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.

5 thoughts on “150 words on Relational Youth Work

  1. Coburn and Wallace (2011) talk about Youthwork having a critical theme,strand, as well as liberal ( when voluntary participation/ inclusive values etc) and also Functional ( changing of behaviour ie to reduce vandalism, or dare i say it salvation) It might be fair to say that when youthwork has such an intention to change an individual it is merely functional, and this can happen within the existing church paradigm too, and not just the outcome orientated youth work of the ‘state’, which might look to increase employment or reduce Anti-social behaviour. If the youthwork within the church,provides a means for young people to buy into the existing avenues for salvation then this might too only be a functional youthwork, and as Freire might argue, maintain oppression and treat young people as objects. And sell them short of developing contextual theology with them, that might dare to critique the existing church and the barriers that might only treat them as such. Maybe ‘incarnational youthwork’ has to embody not only the values, presence and longevity of the incarnation, but also through trusting conversation (http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-dialog.htm) practice youthwork which also embodies values, practices prescence , and liberates, using youthwork in all its fullness.
    “contextualizing involves more that an import/export business that trades in supracultural truths and abstract principles. To contextualize (and by considering the incarnation as the ultimate in contextualisation) is to do Theology prosaically. the Spirits Mission is to promote prosaic practices, where prosaic refers both to the prose of Scripture and the prose of everyday life” (Vanhoozer 2005)

  2. I think I disagree here with the use of Freire. Let us consider a young person thinking about jumping off a 100 m high cliff onto the rocks below. There is good reasons for forcefully articulating the facts of the matter and if they think they can fly to assume a mental health problem. Salvation is similar, whether we like it or not spiritual objects and rules apply in the world. Young people need to be educated to recognise such objects and we must remonstrate in the strongest terms if they do not (they re mentally unwell). Freire drawing on his Marxist Hegelian tradition is concerned with social construction and discourse which reflects the ‘reality’ of the powerful and educational methods that assume this reality.
    You need to identify what is social constructed and what reflects the reality of the world (gravity, sin, damnation and salvation). These might be culturally mediated but not social constructed (I think the debate between Berger’s ‘social construction of reality’ and Serle’s ‘construction of social reality’ is helpful here).
    I’ll blog on technology and Foucault later!

  3. As I said above ‘relational youth work’ is, I think a peculiarly Christian concept as all youth work (and one might add, all education) has a relational component.it has, I think passed its sell-by date. I might be mistaken in that within that Christian context it contains at least in nuance that faith transmission comes through a verbal caring osmosis. In this sense it is distinct from the product based approach of the other examples.

    In some sense the juxtaposition between these examples is also dated as definitions of youth work have moved on since the ‘professional definitions’ of the 1970s and 1980s. Youth work in general is ill defined, having different definitions according to different environments. We have; government definition, professional definitions, social definitions, organisational definitions, Christian definitions. Along with these we have different styles and differing agendas. All of this makes it near impossible to critique one form of youth work from another. (and lets not mention youth ministry which is another bag of worms)

    What we can say however is that youth work has a multiplicity of roots and a plurality of philosophical underpinning discourses. And that at a level of day-to-day practice youth work all youth work holds in common that it purposefully engages with young people with a transformational agenda. Some of these agendas we might be comfortable with, some as ‘purists’ we might dismiss (employment programmes, Alpha Courses) others we embrace. However in the current environment, whatever our view, it is impossible to deny their existence in the youth work paradigm. Strong forces and peoples commitment put and will maintain them there. Challenging these norms should not be underestimated as there are powerful agencies at work ensuring that their own narrative maintains precedent. For example to compete with the, to use one example, The Alpha course we must recognise there is an industry behind it which propagates its primacy in the Christian world.

    If we are to engage in this environment, we need to add significant depth to what passes for theory (especially in the world of Christian youth work). To begin I believe we must articulate youth work in accordance with a Christian theological discourse, both as it is understood in the church and as it is understood in the public, pluralistic square. – We cannot speak of human flourishing if we don’t have a theological understanding of what that is, and we cannot persuade providers of youth work to change unless we can persuade them that it makes theological and sociological sense to do so. We must also recognise that both in the state with its outcome agenda and in the church with its conversionist theology this is unlikely to be easy as in both instances it is unlikely to be welcomed and funded. That is not to say that it is not right to pursue the endeavour but in recognition that it is likely to remain on the margins.

  4. He said that GRYD’s approach is to evaluate youth violence and gang issues through a “different lens.” One of the first things Céspedes notes is their definition of “gang-related,” which he considers to entail a “relational” aspect as opposed to a direct law-enforcement connotation.

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