‘You’re on your own pal’; preparing for the aloneness of Christian & Youth Ministry

I started this article thinking about the complexities of working in a parachurch or interdenominational set up, in youthwork, with the funding cut backs there have been, and how all of a sudden it is becoming more and more likely that ministries like this are being run by individuals, where before there were teams of members of staff.

Add to that with the type of youth work that is naturally isolatory- detached youth work, not that other methods are less anti social, but even in a busy office lots of people have left to leave the detached youthworker eating their tea and waiting for the evening session to happen. moments alone are common. And contrast with team moments.

Then i thought about comparing that to the youth worker that works in a busy church office, or the deathly quiet one, without making too much of  big deal about it, there can be the sense that even in a busy office you might be the only person who knows about your role, and it is a bit apart, compared to others.

Then theres the youthworker or group of volunteers who are in a rural spot 20 miles from the big city with the many workers, many ministries, many resources, and all you have is an old OHP and a leaky roof. But its ok because their great big ministry that gathers lots of people to it is there to help you feel less isololated hmm.. not sure it feels that way on the monday.

Then theres having approaches, intentions or theologies that might be different to an established group or church. Then being alone is the call of the pioneer.

On this one its not just about the Youthworker though is it?  For Clergy across the land – maybe their only colleague is in a different parish, but those borders can be difficult to cross.

I wonder -though,  was Youth ministry meant to feel this way? I get the impression that being in youth ministry is about having amazing experiences, the photos in youthwork magazine are smiling groups of people, gap years spend lots of times together, as do students on youthwork courses (where there isnt a 150 mile round trip to the college)  and obviously too on Theology and Ministry courses. The collective buzz is high, the community that sends the (youth) minister out is strong. Does having lots of collective supportive experiences in formation prepare you for the potential aloneness of ‘paid’ ministry..

Then they are sent, or they are in a paid professional Job as a youth worker.

And, it can be an incredibly alone filled experience.

Your friends you left at college. Your friends you left in your home church.

Your friends you left when you had to take a different job somewhere else because it didnt work out. 

Was it ever meant to be this way, the path of faith and ministry an alone one.

Well, actually maybe yes.

Remember that Jesus person, the one who called you. How lonely might he have been? intensely i would imagine – and thats not just at the obvious times like the wilderness, like the times when the disciples abandoned him, or the walk with the cross itself. He was always at odds with those around him, trying to justify his purpose, not fitting in, being surprising but at the same time not being acceptable. Yes Jesus went to parties and weddings and joined with the fun, but could he really commit to friendships with the Peters and Marys of this world- knowing how they would be torn apart by his destiny?

yeah, im not sure either.  But there is someting intriguingly aloof about Jesus throughout the Gospels, being at odds with those around him, it was an isolated path, and one that he needed all the resources of the Trinity that walked with him.

So, if Youth Ministry and Ministry is actually a lonelier path than we’d like to admit – what steps can be taken to help? Especially if it doesnt feel like anyone is talking about it.. is it a taboo subject?

  1. Have realistic expectations in the first place – and these can be helped if conversations about this are held during formation training
  2. Be ready to be alone in ministry. If you know you find it difficult to work alone- christian /youth ministry might not be for you. However faithful you might be.
  3. Not only might ministry be seasonal but it also fluctuates between social and alone and might require shifts in temperament , in concentration and self determination. And it’s not easy sometimes to make those shifts.
  4. Self care is essential.
  5. Find similar friends even via social media. The ministry and youth work world is small, join it!
  6. Find a spiritual mentor
  7. Or a supervisor (or both)

There might be a few additional things you can do. The best thing might be to be prepared from the beginning for the reality of the post formational experience.

However it can feel like that Green day song at times.. ‘am i the only one and i walk alone’. Be ready for it! Being called to this includes the times of aloneness and potential loneliness, it will undoubtedly happen.

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