Catching up with Graham Stanton
At Youthworks College we’ve been blessed to be taught by many faithful men and women who have shepherded the next generation of youth and children’s ministers. Ruth Lukabyo recently caught up with Graham Stanton, Dean and then Principal of Youthworks College 2000 - 2013, to chat College memories and see what he’s been up to post-Youthworks.
Why are you passionate about youth ministry?
The first job I got out of Moore College was youth ministry and I was quite intentional about that. As a teenager I had a profound experience of coming to faith in Christ. My entire ministry has been to try and replicate that for other teenagers, to give to others what I received.
How did you get involved in Youthworks College?
It was very strange. Tim Foster, a friend of mine who worked at Youthworks, rang and said: “Youthworks is thinking of setting up a college and you’re the kind of person we’d like to be involved.”
Initially, it was going to be a training program for the outdoors camping staff. But when the property at Loftus (Wanawong) became available I had a feeling that this was a much bigger project. It was a vision and a dream that I was totally committed to. Although I was so unqualified! I had a Bachelor of Theology, but no formal training in youth ministry.
What was the vision of the college?
Back in 2000 there was only 5 people in the diocese who had been doing youth ministry for more than 10 years, and they were regarded as quite odd! But we wanted people to see youth ministry as a long-term career option. The original vision was to make formal training in youth and children’s ministry accessible, instead of ad-hoc training events, but not as academic as a Bachelor of Theology. As time went on our vision developed, we wanted to promote ministry to young people in the Sydney Anglican Diocese, and we realised that there had to be a theological discourse.
What are some of your favourite memories of college?
The early years were such a “cowboy adventure”! I remember gurneying the kitchen floor the night before at 1am and rolling out carpet on the first day; then chasing a mouse around the office trying to kill it and going out the office door and bumping into a goanna. But all of it was quality time spent together. Times talking on tour and in the lounge-room. There were lots of life-changing relationships.
You have recently finished a PhD, what did you learn?
In my PhD I was thinking through how we engage young people with the Bible in a way that holds onto our conviction of the authority of scripture in our culture of expressive individualism. Our culture tells us that you work out who you are by looking inside, and the worst thing is to conform to other people’s expectations, as that would be inauthentic. Our young people are told that once you have discovered who you are, you must express this, or “you do you”.
In my PhD I argued that because of this context, we need to create spaces that lead to genuine dialogues. For example, when I write discussion questions for a Bible study, most of the questions I ask are ones where I don’t know the answer. For example, “If you were Zacchaeus how would you be feeling?”. This invites young people to be the experts in the dialogue and engages their imagination for deep reflection.
Since 2016 you have been working at Ridley College in Melbourne. What do you do there?
I am a Lecturer in Practical Theology and Dean of the Ridley Centre for Youth and Children’s Ministry. This means I teach elective units in youth and children’s ministry within the Diploma, Degree and Masters courses.
In the centre I am building a community of practice, and a network of students and practitioners. We are trying to build a tribe, because it’s the relationships that make a difference. We gather once a month with a guest to prompt the conversation and then go out for dinner.
There’s just not the same amount of resources in Melbourne. There is only one diocesan youth consultant and one part-time children’s consultant. Through the centre I want to create training pathways, finding placement churches and support, because there’s not many jobs around. My hope for this year is that we will make a structural change that might prompt growth, but I’m not quite sure what that is - a funding source, an intern program, or something else? If I finish up here, my goal would be to have helped establish more functioning youth and children’s ministries in Melbourne than there was before I started.
Also, I am writing a text-book on youth ministry in the Australian Evangelical context.
Do you have a pastoral word to the readers?
Every time I walk to my office there is a big mural of Nicholas Ridley on the wall “As long as breath is in my body, I will never deny my Lord Christ,” and the date of his martyrdom. I’m also teaching in chapel tomorrow on 2 Timothy 2 - you are suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Youthworks College graduates - be passionate, the gospel is worth suffering for. Be prepared to suffer, the youth might reject your message, you may give up your Friday nights or take up a part-time job because the church can’t afford to pay you. But it’s worth it, and Christ will remain faithful.