I put a ‘thing’ out on twitter a week or so ago, amongst the youth and community work fraternal, ‘ share your top tips on how to survive in youth ministry’ and waited for the responses. I got a few, and i will share them below. But in the course of asking for the feedback, and writing this, I started to think about the reality that usually there is only talk of surviving in youth ministry – surviving with your calling intact, surviving with your mental health intact, surviving with your family intact, surviving so that you might be able to be in a church for longer than 3 years.
Maybe the talk is of survival because the boulevard of youth ministry is littered with broken dreams, lives and people that have been hurt. But could ministry – in particular youth ministry be a space to thrive or flourish in at all, when talk is of survival and the myriad of issues that cause it to feel like that.
And yes i am as guilty, repeatedly in these pages sharing pieces about ‘why youthworkers leave churches‘ and my own journey that felt like surviving youth ministry, its as if surviving is the only game in town.
I was almost going to write a pessimistic piece on why its impossible to thrive in youth ministry – given the fairly usual suspects of short term contract, generally grossly under paid, employed in false pretences, high expectations, not to mention stuff like mission/ministry contradictions between parents, youth workers and young people, and most of them are featured at length in the piece above. But, ill not do that. No. Because there are examples of thriving. There are youth workers who are thriving in churches. Though i imagine there will be a number of key factors as to why this might be. And their testimony might suggest that being in a role long term, having influence in decision making about young people, maybe not being too unrealistic, having personal values that are closer to the organisational values (rather than a purist youth worker), maybe thriving happens when there is a genuine regard for young people in a church as participants and contributors, so a youthworker, can be a youthworker (not just an entertainer) . Maybe thriving happens where there are volunteers, or where there’s good management – or maybe where a youthworker has the fucking determination to do a bloody good job in a space for the sake of young people- despite all these things not being in place.
So, if thriving is going to happen in youth ministry – what might need to happen for it to?
These are some of the thoughts of the youth work and ministry fraternal:
As with any job, have an understanding and exciting/motivating line manager. Most church leaders have no training or significant experience in managing staff, yet most churches are packed with people with those skills. That knowledge needs to be utilised
Having an amazing youth worker friend to pray, share the load with you, who understands, who is willing to be on the other end of the phone when things are tough, or when you just don’t know what to do. (avoiding being on your own – yet how many churches appoint 2 youthworkers? – notice that ‘not feeling alone features in a few others comments below)
Separate work and personal phone. Learn how to say No. Ensure line management is effective. Embrace ecumenism – sharing is better! Spread the load, develop your team.
Do not answer emails when you should be off/working with young people. Make sure everyone knows you are away. Also a good idea to have a nighttime curfew on contact.
Find/develop close friend/s for support. i.e. can give them a call and speak openly and freely without worrying about what they will think of you when you hang up.
Seek out mentor/coach/director