Tag Archives: Youth work values

Developmental Priorities of Adolescents // YWS12 Early Day

At the YWS Early day Marko shared how the priorities of adolescents have changed over time. He suggested that teenagers have three developmental priorities Identity, Autonomy and Affinity. Explaining that in the later 20th century teenagers’ primary priority was in gaining Autonomy, and the other priorities were then understood and worked out in the context of Autonomy. Where as there has now been a shift towards Affinity [understanding where do I belong] being a priority with the other elements being set in the context of to what to I belong

A key point being that many of the models of Church youth ministry that we use are based on the model of helping young people develop autonomy by working with them seperately from the body of the church. Where now we should be focusing on helping them to see where they belong. However it has now struck me that two of the youth work values that we are taught to uphold as sacred in youth work, are also aimed at autonomy. Voluntary Participation and Empowerment, as valuable as they are, should perhaps be joined by a value to Enable Belonging. In the context of my own community based youth work, where the primary aim is not discipleship, I can now see this working our in that the young people are developing a sense of belonging to the project. This also helps me to understand why my attempts to empower them in their community have been met somewhat with less enthusiasm than I envisaged.


But what does this say about longevity and commitment to youth work. I am convinced that short term community youth work can be more damaging than nothing at all – a funding requirement in a previous project meant that I was never able to work with young people for more than 8 weeks. Given the what I have written above, young people would in this situation be looking to us to see if we offered a place where they could belong… just as we stopped. I did not need today’s teaching to show me this was a bad model to work with. However the alternative does then cause us a danger to slip towards the endless pressure put upon youth workers in supposed relational youth work – where there is never enough time to spend the time with every young person that deserves it

There is therefore a need to recognise the importance of creating a sense of belonging, brought through longevity in youth work, without that belonging being focused on us as individual workers, but belonging to God’s family through Christ. How we practically do this? I’m not quite sure…

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Different worlds

This year there are a few ideas that I want to spend time thinking about and reflecting on. One of these relates to the relationship between Christian and secular youth work – specifically how Christian youth work can be enhanced though a better understanding of both approaches to youth work.

‘Secular Youth Work’ as a descriptor is not entirely satisfactory, but is the best I can think of to describe youth work carried out by statutory or voluntary sector bodies, without a Christian aims or ethos. In reality I am mostly thinking of youth work that was part of, the now widely disbanded, Youth Service [or greatly influenced by it]. Likewise by Christian Youth work, I am broadly referring to youth work carried out by organisations with Christian aims or ethos, and in reality I am probably thinking of mostly work carried out directly by Churches.

My background in youth work has included work within both fields. Two years ago, after mixed experiences in the Christian field I took a job with a secular organisation. This organisation folded during 2011, and I decided it was time to attempt to work in the Christian sector again. Some of my initial interactions with the Christian sector highlighted the stark differences between the two fields, who on the face of it appear to be carrying out similar work but in reality are speaking very different languages.

The issue was most clearly highlighted through a pair of conversations I was part of, one with youth workers from the secular field and one with mostly volunteers from the Christian field. The first group had conversations that showed love, compassion and an understanding of young people informed by many years of experience interacting with them. But there was something in the conversation that was lacking – a deeper purpose and understanding that comes from the love of Christ. The second conversation was clearly founded in the participants desire to show young people they needed Jesus, but there was a lack of understanding of how to engage with young people, and the difference in the language used to talk about young people and approaches to work with them was stark. One group did not know what the young people needed, the other did but had no idea how to help them find it.

Clearly this is not going to be the case with every organisation, there are Christian organisations that can and do engage with young people very successfully, and organisation that have taken from the secular field things which work for them and adapted them for their Christian aims. But there is something that, at least some of the Christian field, can learn from the secular field and I am really keen this year to see how my experience of both sectors can help develop and enhance the Christian youth work field.

The gaps left in society through recent funding cuts make this more pressing and timely. There is an opportunity for the local church to make a significant impact, stepping up to the mark and holistically supporting their local communities. But I believe this can be so much more effective if the church is willing to learn from good practice, and speak the language of the secular partners.

This is very much to be continued…

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