Is the quality of Youth Ministry generally going down dramatically? 10 questions for Mike Pilvatchi.

Soul Survivor promo

So recently the world of youth ministry, (well the readers of youth work magazine) were rocked by the following bit of an interview with Mike Pilvatchi in the magazine. In answer to the question “What shifts have you noticed among youth workers over the last 25 years?” Mr Pilvatchi who is the leader of Soul Survivor, Watford, and the Soul Survivor week long bible festival summer events, answered…

Generally, the quality of youth workers has gone down dramatically. I love the Anglican Church but lots of our best youth leaders are now getting ordained and I begged the Archbishop – I went and saw him, and asked: “Please could you establish a diaconate for youth leaders?” We’ve just got to raise the profile of that, otherwise it’s like you do youth work for three years until you’ve practiced with the little people and then you do the proper ministry. We’ve got to break that.

Honestly, loads of youth leaders don’t even know what they believe. And they’re petrified of looking at certain issues – especially sex and sexuality. The numbers of youth leaders after we did a series of talks on sex and relationships who said: “Thank you for doing that because we can’t talk about it”. Really? I asked this years’ Soul61s, which is our discipleship year – there are 25 of them and they’re the ones that raised £6,000 each to spend ten months with us so they’re pretty committed – I asked them back in January: “How many of you have never talked about sex and sexuality in your youth group?” Half put their hands up. Half!

Mr Pilvatchi goes on to lament the lack of bible teaching in the early days of Soul Survivior, wishing they had less funny stories, and more bible stories. Concluding with the observation that the church now has a biblically illiterate generation. You can read the interview here. The sense I get is this is a big questions on the end of a promo interview for a book, I am not sure Mr Pilvatchi had time to consider his answers as if this was the subject of the interview. But I think this is an observation which needs to be considered seriously. I wonder if this is true for Scotland, and specifically for the Church of Scotland.

So as I have been involved in youth ministry for 25 years this year (I know I don’t look old enough!), and as this is National Youth Work week 2016,  I thought it would be good to consider this issue a bit more. th achieve this consideration I am writing 3 blog posts on the topic. This is post one entitled – 10 questions for Mike Pilvatchi.

10 questions for Mike Pilvatchi (a series of questions to try and tease out a bit more of what this is all about.)
1 – What is the point of youth ministry?
Looking at the answers in the interview, I am guessing you consider the point of youth ministry is primarily christian education i.e. to teach bible stories and principles to young people. But I think I need to check that assumption with you.

2 – Why do workers move on from youth ministry to ordination?
What are the issues that being a youth worker poses, that becoming a full time Rev. answers? What is stopping quality people from working in youth ministry long term? Have you seen where this is an instinctive move from youth work to work with all people within a congregation, and as such can viewed as an extension of an existing ministry rather than a change from a lesser ministry to proper ministry? What does it mean for a worker who hasn’t been ordained after 25 years?

3 – Would a diaconate solution solve these issues?
Within the Church of Scotland, the diaconate is a small and little known ministry of the church (unless you are a keen observer of such things). Would appointing youth ministry professionals to this ministry status really answer the issues raised by question 2?

4- What needs to be put in place to support and improve youth ministry as a whole?
Not all youth ministry exists within the anglican church, or christian education so while the Diaconate solution may work in that context, the issue raised needs a bigger structural response. With Oasis College in London recently stopping new entries to under & post degree level courses, what new structures are needed to support youth ministry generally?

5 – If the quality of youth workers has gone down dramatically, was it always high or is this a regression to the normal level?
I wasn’t around in the 50’s or 60’s, but I have read some of the literature of the time, I am curious to know if you think the youth ministry of the 60’s was better than the youth ministry of 80’s, and if they were both better than youth ministry in the 00’s, this would establish if this is a steady decline or if the identified decline is an unexpected drop off.

6 – How do you judge quality?
You seem be talking about the quality of person available, (as a youth worker still working within youth ministry for 25 years, I already have a healthy view of my own limited skill set!), then later you lament the practices of the current workers in talking about sex with teenagers or doing bible teaching. I am unclear if you are talking about people or practices primarily, (although I realise they are inherently linked).

7 – What data are you measuring this criteria against?
How do you judge if something is better now than it was a while ago, usually you would look for an evidence base of some sort, so I am also interested to consider what evidence or data sources you would point to when making this judgement about worker quality?

8 – You were invited to comment upon youth workers, what other things do you consider influence youth workers and how would you consider these influencing others have shifted over the last 25 years?
No youth worker is an island, so in thinking about the quality of youth worker, how much strength or affect would you ascribe to developments in parenting, childrens ministry, education policy, theological thinking, the professionalisation of youth ministry, cultural changes, social changes, economic changes, government policy, and other factors that all influence and shape youth ministry?

9 – Sex and sexuality is an interesting focus, why choose it?
Within the church of Scotland, there are ongoing discussions, that have resulted in sex and sexuality being something to discuss very carefully (going so far as to prevent ministers from commenting upon sex and sexuality debates for a period of time.) The Church of Scotland is and has changed its position on this and various ways forward are being discussed and put in place by the CofS nationally. Given this is a live issue where church ideas are/can be controversial, a reticence to lead discussions on the topic would be understandable. Within such a context of whole church review is it fair to consider sex and sexuality as the primary example then of quality youth work?

10 – What shifts within youth ministry have been positive over the last 25 years?
I don’t believe you are inherently negative about youth ministry, what are the good things you have seen as it has developed and changed in the last 25 years?