Why we need Sync – a new resource from Youth For Christ – by Grace Wheeler

Grace Wheeler is the National Evangelist at Youth for Christ. You can explore the free Sync resources here and see the Youtube channel here.


As a communicator, one of the things I’ve always used to connect with people is stories. I tell stories about dogs, about inspiring people, but mostly about me! This is not because I love myself, it’s because I know me best and when I share something of my life it connects with my audience.

Stories are powerful.

I don’t know about you, but I can remember the stories I read as a child, curled up with my mum on the sofa or fighting sleep as I settled down for the night. And I do so for a very good scientific reason. When we hear stories, our brain secretes powerful chemicals: cortisol, which makes us pay attention, oxytocin (the same hormone that bonds mother and baby), which makes us feel empathy for the story’s characters, and dopamine (the chemical abused by ‘fun enhancing’ substances), which makes us feel good when there is a happy ending. Moreover, brain scans during storytelling reveal that the same chemical patterns are observed in both teller’s and hearer’s brains. It’s as if you sync your mind to the other person’s using the power of story. It’s as if Jesus knew what he was doing when he used parables to communicate the deep truths of the cosmos.

And in youth culture stories resonate even more. When you use Snapchat or Insta these days you are not just invited to capture a moment in time but to tell a story. Our music videos and computer games have evolved. The story is central to them.

‘It’s as if you sync your mind to the other person’s using the power of story.’

What does this have to do with evangelism?

Recently I have been captivated by the idea that in evangelism, three stories collide. We have a story, God has a story, and our friend who does not yet know Jesus also has a story. Great evangelism is about bringing these stories together through the power of relationship. One of the first steps here is to know your own story.

Purpose, forgiveness, friendship, belonging, change, hope, life, love, adventure, guidance, mission. All these words help young people tell a story of the difference Jesus makes in their life. St Peter writes, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15). One of the best things we can do for our young people is to prepare them to tell their story.

As an evangelist, I am compelled by the idea that if every Christian young person knew their story, God’s story, was praying for a few mates, and was committed to intentional relationships with those around them – then the viral potential for the Gospel could be unleashed in a new way. That’s why at Youth for Christ we have created Sync, a Youtube channel to help young people know their story and be inspired to share it. I would love you to check it out and run it for free with your young people.

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.

The Selfish Gospel by Freddie Pimm – Well worth the time!

In ‘The Selfish Gospel’, Freddie Pimm does an outstanding job of presenting a raw challenge to an apathetic church in a me-centred society.

Using the diagnostic tools Pimm gained as a doctor, he roots out a problem at the heart of our understanding of the message of Jesus; that we have made the acts of the selfless saviour a selfish comfort.

This countercultural perspective lifts us out of the mire of humanistic selfishness, and into a radical and transformational ideal – that to give everything for Jesus is the only way to live fully alive.

Pimm explores the discipleship model of Jesus with his apostles and encourages us likewise to be an imitator of Jesus first and foremost. It was Jesus of course who said that if anyone would follow him, they should deny themselves and take up their cross daily. Pimm challenges us to look that full in the face and embrace it as a genuine way to live.

He expands this idea by contrasting the locked in and closed down nature of churches against the transformative and relevant mission of Jesus.

Pimm does well at weaving the Bible into his analysis and gives a layman’s way into understanding more difficult conversations on contextualised local mission, and the true nature of the Church in relation to God’s Kingdom.

This quick, yet challenging read is well worth it.

That time when the youth pastor tired to cast demons out of a young person… and went too far.

A few years back I received a message at 4am from a young person totally freaked out. His youth group and two full-time youth workers tried to cast ‘demons of legalism’ out of him by screaming at him as he lay on the floor for an hour.

The young lad had come from a conservative Anglican background, which meant he was quite different to others in the youth club. His questions and worship style was apparently symptomatic of legalistic demon activity!

So cold, dark and rejected he was yelled at ‘in the name of Jesus’ while on the floor for an hour.

As much as I totally believe in deliverance ministry, this experience was just insane. The fear, exposure and humiliation of such an event was quite simply wrong. This was a black-and-white case of spiritual and institutional abuse. A safeguarding nightmare and totally inappropriate.

It’s hard to think of a clearer example of how poor theology leads to poor practice.

It’s not like his church was known for being a particularly hyper-charismatic church; but the youth leaders had a very selective church exposure and even narrower training. That young lad is now an adult, those two youth pastors have moved away, and the youth club has been all but decimated – who knows with what kind of baggage. They have not been able to rebuild a working youth ministry.

I spent some years working with him after this terrifying experience, but I imagine that it will be with him for the rest of his life. It will colour his experience of Jesus, and will probably come out in social situations through anxiety, fear and rejection.

Youth ministry is never a game, and it’s never a power-trip. We are curators of an enormous amount of influence. We rely, of course, on the grace and mercy of Jesus; but lets do all we can to temper raw spirituality with considered theology. Let’s do this in a carefully cultivated community – a safe, compassionate, diverse, tolerant and open environment for young people to meet with their Father in heaven, who abundantly exudes all of these traits.

The 3 Most Misused Verses in Youth Ministry

1. Matthew 18:20 – When two or more are gathered…

This is often used in defense of youth church, or youth groups being a church alternative.

‘Well all you need for church is two or three believers and a cheeky Nandos… boom!’
‘Me and my mate do church in the car listening to Hillsong!’

There’s two whopping problems with this:

  1. God is in lots of places that aren’t church; that’s kinda the deal with omnipresence. God’s presence alone doesn’t make something church.
  2. Church is lots of other things than just gathering (or in the actual context of the verse, correction and discipline). Church should probably include things like worship, teaching, scripture reading, a wider variety of people, sacraments etc. too.

Making a specific group is fine – but using this verse to call your group group ‘church’ is a little bit naughty! Being Christian does not equal being church. #wristslap

2. Jeremiah 29:11 – I have an epic plan for you…

‘God has an amazing (kinda) plan for your life (true if you add an ’s’) which, if you find it (how?), you will never get bored, hurt, needy, depressed, or confused (just no).’

We use this to help us push through hardship in the hope of getting to something better by tapping into God’s secret blueprint for our lives.

The problem though is, in context, this is not what God was offering to the Israelites. He was not promising to sort out their struggles and send them home from exile. In v.7 he says they can prosper right where they are.

This verse is not about some individual future blessing or plan, its about the whole people of God communicating with and depending on Him right slap bang in the middle of suffering and trial. And isn’t that so much better? Teach that instead!

3. 1 Timothy 4:12 – Don’t let anyone look down on you because of your youth…

This is one of those weird greek words that could basically mean anyone under the age of forty. Timothy was about 15-16 when Paul met him on his missionary journey (Acts 16:1), but the letter was written about 14 years later. This makes Tim around 30!

Even though the sentiment is true, there are better examples of actually young people who did amazing things in the Bible – like the disciples.

Essential Theology Reading List For Youth Workers

Ok – so this is not a specific youth worker reading list -sorry! It is, however, a broad but relatively deep theology list on issues that all ministers and pastors should have a grip on. Youth workers – this is you too!

A friend has just finished a short correspondence course on theology that was quite specific in it’s approach. He asked me to put a basic list together of broad evangelical scholarship and laity books that would be useful to spend a year reading to widen his approach. This is that list!

If you have done an undergrad seminary course, many of these really should be familiar to you anyway.

A * next to a title means, ‘if I could only read one book a month I would read these’.

There are many, many other great books, websites and journals that I’d love to add, and I’m not necessarily endorsing all of the theology or ideas contained in this list. This is enough, however, to help you think though issues conversationally and realistically in a year… or so.

If anyone is interested, I might add an ‘essential commentary list’ too at some point.



*Know The Truth – Bruce Milne
Systematic Theology – Wayne Grudem
Books 1&2 of Calvin’s Institutes (Vol. 1)

Christian Living

*Desiring God – John Piper
Knowing God – Jim Packer
The Religious Affections – Jonathan Edwards
Love Does – Bob Goff
Velvet Elvis – Rob Bell

Specific Issues

*The Cross Of Christ – John Stott
Engaging With God – David Peterson
The Difficult Doctrine Of The Love Of God – Don Carson
Doctrine Of The Knowledge Of God – John Frame
On The Incarnation – Athanaisius
The Holy Trinity – Robert Letham
The Atonement – Leon Morris
The Bondage Of The Will – Martin Luther
Historical Theology – Alister McGrath
The Doctrine Of God – Gerald Bray
*The Passion Of Jesus Christ – John Piper

Bible & Exegesis

Listening To The Spirit In The Text – Gordon Fee
God’s Empowering Presence – Gordon Fee
*How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth – Gordon Fee
To What End Exegesis – Gordon Fee
*Exegetical Fallacies – Don Carson
*Gospel & Kingdom – Graham Goldsworthy
The Prophetic Imagination – Walter Brueggemann
Reading The Bible With Heart And Mind – Tremper Longman II
Introduction To The New Testament – Carson, Moo & Morris
From Paradise To The Promised Land – T.D. Alexander
Perspectives On The Word Of God – John Frame
*Dig Deeper – Andrew Sach & Nigel Baynon
Grasping God’s Word – Duvall Hays
The New Testament Background – C.K. Barrett
An Introduction To The Old Testament – Dillard, Brown, Longman II

Discipleship & Spirituality

The Cost Of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoffer
*The Divine Conspiracy – Dallas Willard
The God Who Is There – Francis Schaeffer
Confessions – Augustine
Holiness – J.C. Ryle
The Wounded Healer – Henri Nouman
The Imitation Of Christ – Thomas A Kempis


*The Gagging Of God – Don Carson
*Apologetics To The Glory Of God – John Frame
Convergence – Sam Storms
The Reformed Pastor – Richard Baxter
*The Contemplative Pastor – Eugene Peterson
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
*The Universe Next Door – James Sire
The Supremacy Of God In Preaching – John Piper
Preaching With Purpose – Jay Adams
No Perfect People Allowed – John Burke
Emerging Worship – Dan Kimball
*Death By Love – Mark Driscoll
Christian Youth Work – Ashton & Moon


When Youth Work Is Supposed To Be Difficult

This morning I had a great chat with a leader of a national youth project that develops events and camps where young people are expected to work hard, study and learn more about God. It runs totally counter to much of our popular youth work models, but is also exponentially growing and spreading nationally every year, developing incredibly enthusiastic and mature young people.

In contrast, one of the most popular youth work models of the last few decades has been the ‘Funnel Method.’ Made popular by Dough Fields’ ‘Purpose Driven Youth Ministry,’ the idea is to run several projects aimed at different crowds with different content and funnel young people down from easy-to-attend, accessible events, into deeper more clearly Christian groups.

In the funnel method, you effectively start with a large crowd event that makes connections and does very basic (if any) Gospel teaching. From that first connection, you invite attendees to a slightly smaller, but still accessible group (like an Alpha Course) that goes into a little more detail about the Christian Faith. The next step is to look for conversions, and move those into a smaller and more specific group aimed at new believers. You then develop this further into yet again smaller and deeper groups, ending with a core community of young people who are leading and maturing.

Fields goes into great detail about how this is done, and why it can be successful; and he’s right, it can be very successful if it’s done properly, is well resourced, and if it matches the needs of the context that you’re in.

So What’s The Problem?

The funnel method can be a little ‘bait n’ switch’ calling young people to a fun event without being honest about what you’re doing. Jesus always immediately called people to Himself without needing to warm them up. It can also create a fragmented youth ministry complete with worn-out and under-resourced leaders.

The bigger problem though, is when the vibe of the first accessible project trickles down into all the others. This is when the funnel method is done badly, or is being pushed into a context that doesn’t fit it.

What I mean is this: If you’re finding it hard to get attendees at the smaller projects it’s easy to water down the content, and add more comfortable activities taken from the larger events. This is especially true when young people are introduced to you as the ‘fun group’ but now you’re asking them to do ‘boring stuff.’ So every project becomes a games night with a God slot, or a disco with a couple of Christian songs thrown in. Your real discipleship never gets off the ground.

The Candy Culture

If you haven’t yet seen ‘That Sugar Film’ by Damon Gameau, or Jamie Oliver’s American ‘Food Revolution’ then you should! Not only will these freak the sugar right out of you, they go into detail about the biological changes that happen in your body in a sugar heavy diet.

Tim Hawkins, in ‘Fruit That Will Last’ makes this same link to sugar-styled youth ministry projects. These are projects that dial up the fun and stimulus constantly, without demanding any real work at following Jesus. He says,

“‘Hype’ is like sugar in your diet. A splash of it every now and again livens things up amazingly. Life gets a little dull without it. But if your total diet is sugar, then it won’t build ‘fruit that will last’. Feeding kids on sugar will always have 3 results
i. an initial rush of energy
ii. then they will be flat
iii. then they will be fat.”

If you never move into a real space where young people have to work at their relationship with Jesus, coached by leaders who genuinely walk with and educate them, then you’re creating a youth ministry without lasting believers.

These young people will not be able to grow and develop into fully functioning members of a church, or be able to rely on God in a substantive way when life gets real. If they are able to do these things, then they’re probably being mentored by something or someone outside your youth work – which makes your ministry pretty redundant right?

The Bible’s Pattern

Young People throughout the Bible were educated by their religious leaders. In fact, it was only relatively recently that education was separated from religion. Robert Raikes founded the Sunday School Movement to teach young people in church that weren’t being educated by the state.

In the Old Testament, the whole nation of Israel was involved in teaching about God’s promises. This was a constant thing which was woven into the fabric of their lives.

‘These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live… 7 Impress them on your children’ [Deuteronomy 6:1-7 ].

In Proverbs, we are given a complete educational theory that revolves around young people learning God’s own wisdom.

In the New Testament we are introduced to the method of Jewish Education, the latter stages of which was used by Jesus with his young disciples. Young people who go to school for a couple of hours every morning, 5 or 6 days a week to simply memorise huge portions of the Old Testament. Then they were taught how to study and apply these teachings wisely to their lives.

Education Vs. Youth Club

What we have done, I fear, is spent a huge portion of the last half century doing is driving a wedge between school and youth ministry. We don’t ever want to hear ‘this feels like school’ from a young person. Our mission has been to make everything fun, unique and distinct. There is definitely a lot of good that has come from this approach too! It’s also hard to blame us, considering the among of expectations and undue pressure our school systems place on young people’s shoulders.

There’s also a ‘baby and bathwater’ metaphor that comes to mind, however. We all too easily straight-jacket ourselves into just doing cute things to the point where we lose any cultural expectation to study, learn and develop.

Bringing It Together

We really need to harmonise some learning environment culture with our youth projects and ministry. There needs to be an expectation of hard work and education that happens in our youth work projects. Times do need to be set apart for real Bible Study, meditation and reflection. Space needs to be given over to substantive ethical and philosophical discussion. This can still work in a funnel method, but you need to make clear boundaries and set genuine expectations which you stick to right from day one.

Let’s not be afraid to be educators, and lets not freak out at the idea of doing real Bible study and deep reflections. We are youth workers, so have the right stuff to make this engaging, relevant and authentic. Let’s get stuck in!

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 🙂


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.