Detached youthwork - threats and opportunities
From a blog by Learning from the Streets
James Ballantyne, a detached youthworker, realised that aspects of detached youthwork could be viewed either as threats to or opportunities for the Church. He went on to define these and a summary of his list is here:
1. Detached youthwork deals with the reality.
A reality discovered about young people from them, is usually far different to what people who dont know them make it out to be. A threat to church is that detached youthwork is about a reality of a situation. Also, it threatens the universalisms of 'gen x' and 'millenial' thinking for ministry that are used to shape programmes, detached youthwork deals in the local and reality. And this is also an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and listen from the local and real. There are no millenials on the streets of your town, trust me, just young people who want a bit of time and respect, and to be treated for who there are, and not what people expect them to be.
2. Detached youthwork shifts the big idea.
The threat here is that the source of the big ideas about developing work with young people gets shifted from the corridors of power - erm - 'youth ministry planning meeting', which is when adults talk about young people and try and discover an idea to work with them, and shifts the idea making space to the young people themselves. The threat is the loss of power, the opportunity is that young people become invested in and the opportunity for high participation and creativity into the nature, practices and regularity of next provision.
3. Detached youth work opens up the empty space.
The threat here is that Pandora's box of the local community may be opened up and the church may feel provoked as it hasn’t been as vulnerable or willing to open it before, to experience the reality, or face its own cultural boundaries. But this is also an opportunity to be provoked into cultural change, an opportunity to listen and respond, an opportunity to realise that the empty space is already a 'God at work in it' space, and therefore an opportunity to join in the party already happening.
4. Detached youth work makes the relationship ministry.
In youth ministry, with the exception of the summer camp or weekend residentials, there can still be a temptation to let the activity do all the 'talking' and that it not be about personal conversations and educating through them. There is only the possiblilty of relationship that exists in detached work, rather than the offer of a next game, activity or session. It's why young peoples' questions on the street, whilst sometimes challenging, are versions of 'Can I trust you?'
5. Detached youthwork does not raise any money.
Given that it's about vulnerability, reality and conversation, it's kind of difficult to charge young people for it, unlike subs or tuck shops or other ways in which churches generate small amounts of income from young people in the clubs and groups. But that means that detached youthwork is free at the point of access, and that makes it an opportunity for young people who can't attend groups, who feel awkward about paying.
6. Detached youthwork values young peoples' group making.
Detached youthwork meets and tries to work with young people in the groups they have already chosen, spent time with and created for themselves. They are not created groups through a ministry practice, but groups in which young people have already found an identity, role, space and support from, and so detached youthwork if we do it well, forces us to recognise the possibility and strength of this already established group and try ourselves to become accepted as part of it in the way they might want us to be. Detached youthwork values that young people can make their own groups, find sanctuary and space to be in their own groups and as an opportunity to meet and connect in and with them, taking the pain out of trying to force group work upon a gathered group of young people.
7. Detached youthwork connects churches with the other 95% of young people.
(Scripture Union suggests that churches are only connecting with 5% of the young people in the UK). In reality, detached youthwork may help connect churches with the 10% of young people who are out on the streets. It is almost guaranteed that none of these young people are the usual Sunday youth fellowship young people. Detached work threatens the church because it asks the church to believe differently about young people and believe differently about the future leadership of the church and where it comes from. Detached youthwork can be the 'standing in the gap' people, the borders and margins, the opportunity to lift others and cause them to fly, even with previously clipped wings.
8. Detached youthwork is a threat, because its unpredictable and open ended.
Detached youthwork may be the chaplaincy to young people on the streets but it is a threat because it challenges the outcomes agenda. Yet it is an opportunity, because it challenges the outcomes agenda. It has the possibility of opening up the space, the empty stage and creating something new, improvised, that wasn't thought of before, because that's the tangent that young people trusted us with.
9. Detached youthwork presents a new lens for theology.
When we explore, observe and feel the reality of life on the streets, when we're in conversations and hear stories, we give ourselves a new lens with which to view scripture and the theology we held to (and I know all experiences will do this). There is something about the fluidity of detached work and the same street occurences that we read about that Jesus and disciples had, that take on a new meaning through the lived experiences of detached work. It is also a lens where we encounter God in the midst of the action, in the dark spaces on the streets. A lens of hope. It makes faith seem a whole load different and different from a Sunday shaped view of buildings, rows and order, or academia, reading and reflection (all valid, just different). Theology from the context of the streets, not just contextual theology for the streets.
10. Detached youthwork is everyone's game, not just young families and the young leaders.
Having bought into the attractional game of youth ministry, where only Mr or Miss trendy can work with young people, detached youthwork is a threat to this. It's not for the young leader. No it really isn't. It's for those who are willing to be vulnerable and take a risk. It's for those who are good at talking and listening, for those who have a deep call to hope for young people. It is an opportunity to take years of experience, life wisdom and patience, and even deep maternal or paternal instincts out onto the streets. It is an opportunity to be surrogate uncle and auntie, and respected as an adult for being an adult. The best detached youthwork volunteers I ever had were in their 40's and 50's.
The mission field of the streets is still pretty much open, and young people are still there. Detached youthwork may help to take churches to a new place should they be vulnerable to go and learn. Some may be opportunities to do good in a local community. Just being in the place of reality and opening up the streets as a space of opportunity is an opportunity in itself.
Read James' full article here.
You may also be interested in the training offered by James.
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