10 mistakes that hinder youth ministry that can be changed!

I imagine you have heard the old joke:

How Many Youthworkers does it take to change a lightbulb?


why 100?

Well its 1 of them to change the lightbulb and 99 to write papers on coping in the darkness.

As I thought a little about this, I wondered whether there are other aspects of youthwork and ministry that we as youthworkers might be as guilty of, that at the same time as youthworkers we have to capacity to change.

  1. Proclaiming the darkness, without trying to change the lightbulb (something I wrote about here: https://wp.me/p2Az40-1c7)
  2. Over Egging our own pudding things like : ‘Yes, church leader, get a youthworker with (insert organisation name) and we’ll be bringing the young people into church by the thousands, we are the answer to your problem’.
  3. Under egging our own pudding, things like ; ‘This was nothing to do with the youthworker, it was all God, or all the young people’- sometimes we do need to allow ourselves positive feedback, as often no one else might do. Its an unhealthy thing not to take some positive credit for our calling, ministry and actions in the moment, blaming ourselves for the crap moments (or others) and yet deferring every positive to God is really unhealthy.
  4. Making Youthministry Amazing again. Blowing our own trumpet is one thing, using the word amazing to describe it, as an enticement for others on the starting point – when at the same time the budget cuts and long term sustainability in the role is truly awful. It is not an amazing thing all the time, and can we use other adjectives in job descriptions instead of ‘exciting’…
  5. Not looking after ourselves. This time last year I wrote alot on self care in ministry (check out the articles in the search engine) but in a ministry where our satifasfaction is usually to help and support others we can neglect ourselves, boundaries, time and other relationships, let alone health, exercise and spiritual inner life. We can do something about this, by managing ourselves.
  6. Dropping the books post college; Ongoing reflective practice with young people demands that we keep ourselves sharp. If we want young people to have a deep faith, deep experience of life then they need to see that in us too. We need to equip ourselves with knowledge and believe that thinking and reading is important. If a fall back is to keep things simple for them, because its all we can cope with then, young people will find somewhere else to find depth. Without maintaining reading we have less to fall back on, and brains that start going stale.
  7. Liking our Hero status too much in our own Ministry; A level of ‘expert power’ is likely to be transferred from others to the lead worker, the professional or paid person who has arrived with great fanfare to spin the deep magic and rescue the church/young people. It is likely to be transferred as it is almost normal. As youth workers can we guilty of liking our hero status too much? When this gets in the way of young people or volunteers being participants, or developing the skills and opportunities for others. Or holding onto more jobs that we need to, so that we can be heroic…
  8. Only being critical, and not being constructive. It is easy working out what we dont want to do, what we dont want to be, how we’re not like others who work with young people, how we might see young people differently to others, how we’re not liberal, or not prosletysing, or not a short term fix, or not shallow or complicated – this is easy, and we , and i include myself (critical/satirical blogs get higher views, constructive theological ones dont) in this – but constructive pathways encourage others to join in, critical ones turn others off. We have something to say, we have a way of working that is positive and values young people, we are to dream and pursue a positive dream (even in the midst of the darkness, or where others dont see it) .
  9. Believing Bigger is better- and draining in expectation- Once we start playing the numbers game, its the numbers game that people will judge us on, once young people stay consumers and us entertainers (see my posts on participation) then the responsibility is on us to entertain, attract, grow and that pressure is immense and without a cure, except burn out and spinning a hamster wheel that is tiring. And then when youthworkers talk and proclaim ministry, numbers can be the core definer. This is also linked to the comparison trap, your young people and group need not be compared with others.
  10. Blaming everyone else, As Naomi Thompson in young people and the church since 1900 highlighted, there can be a tendency for churches to defer responsibility, and so as youthworkers in the church this can also be the case. Its the parents fault, its the elders fault, its the schools fault, its Gods fault (because I prayed), when all the time, its my line managers fault, ‘everyone else needs to ‘get’ what Im doing’. We need to be more self aware and take responsibility, and actually our poor practice or reliance on methods or decision making is our responsibility, sometimes we cant blame others, but when youthworkers get together, there can be a collective blame thing going on.

Some of these might be common in other ministries, especially the numbers game, and possibly even the limited positive feedback. Culturally every ministry role in the church times or other publication is being described as ‘Amazing’ or ‘Exciting’ so its not just the youthworker problem this. As youthworkers, and ministers we do need to look after oursleves, but also have agency an responsibility to enact some of the changes we want to make, challenge where necessary and develop new cultures of working where we can.

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