For the local church employing anyone might be something of a daunting task, whether thats a cleaner, an administrator or the organist.
But at least those roles are fairly obvious- and everyone sort of knows what to do, keep things tidy for one, dump things on the desk with a post it note for two, and avoid for the third ( only joking organists!) . But a youth worker? What are they then, and what do they do..?. Oh yes, they work with that strange phenomena called the yoof. The ones who left sunday school three years ago. This is the vicars great master plan to get them back. And because the congregation find the yoof too challenging, a yoof worker, is what they need, someone pro, someone good.
But if you’re going to employ a youth worker, it’s worth realising that in many situations it’s the relationship between the youth worker, the clergy, and the systems of management (or lack of) in the church that are the main early cause for a youthworker whom is employed to move on, that’s what all the anecdotal and theory suggests (Ord 2012). So it’s worth thinking about these things first. As a clergy – as an example; if the last 5 years has caused you to doubt your own faith and calling at the hands of the PCC – is this the right kind of ministry situation for someone whom you are probably going to manage? Or if you are going to be their line manager ( or equivalent) then have you thought about what this might entail?
At the barest minimum the following things are to be thought about before hiring a youthworker:
a) Develop a culture in the church where being seen on a sunday morning is not the key sign of spiritual maturity.
b) Develop spaces in church where people have to explore the deep questions, difficult questions as part of their discipleship and ongoing learning – why ?- because thats the kind of faith exploring that young people will be helped to do with a good youthworker.
c) Decide upon the support structure for the worker, a line manager, professional external support, what kind of supervision will they have,
d) get all the finance ready, so they know what kind of budget there is for them, and this is clear
e) Also be clear in the advertising what kind of role they are to have, and if there are any expectations of the role. Ie – does funding have certain requirements.
f) From Youth Pastors, to youth ministers, youth evangelists, to christian youth & community workers- whilst the terminology might be confusing for you. Be clear in the paperwork, of the job what it is they are to do. Dont glorify it up. Running the youth fellowship, is running the youth fellowship, it isnt ‘developing a regular educative programme for the pioneering discipleship of a small group of emerging adults‘ – its running the YF.
Clarity of the role from the outset will a) attract the right sort of youthworker, and b) help that right sort of youthworker know what to do.
g) Be Clear on what is happening in the local situation. Tell the youth worker the truth. If there are no volunteers, or that the local school have issues with a faith involvement, or there’s been a major incident, or even that things have changed, its worth telling the youth worker who you’re about to employ what the known challenges might be, especially if they’re not the sort of thing that’ll come up in an interview or be asked about.
h) Have good communication throughout the application process, be creative with the interviews – after all if theyre going to work with the young people in the church – who should be involved in choosing them? (have you even asked the young people whether they would want a youthworker anyway..? -just a thought)
i) A good induction, when they arrive. So that they know where, who, when, why, and how things happen.
j) Basic stuff like Child protection policies, Risk Assessments, Health & Safety are all taken care of, and that the youthworker is insured for their work in the capacity that it is.
k) Other basic stuff; a space to work (isnt their home), Laptop, resources, training needs, buildings to use, keys, local stationary company discount.
l) Oh, and that management structure – is that in place yet? Schedule in meetings and keep them. Maybe have a local support group/ steering group, get these in the diary.
m) How will the youth worker know that they are doing well? – what markers of success do you have for them, their work, and how will that be communicated to them. A scheduled appraisal maybe?
n) Regular days off for them, off patch. Space to be challenged and reflect, not just a conference, but other opportunities to network, training or retreat. Communicate the day off to the congregation- surely thats a ‘pain’ you know too!
o) A proper employment contract, that is signed, and agreed.
p) Ensure that they take their holidays.
q) What signs might you pick up if things arent going well? And spot them early? What support might be needed, or professional guidance for the work might be of use at that point? ask them what they might need to help the situation.
r) Give them space in the ongoing management to tell you about how things are for them, the challenges and struggles, listen, guide and help to create the kind of working atmosphere where you as clergy and they are collaborating on the task of ministry with people, and its not such a separate task.
s) how might the youthworker grow? Not just professionally (training) but also spiritually – will someone disciple them?
As you can tell, these arent just the minimum things. For, if you want to just do the minimum for a youthworker, then what you’re also saying is that the young people in the church, or the young people in the community only deserve the minimum, and of course that isn’t the case is it? Im hoping i havent missed something out… Though neither are these the maximum things either ( for maximum don’t just think finances) If you are opting for the minimum by getting a paid person in and opting for the minimum throughout then this might be worth reflecting on .. for the good of them, of you and also the young people. Better to not recruit at all then make a large mess in the lives of young people , the ministry of a youthworker and your own personal administrative and HR nightmare of having to let someone go.
None of this is a task you need to do alone, help may be at hand from diocesan youth advisers, or others in your affiliation. The key thing to think about is if you attempt to create the right kind of environment for a youthworker in your church , then its more likely that they will do more than just cope being employed by you in your church, they might actually enjoy it and flourish as a person in their faith and vocation too. (and so might the young people)
I have written more on Managing Youthworkers, especially by Clergy, a series of 4 posts starts with this one: ‘We need to talk about clergy & youthworker line management’ (part 1). With further hints, tips and questions to think through.