The Occasions when ‘What a youthworker says’ is different to ‘What a church hears’

Often youthworkers are some of the most creative people around. Bringing ideas to the table, thinking around barriers, trying to provide processes and solutions to respond to young people, work with them and create opportunities for learning. However, i wonder whether at times there can be miscommunication, well not miscommuniccation as such but a difference between what a youthworker says about what theyre going to do with a group of young people and what a church hears, or wants to hear.

What about this scenario; ‘I know what we could do for the ‘local young people’ said the enthusiastic youth worker; ‘we could give them a space to play their own music, to write their own material and form bands, seeing as theres no where else open after 5pm for them to do this, you never know we might unleash the next (insert band name suitable for this era here) ‘  – it’d be great, being able to hear young peoples talent, creativity, be able to get a glimpse of their ‘soul’ through the angst in the writing, give them a safe place to try new songs, and also play in front of their friends.

In a way as a youthworker, you’re hoping for this:

Image result for music band

That sounds great, says the Vicar; “eventually they might be able to form a worship band for us in church too.Really they are thinking this: 

Image result for worship band

Though i think this example is quite a rare one, not many churches are used as band rehearsal spaces for young people to develop musical talents, though the acoustic cafe in Perth was one such place that was a great pplace to be involved in. Sometimes there can be a dissonance between what a youth worker says and is all about and what a church congregation and its clergy hears. Music – can mean music group/worship group. Open spaces only exist to create spaces where young people can be ‘funnelled’ into doing something the church regards as worthy.  Can feel like the exploring and blank space of something all of sudden has controls, expectations and agenda.

Other examples of this include:

In the notice sheet it might say; ‘Please pray for the youth worker as they start a programme of RE lessons in the local high school’ – congregation thinks; ‘And lets hope the youthworker uses that opportunity to invite young people to the youth group’ 

When the youthworker develops some detached youthwork on the streets, again to spend time in conversation with young people – the congregation think: I hope they protect themselves, no one likes people preaching on the streets nowadays… or  ‘thats nice, hopefully getting those feral young people off the streets, but i want them no where near this church either’ 

When the announcement from the front is: ‘Next week the young people will be taking the service’  the congregation hears next week we have to put up with the young people having their 5 minutes of fame, but if it helps them to come every week to our services, then so be it’  a line that is often followed up by ‘I bet thats what the vicar has arranged when they’re on holiday, so i think ill have a week off church too’ 

When the youth worker announces with great gusto that the local YFC centre Team will be going to the local school to do a ‘Mission week’ involving music, bands, and a great Christian music celebrity who will ‘deliver a gospel message’ in language that young people can understand. That they have prayed earnestly for this mission week, and fought battles with the school for it to occur, and fund raised themselves for it to happen. That they as the youthworker will be in charge of ministry, prayer and follow up. What do the church hear: ‘ great, so how many extra coffee cups shall we have ready for them when they come on sunday? ” 

When the youthworker asks for volunteers for the youth groups, the congregation is thinking; ‘ thats what we pay you to do’ 

The next big thing for the youthworker is that theyre going to use the church hall on a thursday evening for a youth drop in. When announcing this what the church is thinking is – theyd better tidy up after them, and no messing with the cupboard we just got sorted’

Its when theres a notice given that lets the congregation know that the youthworker is away the following weekend as they are going to a conference. The Congregation are thinking ‘another one? how much training do they need just to play table tennis? ‘ 

So, What a youthworker does and says verses what churches often hear or think as a result of what is said can be quite different. Of course the role of the youthworker is to keep educating and probing away at the church to help them understand their role, but that can be a long and difficult process. And not every congregation is the same, there have been enough youth workers in some places that they know what is expected. But for those turning up for the first time in a place, the expectations can be high. Just dont make a mess, cause a fuss or create chaos…


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