Helping clergy understand the difference between youthwork and youth ministry. 

The greek new testament, chaplaincy, systematic theology, maybe a bit of mission, leading services, conducting communion, media training, the problem of the filoque, christology, church history, the pentateuch, the synoptic problem, liberation theology, the correct robes for the right seasons, your enneogram number, or your myers briggs code- done all this then.. Ready set Clergy Go! – you’re now ready to face the world of ministry in a Parish setting, full of people.

Full of young people- they didnt tell you that did they? or does the new world of youth work make you feel like this chap:

Image result for vicar clipart


Despite an aging population, and an aging population in a church- your parish will have a few young people. And what have you learned about working with young people? Much more than diddly-squat? nope?

So – here are 10- well 11,  useful bits of information about youthwork that might be useful for you as you step into a world of working with young people- a world where you might encounter professionals, volunteers and a whole new terminology. where do you go first- ah ha – youth work magazine….

  1. The back of Youthwork magazine has job titles for a variety of roles; generally the following are the same: Youth Pastor, Youth minister, Church youthworker, whereas Community youthworker, youth and community worker, faith based youthworker, detached youthworker – might be different.
  2. Generally – Youthwork and Youth ministry are different things. Not many people have worked out the difference, and even influential people in the church use the different terms for the same thing, or use the terms interchangeably when they are different, but they are different things. A youth minister works with young people but it isnt youth work, well, it is, but only sometimes, but they can minister as they work with young people and those who work with young people doing youth work also minister with them and pastor them as they do youthwork which isnt much different to youth work but sometimes people also confuse youth work to youthwork and these are different too. Got that? yes i hope so. But Youth ministry is different to youthwork or youth work, its important to know.
  3. People who do youth work talk about things like values, Practice, Paulo Freire, Liberation theology, participation, empowerment, informal education, possibly human flourishing, reflective practice, structural barriers, power, conversation and community education. If this sounds too confusing or a whole new language (though hopefully Paulo Freire and liberation theology shouldnt be) , then might be best to think about youth ministry. Im not sure what they talk about, but they seem happy enough making young people play silly games and taking them to soul survivor.
  4. Youthwork puts a young person and their needs (which include spiritual ones) at the centre of the relationship that is created with them. Youth Ministry and the type within a church or institution tends (though not always) to have the needs of the organisation first. This is a hugely blurred line, given that many organisations are in need of funding from external groups and thus needs of funders can now come first even before the needs of the young person. When the young person isnt substantially the primary person- then a line is crossed and the young person begins to fulfil a purpose not of their making or choosing, and where a type of ‘pure’ youthwork has been lost. Yet that doesnt mean that it isnt useful, or a type of ministry- like youth ministry- but its less like ‘youth work’ anymore.
  5. When i say organisation in point 4. That means ‘getting young people’ to go to pre existing groups, especially ones in churches. Again these arent bad things, but its as much how young people are involved in these groups, and their choosing of them and creating them as a process of formation and ownership than youth ministry which might, if i was being cruel, not value the process as much, focussing on participation in the thing, not the collaborative creation of the thing.
  6. Yeah, thats it as well. Youth workers talk about processes. The destination is less important as to how it is got there. and the learning on the way.
  7. If a person working with young people talks about numbers of young people attending and getting more – then theyre likely to be a default youth minister person, numbers and attendance are a product of the culture of a church. If a person working with young people enthuses on the content of conversation and how they got to know one young person in a session- then theyre youth work default. of course neither might be the case, its just that the first person might be telling you, the new vicar, what they think you want to hear about growth and numbers. If you want  depth, in discipleship encourage your youthworker to focus on quality and conversations, not just numbers of people attending groups.
  8. There are detached youthworkers too, and christian ones. These are the freaks who love to follow Jesus example really closely and walk around the open spaces and talk to people. Its a brave and worthy task, full of challenge, satisfaction and isolation. The best thing as a new clergy to do is join them and understand what they do, and learn from them, and support them. Theres not many around and what they can do is meet young people you in your local church could never dream of meeting in a building. So this might be worth knowing, and they might be worth shaping new programmes around – not getting them to bring young people to existing ones (see point 4)
  9. Its doesnt matter what title they have. Most of them/us like coffee and conversation. Treat them now and again for breakfast and support your local youthworkers whether theyre working for your local church, another local church or group in your parish. Chances are theyre pretty stressed out with limited funding or short term contracts, so send them words, actions or presents for encouragement. like a full costa card. or cinema vouchers. Or a coffee and cake. or a large financial donation. a very large one.
  10. Youthworkers and youth ministers generally have had some training in a variety of things, collaborate on stuff and learning together, each others disciplines, areas of skills, academic strengths/areas, theological blind spots. Maybe theres space for partnership within a church, or local area between clergy and youthworker.
  11. oh and just a  reminder… youth work and youth ministry are not the same thing. Christian faith based youthwork is also different to christian youth ministry. Got that?
  12. Oh. And if you did read ‘youthwork’ magazine.. that probably didn’t help you work it out either..

See, simple really! But at least you dont have an excuse not to know a little bit about youth work and its differences to youth ministry. And its far far more complicated than some of this, no really. But this isnt the time. And if i could sum it up here, then all the books about it, and papers wouldnt need to be written. A useful tip; youth ministers their ministry is amazing, everything is amazing, then they burn out after 2 years. A youthworker, work is tough, young peoples lives are shit, their need is too great, how can the church overcome these deep issues, how can i do something, this is hard work, it never feels amazing though there are moments of deep contentment and satisfaction, and with support they stay.

These might be helpful for you as you venture from vicar school to the world of young people and youth work/ministry. There are helpful resources out there to, such as books, but its unlikely youll have time to read them. the infed site is a good place, if you search christian youthwork, a quick skim read of this, and anything by Maxine Green, Danny Brierley, Pete Ward or Richard Passmore might be of added help to you.  But as i said, you probably wont have time.  So a top 10 tips on a slightly critical blog site might be the only youthwork, or youth ministry, training you get. as they say – hope it helps!


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