For a moment, stop and think about what it is like for a young person in the present day. If reports are to go by, then incidents and reporting of anxiety amongst young people are on the increase, as a result, young people may just have their self protection antenna switched to a firm on. But then again thats the same for most of us adults, for it is usually in our own self protection to avoid situations that are unhealthy, or damaging, if we can help it. In the recent report from the Fuller institute, 1400 churches were interviewed who had kept young people from the age of 14. One of the key findings was that young people stayed when church was a healthy place.
Healthy churches are the subject of Peter Scazzeros books, it was also what Rob Bell was talking about on a recent Nomad podcast – it seems that burned out ministers are now making ministries out of preventing others from burning out too. Cynical or not, the questions about the health of our churches, and ministries have to be asked. Would it be possible to say that the church space where young people go is emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy place to learn, to become responsible, to flourish, to be accepted in the church community, to be treated as an adult at the appropriate time. How might we work towards this?
A friend of mine, Jenni Osborne, saw my previous post on the Fuller research and asked a colleague in a local church for 5 top tips to keeping a church based youth club healthy and thriving, and came up with these:
- Plan in advance. I know, we youth workers are all fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants types (I’d bet we’re not actually) and love to plan on the fly because there’s just not enough hours in the day! Well….
- Look after your team. Invest in your team, find out what makes them tick, uncover their strengths and encourage them to play to them. DO NOT EXPLOIT THEM…
- Look after yourself. If you are going to be in this job for more than a metaphorical 5 minutes then you absolutely MUST MUST MUST look after yourself. Eat well, sleep well, rest well, manage others well, be managed well, go on training for the latter two, ask for some help with managing your diary for the middle two, learn to cook for the first! It’s too easy to give in to the stereotypes of late night eating of mostly brown food, burning the candle at both ends with Friday night youth club and Saturday morning Prayer Breakfasts or whatever your picture looks like! It’s too easy to allow the thing that yp have said to you or about you to prey on your mind, refusing yourself sleep or rest. Much harder but much more worthwhile to learn how to cook, to rest, to recharge, to say NO. You’ll be around for many more young people!
- Don’t be afraid to challenge your young people. Youth clubs are not all about eat-as-much-as-you-can with a side ordering of table tennis/Wii Sports Resort/pool/Jungle Speed. OK maybe they are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also make room for challenge about how they live their lives: use fairtrade fortnight to challenge their consumer habits; use a ‘sleepover’ activity to highlight homelessness; get them raising money for a local charity or one that sponsors a child/village/cow (providing a cow for a family rather than sending the cow to school!); give them space to ask Big Questions about the existence of God, why things happen the way they do, or what happens when loved ones die; sit with them while they try and process painful stuff. Pray with and for them, the effects will surprise you!
- Invite your Church Leaders onto the team or along to a regular ‘Q&A’ time. Young people want to be listened to, not only by you but by others who say they care. If your church leadership has invested their time and money into you to work with their young people, then they are saying they care and yp will want to see that in action and be listened to by them.
I might add a few others to this list to make it a total of 10; which relate more broadly to the culture of the church, and the youth leader themselves:
- Working at 80% might give you the energy for 2-3 more years. Strategise the odd session off to train and supervise volunteers. Not every week has to be youth club night.
- Provide yourself with the kind of opportunities to be challenged that you also give the young people – so do a course, study, write or read
- Delegate. ‘Wait’ is an acceptable response to a request, delay a yes or a no, if you can. ‘Yes’ might add to your ‘to do’ list, it might also take the opportunity away from someone else. It might also take you away from family time, time off or doing something that actually was important. like phoning a young person or spending time with someone.
- Ensure as much decision making about the nature of groups, curriculum and events and activities is given to young people. A healthy place is one where there are no sudden shocks, that might affect them, like all of a sudden their younger sister is allowed to join the group. (what a night mare!) Young people will opt out if they smell a rat, a fake or fear. Though this doesnt mean that risks arent taken.
- Balance space with activity, activity is space. Leave spaces for conversations for young people to have conversations with themselves but also with the leaders that seem as young person directed as possible. Every week neednt be 100% high energy, high adrenaline mega programmed to its final 2 1/2 seconds. Trust in conversations, and keep trusting them, its a basic human need to be listened to, listen intently to your young people. Just give space. Have a weekend away, just to be on a campsite, no talks, no activity, just space to walk, cook, explore, spend time together. Brave. well why not?
So – develop the practices of a healthy youth ministry, be aware of your health, spiritually, emotionally and physically, and then also regard the health of your young people. Challenge practices in the church that become of high anxiety, stress and pressure, whether this is the ‘numbers game’ the ‘success’ game or the growth one. Cultivate health, depth, gifts and participation instead. You never know, it might produce longer lastingness.
any other suggestions? – please share them here for others: