Youth Ministry is an iceberg.
I am hoping that the image is fairly straight forward! With the growth of social media and youth workers increasing their online presence, we get to ‘see’ a lot of youth ministry. Much of it is amazing and can serve as a real encouragement to other youth workers and indeed the church.
But last month at the National Youth Ministry Weekend I felt like I had the opportunity to delve beneath the surface and see the hidden, less spoken about, part of the iceberg. (still with me and the iceberg illustration?)
Part of my role at the NYMW was to lead the coaching stream and so as part of this we got to spend time with around 68 conference attendees as we offered them an hour with a youth ministry coach. From the stories I got to hear, and also from some of the feedback that is starting to come in, it is clear there is much going on ‘beneath the surface’.
I discovered a beautiful and raw honesty from the people I spent time with but much of what we spoke about weren’t the attractive stories ready to be uploaded to the latest Instagram or Twitter feed. What I found myself hearing were stories of faithful and loving leaders who, many as volunteers, were giving so much to the lives of young people but who are facing discouragement and opposition at every turn. They are facing more than the everyday ‘worldly’ opposition that we can find in ministry, some were facing battles from within church families.
Now of course I would incredibly naive to think that there aren’t sometimes personality clashes and difficult team dynamics to work through. But I have to say, if I’m being honest, that more than a few conversations felt like the opposition was more than this and that in some churches the idea of youthwork is as difficult as suggesting a church remove its pews or use the organ less!
Cheap shot I know but having been around churches for a while I have seen the discussions that go round and round on topics that frankly aren’t people-centred and personally I don’t believe are essential Kingdom work. Maybe this is a time to consider the priorities of your church; is what you are spending your time, energy and money on investing in young people?
During the coaching I met two people, we shall call them Daisy and Derek (no idea why I chose those names!). Daisy and Derek had been doing youthwork as volunteers for a while and had been faithfully serving a small group of teenagers. Daisy and Derek were pouring themselves into the lives of these teenagers in an utterly beautiful Jesus-shaped way. As they walked with young people through varying degrees of teenage chaos they found the greater battles to be coming from church leadership and outdated structures.
From what I have heard Daisy and Derek have been conducting themselves appropriately and seeking resolution and conversation with the church leadership. But these two faithful leaders are tired, embattled and appear to be at a stalemate with the church leader. I will be praying and I am also going to try and go visit them to support and encourage, but obviously more than I can offer needs to be done.
My point is this; youth work can be hard but the biggest challenges shouldn’t be coming from the people and places that should be the loudest and strongest allies. Can I be honest; we need to do better. All youthwork, whatever size, whether initiated by a full time worker or a volunteer, should be something that church is fully behind. And being fully behind it doesn’t mean allowing everything and anything, it means putting in place good support structures, appropriate and encouraging line management and ensuring the church is fully aware of what is happening within their youth ministry.
Youthwork is important, no, Youthwork is vital! It should be at the very core of most of our church conversations. Rachel Gardner recently spoke out this powerful James Emery White quote: “if you’re leading a church and not listening to under 18’s – you’re leading a church in to a future that doesn’t exist!” Yes there are many other significant and incredible ministries that the church should engage in, but there is only one that is directly linked to the survival and possible revival of the church, and that is youth & children’s ministry.
The NYMW was superb, I mean really, really great. There was a diverse range of speakers and topics and across the whole weekend I found a real sense of ‘togetherness’. But this is just one weekend a year and so work needs to be done so that faithful leaders, like Daisy and Derek, can be supported, fought for, cheered-on and resourced throughout the year.
If you are part of a church can I encourage you to do 7 things for your youthwork:
1. Whoever is involved in running your youth ministry; encourage them, pray for them, invite them round for food, ask them how you can support them, be interested in them. You’ll be surprised how many single youth leaders eat Sunday lunch alone; they may want some time to themselves but the offer will make them feel valued.
2. Be one of those people who help the whole church know what is going on with the youth ministry. Whether that is by standing up at the front of church and giving updates, organising a bright and positive youth ministry notice board, simply speaking well and positively about the youth ministry. Make it known to the whole church family.
3. Get to know the young people in your church. Chat to them, find out about their lives, make them feel fully part of your church family
4. Help your church leader prioritise youth ministry.
5. Volunteer within the youth ministry. There are a whole host of ways you can volunteer; pray, offer lifts, cook a meal for the group, occasionally host the youth group in your home, mentor an individual young person, pray, run the tuck shop, share your own faith story at youth group.
6. Ask for help. There are some amazing organisations around, and probably even churches near you. This isn’t a competition, we shouldn’t be ashamed of asking for help. If you would like some help email me and I will see what I can do, or find someone near you who is up for supporting you. Even if you are just two volunteer leaders serving two young people, what you do matters, a lot!
7. Pray often
Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’
We have a battle ahead so grab a sword, spear or bow (prayer, encouragement and support are equally powerful weapons!!) and fight for your families, your youth workers and your young people.