Why might the quality of youthworkers decreased in the last 25 years?

There’s been two articles doing the rounds , one in youthwork magazine by Mike Pilavachi, the other, a response to it by Martin Saunders as a response – which is here: http://www.premieryouthwork.com/Read/The-Youthwork-Blog/Has-the-quality-of-youth-workers-decreased?a

In the response Martin tries to discern what Mike Pilavachi is on about when he says that the quality of youthworkers has decreased, trying to do so before a barage of critique heads in the direction of Mike who Martin refers to as a leading UK youth pastor for over 25 years as part of Soul Survivor.

Martin argues that :

I think he’s (Mike) getting at something else, something more fundamental. If you know anything about Mike, you know that he’s passionate about Jesus, and about leaders developing a close personal relationship with him. For Mike, a good quality leader is one who is walking alongside and modelling the radical path of Christ to young people. And I think that’s where he sees a decline.

and after describing a stereotype of what a youth minister in 1990 and one in 2016 might be like, then suggests that:

The rest of us naturally hate the challenge, but I think Mike’s got a painful point. As a general rule (yes, obviously there are many exceptions), we’ve loosened the expectations on holiness in the modern church; we’ve relaxed the requirements for character development and spiritual discipline. Grace, as it does, has covered a multitude of sins, but perhaps we’ve allowed it to do so too cheaply. Many of us are just – as the brilliant Katie Dowds puts it – just living a PG-certificate version of what the world is doing; recognising that’s also shifted dramatically in the last 25 years.

So for a moment, what if we didn’t bother getting offended by Mike’s statement. What if instead we saw it as a challenge from a prophetic voice who has earned the right to say something a little bit outrageous? What if we recommitted ourselves to re-developing our passion and our personal relationship with Jesus? I think generally, the quality of youth workers might go up dramatically.


The critical question to be asked, given that it kind of feels like I might be a product of 1990s Youth Ministry – I am 38, is the following?

What kind of youth ministers and Youthworkers has 25 years of Youth Ministry produced?

For some people, like Mike and Martin and others, these new leaders, born and honed and developed within the current form and method of Youth Ministry in the UK are said to be under-spiritual and need to have more knowledge of faith, spiritual disciplines, and the Bible.  Now call me a cynic, but as i argued about a year ago here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-vG, The Bible is often a token gesture in Youth Ministry, as are the tools required to interpret it, discern it and perform it- why- well for a number of reasons, probably. In the main Youth Ministry amongst christian young people in the church has operated as an entertainment, relevancy mindset, and hoping that fun will keep them. Youth leaders dont need to know or do depth, when fun is only what is required.  This has become the norm, part of the culture, everything is louder, bigger, newer, and many young christians ride the crest of a wave that might be event after event after event. It could be said that Soul Survivor might have caught that crest of a wave and continued it.

And, its grabbed these young people as part of the culture and they have found identity in it. But whilst churches organizations clamber over themselves to offer the next biggest youth ministry event for whatever justification- do these events in the long term, creating the kind of leaders that are fit for prophetically leading the church? Or are they fit for people who want to keep repeating the same events over and over again…

Maybe the actually prophetic youth leaders are the ones that have the guts to challenge the status quo that is being observed about the quality of youth ministers in 2016. Genuinely prophetic youth work is the stuff that is invisible. Where one young person from the most challenging background is given time, and helped. This is the Kingdom at work. If a youth leader or worker I employ at DYFC doesnt read their bible that often, but will go out of their way to interact with a young person and give them time, then theyre embodying Jesus’s words. I cant ask for more than that. Jesus doesnt ask for more than that.

I am sure neither Mike or Martin have attendance at soul survivor as an agenda for the article, but maybe its is the Charismatic bent that occurs in youth ministry that is under threat. Other forms have gone under the radar, as evangelistic/charismatic youth ministry has dominated and influenced – and they have been no less faithful, just a bit less loud. If the Charismatic type of youth ministry is producing less spiritually developed or disciplined youth leaders who are coming through its own system, the ones that Mike is observing and then commenting on, then what of its own practice? of its own success and the culture it has created?

Mike is right, in one way, As i have said in previous articles, Discipleship is key and youth Ministry might have to be practical and prophetic, both spiritually, socially and politically, challenging the structures, powers and systems that prevent the encouragement of authentic real faith and the flourishing of young people, often oppressed by agencies, including the church, it has to cause people to be alongside young people who interpret the world and church in the world in their existence on an ongoing basis and walk with them, on the proverbial road to Emmaus. Discipleship is a prophetic adventure. It is Dramatic and performing Youth Ministry is thus very much a theological, prophetic and practical task.

Next 25 years – can youth ministry attempt  to produce socially prophetic and theologically grounded young people and youth leaders?

NB; Subsequent to the original article and its reaction, Mike Pilovachi has written the following: http://www.premieryouthwork.com/Read/The-Youthwork-Blog/Mike-Pilavachi-There-are-many-heroic-youth-workers?g  in a blog on the youthwork magazine website.


One thought on “Why might the quality of youthworkers decreased in the last 25 years?

  1. Hey James, I enjoy following your blog because I get UK perspective on youth ministry and youth work matters. This post a case in point. Can you point me to other “Youth Pastor Bloggers” in the UK?


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