What makes a ‘rubbish’ youth group work?

I sometimes wonder about our standards for what constitutes ‘good’ youth groups.

If young people are as varied as humanity itself (which they are), and a leader’s love for them can express itself in many different ways (which it can) – then who are we to decide if it’s quality youth work?

I get to visit lots of different youth clubs as part of my job – and one of the things I’m supposed to do is say what’s not working and how to fix it. A few years ago I visited a ‘rubbish’ youth club.

The Group

It met in the evening; too late to be an after school group and too early to be an evening out. It was right around dinner time, so the kids were missing food and missing family time.

The meeting – which was a completely random mix of young children and teenagers – gathered round a few nasty looking go-pack tables, sharing over-diluted orange squash, and too-soft biscuits that had been stored in cling-film.

There were no games, and a completely incomprehensible craft. The materials they used were both too young for most of the group, and too dated to have been considered relevant for any of them; the weirdest bit though – was the youth leader.

The Leader

She was about 85 years old, wearing every manor of doily, and smelling faintly like old spice and fish. She sat a the end of the table and ruled the room like a quietly spoken drill master. I sat in the corner making a long mental list of everything wrong with how she ran the group.

At the end of the session, this leader broke the news to the young people that, because of her diminishing health, she would have to step down from being their leader. I was totally unprepared for the response.

Tears. Everywhere. From the youngest children to the hardened 16 year old boys. There were quiet sobs, many hugs, and a real brokenness in the group. She then proceeded to talk to every single person around the table one by one to tell them what she loved about them, and what her favourite memory was of each of them.

She had remembered everything! And – as was clear from her examples – she had spent decades opening up her whole life to these young people. She had taught many of them to bake; she was a math tutor to several more; she had provided a home for some who had lost parents, or had run away. She had looked after their parents, and she had been there for many of them, literally, since birth.

I had never seen anything like it!

They were committed to coming to this ‘terrible’ youth group, because she had committed to loving them.

I had never seen love like that.

The Love

These were healthy, holistic, cared for, supported, nurtured, discipled young people – in the worst looking youth club I’d ever seen – technically speaking.

Let’s get our youth clubs right, of course! Let’s be clear, fun, relevant, engaging, and accessible. But – so much more than that – let’s love.

If we get nothing else right – let’s get that right. Let’s love these young people. It’s that which holds everything together, it’s that that makes the pieces work, and it’s that which changes young lives.

Love transforms everything – genuinely. Whether or not you can afford the latest gadgets, or coolest paint scheme is irrelevant if you don’t love first.

1 Cor. 13

Photo by Kev Seto on Unsplash

Why study with the Institute for Children Youth and Mission (CYM)? – By Sally Nash

This is the first in a new youthworkhacks series called ‘why study…’ Inspired by this – each post will be written by an experienced youth ministry trainer who will us you their thoughts while sharing about their particular institution.

Rev Dr Sally Nash is the director of Midlands Institute for Children Youth and Mission (CYM), the director for Undergraduate Studies Institute for CYM and Chaplaincy Centre Researcher for Paediatric Spiritual Care.

 

Watch this – learning to be me by Ria Taylor a CYM student

Ria Taylor – Learning to be me…

My first response to this question which Tim asked me is to say talk to our students! That is why there is a five-minute video to watch, a piece of spoken word from Ria one of our students.  It was part of her final assessment at the end of a three-year full time undergraduate degree in Youth and Community Work and Practical Theology with a nationally recognized JNC professional youth work qualification.

CYM – a partnership organization

I was one of a team of people who helped to set up CYM back in the 1990s and the word team is important. We have always been a partnership organization wanting to show how youth work and academic organizations can work together to deliver good training rooted in great practice.  I was working for Youth for Christ at the time and joined with colleagues from Frontier Youth Trust and Oxford Youth Works, national denominational leaders and others to create a new sort of opportunity for people with a passion for ministry who wanted to become even better in their role.  CYM offers training at Further Education levels 1, 2 and 3 across England and at undergraduate level in Nottingham and Belfast and postgraduate level study blocks are in Nottingham and Belfast.  We can also deliver specialist continuing professional development training validated at levels 4 or 7 in a wide variety of topics which come with a University Certificate of Credit.

Why train?

I believe that training is vital for everyone who works with young people. I can think of no other field where people would be allowed to do this without the appropriate training first. As Ria says in the film, she has a qualification which gives her equal status to other people who work with young people – social workers, teachers etc. She doesn’t have to go into an encounter in an apologetic way, she is there by right of having a professional role in a young person’s life.

One of the key decisions you need to make in terms of training to work with young people is if you want this JNC professional qualification as part of it. It gives you a wider range of options post-graduation as it is recognized by people like the NHS as an appropriate qualification for work in a hospital, for example. You still get to study theology and include theological reflection in all your academic work but you also get the opportunity to do a significant alternative placement in a secular context as well as a community focused one alongside your main placement. You get to explore and test out vocational choices as you go along.

What’s involved?

On the undergraduate course with CYM in England you live in the area your placement is and travel fortnightly to St John’s College Nottingham for a two-day teaching block in term time (In Ireland you travel weekly to Belfast).  You do 14 hours a week in your placement and the rest of the time is for study.  If you want to do our postgraduate JNC option you would travel to two 3-4 day study blocks and some optional study days.  If you are looking at a career change then the postgraduate option could be for you and you can study that part time if you are doing at least 2 sessions a week of youth work so you can train alongside a job.

We have a wide range of students studying with us, our undergraduates range from 18 to 50 something and are from all sorts of different backgrounds and church traditions.  Some may have 3 good A levels, others will not have studied formally for 20 or more years.  For everyone that joins us we are committed to helping you fulfil your potential.  Every student has a personal tutor they relate to and become part of a supportive community who learn, worship and have fun together!

Both our undergraduate and postgraduate courses are eligible for student loans (undergraduate fees are £6000 a year and postgraduate £6000 for the whole Masters degree) and some placements will offer financial support too.

We also specialize in running chaplaincy courses and you can join us for anything between a week and a three-year undergraduate or postgraduate degree!  We recently published a Grove Youth Series booklet on Chaplaincy with Children and Young People and have set up a Centre to support work in that area – see www. Stjohns-nottm.ac.uk for more details.

If you want a more ministry focused degree then we offer a BA in contextual ministry where you can choose placements that support you learning in that context.  We also offer a very flexible postgraduate course where we work with you 1-1 to help you put together options which enhance your professional development as well as some core modules.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out more check out our website www.cym.ac.uk or book in for an open day.

If you are interested in reading something on our approach to youth work and youth ministry read Christian Youth Work in Theory and Practice edited by Sally Nash and Jo Whitehead published by SCM (You can order one from mcym@stjohns-nottm.ac.uk for £15 including postage quoting youthworkhacks to get this price – cheaper than Amazon!).  We also established the Grove Youth Series at MCYM and can recommend those for an accessible introduction to a wide range of topics!  https://grovebooks.co.uk/collections/youth

 

Rev Dr Sally Nash

Director, Midlands Institute for Children Youth and Mission

Director for Undergraduate Studies Institute for Children, Youth and Mission

Researcher in Chaplaincy Centre for Paediatric Spiritual Care

Facebook:

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CYM – Institute for Children Youth and Mission

Twitter:

@mcymnews

@cymnews

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

5 forms of criticism that I’ll always ignore… or try to!

Exactly a year ago I wrote a post called ‘7 Ways Not To Complain To Your Youth Worker’. As a result I received comments and messages from other youth leaders that had gone through the same things. Some of the stories they shared were just heartbreaking.

This made me realise that we’re not done with this topic yet.

Critique is vital to health; it’s so important to have an objectivity about the work that we do, and a humble perspective on the difference between ‘God’s’ work and ‘ours.’ We need to keep ourselves accountable to trusted, godly men and women who will feedback with clarity and gentleness on our ministries. We need to be open to challenge so that we can truly grow as teachable and dependable ministers of the gospel.

Without an openness to healthy critique, we are just asking to fail.

However…

What do you do when the feedback is poorly given, ill-conceived, spiritually dangerous, or just personally stupid?

I don’t mean what do you do if you don’t like or agree with the feedback. There’s lots of stuff that we won’t like or agree with that will contain nuggets of truth that we need to listen to. This is a post, however, on how to identify feedback that needs to be left by the door.

I recently (ish) received some ‘feedback’ that was hurtful and – frankly – just wrong. As a result I spoke to some friends that I genuinely trust for their perspective – trying to find out if there was some truth that I couldn’t hear because of my upset. One of these guys said to me that he believed some feedback was a form of abuse, and needed to be disregarded quickly before it stuck.

Some critique must not be allowed room to breath.

So I’ve called this ‘5 forms of criticism that I’ll always ignore.’ A more honest title however, would be ‘5 forms of criticism that I’ll try to ignore’ or ‘5 forms of criticism that I really really should ignore.’ The truth is I’m human, and if you get punched to the gut, it hurts!

Hopefully, however, we can all team up on this, and support each other by identifying some kinds of criticism that really don’t need to be taken seriously. If there are nuggets of truth, we need to pray and ask God to reveal those to us in healthy ways that we can action unconditionally. Some feedback, however, needs to be named and shamed, and not even given time of day.

1. Hostage feedback

This is feedback that won’t let you off the hook. It’s forceful, repetitive, and needs very specific agreements. Feedback that holds you hostage usually comes in the form of a conversation that’s impossible to leave. ‘Thank you very much, I’ll go away think about it’ just doesn’t work.

When someone holds you hostage to their feedback, they’re expecting very particular agreements to what they’re saying, and very specific and immediate appropriation of their suggestions. It’s all on their terms. The ransom is only paid in complete submission and total surrender to their opinion.

If the person giving you feedback doesn’t respond appropriately to your need to go away and process it, then – rudely if necessary – turn and walk away.

2. Delivered via gossip

Thirdhand, or ‘gossip’ feedback, is when someone is hoping you’ll hear their criticism without getting their fingerprints on it. Criticism via gossip means they have spoken to everyone but you. The most hideous form of this is when it arrives on your doorstep via your wife, your husband, or your kids.

Gossip is an issue that needs to be tackled at the pastor level; however it is worth identifying the source, approaching them directly, and getting them to tell you their problem eye-to-eye. It’s always important to call gossip out, otherwise it festers and continues.

3. Without proper examination

I recently received feedback from someone I’ve never spoken to before that questioned my very relationship with God after they walked out of my session three minutes in. Not only did they leave with the exact opposite point that was delivered, but they made huge assumptions and bold assertions with very little information. There was no questions, no listening, and no attempt to understand. It was an attack – quite literally – on nonexistent content.

This particular feedback was given in anger (which isn’t always a problem) and was fuelled by significant misunderstanding. In this case I really struggled to let it go as it called my faith in God to account. So I sent my recorded talk to several friends who are theologically solid and not afraid to challenge me. They left with the opposite impression than the person who left early. Their feedback suggested a personal trigger, rather than a problem in the content.

If any feedback given doesn’t flow from the information that was available, then it’s probably fuelled by something else – something that’s personal to the individual. Don’t digest it – it’s probably not about you.

4. Overgeneralised and unspecific feedback

‘You’re always doing this’, or ‘you’ve never been like that’, or even ‘that project you run is total shambles!’ I’ve had all three of those.

Feedback, and especially criticism, needs to be given in love with the hope of edification and correction. This means it needs prior thought and careful steps before delivery. Usually overgeneralised and unspecific feedback means there is simply a difference of opinion – maybe they just don’t like you!

My response is usually ‘sorry, I can’t work with that, can you bring me a particular circumstance or tell me a specific example.’ If they can’t – leave it behind.

5. Overreaching feedback

2+2 equals a sack of bananas, right? Overreaching feedback points to a problem, then makes a totally inappropriate conclusion. Like someone saying you need to rethink your relationship with God… because there was a broken window at youth club.

In a previous position, someone complained in our eldership meeting that I didn’t want to go on their suggested safeguarding course. Their conclusion was that it was inappropriate for the church to hire a youth worker who wasn’t trained in safeguarding. Of course I had done lots safeguarding training, I just didn’t like the particular flavour of the course they were suggesting.

Feedback should flow between problem, consequence, and solution. If there is serious disconnect, then disregard.

But what if they’re right?!?

And here is my big problem! I don’t disregard a lot of feedback that comes in these various ways because I want to be open to change and growth. I don’t want to be a feedback snob! And there could be valid criticism buried beneath all that goop!

However, I have my whole life the work on problems, and I know that my work is held accountable to people who’ve earned the right to speak into it. I’ve regularly got things to work on, and all of my work is held accountable to a manager, a board, a team, good friends, and committed mentors. This affords me the space to be discerning about when feedback is given inappropriately.

So don’t be afraid feedback – surround yourself with people who love you, are smarter than you, and are not afraid to hold you accountable. If you have a system in place for healthy criticism you won’t need to jump at every wagging finger.

In a future post we will consider these five areas again, but in reverse – and talk about more appropriate ways to give feedback.

Thanks for reading!

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

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.

A different way to evangelise – 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.

I remember clearly when my faith became an exciting prospect for me.
I had been a Christian for about 5 years, and was travelling in Australia for a few months. Someone had very kindly given me an audiobook on CD (I know, I’m old) of Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis. This was at the height of Rob’s influence in the Christian world, back before the cliff edge that Love Wins became.

I was on a train from Sydney to Newcastle, a journey of around 3 hours, and was listening, when something Rob said jumped out and grabbed me;

“I’m convinced being generous is a better way to live. I’m convinced forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way to live. I’m convinced having compassion is a better way to live. I’m convinced pursuing peace in every situation is a better way to live. I’m convinced listening to the wisdom of others is a better way to live. I’m convinced being honest with people is a better way to live.”

During all the time I had been a Christian I had never heard anyone speak about Christianity like this. It was all about personal salvation, it was all to do with the cross and forgiveness. It was about what happened after death, I couldn’t recall anyone saying that it was about living before that.

This feeling has come back to me recently as I have been thinking about the way that we evangelise, and more generally, about how we talk about faith in the Church.

It seems that we are obsessed with the death of Jesus, but can take or leave His life.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus are absolutely non-negotiable in any understanding of orthodox Christianity, but in focusing so clearly on the end of Jesus’ life, I believe that we have missed something significant. If we can redress this balance, I think there are three significant impacts we could see:

1. It shows us the best way to be Human

Through His life Jesus shows us the best way to be human, the best way to be an image bearer of God. He shows us a better way to live.

For a while now Christianity has been plagued by a version of humanism, the idea that human reason and logic are all that is needed for a better world. Some parts of Christianity have taken this idea, and said that because we are image bearers, we are able to make this a better world in our own strength.

The problem with this is that it is untrue, it is not our idea of image bearing that matters, but what Jesus shows us about being image bearers.

2. It reminds us we are called to build God’s Kingdom

If we can call young people to a better way to live, as well as to salvation beyond, then we can help to grow excitement in them for building God’s Kingdom on Earth.

This ties into an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith, of tzedekah and mishpat. These literally mean righteousness and justice, but in their Jewish forms, evoke ideas of righteousness as something given by God, and of going from retributive justice to restorative justice.

If a young person makes a commitment to Christianity at age forteen, there is a lot of life still to live between their commitment and the results of their salvation. But if that same young person is taught about tzedekah and mishpat, then they can see how their life can tie into this incredible, rich tapestry of people building the Kingdom of God. They can live for a purpose greater than any other.

3. We can make our evangelism more effective.

Millennials and post-millennials are keen to make the world a better place. They want to see equality in wealth, health, education, standards of living, and gender. They want to see peace.

And Christianity has an umbrella for all of these ideas to come under. If we can show people hungry for change that all of these causes can fit into the Kingdom, then think what a different picture that paints of the Church.

It ceases to be an institution desperate to serve and save itself, and becomes a movement that seeks to serve others. It becomes something people want to be a part of.

Final thoughts

Jesus died for the sins of the world, but let’s not forget that He lived a life as well. His life was more than a way to get to the cross, it was to show us how to live as image bearers, how to be Kingdom builders, and how to seek after His righteousness and justice, putting others before ourselves.

Jesus did die for us, but he also lived for us. Let’s not sit around waiting for heaven, but live fully alive just like Jesus did.

 

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.

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

New Website For Youth Workers – www.myyouthworklife.org

Check out this press release from a fabulous new youth work website! For more information and a full look at the site, see www.myyouthworklife.org  or email hello@myyouthworklife.org

(Full text below the press release image)

New Online Training website for Youth Workers  – written by Practitioners for Practitioners

 

The all-new website www.myyouthworklife.org seeks to serve Youthworkers and those involved in Youth ministry across the country with practical advice, well-honed examples, and top tips to all aspects of Youth work and ministry amongst older children and young people. Providing a plethora of articles written by over 30 passionate and experienced Youthworkers- many with decades of experience of working with teenagers, Myyouthworklife.org provides insight and guidance on key themes such as The World of a Young person, How to engage with Secondary Schools, Effectively discipling young people, Working with Volunteers, Mapping your community, and Young people and Social Media and many more relevant and significant themes within Youth ministry today.

 

Borne out of a partnership between The Department of Lay Ministry at Ridley Hall Cambridge, The Diocese of Ely, and the Eastern Baptist Association, the website seeks to provide an entry-point for many Youthwork Practitioners to be further equipped in their youth work by means of using the website as a flexible training tool, to dip in and out of, or read through with a more structured approach.

 

The Editing team of www.myyouthworklife.org suggest that ‘the richness and the USP of this website is that it brings through the voice of one passionate Youthworker talking as if person-to-person to those that will read their articles. This no-nonsense training tool is already equipping many Youthworkers around the country to inspire and engage them in their learning, and pointing them to new ideas, ways of thinking, and further training if needed.’

 

The website, which is constantly being added to with new training material in response to aspects of Youth culture and prevalent issues within Youth ministry, is free to access and all material can be downloaded as printable PDF’s for the benefit of Youth teams who may wish to engage with programmes of learning together.

 

For more information and a full look at the site, see www.myyouthworklife.org  or email hello@myyouthworklife.org

 

Free Upcoming Training – Managing Difficult Behaviour

Next Monday evening at ‘The Monthly Meet’ we’ll look together at how to manage difficult behavior in youth groups.

This practical session will look at the dos and don’ts of getting a group’s attention, working with hyperactive young people, and keeping everyone safe in situations where there is escalating aggression.

We’ll look at non-physical ways to take authority, while considering exactly what the law says about things like ‘restraint’.

This should be considered essential training for every youth leader – make some time & let your teams know

7-9pm
Mon. 20th Nov.
Ty Llywelyn Community Centre
LL30 1LA

Lots of parking – even more coffee!

Here’s what 187 youth workers call their young people…

What to call the collective age group that youth workers minister to can be an hotly debated issue. When you mix the world of polly-correctness with adolescence-driven chemicals and egotistical youth workers, getting the terms right can be a real thing.

So, we asked 187 youth workers the following question:

‘What you think the most respectful way of referring to ‘young people’ is? (plural).’

There were a few given options* with space to add alternatives. Here were the results:

148 said ‘students*’
14 said ‘youth*’
6 said ‘teenagers*’
5 said ‘young people’
2 said ‘young men and women’, ’the beast’, ’kids’, ‘super saiyans’, and ‘yall’
1 said ‘you’ins’ and ‘young church’
0 responses for either ‘children’ or ‘adolescents*’

Here were some of the additional comments:

“I can’t stand ‘young people’.”

“My SP says ‘Young People’ – even when he speaks at Youth Group. Drives me nuts.”

“Personally, I think Students is a much better term. It’s the precedent for whoever comes into your ministry that we are students of God. Youth has such a negative tone in most places today.”

“I see it as holding them up by calling them students. They’re on the cusp of adulthood and I want them to feel respected and that we recognize where they are. Calling them youth (or even kids) is accurate but a little demeaning when they want to be seen as more grown up. Plus, as students in my group it conveys the importance of why they’re at youth group: to learn the Bible, God, maturity, each other, etc.”

“In seriousness though I would still choose students. Students still has a younger connotation and I could see adults being offended by it for themselves like youth being offended by being called kids.”

Now, these responses came almost exclusively from American youth clubs, which is less helpful for us here in the UK, but it does still provide some interesting questions and contrasts. ‘Students’, for instance, almost exclusively means someone in university here, which doesn’t provide us the same clarity as a term as it might in the States.

Personally, I do tend to use the phrase ‘young people’ when talking about, but not necessary talking to young people. It’s descriptive and accurate, and it – I think – doesn’t contain the condescending undertones of other terms.

It’s also worth adding to the discussion that the Bible uses the words ‘Youth’ (בְּחֻרִים), ‘young man’ (בחור) and ‘the young’/‘youths’ (ילדות) – as distinct from children or adults, so some distinctive term is useful to have.

So, perhaps not massively important – or even helpful – to a UK context, but it is still interesting to think about. Our next venture will be to ask this same question to British young people and see what they say.

Are you a British youth worker? We’d love to know your thoughts on this!

Photo by Jake Ingle on Unsplash

Finding New Volunteers: Appeal vs Approach

Finding and developing teams of volunteers is the bread-and-butter of youth work. When the team works – it works really well, and when it doesn’t – everything has to work around it.

I’ve just arrived home after a month away to find that my team had been brilliant. They had run and grown all the projects in my absence like pros. This is the first time in 13 years of youth ministry that I felt comfortable enough to leave for an extended period, knowing the young people we’re in good hands. It’s fabulous when a team just works!

But when you don’t have the volunteers to run your projects or (sometimes worse) you have the wrong volunteers in a project things can get very heavy and very stressful very quickly.

The Appeal

For years I ran appeals for help. Letters in news sheets, notices from the front of church gatherings, and direct mail-outs to hundreds of people. Every time I did this I noticed three things:

1. Hardly anyone responded
The ratio – however I did it – came back at something like one or two in every hundred.

2. The wrong people responded
I often got sent offers to help from people with ulterior motives who would be massively unhelpful – if not dangerous – to vulnerable young people, thus would need constant supervision.

3. I’d wasted ministry capital
I want my churches to read everything I give them, and listen up when I speak. This works less when I’m constantly begging for help from the front. No one is inspired by the sinking ship!

The Approach

I recently attended a training session led by the leaders of a large and thriving Children’s Church. Unfortunately I found them frankly quite odd, and took very little of what they said on board. However, they did get one thing very right – which is to approach potential help directly.

I’d suggest this has five stages: Identify, Encourage, Clarify, Invite and Followup.

Identify

Sit down and make a list of people in your context that could work for your project. They don’t need to be perfect, but they do need a couple of skills to start with, and some space for you to develop others. It’s not your job to decide whether or not they have time at this point – just make up a wish list.

Encourage

Seek them out and tell them why you have identified them specifically. This conversation is all about them. Tell them what skills they have and why you think those fit, and tell them why you would love your young people to be served by them. Leave this with them for a week.

Clarify

Followup with them and start to tell them the basics of what is required. One of the key reasons people don’t respond to appeals is that they are just too vague. Treat them like adults and tell them what is expected from a leader. Also let them know how they will be developed and supported to thrive.

Invite

Invite them to the project for a no-pressure, observation-only session. Let them see and have a look at what you do – right from the setup time to the debrief. This lets them picture what it is they would be doing.

Followup

Soon after (ideally within the week following) have a coffee with that person. Give them the application forms and initiate the formal process. Get them onto to rota in a supervised position until the process is complete.

 

This takes the same – if not actually much less – time as an appeal process. Although it doesn’t work every time, my experience has been that you will have more responses, better fitting people, and a more sound beginning for your volunteers.

Have you had success with appeals or approaches? Do you have any other ideas? Send us a message or leave a comment – we’d love to hear from you! 🙂