Tuesday, September 27, 2005

youth work = youth ministry?

Like many others I have blogged about this subject before. But as the debate is rearing it's head again here amongst other places, I thought I would offer some thoughts. (I was also intrigued to note that my blog appears in the list for 'youth ministry'....anyway)

Youth work (in my opinion) is any activity, be that a youth-group, youth-club, youth-whatever, that is based on the principles of empowerment, equality of opportunity, participation and education(1). Youth work employs methods of informal education rather than formal education(2). In my mind at least there is little doubt as to what youth work is (there may however be some questions as to what qualifies as youth work, but that's another issue).

Youth ministry on the other hand, seem to me to be a little less well-defined. Well, it's possibly over defined, in that I can see two broad definitions of what it is....
"The term ‘youth ministry’ seems to have a variety of uses. In Youthwork and the Mission of God(3), Pete Ward, speaking about the British context, uses the term ‘youth ministry’ to refer to the activities of professional youth workers engaging in Christian youth work, youth work which is funded by the Church . Ward uses the term ‘ministry’ in order to draw parallels between the activities of the professional Christian youth worker and a member of the clergy.......American literature on ‘youth ministry’ includes theory linked to carrying out informal education activities in the light of the Christian tradition(4), as well as the “‘how to do it’ guides and checklists”(5) which by their very nature encourage a mentality which believes there are set patterns of behaviour to follow for both youth workers and young people.

With the increasing popularity of North American ‘how to do it’ youth ministry literature in Britain(6), the term ‘youth ministry’ now seems to have two meanings in the British context. Amongst those Christian youth workers who have gained professional qualifications in youth work, qualifications recognised in the secular field as well as the religious field, ‘youth ministry’ refers to the “more reflective and academic approach to Christian youth work”(7), an approach which could be described as pragmatic. Amongst Christians who are influenced by the American ‘how to do it’ youth ministry literature, the term ‘youth ministry’ is describing an approach to working with young people which could be described as normative."(8)
In writing that essay I was analysing different approaches to working with young people, using langauge taken from certain areas of missiology. By 'pragmatic' I am referring to practice which begins it's response by first considering the current context in light of the Christian tradition, then acting appropriately. By 'normative' I am referring to practice which begins it's response by seeking to ensure that certain beliefs, traditions and rituals will be passed on to future generations.

In my opinion there are instances when 'youth work' and 'youth ministry' are interchangeable terms. But not always. For example, there may be occasions when youth ministry uses formal education methods. In my understanding this means it is probably no longer classifiable as youth work.

I also take Richard Passmore's point (see these comments), that possibly this whole argument about youth work or youth ministry is a little unnecessary.

Pesonally, this is how I currently see what I do (in no particular order)....

I try to work with young people using the principles of informal education. I believe that these methods are not oppressive, ie. they do not hinder other people experiencing what it means to be more fully human.
I try to work in a way which will promote fullness of life (opportunities to be more fully human) for those I work/live alongside.
I try to work and live in a way which will enable young people (and all people) to experience a right relationship with themselves, with other people, with the world around them, with God.

(1)Kerry Young, Towards a Core Curiculum – The Next Step: Report of the Second Ministerial Conference, written by Kerry Young on behalf of the National Conferences Steering Committee (Leicester: National Youth Bureau, 1991) 16 quoted by Kerry Young, The Art of Youth Work (Lyme Regis: Russell House Publishing, 1999) 15-16
(2) See a website such as www.infed.org. Alternatively go and read some of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (London: Penguin, 1996), 52-60
(3)Pete Ward, Youthwork and the Mission of God (London: SPCK, 1997) 2-3
(4)Dean Borgman, When Kumbaya is Not Enough: A Practical theology for Youth Ministry (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997
(5)Michele Erina Doyle and Mark K. Smith ‘Christian youth work (youthwork) – a guide to reading’ [website page]; available from http://www.infed.org/youthwork/b-ywchri.htm; Internet; accessed 18 April 2005
(6)An example of such a book is Doug Fields, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry: 9 Essential Foundations for Healthy Growth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998)
(7)Pete Ward, ‘Introduction’ in Dean Borgman and Christine Cook, eds., Agenda for Youth Ministry (London: SPCK, 1998) 1
(8)This is quoted from an essay I wrote for my MA - the module was Research Methods - my favourite ;o)

There is a really helpful diagram here, that shows a way in which youth work, youth ministry and formal education might fit together.


Royal said...

I don't guess I understand why there is a debate.

Jesus said, Go and make disciples. Some people are gifted and passionate about discipling teens and others are not.

Many youth pastors try so hard to use informal methods of education (entertainment, nose-picking, lude language) they are not discipling at all.

Teens want it straight up. They want to know you care. They want you to treat them like you respect them. They want you to hold them accountable. They want to know that you care that they grow spiritually and you are not just trying to keep them around with new jokes and games. They want to know you are excited about being a Christ-follower and living for Christ. They want authenticity.

Teens are more hungry for spirituality than they ever have been before and many youth pastors are missing out on a great opportunity to make teen disciples in Christ. (Christ Apprentices)

I don't understand the need for a youth work - youth ministry debate.

Go and make disciples. The fruit of disciple making in youth ministry is youth disciples.

Just a thought

Phil Goodacre said...

Hi Royal, thanks for the comment.

It seems to me that there's a bit of confusion over what I mean by 'informal education'. When I use this term I am not talking about youth leaders acting in an informal manner to try and gain acceptance from the young people they are with (such as nose picking, swearing, entertaining) rather I am trying to make a disctintion about the ways in which we create opportunities for young people to learn.

The aim of formal education is that at the end of that experience, the learners will have the same knowledge as the teacher.

Informal education is different (there's a great article here. Please read it). It could be described as "the lifelong process in which people learn from everyday experience". It's to do with helping people to learn and to grow and experience a fullness of life. Everybody enters the process with something to offer, rather than one person having knowledge which they want the others to know.

For example, (and this is going over the top a little bit), I could stand in front of you and said 'God is love' over and over again, until you also said 'God is love'. Or I could spend time with you, building up a relationship with you, showing love for you, talking with each other, explaining to one another why we spend time with each other. In which instance do you think someone would actually take on board that God loves them?

I acknowledge that I am probably biased towards informal education. I also acknowledge that there are times when formal education methods are very useful (I'm not gonna go into that now).

Royal, I would be interested to hear what you mean when you talk about 'youth ministry' - in my limited experience of talking with Americans about youth ministry, there seems to be a wide range of activities which are covered by this term. That's great. But in my experience of living in the UK some people (myself included) get caught up in what we mean when we use certain terms.

You're right that as Christians who spend time alongside young people we are called to make disciples. My concern is that rather than helping young people really learn what it means to have a relationship with God, to explore Christianity for themselves, we can sometimes get so caught up in numbers, and getting people to say that they are Christians, that the aim of our activites, relationships etc. become getting young people to say what we, as leaders, want them to say, rather than helping young people develop a faith and a relationship with God that they truly own for themselves.

Ok. I've gone on enough here. Apologies for the length of this post. Hope you've managed to read this far....

Royal said...

Hi Phil good response to my comment.

It probably showed a little that I get frustrated with the education (discipleship) of many youth pastors.

I do think informal education is important. I think it goes best along with formal education.

I think with informal education you can take a student from head knowledge to wisdom. Unfortunately, one is much more limited in how many one can teach informally.

I teach students formally and then try to be involved in their lives as much as I can. That enables me to take lessons from the class room out into real world experience and I can bring the informal situations back into the classroom and teach others with that same experience.

As far as youth ministry as a term goes, in American Christianity, it is all ministry that is designed to introduce youth to Christ and discipling youth who are already Christian. This includes all church ministries and parachurch ministries.