How to Manage a youthworker; a note to Vicars.

Between October 2000, after just moving into our first house, and August 2001, Lynn and I were waiting in expectation for the arrival of our first child. It seemed a long time at the time, it seemed an odd but also expectant time, especially compared to the couple of years post wedding but BC (before children). In the 9 months we’d decorated a room, bought the baby grows, gone out in the evenings now and then (thinking that wouldn’t happen again for about 5 years) , obtained the car seat, push chair, moses baskets, as well as thought about the change in work hours, income, child benefits. Its funny looking back, now that Anna is 14, and thinking about how much we tried to get ready for her arrival. Got all the practical things ready, items, space and finances, but did we once think about going on parenting training ?  oh no, we just accepted this expectant arrival and made up being a parent as we went along. Its funny, though, because as soon as we got a baby, lots of other people suddenly became the expert in how to react and cope with a baby, from discipline, to rashes, to coughs, to when Anna fell down the stairs. Without meaning to, everyone became the expert. Yet we were the novices, albeit we’d been Uncle and Aunty to neices and nephews. Could this be different?

So, for a few years you’ve been planning to get a youthworker or childrens worker, or community worker into your church, or paid for by your church. You’ve figured out a job description, given your local needs and ambitions, you’ve recruited, obtained funding, policies, an interview panel, maybe even figured out some accommodation, a car, made some links with local schools, or the police, or sports clubs. As importantly you’ve got them a laptop, a phone and an office space, and even a small group of volunteers who have been keen to get involved in youth & children’s & community work, all this at the moment sounds ideal, seems a perfect situation. All going to plan, all items ready, and once the recruitment is over you’ve selected and recruited ‘The Youthworker’ .

‘The Youthworker’ arrives. Their due day happens, everyone is excited. The church, the ministry team, the schools.

You give them an induction, tour of the church, the old sunday school room, a not used but perfectly acceptable office that sometimes people use to photocopy something. Give them a few number of the local schools, a list of volunteer contacts and then promise to meet up a few times that week to chat about plans for the term, for the activities.

So far, so ok. Everyone loves ‘The Youthworker’ thus far. settled in, doing ok.

But you, something is slightly wrong. They need you, the church need you, to be ‘The line manager’ for ‘the youthworker’

What does that mean?  ‘Line manager’

Its a word a bit like other words, for the vicar ; Pastor, Minister, Visionary leader, Teacher – yes these fit into a frame of reference, and they were covered to one degree in Theological training. But ‘Line Manager’ what on earth is that? But the church look to you, and you used to be a sunday school teacher, or you did some youthwork as a curate, in 1987.

So you try to figure it out as you go along, sometimes you have a chat with ‘The Youthworker’  especially early on. You encourage them by saying that the youth group went well, you dont know why it went well, or how it went well, but one of the parents said their child took a friend, so yes be encouraging, you tell them the youth club went well. You spend a while then telling ‘The youthworker’ about some of the families in the church, and some other young people whom the church hasnt seen for a while, after all at least if you tell them then ‘The youthworker’ will be able to come up with a solution to solve this problem, after all youve tried a number of things already. You give ‘the youthworker’ some other pastoral issues arising from a different family, then as you’re about to ask about the youthworkers time off, the phone rings, its the funeral director about Fridays funeral, and you motion to ‘the youthworker’ to leave and that youll see them in a few weeks.

Hmm, not unlike trying to work things out as a parent – but what might it mean to line manage a youthworker?

One of the challenges of youth work in what could be considered the ‘faith-based’ sector is that Line Managers might have little experience of youth work itself as an approach, a philosophy , and not only that the youthworker might feel that they are ‘under managed’ ( Ord J, 2012: 158) (its possibly the reverse to ‘secular’ youthworkers)

So, without just moaning – what might be the solution?

  1. Most accredited JNC Christian youthworkers will have done a module on Youthwork management – so that they are ready to tackle management for themselves should they go on to lead projects. So, use the resource of the youthworker to ask how they would like to be managed. How often, what kind of questions would they like you to ask, might ‘the youthworker’ be able to design a form which you can use. The decide on the schedule, keep to it, and manage in the way that the youthworker requires for you to do. let them help you.
  2.  Have a handle on the work that they do, be present now and then to see them in action, if thats doing detached, or a club or an activity, let them know, but be interested in seeing how things happen with the youthworker, be interested in observing them, because you are also managing them, and will have to do appraisals, or review their probation.
  3. Find out about youthwork, ask the youthworker for materials, books or articles, so that you have an idea of what they’re trying to put into practice, and where you can get them to reflect theologically with you on their practice – after all this could be one of your strengths…
  4. You will need to consider the practicals, such as their holidays, their sickness, their TOIL (yes they should get time off for extra hours worked, even if you’re a workaholic) – and ask them, ensure they take it. Keep these records up to date, its your responsibility, as much as theirs.
  5. Give them opportunities to grow, reflect and create – whether thats retreats, vision days or team building – nothing worse than being the youthworker that isnt important on the staff team..
  6. Ask ‘The youthworker’ for some kind of report, one that isnt just about numbers of people, but progresses, reflections, personal challenges, so you have something you could have a conversation about, that they can share with you.
  7. To help you could form a small management group – consisting of people skilled in like minded professions ( teaching social work etc) which may help in a skills gap. Though youthwork is distinctly different.

If you still feel out of your depth to enable ‘The youthworker’ to professionally grow, after all, you’re not, and never have been a youthworker, then arrange for them to have external supervision, someone who can ask the challenging questions about their practice of groupwork, detached, or clubs.  It may also be that the way ‘the youthworker’ works, and thinks, and delivers activities, and gets young people to think, reflect and explore the tenants of the established faith view of the church is at a tangent to what you had expected or wished for. But yet, the young people love ‘the youthworker’ and the space for expression that they have created, is ‘the youthworker’ being provocative – or is this refreshing in a stable church that finds change and challenge difficult.. How might this challenge be managed and channelled to enable a spiritually flourishing community?  But what happens if you manage a situation like this, dampen down the youthworker and young people – what might be the end result?

Being a parent of a baby, or specifically Anna-Beth was and sometimes still is full of moments where i wish there was a golden handbook of being her parent, all ready to be used in times of emergency, or read and studied in those 9 months. Maybe managing a youthworker as a Vicar is similar, where do you go to learn how to manage someone who might be professional, theologically & theoretically qualified? after all- Management of staff probably didnt figure at Theological college, and NT greek doesnt transfer easily.

Where would you go for training in Youthwork Management – especially if you’re the type who wants to learn the theory. There are some courses out there. The MA in community work and applied theology at ICC would have been one such course, and it may run again in due time. There are others. There are people who may be able to provide training or guidance in this.

Of course it may be said the under management is better than intensive micro-management, yes agreed, but an avoidance of being an extreme alternative does not mean that you default to an invisible or at best a reactive role.  One of the main contributory factors to youth workers leaving their roles in the faith based sector were not young people (it never is), but the organisation context of the work ( ie the management and people/power structures of the church/agency) and lack of understanding of their role as youthworkers (Richards 2005:34). Good supervision, personal fulfillment and supportive colleagues were key contributors to keeping them motivated.

I guess its good to know all this from the outset. So here it is. supervise and manage them well, be supportive and create a environment to help them flourish and feel fulfilled, purposeful, challenged.  Maybe its not too different from parenthood after all.




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