, in their words, wasn’t working. But this was after sowing discord among leaders, parents and young people, and without raising complaints directly with me. Whoops! The damage had already been done, and I was too inexperienced to know how to resolve the conflict from my end.

4. The Job-Destroying Accusations (aka, worse Gossip).

X’s Mum (also a Sunday School leader) speaking to 17 year old volunteer: “Tim doesn’t let my teenage daughter play in the band because he’s a sexist!”

Volunteer to me: “X’s Mum said you’re a sexist”

Me to X’s Mum: “The reason your daughter doesn’t play in the band is because, after asking her, she does want to play in the band.”

Same Mum to other parents and leaders: “Tim doesn’t let my teenage daughter play in the band because he’s a sexist!”

Me: “Sigh.”

This same parent caused me numerous issues that were always unnecessarily overblown and immensely complex to resolve. Had I known then what I do now I would have removed her from her leadership positions until she had sought some clinical help for her slightly sociopathic insecurities.

5. The Lobbing In The Grenade And Legging It Email Chain.

After an event had gone awry for a wide range of silly reasons, I received a damning email from it’s organiser spelling out what a horrible person I was for having such unrealistic expectations of him.

The email made its fair share of generalisations, sweeping statements, and emotional rhetoric – scoring a trifector on the ‘how not to complain scale.’ It was also copied into a fair few of his team and leaders, which conveniently covered his back from the actual reasons the event failed.

There’s the grenade.

This complaint obviously needed resolving properly, relationally; face-to-face. I responded to him personally, through email, phone and facebook. I reached out to his pastor, and got my line-manager to do the same. We arranged multiple times to meet and talk, and I gave up a lot of ground to make that happen – but he continually cancelled or didn’t show. After about nine months, I gave up.

There’s him legging it.

If you’re not willing to talk through your complaint relationally, then you probably need to take an emotional inventory on what you’re actually trying to accomplish by making it in the first place.

6. The Spousal Approach.

I’m not really sure why people think complaining through my wife will make me take them any more seriously, but it seems to happen all the time.

There are actually a fair few examples I can give here, so I’ll go with a relatively mundane one. After giving a talk in a church morning service, the Pastor went to talk to my wife giving her some points he thought weren’t quite up to par. He then ended by saying, ‘but don’t tell him.’ Really?

You’ve got to ask what he hoped to accomplish by putting my wife in such a crazy position, and whether perhaps he was trying to make sure I did hear the feedback while – in some odd way – keeping his fingerprints off it.

7. The Record Keeper.

Another such email that occupies a special place in my memory contained a list of compounded issues and faults the sender had found with me over two years of ministry. It was maybe three or four pages long and came totally out of left field.

Even through it was filled with mostly mundane annoyances, because they had been stewing on these things it came with the emotional intensity of something much more serious.

How To Actually Do It – A Masterclass In Complaining:

Here’s a random few bullet points to keep us on the straight, narrow and healthy for when you make a complaint:

Pray before you say!
Ask for God’s perspective and his heart before you even begin. Ask God (and yourself) how important an issue it really might be, and adopt a tone that fits that priority sense.

Start off in person.
Email, write or text if you really must – but consider that might be more for your own benefit. It may be better to write it out for you (maybe have a wise friend read it), then go and speak to your youth leader without it.

Go through the proper process and channels.
This might mean one-to-one first, or first approaching the line-manager (who will know more than you do). Be wise, and if unsure, build good relationships and find out.

Don’t ‘field test’ out your complaint by asking around what others think.
That’s called gossip – and it really doesn’t help.

Make sure you’ve thought about what to say.
Be clear and specific avoiding generalities and over-simplification. Make it about specific instances, rather than overgeneralised sweeping statements.

Search for the right heart.
Complaints can be made within the realms of righteous anger, but should be tempered with love, grace and particularly mercy.

Keep your perspective in check.
Remember the immense pressure any minister for the Gospel is under, and the particular stresses of a youth worker.

Look for an amicable approach.
It’s good to start off in a healthy and grateful place, think of something you value about the youth worker, and point it out.

Drop it.
When it has been heard, resolved, received or (in some cases) properly rebuffed. Back off and don’t labour it. Unless there is a legal/safeguarding reason for it to be escalated, let your complaint percolate with good grace rather than holding a grudge.

Allow the youth worker and/or line manager decide on the right course of action.
It’s much more appropriate to bring a problem to be resolved, rather than a list of solutions that you would like implemented.

Don’t not complain.
Feedback and correction are important to us. We’re big boys and girls – and need to have loving discipline in our lives. So don’t let this put you off – just do it properly. Thank you!

POSTSCRIPT NOTE TO EMPLOYERS

Your grievance and disciplinary procedures are there for a reason. They are more than just legal requirement minutia, or a safety blanket for ‘worse case scenarios.’ These procedures give important piece of mind to people under your pastoral care.

One of the reasons parents and parishioners complain so unhelpfully is because they don’t necessarily have the confidence that issues will be dealt with in a proper and professional manner.

Use your policies properly, line-manage your youth worker well, and you will create a culture that has confidence. Parents will rightly complain when they have young people under their care – help them have piece of mind by just knowing how to work through issues properly and respectfully.

I asked 185 youth leaders what they call ‘young people’. Here’s what they said

What to call the participants of your youth ministry doesn’t seem like it should be a high priority. Realistically though, how you label people in the plural will have a dramatic impact on that group identity and sense of value, and it will instinctively give subversive impressions to those you’re speaking to.

I asked 185 American youth workers what they call their teenagers, with the option to add other names. Here’s the results:

Adolescents – 0

Children – 0

Young Church – 1

Kids – 2

Young Men and Women – 3

Young People – 5

Teenagers -6

Other – 9

Youth – 14

Students – 145

Interestingly, ‘students’ is not a name we would use in the UK, as it usually refers more specifically to someone studying, usually at university.

Some of the comments that came with the results defended calling young people ‘students’ is it sets a tone that they are there to learn about God, while still being more respectful sounding than ‘youth’ which often carries negative cultural contentions. I totally get this.

There are 2 issues through that I’d like to gently raise: First, it sets the teenagers in ministry apart from other ages in ministry for a reason that is not actually specific to them. We are all – or at least all should be – students of God! This could set the precedent that the adults know it all.

The second issue is perhaps a more Biblical one. The  Bible uses the words ‘Youth’ (בְּחֻרִים), ‘young man’ (בחור) and ‘the young’/‘youths’ (ילדות) – as distinct from children or adults. They are a Biblical people group designated by their age, so should have this noted in the same ways ‘men’s’ or ‘senior’ ministry would be.

Whatever you decide to call your young people, make sure you are respectful, loving, compassionate, specific and clear. It’s worth some thought, eh?

Working With Introverted Young People

A few months ago I appeared on the fantastic youth ministry podcast ‘The Longer Haul‘ to talk about ministering to introverted students. This is an issue that keeps coming up, and I think represents one of the fundamental missteps youth ministry can take.

For those of us who prefer reading to listening, I’ve taken some of my key thoughts from the podcast and written them up here as notes. Enjoy!

The Extrovert Epidemic

Much of our youth ministry is focused towards the extrovert. This follows a cultural pattern of being extrovert-driven too. Our school rooms and classes, for instance, are geared towards controlling and regulating the extrovert by putting them in rows, or engaging and energising the extrovert by pushing group discussions and activities. Also, modern offices are moving towards more open plan layouts, instantaneous planning sessions, and group enterprises.

In youth work we’re very adept at running youth work projects and particularity events; “everybody jump or I’ll squirt you with this water pistol!” But it even exists in our naturally quieter, small group ministry, “everybody go round and tell us something interesting about yourself.”

This creates a subliminal constant message that the introvert is not as able as the extrovert.

Jody pointed out in the interview that often youth ministries take on the character of their leader. Very true! There are of course many extroverted youth workers, especially new or younger youth workers, as extroversion is not necessarily the best ingredient for longevity. Introverts more naturally allow their teams to outgrow them, run with ideas and create a space and flavour that reflects more than one person. Introverts often create safer boundaries, develop more realistic goals and allow more open dialogue for change.

Extroverts may need to learn this behaviour, as they are often the charismatic force that drives content, holding ideas close, while not always delegating effectively. This of course is not always true, but the intro-extroversion line seems to me to be a key player.

I believe that youth ministry models and strategies, on a whole, tend to lean towards the extrovert. It certainly seems, at least, that developing extroverts in youth work is more well-established. So we will attempt here to bring in some balance, by developing specific ideas for developing introverts.

What Is An Introvert?

We often hear introversion linked with shyness, and extroversion with boldness. Although there can be links, it doesn’t take more than an amateur pop psychologist to tell you that this is a false assumption to make all the time. You can easily by a shy extrovert or an outgoing introvert.

I think about introverts using two sides of a coin. On one side is ‘how are they energised’ and on the other, ‘how do they process information.’

Energy?

An extrovert is energised by social stimulus in various forms (what kind depends on the extrovert), whereas the introvert tends to be drained by that. Both might enjoy going to a party, but while the extrovert may come back energised – like they have received from it, the introvert might want some down time – feeling like they have given out.

Information?

An extrovert tends to process verbally. When responding to a question they start speaking, showing their working until they get to an answer – you see the process and various types of responses and working out along with perhaps several answers. This is why extroverts are sometimes seen as rude through impatience. An introvert processes internally. They stop, think for a minute about what the question means, what else it could mean, what they know, how an answer could sound, how else it could be phrased etc. This happens internally an is why introverts are sometimes seen as rude through withdrawal.

This also might be why we as youth leaders subliminally prefer talking to extroverts. They provide more real time feedback on the conversation without looking like they are glazing over. It’s too easy to assume that the introvert is angry at us, or just bored or afraid when they are 1. giving us energy just by being there and 2. internally processing.

Bring It Together

When you put the energy (down time, reflective, away from most social stimuli) and the process (internal, cognitive) together you get your introvert.

It is of course very possible to be an internally processing extrovert, or an introvert who is energised by carefully cultivated social times. Just one of the reasons we shouldn’t be too prescriptive with any of this!

5 Principles For Introverted Youth Ministry

Jody pointed out that you will need both introverts and extroverts on your team to reach a diverse group. He’s bang on the money again, and we will now talk about putting some principles in place to get the most out of exactly this kind of team. Both introverts and extroverts will need to learn new habits and develop a wider awareness and tolerance, which, if trained and led well, will lead to quality, long-lasting youth ministry!

This requires more than just giving introverts space, as the extrovert will be tempted to fill any space that you give. This needs a rethink of our models to develop introverts intentionally and consistently alongside extroverts. Hopefully these 5 principles will be a good start to this process.

1. Stop using the word ‘everybody’

“Everybody get up and jump!”

“Everybody stand up and stay something about yourself!”

That little word ‘everybody’ can send fear right down the spine of the introverted young person, especially if you give them no time to think and process first. Look instead for inclusive but not expected phases that create safe opt-out spaces in your programs and sessions which allow young people to not engage with aspects of the activities without just dropping off the face of the planet.

2. Look For Ways To Show Value

Introverts (like all of us) need to know they are valued for who they actually are, not what an extroverted-youth-programs make them think they should be. One of the best ways to do this is to develop active listening skills. That’s listening which holds eye contact, makes affirming relevant gestures, repeats back what was said, and develops their side of the conversation over yours.

This is essential when they make a contribution to the group. You need to point to it clearly showing that you have understood their intentions and believe that it is valuable. This is something they will go away and process and become part of their historic experience with you – that you are someone who values them within their identity.

3. Stop, Look, Listen

It’s sometimes easier to spot the behaviours of the extrovert, which tend to carry less subtly in a group. We need to be watching the introverts, noticing what they do, and pointing to it. It’s all too easy to look through the introvert to the active extrovert behind them. Take the time to be with them certainly, but notice them when you’re not. We need to be present to and with our introverted young people consistently.

Be a youth leader who sees, hears and notices. Then names it.

4. Create Opt-Out Spaces

Similar to stop using the word ‘everybody’ this is about creating re-energising, processing times and spaces for the introvert. Make space for young people not to be part of everything. This will need some rethinking of our models.

Assuming that all your young people will equally want to do all activities is one thing, but forcing an introvert into a highly uncomfortable extrovert game is going to create a fight or flight response that’s going to be hard to forget – or forgive. So ‘up front’ games and questions should be voluntary – not pointing and naming. Group games and activities should be designed so they are easy to jump in and out of too. Ice-breakers should be easy enough to pass on too. It should be enough to say “I’m Tim, hi!” without having to then go on to explain my 14 favourite types of spatula… unless of course I want to!

This works for spaces too. Youth rooms tend to be noisy and busy, the layout is activity-driven. So having spaces that work for the introvert is a must. We have a ‘quiet room’ in our group setup with head-phoned music, books, colouring, beanbags and simple games. Conversation in their is kept to a minimum.

This is essential because a big fear for the introvert is letting people down;

“If I don’t participate, I’ll let my team down.”

“If I don’t say something, then I’ll let the leader down.”

These times and spaces should be intentional expectations for the fabric of the group – so rather than ‘letting us down’ they are participating in how the group is supposed to work.

5. Cultivate A Culture Of Conversation

Introverts can be incredibly creative and intelligent, and can be amazing conversational partners. In our youth ministry programs, however, sometimes the only time we give to conversation is before or afterwards, or during the break. This is not intentional conversation.

Developing real intentional conversation within our programs needs us to dramatically rethink the content. During one of our groups ‘Redefine’ we make sure every element (talks, prayer, worship, games) each has a give and take philosophy. Talks and teaching always encourage interruptions, we regularly run Q&A, and we put music up on the screen so they can bring their own instruments with them. Everything invites them to participate and add to the conversation. We also run TED nights where they bring their own talks and teaching.

Developing this as a culture – so a regular part of what you do – actually creates a lot more safety and sure-footing for the introvert as well as some healthy engagement for the extrovert. It’s win-win.

Find Out More

This is just the cliff notes of a great 50 minute conversation with Jody. Check out the whole thing at The Longer Haul here. Or on the iTunes podcast here.

This is an ongoing conversation – if you’ve got anything to add, please get in touch, or comment below. 🙂

Also – check out Chloe’s awesome comics on ‘Things Introverts In Your Youth Group HATE!”

When the ‘Father-Heart Of God’ doesn’t work.

I was talking to a classroom of teenagers last week about having parents for part of an explanation of the eternal nature of God. There was a young girl sat on the front row who jerked suddenly, and then glared at me through genuine tears for the next twenty minutes.

The ‘Good Father’ Myth

Parents are not always there and when they are, they are not always good. We cannot simply assume that young people have any real concept of a loving family. This myth has followed our evangelism for quite a long time now, that everyone has some concept of what a ‘good father’ is. It has permeated every part of our worship and still forms the cornerstone of much of our teaching.

The degradation of society, however, just doesn’t back this myth up. 42% of UK marriages end in divorce, almost half of those affect children under the age of 16, and the vast majority of child abuse happens within the family unit. Not everyone knows what a ‘good father’ looks like.

God is Father and He has a true, good Father’s heart towards us. We cannot assume, however, that everyone will understand exactly what that means. The Father metaphor in lots of cases can conjure images of imperfection, brokenness or even neglect and abuse – in some cases it simply leaves confusion or absence. In other scenarios, like what happened in my classroom, it can invoke real, deep pain and propagate ill will towards God.

Incredibly, fatherhood then becomes an obstacle, a stumbling block to a young person falling in love with God.

So what should we do?

How do we respond to this and redeem the image of Fatherhood? Here are two gentle suggestions:

First, rather than talking simply about ‘fatherhood’, we should make sure that we share which specific traits we are talking about: Warmth, protection, compassion, strength, solidity, and leadership. You can actually talk faithfully about the Fatherhood of God by sharing what it means specifically, and you don’t necessarily need to use the word ‘Father’ each and every time.

Second, develop a philosophy that makes God the original form or ideal of what Father means. God is the highest reality of Father, which means He sets the tone for what it really is. Don’t say ‘God loves you like a Father,’ instead say ‘God is the ultimate Father, and He loves you.’ This gentle change of orientation stops us making God in the image of our own broken fathers and creates a new category that He fully inhabits.

A new language for an old truth

My good friend Mark and his wife just had a baby and she is a little knock out! She won’t fall asleep, however, unless she is in physical contact with one of her parents. Mark spends hours sat with this little life sleeping soundly on his belly. Her parents are her safe place, a secure and protected zone of absolutely love and compassion. That’s what good fatherhood does!

Fatherhood can be a beautiful thing – and with God is certainly, always is! However, if we trip up on the first hurdle and can’t get past the word, then we’ll never get to the heart.

We need to speak to this culture about the truth of God as a Father – a truth that breaks chains and dismantles spirals of self-destruction. Our language needs to be basic and specific, and should show a real awareness of the problems many young people have with fatherhood as a concept.

In the way we teach, and the songs we sing we need to reach beyond just the word ‘Father’ and capture the reality behind it.

It is, after all, more important to communicate the real truth than to use the ‘correct’ words.