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Jun 08

Should we call youth workers something more helpful?

If you know me, or have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that for some time I have not been a fan of the term ‘youth worker’. It seems to be the default title churches give when they employ someone, full time or part time, to develop their youth ministry within the church. There are a number of problems with this term, which I don’t think honour the worker nor help the church in its endeavours.

Some time back I wrote about the importance of not calling people ‘youth workers’ as it implies that we are employing someone to do the ‘work with young people’ on the church’s behalf. Now, sadly this is all too often the case. When I talk with church leaders who are considering employing a youth specialist for the first time, top of their wish list is someone who is great with young people and will be attractive to this generation. My concern is that what is actually being said is ‘someone to attract and disciple young people as we can’t/don’t want to’.

I dont want to repeat what I wrote in my former blog post, Youth worker or youth minister: what’s in a name? I encourage you to have a read of this post if you haven’t done so already.

We need to stop thinking of people as youth workers and rather consider them as mission enablers, enabling God’s Church to be more effective at reaching out and connecting with the next generation. Yes, they need to be specialists in youth ministry, understanding their culture, the changing attitudes and societal pressures, and yes, they need to be able to connect well with young people. But not because we want them to connect with young people so the rest of us, the church, don’t have to; rather so that they can show us how to be better at connecting with teenagers.

it is the purpose of the whole church to reach out to people of all ages and backgrounds, not to pay someone to do part of it for us.

So if you are in a church and you want to be more effective at connecting with young people please don’t pay someone to do it for you. Employ someone who has a better understanding of young people than you do currently and employ them with the primary purpose of helping the church better understand young people and to equip them to be more effective in reaching out to them with the Good News of Jesus.

This means we need to ensure that we employ people with the understanding that we need them to challenge us, be patient with us and encourage us as we try to work with them as we take the gospel to young people.

The youth worker becomes a youth mission enabler, enabling more young people to hear about God and to feel part of his loving church.

The problem with this suggestion is it requires the church to be prepared to learn new skills, to understand generational differences and to be humble enough to accept that change is essential if we are to stay culturally relevant. It is not changing the gospel, but looking at ways to change how we relate the gospel in the 21st century.

It is much easier to pay a youth worker to just get on with the task of connecting with teenagers, making sure they have a good time and hopefully believe in Jesus. The statistics suggest that this doesn’t often work. There may be a  visible increase in the footfall of young people across our church’s threshold, but what often happens is when the youth worker moves away from the church, so do the young people. They have been attracted to the person not the church, nor to the person of Jesus. Or what happens is that young people seem to be fully engaged while in their teenage years and connected to the youth ministry but when they graduate from this ministry, they will tend to drift away from church and God, largely dependent on the influence of peers they have at that time. Again,they have not connected deeply with the whole church or put roots down properly.

Picture this different scenario. A church longs to see more young people in their family but there are few and it is an ageing congregation. They advertise for a youth mission enabler and find a person with training, experience and understanding of the world of young people. The newly employed mission enabler decides not to do any work with young people without involving at least 2 other adults from the church (good safe guarding practice anyway). The person spends as much time investing in the adults as they do investing in young people. They explain what the pressures are for teenagers, how interests vary wildly, point out connection points for conversations and explain how to communicate God’s love to a generation struggling to find real love. The adults build relationships with the young people, and start to include them more in the wider activities of the church. They also inspire other adults in the church to get involved too. Over time they start to see young people involved in all aspects and activities of church life, not just in their youth groups. It appears that young people have become one of the core threads that makes up the church in this community. A young person decides to make a commitment to Jesus and to get baptised. At the baptism, they are not surrounded by the youth leader and members of the youth group, but by a whole variety of ages of church members, all who know the young person well and have seen them transformed by the love of Christ and the baptism becomes an incredible act of worship and a chance to truly celebrate.

That’s the church I want to be a part of. This is why Thrive is making a concerted effort to raise up new youth mission enablers, by offering adults a means to explore God’s calling on their lives and to train up mission enablers through our partnership with Reign Ministries and their youth degree in Theology and Mission.My prayer is that we see more young people coming to know Jesus as their saviour as we see more churches benefiting from having a youth mission enabler leading them.