Me, Movember and Youthwork

Its not often I participate in national charity campaigns, you know the sort of thing, Icebucket challenges, or in previous years the Movember campaign to highlight Mens health issues, such as testicular cancer. One reason being that for those that know me, I already have lower nose facial shrubbery, and so to grow a ‘mo’ wouldn’t be much of a challenge.

However, this year, the Movember campaign is not just focussing on Sexual Health issues for men, but also Mental Health issues (see which have a considerable impact upon Males, especially those between the age of 25-44 , and as a youthworker an increasing amount of attention is on the mental health of young people, under that 25yr age range.

Alongside the almost statistical evidence for the rise in mental health issues, I am consciously aware, only too recently, of the effect of being involved in youthwork, Christian ministry, leadership – call it what you want, can have on peoples mental states of health.  As a qualified Youthworker we can only be too aware of the limited job security of our role in churches, organisations and local authority ( mostly due to funding issues) and how this is only one contributory factor to stress.  Also that it seems that the youthworker role is the first to go from the payroll.. other church roles are indispensable…

Alongside this is the continual attempt to justify the validity and quality of the informal nature of youthwork, to not only managers, but funders, supporters, church leaders, is a continual battle and shows sometimes a lack of understanding on their part ( that theyre often unwilling to change) or that the youthworker must become more pliable to fit their work into pre determined targets, expectations and ideals – that look further from group based long term people centered youthwork, and like something else. The youthworker must change, not the system, or the organisation, or the culture, or the church (delete as appropriate) – results by numbers, or by attendance, or by numbers of referrals, or by jobs is what matters, you, the youthworker are the tool to help that happen. Not only is this an unvalid place to be – what does it say about how our organisation views a young person – and makes that different to the value we have of them?  – 

Maybe the same issues occur in other professions, and i am sure they do, and i am sure that in teaching and medicine or emergency servs, changes are accompanies by lobbying and unions – and strikes – to evoke public sympathy, or allow for legislative conversation. Not just non-negotiable Cuts.

From another perspective, the world is waking up to the reality that young people might actually have mental health issues, as a result of a variety of factors, and campaigns like in scotland and are helping in the resourcing and fight to remove the discrimination of this – which is fantastic.  However, i wonder whether there is something to be said about the time-bomb that is the mental health of the Christian/community/detached/childrens and Youth worker/minister/pastor – who might currently be struggling with over prescriptive expectation, lack of funding, isolation, poor management- and have limited space to go to ask for help in terms of their own mental health.  Just because they turn up, do a good session or plan a good activity might not mean that your youthworker is deep down ok.

From a personal level, alot of the things i have referred to above i have either experienced first hand, or seen as i speak to other youthworkers, and i still feel like a relative newbie to the profession (so by default there must be similar concerns elsewhere). There are times when i should be celebrating a positive moment – but im worrying about funding, or wondering whether im in the right place, or if theres a need for a youthworker, or project at all, and thats when it can get really tough to leave the office and be available to young people – knowing that time is up and that this conversation is only short and temporary. This has been just one thing this year, there has also been Death threats, funding issues, losing staff/trustees, moving house/church…

And so where does the youthworker go for Mental Health issues? How in the Christian community do we actively help and support paid/unpaid childrens and youthworkers beyond sometimes the masks of church that we hold to. What of the mental health of Christian leaders, Vicars, Ministers? Remembering that your paid worker is still a person, and there is a huge expectation on them to act/behave in a certain way in the faith community – you know – like we all sometimes do on Sundays… In ‘Blue like Jazz’ by Donald Miller he describes how that as he a few years ago would go around churches preaching, he would remark that everyone in that church would think he was ok, because he preached once. Is that the same for all the people, especially the paid ones, in our churches? do we not see them beyond their work or ministry? How can we help anyone who is paid by us to be honest? What steps do we take to ensure they are coping, living, growing and flourishing themselves, as that’s ultimately what we would want them to enable others to do through their work/ministry – other wise whares the authenticity?

So that’s why im doing Movember  this year, or for me its Beardvember, which is cheating a bit, but i wasnt allowed to clean shave before the start of the month, and so im growing a full-on beard for the month. Its because, personally this year has been really tough, both personally and professionally, coping has at times been the minimum of expectations, and and it has highlighted very significantly to me how challenging the environment is for most aspects of youthwork at the moment, and that we need to help each other, and be more aware of supporting youthworkers in our communities. If my honesty here in some way can help you to get some help, then i would plead that you do. If it means that you help someone in your community to have space to be real and honest, then do that too.








Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust ( and Communities Together Durham ( and am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

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