Surviving Setbacks in Christian youth work

Today, without giving any of the details away, has been a particularly challenging day for me, we all have them, maybe today has been for you, or today has been a good day and tomorrow, or friday is going to present you with more of a challenge. But today has been difficult. Actually, today has been difficult day after a period of many challenging situations in my role as Manager of a Christian youth work organisation over the last nearly 3 years. Not much blood-shed, but much sweat and tears lost, periods of waiting, changes of staff, with at times the odd positive thrown in, but there have been occasions where setbacks are compounded with setbacks, and so, instead of writing an article about ‘how i survived lots of setbacks and isnt my new ministry wonderful’ – this is about me now in the moment struggling and writing and reflecting in the midst of it, without being able to look back or know exactly where in the present things are leading to.

  1. Recognise that Mission and Ministry is on the stage of the world. The world is complicated and full of tension, competition and trauma, and that’s the place our work is being done – that’s why setbacks occur , people have every right to reject us, confront us and have their own freedom to choose- and so being involved in Christian youthwork in all its guises takes us into confronting places, setbacks are going to happen, and these can also be from the church that plays a role on the same world stage. If it’s a reality of Christian ministry – especially youth work that it is more dramatically tense and fraught, than bed of roses and smooth – then expectations should shift – setting the bar at ‘its always amazing’ is an incorrect bar…
  2. Look after yourself by doing something at least a little bit distracting and fun. I am in the middle of trying to write an essay for Uni on a subject im loving, it is a welcome distraction, as is being reflective now, but so was walking the dog earlier and playing fifa on the xbox with my son about 2 hours ago.  Our challenges neednt consume us. They can do, they often do, but they neednt. Self-care is important, and i know my exercise routine is shot right now ( dog walks apart).
  3. Being a saint, rather than a hero in Ministry (see ) means that we are called to project a new world and avoid the heroic reaction of violence, or destruction to reach our aims. The task of the saint is faithfulness regardless, faithfulness in action, and faithfulness to follow, it doesnt mean necessarily faithfulness to keep putting up with something. It could mean faithfulness to keep pushing, keep taking risks, keep persevering for righteousness and against injustice – these confront the world, they often confront the church too.
  4. If Saints gather community – then maybe it is worth reaching out to those around you, its easy to criticise those who plea for attention on social media, but if thats the space where your youth work colleagues, ministry supporters and friends are likely to be, then ask for support, prayer or to be thought of. Its great when people respond, and you dont have to be specific about a situation , give others the opportunity to show they care for you, you will reciprocate on other occasions. No one has to be specific about the issue, like im not being now..
  5. Not every action that has been given is a gift that needs to be held. We might want to take everything, unwrap it and treasure the good stuff. But we dont have to accept an unwanted gift – maybe reflect on it yes – and ask what is being said by it, what might it mean, what might God be saying through it, – but it might be possible to choose not to invest in what it is, to make it a personal gift, or a gift that impacts us. This isnt every easy, because we can be very emotionally and spiritually connected to ministry and mission work and we take hold of everything sometimes very easily and very personally. Maybe we need to create mechanisms for ourselves where we decide not to do this.
  6. Keep an ongoing dialogue with God through the deep breaths. Some might call it prayer, id prefer to say it was an ongoing conversation throughout the day. If you dont believe in God then keep the self talk on a positive note.
  7. It might be good to remember Julian of Norwich who said: (as quoted by The Catechism of the Catholic Church who quotes Julian of Norwich when it explains the Catholic viewpoint that in the mysterious designs of Providence, God can draw a greater good even from evil):[25]Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time—that ‘all manner [of] thing shall be well.’[33] (Wikipedia)

or a rephrase occurs regulalry on the Wittertainment film podcast- ‘It’s all going to be alright in the end – (and if its not alright, its not the end)’

right now we’re in the Middle, its not the end – what we see is only what has been, the rest is about to unfold. 

8. There is no storm avoidance culture in the path of discipleship – we could learn to dance in the rain as the saying goes, often we just hope to be able to wear a coat and not get too wet, or that theres some shelter. As im just reading :

“Suffering is not a particularly attractive strategy for human flourishing. churches on the lookout for effective marketing strategies can look elsewhere, however it is precisely through suffering, participating in the drama of the passion of the Christ by witnessing to it, that the saints experience a distinctly Christian catharsis best summed up by the apostle Paul: ‘suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope” (Rom 5 3-4) ( Vanhoozer, 2014, p221)

Not the only things to hold on to when trying to cope, but the ones that have genuinely come to mind during today as ive been reflecting during and on a difficult day, and difficult time of challenges in ministry involving a number of complex issues. In reality there can feel no end in sight at times, or happy this is the redemptive ending to this article, just a semblance of honesty about mission and ministry that can be pretty tough.



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