The church is currently in crisis – so why should it support its children and youth workers?

Since the 1990’s, when many professionally or should i at least say, employed by churches youth and childrens workers entered the scene, their pay and conditions have always been less than that of the clergy. A quick skim through previous editions of youth work magazine and adverts for youthworker roles proved this (i did this exercise in a post here…)

There may be several reasons for this. Including that pay may be distributed in churches in accordance with deemed hierarchy, with youth and childrens workers lower in the pecking order than clergy, but slightly higher than admin staff or the cleaner (though a cursory glance at some current adverts and this may now not even be the case, with youth workers only being paid the ‘living wage’). Also if clergy have line management responsibilities, should it not stand to reason that youthworkers get paid less, sometimes. And pay is only half the issue.

As Ali Campbell pointed out in this piece in the church times ‘Youth and Childrens workers need a better deal . There is in a way nothing new here. But in the 1990’s when the church, and youth ministry was potentially on a higher crest of a wave than it is now, very little strategic, systematic, visionary thinking was acted on to concrete core structures in churches to give youth and childrens workers a better deal then. And they continued to leave in their droves, and be burned out by the experience. Many only lasting 2 years max.

So, now. The church is in crisis. Lurching from one set of falling attendance statistics to another, trying to fix itself through growth mindsets and snazzy initiative that are being bought into, lets have Gods kingdom actually come, rather than be sold it as  programme. Gods kingdom might actually come if youthworkers were treated better, fancy that. Because that would mean that people were being employed with a little more dignity and in deficit of a little less stress, both financially.Image result for crisis

I go to a small church. It cant afford any professional leader, ie to pay a clergy, let alone to pay me as a youthworker, so this is no plea from me without any first hand knowledge. If the discussion Ali is having is for the church of England (and I am not sure it is), then the situation in other denominations is considerably more dire, when congregations, rather than affiliations bear the brunt of entire costs and legality. But the church is in crisis isnt it?

The crisis the church faces itself is not necessarily or merely of finances. It is of poor leadership and lack of risk taking imagination. It has always been the case that the roof is needing to be fixed in a building that less and less people are going to use. Fix the roof, paint the walls, fix the heating, change the screen, use new hymns, erect a noticeboard, clean the windows, be the perfect church building that no one has any connection with in the local area. this isnt new.

Without any relationship with a local community, there is no point fixing a building. And who are most likely to be the people who spend most of their time, in the local community – yes probably a youth or childrens worker, in a school, a community centre, on the streets. But thats not to say that the building isnt important either, when it can be used for the local community, and a worship space to connect us all into the ongoing story of Gods redemption, and where the building may also play its own part.

The church is not in crisis. Isnt it spending a considerable amount of money on the latest model of doing church? The getting the church right model, which hopes to resource other not so great models around it, before they get reduced to closure? Seems alot for a coffee machine and a contemporary band. If only it was that simple. So, the church is not as much in crisis, as it is, using its resources in a way that seems back to front. Sort the church, sort out mission. Why not invest in mission and see what emerges – because thats a risk. And until that point anyone doing mission is underground, ignored and talking about what theyre doing only to themselves. Find me active clergy at youth work conferences who stay and listen, or bishops who go to mission conferences, who stay and listen. Show me the church that re ordered around its foodbank, its childrens work or its youthworker? Joined up thinking could have been better, the whole body of the church seems not always to pull together, or be included in the pulling together. The church may be in crisis, and financial reports from the leeds diocese this week even give some credence to this, yet in the order of the cutbacks which in many cases is first to go?

So, Youth and Childrens workers, we need to keep up the ‘fight’ – just like our secular colleagues are hammering the labour party for a re-ignition of the statutory youth services, we need to justify ourselves even more, and build on what has already been established.Youth workers have worked – now the church needs to back it, regardless.


Of course it is far easier to moan than it is offer any real solutions. But I hope that the real solutions are being considered by those who have power to make those things happen.

If its about line management, training for clergy or supervision, im happy to help, if its about some kind of task force, working group or conversation for change for youth and childrens workers, again count me in. Even if every church who employs a youth and childrens worker did one or two extra things to add value to the role (and my previous post gave some ideas) , but we also not to kid ourselves that there’s a magic money fig-tree with the pots of gold for youthworker salaries – though in individual scenarios there could be housing, or pensions or priorities given to fund the youth and childrens worker, over ‘general funds’ – or dare i say it reserves being spent.

There is unlikely to be a one size fits all way out of the current crisis the church is narrating about itself, prioritising youth and childrens work, may be more about social good and community good than church growth – but that is no bad thing in itself, after all isnt generosity part of Gods kingdom being come? Investing in Childrens and youth work a while ago gave the possibility that a number of current bishops could find faith and continue with being leaders in the church 40 years later – so why not invest in that same supply chain. The church needs to be meaningful in its local communities, investing in those who are present in it and listening seems to me like the best way, and that also includes the clergy.

Why should the church, in a current flux of crisis, support its childrens and youthworkers better?

Are you really telling me this is a question we are still asking…

If a growth mindset is needed – then surely investing better in the youthfulness of children and young people is going to help? – even if i shudder at the thought of this being what children and young people help to make churches feel.

8 ways of valuing your youthworker – because, they could be the last your church employs

Lets put a few things into context. The current situation regarding the pay, the training of, and also the sustainability of youthworkers in churches at the moment makes for pretty challenging reading.

It is worth noting, positively that churches who employ youthworkers are more likely to have less young people leave, and if anything do increase their sunday attendances, especially if the youthworker is employed for longer than 3-4 years.

Peter Brierely summarises a report, on ‘have paid youthworkers worked’ by stating

This article was requested asking the question whether paid Youth Workers had proved successful. The answer is positive, but with the recognition that they can’t do everything, and some continuing loss is likely to happen even if a church has a paid Youth Worker (but the loss would likely be greater if the Youth Worker was not present). The same is true for paid Children’s Workers, which suggests that these relatively new types of employment will continue to be needed in churches as the century progresses.
The analysis has also revealed, however, the enormous losses in church attendance being seen at later ages,especially among folk in their 20s, and those aged 45 to 64,the Boomer Generation. Some churches are seeking to offset this by employing Family Workers. The analysis also shows that while volunteers will always be needed, more and more professional staff will be required if church attendance is not to drop even more drastically in the days ahead

The full article is here, one of a number of reports (

So, there we have it, from the master church statistician himself, churches that dont employ a youthworker are likely to lose young people at a greater rate than those who dont. What i wanted to discover from the article, which wasnt there was quite how many youthworkers the UK church was employing at that time, Peter Brierely is merely looking at church attendance overall at a time when uk churches were employing youthworkers, rather than looking at the precise numbers. So, no official data, by the master statistician himself about the number of UK nhou.

In Danny Brierleys ‘ Joined up’ in 2003, he suggests that in 1998, there was data showing that the Church in the UK was employing 7,900 (seven thousand nine hundred!) Full time paid youth workers. Wow. Stating that the church was now the largest employer of youthworkers in the country (if the church was one organisation)

Fast forward to 2018.

Even though there is still data (here is the anecdote to evidence findings that suggests that youthworkers make a difference) – This reality has not been matched in the number of employed roles in the uk church, neither in the investment of programmes to educate and train, or systematic diocese level employment stuctures, pay and welfare. The drip drip feed of youthworkers leaving the church has been significant and predictable, to the green grass and security (and housing) of parachurch, mission organisation or ordained ministry

In my recent voluntary research, conducted via this site and social media, I circulated a map, to which youthworkers in the UK who were employed by a single church could plot themselves. To date, the map here   has only 300 pins on it. I realise that there will be some deanery, or multi church youthworkers (though theres less than 50 so far on that map). Even if these maps are out by 1/2 – that means that there might only be 700 employed youthworkers in UK churches. Thats potentially a huge reduction in the 7,900 of 1998. (Please do add yourself if you’re not on either)

So, this was a long way of saying.

If you think you might just be able to replace the youthworker you have got, because you dont like them, then I would think again. I would think again, because, in the long run, a church with a youthworker who has been there a while, is likely to help with increasing the attendance (not that this is the only benefit of them), but also that it might be a while before another youthworker might jump into the same role. The stops might need to be pulled out to try and keep them.

It would be easy to talk about salaries, housing, and the financial cost/value of a paid youthworker, a discussion on finances is ongoing at the moment, and yes, a salary without a house for a youthworker will look vastly different, and have different expectations on it depending on the area. If an area is so expensive that living near the church might only be afforded in a one bedroom flat, then guess what, an experienced, qualified, married youthworker isnt going to head too close, at least not without other financial investments or income. There are less college course in the UK, and so new students entering the field (having heard or seen many of the difficult stories of the past) are less. The jobs however are staying vacant .

In a way, though, most of us youthworkers dont do any of what we do for money. But the security and less stress of being able to afford and live in an area does go a long, no long long way. Its not salary necessarily that would cause a youthworker to leave. It is more likely to be the politics of the church, and how they are managed, and what expectations there are on them, this was the findings from Simon Davies in ‘The Management of Faith Based workers’ in Jon Ords book ‘Critical Issues in Youth work management, (2012)

stating that

the reasons frequently cited for youth workers considering giving up were not the young people, but the organised context of the work, and lack of understanding of their role as the main contributers. They also cited good supervision*, supportive colleagues and a sense of personal fulfillment as things that kept them motivated

and going on to say that

the demands placed on christian youth workers by the expectations of the church, are pressurized and lead to stress, isolation, exhaustion and emotional exhaustion

Though given the state of some clergy at the moment, some of this sentiment could also apply. Tragically. (* see the above menu if you would like to hire me for supervision)

The reality might be that the youthworker who is currently employed in your church, might well be your last. So, what can you do as a church community to value them, and make better use of them (and not just the clergy, as they also have their own responsibilities, especially supervision and line management -an issue discusses at length on this blog- see the first of 4 pieces here – we need to talk about clergy and youthworker line management).  I asked a number of people on social media, clergy and youthworkers alike the following question:

What one thing could a church or diocese do, to make better use of their paid youthworkers? 

Because the stories of youthworkers also being the photocopier, the toddlers leader, the caretaker, the deputy vicar on the vicars day off, are sadly endless and too timeconsuming to dwell on, often in the ‘other duties’ part of a job description. As Naomi Thompson suggested, it can too often be the case that the church employs the youthworker just to get on with it alone, or payment by results. So, it is better then, to ask the positive question – how might a church make better use of a youthworker? (especially if trying to keep them is essential) 

Here are the responses from the question

  • Don’t employ them for expertise then tell them what they should do. When things fail don’t criticise but love them and encourage them. Protect them from criticising members of the congregation. Give them paid opportunities to connect with other pros
  • Equip, teach, train their church Leaders/pastors to see the young people and therefore the workers as central to the church therefore involving them in every aspect and at all levels
  • Encourage partnership working between churches
  • Guess you could add, don’t expect them to do it all. Give them a clear day off and acknowledge that any time where they are in church contact is counted as work time. Like ministers, prayer is also work, so give them time for it.  
  • Offer opportunities for CPD and not just to be ordained.
  • Listen to them properly & take their expertise seriously.
  • Provide access to administrative support. Fund CPD. Allow and fund retreats/quiet days/sabbaticals.
  • Give them influence in leadership roles -or find ways in which young people can be in these roles (with the youthworkers support if needed)

(thank you to all who contributed, you know who you are, your ideas much appreciated)

Some churches might already be doing some of these things, and creating an environment for a youthworker to feel valued, not without challenges or problems to overcome, come on, lets not make things completely easy for them, but as congregations, and clergy, are these things possible in creating a positive space, and encouraging a youthworker in their role in the local church. If we can make better use of them, especially their passion, their exprience, their approach, knowledge and discernment regarding local mission and community – then this might be also of benefit to the churches as well. And if a youthworker feels and is valued, then there likely to stay , and if a youthworker is likely to stay….then you dont need to think about replacing them, if that option exists, neither do you have upset young people who have connected with them, and you might have the beginnings of a church that is starting to grow. just might.

Value the youthworker, value the church? maybe.



Brierley, Danny 2003 Joined Up

Ord, Jon, Critical issues in Youthwork Management, 2011

Jon Jolly, Christian Youthwork motive and method, in Youth work and Faith, by Smith, N Thompson (Stanton) and Wylie (2015)

Thompson, Naomi, Young people and the church since 1900, 2018


A tale of two free pictures

I took a leaf out of the book from our FYT weekend away (see previous post) and took a risk today. This is how it went;

So, i was walking down to the shop this morning to the DIY store to get a new washing line and outside the local old peoples home was this box with pictures in it going free to a good home. All a bit unusual I thought, but theres nothing to lose.

Having checked them i decided to take them, we have a massive house, and little money to put stuff on the walls to add colour. However, I had no way of thanking the person giving them away. So i thought id pay it forward and take a risk, seeing as they gave away these pictures for my benefit, what could i give away? In a way i felt condemned, as in ministry it can be easy to get stuck into money traps or expectation traps, ie doing something just because it gets a reward back. I thought – what can I give? give away and have the similar little expectation to get back in return?

And so, after lunch i went down into town., and thought i would see how I could give to someone, or be helpful to someone in need. Follow a gut instinct to do something, to give something away.

Theres an empty space at the bottom of the ramp near the library in Hartlepool, where the charity sellers, big issue vendors, dodgy religious sect type people use for selling stuff. Its also where the homeless go to beg. When i got there today the area was empty, just a few guys on a bench. But the usual turnover of people walking past, on phones, chatting, pushing buggies, heads down, focussed or relieved to be heading home from the shops. I thought i would sit and wait to help someone or talk to someone who might need it (i had the whiteboards ready if i needed to advertise, though i was slightly not quite brave enough to write ‘free listening here’ or ‘here to help if you need it on them’ well i wrote it but didnt advertise – maybe next time – what do you think? ).

There was someone trying to carry a bookshelf, i offered to help and they said they were ok (later they carried the shelves seperately)

A few minutes after i was sitting down on the wall. less that 10 metres away a person started opening their bag, got out a few books, (i thought they were going to the library), then got out a sleeping bag from their bag, and chucked a few pennies on their bag, then sat, in the sleeping bag, reading the book and waited for the passers by to make donations. Jacket hood covering their face.

In my mind i was thinking – is this the person im here to talk to? to help? How do i start a conversation? I was sitting down at their level (usually I am walking above those sitting on the ground begging) I was probably for the first time seeing how they were being reacted to.

The woman ( it was the first time id realised their gender) asked if i had a light for a fag, which i didnt, i didnt even have any money on me either. (i deliberately wanted to be empty handed) , she asked me, no she told me that i looked happy and content, and i probably did, i guess i had a glint in my eye as i was looking for ways to give and be helpful, not to consume or shop… though wary of being male, i asked her about the book she was reading, and about what her days are like waiting for money to be donated. She talked about stories, and how the last few weeks had been tough as the abuse by others had got worse to the homeless, how the police were moving people on, and how they get less money, so much so that she was thinking of moving to somewhere new.

This wasnt all in one conversation, as it was disjointed and interrupted, but it was the gist of it. I was then interrupted by a local vicar (female) who said ‘Hello’ and sat down, and we chatted for 15-20 mins or so, all the while keeping an eye on our homeless friend, and wondering what we might do. After a while my clergy friend sat with the female, and listened more intently to her story and situation and gave some money, at the same time someone else put a £1 on the bag (it was the first coin over 2p that had been donated) and someone else came by with a meal deal in a bag from boots.

A meal that was duly eaten pretty quickly, once my clergy friend left.

Without wanting to be rude, in leaving the person i asked whether the afternoon had worked out ok. She said it had, but only in the last 15 mins. She told me about where she lived, and having moved around a bit. Said she was in Newcastle but it was too busy, she looked less than 25, maybe nearly 30. I said that i wanted to give something, but i had nothing. But i asked if she could make use of a small whiteboard and pens, to write down quotes from her books, or phrases to encourage people, or messages to help her cause. She said shed draw pictures and make up stories. I wished her well and told her my name, and she hers ‘D’, Pray for D as you read this. She is camping somewhere in this town.

Though I know shes had food, as this evening, I gave away some herbs to a friend, and walked the dog around the headland area of the town.

And as i drove back down northgate, there was D with someone walking, and eating a large bag of fish and chips on a glorious sunny evening. A luxury we all like, in the sea air. And thats the air she’ll breathe from her tent. And I in my house.

I jokingly said to my clergy friend as we sat on that wall, that I wasnt intending to become all St Franciscan, to side with the poor and homeless by dressing up as a beggar and being waited on.

But sitting at the level of the homeless, being alongside, i learned so much more. That whilst many did nothing, some gave and smiled, a smile that ive given before. As I said , ive walked by many times before. But today I sat, and waited, to interrupt the normal and give, and help where I can. Being at a different level. At knee level.

I am no hero, and i have no idea what the end of this story might be, her friend with the chips, and the whiteboard. She did tell me that she liked the church and took photos of it. But thats not that important. I dont hope that anything other that i learned a lesson in giving, in understanding, and seeing the world through a different lens, even just for a short while. I wanted to give, and give I did, but i gained so much more. It just means i’ll have to give again tomorrow.

The post script to this story, that i have discovered in the last 10 minutes. Is that D was prayed for at the morning prayer in the church of my clergy friend only yesterday morning as a congregation member had been in conversation with her. Tomorrow the two will be meeting up again. This time not on the wall. Where does God lead us to when were being obedient – to the homeless, the lost and the margins. Why- for thats where she is too.

Youthworkers should have higher salaries than Clergy, heres 14 reasons why:

So I have lit the proverbial touch paper this week, with a post that looked at the rate of pay of church based youth workers over the last 20 odd years. Pay that ranged from 12,000 in 1998 to 24,000 in 2005 (one church only)- all the rest were nearer £19,000. Many questions emerged from the discussions on it such as

  • Why should churches adopt the JNC pay scales, its a different paradigm? 
  • Churches arent adopting the JNC scale like they used to, neither are they asking for qualified, its as if they want youth work on the cheap? 
  • £12,000 is shocking!
  • How do these compare with youthworkers in faith based organisations instead of churches? 
  • Is it better to have low pay in a church than higher pay in an organisation and then be ‘forced’ to find your own funding for the role. (NB a task that even more youthworkers in churches are having to do anyway) 
  • You think this is bad, try being a childrens worker …
  • Has anyone actually put a value or price on what is reasonable salary for the work (and the same can be said for many roles in church) 
  • You think this is bad, what about the gap year students…

And there were a few others, some you can find on my facebook page, some of these are for a different day, or in the comments below on that particular post, a link to it is here: ‘Are youthworkers paid peanuts?‘ . However, a stand out comment, was on twitter, that compared the salary both then and now of clergy salaries, compared to youthworkers, and also what youthworker salary has to pay for. It was also said by someone, a member of the clergy no less that a youthworker should have a stipend, rather than salary, with the same tax benefits. So, the debate rumbles on, though i fear that the stable door for equalising youthworker pay with clergy might have bolted somewhat. Though soon with the closure of many youth worker courses there wont be many specialists left. But still young people leaving the church by the dozen. So, from a purely financial salary perspective, not including add ons or extras, and as a result of the discussions over the last 36 hours, I have put together the following list of all the reasons why a youthworkers salary should be higher than the senior clergy. Even if often the ‘youthworker cant be paid more than the clergy as it would be wrong’ – actually it might be wrong the other way around. For these reasons:


  1. Housing. They, a youthworker has to pay for their own – This is at least £600 month
  2. Utilities. They have to pay for their own – For many at least £120/month
  3. Council Tax….ok so you see where I am going with this, same reason as 1 & 2. 
  4. If the church is employing a youthworker ‘because it doesnt know what to do about young people’ then surely this expertise needs to be numerated accordingly?
  5. It would create a culture where youth work role might be seen as a proper ministry in the church, or it might…
  6. It may stop the small but significant flow of really experienced youthworkers furthering their vocation to also increase salary by becoming ordained and keeping experienced youthworkers in one place to work with young people over a long term. (emphasis on ‘It may’ as i know many dont make this leap for the money, maybe itll stop those heading to teaching instead)
  7. The youthworker has to find their own support, supervision and training, by the notion that often the pastor/minister has most of this laid on for them by the diocese/affiliation, then surely then the youthworker needs to be paid more for taking this responsibility.
  8. The youthworker should have the highest salary, because it is a more specialised role.
  9. Neither does a youthworker get bursaries for laptops, clothing and other equipment when they finish their training- they pay for these themselves. 
  10. A youthworker is employed to help keep and grow the church, because this is why they are often employed. With great responsibility should also come great pay (to obliterate the quote from spiderman)
  11. On many occasions the youth worker actually supports and helps the pastors, and not the other way around, with thinking on mission, conversations, approaches and community work – again this is barely recognised it is knowledge and networks the whole church benefit from not the ‘yoof’. 
  12. Supply and demand. There’s more jobs than there are youth workers, depending on the part of the country, that kind of competition should be ramping up the salaries.
  13. The youthworker will have a student loan to pay off for their studies, often. Clergy probably have (in the cofe) their studies paid for. (unless of course a youth worker isnt paid enough that they have to start paying it off) 
  14. The youthworker, like the clergy is never off duty, but never says that they are ‘on call’ either – part of their work deliberately includes the non-session time. 

Some of these are legitimate, others with tongue firmly in cheek, so bear with me a little. I know also that not every clergy/minister/pastor will have all of the things that are mentioned here, and work part time very sacrificially, this is quite true. It is also as true also that far far less youthworkers have any of these things. Though jobs with housing seemed more popular in the 1998 editions of youth work than recently, Maybe housing was cheaper then… And there will be easily arguments that clergy salary should be higher especially from clergy.

I wonder whether however, the issue is less about pay, and more about how much of the pay that the youthworker might actually see, especially when housing and utility costs are taken into account, and often these are paid for by the local church or diocese, not always, but often. And clergy who leave parish posts for diocese posts have a bit of a shock when the bills actually start coming through, as do ‘house repairs’. But pound for pound, this isnt a judgement on roles and the value of each role, but when it comes to deciding in a local church about how much a youth worker salary is, maybe it is time to think, actually how much will we pay them so that they can actually afford to live and live relatively comfortably in the parish, and not have to pay 1/2 their salary on rent or mortgage (ha ha, if you can get one).

So, consider the touch paper lit even more, not out of trying to be antagonistic, but maybe think about it – what kind of ministry amongst people, usually vulnerable young people are we creating, that is shaped in a way that causes financial tension and stress for the employee, before they even leave their front door to work with young people. I know money is tight everywhere, or at least in some quarters it is (though prioritising funding on mission and salaries might just be more important than office blocks and temporary quick fixes.

Maybe it would be a prophetic statement of the church, in an age when young people and youthwork is cut to the bone and young people continually derided for societies ills, that says that it is going to invest heavily and consistently on youthwork provision. Maybe. Statement that young people are actually important. You never know.

Oh and maybe in some churches youthworkers do have higher salaries, but there cant be many.

Pay youthworkers the same as clergy, yeah, and see the number of jobs for youthworkers shoot through the floor..


Youth workers take heart – you’re trying to do the (almost) impossible!

Over the last few weeks my Son and I, have been playing a game – I have also used in leadership sessions on strategy that I have facilitated as part of my role for Frontier Youth Trust. The game is called ‘Forbidden Island’  and it involves setting up the pieces iin a formation, to form an island, and then using each others abilities, and the game play to collect treasure and escape from the island before it becomes flooded. We have had the game a while, and when we got it aside from a few scrapes we managed to do it fairly easily. However, last week I played it in a group of 4 at the leadership training, and according the way the island formed – and doing the game with ‘new’ people we lost. Last night my Son and I played, and though we changed the settings from ‘novice’ to ‘expert’ we still lost – twice.

Whilst the game relies on a number of factors, each very changeable, and then some strategic thinking – how it is set up also contributes to how difficult it is. Making it virtually impossible for a group of newbies, or even more experienced players.

On a slightly different note, I once went for a job doing door to door sales for Gas and Electricity company, in the interview i was asked if i had done anything similar before. My response was that i had done door to door evangelism (dont judge me) as part of working for a church a few years before. It was, i think, the only part of the interview 20 years ago that i got full marks, for the interviewee said; ‘well if you can sell people religion at the door, you can sell them gas’

The point being – some times we dont realise quite how difficult – almost impossible the work we do actually is. And if we stopped to think about it – many of the conditions around make being a youthworker considerably difficult – and almost impossible at times to think that we might have ‘succeeded’ or ‘reached an outcome’, yet that doesnt stop us believing, trying, and being determined that something could be different for a young person, their family or the community around them. 

Now of course, there are other ‘impossible’ jobs around. Many in social work, the NHS and education might feel the same. Undervalued and Overworked, and under resourced. But some of those roles carry with them a large weight of political or organised will to make things different, unions, or the general public favour (especially for the NHS). And for many even in these professions they are under resourced and busy because of lack of nurses, for the youthworker under resourcing looks very different, it is no money. There is no shortage of work or even vacancies for employment in some of these sectors, and they are in the current climate still very much impossible jobs.

In regard to clergy, there is a fair amount of challenge, following vicars on twitter, and acknowledging the high issues of stress and mental health problems in the role is a sign of it becoming significantly more difficult, demanding and discouraging a role that it might used to have been. But again, there are vacancies for clergy, and long term contracts for clergy- its not the only thing – but security in a role can go a long way.

In another example, within Youthwork practice, whether we like it or not, theres a big push to help young people with ‘developing resilience’ that youthworkers are involved in through clubs, groups and activities. Yet at the same time theres not really the same push in society to create a better environment for young people to grow up in, especially the stressed out schools, the target driven teachers, or ofsted orientated outcomes. So, the youthworker ‘trying to build resilience’ is in a way trying to push against a heavy weight that is playing the game against the individual or group of young people. None of which is in its favour – just neo-liberalisms way of trying to get value out of education. So, the youthworker is almost trying to do, or measure, or actualise the impossible. But in a small way, its better to keep trying at the impossible, to keep believing that a young person might still flourish within or outside the ‘system’ and create those opportunities. And there are many other barriers, including poverty.

For the youthworkers in a faith context, or dare i say it in a faith-evangelism context- your task is as impossible. It is difficult to get anyone interested in the church, in the christian faith at the moment – let alone young people. You might only have a year contract to do the miracle, or be employed by the church without actually any other human resources or volunteers to ‘do the miracle’ – and theres no wonder its proving difficult and challenging. Because its virtually impossible (even with faith as an inspiration or motivation). But again, thats not to stop, its to realise that what you’re doing is not the game on an ‘easy’ level. What you’re trying to do isnt solved in a quick win, a short game – its long term. Nothing in faith based youthwork is about making something sustainable happen in the short term. Getting the church to ‘change’ though they pay you to get young people into the church (without saying as much) – impossible- almost… 

The youthwork manager – often forgotten in ‘youthwork blog posts’ – you know your job is impossible. Theres 28 plates spinning, from fundraising, to a child protection issue, to planning an away day, to writing a strategy, to recruit and train volunteers and everything else besides, you dont need me to say how impossible it can all feel. And everyone wants to tell you how they prioritised and organised, sometimes one dropped plate makes a heap of mess. And at the same time theres a longing for just ‘easy’ face to face action with young people – which isnt easy at all. Its not a completely impossible job – but it can feel like it, especially when funding gets tight and decisions about employment, contracts, activities and resources need to be made (including your own). But as a manager, you try and create an environment where others have the backing to do some of the difficult face to face stuff, create space to talk, training and supervision, try and eek out some funding for a trip, or a resource, or create an atmosphere of reflection, of determination and also support for the staff, the young person and the volunteer, and you fight, fight to keep the noise about young people to be more positive, to try and change the narrative about them. You galvanise and work in partnership, you gather and organise, you campaign and push for justice. All against the tide. The media tide, or local community opinion about young peoples place in society. It is an almost impossible task – but keeping on keeping on is what you and we all need to do. Image result for youthwork

For many reasons then, youthwork in its variety of forms, practice and approaches is an almost impossible job. It tried to act for justice and equality, tries to hear and respond to the voice of young people and give them trust and dignity, it flies in the face of those who write off young people in education or health systems. But think for a moment how much more impossible life might be or feel for that one young person you meet today without the conversation, question, activity or support that you are able to give them. Be encouraged, you’re doing an impossible job, yet for many young people you are making something positive more possible, and thats a beautiful thing and an impossible thing all at once.

The times we think it might be ‘easy’ in youthwork – hmm i think they are long gone…. ‘novice’ setting doesnt really exist. Take heart over Easter, have a break if you can, and deep down reflect on how you’re trying to create the beautiful in the places that can feel like the impossible.

We need to talk about Clergy/Youth worker line management (Part 4) – what to do when it goes wrong

It is easier to talk about the reasons why a line management relationship goes wrong – its more difficult to suggest ways to rectify it!

In parts 1-3 of this management series (links below) I identified a number of these factors. Most of them come down to expectations, and these are widely talked about . However, there are other reasons why the relationship may start to break down, it could be personality, it could be a change in management style – from laissez faire (damaging in itself) to more directive (ok, but the change can be challenging). There can be other complications. Without going over old ground, the breakdown in this relationship is one of the key reasons a youthworker leaves a post. (outside of funding)

So, If its established that there can be issues within your relationship with your line manager (and if you’re a clergy reading this, with your youth worker who you are managing) what can be done to rectify, and reconcile when things start to go wrong… I realise it depends what the situation is.. but these are some of the things that can be put in place to help create a structure that can help before the event of any issues: 

  1. For both Church and Youthworker to establish that a known 3rd person will be given the responsibility of stepping in if needed, but prior to that point they can be the essential professional supervision for the youth worker for them to receive external critical reflective supervision on their practice throughout. If a youthworker tends not to request, ask or suggest this, then they’re turning down opportunities for further learning and reflection, yes as a church you may/will need to pay this, but it will pay off in the long run. This person may not need then be imported in for a crisis, but has been hopefully part of the ongoing conversation and may have been able to suggest, critique, questions and guide the worker through any issues in the ongoing. external supervision is critical!   (If I can be of help to supervise a worker, click the link above and it might be arranged )
  2. Spend time negotiating aspects of the structure of your line management relationship, including venue, frequency, agenda, management style ( directive/coaching/support) , and expectations. All in the first few weeks. In addition decide how feedback will be given, and what the process will be in receiving both positive and challenging criticism (there will be some) and how this will be handled.  Clergy, it is your responsibility to prioritise line managing your youthworker, the more they keep nagging you to meet them, the less committed it feels to them that you are about them, their ministry in your church. Forgive the directness. It needs to be said.
  3.  Have a discussion about time, and what time off, time in lieu, annual leave, working days will all look like, and what ‘time off’ activities are ok. Nothing worse that great youthwork on a sunday evening being overshadowed because the congregation have expectations that the youthworker shouldnt be visiting local pubs, or that their day off it is ok to help at the church fete. This is important.
  4. Can the two of you spend any social time together, that isnt church, or to do with work/ministry- it might be helpful… just a thought?

So, get some of this sorted – what to do when things start to go wrong? 

At the risk of sounding like an amateur relationship counsellor, and I am really not. I am also aware that I have not done these things, when i should have, or done them when i shouldnt. It is worth recognising, if the situation is appropriate to do so, that conflict can be a good thing if it is handled properly. Sometimes conflict can be the ‘storm’ before a new negotiated relationship which can flourish, and I know this is especially thought of in Tuckmans Group stages, sometimes it could be applicable to a one to one relationship, it is widely appropriated in mentoring relationships, so a line management one might not be too different, albeit some of the dynamics might be very different. Just worth trying to find resources and theories from elsewhere or group/mentor processes & changes.

  1. Arrange to talk directly with the person. Where this is possible. Yes each party might have a trusted 3rd person, so the practice supervisor, partner, area minister type person. But subsequent to this, each of you has to take responsibility for the care, nuture and attention to the relationship. What i would suggest is after talking through with someone, then write down on paper your personal reflections of the situation, including what you have felt, and how you would like it to be different. Pray through your reflections, give them a day or so to untangle a bit, and then arrange to meet up and talk about the relationship with the person. This is not going to be easy.  The few days space might help. writing things down will also. Through this kind of conversation, which might be on both sides, then renegotiate the relationship, expectations, guidelines, style of management, and revisit the ‘trigger’ points every few weeks.
  2. Avoid bottling things up, so that the list is very long. Keep short accounts, meet often.
  3. Dont gossip. So dont moan to the rest of the church. Gossip is speaking about the issue to anyone who you have duty of care over, or who is in a lower hierarchical structure to you in the church. With the exception of your spouse/partner.  Dont even gossip like this: Image result for gossip
  4. Avoid demonising the other person, its no excuse for bad practice, or pastoral, personality inadequacies, but its very likely that your line manager hasnt been trained to know what to do. However, if they as a clergy are unable to give you what might be pastoral, educative or spiritual direction (almost the absolute minimum or ‘default’ for a Minister, surely..?) , because of personal rudeness – then this is a more significant issue.  They might not know ‘how to manage you’ . Regardless, demonising them really doesnt help. They are a fallen child of God like you, and you could be two people collaborating on the ongoing task of Gods redemption.
  5. Call in the third party, someone who has been around all throughout, or someone new and independent. That third party might also be able to ask questions, and help solve some of the issues. Though personality clashes, serious breakdowns might be harder to fix.
  6. Dont Compare. There is no such thing as a perfect line manager/clergy relationship. Someone else down the road might be in a bigger church with great resources, but that doesnt mean that their management relationship is anything to write home about.
  7. Try and get a bit of perspective, this is on both sides. There are some issues that require a huge reaction- these are when on either side our personal/vocational dreams and goals havent been met or we’ve been let down. But even then, there is perspective, and will the reaction we give to something cause more damage than what the original issue caused?  Sometimes yes. Sometimes we are right to fly off the handle. We feel injustice, pain or annoyance by being unfairly treated, maligned or how young people are. Image result for fumingThis happens often, very often and its painful. There are ways to pay it forward, to show wisdom, and realise that other people have been socialised in churches to act and speak in such a way, and have got away with it.. no excuses, but often other people wont realise it. none of us are perfect. no not even the youthworker.
  8. You might need to make an official complaint to their boss. So the moderator, Bishop or someone equivalent. Bad luck if you’re in a church where all the power resides with the minister and theres no higher structure that has any influence. It is ok to complain. This is better than gossip, moaning or demonising. Complaining gives it to someone else to act, and shows that you are serious about wanting things to work out with the person. It is a cry for help, and one that shows some maturity. But most of us have no idea who to complain to….

There are no easy suggestions here, because the line management relationship can be frought at times. Both people have expectations, dreams, personalities, might like to manage/be managed in a certain way, have skills, gifts, vision that might all be different to each other, or not find resonance in the space of the church. It is tempting to just forget the line management relationship, given that our relationships with parents, young people and school teachers might be deemed more important. But none of those relationships will be the cause of you leaving a post (unless there is inappropriate behaviour) the relationship with your line manager is likely to cause you to lose more sleep over. For some reason and maybe because of its structural and spiritual importance in the life of the church, it causes more difficulty.

None of any of this is intended to sound as If i have done all this correctly, in similar situations, i really havent. I have been able to help others by being a supervisor to them and discovered that there are so many issues that can be the cause of issues in this relationship. If there isnt a solution, then one of the parties might have to leave. It happens. If the situation causes oppression, damage, pain and degrees of emotional, spiritual, psychological abuse & manipulation, then do seek counselling, do make a complaint and protect yourself, you are more important than your ministry. If this is you reading this, in such a painful situation, then seek help, you are not alone, find a youthworker on social media to talk to, if you dont know anyone, or even send me an email. But seek help, professional help and counselling also. Now for the majority, hopefully it isnt such a difficult situation, but for one or two of you it might be.

Please do share any other ways that the issues in line management relationships can be resolved, and what you have found to be helpful.


The Previous three articles in this series are here:

Part 1- Lets start this discussion

Part 2- What to negotiate

Part 3 – Managing expectations

Please do get in touch via the menus above, if I can be of help as a professional supervisor for you.

Can the church be vulnerable in its communities if it is fearful of its existence?

This post is a response to my previous on Mission and ‘Vulnerability’, which provoked a few questions, these were a few of them:

‘As a youth worker I see these as our daily bread, what have we forgotten in the church, that we are so fearful of the community and having our lives laid bare?’


it is so much more tempting to rely on programs that look “tried and tested”, or cling to “business as usual” when all seems so shaky.’

What I was suggesting in my post was that without an element of vulnerability then it would be difficult to be perceived as authentic. If you want to read the post it is here: Vulnerability as the starting point in community transformation.

In regard to youth ministry, young people and possibly churches overall; Jon Jolly suggests that there is something of a generational half life occuring in churches. For every generation that passes, attendance halves ( Jolly, 2015, 30). While this could be a wake up call to change methods it also reinforces a protectionism to try and keep what weve got. 

It doesnt take a rocket scientist to understand the effect of the projections of attendances for the church in the future, or where they have decreased. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to work out the pressure on those involved in the church as ministers and clergy to ‘increase numbers of people’ , or the effect of having to reduce clergy posts in deaneries – with no replacements or initiatives to maintain faith presence in areas – ie not even recruiting pioneers to start faith from scratch..

The Effect is status anxiety. And fear.

When the church also faces competition from many competitors, not just a global-technological-consumerist worldview, but also other religions in the UK and thirdly, as a consequence the place of the church is society is no longer quite a dominant (ie post-christendom) though it is still quite amazing how interested the media is during synod, or other religious decision making.

So, because the church is reacting in its own state of status anxiety, or at least in local congregations it might be feeling defeated, under resourced, under pressure (to shrink clergy posts), churches at the same time are undergoing what i call ‘initiative-itis’. Trying the latest new idea to help ‘stop the rot’ whatever stopping the rot looks like. Its that generational half life stuff again. But the initiatives keep on coming, the latest event, the product, the promotion.

Often the packages come gift wrapped, with stories of amazing success elsewhere – only adding to the pressure.

The Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer suggests : ” As in Philippi, so todays church struggles with status anxiety in the face of the new empire of popular culture, like status anxious individuals, some churches may be tempted to employ the tools of this empire, such as mass marketing (or social marketing), to achieve larger numbers and reckoned a success in the eyes of the world.” (Vanhoozer, 2014, 186)

How much of the activities of the church at the moment seem to be about solely numbers of people attending something? or getting people to ‘a thing’?  Or pressure to do ‘a thing’ so people turn up – even so it can then be celebrated on social media as a ‘thing’ that has been done. I might be too critical, but does it not emphasise what direction and effect status anxiety has had on the church.

It would be easy, as the comment above suggested – to ‘do the tried and tested’ – yet the tried and tested isnt actually working!  The question has to be continually asked – what does the church do, that no other organisation or agency can? – and as the state is shrinking and the funding for voluntary groups squeezes, the church has ample opportunities for this space. from being the local library, post office, youth centre, luncheon club, after school kids club, sports facility… and thats just the start… what about listening service, pastoral care, community chaplaincy, etc etc…  Being vulnerable might just be do one of these things, and gather local interest and resources to enable it to happen.

Whilst it might take vulnerability to act completely differently towards people in local communities, listen, and engage. The risk taking the church is doing by heading into maintenance and safety mode is tantamount to giving up.  Theres something in this cartoon:

If Status anxiety is harming the church, then equally so is the drive for efficiency and effectiveness. If the church has lost being important in a local community, then it needs more resources to enable it to be so, closing the door and knocking it down for housing is giving into the market forces both in intention and in result.  Not taking risks and being vulnerable might be the biggest risk and most vulnerable thing the church can do.

 In a way the church has got nothing to lose! if its press is that it is declining anyway, then why not go for it!  

What will a risk taking church look like – probably the one that welcomes refugees, widows, the poor, the disenfranchised, the lonely and walks with them. Its the one that challenges oppression from the pulpit, the one that loves unconditionally, the one that listens to its community and builds faith from within it. Its the one that offers people a connected coherant story of hope amongst a plethora of individual stories that lead to debt and despair.