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Pioneering youth ministry | ANVIL vol 34 issue 2

Portrait photo of guest editor
John Wheatley is part of the leadership team for Frontier Youth Trust: a home for pioneer youth work. He lives in Bournville, Weston-super-Mare, with his wife, Cathy, and two girls, Sam and Hannah. In Bournville they are part of a small mission community working with young people on the street. John has been involved in establishing a Pioneer Youth and Children’s pathway for pioneers on the CMS Pioneer Leadership Training course. He has a degree in Youth and Community Work from CYM, and has completed the CMS MA Pioneer course.

Over the last few years, in partnership with Church Mission Society, Frontier Youth Trust has been experimenting with pioneer youth work – connecting the thinking of pioneer ministry with the professional practice of youth and community work. In this edition of Anvil, we have collated some of the insights from the ground for youth work and mission.

Jane Barrett, Mark Scanlan, Dylan Barker, and Matt Davis and Ed Hodge each take on one of the core youth work values: informal education, equality of opportunity, participation and empowerment.

We also explore a range of contexts for working with young people, including homelessness, sex and relationship education, work with the LGBT community and work in the north-east of England.

But first, what do we understand by the term pioneer youth ministry? Pioneers (according to the Fresh Expressions website) are people who respond to the Holy Spirit working outside the church and gather others in new contextual Christian community. [1] We might simply define pioneer youth ministry as going to young people beyond the existing Christian communities to create new communities with young people.

What’s interesting about this definition, however, is that mainstream youth ministry is by its nature often more pioneering than traditional adult ministry. Church youth workers are expected to leave their buildings and enter the community in order to build relationships and grow community. There is often an expectation that these young people will join the existing church, but under the radar youth workers often also create small subset communities of young people. In his article for Youthwork magazine, Jonny Baker says, “Youth ministry is the backdoor for renewing the Church. What you see in youth ministry you tend to see the Church picking up on ten years later. So it is highly influential, subversive and strategic to be in youth ministry. You can trace the Church’s current resurgence of interest in mission, pioneering and a cross-cultural approach directly to the practice being developed in youth ministry back then.” [2]

In many ways, all youth ministry is pioneering in that it leads innovation within the church. However, there is a particular way of doing youth ministry that is particularly pioneering, and in my opinion, it is essentially youth and community work undertaken as pioneer mission. It is deeply rooted in the values and practices of youth and community work, holding in high regard the importance of voluntary participation, informal education, empowerment and equality of opportunity; and through these lenses it is able to navigate a path that grows new Christian community beyond the existing church. Pioneer youth ministry is wholly contextual, engaging in a theological endeavour to root the gospel in a community beyond the reach of the traditional church.

In this edition of Anvil on youth work and mission, our contributors explore in more depth the significance of the professional youth and community work values for pioneer mission. It is my belief that these disciplines – informal education, equality of opportunity, participation and empowerment – are as important to pioneer ministry as they are youth ministry. Our hope is that these conversations will resource pioneers in every setting and will join up the innovation in youth ministry with the practice of pioneer mission.

[1] “Fresh Expressions,” Fresh Expressions, accessed 20 April 2016, https://freshexpressions.org.uk/get-started/pioneer-ministry.
[2] Jonny Baker, “Pioneer Youth Ministry – Part 1,” Youthwork 2, no. 33 (September 2013) (Premier Christian Media).

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