One of the things we are working hard to do at Thrive is to stop churches using the term youth worker. Instead, we want churches to use youth minister or, even better, youth mission enabler. If a job title describes your role, these subtle differences have massive impact.
For too long youth workers have been expected to ‘do’ youth ministry on behalf of the church. The thinking behind this is usually that most of the church is too busy to get to know the young people and so they club together to pay someone to do it for them.
This has to stop. If you are a church leader, please look at the research. Not only is this a bad way of being church, but also it doesn’t actually produce long-lasting fruit.
If you are a youth worker, stop. Start to think of yourself as a mission enabler, someone who will enable the wider church to learn how to reach out and disciple the next generation. You owe it to the church, to God and to yourself to make this happen. If you can’t, you are likely to either have left your role within the next three years or to have exhausted yourself. You cannot, and should not, do everything.
When a church employs a youth specialist, they need someone who has more understanding of youth culture, experience of making connections with young people and sharing the Gospel with them. We need to ask this person to help the rest of us as we try to tackle this mission field. It is the church who God calls to reach out, not just a ’specialist’.
Here are five reasons why this is important:
1. More people are released into ministry
Imagine if the youth mission enabler spent most of her time investing in the adults in the church, teaching them about how to relate to young people, the pressures on them and the best ways to pray for them. We would then see more adults starting to take steps into this mission field. We would see more adults over the months and years ahead, getting alongside young people.
2. More young people are better supported
It’s a simple mathematics equation. If we only have one leader, he can only support a limited number of young people effectively. Any more than this number, and the quality of care dips quickly. If we have more people being trained in youth mission by our youth mission enabler, we will see more adults getting alongside more young people.
3. It enables young people to start to belong to the church
One of my biggest criticisms of the youth worker role is that it fails to allow young people to develop a sense of belonging with the church. They might feel they belong to their youth group, or their youth service, but they are unlikely to feel any strong sense of belonging to the wider church family. By getting more members of the church involved in youth ministry, the young people will feel a greater sense of connection with the church itself. This is of vital importance as they get older and become too old for the youth ministry. The relationships will be there for them to transition into adult membership and belonging.
4. It enables new initiatives to happen
More adults involved means the youth mission enabler doesn’t have to do everything himself. He invests in the leaders and helpers. Once they are confident in their roles, he then finds he has the space to explore new ideas for reaching out to young people who are not yet in contact with the church, whether that be in schools, parks or wherever. This means that even more young people can be reached with the Gospel.
5. It stops the youth leader from burning out
The statistics are terrible. Youth ministry is bad for your health. Leaders do not tend to last in this area of church life. I made a commitment to two friends 20 years ago. We trained as youth ministers together and we agreed that we would not let each other walk away from this ministry unless God clearly called us. Twenty years on, we are still all involved in different ways. But each of us has suggested at least once over the years that our time was up. It is so difficult because all the expectation is so often on our shoulders. We need to raise new youth mission enablers to inspire and build up the church. That way these leaders will thrive in what God is calling them to do, being honoured for their training and experience, and we see the Church taking steps of responsibility to fulfilling the Great Commission.
I know this is not an easy transition but it is an essential one. If you are a youth worker, talk to your church leader about this change. Maybe show them this article. If you need help, Thrive can come and speak on your behalf. It’s crucial that we see this change happen soon. Not just for your benefit, but for the benefit of the Kingdom and all the young people who don’t yet know the Good News of Jesus.