Breaking the mould

26 Nov

Today is my monthly retreat day. I’ve been re-reading Contemplative Youth Ministry over the past month or so with the gap year students working with me this year. Each week we read a chunk and then discuss the bits that stood out, challenged us or we just didn’t get. My first reflection on this book again is that it really is a must read and again that it is the best and most helpful book around on youth ministry. That is regardless of whether you are into Lectio Divina, The Examen or Centring Prayer (many of which is has been great to rediscover and to start to practice again, i’ve found centring prayer particularly helpful) just the approach, the aims, the style, the philosophy outlined in this book is one that I would wholeheartedly encourage and strive towards.
I was sitting this morning over coffee with one of our long standing youth work volunteers namely my wife Jo. We were chatting generally about youth work and the highs and lows, the successes and struggles. In amongst this I was struck again by sometimes how rigid we can make youth work, the peramitters that we place and the unsaid expectations. When I was at college a lot of the talk was around the word informal education, and I still think that much of the best youth work comes from this. We spend a lot of time planning it seems and ‘teaching’ in a more or less formal way, we may have cushions and bean bags, mood lighting and data projectors but it is still often about a person communicating information about God, faith etc. Please don’t misunderstand me, there is a place for this and it is something I enjoy but what I’ve realised is that if we are not careful this is what youth work becomes about. We raise up the great orators and communicators, but forget the other informal youth work that takes place all around. Jo isn’t a bible teacher in the traditional way, she’s not one for standing in front of groups but although she probably wouldn’t admit it she is a good informal educator. As we spoke I think she began to realise this, that she is better in those informal times, discussing, asking questions and not providing the ‘right answer’. The question raised then for her is why lead groups how it’s expected to be done and why not just hang out and see where God leads. I’m not suggesting this as a way not to plan because I think you can be intentional about informal education but it’s more about letting conversation flow and deviate and being comfortable with that.

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