Youthworker: Are these your 20 superpowers?

Fast on the heels of last week’s piece on the 35 experiences of youthworkers comes this reflection on the superpowers that youthworkers are expected to possess, given the range of questions, reflections and comments about the last piece, it figures that youthworkers are expected to be superheroes? Doesnt it.. well at least they might have to at times possess all or some of the following:

1. To live off adrenaline after 3 60 hour weeks and a weekend residential at the end of them

2. To only take school holiday holidays but be able to find holidays they can afford without a teachers salary. Oh and plan 3 holiday club weeks and summer trips for the other weeks. And take that weeks holiday and switch off…

3. To become the manager of your own management group who may have 2 weeks youthwork experience between them. To manage upwards with no management experience (often)

4. To work with a smile even when there’s only 3 months funding left (a requirement for some funders who won’t fund projects with long term reserves)

Image result for youth worker superhero

5. To be able to take young people off the streets. Or get them jobs when there arent any.

6. To help young people like/persevere/cope with church* (*could also mean school) – or as one contributor suggested: ‘Be capable of fully explaining the reason why young people don’t attend church and fixing it without changing Sundays one bit’

7. To divert young people into being part of the capatalist system.

8. To be the only people left in the society who want to talk, sex drugs and alcohol with young people.

9. To provide young people with the tools for resilience, when they themselves might not be coping

10. To be able to retrieve information from every movie, song or sports event in the last 30-40 years and use it in conversation or for a session

11. To find the magic funder, that no one else has found , who will fund good youthwork and fund good salaries and core costs

12. To be amphibious and chameleonic – to be able to work in a number of settings whilst trying to be facilitative and almost invisible.

13. To be eternally youthful – even though they grow old – to never give up the fight for equality, against injustice and to maintain a view that transformation is possible – and not be resigned to fate. (though that doesnt mean trying to be like young people’) To keep pushing for something better…

14. To be ready to listen, to be ready with questions, to be ready with suggestions for conversations with young people – but maybe not ever ready with solutions and the ‘fix’

15. To empathise with those in structures like teachers and clergy who trust you in conversations – without thinking – ‘yeah I wish I had your problems that involved job insecurity and funding… ‘

Image result for youth worker superhero

16. To get stuff for free on discount, like trips and activities – be the great convincer or bargainer – then the great apologetic when the young people trash the venue.

17. To have the endless time to commit to your own ongoing CPD, further reading, studying, career development and fund your own retreats.

18. To be able to say no to a young person without offending them and maintaining the relationship

19 To do all what you do that young people and volunteers see, with next to no need for any planning (at least thats what your timesheet says)

20 To manage other peoples expectations of what you’re actually able to do

and an extra…

21. To have the ability not to get caught reading this blog during your work day

What ones do you have? Which ones do you need right now? Which ones might help see you through this weekend?

You are a superhero, regardless if you dont think you possess all of these things, as what tends to happen if that you’ll find a way to be able have these superpowers and grow into them. Its just sort of what happens. You rise to the next level, in the new situation you find yourself, whether that’s managing volunters, staff, funding, or strategising, or working in schools or developing a project. Thats the true mark of the superhero youthworker, you rise into the roles, and well, as Freire said, make the road by walking them.

what superhero powers would you add?

Because Im not a superhero, and do my writing and reflecting as a hobby, I would appreciate any gift or donations to this ongoing site and my consultancy work. if you are able to make a donation towards this work, please do so, either by donation directly to my UK account click here for the details. Or you can make a donation via Paypal, just click the button below.

Thank you in advance, and thank you for sharing and reading these pieces.

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35 Experiences that (probably) every youthworker has done:

We’ve all seen them, the ’20 things everyone from your city must have done’, or the bucket list of 10 things to do before you die, so just for fun on Friday, here are 35 things that I’m pretty sure many of us as youth workers of one sort or another have either done, or had experience of in our role or career to date. And if you haven’t, it probably because you haven’t yet, but probably will.

Enjoy, and do add a few more in the comments below…


  1. Every youth worker has worked in a cold office
  2. You have been one funding bid away from charity collapse, redundancy and the end of an entire 10 years of work   (thanks Dave Walker for this apt cartoon..) Image result for youthworker
  3. you expected too much from one young person, expected too little from another
  4. invented a game on the spot
  5. Used a ‘ready to use’ material, changed every part, and basically just kept the title
  6. Ruined a session because of an accidental innuendo
  7. Ruined a session because of a deliberate innuendo
  8. Hoped that nobody would turn up for a session (or hoped that the streets were quiet)
  9. Hoped that somebody would turn up for a session
  10. Interrupted/sat between two young people who were getting too cosy with each other
  11. Had someone ask whether you’re too old to be a youthworker anymore
  12. Have found something good even in the worst of sessions
  13. Have found something traumatically dreadful in the best of sessions
  14. Have secretly wished for a teachers salary and security but not their job load, pressure or expectations.
  15. Have secretly been glad that you’re not a teacher
  16. Have had the mini bus break down
  17. Have resorted to bribery to keep the attention of a young personImage result for youthworker
  18. Have found solace in coffee.
  19. Have wished they had more time to do reflection and supervision well
  20. Done detached once.
  21. Lived in a place with the second worst teenage pregnancy in the county/country/world.. or isnt far from it
  22. Wished that someone would understand them
  23. Have screamed in frustration at every news piece on the state of young people post austerity (this week its mental health again, last week it was school isolation (see previous post)
  24. Have been in a situation of not been able to explain why something went well, but it just did, and replicating it doesnt work
  25. Been at a conference just for the networking.
  26. Been economical with the truth on a funding bid.
  27. Had to change your entire practice because someone else was economic with the truth on a funding bid.
  28. Wished you didn’t have a team or work in an organisation because of the team meetings
  29. Wished that you did work in a team and that you did have team meetings
  30. Been distracted by this blog.
  31. Had the best idea you’ve ever had idea torn apart by management group/trustees or governance and then had the worst trustees in the world.. yet..
  32. Forced to do the ‘great’ idea of the management or governance even though you know it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
  33. You couldn’t wait to leave college and get back out in the real world.
  34. You wish you were back in college.
  35. Been asked ‘when are you going to get a proper job’

dare i say it.. 36. lost a young person…. ?

37. Been barred from somewhere, to the extent that a mini bus, consent form and 2 hour trip is required to go to the only macdonalds that will serve you all.

Hope you enjoyed these,  Thank you to the many who made a contribution to this piece with your own suggestions for what it should include, there is a variety of experiences for all of us, but many of us will have, or are about to have a range of similar experiences, in whatever part of the country or world that we do youthwork.

Youthworker; Are these your superpowers? is the follow up to this piece….

A reminder that all the work of this blog is done for free. If after reading this, or having had a look around you have found these resources or articles useful and you would like to make a donation or gift towards the work of this site, then you can do so, either by donation directly to my UK account  click here for the details. Or you can make a donation via Paypal, just click the button below in the menu on the right. Or to receive my posts earlier and without ads, become a member for £3/ month at my patreon site .
Thank you in advance, and thank you for sharing and reading these pieces.
If you want to keep up to date click ‘follow’ or subscribe. Also, if you would like to write a guest post, or have a story to tell or issue to raise about youthwork or youth ministry that you would like to share here, do let me know.  Thank you.

Is Sunday church attendance still the great expectation of youth ministry?

Youth Ministers and youth workers are some of the most creative, determined and passionate people i know, especially when it comes to doing all they can to help young people to think about faith. but doesnt any of it matter, if the young people dont go to their local church on a Sunday morning? 

 Over the last few months, may be a bit longer, I have begun to realise the extraordinary amount of work and time that goes into holding sunday morning services in churches up and down the land; from heating, flowers, coffee, preaching, PA, lighting, readings, themes, wardens, communion, song choices, keys, welcome team. And then there is the effort financially, so heating, equipment, musical repairs (organs!). The sheer amount of effort that goes into sunday morning church, that everyone from the PCC. clergy, and countless volunteers across the country put effort into. Its no wonder then, with this level of investment, this level of personal identity and commitment to it, why the congregation might be at first affronted if young people dont turn up, or maybe more the the point, have an expectations that due to making one or two significant changes ( a kids song, or ‘getting a trendy pastor’ ) that young people will suddenly become part of it and attend. It is understandable with such investment why congregations value sunday mornings, and why, despite everything else at times, young people attending can be the implicit or explicit expectation.

None of this is particularly new, but neither has it really gone away.

So, for the youthworker, it doesnt matter if all the young people in a village use the church in a youthgroup on a friday evening and have moments of ‘faith’ – if none of them turn up on Sundays

Or if there are young people who are met on the streets and use a candle to pray for their family situation – if none of them end up going to a church

when the young people and youthworkers create the best late night Saturday church in the town, and many young people turn up and experience faith – because if it means something, theyll turn up on a Sunday

Or if the young people have started to form their own church, doing discipleship and Mission, sharing gifts and spending time in worship – if they can do this on sunday afternoon – why not sunday morning? 

Or if once a month they all leave the church to do a church service elsewhere – if its real faith, they can show it by being here on a sunday. 

Its not just current youth ministry – and there are countless creative youth workers providing a huge range of spaces and alternative churches, faith conversations for struggling or excluded young people- most well outside the church, but there are so many examples where mid week, special, welcoming open spaces that churches and their youthworkers and volunteers already provide, and these occur often in the local church. But viewed through the prism of ‘but people arent coming on sunday’ they can feel a disappointment. From toddler groups, to lunch clubs, alpha (yes even alpha) to Rock Solid clubs, Food banks to Street Pastors (though i think both of these have survived the expectations to an extent), open youth clubs, to messy church. Churches are more and more offering spaces of contact, engagement and activity, even at times on a Thursday evening or Tuesday morning where people feel a sense of community, of conversation and acceptance. Yet at times at the moment, it can feel as if the only thing that might matter after 52 weeks of toddlers, or 12 months of a mens group, is whether anyone from them ‘came to church on a sunday’ 

What if instead we suggested that people could be discipled without going to church on a sunday? (not a new suggestion)  – So what might discipleship at toddlers, or messy church or after school clubs look like if sunday was put to one side- at least until the person even suggested it? And moving further, discipleship at the youth club, the foodbank, or on the streets… And what if this was also communicated to the Sunday congregation… We know the Sunday service is important, for, and far more than just the practical and emotional reasons I suggested above. But without a different way of discipleship – one ‘through’, during and developed from the activities and welcome spaces – then the well intentioned activities carry too much hope and expectation, and ultimately it is a strategy deemed to failure. Reasons being – its not worked for 50 years.

Yet it can also be that a huge amount of effort, creativity and energy is belittled by this one phrase, ‘did any of them come to church?’ or ‘how can we get some of them to….’  The youthworker can be in a tension point, they might know and care deeply about the faith of the young people and also have to care about the local church (often it is the local church who finances the youthworker) – yet they might also know that the young people cant stand church on a sunday- or that their emerging, new faith might struggle with it- though fundamentally, it can be a struggle – because it highlights that churches dont value the effort on friday night, tuesday in school or monday doing admin – if it doesnt translate to sunday mornings. 

At the moment it can feel like nothing is important except Sunday mornings. And as the church shrinks in some areas this can be heightened. Actually nothing matters except that young people, all people have an encounter with and respond to a call of God on their lives.  Of course – how might we tell people that they need to let go of sundays – when its been their social and emotional life for 20+ years? – that’d be difficult. Or might there be freedom in re educating congregations to ‘let go’ of it as ritual/duty and it being the focus of the church activity week- and see it as a rehearsal for the churches real performances on Sunday night to the following Saturday. It is Mondays toddler group, and Fridays after school club that deserve more attention. A Healthy church, might have a healthier view of God being present and active in all of its activities, like creation, God might actually be resting on a sunday….We might love Sunday Church, but causing it to be the implicit destination of the churchs social groups and clubs misunderstands discipleship, mission and the opportunities of faith within the welcoming spaces outside of it.

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…


Four views on Youth Ministry and ‘Sunday’ Church

We all know by now that the predominant reasons for setting up youth groups, youth ministry and other such activities in a local area, or church is that young people disrupt the service young people find church boring. It has been said that somehow it is not ‘for them’ – theres something ‘dark’ and ‘secret’ about ‘adult’ church, maybe its where adults talk about hidden things like sex and ‘relations’ that 12 year olds arent allowed to be in, they get scuttled off the back room to be entertained by the ‘yoof’ worker, and never to be seen again only to be seen running around the building when people have hot coffee in their hands. So all of a sudden, youth and children are separated, and the task of the youth and childrens leader is to find a way of getting those separates ‘back in’…

Joking aside, the relationship between ‘youth’ / ‘young people’ and the church is a fascinating one. Most church congregations have some investment in the expectations that a youth group/ youthworker may be able to enable young people to ‘come’ to church.  Recently I have been reading Erving Goffman The presentation of the self in everyday life  in which he talks about how the service industry tries to emphasis the ‘dramatic’ and visible in their workplace, because this is what people will expect to pay for, or fund. So for example, the connections between a nurse and patient in a hospital is what a patient values, because it is what they see, they dont see the connections between the nurse and other patients, neither do they see the nurse doing admin.It is this part of their role that a patient values.  The point being, is that ‘Sunday church’ can be the time of visibility and drama for the sunday congregation, and therefore, it is the time when the church is ‘family’ and together, so, thinking sociologically, not only theologically, young people being visible in the space is seen to be  of value to other congregants. Of course, theres no reason why being in church isnt good for young people – but it seems to be the expectations – it becomes difficult to question the notion that ‘ it was great to see the young folk in church today’.. its about young people being visible, not whether is was good for their discipleship for themselves, no its good for the rest of the church.  

Taking the thought that ‘church’ is important for young people, youth ministry and youth groups (whatever we want to define them as) – I wonder whether there are four main views of the relationship between youth ministry and the church.Image result for church

  1. The Youth group leads to alternative church perspective ; This is the work your butt off for 51 weeks in a year volunteering in your youth group and when the young people go to Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor, (*insert name here of a week in the summer festival, or local ‘youth worship event’ ) and it is here where ‘someone else’ manages to build on all your hard work, and the young people find an alternative style church to find faith. Of course, plenty of people are ready to give the young people in your youth group all manner of experiences to make their alternative church fun, lively, loud, ‘youth friendly’. Then theres the merchandise, t-shirts, band CDs, books and posters. Many youth leaders locally desperate that an alternative church is needed for young people. All to help young people fit into this alternative church. Often parents go along with ‘alternative church’ because, alot of parents of church young people discovered their own ‘alternative church’ themselves, is Spring Harvest into 3rd generations, and soul survivor 2..? So, youth group leading to ‘alternative church’  – what does that mean for ‘home’ church? or doesnt it matter.. Sometimes young people are actively encouraged not to go to the home church (because even the youth leader says its boring) and instead find alternative church – because the youth leader has spent hours planning ‘alternative church’ and so has vested interest in yoof going to it.  The alternative church creates faith of a kind, which is great, but that starts to look so different to the ‘sunday church’ that its hard for the young person to find connection or identity in their home church space, but not to worry, they can find identity in the alternative church. That is until theres only 4 young people going to it, and the youth leaders who run it have to cancel it due to costs, or it only attracts ‘christian young people’ – (who else was it going to attract>?? )  or it courts controversy by having candles/meditation/the holy spirit/a monk* and is then cancelled *delete where necessary.

    Image result for contemporary church
    An Alternative church
  2. The youth group is the holding space until home church develops ‘youth’ friendly service.  For however long the youth group functions, and every now and then theres a special service, special moment in the ‘home’ church, in which young people are needed. It could involve their musical or drama talent, or ‘Christmas’ but either way, youth group is the preparation for a moment where young people ‘take part in a special’ church service. Or they can take part in the church weekend away (its good to have the young people – but they still have their own ‘seperate’ meetings’ ) So, the youth group becomes essentially prep for church.  Especially if theres a ‘youth service’ in which the youth group do lots of preparation, and the congregation manage to find many excuses for not appearing that sunday. Its the only Sunday they miss, but they just do.
  3. The Youth Group ‘is’ now church for young people : OH YES!  So, all of a sudden, the youth group has stayed exactly the same, but someone picked up a book of new ideas in the church a few years ago, and so all of a sudden, people who go to sunday church now speak of ‘the youth group’ as being ‘church’ fImage result for youth group gameor young people’.  Its like when sunday school became ‘Junior’ church. Even though many of the adults in church have NO IDEA what goes on at youth group, they have no decided that it is appropriate enough that this is ‘church’ that young people have. So, on one hand it gets young people off scot free from having to go to sunday church ( hahahahahahahahaha.. right) , it also means that games of mafia, spoons and an unhealthy tuck shop , or in this case, solid death ball, and a 5 minute epilogue now constitutes church. Well if that adults say so…
  4. The youth group develops ‘youth church’ with young people. This is a bit like number 1, but the ‘alternative’ church isnt created by youth leaders or other adults for young people. It is developed with the youth leaders and the young people together as part of the existing group. It emerges from within. So, in effect, young people with support, are its creators, developers and shapers, as well help to create the curriculum, content, worship, service and mission (because of course a church is there to do mission- just like sunday church?)  Of course there are some obvious benefits to this type of arrangement, not least that the young people develop active discipleship, leading, planning and participating in church (as opposed to ‘attending alternative church’) It may also be that adults in ‘sunday’ church, decide that they might ‘attend’ youth church, so that it becomes visible to them. In a way that no adult ever attended ‘youth group’. Youth church becomes an ‘alternative congregation’ within the church, in a way that in reality youth group, despite the best intentions of option 3 never did. And, if they’re savvy, the adults who help create youth church with the young people, building from within, also know that the young people will now get more out their own church, than attending ‘alternative church’ down the road. Thats not to say that they wont enjoy it, or learn in it, but it doesnt need to be the space for their spiritual discipleship development anymore, they have it in their own faith community that they are being helped to create.

These are four views of ‘youth groups’ and the church, there might be a few others.  If i was to be pedantic, then often this can just depend on what we might view ‘church’ to be. Of course young people, finding faith and a community to express this in is much bigger than ‘just church on a sunday’ and the complexities of this happening in each context are varied. Because much depend on what view of church, view of young people and also the skill and capacity of the youth leader to create the possibility of young people actually shaping their own faith experiences. Especially when the youth group already has a set culture, method and identity. All of the options 1-4, seem preferable that there being no option for young people, and they either have to ‘do sunday church’ or ‘not do sunday church’. And yes of course there is overlap between some of them. The same youth group might be all of the above. And how confusing might that be. So theres something to be said about the ecclesiology of youth ministry, but practically, What about just not separating children and young people at all. And creating family friendly cultures of learning, discipleship and worship from the outset, now thats an idea… or just a pipedream..


Why do youth workers leave the church?

In the last week, Brian McClaren, the highly regarded and influential American Theologian and Pastor, penned and article: “Why do so many Pastors and Ministers leave the church”. It is personal, provocative and enlightening. And it is to be found here at this link:

Get a glimpse of the main aspects of what Brian is saying here:

As a leader in the church I feel I am expected to be silent and non-opinionated on these issues.  Ironic.  When I look to the life of Jesus religion seems to have been low on his list of cares other than to challenge the religious elite of the day.  Jesus cared about people who were on the margins, He cared about the list of things that I feel I cannot talk about as a leader of the church. So how do I passionately follow Jesus and ignore the very work that defined his ministry?

McClaren says; Clarke, and many like her, are being drained of passion by the relentless focus on religious trivia and the relentless avoidance of issues that matter morally – and in terms of human survival.

As I sit in our weekly staff meetings there are so few things that get talked about that I can muster up passion to engage or care about. I’m not only talking about things like whether we use bread or wafers,  Easter worship service times, and carpet colour, but even worship itself and the doctrine that binds us often seem simply irrelevant to the issues of our world. I wonder if I’m burned out but I don’t think I am because there are things that do invoke deep passion in me.  When I watch the news, I feel passion.  When I hang out with kids who are struggling with great questions for which I have no great answers, I feel passion.  When I see someone searching to find their place in the world, I feel deep passion, when I see people trying to understand one another despite their differences, I feel deep passion.  When I see young people starting a recycling campaign or a stop bullying campaign, I feel deep passion.  I went to school to become a leader in the church because I somehow believed the church would be the platform from which I could work alongside a community of people to engage these areas of passion. I think I was naive. 

The question that is worth asking on the back of this is – why might youth pastors/ministers be leaving the church, over and above what this extract alludes to? 

  1. Mission & Risk averse churches

For, there is no doubt whatsoever, none at all, that the desperate passion that a youth worker feels for young people spurs them on within ministry. There is often no doubt that it is one of the key reasons for them being a youthworker in the first place, That same passion of the hurting, passion to help those with questions, passion to help them find place in the world, and to challenge the status quo’s that are barriers to young people being included, accepted and thriving.  MacClaren further on, using the same example suggests that a problem is a safety first, conformity within the culture of the church:

Clarke and her colleagues long to grapple with big challenges, even though doing so is “dangerous” in that it might offend a major donor: “Worship is safe, service projects are safe, Bible study is safe, talking about bulletin size is safe.  I don’t think passion is ever found in the safe and I don’t think important change comes from there either and so we have become passionless and barren.”

I have argued the same, in ‘this parish’ here in this post. Why Disciple making isnt a dangerous exercise.  in which I alluded to 3 pieces of research that show that the culture of the church is dominated by conformity. And so, a risk averse culture dominates, to the point that change is difficult.  In the article Brian alludes to the expectations of someone as they enter Ministry, as they think that being in Ministry in a church is tantamount to changing and transforming the world. But sadly, they discover that it isnt, it becomes about being the figure head who helps the organisation be maintained. Where Mission is a process of learning in new cultures, the institution puts on the reigns, ‘no dont mix with them, you must go to meetings with us, no that isnt our priority, you’re here to ‘serve’ us’. And this translates into youth ministry as well. So, what do you do for the young people who actually wouldnt, or dont fit into ‘youth group’ or disrupt the applecart for the ‘church kids’ (whom you’re there for). These arent new problems at all. But it in that moment of passion, and moments of actual life transforming ( for you as a worker) and the desire to connect with young people outside the church, that tensions may start to happen. The tensions between what ‘might be on your job description to make it exciting’ to we didnt actually expect you to do it in this way.. (no one else has ever done mission before..) 

So, theres the Risk vs Conformity reason why a youthworker might leave a church. 

2. But theres also other reasons, not just ‘mission’ or risk related. Theres management. 

Poor Management is rife in the church. There i have said it. On one hand its not part of anyone’s core training. Neither unless we as youth workers have the capacity, do we help to educate our managers to being good managers. But this is old ground for regular readers here. I have written a series on Management and Clergy, the first part is here:   And there are 4 subsequent posts. because the fall out from a Clergy as line management to Youth worker relationship is one of the top reasons for a youthworker leaving a church. But Why? 

As I explain in the second of the posts on the subject, it is about expectations.  The youthworker dreams of the future of being guided by the wise hand of a pastorally minded minister, The minister thinks that having a youthworker ‘do all the childrens & youthwork’ will free them up to do ‘proper things’. Though there are other expectations too within Management. like the vicar thinking that a youthworker doesnt need managing. Or a youthworker thinking that youthwork  or young people might actually be a priority for the church.. nope. not usually. It seems like expectations are issues in both of these reasons so far. 

3. Parachurch Drift.  The Grass seems greener in the Para-church organisation. 

So, the local YMCA, the YFC centre, FYT, or other local Project. These provide the natural safe haven for the previously church based frazzled youthworker. They promise better management, a focus on young people (hopefully), a freedom from institutional politics, the freedom even not to go to church, or choose one, funding not from parents of the young people, they may even promise a team of youthworkers to work with so that you’re not alone, like you used to be. They have managers in place, and wont it be great to be managed by a youthworker for a change! – at least someone who might understand what being a youthworker actually is all about. Not only this, the parachurch organisation might be able to offer a contract, a pension, better pay, an office, a 35 hour (not 65 hr) working week, connections in an affiliation, conferences, training, this sounds idyllic doesnt it. Oh and, if you pick the right affiliation, then the passion you might have for young people (see the original post) can be realised. You can connect in a homelessness project with desperate young people, or on the streets, or in sessions, and start to be transformative. Oh yes, the grass is greener on the para church side of the fence… isnt it?  There are catches, of course, but the path from single church to para church is well trod. Other youthworkers might go to work for a local school or council, for all the same reasons. It might give them the opportunities to actually work with young people, not just see them once a week, or in a mass of people in an assembly. 

But before this is criticised. There are plenty of Pastors and Ministers who leave the church to go to academia, mission organisations, chaplaincy in a similar way. Yes for a good number of reasons, but lets not get too snooty about youthworkers going from church to parachurch. For many its the only way out to stay as a youthworker and not be in a church anymore. Academia is a pretty closed route, and consultancy requires good links and opportunities, entrepreneurial setting up something new is also possible, but thatd take a while to be funded… . So back the bags to the parachurch. Of course, the definition of ‘church’ and ‘parachurch’ is up for debate, but lets keep it simple…

Of course, there is a fourth reason, beyond, conformity, management & parachurch drift.

4. The youthworker might leave the church, because, they cave in, go to vicar school and join the clerical dark side. ok ok, I am joking!  But it is a reason why youthworkers ‘leave’ the church. With many many good reasons and calling, I do hope, as many have said, that when they do become clergy that they employ and manage youthworkers and prioritise young people in their parish….. 

and finally…

5. Youthworkers leave the church because they burn out. It varies ‘when’ they get burn out, and when they might leave as a result. Its when more that 3 weeks are done on adrenaline alone. After they have said ‘yes’ to everything and not delegated. When they dont have a ‘team’ to help them with significant pastoral issues amongst young people. When no one manages or looks after their diary. When no one asks them difficult questions about their hours, time off, time with family. Or time to recharge (that isnt church), time to study. Or a Sabbatical for a youthworker isnt scheduled every 5 years at the least yes im serious. Schedule a sabbatical for your youthworker. Youth workers leave because they wear themselves out, they might even wear out their marriages working for a church. They might never darken the door of a church again to ‘do youthwork’ , which maybe is a shame because ‘they were a good youthworker’ but they burned out in the culture of a church. But surely this wouldnt happen now would it….

So, 5 reasons why a youthworker leaves a church. It is sad that so many youthworkers leave working in churches, though there are many that dont. And you, and your volunteers and church leaders deserve collaborative credit for creating a positive environment where you have been able to stay, and hopefully thrive, or that you as the youthworker have affected the culture around you so that you can, by shaping management, gaining power, decision making and also creating teams to delegate. So, no every youthworker leaves a church, neither might every minister. But a good number do. Most youthworkers who leave churches, like ministers, have their identity wrapped up in being part of the church, part of leadership, part of the faith community in this way. So it can be devastating to leave, but it happens.

As an industry, the promise of being a youth worker in a church setting shouldnt be paved with bright lights and never ended amazing experiences – neither should the promise of ‘getting a youthworker’ be there to stem the flood drip of young people leaving the church, or to magically pied piper them back in….

What might be other reasons why youthworkers leave the church?

In response to this, it was pointed out that youthworkers suffer from false Hero status, in this follow up piece i reflect on the cultural dangers of ‘Hero’ status in Youth ministry, and propose an alternative: Youth Ministers as Saints, not Heroes

Today I turned the above piece into the following article published in Christian Today: 

A follow up to this piece, two years later is here: Is youth Ministry just about survival? 

‘that the young people in church wont leave’ and 9 other expectations when the youthworker arrives.

My last two posts have created a bit of interest. In each of them I have described and discussed some of the challenges, and solutions to aspects of the line management relationship between Clergy and Youthworkers. What has become clear, in the dynamic of the relationship, in the context of the local church, is that one of the most significant contributor to issues in it is expectations. Quite obviously there are not just expectations between Clergy and Youthworker for the relationship between them, but also thrown into this the expectations that the local church (or churches in an ecumenical project) might also have. So, in the best of traditions, what might be some of the implicit and explicit expectations of the arrival of a youth worker to a local church.

10 Expectations from the Church congregation of the Youth workerImage result for congregation clipart

  1. That the young people in church wont leave.
  2. That the young people in church wont leave
  3. That the young people in church wont leave
  4. That the young people in church wont leave
  5. That new young people joining the youth group wont cause the young people in church to leave.
  6. That the young people in church will now become great leaders
  7. That the youth group will grow, without causing any upset
  8. That the youth group will grow with adding to it young people from the local housing estate, after all, all the young people are the same, they all know each other, and this should be all great mission work.
  9. That the youthworker will be busy during the term time and wont mind using their annual leave to take the young people to soul survivor (whilst parents get a week abroad without the kids)
  10. That the young people in the church wont leave the church.

For those of you who thought I am just being anecdotal or humourous – a recent piece of research from the Barna Group also highlighted that safety and discipleship were top priorities for parents, the full report is here:

5 Expectations that the Church Congregation have of the Clergy line managing the youth worker

  1. That the Clergy can deal with the youth worker without any help
  2. That the Clergy will not allow this new youthworker to make any significant changes
  3. That the Clergy will ensure that everything that normally happens will now be able to have young people helping at it – thatll be nice
  4. That managing the youthworker wont take any extra timeImage result for clergy clipart
  5. That the Clergy will be able to use their authority to ensure that the youthworker fulfils the congregation’s expectations.


12 expectations that the Clergy have of the youthworker they now manage

  1. That they need little day to day managing
  2. That they will be honest about challenges
  3. That they can start working miracles with limited resources and volunteers
  4. That they wont upset the apple cart
  5. That they will be able to deal with & be satisfied with the congregations expectations
  6. That one day theyll also be in ‘real’ Ministry
  7. That they will give them more time to do other things, as they used to do the youthwork themselves
  8. That they will be able to get the young people to do the ‘odd’ service
  9. That they will be able to reconcile difficult relationship with the local school
  10. That they will be able to inspire the congregation to participate in mission activities with young people
  11. That the youthworker will take responsibility for their own self care.
  12. That the youthworker will be able to keep up and be relevant in every form of technology all the young people are using. Image result for expectations vs reality


10 expectations that Youth workers have being managed by Clergy

  1. They will gain Spiritual insight, direction and be guided by a ‘wise’, gentle hand
  2. They will enjoy having lots of space to get on with things
  3. They will have someone on their side in PCC meetings
  4. That itd be a relief compared to being micro-managed with targets and numbers in the old job at the council
  5. That their new line manager wont change as often
  6. That the Clergy will have lots of time for them, give constructive, wise feedback
  7. That they might be contributors to the churches ministry, vision and strategy
  8. That the clergy might be a shield from the congregations expectations.
  9. That the clergy will stick up for them when they decide to be creative or develop new strategies or approaches for Mission
  10. That they’ll drink alot of tea and eat cake.

Im sure I have missed a few from here, because there are expectations Youthworker have of their role ( ie that the Job is what was presented to them, and they can actually do it), and that the timescalImage result for expectations vs realityes of these expectations are not prohibitive, unrealistic or controlling.

Im fairly convinced though that there is no point talking about clergy line managing youthworkers without also considering the wider community of the church, neither is it to consider the whole dynamic without acknowledging the expectations, and strength of those expectations in all the directions. And thats before there might be expectations from the young people (of the youthworker).
It might be good to have some expectations, rather than none, but suggesting in the role description one thing and actually implying and expecting another could be tantamount to very difficult relationships ahead.

The previous posts on ‘we need to talk about Clergy Line managing youthworkers are here: (part 1) entitled ‘does a youthworker need to be managed?  and here is part 2; on negotiating the expectations and management relationship.

In a response to this post Jenni Osborne wrote the following excellent piece, on where these expectations come from: