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What I learned from a week of theological innovation

Mark Humphries

31 May, 2019

 

Youth Worker Mark Humphries tells us about his experience of a collaborative Theology module focussed on 'innovation in youth ministry'.

 

Innovation, something only big corporations with billions of pounds think about right? Or is it only for those with a university degree? It’s certainly not something that is done in churches, and as youth workers we just don’t have time…right? These can be just some of the thoughts that go through our heads when we think of the word and the process of innovation, and if I am honest I never felt that it was something I could do, or something that I could relate to – after all I am just a youth worker.

However, whether it be by chance, divine intervention or just for the hot lunches, I ended up on the 'Innovation in Youth Ministry' course run by Youthscape and the London School of Theology, which ran for the first time in April 2019. I can honestly say that yes the hot lunches were great, but the content and the impact it has had on me and my work since then have been brilliant. Innovation is not just for big business or those with degrees, and as youth workers it has a massive place in what we do.

Ever sat down to plan the upcoming term and just stared at your screen? Wondering how to make the story of Moses sound cool to a teenager, or different to the church kid who has heard it a billion times? Or have you ever wondered how to engage with the disengaged young person in your towns and cities, you know the ones that nobody else can seem to reach? I know I have, in fact attempting to reach those that everyone else has appeared to give up on was what occupied my thinking the most.

The biggest question within this was how? How can I go about doing this? How can I develop a ministry that would begin to meet the needs of the young people within my community, and go some way to impacting their lives for the better, and not just to tick a box. Little did I know, starting out on this week long course, that it would equip me to evaluate my youth ministry, see the opportunities that exist in our town and begin to develop a ministry that would start to tackle the very issues that had occupied my thinking. For the first time in a long time, I felt properly equipped to evaluate what I was seeing, and develop a ministry to meet it.

The difficulty that I had always had in my time leading a youth group was that I had all these big ideas (you know, the ones where we dream of changing the world one teenager at a time), yet no real structure in place to develop them, or think them through enough to actually start one of them. I’m not sure if I’m the only person in youth work that had this problem, but for me it was something that was causing me a lot of frustration. I knew what I was doing for our youth was okay – and by that I mean they kept turning up – but I knew it was just ticking a box, and not addressing the issues that our young people were facing.

By day three of the course, the day you get to spend upon the mothership – Youthscape’s wonderful HQ – all things began to make sense. I was given a structure to my thinking, resources to develop them and an opportunity to test some of the theory out in fictional situations, all the time thinking how this could work for me and my ministry. That’s not to say the other days were boring, in fact they were full of really strong content and opportunities to put different elements to the innovation process into action, but Day Three will always be for me the best!

I know we as the Church can tend to shy away from practices such as innovation, yet having been on this course, the very thing we need to do as the Church and youth workers is to innovate. It doesn’t mean change the gospel, but it does mean having the confidence to take the gospel and ask how can I package this so that the young person on the street who is part of a gang, or the young person who is struggling with their mental health, or the young person that has grown up in a non-Christian home, can understand it and see that Jesus is for them.

Repackaging what we know to be the best news is really fun, it's great to spend time dreaming big, looking at what the young people in my town need and developing ideas that can really begin to help the young people that many seem to have given up on.

I think youth work can be a very isolating role, you are often out in the community on your own. It can be tiring, frustrating, demoralising, upsetting, stressful, anxiety inducing and all round make you want to bang your head against a brick wall, but whatever the reason we have for doing it, it tends to be the thing that makes all of the stress worth it. Having been on this course with people like me, I know that I am not alone. I’ve made friends who are in similar positions who pray for me and that I am able to pray for, we are able to offer support for one another and share ideas. This is a brilliant course for anyone working with young people and one that can equip you to change the lives of young people.

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