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Fyre Festival youth work

Updated: Jun 5, 2020


Firstly, I do apologise for how long it’s taken to write this second blog. I hope in the future they won’t be as far apart. However, I’m glad it’s taken this long as I really think this is the time for us youth workers to go back to basics and really ask ourselves why and what are we doing. I hope this helps that process. Also worth noting I will be using a lot of ideas from Andrew Root throughout this blog; just been reading a lot of what he has to say and want to reflect on how that affects how we work.


I would like to grapple with the idea of ‘place sharing’. By that, I mean the idea of sharing in another persons personhood. To go beyond just acknowledging someone, and their hardship, but to fight in their corner, to be their cheerleader and to take responsibility for their person. I don’t want to just tackle this on its own, but to add context to why this matters. I will do this by reflecting on how we have got our perspectives wrong, and have forgotten about the cost that youth work asks for.


Fyre Festival youth work


If you are unaware of what Fyre Festival is, there is a Netflix documentary about it. Long story short, there was this guy who wanted to create the greatest festival ever told on a private island. He went out of his way to get loads of celebrities to promote this event, and got the attraction of loads of hipster, cool young adults to book on. There was promise of Michelin star food, luxury accommodation and massive headliner acts. However, as I’m sure you are aware this isn’t what happened. Instead people were treated with poor quality van food, tents that hardly stood up and no promised headline acts. It was a disaster.

This is quite the stretch, I do realise, but I do feel like we are presenting youth clubs, Church Sunday School and possibly even mentoring, as something that is nowhere near what it should be, dare I say even how it is advertised or promoted. Let me explain by taking the youth club: we advertise it as a place where young people can come and belong, where they can access support and create new friends in a safe environment (this is a large generalisation of the youth club, but fairly accurate). A youth club is basically advertised as an environment of ‘place sharing’. Yet what we actually offer is a place of games, aimed at being the cool youth club that is driven with the goal of getting the most young people there as possible. A good question would be to ask the young people who attend, what the purpose of the youth club is, or why they come along. I believe these questions can be really telling. I know there are youth clubs that aren’t like this, but my goal here is to provoke thought.

I see this for myself, I try to live out being a place sharer with the young people I work with, and so often fall back into just having fun and playing games, and fall short of fighting in their corner, in being their advocate, and for creating spaces of safety and for friendships to blossom. I’m not saying fun isn’t allowed, but is that all that is happening? Do our young people know that we are in their corner, that we are cheering them on and being their advocate?

Young people need to know that the relationships we hold with them go beyond just hanging out. They know it’s our job to do that. When we start to fight for them, and start calling the good out of them, it goes beyond just hanging out, it goes beyond them seeing our interactions as just ‘work’. We start to share in their place, and that is where we find transformation.


Bonhoeffer


Bonhoeffer was a German Theologian during the reign of the Nazis. It is argued that his work was based around this idea of place sharing. He used the word Stellvertretung, which is the German equivalent of ‘place sharer’. However, Bonhoeffer has a different idea of the Fyre Festival. We’ve become too attached to the ‘idea’ of things, rather than to the actual thing itself.

Back in the day when I would commute to work, the amount of fake iPods that I saw people using was staggering. We love the idea of iPods, to the point where we go out of our way to get a watered down version that doesn’t last as long, doesn’t sound as great, but gives the impression to everyone around us, that we love iPods. We want to identify ourselves with Apple, without the cost it brings. The same way, Bonhoeffer calls us out with grace. Grace for Christians is given to us through the atonement of Jesus, where he paid for the debt that we owe with His death and resurrection. It’s not something we deserve, but something that He gave us. Like the fake iPods, Bonhoeffer asserts that we have gotten to the place where we like the idea of grace, we want to be associated with God and His grace for us, but without the cost that it brings.


Grace for Bonhoeffer is a person, Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow Him and therefore can have relationship with. Meaning that Grace becomes costly, as all relationships are.

At the church where I work, I have a German friend, and I asked her what this German word for place sharing, Stellvertretung, meant to her. This is what she said: “Someone who jumps in for someone else who can’t do the job”. There is a cost to sharing in someones place, it’s being prepared to jump in and get dirty. If we are to place share with the young people we work with, then we need to be prepared to jump in and get dirty. Are we prepared to get dirty with the young people we work with, to not just like the idea of seeing a young person succeed and flourish, but to actively come alongside them, and through relationship equip and empower that young person to do so?


Final thoughts


I’ve taken us on a little journey where I’ve highlighted that our youth ministry risks being advertised and promoted as something that it isn’t made out to be. I’ve brought in Bonhoeffer and explained that he might think we have watered down relationships, and that in order for us to see young people succeed, it means that we as youth workers need to jump in and be willing to have it cost something. I just want to highlight a few things, and then ask a few questions.

I think I have discovered that we as youth workers can start to like the idea of youth clubs. We promote belonging, safe spaces, mentoring and support because we know that it is what young people need, and we know that if we can mentor them, there is a higher chance of them succeeding, which is fine to think because the work we do is transformational. However, we fall back into the fun, cool games of youth clubs because it’s safe. There’s no cost to beating young people at FIFA (or losing). We like the idea of relationship, but it involves a cost. Sometimes, maybe, we fear if we actually follow through with offering the support, pursuing a safe place, that it would lose its coolness and young people wouldn’t turn up.

My hope is that this blog will start a conversation that will begin a period, over lockdown, for us to go back to basics and look at why we do the what. Is there a cost to our relationships? How are we creating spaces for young people to belong within our youth clubs? Do the young people we work with really know that we are in their corner, being their advocate and cheering them on? Are we really place sharing with our young people?

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