In Blog #5 I introduced one aspect from the US High School Theology Program (HSTP). In this Blog, I share reflections on what we have in common with HSTP. It is a summary version of a full linking review I have prepared, which I encourage you to read. But it is 20 pages and that’s too big for a Blog. So, to get the full version, you have to ask me for a copy. Here’s some points to whet your appetite.
- HSTP provides meaty Christian teaching input and vocational formation (thinking about gifting and where God wants me to serve in the world) encouragement, contrasting this with congregational youth groups that primarily seek to entertain and attract large numbers, ignoring spiritually interested youth and not providing solid training.
- The HSTP program is formational and transformational, with geographical, ethical or moral and worldview or cultural disorientation. It is unique – as with Leadership, an attracting characteristic compared with participants’ other experiences at home, school, church.
- HSTP curriculum and pedagogy, as with Leadership, promotes experiential learning, that can be seen reflected in the Leadership DADA cycle of learning. Both adopt a pilgrim pedagogy – travelling together from one place to another, likening this to Adam, Abraham Jesus and the disciples, the road to Emmaus, Paul on the road to Damascus, and Philip with the eunuch on the desert road.
- Worth repeating- teenagers (young men) are interested in the spiritual. HSTP observes this; Leadershipobserves this in the morning optional devotions and the strength of worship at night.
- Teenagers experience struggles – at Leadership and HSTP they can deal with their struggles, as never before possible. They can talk about whatever they need to; they can ask any personal or biblical question they wish. Nothing is off the table.
- The images of Christian leadership at HSTP are servant, witness and steward – as in Leadership, though with emphasis on servant leadership.
- Mentors are key in HSTP (reflected in Blog #5). This is something Leadership can do better – hence our plan this year to do this in liaison with participants’ BB companies and churches. A culture of mentoring and multi-layered mentoring are important – the Leadership application being that all staff, whatever their role are available to all participants at any time. A facilitator does not have to bear the full burden, and in fact, is not equipped to do so. Mentors share and draw out personal story, connecting this with God’s story. More on story later.
- The significance of community. I probably don’t need to add more, except to offer this reminder: The Leadership community is “an incarnational space where Christ meets” participants (and staff). “Christ is already present” in the Leadership community.
- The significance of group. This is the key, particularly in Leadership, Stage 1. It is where one moves from thinking of self to thinking of others. Each group is incarnational and is where one can “’try out’ the person God has already made them to be”.
- Liminality is a shared characteristic. HSTP use terms such as a “liminal rite of passage” and “suspended between two possibilities – the way of life at home and school, and new vocational possibilities revealed in their experience … teenagers … find themselves vulnerable and open to new possibilities, to others, and to God”.
- Story telling / story sharing. Throughout HSTP and frequently in Leadership as well as documented by other youth workers, the power of story is a shared phenomenon of HSTP and Leadership.
- Acceptance (who they are in Christ), empowerment (to be nothing but “the wildly promising human beings God made them to be”) and imperfection (in Christ, don’t need to be ideal people, or demand this of others, before we can be community) – the three categories that make up the theory of Leadershipfrom my research, are also reflected in HSTP.
- Worship is a key expeerience of both programs – the way youth worship (so different to in any other place they find themselves) and its impact on staff are compelling.
- Youth are competent and youth are ready – something slow learning adults and church leaders need to wake up to – an outcome of the Leadership research and an outcome of the HSTP evaluation. They are not players in waiting; they are not the reserves in the game; they are competent fellow workers NOW – including in churches (and not just in BB or Kids Club). If we don’t use them, they will find their place somewhere else.
- Working with churches – see Blog #5.
- Staff matters. Staff too are influenced vocationally; they are co-learners.
A SUMMARY OF FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE APPARENT SUCCESS OF HSTPs – Draw your own comparisons
The most commonly articulated approach is that young people are treated with respect, a dimension of youth ministry that is often contrasted with how they are (unintentionally) treated in congregational youth ministry. Respect of young people includes:
- Providing multi-layered spiritual guides (mentors);
- Recognising and naming their emerging gifting and commissioning them;
- Acknowledging their interest in theology and vocational formation;
- Treating them as having capacity to deal with the tough theological and personal issues; having capacity for critical thinking;
- Providing them with high-level teaching and recognising that they are capable of understanding and incorporating this into their lives;
- Treating them as fellow pilgrims, fellow strugglers – as equals;
- Acknowledging their readiness for leadership and providing leadership experiences;
- Honestly and authentically regarding them as being able to teach the teachers; staff, including theology professors, being prepared to learn from them;
- Cheering them on – and standing with them when they “fail”;
- Pedagogically, recognising the value of community, experiential learning, liminal space and story-telling;
- Committed staff who are appointed because of suitability, flexibility and support of the program and its ethos.