With this question we were challenged by Chris Curtis, the director of Youthscape, during the European Youth Ministry Network. A justified question to the youthleaders from various European countries. What is the situation in the Netherlands? Fortunately, a lot of research is done in the Netherlands, often by students. The OJKC regularly comes up with fascinating researches. There is even a Research & React day in which you are informed about current research. Yet I was again triggered by this question. Because the reason for most research is the completion of a study or promotion and based on your own affinity. And as far as I know there are not really longitudinal studies. There is no research center that has a overview about Christian youth work. In addition, we often miss the translation of scientific research into concrete practice in churches. To give an idea, I would like to share some of the research that was presented during the EYMN conference:

GenZ: Rethinking Culture

This study into Generation Z was conducted in November and December of 2016 among 11 -18 year-olds from England. Laura Hancock, research director at YFC England, presented this research, noting that the attendees did not know it was a research from YFC. Because it contains so many interesting figures, I limit myself here to a number of aspects from the summary.

Does God exist? Almost half of the young people do not believe in the existence of God. And it is more common not to think about God and spirituality.

Share faith? Even though most young people know friends who are Christian and they experience these Christians as positive, it does not mean that they want to know more about God.

Family valuable? The family is perceived as valuable by the young people and helps them to gain a positive self-esteem. The strongest motivation is that the young people want their families to be proud of them.

What concerns? The young people are most worried about their school (results) in addition to their appearance. Global issues among young people are war, terrorism and poverty.

No Questions Asked

The research presented by Chris Curtis of Youthscape focuses on young people aged 16-19 years in Luton, so can’t be copied to other young people. At the same time, the European youthleaders recognized a number of outcomes. The reason for the research was whether belief questions were changed among young people. But the big surprise was that there were no questions about God and faith at all, only at the end of the interviews. It seemed that the questions were buried under a thick layer of history. Why is it that young people no longer ask these questions about faith? The following points emerged from the interviews:

Disrespectful: If tolerance is an important value and discussing, asking questions about someone’s faith is experienced as ‘criticism’ or ‘attack’ then you do not ask questions. Questions about faith are seen by young people as not respectful; ‘I did not want to upset you’.

We’re all the same: Why do we have to ask questions about each other’s faith if it is all the same. Many young people see no differences, due to unfamiliarity with religions or a pluralistic conception of faith and sometimes because tolerance and acceptance is more important.

Beliefs are personal: Faith is private and personal and therefore not something to discuss or to ask questions about. That is why young people are not really used to talk about God or faith. Even in families between parents and children, there is hardly any talk about religion.

Religion is practical, not abstract: Young people do not have a well-defined dogmatic framework about faith, they experience faith as something practical, something of every day. Faith questions are therefore less relevant, it is about what you see of faith. It is striking that Christianity has few concrete expressions in comparison with Islam, such as fasting, clothing, prayer times etc.

Religion is not a big concern: Even though young people often think about their hopes and dreams for the future, religion is not really an issue. Faith and God is simply not something that you are very passionate about or that young people are concerned about.

Besides all information and knowledge exchange, I will write about this later, it was very special to meet each other as brothers and sisters. Completely different cultures, languages, backgrounds and traditions but with the same desire; ‘God and young people’. And again I was impressed by the ‘service in collaboration’, the way in which fellow youthleaders visit each other and serve the ministry of the other.

Networking or Collaborating

During such an international conference you take some distance from your own situation, your own country and culture. This sometimes gives very clear insights into ‘the way we do things around here’, as a nice description of culture. Especially if you can compare that with other cultures and when other cultures reflect on typical Dutch behavior. A well-known phenomenon is the ‘immediacy’ of Dutch people who are often perceived as clumsy or inappropriate in other cultures. But over the past few days I have heard three times an experience of individuals about ‘cooperation’ with Dutch people. And the conclusion was that it was pretty difficult. As a Dutch we are usually good at networking so it surprised me a lot. But when I heard the experiences, I understood it better. Because in various situations it appeared that the interests, the added value for the Dutch were decisive for the cooperation. Usually focused on realizing added value for their own agendas or plans or ‘selling’ their own method, vision. The goal was known and the networking was determined by realizing that goal. But working together is deeply believing that you have been given to each other to achieve a common goal. And these signals prompted me to ask ourselves if we would not deprive ourselves of the opportunity to see what God wants to do through the other? Do we ‘calculate’ too much in our networks and therefore sometimes forget to really work together?

Latvia and Northern Ireland

Therefore, a number of examples that I have heard or experienced these days. And it starts with the question ‘What do Latvia and Northern Ireland have in common?’ As far as I know not very much, and yet a special collaboration has started in an incomprehensible way. A youth worker in Latvia who did not know how he could be of significance to the youth in his country found a book in an office where he happened to be, triggered by the title. In an inexplicable way he opens the book on page 3, read here the name of the leader of a youth organization in Northern Ireland from which he has looked up the contact details. And so an email arrived in Northern Ireland where the question from Latvia was a confirmation for this organization. And so there was a nice cooperation that is now of great significance for young people in Latvia. For me a special lesson that God can have a plan that is not consistent with our calculations or logical collaborations.

Daniel

During one of the Bible studies we have considered Daniel and the way he lived at the Baylonic court. Daniel was willing to enter into relations with his enemies, the people who had taken him away from his own country. And he talks about the rules for eating and drinking and, together with those in charge, looks for a solution. And when Daniel went to the king to explain the dream and its meaning, he first went to his friends. For Daniel knew that he needed others, that his friends should pray for him. That raises the question for me whether we dare to be dependent on others and ask our friends to pray for us and accept that they also ask questions or provide feedback.

Hongarian Romanian

At the conclusion of the conference we celebrated Holy Supper together, Holy Communion as celebrating the community of saints. This was led by a pastor from Romania who studied in Kampen and was a minister at a Reformed Hungarian church. He did this together with a Baptist pastor from Romania. A meaningful experience because in this moment so many gaps were bridged. Those who know history a little bit know how complicated the relationship is between Romania and Hungary. And the traditional Hungarian church has a very different tradition than the Baptists. And I was very impressed with how this friend, we met before in the Netherlands, with respect for his own tradition, used new forms that had meaning. This was also an example of how the gap between generations or traditions can be bridged. After celebrating Lord’s Supper we all got a stone with our name on it. He collected them, together with his wife, at the beach in Spain. This stone with our name was a sign that we are part of God’s temple. Small and insignificant in itself but necessary as a stone to build His temple together.

Before this week started, I was asked several times about what the European Youth Ministry Network is, who are there and what they do. These are excellent questions to answer quickly and easily. Still, I take a little more time for an answer to reflect on the Dutch situation at the same time.

EYMN

The European Network of Youth Workers organized this 3rd conference to meet, encourage, share experiences and discover together what is happening in Europe. Well there were earlier European meetings and the EYMN is not the only network, that’s how it goes in a complex world. Yet it is remarkable to see how youth workers from Europe have managed to find each other and have worked together effectively through the years. In this conference there are about 45 ‘leaders in Youth ministry’ from 16 different European countries. What is special is that since 5 – 10 years Europe has been better represented and it has not only remained a Western European meeting.

Experience

The participants are very diverse in view of the functions in Youth Ministry. There are local youth workers, developers of materials, directors of organizations, regional networkers and everything in between. And the ‘years of service’ are also very diverse, but the largest group has between 10 and 20 years of experience with a number of outliers to more than 30 years of youth ministry. Fortunately, there is no ‘best before’ date for youth workers, so that experience and knowledge can be retained and transferred. This is not obvious because in the Netherlands I sometimes experience a shortage of experienced youth workers. It is possible that we in the Netherlands have too little appreciation for people who have been walking for some years and that we forget to be grateful for all their commitment to new generations. All the more because it gives us a clear signal to our young people; we consider you important and therefore appreciate the people who invest in you. This is also essential for recruiting and guiding a new generation of leaders. It is striking that the attendees have become leaders at a young age.

Profession

What I noticed further from the survey prior to this conference is that about 35% have a ‘volunteer ministry’ (unpaid). With my Dutch glasses that is a sign that the domain of youth work is still immature. From the idea that ‘money follows vision’ I worry if there is apparently so little budget to invest in good youth work. At the same time I realize that the context in Eastern Europe is very different than in the Netherlands. Yet I was surprised by a colleague from Bulgaria who said that ‘paid ministry’ is a bit suspicious because the idea is that young people do not enter into a relationship with people who are paid to move with these young people. This of course raises all kinds of questions about what a youth worker is. More and more I believe in second line youth workers and first line youth leaders. Direct contact with young people, sharing life requires a relationship and continuity. In my opinion, this is by definition a youth leader, a volunteer from the church or community. At the same time, youth work calls for professionals who train youth leaders, who develop good material, develop vision and that is really a profession. For this you need an appropriate education and flying hours.

Mentoring

One of the oldest participants calls himself an ‘alongsider’, a great term for someone who is near, involved in certain life phases. The principle of mentoring, coaching is also used by most people present. Being mentor for others and having a mentor applies to most attendees. And that applies to all ages and remarkably enough especially to those who are older than 40. Apparently, despite or perhaps because of many years of experience, you need a ‘alongsider’. I think we can learn a lot from this as Dutch ‘do-it-yourselfers’. Dare to make yourself vulnerable and continue to grow as a youth worker. Hopefully this will also be encouraged and facilitated by employers such as churches and organizations.

During one of the programs we discussed the moral compass of the current generation. There have always been sorrows when it comes to young people. Yet it is different now, according to Josh Patty, regional director of Josiah Venture. The current young people, whom we call the IGen’s, deal very differently with questions about ‘right and wrong’, they have a different way of dealing with morality. Josh relied on, among other things, a study by the Barna Group and he distinguished a number of generations:

  • Modern Generation: they have an absolute picture of good and evil
  • Postmodern Generation X: morality depends on the situation
  • Millenial Generation Y: morality depends on the person
  • iGen Generation Z: can deal with various conflicting moralities

The GenZ perspective was explained from a blog by a teenager who had questions with a number of moral issues because she had never received an honest answer to the ‘why’. Questions about ethics such as sexuality and abortion were often answered with ‘that we believe’, which led her to conclude: I am really for faith but not for religious groups. It is striking that this was immediately recognized for colleagues at my table, both in secularized Netherlands and in Romania, Germany and Latvia. Where the church was for centuries the authority in the field of ethics and morality, the church is now suspicious and hypocritical in the eyes of GenZ. Young people certainly do not consult the church anymore but use their own moral code;

  • Do not harm
  • Do not offend
  • Do not judge

And in view of this moral code, there is often a communication gap with other generations that think from a clear difference between good and evil. In addition to the cultural shift in ethical thinking, I suspect that we ourselves have contributed to a somewhat limited ethics. All too often, as youth workers, we have emphasized the love of God, and rightly so. But from our own biography or frustrations about our upbringing, we have often been silent about rules. Or we have wrongly created the image that it is a transaction; if you do this, then it goes well. The question is how the Bible talks about ethics and lifestyle. From Deuteronomy 30: 11-20, Josh showed us what God’s lessons are about ethics.

  1. The lessons of God are realistic, the principles are feasible for us as people (vs11)
  2. We do not start at 0 in learning these rules, they are already in our hearts (vs14)
  3. You get your own choice but it does have consequences, so think carefully (vs15)
  4. It is a blessing (or curse) for yourself but also for future generations (19b)
  5. It is ultimately a relational choice, relationship with God (vs20)

And if you look at this section a bit further you will see that there are three aspects:

  • Rule in Law: Rules from the law of God
  • Relationship in Love: relationship based on love
  • Reward in Life: The promise of God that you will live

As youthleaders we will have to be aware of the different perspectives when it comes to ethics and lifestyle. And from these differences share Biblical words and principles with a new generation in which we keep the balance between Rule, Relation and Reward.

Invitation

Over the past few years the European Youth Ministry Network has played an important role in connecting, inspiring and equipping leaders from across Europe in our calling to youth ministry. As we continue our shared fight for a generation we are delighted to invite you as a senior youth ministry leader in Europe to join us in Barcelona for our 3rd European Youth Ministry Network Gathering – ‘Our Times… Our Task’. From the 23th to the 25th of October 2018 leaders from across Europe will meet to be refreshed through deepening our relatonships, growing in understanding of our 21st Century context and preparing for the opportunities
that await us through increased collaboraton, innovation and passion.

My participation

Since 2012 I’m joining the European network of Youth leaders and try to participate in gatherings. Not only to be encouraged by colleagues but also to be able to share new developments in the Netherlands. For me it is also a possibility to meet and talk with friends that are abroad.

My expectation

I’m looking forward to meet and talk with other youth leaders and friends. As a preparation I’ve been asked to mention three topics or passions. I will explain my three topics because I hope to discuss these in a European context and learn from other youth leaders:

  • Religious education

The last gathering we had quite a few talks about discipleship. It was good to share ideas and especially our passion for disciple making but I feel we need to dive a bit deeper. The way we connect with young people and tell them the gospel is sometimes ‘our way’ and not always the best method. Therfore I think it would be good to learn more about religious education. A theoretical and practical reflection on the way we can share and tell the great story of God with mankind.

  • Extendend adolescence

 

One off the aspects of religious education is the impact of psychological development from young people. In the western culture we see a emerging adulthood. I was wondering if this is a trend over all Europe. I think we can learn from eachother the way this changes our youth ministry.

  • Integral mission

In Youth ministry, as far as i can see, we don’t have much theological reflections or framework. A Theology of Youth ministry would help us to offer more than our own believes and experiences to young people. I think that the reflections from ‘Integral mission’ can help us stay connected to our times and the Gospel.

I’m looking forward to this gathering and hope that I can share new understandings afterwards.