Aug 292011

I suspect that this post may end up somewhat incoherent because I’m still absolutely knackered from the weekend and my brain is somewhat mushy (moreso than usual, anyway). The reason I’m so tired is that I spent the weekend with 32 sixth-year pupils and around 10 staff from Grangemouth High School at their team-building weekend. We were across at the Scout centre at Fordell Firs in Fife. The weekend was a mixture of of team-building exercises, activities and challenges. Add very little time off and very little sleep to that mix and you have a very intense weekend.

The purpose of the weekend is quite clear – the school hopes to benefit from a sixth-year who can work as an effective team, encouraging each other, acting as role-models for the lower years, and maintaining and enhancing the school’s reputation in the community. The way this is done is through breaking down the natural, small teams of friends and demonstrating, through the challenges, how much can be achieved when the bigger team is working effectively. It helps highlight individual capabilities and promote the shared pleasure of success when a task is completed.

Whether that worked or not can only be assessed by the school over the coming year as the group take the skills they have developed and begin to apply them to the work they do with the rest of the year group and with the rest of the school.

I, personally, very much enjoyed the weekend, for all sorts of reasons. Much of the ministry formation training covers team-working, team-management skills, self-understanding and so on. It was fascinating being on the other side of that – ‘teaching’ it rather than being taught it. it was also fascination seeing how others seek to ‘build teams’. I don’t want to appear critical of any staff or of the methods used, but it seemed there was a little too much focus on the ‘correct’ method. We’ve had the benefit of having many different approaches, often accompanied by the grumble, “Oh, this again. Same stuff, different words.” It’s only when you see it being applied that you begin to appreciate the variations and the nuances of the various approaches. I’m very glad we didn’t get exposed to the ‘correct’ way of doing team-building.

As I say, only the school can judge the success of the weekend through the effectiveness of the current sixth-year, but there were a few personal highlights from the weekend that are less about the team and more about individuals.

Over the weekend I got to interact with most of the pupils, and with some more than others. Sometimes you just ‘get’ someone and realise there are underlying issues. When, over the course of the weekend, you see those underlying issues being dealt with and the affirmation of a positive change being stated, then that has to be celebrated as a major triumph. (Sorry if that’s a bit vague, but, for obvious reasons, I don’t want to give too much detail.) And when someone else overcomes a deep fear of doing something, bites the bullet, and succeeds, then that too is a major triumph.

Of course, these personal successes feed into the overall effectiveness of the team, but in focusing on the team, these personal triumphs can often be overlooked. But it is through building on strong, confident individuals who know their capabilities (and limitations) and their worth, that teams are indeed greater than the sum of their parts.

So, a ‘very well done’ to all the sixth-years who took part and ‘grew up’ so much over such a short time, and also a hearty ‘thank you’ to the staff who give of their time for the event because they believe in the value of it, not just for the school, but for the young people themselves.

Mar 162009

One of my favourite blogs, Internetmonk, recently posted a video which was a pretty good parody of too many Christian youth programmes. One of the commenters made a good point about youth ministry and family ministry. He asked the question, “How can we expect parents to teach their children when adults are largely ignorant of the gospel?” His suggestion is a move, not necessarily away from youth work but to a more inclusive ‘programme’ for a whole family.

This is a hugely challenging area and one for which there are no easy answers, but I wonder if there is another issue lurking here – that of children/youth teachers. Sunday schools, for example, are usually more than willing to welcome anyone who will give them time to help on a Sunday morning. But is getting a willing volunteer becoming more important that getting the right person? Surely teaching children the correct foundations is crucially important for their future development as Christians? So why do ministers have to be degree-qualified and fully trained before teaching adults yet the only qualification for teaching children is willingness? Furthermore, those who do volunteer are often giving up their time in the Sunday service. So where are they getting their ‘feeding’ and teaching from? My home congregation has two services on a Sunday and there is an expectation on those who teach in the Sunday school and Bible class to be there. But we are fairly unusual in having two services.

I’m not sure that a move to all-age worship all the time is entirely appropriate or desirable, but I do think there are underlying issues which need to be dealt with in order to provide a more holistic approach to nurturing the family of God. Bible study groups and house groups are useful places for such nurture. But who organises those?

Jun 192008

One of my tasks in looking after the Crossover web presence is to keep an eye on the Crossover Bebo page. We get a regular flow of people signing up as friends and I do have a quick look at their Bebo site. Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy but what I see, I find quite depressing. The language and innuendo to be found on young teenagers’ pages is pretty shocking. With Bebo it’s fairly easy to hide behind the ‘friends only’ restriction, but that, to my mind, encourages this duality in public and ‘private’ personas. One of the sites I looked at belongs to someone I know and I have to ask myself, which is the ‘real’ them? Is it the foul-mouthed, world-hating ’emo’ on Bebo or is the approachable but loud teenager I see from time to time? Or is the real person some complex mix of the two? Which one is the facade? Or is peer pressure so great that there is an expectation to be as ‘bad’ as each other or even to outdo one another?

I did actually toy with the idea of ‘purging’ those friends who did use offensive and crude language (and advertising the fact that I’m doing it) but who am I to judge acceptability. Crossover is a Christian festival but it certainly doesn’t lay down any kind of standards to be met before you can associate with it. That would be, very much, in contradiction to the gospel message. But where does one draw the line? By accepting such sites as friends, is one condoning them? This, to me, is one of the issues of social networking sites – there is little or no control over associations that are made and the assumed ‘privacy’ allows the presentation of public and private faces which, very often, are contradictory.

Nov 012007

Last Sunday I was sitting in with the primary Sunday school groups and it got me thinking again about one of my bugbears when it comes to working with young people. I see little evidence of ‘joined up thinking’ and perhaps even the sharing of best practice. It’s all very well following the same material, but it needs to be much broader than that. There needs to be a continuity of style and I don’t mean that it all has to be done the same way. There also has to be one eye on where it’s leading.

It’s probably easier to give an example, but it’s quite complex, so bear with me. There are a lot of factors which, small in themselves, all contribute to an overall lack of coherency. The younger primary group have quite a structured time together, but it’s done in a clever way. The general babble that always happens whenever a bunch of young kids get together is turned into a ‘news’ time – a chance to share with everyone what’s been happening. This news is used for prayer, to give thanks or to ask for help. It’s a good way of getting value out of something that will happen anyway. Compare this with the older group where there’s no opportunity to blether at the start and they are ‘told’ what news has come to the attention of the leader. Then, the younger ones get a story, the older ones get a Bible passage read to them. (There’s an activity before each, but not detailing it doesn’t mess up my example). Now, the difference here is obvious – story, reading. On Sunday it was a pretty lengthy reading from Genesis. It was read straight from the Bible. None of the young people had a Bible to read along and the reading was pretty dead-pan. Hardly any wonder there were glazed looks within a few minutes. And that’s probably enough to illustrate my point. Imagine someone moving from one group to the next at the start of the session. Complete change of style, complete change of ‘rules’. And similar problems at the other end as teenager hit that age when they ought to be moving into formal church membership (or should they? But that’s another argument) – church is something that is ‘done to you’ rather than something you engage with.

So, is it possible to maintain that enthusiasm we seem to reserve only for the very youngest age group? I think it is, but it needs some effort and ‘joined-up thinking’. It also needs a critical look at what we do and be ready to make changes if necessary – sometimes (and preferably) regularly.

To revisit my example: why not adopt the ‘news’ time the youngest group have? Why do the older group have to listen to the scripture passage – why can’t they read along with Bibles given to them? Better still, why not have the Bibles there, but the story ‘told’ not simply read? And why not encourage engagement with the teaching through role-play or even getting the young-people to read it?

The example and the suggestions are by no means exhaustive and there are plenty of other areas where it would be easy to nitpick. But, it’s not really my intention to be at ‘arm’s-length’ and take potshots. Rather, it’s to observe and reflect on what I see and, hopefully, remember it when I find myself in a position to directly affect what happens. It’s also the case that there is no universal solution and we’ll never get it right 100% of the time. Everybody is too different for there to be a one-size-fits-all answer. But if we’re serious about all ages being part of the church family, then I think it’s necessary to look at how we ‘do church’ across the age spectrum and make sure it’s coherent. The transitions from one ‘phase’ to another need to be managed carefully so that expectations, from all sides, are made known and continuity is maintained – that is, the purpose of community worship and church is understood and clearly communicated in a way that encourages growth and commitment.