Thursday, August 30, 2012

What is Youth Work?

I just read this blog:

And felt I couldn’t not respond to it. I came to Christian Youth Ministry late in life, post children, and so had a choice in seeking a qualification that enabled me to work with young people. I did consider teaching, but in the end did the Youth and Community Work with Applied Theology degree with CYM (Midlands centre – the best IMHO). This means I looked at both ways of working and made some conscious choices, so I’ll respond to the point Gemma makes by saying why I chose Youth Work

“1) Lots of meaningful connection opportunities with actual young people”

Lots of face time, but at a ratio of 30 to 1 with a very prescriptive curriculum which restricts teachers to delivering certain things. Time constraints mean that there isn’t much space for creativity or spontaneity.

Power imbalance – young people have no choice about whether they are present, and this often means that their bodies are there but their hearts aren’t in it. For this, by definition, removes any meaning I want to find in my work.

“2) Measures of success that can be seen - you can measure your impact on young people"

But success in what – achievement of certain grades in exams isn’t the kind of “success” I’m looking for in my work. I also have very strong opinions that it isn’t the purpose of education; for me education is more to do with each young person becoming the best human being they can be. Our current educational system is about equipping young people to be units of economic production and consumption in a market place that doesn’t have jobs for all of them.

“3) Semi regulated hours - I know teachers don't work school hours but there is a rhythm to the hours they work”

Whether or not I have a rhythm to my life and work is up to me – many people in Christian ministry seem to operate on the basis that only chronic busy-ness and a state of near exhaustion are measures of the quality of their work. As a community of workers we rarely challenge this idea by actually trying to adopt biblical patterns of work and Sabbath that enrich us and our ministry. I see this a lot, not only in youth workers but in pastors and church leaders all over the place. I heartily recommend Ian Stackhouse’s marvellous book “The Gospel Driven Church” for an entirely different perspective.

“4) School holidays - I appreciate many teachers work during the holidays but they definitely get more than 4 weeks annual leave

My sister is a secondary teacher* and I know how much work she does at home in evenings and at weekend, how many times she goes in to school to do preparation or for holiday revision sessions, parents evenings, etc. Things have improved a bit recently, but it’s not a doss.

“6) Not having to live every six months wondering if funding for your post will happen”

I think the world of Christian Youth ministry needs to take a good hard look at how we resource the work we do. If we really believe that the work we do amongst young people who are NEET, young single parents, young offenders or whoever else, is part of the ministry of the church then we should fund it properly and control and manage it in the ways we think are right. If we take the government’s pound to deliver outcomes on their behalf, then we have to do it on their terms. Personally I think it’s appalling that really valuable projects with young people can operate on a knife edge all the time; it just confirms what young people already think: that they aren’t worth it, but that’s one that I need to have a go at the government for.

 “7) Regulatory provision for sickness, maternity & employee rights”
Everyone who is employed should get this – it’s the law.

“8) You can get a job as a teacher with or without a VAGINA”

I have a vagina, and, shock horror, it’s quite an old one! Plus I work within a denomination that isn’t doing terribly well about employing women ministers (the Baptists) and I take a lot of issue with that…all the time. But I’m still working and being paid for it. Yes the pay is poor, but it’s poor for secular youth workers too, because it’s such a poorly understood profession, and many of the pressures we face are the same for them too.

I think Gemma is right to ask whether the current model of youth ministry is sustainable, and I’m not convinced that it is, but I think that’s more to do with our current models of church and ministry rather than our employment provisions.

The questions I want to be asking start like this:

  • Why is “bigger” always better? We’re obsessed with numbers; numbers in our youth groups, numbers coming to Christ, numbers being baptised. 
  • Why are we entertaining young people instead of discipling them? When did we last tell our young people that the Christian life is hard and painful and will cost them everything? Then when they walk away from that, why don’t we let them go?
  • Why aren’t we challenging the model of church that keeps children and young people separate from adults, instead of working out how we can be together in a meaningful way?
So my youth worker friends – if the model isn’t working, what should it look like?

*And I respect and admire what she and her colleagues do enormously.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sarah, thank you for taking the time to respond to my blog post, you raise some very good questions & I'm glad we can dialogue on these issues. It is my intention over the next few months to unpack each of my numbers, one a week, & to continue to wrestle with these issues. I fully intend to continue to be around in Youth Work for a long while yet, like i i said on my blog every cell of my body screams 'We should do something!' & 'Change it ... Don't bail out!'

    It's nice to 'meet' another Baptist & to see your passion for the calling you have.
    Heres to iron sharpening iron!