Category: theology

On “How Will Our Children Have Faith?” a resource from @churchscotland

(Click photo to learn more)

On Saturday I had my first read through of the newest of the Learn series of publications from the Church of Scotland, titled “How Will Our Children Have Faith?”.

‘How Will Our Children Have Faith?’ is a short discussion guide which explores the reasons for working with children and young people. It also works through developing a successful model in each local church setting.

It is encouraging churches to stop asking the “How?” questions of children and youth work, instead ask “why?”. What follows are some general and hopefully constructive thoughts and opinions based on my first read through.

General thoughts.

– I am glad this exists. I think a small approachable resource material for youth workers and children workers is necessary within the Church of Scotland and is useful.  It does feel quite small.  The first thing I noticed about the publication was its size. It is a pamphlet, (12pages), as opposed to a booklet, (The booklet on eldership is 72pages). Does the role of working with children and young people on behalf of the church require less exploration than being part of the church management system?

– I wonder why is a pamphlet exploring “why” we do youth work in churches, is titled with a “how” question? I realise that it maybe a reference to Westerhoff’s 1976 book “Will Our Children Have Faith”, one of the classic critiques of Christian education, but this book isn’t referenced or pointed to in anyway.

– This text is for childrens work and youth work specialities, the absence of the voice of the Young People’s Development Worker employed by the Church of Scotland is strange. Likewise there is a lack of young people’s voice.

– There isn’t a lack of resources which deal with children and youth work, yet there is no recommended further reading for any of the sections.

Chapter one is an attempt to get provide a biblical basis to the question why we work with young people written by Barbra McDade of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland.

– I like a lot of what she says. I like the biblical basis of “family” and “body”, questioning of what it means that be a family, to worship inter generationally. I have for years wondered what would change if instead of having family services, we had church for everyone. Family service implies talking down to the level of the children, for the sake of the children. Church for everyone asks very different questions and reveals a very different way of thinking.

– I felt there was a missed opportunities to to examine what it means to become a child of God, McDade refers to this and then doesn’t go anywhere with it, also opening a thought about the practice of baptism, asking deep questions of a denominational sacrament that is primarily, within the Church of Scotland, practiced with young children. Yet this line of thought doesn’t get developed, which is unfortunate as the discussion about the practice of baptism has been recently illuminated by Bård Nordheim’s 2014 book, Practicising Baptism. This issue could have allowed this publication to be sited and engaged within a wider active conversation.

Chapter two suggests that the needs of children and young people can be indentified statistically using the Church of Scotland’s “statistics for mission” data analysis, arguing that statistics should provide a direct link to any work you want to do with YP and children while also ensuring that duplication of services is avoided.

– I like the idea of using the stats to inform mission. But wonder if people will surrender to stats rather than keen observations and local knowledge.

– the text is very short.

Chapter three helps us to consider the importance for reflection, evaluation and wise feedback on current work and future plans, these skills are also useful while establishing what the needs of the children and young people are. This should also be spiritual, including prayer and seeking Gods face.

-I felt the explaination of the importance place that reflection and evaluation inhabits was too short. I would have preferred maybe a briefer introduction, and an expanded guide to the questions provided.

Chapter 4 is a practical chapter providing a way to develop a successful strategy.

– Part 4 is the part I had real trouble with. It seems a bit strange that in trying not to be a “how to guide”, it finishes on a note of “go write a 3 year strategy” and while your there, work out what your training and development needs are. (How do you write a 3 year strategy for a churches youth work? Well, you just write a 3 year strategy for youth work.) There seems a lack of how the “why” corresponds to the concrete “how”.

concluding thoughts

A couple of days after reading I am still glad it has been written. I think this is a useful resource in what it is trying to do and I am looking forward to facilitating conversations within my local church on its points over the next month or so. I think a lot of the strength of this material will be due to the way conversations are facilitated.

(If you want me to come and facilitate the discussions upon this material, drop me a line. and we will see what we can do. scott(at)schlep(dot)co(dot)uk)

A weekly service?

Do we do church too often?

Recently I was thinking about why I really enjoy concerts. At the Barenaked ladies gig I looked around as a lot for people were singing along with almost every song, from the oldest song to the newest. As I did this I wondered about the whole idea of going to something and wanting to participate. Wanting to partake in something bigger. (there are many better people to read on the links between big concerts/nightclubs and religious experiences than myself, thankfully.)

While thinking about this I wondered about how we learn to cross the road, it is through the small boring repetition of crossing roads everyday with our parents that we learn this skill and it comes naturally. (a practice I am currently going through with my children.) In the context of the concert it is the small daily practices of listening to the CD, nodding, humming, and singing along, which makes these songs something we own and live with. It is a practice of nurturing and embodying what we believe, until when faced with the question what would you do if you had a million dollars?, you answer without missing a beat, “If I had a million dollars, I’d by you a green dress, but not a green dress that’s cruel.” or finish an answer with “…and Hello to Jason Issacs” or whatever embodiment of the daily practice is appropriate.

I wonder if by placing a church service at the centre of the community of faith and then making its rhythm as regular as weekly, we have given permission for the abdication of the personal daily disciplines. The daily practices of bible reading, praying. The Barenaked Ladies come to Glasgow once every 1-2 years and I wonder if part of what makes the yearly concerts good less to do with the skill of the band and are the personal time and discipline put into learning, retaining and embedding the knowledge of in this case the songs. (Again, I don’t want to get caught up in a discussion of are festivals like spring harvest, autumn soul or creation good for the local church better minds have and will discuss this.)

Does church do its congregation a disservice by meeting on a weekly basis? How would the church change if we only met once a quarter? I think i already know that’s not the answer, but I wonder if this is the cause of an issue that needs some thought. I wonder if the regularity of church services have devalued the church event itself. Or I wonder if a weekly church service isn’t enough to get to the level of the boring regular repetition, as within the crossing the road example. I am not sure.

(PS I am pretty sure that Bigger and Better minds than Mine have already tackled this and will have written great books on this issue but that I just haven’t found/read them yet…)

Feedback to my session and questions from others at the celtic IASYM colloquium. #cIASYMc2015

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After my session on Wednesday the group had a wide-ranging 30mins discussion throwing about some of the topics of my talk, here are some of the notes I took of that discussion the session was on play within christian faith-based youth work as resistance to the socioeconomic commodification of young people (or something like that.) A big thank you to everyone who took part in the discussion, I found it very valuable. Anyway here’s the notes –

How and where does youth work discuss outcomes vs outputs?
– resistance – is youth work selling young people?

What is a good life?
– how do we judge what is a successful life for the young people we work with?
– economic view of young people contrasts with a life of purpose and fulfilment.
— How do we teach to young people, when the two agendas seem at odds?
— Within youth work what change do we want?

Could Social Pedagogy be a fruitful avenue for investigation?

Play can be misread as hedonism, buying out of the system, which is ultimately a hollow experience.

What is the difference between productivity and commodification?

Viewing young people with instrumental value vs viewing young people with intrinsic value.

Bringing back sabbath and eucharist to youth work.

Are there Post Christendom readings of the book of Romans that feeds into the topic.

Notes taken by Charis Robertson - thanks Charis
Notes taken by Charis Robertson – thanks Charis

There were 5 other session through out the conference some questions which the other sessions raised for me included –

Do we try to supply a fully formed theology when actually young people live with a fractured, unsystematic theology?

How self-perpetuating is youth ministry, as young people become too old to come as young people they move to planning groups to ensure the event stays true to their memory? (youth ministry as tradition reinforcement).
How do we encourage change in young people’s christian faith experience?

How much youth work is dealing with the issues of the parents & community?

Who are the invisible young people within my context. Where could I learn to see or work with them?

Invest in relationship, create a culture, allow an encounter. (the simple things…)
The ethics of praying for young people and issues of their consent?

How do we tell a good story without controlling it?
How do we ask good questions without controlling the question?
How do we record young people’s movement, growth and change in ways that are significant? (How does this change our relationship with funders?)

Ask volunteers to physically picture what play looks like.

Criticism of Youth Ministry by Christian Youth Work helps to clarifying the difference between the two approaches.
– can this be heard by Youth Ministry or is it too close for comfort?
– does faith need defending? has faith ever been helped by an attack/defence apologetics conversation?

Digitally native needs to be assumed as digitally naive. (just because the stuff is there does not mean we know how to use it well.) Who teaches us this skill or are we left to our own devices, literally?

Thoughts from the Celtic IASYM colloquium. #colloquium

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I went to the inaugural Celtic IASYM colloquium on Wednesday and Thursday this week. It was generally good, and I enjoyed being there, so here are some thoughts on the event.

It was held in a halls of residence for students at Belfast’s Queens university. So it was basic accommodation, but that’s fine. It had wi-fi, power and was warm, single rooms with thick enough walls so you cannot hear the person next door is always a bonus. (of course I mean for those who have to sleep in room joining mine, I am not the lightest on my feet!)

Around 20 practitioners from churchy youth work turned up and that was good number of people form a variety of backgrounds, roles and viewpoints. Maybe another 10 would be useful to round it out.

There were six sessions over the two days some were 30/30 sessions, with 30mins presentation and 30 discussion and questions. Others sessions were 60/30 sessions with 1hr presentations and 30mins discussions. A third form of session was 30/30/30 with two 30mins presentations and 30mins discussion. I felt the 30/30 sessions felt sharp.  The 30/30/30 sessions also felt right. Of the two 60/30 sessions one felt very long the other felt a wee bit long. In future I would drop the 60/30 sessions I don’t think the event needed that length of presentation. I thought most of the sessions were good and I thought was caused to reflect on my own practice and youth work as part of being there. There was one presentation I didn’t get a lot from but i don’t know that was as yet.

Session discussions.
The dominant themes in conversation were what is church? Yet I felt there was a significant underlying theme of the space between youth ministry and youth work. There were some dominant figure in discussion, and I think that possibly skewed the chat onto the related topics.

I wonder if the discussions needed a bit more steering to discussing the presentation and asking questions/responses of the presenters rather than the general sharing of the groups mind. I don’t know if this is right but I was struck that very few questions were asked of the presenters after their presentation.

Food was good and plentiful.

I felt that there was time for possibly two more presentations without it feeling busy. this could be achieved by giving 45mins for lunch and cutting the 60/30 sessions to 30/30 sessions. and 15 minutes extra on the finishing time would have been fine I think.


All in all it was fine I think. well done to Graeme and gramme for putting it together.

Hi, My Name is scott. Today I want to talk about…

Last night, I was getting ready for bed when I had something approximating an epiphany. It was a thought that popped into my head and made sense of something I had been thinking about

“what does the Scottish Government policy document say about this?”

I admit that not often have the words epiphany, Scottish Government and Policy document met in a sentence but there you go. I cannot control my epiphanies.

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This thought was important as I am taking part in a couple of small gatherings over the next few weeks. On Wednesday and Thursday I am at the inaugural IASYM Celtic Colloquium gathering in Belfast. This is a gathering of churchy youth work type people to discuss practice etc. The aim is to gather those who are about masters level or thinking doing a masters and have a mix of full papers, outline papers, and subject explorations for those thinking of starting something. I am first on the programme. That is right “headlining” the first morning. Looking the world of socio-economics, Christin Faith Based youth work (anything to push up the word count(!)) and Play. It has been interesting how much this new study has come out of my masters study when I have started preparing for this thing. Anyway two days in Belfast, it should be fun.

Secondly on saturday the 12th of September I am doing something on at the Youth Work Summit Nano Scotland. Which is a snappy title kinda. I will be talking about volunteering and my own experience trying to put into conversation how my thoughts and feeling about volunteering changed from being a volunteer – to being a part time worker – to being a full time worker – to being a part time worker – to being a volunteer again. I have hit upon some great stats on church volunteering.
“In England and Wales, 31% of the population contribute 87% of the total hours volunteered, and a more concentrated 7.6% of the population provide 49% of hours volunteered (Mohan, 2011). This “civic core” is a generally middle-aged, well-educated, religious, owner- occupying section of the British middle class, who dominate civic participation.”
Jings 50% of all volunteering in England and Wales is done by 8% of the population. Thats bonkers.
I also am planning to introduce the world premier of “the curve of awesomeness and goodness” which is a lovely thing to see and work with. Anyway tickets still available from he website above if you do christian based youth work type stuff and fancy being at what looks like it could be a fun day.

N.B. No word on which headlining slot I will be getting. I am hoping for the prestigious post lunch slot (Snoozetime) or the equally prestigious pre lunch time (hurryuplunchissoontime) but don’t think i have the weight to carry off either of those slots so who knows.


What are you listening too?


This is a brief half-year report on some of the new music I Have heard and enjoyed over the last 6 months (January – July). some are famous, some are not, some you have heard of, some you will  not. anyway it is interesting to try to gather them together for your information and delight. If you wish you can let me know what you have been listening to in the comments section.

a0584391936_16Against Illusions and Reality by Parks, Squares and Alleys – File under Dreampop.

homepage_large.8a8c51f9All Are Saved by Fred Thomas  – File under Indie Rock.

UnknownA Bad Wind Blows in my Heart by Bill Ryder Jones – File under Indie Folk.

Broken-Temples-Album-CoverBroken Temples by Kevin Max – File under Pop.

AKR099-Cover-471x471Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens – File under Indie Folk.

tame-impala-currentsCurrents by Tame Impala – File under Rock.

a1422141892_16Eas by Iain Morrison – File under Folk.

12inch_recordjacketEscape From Evil by Lower Dens – File under Indie Rock.

packshotGirls In Peacetime Want to Dance by Belle & Sebastian – File Under Indie Pop.

71V2TVxKYcL._SX425_Goon by Tobias Jesso Jr – File under Indie Pop.

91HM55-T3xL._SX425_Growing Up is for Trees by I’m From Barcelona – File under Indie Pop.

51-ao7nX-qL._SX425_Lucid Dreaming by Say Lou Lou – File under Dreampop.

tumblr_inline_ndsm9uWHp91rr1q7fNatalie Prass by Natalie Prass – file under Indie Pop.

a2440765326_10PlagueThe Eastern Sea – File under Rock.

6192238The Scene Between by The Go Team – File under Electronic.

41nZeLYQ7EL._SS280Short Movie by Laura Marling – File under Indie.

imageSleeping Operator by The Barr Brothers – File under Country.

courtney_barnett_sometimes_i_sit_front_2Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett – File under Rock.

a0804357521_16Stranger Kings by Stranger Kings – File under Dreampop.

medium.eVt0krDOwUlXl7qCsdavEwhDLmfcSUHUdBo6xL_5t38The Waterfall by My Morning Jacket – File under Rock.

TerribleBeautiful_a02d48f1-01be-43ad-8a18-14a4c405bf56_1024x1024What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists – File under Indie Pop.

I am a graduate. #graduate


So today I graduated. This is the third time it has been considered academically that I have done enough to be returned to society as someone who can do something vaguely useful. (Does that make it a habit yet?) I didn’t go to the ceremony, took the car to the garage instead. 

Many congratulations to those who also graduated today. I hope all your wildest dreams come true. 

What is Youth work? (in the style of “since you asked”)

by Dave Walker of cartoon
What is youth work?

What is youth work? That is easy, right? It is about working with young people.
Well you would think it is as easy as doing what it says on the tin, you work with young people. The problem with this viewpoint is a lot of people work with young people and if all youth work is can be defined ultimatley by age group of the people we work with it gets silly fast. The bus driver driving a school bus is a youth worker, for example, and frankly that get tiresome. So those who work as youth workers had a think and tried to work out how to explain it better.

But defining by age is so simple and simple is good.
Simple can be good, but often it is not the elegant solution. Look at a teacher (if one is in the room, if not imagine one), a teacher is not defined by the age group they work with, teachers are defined by a purpose, a recognisable nature and a set of practices which they carry out to a certain skill level. The age group is the context within which they practice.

So it is defined by what you do and the skill in doing it?
Yeah thats the idea. The Scottish Government set up an agency called YouthLink Scotland to over see youth work and its development and its 2005 leaflet entitled the Purpose and Nature of youth work is definitive for youth work in scotland. It says the Purpose of youth work is
“• Build self-esteem and self-confidence.
• Develop the ability to manage personal and social relationships.
• Create learning and develop new skills.
• Encourage positive group atmospheres.
• Build the capacity of young people to consider risk, make reasoned decisions and take control.
• Develop a ‘world view’ which widens horizons and invites social commitment.” (Statement on the nature and purpose of youth work, Youth Link Scotland, 2005, p2)

ok that sounds admirable what about the nature.
Hold your horses, Youth Link first throws in a nod to the age question and say youth workers should be doing this with 11-25 year olds exclusively, with a particular emphasis on 11-18year olds. Then they get to the nature of youth work which has three features, young people choose to participate, the youth work must build from where young people are, and it must recognise the young person and the youth work are partners in a learning process. (Statement on the nature and purpose of youth work, Youth Link Scotland, 2005, p2)

Learning process?
Yip. youth work is educative process. not to be mistaken with formal education and learning about geography or maths or stuff. Its about learning life “[within an analysis of youth work]… learning from being part of group life remained a key element … each of these traditions encouraged us to focus on learning through conversation, experience and relationship.” (Youth Work Practice. eds Jeffs and Smith, 2010, p2)

That seems a bit vague?
Youth work is a bit ambiguous, That is why I like it. Jeffs and Smith point to the benefits of youth work being, Privision of Sanctuary, Enjoyable activity for the young people, Personal and Social Development, Relationship and community and appreciation. (Jeffs and Smith, 2010 p5-7) concluding – “The benefits associated with youth work in civil society raise serious questions around the direction of many current policy preoccupations.” (Jeffs and Smith, 2010, p7). The problem is that the people who pay for youth work on the other hand dislike this ambiguity. Not unreasonably, they want results, tangible benefits from the money they are pouring in, (although I am not sure how realistic current models of assessment are when the questions being asked is about the the reality of working with people). The Scottish Government & Youthlinks first big youth work publication was Step It Up in 2003, a framework for working out what youth work is and assessing it. Step it Up introduced the term effective youth work on a policy level and pointed scottish youth work on a path to the established professional status for youth workers.

Effective Youth work?
“Effective Youth work is both developmental and creative. It can and does lead to the development and growth of social and emotional competence. The central purposes of youth work outlined above, when linked to significant indicators of social and emotional competence, can be used by young people and youth workers to demonstrate personal and group development.” (Step It Up , Strathclyde University and the Princes Trust, 2003, p12-13) Effective youth work has been at the heard of Youth Link Scotland existence, pushing youth work to become more demonstrably valuable in the eyes of funders and political overlords.

Demonstrable emotional competences? is that something you can demonstrate?
The aim isn’t to say you will always in prescribed manner or deal with things an emotionally competently. It is to say you can act in those ways and you know that way is good. That’s what our society is based upon, people acting toward a notion of wha is good. This is a central development of youth work practice and has led to the latest youth work policy document of the Scottish Executive (Our Ambitions for Improving the Life Chances of Young People in Scotland, National Youth Work Strategy 2014-2019, the Scottish Government, 2014) pushing youth work and formal education together. Continuing the effective professional move of youth work from a broader welfare under social work to being part of education.

So youth workers are like teachers.
Both are educators, one is more formal the other informal. one is dealing with skills such as maths and english, the other with skills around community and personal emotional competences. In order to deal with this the Community Learning and Development standards group have developed a professional standard for those involved with youth work, (A code of ethics for Community Learning and Development, Sercombe &Taylor, 2010). The aim is that in conversations between formal education and youth work, both can be viewed as on a level playing field with each other. Youth work becomes a profession with a basis in a ethical position. Professional workers are recognised by the CLD standards body and by the government, this could give Youth Workers and Teachers equality and a professional respect for each other.

Ok, so if that is youth work, how does the work you do in churches fit in?
That is an astute question, lets deal with that next.

Twitter, Tr0lls and Hobbes.

Twitter has been in the news recently. The news reports speak of Tr0lls, people who deliberately use the service to shout abuse, issue threats, and insult other users. This morning, Michelle Mone, has been on TV talking to both ITV and BBC about her experience on Twitter. Click here for a report.

Within youth work this concern has been tackled by Young Scot. This is important as young people are seen as early adopters of new technology through their digitally native upbringing, conversely young people are regarded as a vulnerable group within society, and as such need to be treated as digitally naive.


Hobbes, like Machiavelli, had a low view of human beings. We are all basically selfish, driven by fear of death and the hope of personal gain, he believed. All of us seek power over others, whether we realize this or not.
Warburton, A Little History of Philosophy.

Hobbes main idea is that the only thing that keeps our selfish side from coming out is the rule of law the threat of punishment, you could call it society. Hobbes life without these rules or threat of punishment, life outside society would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. In order to keep society together you need a strong leader, or a strong government. you also need people to buy into a social contract of not being selfish. giving up the dangerous side of being or the safety of society.

When you look at Twitter and it use by tr0lls it does look much like Hobbes analysed. It lacks any policing and any threat of punishment. Is that a bad thing?
because people are digitally naive. I consider that people are generally good, and a few bad apples spoilt it all for us. I say this from an awareness I am white, I am male, I live in the country, with a comparatively affluent lifestyle. I don’t see the shit of life. I don’t life in the nasty underbelly of life. I don’t see my neighbourhood being oppressed. I don’t have gangs on every corner of my streets. My neighbours do not go hungry on a regular basis. Life is good, comfortable. The practice of tr0lling brings a piece of nastiness, a glimpse of the underside of life into my path. It makes me more conscious that oppression is real. People have nasty experiences everyday and I may unthinkingly contribute to that. Without speaking about sexism, racism, the outrage of need for food banks within Scotland, people living in substandard housing. then I would by my silence be complicit with this oppression. I would be giving Tacit approval to this state of affairs.

I have once been in the situation where I caused great concern to someone by a comment I made on twitter. It was meant as a sarcastic remark but caused remarkable pain to someone else. I apologised immediately. I asked to apologise in person but was not told who it was I offended. I apologised publically using twitter, and since then have never made a comment like that again, (hopefully). It bothers me I made that comment and secondly I didn’t get to apologise in person. What moderated my usage was someone telling me I had crossed a line.

So the lack of policing is a good thing?

I can only imagine how horrible it is to have people attack you for being who you are. I can only imagine how horribly it is to have people deliberately threaten you verbally, threaten you physically, and threaten your family and friends. Just because you can delete your account or block abusive people does not mean that you are safe or that people should be allowed to say whatever they like on the internet.

What does twitter needs is a society to actively moderate itself. A community to engage with it and speak up when things arent right. A community willing to engage and say, that over the line, to speak and say that’s not right.

A New Langauge for Moral Failures in relation to marrage

rory-and-wendy-alecSo in christian TV news, one of the founders of the God channel has stepped down from the channel, after having a moral failure in relation to his marrage. This is sad for everyone involved in this marriage, and partly because they are famous in a manner, privacy is not available to them.

The languages of the statement is puzzling though. I am a bit obsessed by the language of “moral failure”. At best it is ambiguously accurate, at worst it is confusing. Pete Ward in his book “growing up evangelical” argues that evangelical christianity is too reflective in its being of teenage work. As such the evangelical church has a teenage outlook on things. I wonder if the whole of the Church generally suffers from this attitude when it comes to sex and sexual activity? Let me be clear, going down the route of Mark Driscol (joking about oral sex during morning services) is not a model I think should be generally adopted. Or even adopted ever, I dont think that does anyone any favours.

So in order to rescue sex for the church I am suggesting we spend sometime thinking of a new language to describe things. I am not seeking to describe different sex acts rather wondering about a new lanuague to discribe sex well.

A New Langauge for Moral Failures in relation to marrage

Knew – And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, (genesis 4v1 KJV)
– I am stepping down due to Knowing another woman.
Went In Unto – And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son. (‭Genesis‬ ‭30‬:‭4-5‬ KJV)
– I am stepping down due to having went in unto another woman.
Uncovered his feet – Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do. (ruth 3v3)
– I am stepping down due to uncovering the feet of another woman.

Coitus – Dr Sheldon Cooper
– I am stepping down due to coitus with another woman
Sexual Relations – Bill Clinton famously didnt have this with Miss Lewinsky.
– I am stepping down due to having sexual relations with another woman.

or we could all grow up and just call it sex?