The Christology of Soul Survivor

Another year, another quality trip to Soul Survivor! We always go and we always love it, and this year was no exception. Brilliant people, great messages, passionate responses and more cheeseburgers than you could fling a ketchup sachet at.

All this said, the ol’ theology student in me still twinges a little bit during these trips. I used to be quite critical and unnecessarily found issues with lots of superfluous areas, but even after maturing deeper and understanding better, a niggle still remains.

It’s like there’s something missing, a foundational ‘something’ that should be holding the pieces together more coherently. This elusive piece shows up in the messages, the seminar choices, and really the whole structure. And I think I may, perhaps have finally put my finger on it.

Its Christology. Or rather lack thereof. See if you can see a pattern from the keynote messages:

  • The first main message of the week was all about responding to Jesus like Levi did.
  • The second was about being brave and expectant with the supernatural and not being afraid to have a go.
  • The third was focused around worry and anxiety, and how to live intimately in the moment with God.
  • The fourth message was about how Jesus loves the broken and wants to fulfill their lives.
  • Message number five was an exposition of tongues and how to pray with tongues.
  • Message six (my favourite) talked about the need to be wowed by God, experience woe at our brokenness, and then go into the world as an evangelist.
  • The final message was about going ‘all in’ for Jesus – giving him your whole life.

Did you notice it? They are all about us. Focused on us as followers and our lives and responses in light of Jesus. There was very little in the messages actually about the specifics of who Jesus is.

Unpacking The Problem

These were all good messages by and large, but they all came across individually and collectively like there was something missing. A perspective off, or a direction reversed. It’s almost like listening to a car enthusiast speaking about high performance sports cars, racing around a track without quite understanding the nature of gravity. You recognise the cars – and the passion for them, but you realise something is a little off in the explanation.

I carefully and gently suggest that what is ‘a little off’ is Christology; the understanding and expounding the person of Jesus Christ directly – and not just in relationship to our responses.

Soul Survivor constantly reminds us that Jesus loves us – and that we should love Him too. Twice during the week, Mike Pilavachi carefully and expertly explained the Gospel, clearly saying what Jesus has done for us. One of these times he did so – I think – because the speaker was calling people to follow Jesus without an explanation of what that actually means. Christology, however, is much more than understanding these Gospel formulas and the essential basics of Jesus’ character.

If Jesus doesn’t work in real life then Jesus doesn’t work. This means we need a real life, relatable Jesus with a full character arc, clear personal traits, and high definition colour individuality: A Jesus that draws the whole Bible together and is tangible and active in the present.

Christology needs us to have arrived at some measure of organic agreement on the who, what, when, where, why and how of Jesus – beyond the formulas and basics. Who is Jesus really, why did He do what He did, what does it look like today specifically, what does this following of Jesus actually look like beyond ‘tell people about Him, worship and adore’. Who is He, who is He, who is He?

When you walk with Him – how do you describe Him? Is it easier to talk about the specific tangible qualities of your wife, husband, mother, father, children or friend? Can you talk about Jesus that clearly and coherently?

A Subtle But Essential Distinction

You can probably tell if an organisation hasn’t got a clear and coherent understanding of Christology when most of the message focuses are placed on people responding to Him, rather than to Him directly.

Did you see the last solar eclipse, or did you watch people watching the solar eclipse? Which one of those two – if you were there – would you describe? Would you focus on the people standing still in the street, gazing up at it, and taking photos? Or would you talk about the eclipse, specifically and in detail?

There is a theological imperative to know the subtle differences between talking about the Jesus we relate to, and talking about the relationship with Jesus. Soul Survivor talked about and engaged with us as the participants – rather than a clearly presented Jesus.

Do We Recognise Your Jesus?

We looked at what it means for us to follow Jesus and to be loved by Him, but without really saying much about Him specifically. This meant that I didn’t always recognise the Jesus they spoke about, because they said very little actually about Him.

I challenge Soul Survivor – and seriously challenge myself – to put more than a bare-bones skeleton of who Jesus is to the young people who will listen.

I want to leave Soul Survivor knowing more of Jesus, not through just a ‘touch of the Holy Spirit’ or a constant reminder of His love (as valuable as these are). I want the messages, and the coherent shape of the entire festival to celebrate the specific qualities of who Jesus really is.

If we’re going to get something right, and have something to celebrate on the last night – then lets pour our energies, passions and efforts into this deeper understanding of the Jesus we relate to, not just the relationship mechanisms themselves.

Event Planning and Brainstorming (free worksheet download)

Every event is different.

Lolz (as my young peeps would say ); only kidding, they’re not really! In fact many events look exactly the same. There’s a bit of a flat-packed culture around youth events which makes us develop very cool looking, but equally shallow and ineffective events. You can check out some of my event posts on this issue here:

So is there a better way?

Yes – it just takes more thought at the initial stages. I have a procedure when planning new events that includes a properly thought-out initial brainstorm. Once an idea has been bought to the table, we subject it to this ‘Initial Event Brainstorm Worksheet’ (download below). This can be brutal, but it totally helps us craft solid events with lasting impact.

This simple sheet covers all the basic who, what, when, where, why, how and if-not-this-then-what questions surrounding an event. It allows us to specifically check out whether it will actually address our particular local context needs, it helps us risk-manage potential issues, and it helps us craft each event as unique to the people we’re reaching out to. Fab.

Talking about event procedure, this Initial Event Brainstorm is part 1 of 4. I will post the others up soon and walk you through how they all work. Find part 2 ‘The Top Sheet’ here. The rest will be posted soon – as will a video-cast on how they work together.

Download it here!

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Initial Event Brainstorm YWH

Whats The Best Way To Use It?

If I’m doing this in a team larger than 3 people, we tend to start with a big piece of paper (A1/A2) and create a star diagram (example below) and then fill in as many potential questions and answers as possible. Once we’ve got all those creative juices flowing, we transfer our conversations into the specific questions asked on the worksheet.

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View A Filled-In Example Here:

EG. Event Brainstorm YWH

Event Top Sheet (free download)

It may look a bit simplistic, but a clear, one-page overview of exactly how an event will actually happen is a pro-active, administrative God-send! Having one to hand has saved my skin on many occasions! It’s one of those deceptively simple little quirks that makes you not only look more efficient – but actually BE more efficient! Winner. After-all, an ‘on-top-of-it’ youth worker is a happy and effective youth worker.

A Top Sheet includes all the basic and practical information on your event. You can easily wing it to a trustee board, grant committee or senior pastor. You can keep an ongoing check on details and resources, and you can hold your team accountable to the right objectives.

These Top Sheets also provide easy reference material for the next time you run a similar event – and just can’t remember how you pulled it off last time! Or (heaven forbid) you can whip them out if a complaint or issue arises later that requires you to show a proper thought-through event procedure.

Talking about event procedure, this Top Sheet is part 2 of 4 of mine. I will post the others up soon and walk you through how they all work. For now – enjoy the Top Sheet!


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Event Top Sheet YWH


Here’s a filled in example:

Top Sheet Eg.



44 Youth Ministry Models

Ok, I lied: there are only really 11 here! Each one, however, will morph dramatically 4 different ways depending on whether your main driving focus is to bring people in, build them up, link them together or send them out.

These 11 (or 44) models of youth ministry are not exhaustive – but you’d be hard pushed to find one that doesn’t broadly fit into one of them. Usually we blend a few together with mixed success.

I’m not really critiquing or endorsing any of them at this point. They are, however, worth considering at both the creative and the strategic level, so have fun!

1. The Funnel Model

The Funnel Model – which was more recently made famous by Doug Field’s Purpose Driven Youth Ministry – has been around since the dinosaurs. The idea is to run several specific projects with different focuses and to funnel people through them as they mature and learn.

The idea is to slowly move people through the projects at a comfortable and accessible pace so they can first feel comfortable, then hear the gospel and accept it.

This is probably what most youth groups use. If you have three projects, such as a large youth club, a mid weak smaller group and Sunday morning Bible study, and you have a goal to eventually see youth club attendees come to the Bible study, then you’re probably using this yourself.

Take care to not play bait and switch by being honest in every stage with your intentions to share Jesus.

2. The Hour Class or Full Circle Model

This is a slightly more modern variation on the funnel model. As the hourglass shape would suggest, once you funnel them into the point you then equip them to be the evangelists and team leaders of the initial projects – thus taking them full circle.

The trap here is a closed circle that has only limited appeal and limited application – thus gets smaller over time.

3. The Incarnational Model

The incarnation was God becoming man in Jesus and living among us. In the same way the youth worker immerses themselves in the lives and culture of young people as a way of living among them.

This is a very widely used model in America and is driven by the compassionate idea that we need to be involved in every aspect of young people’s lives and look for every opportunity to speak gospel truth. Obviously watch out for safeguarding issues!

4. The Cell Model

Organic cells split and multiply – as do Cell Models of youth work. The idea is to start off with one small group and to put all your energy and resources into making that work. It inevitably grows (because of your care and attention) and gets big enough to split into two groups. These groups continue to grow and split exponentially, and your ministry grows.

If not fully committed to this model then it’s easy to end up taking a side road and end up blurring into another model. The key is to make sure that you are constantly multiplying resources and training people to take on leadership roles.

5. The Hub Model

All projects and ministries effectively flow into and out of one central hub. This could be a youth gathering, drop in club, or established centre. I used to run a high street youth cafe which did just this.

A Hub Model is one of the best ways of creating community, but it can also be a stretch on your resources when you inevitably need to branch out into other areas.

6. The Grassroots Model

Very effective in smaller churches! You simply pour all your energy into discipling and equipping a few young people who you are already connected with (most likely though church families), then train them to be incarnational peer evangelists in their schools.

Make sure that these young people are well supported, and be prepared to create something for them to bring friends to.

7. The Institutional Model

The institutional model relies on basing ministry around an already established institution. Usually this will be a school, but it could easily be a library, community centre, sports team or scout troop.

The idea is to serve the needs of the institution first, then sow into it with Gospel truths, thus cultivating a Christian culture from within.

Care needs to be taken that you are honouring the institution by being transparent and servant-hearted.

8. The Enterprise Model

These often work well as social enterprises or social projects. You take an easy business model such as cafe, charity shop or community service project and then develop a Christian ethos into it. You then use young people to staff it as a way of doing vocational training. You use Christian business principles and share the Gospel through the work.

If done properly, this can be an incredibly powerful self-sustaining model. Done badly, it will drain your resources and will not be able to compete in a local market.

9. The Equip Model

Ideally suited to rural areas where young people turn 18 and leave, The Equip Model is purely focused on preparing them for adulthood. Rather than trying to connect young people to the church community for the long haul, you teach them what they will need to successfully find a healthy church community later. This model has a lot of footfall, and can awkwardly need reinventing every year.

10. The Family Focus Model

Currently being trialed by a few large evangelical churches, The Family Focus Model is driven by the conviction that youth segregation is not biblical. Instead of running particular and specific youth projects, it runs things that work for the whole family unit and trains everyone to take care of each other.

This can create an incredible seeker-friendly family environment for a church, but can also make young people on the outside feel isolated and rejected if not watched carefully.

11. The Mentor Model

More charitably this is probably a blend of the Family Focus Model and The Grassroots Model. The idea is to pair up young people with committed individuals in the church that will specifically mentor them personally. You will create projects that get all of young people and mentors together, and you will do training and debriefing with the mentors themselves.

Watch out for safeguarding issues, and know that this will only ever grow as large as the available mentors.

12 Ways American and UK Youth Work Are Different

When I started as a full time youth worker I read every book and listened to every talk I could get my hands on! I found some powerful principles and timeless truths that have been priceless in my ministry with young people.

All the best, most current, official looking and practically driven books and talks that I found came from America. This caused some real problems and disruptions in my job.

Disclaimer… I love America!

Now I love America – so much so that I married an American! I’ve also spoken on an American Camp, helped in an American Church youth group, worked with an American schools-based evangelistic charity and nearly went to an American seminary… twice. I’ve been to a bunch of American churches and spent two years living with a whole bunch of American friends. Just to cross the line into the weird I also stayed up all night to watch the general election coverage after months routinely quizzing my American friends and family on their state polls.


The UK is not America. As much as we love American television, drool over classic American muscle cars and lap up American fashion and food we are not America. We love ‘reality show exchanges’ too – we sent Gordon Ramsay to host Masterchef America and we gained David Hasselhoff for Britain’s Got Talent – although the jury is probably still out on who got the fuzzy end of that lollypop! The UK is simply not the same as America.

In Youthwork

This is really evident when we try to apply contextual American ministry models to UK based Churches. So when I picked up the ministry model in (for instance) Doug Field’s ‘Purpose Driven Youth Ministry’ and tried to slap it onto a South London Church youth club things fell apart.

First off, for each of the 5 areas of purpose he proposes you need a specific group or project to create the funnel effect he’s looking for. Then each of these need their own leadership, bureaucracy, accountability and resources. I ran a pretty big youth club for the UK, but suddenly shaking it up and segregating it this way meant 1. Christians rarely mixed with non-Christians in constructive ways, 2. the leadership group became stretched beyond their means, 3. we were more polarized from the Church itself, 4. the community fell apart and 5. everything shrank and lost its depth. This took three years to rebuild!

Today I visit lots of youth clubs as part of my job, and you can tell pretty quickly which ones, just like I did, have been listening to too much advice from over the pond. It’s not that American youth ministry models don’t work – it’s that they don’t work prepackaged, flat-packed and superimposed over here!

The Cultural, Contextual and Church Differences between the UK and the USA that Impact Youthwork

Some of you might remember that Mark Driscoll, gave a controversial (go figure!) interview last year on the shape and direction of the British Church. This was the first time I really got annoyed at him! Even though he made some fair points, he demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the differences between American and British history and culture, and specifically the church culture which really is wildly different.

I’m going to carefully and (hopefully) open-handedly suggest some differences between the established Youth Work of America and that of the UK.

These aren’t all true across the board, but these do tend to be true of the ministries that publish books and get to speak in the UK. I’m not therefore, saying all American Youth Work looks like this – I’m saying the one’s that most easily get to influence us tend to!

I’m not going to spend time outlining every way these differences affect what we do – hopefully just encourage you to think contextually and culturally when you design youth work in the UK.

So – in no particular order:

1. America is still in ‘some form of’ Christendom whereas the UK is long past it

The UK’s Church driven state is at least 50 years gone now. We are 3 generations behind from when Church attendance was a cultural expectation. This, as a basic rule of thumb, makes our youth clubs and our interaction with family units much smaller. More on this here.


2. American Christian Media is a Much Larger Industry

There is an enormous market in the US for Christian books, films, television, music and magazines whereas in the UK it is virtually non-existent and shrinking. This sometimes contributes towards youth work projects that seek to compete with consumer culture rather than standing against it.

3. America Has a Much More Positive Leader-Worship Culture

This can make American youth ministry much more leader-centric and individual-driven than is necessarily helpful. In the UK we like to beat people down, simple as. We don’t romance about political leaders and we don’t esteem charismatic church leaders quite so high either. The US loves a hero, but in the UK we simply don’t allow people to become heroes.

4. America Has a Recent Mega-Church History

Whatever your view on the ‘mega-church’ we didn’t see a whole lot of it in the UK. In the US however, the emergence of the mega-church completely changed church and mission culture. The mega-churches dried smaller community churches up, stole all the most talented leaders and put them in a melting pot, and they started a trend towards the business model, professional looking and culture competing ministries.

5. America Has More Clearly Defined Expectations For Youth Work

In the UK, employing a full time youth worker is really quite a new thing and – once we’ve done it – we don’t know what to do with them, how to manage them, how to nurture them or how to fit them into the life of the church! In the US, youth work is well established and has a much more understood bureaucracy – for better or for worse.

6. American Youth Clubs Are Simply Bigger

This is mainly because of the Christendom thing – but its true, the average youth club in the UK is about 5 people and its more like 25 in the US. A reasonably large youth group in the UK would be 50+ but gets to several hundred in the US.

7. American Teams Look More Like Teams

With formal interview processes, application forms, regular reviews, project areas, dedicated secretaries and line management strings – American youth ministries have a much more formal team structure than the UK’s general ‘lets see who shows up’ approach. Something that we really could learn from, but in our own culturally specific way.

8. The American Church Doesn’t Have The Same Monarchical History

The UK Church has hundreds of years of political and foreign war-time history saturating it. For examples look at the French Revolution, the emergence of Catholicism, the Reformation, the Crusades and the heavily state-agenda controlled nonsense of Henry VIII, Edward and Victoria. The American church got to observe and learn from this after-the-fact; we’re lumbered with it and all of its decaying baggage.

9. The American Church is Much More Polarised & Politicised

American mainstream-media presented views (recently more-so after the Bush Jr era/error) are incredibly polarized and extreme flanked… even if most of the country are actually centrists. With things like politics, morality/ethics, and theology much more clearly presented in statements and preaching, American churches can be more competitive and polarized than in the UK. This becomes more true when you factor in huge sub-culture driven churches, ethnicity-driven churches, and cult-driven churches.

10. American Youth Work is Better Funded And Resourced

Some of the youth work budgets for American churches would simply blow your mind! In the UK simply having a clearly outlined budget is a miracle! Not to mention that each US State has a bunch of well operated perennial Christian camps and retreats that would make even our best look like a second-hand tent sale.

11. American Youth Work is More System Driven Than Community Driven

To their credit, some AMAZING youth leaders in the States have been saying this for a while. It’s an issue they push against but we don’t necessarily need to as hard.

12. American Separation of Church and State Dictates Schools Work

Unless you work with a private school, talking about Jesus in any context just isn’t going to cut it. In the UK we have far more openness and opportunity to bring Jesus, God and Acts Of Worship into the Schools. The constitution of America simply will not allow the level of overt honesty and openness that we have available here.

So what?

Lets learn from and stand with our American brothers and sisters, but please please please, lets also think how to build a full UK expression of Church in our UK Youthwork! 🙂

How NOT to choose Young Leaders

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 17.34.22Guest comics By Chloe Perrin. Volunteer Youth Worker, Musical Theatre Tutor and Youth Charity Trustee.


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For more of Chloe’s comics check out “Things Introverts In Your Youth Group HATE” here!

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11 Lists That Successful Youth Workers Keep.

I love a good list. Numbers, bullet points, colour coordination and, of course, subheadings. Lists are nectar to the analytical soul! They’re also invaluable if you run Youth Work projects. Here’s a random bunch of my favourites gleaned from talking to amazing youth work practitioners. If you don’t already keep some of these – you might want to think about them.

1. Contacts

Adhering strictly to data protection law, keeping lists of contacts is a must. Keeping a check on young people that you come into contact with, and their parents; Growing a donors and prayer partners database; Friendly teachers and council staff; and finally other practitioners that you can partner with in the work that you do.

2. Goals

I outline a list of about ten specific goals for my projects to accomplish every year. These are broad brush, optimistic yet achievable, and enthusiastic yet measurable.

3. Values

Broader than goals, is a list of values. A short, succinct but specific list of ideals that you can measure all your projects and activities against is very helpful. This takes your theology and ethics and nails them to the door of everything that you do.

4. Tasks

Every morning I lay out a list of tasks need to be accomplished the following day. These are action and communication based, very practical and very specific. I also have a larger task list that includes all my major one-off projects throughout the entire year.

5. Project Bucket List

I have crazy ideas every day that I know I cannot accomplish immediately. These go into my project bucket list. Not only is this a great resource for ideas later, but it has allowed me to always drive the vision forwards.

6. Promises

There are easily hundreds of specific promises made in scripture. At the beginning of a year or a season, I like to go through these and ask God to bring some of them particularly to mind that might be pertinent to the year ahead. I keep these in a handy promises list that can be stuck up above my desk.

7. Prayer Journal

This is a simple two column list of prayers asked and prayers answered. Sometimes this includes lists of people that I’m praying for, or specific projects which have particular needs. I’m always amazed at the prayers answered part by the end of the season.

8. Creative Ideas & Tools

Youth conferences, training days, books, magazines and blogs are full of ridiculously creative ideas and tools. I copy and paste as many of these as possible into a creative ideas list to dip into throughout the entire year of events and clubs.

9. Expenses

If you don’t already, it is really important to keep track of your expenses. I’m good at tracking them, but I’m rubbish at claiming them! I always get to them, but rather later than I mean to. Keeping a clear track of expenses helps you understand your handle on stewardship, as well as God’s provision.

10. Icebreakers

Almost every single thing that I do requires an icebreaker to get people talking independently and sharing together. It’s always worth having access to an icebreaker list. I’ll make things easier: here is one ready made for you!

11. Holidays

Okay, not so much list as much as a properly planned calendar, but if you make a list at the beginning of the year which includes all your major projects and school dates, then you should be able to work out your entire year of holidays too! If you’ve been in youth work for more than a couple of years then you’ll know exactly why I’m saying that. Get them listed and get them booked!

Enjoy, everybody – and lists ahoy!

7 Ways To Lead People Older Than You – on

A wee while back, I was approached to write a couple of articles of by it’s founder Joel Preston. The whole site is full of quality articles and I would heartily recommend it to you.

The first of my articles went up online, and you can read it here. It’s a simple set of tools used to evaluate objectively your ministry projects. I hope that it’s helpful!

Evaluating Ministry – Post On Lead

A wee while back, I was approached to write a couple of articles of by it’s founder Joel Preston. The whole site is full of quality articles and I would heartily recommend it to you.

The first of my articles went up online, and you can read it here. It’s a simple set of tools used to evaluate objectively your ministry projects. I hope that it’s helpful!

Youth Work USP

What is your Youth Work USP? What do you bring to the table that other young people’s activities don’t?

Often completely alien to the compassion and chaos of the youth work world is the cold and competitive rigours of business. The latter is where USP – that’s unique service provision or unique selling point – comes from.

You might believe that business, sales and marketing strategies should have nothing to do with Christ-saturated youth ministry. You may believe that I’m leading you into a callous, sub-biblical and secular world of professionalism. You may also believe that I’ve simply watched too many episodes of The Apprentice – which might possibly be true!

The truth is, however, that you are probably already employing such strategies – albeit under the guise of mission statements, vision casting and prayer meetings. Business uses different language to ask effectively the same question: how can we best steward resources to have the biggest possible effect?

USP is key to this and incredibly important to nail if you want to succeed in youth work.

If you cannot clearly articulate and communicate what it is that your programs uniquely offer to young people that is above all the other trappings of the world, then they have no reason to join you.

If you can’t say loud and proud what makes your offerings so much better than a Friday night on the slosh, or a Sunday morning xbox fest, then it could account for why you only have three people showing up!

Too many youth programs hide their unique services and values under generic activities that are also provided by just about every other competing activity. Live music and entertainment can be gotten from loads of places – it’s called youtube and a sneaky pint.

Your Youth Work USP

What is it you do that other potential activities don’t?

– Do you offer a safe and compassionate community where outcasts are welcome and accepted?
– Is it direction on how to connect to the maker of the universe?
– Are you giving opportunities to feed the poor and help the homeless?
– Do you give help becoming a holistic person?
– Are you offering the key to fulfilment found in Jesus?

What is your USP? Find it, nail it, and clearly communicate it!

The USP of one of my groups is a welcome invitation to be part of a family that takes care of each other and seeks truth together. This means my ‘youth group’ works for ages 11-25, and is full of both fun activities and spiritually searching worship and study.

This USP attracts many young people who feel isolated and rejected in their own family, and it attracts those who are interested in philosophy and spirituality more generally. The USP drives what we do each night and helps form the culture of questioning, mentoring and peer-to-peer care outside the meeting times. We’ve seen many young people saved from this group!

If you want to attract spiritually aware, community producing, open-to-Jesus young people – then ‘market’ that as your USP in all of your publicity materials. That niche will be on the lookout and they will come!

Once you have developed and grown those young people, then you can set your sights broader as young people will always attract more young people. Too many of us do that backwards – start with an impossibly broad club that competes with secular groups and then try to niche it down. We overfeed on hype which seemingly works well for a couple of years (without a lot of commitments to Jesus to show for it), then we crash, burn and close down.

Find your USP! Be proud of it. Market to it and develop those who come. Then you can build a broader mission strategy off the back of that community. Winner.

More info

If you’d like to think about how to find your USP, check out an article I wrote for here. If you’d like personal help developing your USP, understanding how to more clearly articulate it or building a group off it, then get in touch via the training page. Thanks!