for the kids… or is it?

I am a youth worker.  I’m still not entirely sure what this means.  To be honest i’m beginning to think that just about anything could fall under the category of ‘Youth Work’.  Meeting with adults who help plan and lead, meeting parents and teachers and priests and ministers, reading, thinking, training, praying, planning, photocopying, emailing, shopping in tescos, making pancakes, being involved in all aspects of church and community life… ALL of it, is part of what I do to, oh yes that’s right… minister to the young people of my community.  I’m beginning to hate vague…

As I’ve embarked on this new bumpy journey (because that sounds cuter and nicer  than the exhausting battle which is really what it has more felt like) into youth work I have been forced… really forced, to think about the beast that is ‘youth ministry’.

The benefit of being a youth worker is that almost everyone is a fan of youth work christian and not – I am still to meet a person who will say that the youth aren’t worth it… (we wouldn’t say that about the poor or the elderly either – but our lives say something different).  When it comes to the young people (which incidently includes anyone from 0-29 years unless you’re married in which case you automatically get bumped into the adult category) everyone is very quick to tell me how we need to be investing in the youth of today. “they’re the future of tomorrow” they cry.  “you will help decrease teenage sucide” they say to me.  “if you reach those children you’ll reach their parents”… “you’ll save my housing estate!”… people have actually said these things to me.  I forgot that being a youth worker transformed me into God.  Deep down I suspect that a truer reason why the majority of people are keen on youth work is because the majority of people have children and they like it when their children have fun and somewhere safe to go on a friday night.

I enjoy these young people.  I really do.  I love them.  I care about who they are and who they are becoming, I care about what’s going on in their lives, I care about what they spend their days thinking and worrying about, I care about what they believe about themselves and about others and about God. But I care because they are people, not because they are YOUNG people.  I enjoy being around them because they are people, not because they are young.

I am probably about to talk myself out of a job but that’s ok if it helps me come to a better understanding of all this… but if in Christ there is no slave nor free, no man nor woman, no jew nor greek does that also mean that there is no young or old?  And if so, is it right then that we as the chruch make distinctions that Christ has refused to make?

Today I’m finding it hard to see the biblical basis for youth work – this does not mean that i do not see a place for youth workers but only in so far as they minister to people who are people rather than minister to people on the basis of their age.

So having said all that how do I bless the youth of my small quiet community in a way that honors their humanity not their age?  How do I encourage them to become people who are fully alive rather than mildly entertained? When I plan a youth event why do I feel pressure to spend more time thinking about what they’ll find fun than what they’ll find transforming?

I want more for these people than fun, I want them to be people who love and let themselves be loved.  I feel like the only way this can really happen is to let the church be the church rather than trying to short circuit it.  Maybe the only way this will really happen is if I pour my life into the few that God has put in my path and pray that as I do so they will pour their lives into the few that God has put in their path and so the revolution occurs with patience and time and quiet… but it happens.  And it shakes the world.

Right now i’m asking myself if there’s a place for big and flashy and entertaining programmes at all.  Even if teenagers enjoy it, it is what i should be about?  I want them to have fun of course, but not the kind of fun that comes from their consumption, I want them to laugh because they are known and knowing, I want them to laugh because they are safe enough to cry, or take themselves lightly.  I want them to have fun in the context of intimate relationships not a squashed crowd.

I have little idea of what i’m saying and even less of an idea what I am doing.  Thoughts welcomed.

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3 Comments on “for the kids… or is it?”

  1. canalways Says:

    hey there transfarmer,
    I was a youth worker once and I agree with everything you have said. In fact reading this is bringing up stuff in me that I’d forgotten was there – I’m still getting frustrated 3yrs later……grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  2. transfarmer Says:

    thanks canalways, did you find any solutions or advice from your journeying?

  3. canalways Says:

    I didn’t really find any solutions and I left youth work very cynical about the point of doing it.

    Do I think I made a difference to the kids lives? Yes, I do – but only a tiny walk on part if any.
    And besides we believe that the Holy Spirit is the one who does miracles in lives not wacky entertainment programs on a Friday night.

    Very quickly I saw that I couldn’t compete with the world on its terms so I didn’t even try anymore. If nobody in the church was going to volunteer to lead a youth group I wasn’t going to go round on a recruitment drive for it. There was one woman in particular who saw it as my job to pull youth leaders and youth group related enthusiasm out of my ass or something – but I often thought it was for the sake of the church having a big youth group.

    I couldn’t make all the pieces fit – why was I employed by a church, the family of God to focus specifically on one group of people in the family?

    It seems to be saying that teenagers are more needy and broken and confused than other groups of people in the church for some reason that I never quite understood or could justify.
    If we believe the Bible nobody is sorted and everyone is broken and needy,everybody is a bit confused. I am certainly broken and needy. I am more confused that I was back as a teenager.

    I mean if we’re going to go down the route of focusing on people in stages of life why doesn’t the church employ someone to work with the broken and needy 30-40yr olds? They are likely to be having children, so if we can make sure they are performing well as Christians they will be looking after their kids well and bringing them up as Christians when the children are learning the most?
    Or why not employ somebody to work with the 65-70yr olds?They are recently retired and have spare time to fill. Why not have a ’65-70yr old’ worker to train them to make a difference in the community with there extra hours in the week?
    Why not employ someone to work with artists?
    Or farmers?
    Or people who like the letter W?

    And if we really want to employ someone to make people disciples of Jesus why not get someone to work with our 0-4yrs olds, after all that is when they are like walking recorders and we can cram lots of good Biblical teaching into their tiny craniums. Surely if a church wants to reach into the community that is the way to go?

    It didn’t make sense to me anyway, so when my contract ended I was out of there.
    The thing that kept me sane was that I fell in with a group of people who had nothing to do with church and had a few pints on a Friday night and played a few songs at the pub. It felt more like were Jesus might be.

    Finally, if it was our jobs to pastor the teenagers and teach them the Bible why was I never even invited to one elders meeting? If the minister of the church is the teaching elder, responsible for teaching Gods word to the congregation why are youth workers not invested with the same authority if they are being employed to teach the Bible and pray for the kids?Are they not teaching Gods Word? Why are we (were we)then not taken with the same seriousness as the minister?

    anyway, my main advice is pray for the church and hang out with non-Christians over a pint if you get a chance

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