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Books you should read!

Reviews/synopses to follow!

Politics and Social Justice

Seven Ways to Change the World (2008) by Jim Wallis

God’s Politics (2005) by Jim Wallis

Rediscovering Values (2010) by Jim Wallis

The Spirit Level (2009) by Richard Wilkinson + Kate Pickett

The Upside-down Kingdom (1978) by Donald Kraybill

Building a Better World (1996 ) by Dave Andrews

Beyond the Good Samaritan (2003) by Ann Morisy

Journeying Out (2004) by Ann Morisy

Borrowing From the Future (2011) by Ann Morisy





Youthwork Theory

I’ve just finished Jim Wallis’ book on the financial crisis, “Rediscovering Values”. 

Wallis begins his book worried that after the global economic crash everyone seems to be asking “When are we going to get back to normal”. Wallis uses this book to argue that this is the wrong question. It’s an exploration of how our relationship with “The Market” has distorted not only our economy, but our communities, our psyches and even our closest personal relationships. Then, turning to what we can learn from understanding this, he calls for 3 old values that we need to rediscover to build a new economy.He admits that his new values for a new economy are really old values that we need to rediscover:

The 3 values of the Market need to be replaced by 3 old values that we need to rediscover:

Greed is good needs to be replaced by Enough is Enough

It’s All About Me needs to be replaced by We’re in it Together

I Want it Now needs to be replaced by a Seventh-generation Mindset

Having been following the recent political party conferences I am reminded of Ed Milliband’s recent calls for a responsible capitalism to replace the broken neo-liberalist capitalism we have been living for the last 30/40 years. (Wallis is not the only person thinking that getting back to normal is the wrong focus. “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett also looks into how the inequality caused by unregulated market forces harms us all, wherever we sit in society.)

One particularly interesting chapter uses Nehemiah as a prophet for our times. Wallis points out how he “petitioned political power to raise the resources and provide the framework necessary for recovery” then he “united the people with a vision for a city restored” (p.210). Wallis says we should be following Nehemiah’s example now we are faced with rebuilding our global economy.

The 20 moral lessons at the end of the book are a brilliant clarion call to how we can all work for a society formed around these new values. There are 20 specific ideas on how we can make a difference in our communities, relationships and households.And they’re not trite either, they are real ways in which we can act out and encourage these 3 values.

The book is well worth a read for those interested in how we got to where we are now, and in how we move on from here. It’s not full of dense economic language, but neither is it too simplisitc and naive.

Wallis dedicates the book to his two sons (aged 11 and 6), writing that:

“They make me laugh, they make me proud, they give me good ideas, their social conscience challenges my own, their indignation at what is wrong makes me more willing to challenge the status quo, their prayers every night help shape my faith,a nd the choices we make about the issues raised in this book will determine their future.”

We owe it to our children and grandchildren to consider the implications of the way we organise our society, and we owe it to them to listen to the inciteful perspectives they often show!

you can find out more at his website


So, here is the link to download my talk at Greenbelt 2012:

Youthwork Summit @Greenbelt

Had a great response and hope that people find it interesting and useful. More will be added here on my Christian Basics? study sessions.

Any ideas for further studies or any questions are more than welcome!


I’m at Greenbelt 2012 this Bank Holiday weekend!

Come and see me talk on the need to present the emerging church to the next generation and answer questions with Nigel Pimlott (Frontier Youth Trust on the Big Society) and Tom Wade (on faith in schools). Q+A panel afterwards!

3.30pm on Sunday at Bethany

Look forward to seeing you there!

new developments

so, i’ve been awol for a while, and the new study series hasn’t appeared as promised – iapologise.

but i have a fantastic reason for this: my son, Ethan Alexander O’Brien was born on the 17th march weighing 10lb 1oz! i’ve been spending the last few months recuperating and getting used to motherhood and all it entails. 


i’m back at the drawing board now and will try and upload the “christian basics?” series in the next few weeks.

also, i will be talking at this year’s greenbelt festival “saving paradise”! youthwork magazine are running some afternoon sessions for youthworkers, with speakers like richard passmore from streetspace, matt wilson from mission year, and me!

you’ll be able to find me at 3.30pm on sunday talking on “christian youth work – what next?” with nigel pimlott from frontier youth trust. for more information on the festival lineup and tickets head to


Greenbelt 2012: Saving Paradise
24 – 27 August
Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK

Tickets available from or on 020 7374 2760


obviously, i jest. i don’t consider myself “wishy-washy” (although i would happily call myself a liberal), and i am slightly uncomfortable with the concept of “christian basics” (as for me this opens all sorts of cans of worms about assumptions and traditions and creeds). but being a youthworker involved in discipleship work with christian (and exploring) young people, i have found myself inevitably asked to do some kind of study series on “what christians believe”.

how do you present the christian faith to young people from the perspective of a post-modern, evolving and questioning personal faith? how do you prepare young people for their friends asking what they believe? and how do you help young people brought up in a traditional church environment to look at their inherited faith in a critical fashion?

there are many, many, many (!) examples of ready-made material outlining “christian basics”. you can find them almost annualy in youthwork magazine, for example, and many respected youthwork practitioners and organisations have produced their own version. however, when flicking through them in the past i have often found myself uncomfortable with some of the things they state a christian should believe. i came to the conclusion that it would be dishonest and inauthentic for me to teach these series to young people without including the critical thought and the sharing of other ideas and perspectives that i try to focus my youthwork around. so, as often happens, i decided to write my own series on the topic. 

i’ve called the series “Christian Basics?” and its main purpose is to highlight the variety of views on various topics within the christian faith. it uses a fairly primitive method to do this: taking one “conservative”/”orthodox” perspective and one “liberal” perspective on 7 different aspects of christian belief and practice, and comparing the two. i am aware that not all “conservative” or “liberal” christians would ascribe to the perspectives i talk about, and i am even more aware of the limitations of this sort of categorisation. however, this series is intended to be a starting point only in introducing the concept that there can be more than one way of being a christian, and will hopefully lead to further discussion and clarification. i apologise in advance to anyone who is offended by any unintended charicatures. 

the series is comprised of 9 sessions (although there is scope for some particularly involved topics to be taken across 2 sessions):

  1. introduction to the problem
  2. the bible
  3. god
  4. fall and redemption
  5. the people of god
  6. the future
  7. discipleship
  8. prayer
  9. what now?

i draw heavily on brian mclaren’s 2010 book “a new kind of christianity” when considering more liberal positions, but also look at shane claibourne’s “jesus for president”, an interesting little book from 1964 by Richard Acland called “we teach them wrong”. for more “orthodox” views and explanations of how we came to believe what we do i use alister mcgrath’s brilliant primer “christian theology:an introduction”. many other texts on specific topics will be mentioned throughout.

as i’m currently on maternity leave, awaiting the imminent arrival of baby o’brien, posting the series resources may be interrupted! But please keep checking back, as i hope the series will be useful for you and your young people.

i have only piloted this series with one group of 12-17 year-olds (most of whom were from a traditional christian background) and would, as always welcome feedback. feel free to use all or part of the series with your youth groups and let me know what worked well and what didn’t and i will work to improve the resource for everyone.

why disciple21?

i grew up with the Bible. i memorised the verses and passages for points/sweets/prizes/McDonalds visits; i learnt the stories and answered the quiz questions; i knew the songs made up of the Bible books; i understood the salvation story, the foretellings of Jesus in the Old Testament, the lessons we should learn from key characters along the way.

but i learnt all this within a framework that told me that i was essentially sinful, that the God i had been told loved me would condemn huge swathes of people to an eternity of torture, that homosexuality was a hateful sin, and that evolution was questionable at best. those around me considered the bible to be (on the whole) literally true. they were fully expecting the world to end in a similar way to what you read in the book of Revelation. women didn’t do sermons because of 1 Timothy 2 v11-15.

everyone is entitled to their opinion. and i will be eternally grateful for the solid grounding i was given in the Bible; for the discipleship, love and community that i was offered; for the amazingly selfless individuals who gave me opportunities to develop my gifts and understanding.

but when i started to ask questions in youth groups, prayer meetings and over coffee it was not well received. i love reading and did a lot off my own back – of the bible itself, and of various commentators. i discovered that there were different points of view on various doctrines and passage interpretations, and i wasn’t sure that i completely understood the rationale behind those that i’d grown up with. then i spent 3 years at theological college, studying youth and community work with applied theology – adding to my knowledge of the bible and its application, but also discovering how the bible was put together, by who, and the political and cultural situations that helped shape the church doctrines we take for granted today. 

from my very conservative evangelical beginning i now find myself firmly on the liberal side of the Christian faith. i don’t have it all sorted, but i am confident that God is big enough to encompass debate and hard questions.

i’ve been an empoyed youth worker for 6 years (and a volunteer one for much longer!) and have often struggled to find resources that express a more liberal viewpoint; especially when dealing with the Bible. i have spent a lot of time writing my own material, and thought that other people might find it useful as well.

disciple21 exists to provide and signpost resources that will help youth workers present a more liberal faith understanding in a discipleship context whilst providing a solid biblical understanding, and to promote the following principles:

critical thinking

understanding the importance of historical and cultural contexts

keeping your eyes open about the influences on the church and its doctrinal decisions throughout its history

encouraging engagement in the community/culture and the wider world


sharing different ideas and perspectives

please use my stuff if you think it will be helpful, and let me know where you’ve used it and how it went! i’d also love any feedback on ways you think different resources could be improved, or subjects you’d like me to write resources on! i love debate and would love to hear from you


in a lot of the churches that i’ve worked in the way we deal with the old testament is a bit weird.

either we ignore it pretty much completely in our teaching; focussing instead on the gospel stories in the lectionary. or we pick out a few key stories/characters that we use over and over again – like moses and the burning bush, joshua and the wall of jericho, noah’s ark – and talk about them in no particular order. i’ve worked with a lot of youth groups who haven’t got a clue whether abraham was around before or after daniel, or who on earth jacob was. and these are teenagers who’ve grown up in the church and gone to sunday school since they were born! it’s almost as if we think that as long as people know about jesus then they’re sorted. but jesus worked, taught, and interacted within a cultural context which was very much informed by our old testament. without having some idea of how the story unfolds we’ve only got half the information we need to understand him.

so, i’ve developed a series of youth group sessions which not only emphasise that the old testament can still have much to teach us about jesus, god and human nature; but also set out the narrative arc of the first part of the bible, and how it fits in with the whole of god’s story. it begins by encouraging young people to use critical thought when looking at the bible – being aware of the different genres of literature that are used, exploring the historical and cultural context in which different texts were written, and not being afraid to question traditional interpretations. it then travels through the old testament, following the main narrative of the people of israel, ending with a session highlighting the cords linking the old testament and jesus. it’s designed to be a whistle-stop, big picture tour, but you could easily adapt it for a more in-depth course over a longer period of time. the outline is below, followed by links to pdfs of handouts and leader’s notes for each of the 8 sessions, and then a useful reading list for you or your young people! I’ve done this course with a group of 13 year old confirmation candidates, and with some 16-18 year olds – making changes for both, so you’ll need to know your group and go into as much depth as they can handle. But I’ve found that we often underestimate the intelligence of our youth groups – be bold and they’ll surprise you!

Session 1: Biblical Narrative:
a.       Different ways of reading the Bible
b.       Concepts of Biblical narrative and key events
c.       Types of literature in the Bible
Session 2:  Creation Story:
a.       What Genesis 1-3 tell us about God
b.       Comparison to other Creation stories
c.       What the Jewish creation story tells us about mankind
Session 3:  The Beginning of Israel:
a.       The patriarchs
b.       Egypt and the Exodus
c.       The Covenant and the 10 Commandments
Session 4:  Conquering the Promised Land:
a.       Seeing the Promised Land
b.       Joshua
c.       The Judges
Session 5:  Like Other Nations:
a.       Wanting a King
b.       The Kings of Israel
c.       The fate of Israel
Session 6: The Old Testament Prophets:
a.       Prophecy
b.       The Old Testament Prophets and their messages
c.       The Church’s role in Prophecy today
Session 7:  Waiting for Jesus:
a.      Prophecies
b.      Israel under Rome
c.      Jesus’ alternative path
d.      Jesus’ mirror of the 3D Biblical narrative
Session 8: Summary:
a.      Things to remember about the Old Testament

b.      Where now?


    Session 1: Biblical Narrative – Leader’s notes

    Session 2: Creation Stories – Leader’s notes

    Session 3: The Beginning of Israel – Leader’s notes

    Session 4: Conquering the Promised Land – Leader’s notes

    Session 5: Like Other Nations – Leader’s notes

    Session 6 – The Old Testament Prophets – Leader’s notes

    Session 7 – Waiting for Jesus – Leader’s notes

    Session 8 – Summary – Leader’s notes