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responsible people

Leonard Barnett explores the importance of fellowship, association and self-government in the church youth club. Chapter 6 of Adventures with Youth, London: Methodist Association of Youth Clubs, 1962.

contents: preface · introduction · basic needs · the need for fellowship · responsible people · questions

Leonard Barnett. Photo reproduced with kind permission of his family.Leonard P. Barnett was a key figure in the development of youth work within the Methodist Church. He was  National Secretary of the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs (between 1949 and 1958) - and wrote two particularly important and influential books: The Church Youth Club (1951) and Adventure with Youth (1953; 1962). were important and pioneering works. 

This particular chapter, taken from Adventures with Youth, was written for church club leaders and examines the significance of fellowship, association and self government.

also on infed.org: Leonard Barnett and the church youth club. Other pieces by Leonard Barnett in the archives include: why youth clubs?; and club and church

The need for a basic principle

[page 70] It is only as we look carefully at the nature of the growing up process, and the setting against which it is taking place, that we can hope to assess accurately the right attitude to young people, and the social and spiritual needs clearly attaching themselves to adolescents. It is only with that prior knowledge, plus our own deep spiritual convictions about God and man, that we can hope to see practical matters of club life and organization in their proper light. We can only see where we should be going, in club, when we see where they, the boys and girls, are in fact going.

We must insist again that Christian experience alone will not necessarily equip us to be understanding and competent club leaders. One of the fruits of the Spirit ought assuredly to be increased sensitivity and understanding in one’s relationships with others, of no matter what age. But without labouring the point unduly, it may perhaps be allowed that some earnest Christian people are sometimes curiously bad psychologists, without apparently the ability to recognize that even angels would fear to tread where they are rushing zealously in; and without an effective appreciation of the satisfying and devious means whereby both intellect and emotions, not to say the life of the body, can be caught up and linked to the total process of Christian education for life. To be well aware of the ultimate spiritual needs of young people does not of necessity carry with it such appreciation. The club leader is not only a herald of good news about God. He is a creative artist working with the raw materials of personality, and must have a knowledge of those materials as well as a vision of what the finished work should be like. To put it far more crudely, he is a salesman who must study the market, and know not only good salesmanship, but also what the best lines are which he can and should dispose of. It might be worthwhile stopping to ask what are the standards by which you judge your club work. What are the criteria by which you appraise your various club activities? That we have some standard of [page 71] judgment is obvious. You would (for instance) consider that to hold a craft group or a Keep-Fit class was a good thing to do. Equally, it may be assumed, you would not hold the same opinion about the desirability of giving the club members an opportunity to hear six illustrated talks on “Intelligent Pools Investment for Beginners” if an enterprising promoter was to offer the services of a representative. You have your standards. You apply them. But where did you get them from? How did you acquire them? Upon what is your test of the fitness of a club activity based? The promptings of your conscience? Christian principles? Well and good. What else? Instinct? Expediency? Practicability? Is accommodation, apparatus, personnel the determinative factor?

It would be either absurd or wrong to neglect the significance of any of these considerations. But what it is vital to recognize is that none of them will necessarily ensure that your club life or programme will be a model of its kind. Christian conscience and principle will help most. But even they will not instruct you in all points necessary to success.

To many leaders, all this must appear so plain as to be a wasteful digression. Yet one is forced to remember that clubs so often display such an extreme diversity of organization and activity that it is impossible to believe club leaders as a whole approach these questions from a fundamentally common point of view.

In some clubs, for instance, a Members’ Committee is an outstanding feature. In others, the leader rules as a benevolent despot. One comes across clubs which seem oblivious to the world around them—busy, apparently satisfied, clearly self-contained groups. Others seem to operate almost as much outside their clubs, in association with other and wider groups of people, as they do inside. In some clubs, it doesn’t seem to matter much if you attend or stay away. In others, if you stay away for a given period without explanation, you automatically forfeit your membership. Some clubs ask as little as threepence a week from members, by way of subscription. Others ask sixpence—or more—for roughly the same type of facilities and number of club nights each week.

In any large group of clubs, you are likely to encounter strict rules, slack rules, hardly any rules at all; government by the many and the few, the young and the old, the popularly elected and the “duly appointed” by higher authority; weekly subscriptions, yearly subscriptions; sizeable demands made on members, slight demands made on [page 72] members; programmes weighted down heavily on the side of sport, drama, P.T. or something else; programmes that are freshly contrived and varied; programmes flung together hastily somehow; clubs with nothing which could honestly be called a programme at all, but a stale and unenlivening diet of games and “refreshments.”

No wonder that people looking in on the club world, and not over-informed of its inner meaning and significance, are tempted sometimes to dismiss the whole business of club life as unsystematic, untidy, rather pointless.

At the beginning, we spoke of the social and spiritual needs attaching themselves to adolescents; and it is just here that we must recognize the master principle upon which all good church club practice must be built. The structure of the club, and the content of the programme, must alike be guided and governed by the basic needs of the young people themselves. And it is only when we rightly assess those needs that we shall see accurately the correct value and significance of the varied elements in the club life.

Basic needs

Dr C. M. Fleming, in her monumental study, Adolescence, has made it abundantly clear that we come to a most accurate understanding of people by thinking in terms of basic social needs. Psychologists of a former generation approached their task by detailed and specific reference to instincts of various kinds, to disposition and temperament and the rest. And it still remains true that for all the immensely powerful influences borne in upon the child by his environment, his original endowments of both body and mind are of a very real significance for his future development. Nonetheless, it is equally true, as Dr Fleming reminds us, that “human beings are neither chiefly intellectual nor chiefly physical in their functioning, but they are also initially and continuously social in their nature—members of groups and conditioned by such membership ... they require to be interpreted also in their relationship to other human beings and in the light of the effect upon them of these others” (page 45)

For this cause the word “need,” which “implies the co-operation of the group for its satisfaction” (ibid.) is the most characteristic and appropriate word to use in seeking to describe and understand people young or older. It hardly needs to be said that this approach is not only good [page 73] psychology. It is also extremely good religion. That we are members one of another has always been a fundamental assertion and assumption of Christianity, at once the most solitary and the most inescapably social of religions. Christian experience may begin—must begin—with a solitary encounter. But it inevitably proceeds to a common enterprise, an alliance of the individual with all mankind; a recognition of obligation and opportunity to help. “I knew that God had given me birth, to brother all the souls on earth,” exults Saul Kane after his conversion. The growth of boys and girls into Christian men and women involves their transformation from naturally self-centred little beings into responsible people, responsible for themselves, for others, and to God.

The accounts of the psychological needs attaching themselves to the years of adolescence, which not only Dr Fleming (in her stimulating The Social Psychology of Education as well as Adolescence) but many other psychologists have variously given, show an extremely substantial measure of fundamental agreement. It is to those accounts that we must pay due attention, remembering, however, that when we have taken fully into our reckoning everything the psychologist can tell us about the social needs of young people, we shall not have completed the picture until we have related all we have discovered to the question of spiritual and religious needs. Throughout this discussion, we shall be well aware that personality, no less than education, is indivisible; that bodily and mental, social and cultural needs, overlap with those of the spiritual need; that if for the same clarity and convenience, we talk in terms of social needs we shall not forget that much of what we are saying is as intimately bound up with the development of young people as spiritual beings as with social proficiency viewed in isolation.

The need for fellowship

We begin, with the most vital need of all, which immediately and vividly illustrates what has just been said. It is the hunger for fellowship both in its intimate and personal as well as wider aspects.

Enough has been said earlier to show that the adolescent is passing through a period inevitably characterized by some degree of doubt, uncertainty and hesitation. He is in process of acquiring enlarged control and capability in every area of his life. He is becoming an independent being, capable ultimately of putting aside parental control. He is continually being stretched to capacity socially, intellectually, physically. He is learning novel kinds of skills, social and otherwise. He is [page 74] subject to fears and anxieties that often enough he feels unable to share with older people.

It is at this time that the teenager is well aware (though seldom articulate about it) that his place in society is by no means stable. It is fluctuating, sometimes in a disconcerting manner. He is neither child, nor adult; by turns expected to submit to the limitations of the one or rise to the responsibilities of the other. His keen need is of fellowship, essentially sympathetic and kind, in which he will be accepted and recognized for what he is, and in which he can expect to be neither unduly patronized nor exhorted. He needs a group in which he can be himself in which he feels securely at home.

It is fellowship in which he can recover from the kind of blows to self-confidence and respect which to some degree, he may have suffered. In the adult world, especially at work, he is perhaps oppressed from time to time with a sense of comparative inferiority and injustice. He may realize he has a long way to go before he acquires the skill or authority of his workmates or foreman. At home, conditions may not be ideal. There may not have been that friendly informal intimacy between child and parents, which characterizes the best type of home; and at adolescence, the harvest of restraint and secretiveness, waywardness and undue reticence, is duly and inevitably reaped, with consequent friction and temporary unhappiness.

A trouble shared is a trouble halved. A joy shared is a joy doubled. These are facts charged with added meaning for the teenage boy or girl. Part of the essential nature of the club is that it is a community of people passing, at one stage or another, through experiences of the same fundamental pattern, and which offers fellowship all the more significant and helpful for being quite voluntary, and based on mutual esteem. This is fellowship, therefore, of a strengthening and healing kind, in which the chafing of an adult environment can be relieved, in which shaken self-confidence can be restored, in which the exertions of coping with (apparently) stupid and unreasoning prejudice, blind obstinacy and injustice, can be recovered from. The fellowship of the club is not, however, the fellowship of the funk-hole. It is the comradeship of the oasis, the friendship only known to travellers journeying together through often arduous country. And this kind of fellowship assuredly meets one of the fundamental needs of teenagers.

The adolescent craves recognition of himself and his place in society. Fellowship is impossible without such recognition being given to every member of the group. It is based on willingness to appreciate the contribution [page 75] any member brings to the life of the whole. Within the fellowship, there is a readiness to rejoice in the individual talent of each member, and opportunities sought for the cultivation of such talent as may lend itself to the enrichment of the individual and his group. And ever present in the leader’s mind must be the necessity of remembering the widely varying aptitudes and capacities of individual club members.

This fellowship is not, however, established within a closed circle of teenagers. It is of vital importance for club members to share fellowship with contemporaries. It is equally important that it should not be so limited.

The club leader’s personal function at this point can hardly be overestimated. He is required to be a person characterized by stability and friendliness; one on whom the club member can always rely for sympathy and affectionate understanding—neither of which will of course be equated mistakenly with foolish sentimentality or partiality. The leader has the opportunity to be the kind of person who sets the truest pattern of adult living, standards and values, in the minds of his members. He may well be the living bridgehead between adolescence and maturity.

But the unique character of the fellowship which the church club can provide, is of course seen against the background of the family of the church—the family of which the club is an integral part. At the one end it is represented by the Sunday School, with its Beginners Department of tiny children and its other graded departments. It progresses through other teenage groups, its youth club, its most senior youth group (such as Guild or Christian Endeavour) through its adult “Fellowship” meeting of a mature character, its choir practice, its various joint gatherings and special family occasions, and above all, of course, through its family worship which is the index to the final purpose lying behind all its devious activities. The fellowship of the local church is ideally representative of society at large. And one of the more important functions of the church club is to provide an adequately diverse fellowship in every section of which, as well as in the club community proper, the individual member shall find his significant place.

The well-ordered church club not only gives its members opportunities to share fellowship with and to minister to the welfare of the other club members, but also to those older and those younger than them. It is thus well qualified to meet one of the standards of the truly educative community as defined in Dr Marjorie Reeves’ penetrating  [page 76] book, Growing up in a Modern Society. Each member of such community must find a significant part to play in the life of the whole, and it must contain enough diversity to present its members with real tensions and differences to be experienced. There must be opportunity for the nourishing of relationships with contemporaries, with seniors and juniors. “All three are necessary to the individual, and to cut him off from those above or below him is to impoverish his life ... the growing person must continually be adjusting himself in all these three relations ... without (them) he cannot learn the fundamental attitudes of humility, equality and responsibility, or in other words, when to obey, when to co-operate, and when to lead” (page 35).

When we consider the club more closely in relation to the local church family, we shall discuss practical ways and means of making this fellowship of rich and meaningful value. Here it is enough to recognize the way in which this diverse experience within an intimate group of contemporaries, and larger encounters, still within the bonds of fellowship, with those older and younger, ministers to a deep-set social need of man.

To my mind, this term “fellowship”, often so inadequately and lightly used by people within and outside the Churches, is the most vital word we need to have a full awareness of. It is steeped in New Testament values. In apostolic times, the koinonia or fellowship of the Church was its very life and essence. It still must be, if the Church is to minister truly to the young people within thousands of church clubs. Then, it carried no narrowly devotional connotation. It was not bound up with “meetings,” but with “meeting” at every stage and level of experience. It was not concerned with the culture of the soul only, but with a care for the whole person. Its hall-mark was the agape, the love or charity, of the New Testament. It is that rich and all embracing content which once more we must put into the word making it relevant to life in every aspect. It represented the fusion of the outgoing Christian love of every believer, issuing in a community experience which was intensely and essentially trustful, reverential always as regards the rights of the individual, and responsible to God and all mankind.

All this is why it seems right to say that the adolescent’s primary and vital need for fellowship of this kind encompasses and goes beyond what some psychologists term his need for recognition, acceptance, security. Your place in a community may possibly be recognized, [page 77] accepted, and secure. But the community may possibly be quite lacking in warmth, sympathy, affection. Your skill may be recognized, your authority may be accepted, your position unchallenged. You may be catered for. But unless you are also cared for, you will not be helped towards fullness of living and true maturity.

Friendship, mutual affection divested of sentimentality, is the cornerstone of fellowship, adding both strength and grace to the final structure of personality. This, finally, is the crying need of human spirit, particularly in the Great Society of our day. It is by no means a one-way traffic, a case of receiving only. “I am killing myself,” wrote a young American girl before ending her own life, “because I have never truly loved any other human being.” Life is insupportable without the opportunity to give as well as receive trust and friendship; without the chance to display tenderness, to express appreciation, to admire the skill and worth of another. Without a place in a community which sets store upon such values, and gives adequate chance for their cultivation and display, the surface of the growing personality will be denied its chance to develop and will remain scrawny and barren.

In an atmosphere of understanding warmed by unaffected friendship, young people will thrive as nowhere else and be helped most truly to grow towards manhood and womanhood. We shall do few more vital services for our club members than to persuade them by our life and conversation that we care for them and believe in them. The church club community, that part of the Church’s outgoing fellowship directed specially to the teenager may be said then to fulfil a function that is life-giving in an eminently real sense.

Responsible people

In a sense, the club is an advance post. Without pressing the figure out of shape, we can legitimately add that from the advance post, the adolescent can be helped to sally forth and enter upon the larger terrain, the at present uncaptured and desirable territory of adult responsibility.

Our muscles develop as they are given work to do; as they are subjected to heavier and still more heavy tasks. Socially, the same is true of the teenager. The environment in which he will be helped most happily and easily to appropriate his cherished place in the adult world is one in which he is introduced progressively to the sharing of increasing responsibilities, and to the discovery, through that sharing, of wider and richer fields of experience.

Adolescents have reached a stage of life when bodily, they may well  [page 78] be almost completely mature. Socially, however, they find continuing control and regimentation at home, school or work increasingly irksome. Their desire is growing rapidly to exercise authority and independence over an increasing area of their own lives. They find the shackles of restraint extremely tiresome. They want to savour the exhilarating taste of authority and responsibility. But the strength of that desire at this as at so many other points, is likely to be affected a good deal by the type of attitude suggested to them by their environment. If they are the product of homes in which a resentful attitude to responsibility in general is evident, that attitude will tend to communicate itself to the boy or girl and warp their development. If the assumption of responsibility has been on the contrary suggested as a natural privilege of the grown-up, then the approach of the teenager will be correspondingly different. It may safely be said that the normal teenager senses an innate urge to exercise a progressively larger measure of self-determination and control over his own life and over the life of his group. He senses a desire to take a share in things, to make a significant contribution to the life of the community of which he forms part.

Unfortunately, of course, there are homes and jobs in which this natural desire is either derided or discouraged, or at any rate no practical opportunities afforded for its expression. Over-cautious or unimaginative parents, unenlightened managements, sometimes little realize how much they have it in their power to help the adolescent to a quicker and happier development of their latent powers; or what social strait-jacketing, with its unfortunate consequences, they are subjecting the teenager to by well-intentioned but socially culpable restrictions of a needless and unreasonable kind.

Whatever the social environment of the adolescent, in the club at least he is in the right kind of community to help him at this critical point. We spoke above of part of the essential nature of the club as lying in its character as a voluntary community of friends. Another essential feature is that of an adolescent community encouraged to take into its own hands as much of the practical organization and government as the members themselves are capable of assuming.

Again, the Albemarle Report has a fittingly wise word at this point to say about certain types of youth club.

Too often it must appear to the young that by joining a club ... they forfeit the opportunity of doing things in the way they like. Some clubs [page 79] may well seem to them as concerns in which all basic decisions have been made. ... We value very highly the active participation of the young, and their own leadership of groups which they bring into existence themselves. (Italics mine.) ... Many ... clubs ... are not organized to allow for such spontaneous groups, and their leaders and members have a different approach. But we would urge these ... to explore continually the present-day needs of their members. They should also keep their techniques and programmes sufficiently responsive to those needs to bring out their members’ powers of leadership, and to enable them to feel consciously that they can have an influence on what they do and how they do it. (page 54)

That is not to say that the members are the sole arbiters of the entire club management, policy, programme and the rest. That is to misrepresent seriously the nature of self-government in the club. Club life and order are run by a nice admixture of freedom and discipline, and the leader is the one in whose skilful hands must rest the formula of the prescription. He is running stupid risks and indeed courting disaster, if he imagines he either can or should lightheartedly allow the members to nourish the life of the club on a neat solution of unlimited freedom. The club members, we have said, are on a journey. They alone must make it. But that is not to say that signposts and maps are unnecessary, or that sometimes they will not find an attractive looking entrance with a notice above it saying “No Road.” Only the leader with his superior stature will be able sometimes to recognize in advance the precipice at the end of such a path. Quite apart from such blocks, there will be more than enough safe but stiff ground to traverse to satisfy the needs of the most enterprising travellers.

The need to put into the hands of club members the maximum amount of responsibility must be seen as a quite vital matter throughout the whole range and scope of club life. Any club which ignores the nature and necessity of a Club Members’ Committee—or some other means of guaranteeing an active share in the government of the club by the members themselves—is failing teenagers at an essential point of need.

Of course it is much easier to run the club as a benevolent dictatorship. (And some club members, who have suffered from the pernicious effects of spoon-feeding in past years, may well prefer it that way). If you want a job doing well, do it yourself. It all depends, however, on the job. If, for instance, the successful organization of a social evening is your real object, work the programme out for yourself, apportion  [page 80] the jobs, keep a friendly and encouraging eye on your assistants, and that’s that—no worry and fuss for anybody. But if your aim is to help your young people to feel their feet, to expand in self-respect, resource and experience, leave them to do the job themselves and tender the minimum advice, even though the social may fall a little flat in the middle and the cakes don’t quite go round. It all depends on the goal. It’s a matter of means and ends, and their relative importance. To do this particular job well—that of helping young people to grow up in social responsibility—you can’t do it yourself. In a sense, it isn’t your job. It’s theirs. Your role is to provide the necessary conditions, and leave your members to it.

A sound church club, that is to say, will never fall for the temptation to regard the Members’ Committee or like agencies as tiresome luxuries. A Members’ Committee is a “must.” The self-government method may be costly in terms of patience, speed of achievement, and occasionally equipment. But this is one of the situations in which it is abundantly true to say that experience is cheap at any price. To cut down on this area of club life in the interests of economy of any kind, particularly your own nervous energy, is to jeopardize the whole project of personality building in the club.

The repeated reference to committee work, however, should not misguide us. Self-government is not only a matter of Members’ Committees. It is a matter of the common weal, of the true concept of democracy as an order of society in which everyone finds a significant place. And this must be true of your club. “A real job for every member” is the perfectly practicable ideal for the self-respecting club. It should not be beyond the wit of any leader to discover the way to employ, in some significant fashion, every single member of the club. And it is hardly necessary to add that this sharing of responsibility, and the practical organization it involves, is likely to prove one of the most severe practical tests not only of the members’ but also the leader’s power to persevere.

Questions

1. Justify the inclusion of physical education and ballroom dancing in the club programme. How largely should they figure?

2. To what extent is your club a real part of the Church?

3. “A real job for every member.” Have you achieved this in your club? What are the factors that make it difficult and how do you think they can be overcome?

Barnett, L. (1962) 'Responsible people', the informal education archives, http://www.infed.org/archives/e-texts/barnett_responsible_people.htm. First published in Barnet, L. (1962) Adventure with Youth. The church club leader's handbook, London: Methodist Association of Youth Clubs.


This piece has been reproduced here with permission
First placed in the archives: August 2002