The lesser spotted youth worker faces persecution from many angles, sometimes its about the changing job, sometimes its from poor management, or misunderstandings about the role itself. It goes without saying however, that the ‘age’ of the perfect youthworker question comes up frequently, especially when you’re coming up to a certain special age, 50, 40, or for the very youthful trendy church, even 30 might be seeming to be ‘too old’. Because, after all, there is a certain age to be a perfect youthworker isnt there?
the time is ticking then when you get to a certain age……
The other angle of this question, is from those around who dont view being a youthworker as a ‘proper job’ – so it is maybe an infantile role to do before growing up to something proper – like being a teacher, a vicar or proper ministry. So behind the question is less about being the wrong age to be a youthworker and being no good at the job (because young people care about how old their youthworker is), but that the youthworker role isnt for someone who is ____ old.
No one questions the age of the teacher, clergy or doctor, social worker, probation officer or police officer. Yet because youthwork isnt seen as education (often) but entertainment, then this is the task only for the highly trendy, captivating and fresh and new. From a youth ministry mindset, it buys into the relevancy narrative. It also buys into the desire for youthfulness mindset. Churches would be brave to employ youthworkers over a certain age – especially as the youthful narrative dominates. It wouldnt seem authentic to employ an ‘old’ youthworker would it? or a youthworker that was older than the clergy.. (;-) )
So, no, the lesser spotted youthworker has a perceived shelf life. I do wonder if this is changing, and i guess an average age check at the 1000 youthworkers going to the National Youth Ministry weekend in November might be a bit of a yardstick on this. Inevitably, though, other research is that the qualified youthworkers tend to be older, and also tend to be those who avoid this kind of event, going once. As they are managers, coordinators or academics.
The third problem with the age-old, (or old-age) problem, is that theres a perception that the little darling young people are fixated by having a youth worker as a role-model, which is possibly half true, but what can often happen is that churches have an idea not of the perfect role model for young people – but the perfect youth worker who is going to ‘pied piper’ their way into a young persons community and lead these young people to church. So, ultimately it is not about a role model who might be a person of experience, integrity and be older, gentler or compassionate – but be youthful, attractive and exciting. Every post in church ministry is about being exciting nowadays.
But thats the assumption. The reality is something vastly different.
Young people dont care about the youthworker. Not much, not enough to bothered about their age. They are more bothered about themselves. They are more bothered about being listened to, being given space to develop opportunities, being given a healthy space to be, to think and to participate. The age is less important that the approach. Young people want us to be interested in them. and their age, their hopes, dreams and concerns. They barely give two monkeys about us. And if they do, take it as a bonus.
So there’s a conflict. The church is looking for youthful youth leaders, but isnt always prepared for the church to become youth friendly, or become youthful as a whole congregation. As the church gets older, and training for youth ministry becomes smaller in the UK, then we’re going to have to think differently about age and youth workers. We have a task to help the UK church to think about being meaningful with young people, not think that relevancy for them is the way forward. The attraction mindset is the one church is stuck in a loop of. And whilst this is the case, young people somehow just need youthful attention and entertainment. In the middle of a dilemma is a view of young people which should be of thinking of them as theologians in their own right, now the church of the future (ive written on this here: https://wp.me/p2Az40-Z7 ) And if young people are theologians in their own right – tell me now how old is a good theologian for a group of young people to be – someone who is going to explore theology with them?
(oh i forgot thats the vicars job…ha ha)
and yes i am feeling just a tiny weeny bit sensitive after receiving this question in the last few weeks.
Fuller Youth Institute have just written this piece on a similar theme, check it out – why we need the voice of experience with young people: https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/your-voice-matters