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

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

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

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

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

The full article is here, one of a number of reports (http://www.brierleyconsultancy.com/where-is-the-church-going/)church12.png

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

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

Fast forward to 2018.

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

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

So, this was a long way of saying.

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

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

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

stating that

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

and going on to say that

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the responses from the question

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

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

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

Value the youthworker, value the church? maybe.

 

References

Brierley, Danny 2003 Joined Up

Ord, Jon, Critical issues in Youthwork Management, 2011

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

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

 

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When was the last time you had reflective supervision for your youthwork? never? Well if its helpful, start today with the following questions:

The chances are that you’re involved in some kind of work with young people, after all thats what this blog is all about, and most of the people who read this are youthworkers, paid or voluntary in a variety of settings. So, the chances are that you’re involved in this ongoing unpredictable vocational task of trying to educate/support/guide/challenge young people through the purposeful relationship that you have with them. And its challenging isnt it? some/most/all of the time (delete as appropriate)

What about a second assumption.

The chances are that you have faced some kind of reduction to your budget over the last 5 years, thats if you have one. If you’re a volunteer, maybe there used to be a paid worker in the church, if you’re a youthworker you used to have a training budget, or if you’re actually still in a paid professional youthwork job, just well done for having it (and no budget to make anything happen). But in the main, (unless you work for NCS) your youthwork has had some kind of reduction in the last few years. Right? at least half right? Yeah i thought so.

So, the chances are, that as a youthworker, you have barely any reflective supervision or support for your work?

the youthworker who used to supervise you- has now left

the external supervision you used to get – you cant afford, it was a luxury anywayImage result for supervision

no one in the congregation really takes an avid interest in the youthwork, thats why you do it.. all they hope for is young people on a sunday or staying out of trouble..

There seems not to be anyone who spends time doing the listening anymore.

And who is thinking about your development? – not just the development of the outcomes, or the goals of the group?

And not just that, its the sounding board, the ideas space, the reflective questions back.

Having someone to help with the ongoing reflective practice has been deemed a core part of youth work practice since the 1960s, yet fast forward a number of years and it was seen as barely important in faith settings mostly, and a luxury in more secular settings. At least its shifted from personal development to managing the outcomes and goals (Ord, 2012)

And the first thing to go when the budgets got tight.

Yet good supervision can do a number of things (and supervision is different from management, or at least management can also include supervision, see my other posts on this topic for more)  but good supervision as Joan Tash described in ‘Working with the unattached’ deems supervision to be an ‘experimental relationship’ in which the dreams and ideas of the worker have a space to circulate, fester and be talked through.

Image result for supervision

So what happens when thats lost?

who is losing out? – well you are…

Supervision for the youthworker/volunteer is a space for support, for education and also direction (Jon Ord, 2012), that often happens outside of the management relationship (though it could occur within it). And so, that supportive, educative and directive function may be lost for the person involved in the ongoing practice, and its a reflective practice of youthwork.

Today is Wednesday.

What are your thoughts on the youth fellowship from Sunday evening? How did it go? Or the detached session on friday? what about the schools session you did today?  how did it go – how are you feeling about it? how might the young people?

They might be the questions you allow yourself in thinking about the few hours of that bit of youthwork, then onto the next one, or for the volunteer, back home to put the kids to bed, do the washing up, switch on the tv, breathe and recover and think about work for the next day. Quash the potential insight, wisdom or ideas , life moves on us quick.

So, if being supervised is a kind of experimental relationship – what about giving it an experiment in itself and try having supervision digitally?  What might that look like for you?

Dont be too freaked out… below are a number of questions and instructions, that might help you think and reflect upon your latest or series of latest pieces of youthwork practice. All you need to do, is use the questions to write down, either using pen or whatever means, a response, a story, questions, comments, ideas – and then use these reflections as your own shaping of supervision, done through digital, rather than face to face.

It wont get personal, just keeping it to do with your practice. Find a space, grab a coffee, have a seat, and think about whats going on with the youthwork that you’re doing at the moment. You might want to focus on one of the groups, one of the young people, one situation over the weekend. Ill pose a number of questions here, with comments and spaces for you to spend some time on your own just thinking through them, and writing down responses.

So here goes (if you want to avoid this, then skip to the final paragraph) , no pressure, this is optional and in your time.

 

Starting question ; What is it you would like to talk about with whats going on in the youthwork at the moment? What are the things that are plaguing your thinking about whats happening? – what would you like to explore further..?

..write them down, take your time, theres no rush… 

 

Now Pick one of these things

Now, go a bit further on this one thing

Give it a bit more thought, why is it troubling you, or energising your thoughts – describe it in a bit more detail – are there many sides to the issue? or perspectives?

is there more understanding that you require – and from whom?

ill give you space to write some of these reflections and sentences down

 

 

As a result of this – is there something that needs to or could change? what could be done differently? what change might you need to implement?

write these down

who might be affected by the change? how might you be affected by it? how might young people be? How involved should they be in making a change? are there best or better ways that change could be implemented?   Think some of these through

How do you feel about the scenario, about the scenario at the time and what do you learn from these feelings?

Thats one particular direction…

What if it isnt a problem, but its an idea that you have instead? 

Then in a way its the same questions – about developing it, thinking it through, working out how and who’s idea it is – thinking though the values of youthwork such as participation and empowerment and how your idea encourages these things.

From here i cant say whether I would go along with or suggest an alternative to your idea – but think about it like this – put yourself in the position of the young people in the group – how might they react to a leader doing what you’re about to do?  Maybe refine it or test it out – or share with others in the volunteer team and discuss it further

how might your idea, or change, or issue start to have an impact on the relationships you have with the young people? will it hinder, damage or develop and encourage? Is it a risk worth taking at the moment? Or a risk for the relationship to be tested on?

Do you have to implement the change or the idea at all?  Is a ‘Red light’ and stop needed to be heard? or Amber and its spent time in further discussion for a while, or green and give it a go, a trial, a test.

Lets change the direction a little, if i asked you ‘what are you learning at the moment?’ what would you say?

about yourself?

about an individual young person? – about the whole group?

about power?

about participation and barriers?

about the local community?

about attitudes?

about being a volunteer or paid youthworker?

about the resources you’re using?

about the nature of the space created?

about the abilities of young people?

stop and think for a moment on what you’re learning, and what you might all as a team of volunteers be learning, all the time. You never stop learning and observing in youthwork practice, its good to stop and acknowledge it and share it.

it is good to stay curious and humble about what we do or dont know (Jon Ord, 2012)

What about what you’re learning in what you’re reading and challenging yourself with? away from practice? Is there a theory, an author, a journal, a blog, a sacred text, a conversation that got you thinking, that has spurned thoughts, or ideas that is challenging you, your practice and your way of thinking and perspectives? How are you being channelled and challenged yourself? and if this isnt happening – do you need to make space for it?

And finally – What do you do next? Whats the next steps?

Do you need to reframe your goals and objectives? Do you need to put in place training, for yourself or others? do you need to have a conversation with someone about something? what might you need to do as a result of thinking through this one particular idea or issue?

write them down..

But dont just write the down – when are you going to do these things? Set yourself a deadline! 

If its that important to worry about and chat through, then isnt it worth doing something about it, i would think so

Maybe keep a journal or write further, having started to think through these things, reflective practice and supervision go hand in hand, and its important to keep the channels open to learning, and especially personal learning which can often be our own responsibility to do.

And now as you close this process take a moment.

Reflect again on thinking through this.

Where you started and where you got to. Think for a moment about the group, the young people, the conversations, the volunteers, reflect on something that makes it sparkle, gives it life, a moment of discovery and learning, a moment of joy. Thats a moment to take heart, a moment to remember and be assured that you’re doing a good think, even despite what might be a current challenge in a different aspect of it. Hold on to those moments. the moments when a young person surprises ( because of our lack of expectation or fear), where a volunteer does something impressive (because they took a risk) , where the group develops their own idea (because they were given space to play and be creative and creators), for all of these things, or the things you are thinking about now, be assured in the small transformations that you are making.

Repeat again? And set a date to this again? sometime? – Same place? – this post will always be here.

Come back again sometime.

If you are now able to share your reflections with others, or need to then do, maybe its another volunteer, a line manager, the vicar, or someone to talk through now as you may have more clarity over an issue, over an idea and what you might need to do about it.

I am hoping that was helpful for you. Even if it gave you questions or a framework to use for yourself or others in the volunteer group.

 

 

The process is very much following through the reflective process and cycles of Kolb, that include concrete experience, reflection and thinking, attending to feelings and then renewing/changing action. Image result for kolbWith bringing into that cycle external learning, theoretical understandings and previous experiences. If you are being a youthworker in a faith context then that understanding of community, humanity, education and ministry also shapes the responses – as well as being a formational tool to inspire and realise. In a way this is where reflective practice meets practical theology – (but thats a whole different discussion.). So Supervision is your opportunity to reflect, gather thoughts, dream and experiment. It should include aspects that are educative, directive and supportive,  to help with development of practitioners – rather than be merely task focussed, and be helpful in developing your experiences, and also the experiences and relationship that you have with young people. You may also be able to use similar questions with young people as you help them reflect on their day to day lives.

So, there may not be money floating around for the quality relationships, and enhancing the quality – where good supervision might be helpful in the ongoing unpredictable process of youthwork and developing those within it to be it.  Maybe even having this conversation internally and reflecting might be half helpful for free, and if it is ‘half-helpful’ then thats great.

If this has been helpful and you can afford to receive supervision in person, it is something I can offer and so do contact me here , some national youthwork agencies like FYT also offer this especially for those groups connected to their community of youthwork practitioners, Streetspace.

 

Some, only a few, resources on supervision are here:

Working with unnattached youth : Goetchius and Tash, 1967

Rebalancing Supervision , Cooper, Grace, Griffiths and Sapin, In Ord, Jon Critical Issues in Youthwork Management, 2012

Sustaining ourselves and enthusiasm by Carole Pugh in Jeffs and Smith (ed) Youth work Practice, 2010

Theres a few other articles on supervision on this website, in the Management Section, have a look around!

 

As usual apologies for the adverts below this line:

 

Guest Post: ‘Youth Leader: you are worth investing in!’

Youth leader, did you know you were worth investing in?

In this important post, Andy Wilson from Roll the Rock, discusses the issues that might arise if youth workers are not invested in, and also suggests how there is a pay off from investing a youthworker in how they are able to thrive in developing and connecting with young people. 

So much of social media asks for investment into work, investment into resources, and money for all sorts of things, but why is it we ask for the money, but neglect the leader/leaders who will be taking care of the budget and the teams?  surely if we are to see a longterm investment in young people, we need to see a long-term investment into those people who are leading!

There still does appear to be an understanding, or an opinion that the youth leader is there as a leader, and therefore needs to get on and do what they are meant to do!  Expectations run high from many people in terms of working with young people, but who asks the questions of how the youth leader is? How are they emotionally? When are they resting? How are they coping? who blesses, or treats the youth leader, and in very simple terms, ensures that they are valued and doing ok in their roll?

it is true to say that youth leaders are able to stay in their role for longer now, than maybe has been the case for a while, but the pressures remain, the expectations remain, the questions remain, and the mental battles, spiritual struggles, emotional weaknesses all still remain and are what the youth leader lives with, with so much of their life.

surely it is time, for the Church, to recognise those who have been in youth work for some considerable time, understood the context of the work, and are able to speak into, and share in the struggles of the youth leader, and release them into a roll of coaching, supporting, mentoring for those leaders around them?  But not only is it important for the Church to recognise the need for these kind of people in youth leaders lives, but it is also important for youth leaders to recognise the importance of having someone like this in their life?  As people start out on the youth work journey, it is often seen as an exciting adventure, a powerful position, and a place to enjoy, but sometimes there can also be that feeling, of “I have made it”, and not needing anyone else around us, to support, or ask the questions!  Image result for mentor

Investment should be seen as a positive thing, a valuing thing, a supportive thing, that enables longevity, and flourishing for the youth leader.  They are not just meant to survive, but thrive in who they are, and what they do.

Investment in them for who they are, recognises them first, and strengthens their identity, which has to come first, before what they do.  their worth and value is found in who they are in Christ, not in how many young people they have brought before Christ!

I am so fortunate to have the same person investing in me over the last 21 years.  they are so valuable, and taught me a precious lesson as i started out.  “always have a teachable heart!”  I wonder how many of us have a teachable heart? A heart that is open to others speaking into it, and how much does the Church value those who are able to do this?  Investment is exactly that, an investment, for growth, for development, it is not a withdrawal, but an investment, and needs to be seen as such, understood as such, and appreciated/valued as such.

Andy Wilson heads up ‘Roll the Rock’ a christian youthwork organisation in Harrogate: Details here: http://rolltherock.org.uk/  They specialise in supporting, resourcing and investing in youth leaders and workers across Yorkshire. He can be contacted via andy@rolltherock.org.uk

A follow up question might be, is that churches might be keen to be investing in their young people by recruiting a youth leader, but at the same time, as Naomi Thompson suggests in her recent publication, this is indicative of a consumer mindset, in which they worker is just imported in to get on with it. Young people, according to her research, valued wider church involvement, in volunteering and participating and have mutual relationships. Without more involvement or investment beyond finances, churches stand accused of only economically valuing young people, and young people as consumers to be ‘entertained’ (Thompson, 2018, p191) I am hopeful that this is not always the case, i am also hopeful that there is more of an understanding about self care, about youthwork management, and supervision than there used to be. There is information on all of these issues on this site (see categories/menus). A challenge might be is that ‘efficiency’ might mean that employers of youthworkers might wait until its too late to put support in place- rather than think ahead..

How to last in youth ministry longer than a mobile phone contract

I cant speak about longevity in Youth Ministry with any great conviction or from experience. The longest I have spent in working for one church in one place is two years. And the longest I have spent working for a parachurch type project is 5 years, and recently 3 years at Durham YFC in which the last year was towards its closure. So, when I posted here on ‘Why do youthworkers leave the church?’ and got a number of people responding, I had no real comeback as to how it might be possible to last in a one-church youth ministry role.

So, I put it out on Social media to find out not only if there were any paid Youth Ministry people in roles – who had lasted more than 5-7 years, currently in a role.

And b) what they put their longevity down to.

Ok, so it was an echo chamber piece of research via twitter. But in all the youth work fraternal and contacts, there was only mention of 3 people in the UK who were known by others, of youthworkers employed in a church setting, in one church, who had been in post longer than 7 years. One left their post of 8 years to train as a vicar.

Just 3 youthworkers in the whole of the UK have been in a church long enough to see a 10 year old to their 17th birthday. Ie just one generation of teenagers. For everyone else the youthworker might only help celebrate 2 birthdays of the young people. 2 Years. Paid youth workers are lasting not much longer than a mobile phone contract- or premiership managers.

So, a few of these youthworkers are in the process of the long haul and got back to me with what feels like ‘how they managed to survive’ in a church post for longer than 7 years… this was one of the responses given to me:

 

The reflections on what a youthworker had to do to stay in a particular role. It appears that personal determination (1) is important, personal and professional relationships are key (2), being rooted in a community (3), being flexible (4), having space to personally develop (5) and a bit like the first one, to see being a youth minister as a vocation in itself. (and not be swayed by offers of ‘vocations’ elsewhere)

In one way these counter balance with the ‘reasons why a youthworker leaves’ – the internal politics and ‘professional’ relationships with clergy/senior pastor breaks down, having a short contract might mean not putting down roots, not being responsive to change, or helping the church be responsive to change can be important also.

The challenge is how much of a youthworkers longevity in a situation is their own responsibility, and how much is the responsibility of the church and its leaders, congregation and local community. Obviously a youth worker can set a vision (1) – but a local culture and its practices will eat it for breakfast, if it is not rooted in knowledge, gifts and attitudes of the community. A youthworker might want to and desire good relationships with senior staff and congregation – but that also has to be two way. flexibility, rootedness and personal development all push two ways too. The constructed professional space that a youthworker might thrive in is the responsibility of the church and its community, the task of ensuring that some of these things happen might be both the youthworker and their managements responsibility. ie its not just the youthworkers responsibility to find their own training, or retreat space.

Maybe what happens is that congregations treat youthworkers like clergy. In many denominations now, clergy can participate in all manner of support from their affiliation and diocese, from conferences, supervisions, training, as well as career development (;-)) – clergy prayer times and support. Granted this doesnt suit everyone, and it isnt universal. But the point being that this is part of a ministers role that usually congregations can devolve responsibility. However, not many of these things are present for a youthworker in a church setting. Often it is the church and not an affiliation that employs, youthworkers have to find their own pension, their own supervision, their own resources locally that include training opportunities, there is no post qualification ‘probation’ training, ie a curacy period.  So, possibly congregations think that youthworkers have all this, but dont.  I have heard it said by a congregant that they were surprised that as a youthworker i didnt have a sabbatical, or a structure or affiliation to help with career guidance.  But even then its deemed not the congregation or churchs responsibility. The task of the youthworker is to find their own training, partnerships, resources, often supervision, retreat and guidance. Which they do, and have to. Then at times, the youthworker becomes responsible for helping with finding funding for their role. There needs to be money in the pot so that a paid youthworker can be confident in longevity, and build roots, and connections. It could work the other way too, but as soon as the treasurer starts getting worried about the length of a youthworkers contract, then the youthworker will be onto the jobs pages of youthwork magazine quicker than a brown fox that jumped over a lazy dog.

No doubt personal faith and determination are key to longevity. Seeing through what might be two year stormy periods is one thing, to fight on and go the distance. But two years of storms when there might only be funding or the desire of the church to employ you for three years anyway, then it becomes difficult to see through the storms, and start to think about protecting yourself, and what is next for you. There might be something to be asked about how churches view, employ and treat youthworkers given that so few are lasting longer than 7 years in a post in the UK. Especially as 7 years is often the minimunm time for an external person to start doing good community work. It is easy to say that youthworkers are difficult, and maverick and hard to manage, and if only 4 youthworkers in the UK are in a post for a long time then this might be the case also.

However, where a youthworker has done the long haul, there must be benefits for young people, such as confidence in the built relationships, consistency, trust. All of these get a bit of a battering when young people are subject to building relationships with short term people, like gap years (for example). I guess if we want young people to have a long lasting faith, we might just need to connect them with people who are going to also last a long time. If keeping the activity going has been the priority of the church, and not keeping the youthworker and the volunteers trained, supported and valued, then no wonder young people might not also see the value in pursuing faith. Of course it isnt that simple. But without huge numbers of youthworkers in churches for a long time, it is going to be difficult to find out. What we do know is the current system isnt working. But it might be working where someone has and is doing the long haul.  To the few of you in this position, well done, keep going and continue to inspire, lead and be consistent with young people in your local context.

 

 

 

 

 

Hints and tips to cope in Youth Ministry- from other professionals!

I am on holiday this week, well technically i am on annual leave from DYFC, because i have got holidays that i havent been able to take this year for one reason or another. Not because of work demands, but more trying to take the time at suitable times during the year. And though the week has been filled with a variety of ‘non’ work related activity such as preaching in my local church, a few church meetings, a night of voluntary detached youthwork this evening (cant keep a detached worker indoors) and obviously doing alot of writing for my MA (though i have taken a few week break from writing blogs, and a break from social media in the main).  It has felt like a bit of a week to recover and energise a bit even with a few responsibilities throughout the week. Over the last few weeks I have written about some of the personal challenges involved in being in youth ministry and i wanted to add some practical guidance to pass on to others, especially as thus far ive written about the challenges, but not some of the coping strategies.

I wrote about how a youthworkers Passion for their work might mean that they neglect their self care in this article, one based on Tania de St Croixs new book: http://wp.me/p2Az40-ID

and sometimes the self inflicted, or situational reality of being alone in youth ministry here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-J8

In this article I proposed a few gentle reminders for youthworkers of the importance of looking after themselves: http://wp.me/p2Az40-FO, at the time it was as I started to do some lecturing with a group of gap year students on professional and personal boundaries, on the EQUIP NE course.

What I havent yet done is to provide too many hints or tips for youth workers and Ministers to enable them to cope in youth ministry, and because my own example of taking time off to study is an appalling one 😉 I thought today i would ask the great and good youthworkers on social media to pass on their tips. Their responses are fascinating;

So i asked the question: ‘how to cope with the challenges of youth ministry’ these are the responses from some of the social media youthworkers, great and good:

  1. Take your holidays (yup guilty as charged)
  2. Have proper friends that arent youthworkers or church leaders or young people
  3. Be more than your Job
  4. Join a union
  5. (in faith settings) Worship somewhere other than the church you work in at least once a month
  6. Deal with your own issues, 1) get counselling
  7. Get a Spiritual director
  8. Dont do it alone
  9. Lead yourself before leading others
  10. Pray
  11. Name the issues and deal with them
  12. Put in a strategy so that you’re not alone (because you will be alone)
  13. Remember your opinions arent necessarily as valuable to others as they are to you! (Maybe this was a personal comment..;-))
  14. Get your head around the idea that the spiritual growth of the young people does not rest with you
  15. The young people’s highs and their lows do not rest with you
  16. Find safe people to be real about the struggles
  17. Find a mentor and mentor another
  18. Have time outside church interests, especially if you move area its easy for your whole life to be church
  19. Have a coach, spiritual director and line manager and they should all be different people.

I havent edited or sifted out any that people said so that you get an idea of the gist of what people were emphasising. Some of the challenges in youth ministry are in the day to day, and especially as one person said, if you’re new in an area, or new in youth ministry being able to find people who are ‘safe’ or willing to take on the roles of mentor, spiritual director or coach can be a challenge in itself. There can also be challenges when the people who self appoint to be these roles are also the very people who we might have problems with.

A few i will add to the above list;

  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. Find spaces of learning that challenge you, it might not be the expected conference or resource.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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….
  7. 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.
  8. Connect with people who are ‘ahead’ of you in terms of time/experience in youth ministry – if they’re willing ask them to be an external supervisor! (or coach type person)
  9. Avoid the numbers game, and if others are playing it dont join in
  10. Eat healthy, do exercise. Respect your body in regard to alcohol, food, sleep and excercise.

There isnt anyone who is going to look after you better than yourself, and if you know you’re the kind of person that might need others to help you with this, then sadly, it is your responsibility before things overwhelm, or burnout occurs. It is tragic, seriously tragic when workers forget themselves in the process of their work or ministry, and its as true to the year out volunteers who can get burn-out before the end of the whole year, because in a year they dont think to stop at times or have many many activities thrust on them, from a local church, the organising organisation, and elsewhere and in a year its difficult to create the kind of supportive relationships outside of a scheme to be able to cope, such as those suggested above.

Its a tough world out there in youth work and ministry – only the supported and those in community with others survive the long haul, however gifted you might be.

‘You’re on your own pal’; preparing for the aloneness of Christian & Youth Ministry

I started this article thinking about the complexities of working in a parachurch or interdenominational set up, in youthwork, with the funding cut backs there have been, and how all of a sudden it is becoming more and more likely that ministries like this are being run by individuals, where before there were teams of members of staff.

Add to that with the type of youth work that is naturally isolatory- detached youth work, not that other methods are less anti social, but even in a busy office lots of people have left to leave the detached youthworker eating their tea and waiting for the evening session to happen. moments alone are common. And contrast with team moments.

Then i thought about comparing that to the youth worker that works in a busy church office, or the deathly quiet one, without making too much of  big deal about it, there can be the sense that even in a busy office you might be the only person who knows about your role, and it is a bit apart, compared to others.

Then theres the youthworker or group of volunteers who are in a rural spot 20 miles from the big city with the many workers, many ministries, many resources, and all you have is an old OHP and a leaky roof. But its ok because their great big ministry that gathers lots of people to it is there to help you feel less isololated hmm.. not sure it feels that way on the monday.

Then theres having approaches, intentions or theologies that might be different to an established group or church. Then being alone is the call of the pioneer.

On this one its not just about the Youthworker though is it?  For Clergy across the land – maybe their only colleague is in a different parish, but those borders can be difficult to cross.

I wonder -though,  was Youth ministry meant to feel this way? I get the impression that being in youth ministry is about having amazing experiences, the photos in youthwork magazine are smiling groups of people, gap years spend lots of times together, as do students on youthwork courses (where there isnt a 150 mile round trip to the college)  and obviously too on Theology and Ministry courses. The collective buzz is high, the community that sends the (youth) minister out is strong. Does having lots of collective supportive experiences in formation prepare you for the potential aloneness of ‘paid’ ministry..

Then they are sent, or they are in a paid professional Job as a youth worker.

And, it can be an incredibly alone filled experience.

Your friends you left at college. Your friends you left in your home church.

Your friends you left when you had to take a different job somewhere else because it didnt work out. 

Was it ever meant to be this way, the path of faith and ministry an alone one.

Well, actually maybe yes.

Remember that Jesus person, the one who called you. How lonely might he have been? intensely i would imagine – and thats not just at the obvious times like the wilderness, like the times when the disciples abandoned him, or the walk with the cross itself. He was always at odds with those around him, trying to justify his purpose, not fitting in, being surprising but at the same time not being acceptable. Yes Jesus went to parties and weddings and joined with the fun, but could he really commit to friendships with the Peters and Marys of this world- knowing how they would be torn apart by his destiny?

yeah, im not sure either.  But there is someting intriguingly aloof about Jesus throughout the Gospels, being at odds with those around him, it was an isolated path, and one that he needed all the resources of the Trinity that walked with him.

So, if Youth Ministry and Ministry is actually a lonelier path than we’d like to admit – what steps can be taken to help? Especially if it doesnt feel like anyone is talking about it.. is it a taboo subject?

  1. Have realistic expectations in the first place – and these can be helped if conversations about this are held during formation training
  2. Be ready to be alone in ministry. If you know you find it difficult to work alone- christian /youth ministry might not be for you. However faithful you might be.
  3. Not only might ministry be seasonal but it also fluctuates between social and alone and might require shifts in temperament , in concentration and self determination. And it’s not easy sometimes to make those shifts.
  4. Self care is essential.
  5. Find similar friends even via social media. The ministry and youth work world is small, join it!
  6. Find a spiritual mentor
  7. Or a supervisor (or both)

There might be a few additional things you can do. The best thing might be to be prepared from the beginning for the reality of the post formational experience.

However it can feel like that Green day song at times.. ‘am i the only one and i walk alone’. Be ready for it! Being called to this includes the times of aloneness and potential loneliness, it will undoubtedly happen.

The not so hidden problem of longevity in youth ministry

Imagine the scenario, as a young person you’ve loved the time you’ve been able to spend with your youth leader, they’ve entertained, taken you on residentials, had great conversations, listened to you, developed your talents, pushed you to do things and really been one of the key main influences in your life. It’s been amazing for you to have had a youth leader like them.

And what better option for you as a young person who has benefitted immensely from the efforts, personality and ministry of a youth leader in your local church, than for you to think then about becoming a youth leader yourself!  So, you check out the options post school, or post Uni even and decide to find an accredited course. Especially as during the time you were volunteering through uni you realise that people actually got paid for being youth leaders, and discovered that you needed an accreditation or a theology degree, or a youthwork degree to do it (and youth work degrees or theology degrees tend to be on a bypass from the average careers adviser) – So you pack up your graduate bags from one college, and head to another to do a post grad, or an undergrad in youth work finally heading towards the dream, the place in your heart you have always wanted to and felt called to be… a youth minister.

You graduate, you get a load of experience doing placements, you hone your reflective skills, theological underpinnings, group work resources, management and supervision skills, and develop a nuanced theory of adolescence and faith. All ready for the big wide world of the church based youth ministry position. Your faith, your practice, your time and your finances have been sorely tested. But you’re ready. Ready to fulfil the great calling set in you since your own teenage years.. but there’s one more step to go- Where next…?

So you hit the Premier Youth Work Magazine back pages. (the almost only bit everyone reads)

You Find a job and a church, you pack your bags again.

You fly and interview, move into the area, meet lots of people and start in the role. But theres a problem..

Becuase – whilst everyone in the church is happy for you to be there, there are some that only compare you to someone who used to be, someone whose photo is still on theministryy team photo, even though they left the summer before.

The young people sometimes mistakenly call you ‘ the new Scott’ (the previous person was called scott)

The Minister in the church who was keen to appoint you has decided to leave the church before christmas.

Some of your best ideas, Scott used to do, and the young people love playing the games he did.

The young people loved Scott, he was their first youthworker.

Your ministry might only be in the shadow of someone elses, and because of all the emotions involved, and deep connections this is going to be difficult.

However, as time goes by, your patience wears off and the young people grow to respect you, spend time with you and you start to develop groups, ministries, connections with schools, and things start to build.

Even though you didnt get a great honey moon period, the first year goes ok.

Then the new minister arrives.

And you dont get on. His dreams and approaches to ministry are different to yours, but somehow now the same as the congregation. He also line manages you. This becomes difficult.

Though he lets you get on with it, in his style, he becomes quick to try and influence, correct and criticise, giving you no back up as the other employed person in the church, in public in meetings.

Your writing is on the wall, your training didnt prepare you for the shift that a church could take when this kind of change could happen. Your ministry, and dedication to a career is in jeopardy, so is he reality of the house you have just bought in the area. Maybe you have to think about moving on, bu after this experience – do you think twice about working for a church again? You might do, and though this exact scenario didnt happen to me, shifting to the outside of churches in faith organisations can seem a grass greener thought.

Though this overall scenario is probably an extreme situation. What isnt is that there is a myth that is circulated that the average longevity of a youth minister in a single church setting is between one and a half and 3 years. And this is usually attributed to the following factors:

a) Burnout – doing too much- caused by excessive stress – do they have someone to help them give their life balance? 

b) running out of ideas – all the best are used up in 18 months – the warning signs are how soon you’re grabbing youthwork magazine for ideas…

c) a breakdown in relationship between the church leadership and the youthworker – where do they go to get help with dealing with this kind of thing? 

d) a non existenct managerial or/and supervision relationship between the church leadership and a youthworker ( see Davies 2012, in Ord 2012)  (see previous articles on managing a youthworker here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-eO)

e) Ending of funding for the role, (or end of contract)  Its one of the first to go if a church becomes financially struggling.

There are a few others.

But shouldnt it be shocking that someone who invests so much into being trained and commissioned into a vocation can be treated so badly in a church setting?  And have their ministry curtailed in less than 3 years?

Yes, not every youth minister is whiter than white – maybe the post academic professionals expect too much- but still. The emotional, spiritual and physical effect of a bad experience of ministry can be truly awful, and those who stick it out for the long haul – beyond 5-6 years in a church deserve huge medals.

But to the others whose enthusiasm, desire and vocations have been cut short by bad experiences the youthwork world is with you.

Does the system need changing? Yes.

Can the systematic, affiliation or regional approach to employing a youthworker in a church change? Not sure – who can actualize this…

who does all this affect? where do we start..

Whether or not Youth Ministry and employing a professional is the best route for you as a church is debatable (see my previous articles http://wp.me/p2Az40-xp and http://wp.me/p2Az40-eU) But even so – please do consider them as whole people in the local collaborative ministry of the church, arrange for good management, supervision to give them ideas and time to try new approaches and ideas. Beyond 3-4 years, with good finances in place, youthworkers might stay a lot longer. Only if you stop asking them when theyre going to get a proper job…

Beyond 3-4 years, with good finances in place, youthworkers might stay a lot longer. Only if you stop asking them when theyre going to get a proper job…

 

Investing in volunteers is better that employing a professional youthworker

Yesterday i wrote a piece about what a church needs to do, if they were thinking about employing a youthworker as a member of staff within a church, to help with the designated need and work required. However, during today i have realised that this is a luxury that many churches have absolutely no hope of even thinking of, given tight resources and budgets. Having no young people is not an excuse however, as id argue that a youthworker should be employed to do mission work in a local community amongst young people whom the church doesnt yet know in a pioneering way, more so than in situations where their role is almost solely within a church & groups setting. But thats another discussion. So if its resources that prevent you from being able to employ a youthworker, or some other reason, then there are a number of alternatives open to you, that as a church should be done and are probably being done, with a few hints & tips that might be of use.

  1. Invest in current volunteers by giving good supervision, training and opportunities for challenge, growth and reflection. In effect disciple them in their current roles. If you have no volunteers- see point 9.
  2. Develop opportunities for training for current volunteers, like a rat in London, you’re probably not more than 10 miles from an unemployed or youth worker in need of a small extra job to deliver some training for your volunteers.  In house training in the context is ALWAYS more beneficial than sending volunteers to conferences, dont believe the hype about conferences. Get training you need specific to you and ask a youth worker about what they can offer, many should be able to lead sessions on group work & dynamics, ways of using the bible, reflection, conversations, young peoples issues. Yes you might have to pay for a days training, but itll be worth it. and more value for money than most conferences. and specific.
  3. Use some of the latest books on youth work & youth ministry as study materials in home groups for the leaders, yes its not the Bible – but neither were Nooma DVDs. As a start, ‘the art of youthwork’ by Kerry young, or ‘youthwork and the mission of God’ by Pete Ward are accessible and informative.
  4. Use the resources available from affiliation staff, Diocesan youth advisers those sorts of people.
  5. Facilitate ideas and vision days for the work with young people, and again arrange for someone to help you with that.
  6. Develop leadership skills with the children and young people so that they take on responsibility and decision making as part of the groups, as part of their discipleship – surely you dont need a youthworker to do that..
  7. You may be able to find a year out type youth worker locally depending if an organisation locally has them, but be aware they often take as much managing and will arrive with little training (regardless of what the leaders tell you) and may take a while to fit in. They also usually leave after less than a year. (this isnt the time to do a pros-cons of gap years, but getting ‘one’ is no walk in the park, but its an option)
  8. A similar option might be a placement student from one of the few university courses doing christian youthwork/ministry. This will depend on your location, and on resources again, its an option. You could ‘share’ a student with another local church, again an option.
  9. You, if you’re clergy reading this, might have to lead in discipling the young people, and thats maybe not your calling, but if taking a lead disciple role in discipling others isnt the role of clergy..? Maybe the young people currently in the church are too important to not be given the professional spiritual guidance that you are equipped to offer. For their sake, building a supportive relationship with a member of the clergy might have a much more significant impact on them, than effectively outsourcing it to dare i say it ‘ a youthworker’ or a one year gap yr student. There’s plenty of help around if you want it, see points above.

Sometimes the best option isnt to get the external person in, invest in who you have already. Especially as these people might be less likely to leave, and be able to support the young people for longer. It’s then about finding ways and approaches of working that enable both the volunteers and young people to be discipled. It’s not about running groups, but about discipling young people, so find ways that work. If its movie & sports nights with prayer, bible chat and lighting candles, then do this. And not unlike the

And not unlike the emmaus road, sometimes joining them in that discipleship, and other times be prepared to allow them to walk alone to discuss, think and reflect, question and react. If the group work model requires too many helpers, then find another one. Be Creative and consult with the young people. Let them lead you in this process.

The alternative to a youth worker, might not be a youth worker at all. it might be a church with a culture that all are disciples with responsibility to disciple everyone else. Young people might not be so different- just need time, space and respect, theyre not so separate or distinctive in any way.

 

 

Reclaiming artistic Supervision in the Church

We’ve got a bit of an issue in the church about management at the moment havent we?  for one it feels corporate, globally scary and tied in with images of corporations like Macdonalds, Apple or Facebook, let alone traditional industries like Ford. Yet Management is what seems to be whats being required more and more in the church, the youth worker needs a line manager, so does the administrator, or the finances need to be managed. Nelson (1999) talks then about new public management in a post modern world, of christian leadership in a post modern society and how Management  (especially new public management) is often about performance management, about managing data, numbers and effectiveness, and in a neo liberal context this is about value for money, efficiency, control and a focus on outputs and outcomes. What management tends to be is task focussed, with the individual playing second fiddle to their own efficiency in the role. As the old adage goes what can be measured can be managed, but is management itself a construct adopted too easily by the church, and if so what are the alternatives?

Where Management is barely mentioned Biblically, i was as shocked to find Supervision anywhere in the Biblical text, but i did, its in Numbers 8:22 and 1 Chronicles 25 3, 4 &6

The Sons of Asaph were under the supervision of Asaph

(6 brothers…..) were under the supervision of their father Jeduthun

All these brothers were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the Lord. with cymbals, harps for the ministry of the house….they all were under the supervision of the King

For the task of the creative musician, the brothers required supervision, as they played their music, as they performed their service. They were supervised to perform artistically in the task of service and for the King.

Sue Cooper (2012, in Ord, J (2012) writes that balanced supervision is to have three essential functions ; ‘restorative/supportive, formative/educative and normative/managerial- and that the process itself must be two way’, she is writing in the context of the supervision of youth workers, a profession that prides itself on being artistic (Young 1999), creative, imaginative and socially constructive.

But as should Church and faith be also a theatrical pursuit, one that seeks to perform scripture as local gospel theatre (Vanhoozer 2014), with the full gospel that seeks faithful discipleship for world transformation, if that can be measured and thus managed and is not an unpredictable, creative art then i’m not sure what else it is supposed to be…..As Vanhoozer suggests, the picture of theology as science has held the church captive for too long, instead it needs to be dramatised and become a theatrical art form. (2014)

And thats where supervision comes back in, It is argued that taking one of those three aspects away causes supervision to be less satisfying for both parties, in the situation of the music, a heavy hand would constrain performance, too light a touch might produce chaos, somewhere in the middle improvised Jazz occurs.

Maybe Management as a concept needs to be dropped in the church.

A reclaimed view of artistic supervision could take its place, one that balances the managerial with also education and support in order for creativity to be realised, and for the persons in the supervision relationship to value the ongoing creativity that both the process of church and youthwork (where this is the relationship) are to be creatively performed.

If Supervision swings from development focus to managerial focus – what does that say about what we believe church to be- a science? or a faith?  Maybe a fuller understanding of supervision, especially its educative function for a creative ministry is one that will help to rebalance current practices of supervision in the church, whether that its clergy being supervised, or clergy as supervisors. To reclaim the educative function of creative supervision might also enable it to feel more like the kind of Discipleship that has Biblical tones rather than a form of management that seems at odds with the freedom even Jesus gave his disciples to decide for themselves actions, or even criticise him.

If the most important resources for an organisation are its staff, and one of the main complaints from youth workers (and other employees in a church) is that of the relationship with their line management often the clergy (Davies 2012) – maybe it might be time to rethink what it means to be an educative, supportive supervisor of people in the creative performance of church & mission in the church & world, in order that people are able to play the tunes as collaborative artists, in the improvised mission in service to the King.

Lets value and develop the right kind of supervision for organisation of the church, in order for it to perform practically and prophetically the gospel on the stage of the world.

 

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