YTH208 - Culture and Context of Youth Ministry

As promised to SWYM Level 2 students, here's my notes, quotes and links from my lectures yesterday...

YTH208 – Culture and Context of Youth Ministry

YTH208 Topic 1 Assignment (2000 words)
A young person in your youth ministry manifests with obvious signs of depression, possibly even suicidal tendencies.  Using the provided readers and notes, prepare a response to this scenario.  Make sure you include current research guidelines in dealing with this issue.  You’ll need to explore the issues of appropriate relationship, confidentiality, referral techniques and counselling youth in crisis.

Session 1 – Youth culture and sub-cultures – What are young people like?
What is culture/sub-culture?
What are the characteristics of youth culture/sub-cultures where we are today?
Does it matter and why/why not?

Session 2 – Incarnational youth work – What should youth workers be like?
What should be the main aim of good youth work?
What can we learn from the incarnation?
What does it mean to be ‘all things to all people’?
What about youth workers growing old?
Session 3 – The good news and young people – What is Jesus like?
What is the good news and do we know how good it is?
How can we keep learning from Jesus and loving him more?
How will young people understand the good news?
Session 4 – ‘Counselling’ models and strategies – How can we listen well?
What is counselling?
What counselling models and strategies are there and how helpful are they?
A look at the Solution Focused approach
To what extent are all good youth workers also counsellors?

Session 5 – Responding to young people at risk – How can we really help?
Why are Child Protection policies important?
How can we do safe 1-to-1 youth work?
How should we handle observations and disclosures?
What is intervention and when is it necessary?
How can we make sure we love young people without screwing up?
Session 1 – Youth culture and sub-cultures – What are young people like?

What is culture/subculture?
Watch the ‘What is culture?’ video from  

“I understand culture as a treasure that is part of our collective memory, of our perception of ourselves.” – Lijida N, Macedonia

“It is the acquired pair of glasses through which we see life.” – Mbarek A, Morocco

“Culture is something that unites people” – Anastasiya O, Russia

“Culture is us.  We make it.  We shape it as we love it to be.” – Unknown

“It is a call for individuals to agree upon some common values that bind them in harmony.” – Moustafa H, Egypt

“The more we know about the cultures of others, the more open-minded, tolerant and global we become.” – Samir El A, Morocco

“Our cultural traits, values and beliefs are different and diverse.  However, it is the respect and understanding we foster that makes us truly human.” – Najoua H, USA

Discuss in pairs and share definitions of ‘culture’ and write up the key ideas.

What is our culture like?  What are the distinctive shared values or trends?

Watch the ‘Shocking Facts’ video from

What are the characteristics of youth culture/sub-cultures where we are today?
Is there such a thing as ‘youth culture’ and why/why not?  What are the distinctive shared values or trends?

“Today’s young people not only believe that they can find happiness by buying it, driving it, or chewing it – they also believe that they themselves are its that can be defined in some quantifiable way.” – Source unknown.

“The responses of youth…regarding the existence of absolute truth indicate that relatively few of our young people believe [it exists].  Fewer still refer to objective standards of truth and morality in making life decisions.” – Josh McDowell in ‘Right from Wrong’

“It is legitimate to say that young people today are a different cultural group.  That means the church of Jesus Christ has things to challenge in youth culture if it is to be faithful to the gospel.  Critically, though, it also has things to learn from young people.  At the moment, this rarely, if ever, happens, and both the church and young people are more impoverished as a result.” – Andy Hickford (author of ‘Essential Youth’)

What can we say about so called ‘youth subcultures’ such as ‘emo’, ‘chav’, ‘punk’, ‘goth’ etc?  Do they exist?  What are the distinctive shared values or trends?

What impact does marketing and consumerism have on our culture and subcultures?

“We are living in an age of manipulation.  We all – but adolescents in particular – are the targets of highly effective advertising, propaganda and other persuasive techniques.  Adolescents are motivated so effectively by these techniques that many young people are limited in their ability to make significant choices on their own.” – Source unknown. 

“Our kids [are not] passive victims ripe for commercial organisations. They are actually rather savvy, and I think understand very well what commercial organisations are trying to do when they communicate with them, particularly when it comes to engagement online.” – Paul Flatters, Researcher featured on Four Thought on BBC Radio 4 on 4th Jan 2012

“[We live] in a time when… an entire ‘punk rock’ look can be bought online from massive clothing companies (who must not be able to believe their luck that they’ve managed to mass sell a look for people who’s main object in life is to look different!)” – Pippa Wragg – Owner-manager of Exeter Cavern club

“I think it is disgraceful that such a range of people - organisations, politicians and journalists - use terrible evidence, or in many cases no evidence at all, to perpetuate negative myths about the state of childhood and family life in the UK today.  I am also dismayed by how readily we as a society choose to believe them… I am not a conspiracy theorist, but the system is stacked against positive news about children reaching the airwaves and reaching our newspapers.” – Paul Flatters, Researcher featured on Four Thought on BBC Radio 4 on 4th Jan 2012

“As a teenager myself, the view that we are all yobs is perceived more and more, especially by the older generations. We were taught to repsect our elders, and we do, but how can you get our respect if you constantly label us as trouble makers? These views have angered me for quite a few years now and thanks to this researcher he has finally put the young peoples’ view across. Thank you!” – JacquiiLouise commenting on Paul Flatters’ article

“Being a teenager myself, I can tell there is a growing anger and dismay from all of us ‘yobs’ against the older generation; whose actions are bordering on persecution. We get prejudice in the forms of muttering and dodgy looks from the older generations and are constantly being told we are thicker and more mentally unstable than any previous generation. We are not being accepted into society.” – Dan commenting on Paul Flatters’ article

Does it matter and why/why not?
Why are we bothering to think about this anyway?  Is it important?  How important?  Discuss.

How important is it for us to know all about ‘youth culture and sub-cultures’? 

“Acknowledging and operating according to changing trends allows perceptive youth workers to effectively find an adolescent's need and meet it – at the point where the need is current.” – Tim Smith, ‘Think Trends Not Tradition’, Youthworker, Fall 1992, page 68

“In the commendable effort to be relevant we must be diligent students of people and trends. We must speak the language of our generation and constantly update our ministries if we are to be effective.” – Leith Anderson, in ‘Dying for Change’, page 119

How much do we automatically know just from being close in age or just a generation older?

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.” – Hesiod, 8th Century BC

What’s changed and what has stayed the same?

Is there any need to know about young people generally if you already know your young people well?
Session 2 – Incarnational youth work – What should youth workers be like?

What should be the main aim of good youth work?
Discuss the above in pairs and share ideas, write up the key thoughts.

“Perhaps the main aim of good youth work should be to love God, love young people, make disciples of Jesus and to help young people love God, love others and make disciples of Jesus.  Everything is about this!” – Dave Pegg

What should youth workers be like?

Play clip of Joey acting 19 from

“Sup with the wack Playstation, sup?’ – Joey

What can we learn from the incarnation?
God is the ultimate cross-cultural missionary!

“[Jesus] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:6-7

So what does cross-cultural mission to young people look like?  What would you change?  What would you not change?  How far would you go?

What does it mean to be ‘all things to all people’?

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” – Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

“Paul was… a veritable spiritual chameleon…  The task of identification with and incarnation into our contemporary paganism, of all kinds is one of the biggest tasks confronting the church.” – David Prior

Have you ever changed the way you talk or your appearance to better relate to young people?

How should young people have an influence and impact on their youth leaders?

As a youth worker, would you ever change what you wear/how you talk/how you walk/music you listen to/how you use your free time?

An incarnational theology of mission involves three kinds of journeys, each of which requires
particular skills and expertise: 

On the one hand, there is the journey which all adults need to make in order to communicate with young people.  The youthworker needs to be willing and able to step outside the “adult” way of relating and find a way to make contact within the natural environment of the teenager.  This is a generational barrier.  

The second journey involves a movement from one sub-culture to another.  The youthworker
needs to be able to understand and communicate within the language patterns, social system and symbolic frameworks of a particular group.  Whilst some youthworkers may have grown up in an area and are, therefore, able to communicate “naturally”, for the majority there is a journey from one sub-culture to another which has to take place.  This is, therefore, a cultural barrier. 

The third journey involves the way that faith can be communicated from within one sub- culture to the sub-culture of another group.  The first two journeys all youthworkers have in common, the third is unique to Christian youthwork. – Pete Ward in ‘Youth Work and the Mission of God’, chapter 5.

How would you avoid being a fake or a loser? 

What about youth workers growing old?
How can we be effective cross-cultural missionaries to young people when we’re old enough to be their parents/grandparents?

How do you act your age and still relate to young people?

What aspects of youth culture will we grow out of?

What aspects of youth culture will always be important? 

“As youth workers, identifying with and relating to young people shouldn’t be a deliberate strategy so much as a natural process.  Love young people, spend enough time with them and you will change!  They are quick to spot a fake.  They are also quick to spot someone who genuinely loves them!”  Dave Pegg

Session 3 – The good news and young people – What is Jesus like?
What is the good news and do we know how good it is?
Take a few minutes to reflect and find a passage/thought to share about the good news of Jesus.  Maybe share what you’ve been learning about Jesus lately in your life.

Back together to share, reflect, pray and worship

Us and the good news.  What is the good news?

Ready to explain it simply while a match burns?

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” – 1 Peter 3:15

Ready to explain it confidently to a group of young people in 15 minutes?

How can we keep learning from Jesus and loving him more?

Do Christians need to keep learning the gospel?

How can we keep learning?  Bible study, preaching, teaching, books, audiobooks, podcasts, discussion?

Why should we keep learning?  Because there’s always more to God than we already know and we love him!

“Because no-one is born into this world with a theology, each generation must rediscover the truths of scripture for itself.  In doing so, it must labour to connect the unchanging answers of God’s word with the ever changing questions of its culture.” – Mark Driscoll in ‘Death by Love’.

Aggree/disagree?  Have YOU done this?  Are your young people doing it for themselves?

Which is more important – Coming to meetings (to hear you teach) or personal study (to learn for themselves)?

“5 ways to learn God’s word – Hear, read, study, meditate, memorise”

BASIC.Teaching trailer clip from

“Jesus didn’t say, ‘Hey! Get people to these gatherings and then have your Pastor disciple them.’ God puts that burden on all of us.  He says, ‘You learn the scriptures and you teach the scriptures and you live the scriptures and then you teach other people to do the same thing.  You make disciples!’” – Francis Chan

How will young people understand the good news?

How might certain aspects or trends of youth culture help/hamper young people’s understanding of the good news?  RICH?  CONSUMERIST?  RELATIVE TRUTH?  TOLERANCE?  REBELLIOUS?  APATHETIC?

“It is only when we are ‘being with’ a group as they relate normally that we are able
to understand and communicate within their particular sub-culture… We need to read the whole of the Bible to have firm grasp on the Gospel story.  If we keep to well-trodden paths, or rely upon the immediacy of the Spirit in worship, our problem is that we have not allowed the Bible to call our assumptions about the faith into question.” – Pete Ward

“In order to bring God’s word to God’s world, we must know both really well.” – Dave Pegg

Doug Pollock in his book ‘Godspace’ (a great book about evangelism in conversations but mostly transferable for us as youth workers wanting to teach young people) suggests that people in previous generations listened their way into the kingdom of God but today, people are more likely to talk their way in.

David C Cook’s Layers of Learning
UNAWARENESS – Couldn’t care less
AWARENESS – Notice, but uncertain it’s true
INTEREST – Think it could be important
ACCEPTANCE – Tested against experience – Seems to be true
CONVICTION – Important to me and to others
COMMITMENT – Overriding importance to me – Determines how I feel and act

“Discouragement and disillusionment are the two major factors that lead teenage Christians to walk out on their faith.  They simply don’t believe they can pull it off.” – Duffy Robins in ‘The Ministry of Nurture’, page 139.

Session 4 – ‘Counselling’ models and strategies – How can we listen well?

What is counselling?
What is ‘counselling’?  Discuss.

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) definition of counseling
“Counselling and psychotherapy are umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies. They are delivered by trained practitioners who work with people over a short or long term to help them bring about effective change or enhance their wellbeing.” 

Primarily about good questioning and good listening (and restating to check you’ve understood).

What counselling models and strategies are there and how helpful are they?
Methods and approaches generally fall into one of three categories (but they can be blended depending on the needs of the ‘client’):

Behavioural Therapies – focus on cognitions and behaviours. Behavioural Therapies are based on the way you think (cognitive) and/or the way you behave. These therapies recognise that it is possible to change, or recondition, our thoughts or behaviour to overcome specific problems.

Questions like:
- What are you thinking about when you…?
- Why do you think you have those thoughts?
- Are those thoughts helpful or unhelpful?
- What would it be helpful to think about in those times?
- How would those thoughts be helpful?
- How can you put this into practice today?

Psychoanalytical and Psychodynamic Therapies – focus on the unconscious relationship patterns that evolved from childhood. Psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies are based on an individual's unconscious thoughts and perceptions that have developed throughout their childhood, and how these affect their current behaviour and thoughts.

Questions like:
- What are your relationships like with your family at the moment?
- What was your relationship like with your family as you were growing up?
- What impact do you think your family has had on who you are today?
- What are the helpful influences your family has had on you?
- What are the unhelpful influences?
- How can we hold onto what is helpful and leave what isn’t?

Humanistic Therapies – focus on self-development, growth and responsibilities. They seek to help individuals recognise their strengths, creativity and choice in the 'here and now'.

Questions like:
- How would you like to change this situation?
- What are you best at?  What are your strengths?
- What opportunity is there for you to learn from this?
- In what ways might this situation make you stronger?
- What choices could you make that would have a positive impact on the situation?

What do we think are the strengths and weaknesses are of each?

A look at the Solution Focused approach
Explain about the solution-focused approach to conversation and problem solving (questions that can only be answered positively, like 'Tell me something good about...' or 'what would be the best outcome for...', etc) and then try some role play…

You’re 16 and your parents have just told you they’re getting divorced.  You’re sad and struggling to cope with school.

You’re 17 and your boyfriend of 2 years has just finished with you and you can’t understand why.

You struggle with eating and feel fat all the time, even though people tell you you’re underweight.  It upsets you but you feel totally trapped.

You want to grow closer to God but have way more questions than answers because you’ve only just realised that Jesus might be kind of a big deal.

You’ve got a short temper and everyone at the moment just seems to set you off, especially at school and sometimes it feels like you’re out of control.

To what extent are all good youth workers also counsellors?
Is counseling something a good youth worker does or not?

Are good youth workers always/never counsellors?

The eclectic approach believes that a wide variety of counselling skills best equips the counsellor to work effectively with a wide variety of people with a broad spectrum of problems… The youth pastor wishing to put together a model for counselling would be wise to take the challenge of the eclectic-integrationist counsellor to heart and after reviewing various approaches to counselling, develop an approach that uses key elements and insights from each.” – William Rowley, Equipped to Care

“Mentoring is the inevitable consequence of good youth work” – Dave Pegg
Session 5 – Responding to young people at risk – How can we really help?

Why are Child Protection policies important?

Basically to help us do good youth work!
- To protect young people in our youth work!
- To protect us from bad youth work and from false accusation
- To reassure parents/guardians and anyone else

If you’re doing regular youth work without following a CP policy – get one in place and get following it ASAP!

CCPAS CP training or equivalent.

How can we do safe 1-to-1 youth work?
If it’s inevitable and if it’s going to be effective, how can we make it safe?  Discuss.

Myth – Boys are safer with boys and girls with girls.  Discuss.

Overseen but not overheard.  What are our options for where we meet young people 1-to-1?

Is youth work ever risk free?

YSW leaflet from Belmont (email me for this).

How should we handle observations and disclosures?
Belmont CP report form example (email me for this).

Why is it important to make written observations is these cases?

Generally but always for disclosures.  Write things down for your own records.

What can we promise about confidentiality?

When is referral (telling others) necessary? 

“Respecting clients' privacy and confidentiality are fundamental requirements for keeping trust and respecting client autonomy. The professional management of confidentiality concerns the protection of personally identifiable and sensitive information from unauthorised disclosure. Disclosure may be authorised by client consent or the law. Any disclosures of client confidences should be undertaken in ways that best protect the client's trust and respect client autonomy.

Communications made on the basis of client consent do not constitute a breach of confidentiality. Client consent is the ethically preferred way of resolving any dilemmas over confidentiality.

Exceptional circumstances may prevent the practitioner from seeking client consent to a breach of confidence due to the urgency and seriousness of the situation, for example, preventing the client causing serious harm to self or others. In such circumstances the practitioner has an ethical responsibility to act in ways which balance the client's right to confidentiality against the need to communicate with others. Practitioners should expect to be ethically accountable for any breach of confidentiality.” – BACP Ethical Framework  

What is intervention and when is it necessary?
See above – When a young person is at risk of serious harm to themselves or others.

How can Child Services help us as youth workers?  Use them for qualified advice!  No need to use names if you’re not sure. For Devon...

Care Direct – First point of contact for all social care calls.  Information and advice
Tel. 0845 155 1007

Care Direct is open to take calls between 8.00 am to 8.00 pm Monday to Friday and from 9.00 am to 1.00 pm on Saturdays. Outside these hours and on Sundays and Bank Holidays, in emergency only, please contact our:

Emergency Duty Service
Tel. 0845 6000 388 (low-call rate)

How can the police help?

How can CCPAS help? 

How can our CPO help?

How can we make sure we love young people without screwing up?
We can’t!  We’ll all screw up!  We’ll need to ask forgiveness and for help along the way.

What will help us avoid making massive or repeated mistakes?
- Listen to young people
- The team!
- Decent line management and accountability
- Training – CP, Listening, Solution Focused Coaching

“For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6