Character and Mode…..

Taff has moved the conversation on via his post here. He is helpful is distinguishing between the Character (eg incarnational relational, etc) and what I would call the Mode (eg youth work, youth ministry) but he calls approach. He suggests that we can indeed drop the Mode/Approach wording and focus on the Character. There is a lot to be said for this distinction between Mode and Character and certainly it is helpful as often the Character is present in lots of other Modes eg Community work, Childrens work.

I do not disagree that we do need a lot more work on the Character aspect generally across all areas of human liberation, and growing a flourishing community. So the Character is very important, BUT for me (Taff disagrees) the Character and Mode are often two sides the same coin and particularly in the case of Youth work . The way in which you approach the Mode could easily undermine the Character, the method and the message must match. The nature and context of working with young people who are in transition, growing, and changing, makes the connection of the Mode and Character vital.

However Taffs the separation of the concepts has been really helpful and I think I will play more the notions of Unfolding habitas as core to the character and how this ends up I am yet to work out.

From the Street and towards a new term

For some time I have thinking we need a new term to describe what a particular set of christian practitioners called Relational Youth Work, and I have in part been exploring this in Still Meeting Them Where Theyre At. The current thread of conversation has reinforced this. Taff’s start point about the term being redundant and Allans comments made me think again about this. Nick desire to return “street theology” also bring us towards this.

Relational youth work began in a context of practitioners largely working with young people on the edge of society, and grew to become a way of engaging more generally with those outside of church as we know it, and perhaps now as Allan suggests it is recognised that it is an anathema to not see youth work as relational. However as the strands have converged, the context has become more post christian, and the language of church is shifting, some of the informing values have evolved and some have been lost.

I spent a lot my early days talking about Incarnational Youth Work, as a metaphor that was beyond both simple contextualisation and moving into a particular area. It encompassed for me something I couldn’t articulate about my wholeness being wrapped up in the shalom of the community, the ongoing journey, the restoring of creation, and the powerlessness I feel much of the time and need to be reminded of if I am going to see the kingdom to continue to emerge. However this term is particularly christian and potentially dualistic which is something I am keen to avoid as it could undervalue places where the kingdom is emerging with young people unintentionally.

Over the past few years, I have been building on ideas around Inculturation, Transitology of Sobornost as all of these have the sense that we ourselves and our emancipation is wrapped up with other. I particularly like the notion of reciprocal approaches to youth work and mission, that together we see something new emerge. So this leaves a conundrum of which term to use, Reciprocal Youth Work, Emerging Youth Work, but probably the term that encompasses most of where I am coming from (but might mean the least to those outside) is Sobornostic Youth Work, where we journey with young people towards wholeness for all of society, creation, ourselves and others, to unfold a new way of living and being. This bring us full circle to Nicks previous post as sobornost is what I learnt from the street.

Nick’s 150 words bring us back to the street

I think you are both right and both miss the point!

I agree that when we reduce ‘relational youth work’ to the status of technique we do an injustice to both the philosophical and theological basis of ministry that seeks to occupy this space. The reliance on technique in youth work and ministry is concerning – you name some specific examples. It is concerning because as Taff suggests it implies that we approach ministry with a set of goals that we wish to achieve – and for which we have a series of techniques. In doing this we run the risk of leaving God out of the picture or bless what we want.

As such, relying on philosophy Taff to counter this isn’t enough, nor is it enough to locate our rationale for practice in a set of principles behind an approach to working with young people – however noble.

What we are talking about is a call to engage in what you Richard P once called ‘street theology’. Where is God with, coming to, and taking the young people we connect with. This requires practical wisdom and skill. Theology is an art! I’d like you to tell us what wisdom and skills you think are required…

Nick shepherd Is chief exec of CYM follow him on twitter @theonogrpaher

150 word response from Richard Davies

I don’t want to disagree that there are better and worse ways of doing relational youth work, but with the way it is being conceptualised. Youth work or youth ministry are always concerned with the achievement of outcomes (goods) beyond themselves. They are technologies in that they are particular value-laden (ideological) mechanisms for bringing about a range of potential goods for young people. These goods could be church attendance, the development of a particular type of relationship with the worker, a commitment of Christ, etc. The use of the term ‘relational’ with youth work is either redundant (youth work is ideologically relational) or indicates a ‘technique’ a particular way of doing youth work.
I would prefer an articulation in terms of Aristotelian praxis, a concern with a moral pursuit in which the outcomes cannot be spelt out in detail ahead of time and our concern is developing youth people’s ability to pursue the good life (see my DPhil thesis). In this account we do not need the term ‘youth work’ relational or otherwise.

150 words on Relational Youth Work

As Lori and I have been working on Still Meeting Them Where They’re At as follow up to my first book, I have been tweeting bits around Relational Youth Work. These have met with a bit of a response and exploration about a few relational youth work issues, that need a few more words than the 140 characters twitter allows. So to follow these conversations up I am going to start a conversation here with the first of a series of roughly a 150 word posts on the theme of Relational Youth Work, followed by Richard Davies (Taff) and Nick Shephard and then we will see how it goes.

“To reduce relational youth work to a tool to get YP into church is to miss the heartbeat of the incarnation”. I’ve become increasingly frustrated as people seem to reduce relational youth work to a tool to get young people into ‘church’, an alternative to Alpha, or the latest programme. This is compounded by the growth for outcomes based youthwork in local authorities. Both approaches can too easily undermine the intrinsic value of people, the orientation of the work becomes predicted rather than stemming from the relationship, devaluing both. Valuing humanity naturally leads to a relational approach, which was demonstrated so well by the incarnation, which in turn enables a youth work approach rooted in, emancipatory education, a discovery of equality, joint participation, and empowering of the other towards humanity, that when practiced with integrity takes us beyond the old dichotomies of kingdom and church, youth work and youth ministry etc.

Don’t try to Graft new shoots

A lot of our approach has been about how do you grow church from scratch with young people. This is not to say we do this in a vacuum and we seek to reimagine drawing on Bible, Culture, and Tradition (more here). New seeds are planted in fresh soil and tender new shoots/groups emerge. To nurture these saplings one thing we have learnt is that using the word ‘church’ WITH the young people to describe/question what is emerging is helpful, both as a reference point and resource. It helps create the space to dialogue about what is emerging, connecting it tradition, and with care can be used to help co-create and shape the new community. As many of these groups start from scratch without preconceived ideas of faith, as the new community emerges young people begin to connect with others within the christian tradition attending more mainstream expressions of church. At one level this is a really helpful part of the journey as it brings a sense of other, and resource (drawing on the tradition part of the triangle) as the emerging community begins to find it’s feet. A problem is that the more traditional expressions may fail to understand and value the emerging church and so seek to graft on the new sapling to what is already happening. At its heart this attempted graft is generally well meaning but inevitably a top down approach, that undervalues the journey taken so far with the emerging community and the bottom up approach to leadership, truth, that initially enabled the co-creation of the new community.
How can we encourage a generosity of spirit in the more mainstream churches, that will enable emerging expressions to emerge in the way they need to?