What are 12 things youth leaders cannot do?

Thank you to Clare McCormack, for sharing the following article on 12 things that ‘Pastors’ cannot do, which you can read here: http://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/298822-12-things-pastors-cannot.html?utm_content=buffer0354b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

And so, when it comes to being a youth leader/worker…

What are 12 things a Youthworker cannot do? 

From the above piece, i think three are appropriate to steal from the above list that apply to Pastors:

  1. Escape mistakes. All of us will mess up sometime, often unintentionally and even unknowingly.
  2. Live sinlessly or perfectly Nobody can. Including you. And me.
  3. Know everything. Even the most experienced and knowledgeable youth worker doesnt know everything about everything. Nobody can answer every question somebody asks.

But what else cant a youthworker do?

4. Try and keep up: No youthworker in the world can keep up with every music tase, film series, TV boxset, sports team, series, league, drama, awards nominations, soap opera, political update that will make it possible to have a conversation with a young person ‘seem authentic’ . 

5. Keep young people in the church: Young people have all the freedom in the world not to attend our groups, clubs and services. We should focus on creating the right spaces so that young people want to stay, and that doesnt include ramping up the budget and smoke machines, that might be making faith be a meaningful, practical and life, world transforming performance.

6. Run on Adrenaline for longer than a month. You know your Youth worker who leads all those sessions, plans those groups, trains volunteers and participates in all those church meetings. Thats just the bit that you see. If you imagine doing all this, then also being in schools and juggling all this when in conversations with young people they are thrust into helping deal with a mental health problem, a teenage pregnancy counselling situation, or planning a large youth event ( because ‘thats what young people need..’), and the odd preach (to cover the ministers holiday) Then it might be likely that some of what your youth worker is doing is running on little relaxed sleep and time, and mostly adrenaline. It wont last, and usually cant last longer than a month. If planned activities make a diary full, then the unpredictable has no space to be fitted in, yet a youth worker needs space to respond to crises, and also plan ahead.  If you see pro-plus, red bull or lucozade empty bottles in the youth workers bin, then start to worry, panic when they say theyre spooning coffee granules on top of their biscuits.

7. Always see church in the same way as the congregation. It can sometime be the case, that a youth worker sees the church differently. The youthworker sees the church busy day by day, often with groups, clubs and activities during the week, full of young people, families, conversations, energy and creativity. And its great. And so their view of church is different to the adults who turn up once a week on a sunday and moan that there arent any young people. Neither might a youthworker be able to find Sunday morning a space for spiritual rest and recharge, when they’re thinking ‘how on earth do young people engage with this’ or ‘ill use the sermon space to plan this evenings youth group’  (admit it you have done this too..) 

8. Create morally upstanding young people out of the congregations children  Nope, thats the parents job. What a youthworker might be able to do is help and guide young people to reflect on their place in the world, and how they might attune their life around Gods purposes for them, that include challenging oppression and power, sacrifice and suffering and also simplicity.

9. Solve the problem of church decline in the UK, or even in your local church. Even in a small congregation of 10 people, thats 10 people who can do more than one person alone, even if they are trained and employed. A youthworker isnt the answer to church growth problem and therefore they arent the solution. Though they may be able to help the church develop whole church responses in their community so that the whole church is part of the response, thats if the youthworker is given the space to do this.

10. Admin. Nope. We just cannot do it. Its not in our DNA.

11. Stop Moaning. They say that it takes 100 youthworkers to change a lightbulb, 1 to change the bulb and 99 to write papers on coping in the darkness. Being a perpetual state of frustration is part of the tension/adrenaline urgency, as is the awareness of the now/not yet dynamic to the ministry that hopes and dreams for a better life and world, where young people dont have to ‘just cope’ with life (with the help of various mental health professionals) or where churches and organisations prioritise sacrifically doing good with the weakest in communities, not just give energy to the potential leaders, and succeeders.

12. Explain what a youthworker is, nope, though we do actually know. But its easier not to tell anyone who asks. Keeps the mystery a bit longer.

So, you might think you have employed a superhero to galvanise, revolutionise and radically transform your church and community with young people, but there are at least 12 things that a youth worker cannot do.

 

 

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Dealing with the difficult: ‘the day after’

Later that Day, two of Jesus followers were walking from Jerusalem to the Village of Emmaus, seven miles away’ – this is the unassuming beginning of how the gospel writer Luke opens the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

‘Later, Jesus appeared to the disciples beside the sea of Galilee, many of them were there, Peter said, ‘Im going fishing’ and they all joined him’  is a paraphrase of Johns description of what Peter and some of the disciples did, a few days after the resurrection.

‘The Ethiopian had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and now he was returning’ is Lukes description of the Ethiopians situation in Acts 8.

For all of them it was the day after, or at least the evening after. 

For Peter, it was the day after the miraculous resurrection, but he knew there would have to be ‘a talk’ , For the disciples there had been such a commotion after the resurrection that they needed to head home, maybe they had to go anyway, back to Emmaus. For the Ethiopian, he was on his way back to Ethiopia after being to Jersusalem on some kind of pilgrimage and hed left probably early, disheartened and confused. We know he wouldnt have planned to be travelling during the heat of the sun…

What of the days after in our Youth work and Ministry;

the day after the residential – everyone had an amazing time but back to the office and you wonder how to make it even better next yearImage result for youth camp

the day after the detached session when there was a fight and you ended up chatting to the police till late, today you have to let the chair of trustees know

the day after the PCC meeting that really did. not. go. well

the day after every youth group which gives us challenges, hopes, energy and life – to be met with a monday day of admin

the day after the funding bids returned unsuccessful

the day after handing in the essay or dissertation to be marked 

the day after anything can be a day of mixed emotions, when the adrenaline has peaked and run out, where there are difficult decisions to be made, where there is sense to be made in what might be complexity and confusion. What we might also be good at doing is creating the highs for others, including young people, the event, the club, the camp, the holiday club, and so for them they also have the ‘day after’ to deal with. God might be said to be more miraculously present in the high.

What of the disciples as they walked away into the night from Jerusalem

What of Peter taking the boys out fishingImage result for peter fishing

what of the Ethiopian travelling home

None of them were technically alone, they each had persons with them, whether the chariot rider, fellow disciple or mates on the boat. But having been in the moments of ‘high’ they were now alone, their emotions all over the place, confused, perplexed.

No one is remotely surprised by this, not even Jesus has a go at Peter for fishing. They needed time to breathe, recharge and remind themselves of a skill they once had, the familiar.

However, it is in the day after that God met them all in the familiar. On the familiar road, on the familiar beach with that familiar smell of fish being cooked, and in the familiar chariot hurtling through the desert.

It was in the day after that serious business was taking place. Serious education, discipleship and questions like:

what are you discussing as you walk – tell me more’ – Jesus wants to hear and help us understand

‘Do you understand what you are reading‘ asks Philip, tell me more about how you perceive it, feel about it

Fellows have you caught any fish‘ asks Jesus, the bread is nearly ready, and I know you’ll feel alot better a)having caught something, and b) eating it.

Now come and have breakfast‘ says Jesus who spends time with them on the beach, in the day after, Can i find understanding, belonging and acceptance here?, asks the Ethiopian on the road, Did our hearts burn as we began to understand? – exclaimed the disciples on their road.

So, whats it like for you in the ‘day after’ ? More to the point, what might it also be like for your volunteers, young people in the day after also.

without intending so, our ministry moments might be so highly narrated with God, that by default it can become that day to living is devoid of seeing the spiritual in the mundane – when this neednt be the case

understandably ‘the day after’ a day before of a struggle, challenge, meetings or big decision can bring about a range of emotions, confusion, fear and anxiety. Going fishing, walking or a drive in the car (across a desert..?) may be whats required.

We might also need to be present in other peoples days after, in between the spaces, not just in the spaces, but in the spaces of time, in the day after.

This isnt the time to talk about self care in ministry, only to reflect on the effect of its variety of challenges and emotions.

So – what about you – what about the ‘day after’ for you- what do you do?

If God met the disciples in the days after, we should expect the same dangerous God to meet people in the times unexpected to our design today too, including ourselves.

 

10 Tips for creating a Healthy Youth Ministry

For a moment, stop and think about what it is like for a young person in the present day. If reports are to go by, then incidents and reporting of anxiety amongst young people are on the increase, as a result, young people may just have their self protection antenna switched to a firm on. But then again thats the same for most of us adults, for it is usually in our own self protection to avoid situations that are unhealthy, or damaging, if we can help it. In the recent report from the Fuller institute, 1400 churches were interviewed who had kept young people from the age of 14. One of the key findings was that young people stayed when church was a healthy place

Healthy churches are the subject of Peter Scazzeros books, it was also what Rob Bell was talking about on a recent Nomad podcast – it seems that burned out ministers are now making ministries out of preventing others from burning out too. Cynical or not, the questions about the health of our churches, and ministries have to be asked. Would it be possible to say that the church space where young people go is emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy place to learn, to become responsible, to flourish, to be accepted in the church community, to be treated as an adult at the appropriate time. How might we work towards this?

A friend of mine, Jenni Osborne, saw my previous post on the Fuller research and asked a colleague in a local church for 5  top tips to keeping a church based youth club healthy and thriving, and came up with these:

  1. Plan in advance. I know, we youth workers are all fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants types (I’d bet we’re not actually) and love to plan on the fly because there’s just not enough hours in the day! Well….Image result for plan
  2. Look after your team. Invest in your team, find out what makes them tick, uncover their strengths and encourage them to play to them. DO NOT EXPLOIT THEM…
  3. Look after yourself. If you are going to be in this job for more than a metaphorical 5 minutes then you absolutely MUST MUST MUST look after yourself. Eat well, sleep well, rest well, manage others well, be managed well, go on training for the latter two, ask for some help with managing your diary for the middle two, learn to cook for the first! It’s too easy to give in to the stereotypes of late night eating of mostly brown food, burning the candle at both ends with Friday night youth club and Saturday morning Prayer Breakfasts or whatever your picture looks like! It’s too easy to allow the thing that yp have said to you or about you to prey on your mind, refusing yourself sleep or rest. Much harder but much more worthwhile to learn how to cook, to rest, to recharge, to say NO. You’ll be around for many more young people!
  4. Don’t be afraid to challenge your young people. Youth clubs are not all about eat-as-much-as-you-can with a side ordering of table tennis/Wii Sports Resort/pool/Jungle Speed. OK maybe they are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also make room for challenge about how they live their lives: use fairtrade fortnight to challenge their consumer habits; use a ‘sleepover’ activity to highlight homelessness; get them raising money for a local charity or one that sponsors a child/village/cow (providing a cow for a family rather than sending the cow to school!); give them space to ask Big Questions about the existence of God, why things happen the way they do, or what happens when loved ones die; sit with them while they try and process painful stuff. Pray with and for them, the effects will surprise you!
  5. Invite your Church Leaders onto the team or along to a regular ‘Q&A’ time. Young people want to be listened to, not only by you but by others who say they care. If your church leadership has invested their time and money into you to work with their young people, then they are saying they care and yp will want to see that in action and be listened to by them.

I might add a few others to this list to make it a total of 10; which relate more broadly to the culture of the church, and the youth leader themselves:

  1. Working at 80% might give you the energy for 2-3 more years. Strategise the odd session off to train and supervise volunteers. Not every week has to be youth club night.
  2. Provide yourself with the kind of opportunities to be challenged that you also give the young people – so do a course, study, write or read
  3. Delegate. ‘Wait’ is an acceptable response to a request, delay a yes or a no, if you can.  ‘Yes’ might add to your ‘to do’ list, it might also take the opportunity away from someone else. It might also take you away from family time, time off or doing something that actually was important. like phoning a young person or spending time with someone. Image result for delay
  4. Ensure as much decision making about the nature of groups, curriculum and events and activities is given to young people. A healthy place is one where there are no sudden shocks, that might affect them, like all of a sudden their younger sister is allowed to join the group. (what a night mare!) Young people will opt out if they smell a rat, a fake or fear. Though this doesnt mean that risks arent taken.
  5. Balance space with activity, activity is space. Leave spaces for conversations for young people to have conversations with themselves but also with the leaders that seem as young person directed as possible. Every week neednt be 100% high energy, high adrenaline mega programmed to its final 2 1/2 seconds.  Trust in conversations, and keep trusting them, its a basic human need to be listened to, listen intently to your young people. Just give space. Have a weekend away, just to be on a campsite, no talks, no activity, just space to walk, cook, explore, spend time together. Brave. well why not?

So – develop the practices of a healthy youth ministry, be aware of your health, spiritually, emotionally and physically, and then also regard the health of your young people. Challenge practices in the church that become of high anxiety, stress and pressure, whether this is the ‘numbers game’ the ‘success’ game or the growth one. Cultivate health, depth, gifts and participation instead. You never know, it might produce longer lastingness.

any other suggestions? – please share them here for others:

7 not-so-Deadly Sins in Youth Ministry

 

The film Se7en came out in 1995, I watched it when i was 18, i think, just. Or i may have been nearly 18. And it was pretty graphic and shocking for me at the time. Unlike Trainspotting or Aliens it isn’t a film i have given a re-watch to ever since. If you’ve not seen it, IMDB describes it as “A film about two homicide detectives’ (Morgan Freeman and (Brad Pitt) desperate hunt for a serial killer who justifies his crimes as absolution for the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins. The movie takes us from the tortured remains of one victim to the next as the sociopathic “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey) sermonizes to Detectives Somerset and Mills — one sin at a time.” Whether the film is in any way successful at telling this story is difficult for me to remember, but throughout its main story line is the effect of an ignorance of the 7 deadly sins:  pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

So, for some strange reason over breakfast I was wondering – probably because theres two conferences on youth ministry happening this weekend- is to think about what would be ‘the 7 deadly sins of Youth Ministry’ and focus on these 7 original sins, and i think there would be some merit in doing this to highlight areas of ministry that are prone to envy ( the successful ministry down the road), wrath (after the leadership meeting) , gluttony ( too many cream cakes during YF tuck shop) or Pride (‘its all about my ministry’). But I thought that would be a little obvious, and its likely that in the depths of time that Youthwork magazine probably did something similar.

So, instead of focussing on these 7 original sins, as I was out walking this afternoon, I thought about a different sin, linked to them all, ‘Ignorance’ and wondered if Youth Ministry, in part, or more in full, has been found to be guilty of ignoring the following aspects that have a real impact on the nature of youth ministry, the depth of engagement in young people, and how youth ministry might be threatened by what it accepts from the culture around,  in 7 key ways.

  1. Ignoring Theology for pragmatism. – Good theology helps give young people connection with a world story that they can assimilate as their personal story (McAdams 1997), Challenging Theology is what helps to keep young people in local churches so says recent research here: .http://wp.me/p2Az40-NP.  Settling for an easy night, of fun and distraction from the concerns of the world, might only be so helpful. Neither is settling for what Christian Smith calls is Moral Therapeutic Deism (2005) – connecting young people with a God who is ‘there for them’ to give them confidence, however, as a personal myth to believe in it will go so far, just it might need changing when it is tested.
  2. Ignoring young people. This seems strange as youth groups are full of them, but how many youth group evenings are judged as successful by the quality of conversations between youth leader and young person, and not by who and how many turned up? Young people can be ignored if they’re just to take part in the activities. What they need is a healthy place to be where adults take interest in them, listen and shape activities around their needs, interests and gifts. And that is on just a local level, and the local church.  Where do young people feature in the shaping of area strategies, of national programmes. Its also apparent when young people are counted as just numbers.
  3. Ignoring History. A bit like the Premier league, which only provides statistics of games back to 1992, as if football didnt exist before then. An understanding of History reveals christian youth work practice that nowadays would be seen as innovative, more risk taking and politically active. Meeting young peoples needs was core philanthropy in 1830, for example. Its what Sunday schools were developed for.  What might be one persons innovation might only show a blind spot for history, or good practice down the road.
  4. Ignoring the effect of culture.. What I mean here, is not the effect that culture has on young people. This is extensively researched, and if not the Guardian usually has something on ‘Millenials’ to reflect on most weeks. What I mean is the effect of the prevailing culture on Youth Ministry itself. The Sociologist Wolfe said:

In every aspect of religious life, American faith has met American culture, and American culture has triumphed… the faithful in the USA are remarkably like everyone else (Wolfe, 2003)

An example of this is in the marketing and programming of youth ministry resources, that are described as ‘almost Fordian’ (ie representing the process of making one size/colour fits all, mass produced motor cars) by Danny Brierley (2003) – It is an example of where the influence of Managerial theory and practice is inserted into the church. The same could be said for any youth ministry programme that claims to be efficient, calculated, predictable and be able to be controlled, for these are dominant tenets of the business model of Macdonalds. Without realising it, the prevailing culture wins, if a youth ministry seeks growth and transformational leadership to do this, then this again is from the management guru handbook, more so than Theology – however biblically justified. Youth Ministry is undoubtedly involved in the culture, it creates culture, but is also subject to it – it is worth being critical of the sources, methodologies and ideologies of practice – having filters set to ‘on’. Being predictable and efficient – might give 4 spiritual laws, but maybe not the complexity of a deep faith, and young people exploring difficult questions. Keeping up with culture isnt making Youth ministry more theological or relevant, its possibly only turning it into efficient organisations that are cost effective.  Managing a good youthwork organisation or it being managed well might not actually be having the best effect on young people.

5. Ignoring Youthwork (& Education) philosophy. What the Values and practice of Youthwork can bring to Youth Ministry is an increased focus, not only on young people and their needs, but processes shaped by values that are in their favour, such as empowerment, voluntary participation, inclusion & anti-oppressive practice, and informal education, what it also can provide, again according to Danny Brierely, is an ethical yardstick for youth ministry. Youth Ministry will only be improved by encompassing more of the discipline of youth work. Not only that but a refreshing of different concepts of education especially as young people participate in youth ministry in a voluntary way would be critical.

6. Ignoring Pioneers. For too long the biggest conferences are sponsored by the same people who select the same people to be the experts. Critical and Pioneering voices, generally are put to one side, unless they have been youth ministry flavour of the month in the past – and can still retain ‘Hero’ status. But in the main, those who are known for good, solid local practice are ignored. Those who lead ministries and have several lead responsibilities in organisations are the heralded experts. Some are the pioneers, but others are selectively ignored. Organisations, cultures and practices are only developed further through critical thinking, questions and dissent. Yes people will only keep the hamster wheel turning, critical thinking will ensure the hamster is travelling in the right direction. Pioneers are what the Disciples were, lest not forget, improvising in the new spaces what they had been taught.

7. Ignoring ourselves. Not unlike the film, the final twist is played on the main character and the audience. The final ‘deadly sin’ in Youth Ministry is when we forget about being honest and kind and generous to ourselves. We help define youth ministry and youth work through our very actions with young people, our communication with churches, partnerships, agencies and schools, we also define it as a practice through the cultures of the settings we create, the young people we invest the most time in, creating healthy spaces for young people also starts with being healthy ourselves – not perfect- just healthy, self-care is important, and probably the most ‘deadly’ of them all on an individual youth ministry level.

Could I have included others, possibly. But what might be yours? Excluding obviously ‘critical blogging’….

 

I’m Tired, I need a break!

Image result for tiredness can kill

About Five years ago, we as a family were travelling on one of our long car journeys, if it involved Perth or Devon in the route then it would be at least 6 hours or more. It must have been at least 2-3 hours into the journey, and as the driver usually in the car, you kind of get to know the routine with kids in the back of the car, they know and can recognise the Service station signs, especially the ones with Fast food outlet symbols on them, and so these are times to keep the kids distracted and not to be thinking about stopping, or the journey could be endless and tiring. However, I had forgotten about the fact that now my daughter could read. So if she wasnt distracted by her DVD player or nintendo DS, and she was beginning to sound a bit fidgety, possibly hungry and winey from the back of the car. And not only could she read the signs of the Service Station but it was the blue version of the ones above, and she then exclaimed innocently, spontaneously and with a sharp spike into the heart of a driving parent : “I’m Tired, I need a break, I could Kill!”

Tiredness could Kill take a break! -Might not be the best way of heeding a warning to slow down. But, if i were to be honest, if tiredness is symptom of trying to do too much, or trying to cope with too much, or hold onto the emotions too much, then i can understand being tired. I wont put it down to ‘being thursday’ and near the end of the week.

I was about to write a piece a few weeks ago as it dawned on me that aside from 4 years, I had been involved in some form of responsibility in Christian Ministry for the last 20 years, either in paid, part time, student or voluntary capacity depending on the circumstance. Thats 16 years of planning to engage and meet with young people in groups, or on the streets, of training volunteers, of fundraising, of networking, of organisational politics, of funding uncertainty, of creating strategies- and also the ongoing discipline of continual learning, reading, reflecting, and thinking. But for someone still under 40, 18 years feels a large percentage of that, and there’s been times in that time when I’ve been guided well, spiritually directed, and other times less so. But that’s also quite a few years of having public and personal faith. I’m not unique in this, public and personal faith occurs in many walks of life.

A few weeks ago I published a list of 40 things to help youth workers with self care during Lent- but what about me,  have I done it? How many have I actually done to help myself… probably not that many. Actually looking at this list again http://wp.me/p2Az40-Ol – it is probably about 10, mostly because I have had to maintain reading, walking the dog, taking days off on saturdays, and attempts to try and eat a bit healthier.. But even with self care – taking on too much responsibilities, being involved in lots of interesting projects around the north east, like Equip, and FYT as well as the organisational and funding challenges of DYFC are going to take their toll. But its always easier to give advice that take it. But similarly i am going to be kind to myself and recognise that things are not easy or normal. 

And thats before other aspects of life that can be even more emotionally tiring, like family illness, or bereavements.

What’s really difficult in writing this, is being a leader, even a male leader and feeling like its actually difficult to admit feeling tired, even weary in ‘Christian work’ – sometimes I feel like I have had enough, and i have no pretentions of being superman either, i like to contribute, to support, to connect, to help – not solve or save. Doing it all isnt a heroic stance, more a trying to help things happen.

Though what I think deep down what i have had enough of is trying to keep things going that arent going to, of trying to pioneer in the wrong context with limited support, of keeping something going that is on a shoestring. And so, what i have done to compensate is fill my time with things of life, things that grow, things where people are up for taking risks and working collaboratively with young people. Like a moth be attracted to the places of light, and be attracted to the dark places where even small amounts of light might make a difference.

In between a couple of meetings this week, during two good days of planning and writing essays, I took a detour off the main road and stopped at Hendon Beach near Sunderland, and even just for 15 mins stopped, and looked and listened to the almost complete quiet of still waters. As the pictures indicate, its not the prettiest, bluest water, but it was still a moment to gather and recharge.

Tiredness might not kill in youth work and Ministry – but its good to take a break, recharge and rest. One day it might happen….

 

 

 

Encouraged by silence. 

This was in my reading this morning from the Northumbria daily prayer. 

If I chose to hide you away, it is for a reason.

I have brought you to this place.

Drink in the silence. Seek solitude.

Listen to the silence.

It will teach you. It will build strength

Let others share it with you.

It is little to be found elsewhere.

Silence will speak more to you in a day than the world of voices can teach you in a lifetime.

Find silence. Find solitude – and having discovered her riches, bind her to your heart.

   Frances J. Roberts

So, continuing my lent theme of encouragement, whilst at work, I wondered about being encouraged through the silence. 

Then the phone at work rang. An emergency to deal with.

The day disrupted. 

The day changed. 

Where was silence, gone in the wrestling of the heartbeat. The pumping of adrenaline. The attempts to stay calm. Stillness  shattered.

But then a break. A gap, a walk. 

Still no silence as cars and wind and birds and my own footsteps meant that silence wasnt there. 

Mind still raced. Heart beat still pumped no stillness no silence.

The limited space in the day to day life. The limited attempt to find silence and not fill it. The silence of the gap that acts as a breather. 

Yet in the silence there’s a storm, a rage. A question. A growing burning anger. A fear. A worry. A silent storm. 

Today I’m encouraged by the possibility that one day there will be silence. The current storms will fade. Peace and Justice will reign. There will be no more pain. No pain to shatter silence. The temporarily of today will

Be

All

Over.

Silence.

 

 

.

 




40 daily self-care tips for youthworkers & ministers during Lent. 

Just before Christmas I was reflecting on youth workers and self- care. I was doing this because at the time I was and continue to do a days lecturing for a small group of new youthwork students on the EQUIP course in the north east on preparing them for vocational work with young people in the faith sector. Next week is the start of lent, a period of 40 days of time symbolising Jesus’ time in wilderness, before, but also an integral part of his ministry. There’s no harm in reflecting on the need in the work we do as youthworkers to be more disciplined or give something up, equally it can be argued that the physically and emotional giving required in such a role might also determine that receiving could be as important as giving.

Already during lent there can be great resources for young people, or for churches. But I wondered about the workers in the fields, paid and unpaid, full and part time, and suggesting for 40 days of lent, 40 suggestions for improving self care during, in order to renew, recharge and be ready for the challenges of youthwork in the year ahead.

Above all, the challenge might not be just to do these things, but to love ourselves, be kind to ourselves and in doing so then look after ourselves, so by no means are these conclusive or things that I do myself they might even be things I need to do, its the sentiment that in the work that we do, self care, self love even, might be something to prioritise over Lent.

Image result for self care

Steven Covey in ‘ 7 Habits of effective people describes the human person as having 4 aspects, physical, spiritual, emotional and mental, these four are a good baseline to start from in terms of looking after ourselves.

Physical – i sense the biggest groan.. do i have to..? 

1. Choose the form of travel or route that requires more exercise. Ie walk instead of bus or tube. Plan the day accordingly

2. Replace a few unhealthy chocolatey snacks with something healthier, especially in an office environment.

3. On your day off, that you will take (!), do some exercise,  and it neednt be expensive, park runs are free, so it walking in the country or an hours swim at the local pool won’t cost too much.

4. Take that day off. and if possible take the night off the night before, so you can start to relax from 5pm, and have nearly 30 hours off in total.

5. Plan ahead with food a bit, it is so easy with work that is odd hours, long days, working lunches and youth group on the hop to forget to eat properly, or plan to eat decent food. Being physically well is going to help. So plan meals and food ahead of the game, in the week ahead. Even microwaved soup, or last nights left over casserole is better than a microwave meal itself!

6. Oh and if you’re due a weekend off (if you work weekends) – then take it! – and your annual leave – dont overwork your hours if you help it!

7. Combining physical and emotional/social – start going to an excercise class! – meet new people which also tending to your own physical condition.

8. Reduce unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol, over eating, non sleeping, late night video games, drugs, addictions, aggression or what ever it might be.
Spiritual

1. On a day off visit a place of worship, cathedral, a monastery,  a mosque or temple, somewhere to contemplate in your own chosen time your place in the world.

2. It might be a spiritual exercise to be in the present moment, so take a walk in the countryside, near a beach, or in a park without your phone. Then stand a listen to whats going on around you, take some deep breaths, and let your mind unwind itself, and your eyes be open to whats going on.

3. As well as a physical activity, tending to a garden or an open space, growing fruit or vegetables might be a good spiritual experience to connect with something growing, at the pace that it is growing. Slow down.

4.  If you believe in a Holy Book, then spend time reading it, and if you dont believe in it or have one, then maybe start to read one. Either way it might be spiritual or educational.

5. Read some poetry, or great literature, appreciate an art form as a God given talent of someone, and listen to what it might be challenging you to think about and reflect on in your person, and in your practice.

6. The Bible talks about meditating ‘day and night’ on good things, meditating is nothing other than slowing down, and reducing what is being focussed on and it being something of purity and goodness, of Godliness even. Even a ‘prayer’ time might not be meditative – just another rushed activity. So, slow down, and be active in meditating on something, verses from the Bible, a poem, an art form, something natural.

7. Pray. To the known or unknown God you believe in, give away in conversation with God your deepest needs, desires, fears and frustrations, and if this for you is cathartic self talk (to an unknown God) then so be it, but in that conversation leave some stuff behind in it, and listen and be attuned to what the next steps are in response to the how your mind and spirit has received in terms of ideas, new plans, decisions or directives.

8. Read up on the Spiritual saints from before, the actual saints – such as Mother Theresa, or Saint Francis, William Wilberforce or those whos faith inspired justice and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, , their stories are well known and told through books, or film, connect spiritually and be renewed and inspired by their struggle and the trust they had in God during it.

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Emotional/ Social

1. Value a coffee or pint with a supportive listening friend. Do this once a week during lent!

2. Protect yourself from comparisons whether the resource than tries to help you create the perfect youth group or the statuses on social media of someone else’s great ministry or practice. Be pleased for them, encourage them, and avoid the comparison trap.

3. Give time to people who are outside of work and ministry, like your family.

4. Forgive yourself for the daft thing or mistake pretty quickly – especially if it was done in all innocence!  – we need not beat ourselves up – especially if we were brave to take a risk, or develop an idea.

5. Use Social media in a positive way, use it to connect with people and have a conversation with a ministry colleague wherever they are in the world, at least once a week. They might need the support as much as you do.

6. Get some kind of supervision, personal supervision someone who will ask you the difficult questions, but also support you through tough stuff, you neednt feel alone, there are plenty of people who can support you.

7. Spend some time examining your personal motives, dreams and goals, whilst walking or reflecting, once your youth work practice is in some alignment then there will be some kind of inside and outside integrity, when its out of sync its obvious to yourself.

8. Spend time away from the rushing around to deeply connect with another person, a colleague, friend or young person – in all the activities, stop and be present with them and attune yourself to listening, give of real emotions – not just active organising ones.
Mindful and creative

1. Take up a skill that involves a tangible end product and enjoy it, so cooking recipes, bread, wine, cake, making for example, needle work or sewing, diy or gardening.

2. Read up on a youthwork hero, get reacquainted with a person’s theory and practice since yours might have changed since you read them last. So Friere, Jeffs and Smith, Pete Ward or Kerry Young. There are others…

3. Start a journal of practice, renew a practice of reflection that might be been long gone since college days. Reflect on what you’re learning, and question why you might not be.

4. Watch the kind of movie that disturbs, challenges or invokes the senses and thoughts in a different way to your usual. Something different might be mind stirring.

5. Read a paper that’s different to your normal worldview. It may disturb,  irritate or annoy. But engage with it creatively, protest accordingly but at least be engaging in a different view of the world.

6. Read a few texts from an area of practice linked to youthwork but not an area you might know so much about, so a political leader, a philosopher, a uniformed organisation, social work, might be mine but what might be an area you might reflect on. http://www.infed.org might be a good place to start.

7. Commit to learning something new every day – whether its a skill, a piece of knowledge, a piece of history, or something from a young person, or something else, and be deliberating in looking for it.

8. Develop your own learning programmes with and for your young people, take time gathering resources for the programmes, and be creative – enjoying the thinking and learning through them.

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So, using Coveys four aspects, there are 32 ideas to help you as a youthworker/minister with self care during the upcoming Lent. You will have noticed that it is impossible to separate the four areas, simply because it is impossible to consider ourelves as sperate parts, all are connected, are interchangeable, and in another way it is why looking after ourselves is going to be positive for our work lives, and vice versa. So, here are 8 further self care tips and maxims that might be helpful:

  1. Do one thing a week just for you. And stick to it, and make sure its healthy/good for you too
  2. Take more of the credit when something goes well, God has given you gifts to use, use them and recognise that you have these gifts – dont give God all the glory for achievement, but only blame yourself for when things go wrong – this is a ministry condemnation/self image downward spiral.
  3. Visit someone elses practice, not to revel in what they’re good at but to spend time learning and appreciating what they’re doing, to be inspired,  and also how your practice is distinctive.
  4. Be realistic about what you can achieve every day. The phone will ring, the do list might be endless, but set realistic goals and try and focus on the not so urgent but more important things every day.
  5. If you feel like you’re continually fire fighting. Then you will burn out. Balance reacting with strategising and preventing. That’s not just you personally but also maybe the organisation/church you’re working for….
  6. Make a decision not to compare yourself with others, and challenge a comparative culture. Its your mission, your call, your context, find a culture of support and understanding for your ministry and person, not a place of comparisons or achievements
  7. Avoid the numbers game, and if others are playing it dont join in – value quality.
  8. Find a good way of being on top of the game in regard to personal organisation. I still use a paper filofax, it works for me like google calendar just doesnt. But thats just me. It you’re an organisational mess, then building team is very difficult.

So, for 40 days of lent – here are 40 hopefully realistic suggestions for you, busy, stressed out, youthworker than might enable you to renew yourself, care for yourself and create in yourself a measure of good practice. We might be good at supervising others, or managing them, but we have to do the same for ourselves too. If things need to be ‘got rid’ like the discipline of lent might awaken us to then great, but most of all, how we love and look after ourselves is crucial.