We need to talk about Clergy to Youthworker Line-Management (Part 1)

Does a Youthworker need to be Managed?

Reflect on that question just for a moment. As you do, think about why they need to be managed, what about them needs to be managed – and what is ‘management’ at all?  Because one of the most pressing issues, that just does not go away is that of managing youthworkers, and in particularly the role of the line manager as taken by a member of the clergy in a church setting. Simon Davies, writes the following:

One of the key factors to youth workers prematurely leaving church posts is the relationship between themselves and clergy. Clergy whom in the main are their line manager. (Davies in Jon Ord, 2012, Critical issues in Youthwork Management)

This issue does not seem to go away, and possibly does not seem to have a straightforward set of answers either. Yet it might be worth reflecting on further.

Solution 1, Increase training on Management for Clergy. 

This puts the responsibility of the issue with the lack of training on Management for Clergy. After all, from anecdotal evidence, many Clergy do not receive training in ‘how to be a manager’ during their ordination processes, education and formation. They may discover their leadership style, their personality traits and even a million and one other things, but often management, let alone community & youth work management is unlikely to be included. If it did something else would have to give in the formation process, and does every future clergy need to know about management – after all its only those who need to be line managing a staff member who needs it, isnt it, the rest of the processes, resources, structures, time, finances and vision neednt be ‘managed’ appropriately either need they?Image result for line manager

Even on this site, in the Menu above, theres opportunities to develop further knowledge or receive training on Management should this be a requirement. In a way any training is going to help. But this is only one of a few solutions. If you’re interested click the menu page and fill in the form, 1 or 2 days on this might be really helpful.  (heres a link to more info: http://wp.me/P2Az40-Cx)

Solution 2; Decrease Youth worker expectations! 

Your line manager is going to be a leader of a church… so – Professionally accredited, JNC qualified, Theologically and practically knowledgeable youth worker – reflect on what the expectations might be that the youth worker has in the management relationship.  In a way this does apply to the ‘newly or academically’ qualifieds amongst the Christian youth ministry fraternal, especially the ‘hoping for the ideal setting, ideal practice and perfect line management relationship’ type ones. Because, it could be a reality that experienced and voluntary youthworkers might have lower expectations ( they might also be paid less) of the relationship, or might be more tolerant if the relationship has occured as a natural progression in the persons home church setting. So, for the ‘professionally qualified’ youth minister – maybe they have to lower their expectations. However – how low should they lower their expectations of the line management relationship with a member of the clergy?  So low that they expect nothing and get something?  What it isnt going to be is perfect so this can be chucked out of the window. What it isnt going to be is particularly hands on – though on other occasions the vicar could be ‘too’ hands on. So, one issue might not be expectation, but an awareness that in different places within the church the vicar might have to act with different interests and this isnt always deliberate, or a personal thing, just that in the PCC meeting and in your line management meeting he/she might have to say and represent different things. I guess ‘because’ they’re the vicar and consistency might be an expectation, this can be a more difficult pill to swallow, than in a purely statutory hierarchy of youth work.

Solution 3: Create a negotiated line management relationship

I think something might just have to give on both sides of the discussion. Yes there might be some Clergy who are atrocious line managers and no amount of training is going to help them, theyre control freaks, inconsistent, aloof or display all the pastoral support of a juggernaut hurtling down an icy incline towards a wooden cabin. But at the same time there’s youthworkers who consider themselves to be as perfect as Mary Poppins, and have the expectations that being managed by a clergy might be like akin to being managed by a combination of Jurgen Klopp, Florence Nightingale and Charles Spurgeon. motivational, pastoral and theologically inspirational. (depending on your view of football team or evangelical theology) . No help might solve these extremes, but fortunately these extremes arent often in existence….

What a Qualified youthworker might bring to the relationship might be, especially if they have had good training on it, knowledge of management & leadership – given that any 1/2 decent academic course is preparing a youthworker to manage others and lead future projects, organisations or dare i say it government departments. So the youthworker might be a step ahead knowledge wise on management,, but is subordinate in the power dynamic of line-manager to youthworker relationship, and have less experience.

The opposite might also be the case. A Panicking clergy is flustering trying to manage an over qualified and knowledgeable youthworker and yet is expected to be able to and have legitimate power over them.

Obviously on one hand it depends, and this does depend, on either the strength of the youthworker to suggest it, or the empowering and adaptive style of the clergy – to create between them a negotiated Management relationship.

In my next post, I am going to put together a list of aspects of a line management relationship that should be negotiated from its inception, in this way it becomes something owned by both parties, agreed by both, and also can be created in a way that can be adapted over time, depending on where tension or pinch points or changes occur.

For now though, it has got to be said though that the Issues about line management havent really gone away. Whilst theres been a few books written to help churches and their employment of youthworkers. Very few aspects of Management make it into the psyche of theological texts or practical theology case studies and examples, its almost ignored, feared and belittled – when ‘leadership’ and ‘visionary’ might be preferred. So, the issue of management, it isnt sexy, it feels ‘secular’ and boring is sidelines, and so its a blind spot for clergy – but neednt be.  After all , no one really thinks that ‘Great Managers , Grow great churches into new waves of church growth’ do they – its about transformational leadership – but thats another story. 

Yet, recently I heard of a youth work colleague who was having to address management issues with a member of the clergy. I also heard of someone who had been a youthworker with limited formal training trying to find out about Management as ‘it felt as though they were winging it’. There are gaps in Management education & training, within christian organisations to churches and probably at senior level in affiliations.

On the flip side. What Clergy can offer in the role, potentially, is the pastoral, theological and even local knowledge, all of which is going to aid in the relationship, it might inspire and inform within the relationship. Theres a good case for viewing the relationship as a kind of discipleship, that at times might need direction, support and coaching – as well as inspiring through faith exploring, all of which i would make an assumption that clergy could be well versed in. I could imagine that a faith based youthworker might want a member of the clergy as their line manager to push them in their thinking theologically, provide tasks, reading or questions, it could be a fruitful part of a relationship – definitely an aspect that could be negotiated anyway. Davies also identified that an ‘unnourished’ soul is another reason for a youthworker leaving a ‘church’ post (Ord, as above, p153). Thats fascinating, surely Clergy might be ideally placed to offer spiritual challenges, for long term youth worker nourishment.

So, to coin a slightly well worn recent phrase, we need to have a ‘grown up’ conversation about Line Management. The mustard might probably be cut on both sides and whilst training and expectations might be issues, as no doubt power, consistency and conflicts of interest could also be – they way forward is negotiation. For that – see the next post.

Part 2 of this 4 part series is here- https://wp.me/p2Az40-SP  on developing the relationship and negotiation.

2 thoughts on “We need to talk about Clergy to Youthworker Line-Management (Part 1)

  1. James, some excellent points being made here. Thanks for sharing. I, too, have been pondering this question for a while and only recently wrote about it on my own blog. I don’t mean to spam you but here’s the link: https://joncoombs.com/2017/03/21/11-things-the-senior-pastor-youth-pastor-relationship/

    I’m writing out of a church youth ministry context in Australia and agree that a ‘grown up’ conversation surrounding this would beneficial here too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback Jon, glad to keep the conversation going, it seems we are on the same wavelength and at the same time! Expectations seem to be a recurring theme, but also the language of management, the predominant focus of youth ministry (safety/caution) vs a youth minister being missional/adventurous. Lots of learning and conversations to be done, and for joined up thinking needed in the colleges between youth ministry and ordained ministry.

      Liked by 1 person

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