12 of the most difficult things to admit in Youth Ministry

Last weekend, I was with a group of youthworkers that I know really well, and trust. I am often proud to be with them, and enjoy their honesty and reality. Yet, when it came to that slightly awkward moment at the beginning of a seminar session, when a seminar leader wanted to know our names and our current role, it was easy to say our name and very easy to say that we do ‘pioneering/detached/cross cultural/inclusive youthwork’ – what it was difficult to say, even amongst other colleagues was that we didnt do much face to face youthwork anymore. we were a Manager!!!  This got me thinking, what else might there be in Youth Ministry that we might find difficult to admit about our practice, that actually might be very common, and real.  Here’s 12 to begin with:

  1. Not every young person we work with finds a positive, successful outcome after being involved in our programmes, practice or ministry. In fact at times young people go two steps back at times. Understandably.
  2. We enjoy producing graphs and statistics.Image result for graphs Yes shock horror. Hidden in some of us might be an excel geek.
  3. Some days are actually quite dull. Not even brightened up by office banter, its a writing funding bid day, or a tidying up equipment cupboard kind of day. 
  4. That our projects or organisations are struggling. whether it is our fault, responsibility or not. Sometimes external factors or governance are part of it, but as the worker, or manager this can still be hard to admit.
  5. We didnt know how something worked that one time – but it just did! 
  6. We dont have a favourite film. The classic ‘what influenced you’ in youth ministry icebreaker leaves us clasping for something between High school musical and miss congeniality with only The Matrix to help. Image result for miss congeniality
  7. We like managing more than face to face work. Oh the shame! 
  8. What we say we do, might often slightly more embellished than what we actually do. My three sessions a week on the streets doing detached, is usually only 1, for example. Our successful programme was evaluated by us. We connected with 100’s of young people in our youth club, it was the same 12 young people for 10 weeks. 
  9. The reality of youth ministry, when its proclaimed in every job title, brochure , programme and stage as exciting, amazing, life transforming and amazing all over again, creating a culture where this is the expectation and norm, and contrary opinions are shouted down.
  10. We are close to quitting youth work or ministry, not because we have to, but because we might want to and feel we have to. A difficult thing to admit.
  11. Posters and attraction based activities arent working for us, but its what we’re expected to do because it looks good that we look like we’re doing something.  
  12. Its not working. And we’re scared that if someone pulls the rug over our eyes we will lose our job, our identity, our purpose, but fundamentally, youth ministry is currently at best temporarily keeping a few young people from leaving the church, and attracting a few. And that is at best. despite our best efforts. The same well trodden methods, practised for generations, or by the same fly in fly out gap year people are not deepening, developing faith identities in young people. What might be working is that we are doing something, but can we admit in youth ministry that what we’re doing might not be working in the long term. (and thats not all our responsibility, the root of the problem might not be us)

Number 12 might be harsh, it is not that you, a youth worker or minister are not doing an amazing job with the young people you have, and all absolute credit to you. But in the long game, which includes long term discipleship and even participation in a church community, what is the success rate of our programmes? As this post says, Youth ministry is in danger of becoming the phone book, https://youthspecialties.com/blog/youth-ministry-danger-becoming-phone-book/?platform=hootsuite. It might be difficult to admit, bit some of the others might be difficult to admit to. We want to show ourselves to be capable, successful, achieving and having a massive effect on young people. And we are. But thats not always the whole story, as days cleaning office cupboards, and sorting emails will testify. Some young people might still end up in prison. But thats not because they werent worth spending time with, listening to and hoping beyond hope that this wouldn’t be their next chapter. Its not a failure, but its not easy to admit either.

12 things that are difficult to admit as a youth worker/minister – might you have some to add to this below?



  1. Good challenging stuff as usual James.
    Part of the issue is how we quantify success – counting numbers in programmes is still too highly valued of course, but I’m really challenged by the notion that not every yp finds a positive successful outcome, and that some end up in prison.
    Hey – a whole bunch of disciples have experienced prison, and loads more have left prison after being saved whilst inside.
    You might my see the outcome in your time but we’re never sure of what, literally, happens at the end.
    And don’t forget – only one of the 10 lepers returned to acknowledge Jesus. Did he worry that he’d only got a 10% success rate. I doubt it.

    Liked by 1 person

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