About three years ago, I was sat in an office telling my Supervisor that I’d love to do a gap year with the local Youth For Christ centre, provided that I only had to do background stuff like admin. Not, under any circumstance, did I want to come into contact with any actual front of house youth work or young person of any sort.
One year later I was wearing a sumo suit while flinging myself at one of said young people in an attempt to knock them out of the circle in a sumo fight to end all sumo fights.
Granted, I’m a young youth worker (only been in the business three years) but I feel I have a bit of authority on the subject of conquering fears, considering that my fear was one of the biggest and most ridiculous fear that can hinder any other youth worker of any age: I was terrified of teenagers.
Now, before you laugh, I think we can all agree that teenagers can be flipping scary. They decide what (and who) is cool this year, half of them think they’re smarter than they are and the other half are smarter than you so don’t even try. They can be scathing and have the ability to make you question every life choice you have ever made with one sarcastic comment.
All that said, those are also the reasons why we love them so much.
Whatever it is, be it young people themselves or something entirely different, every single youth worker in the world has fears, and those fears, no matter how big or small, have the capacity to block us from doing truly amazing work with young people. Here are some of the simple ways I managed to face my fears as a youth worker:
1. Don’t pretend you’re not scared.
Look at that massive pile of admin you need to do, all those emails you need to send, all those kids waiting to hear the Bible study masterpiece that you’re presenting. How easy would it be if we could just close our eyes and those things would vanish in a puff of smoke?
You can stare at those emails while your heart plummets and mutter “I love emails so much” over and over all you want, but it’s not true. Acting like you love giving bible studies while you’re shaking with fear won’t work either – young people can smell a rat from a mile away.
Just remember when you’re facing these situations that no one important is expecting you to love every aspect of your job. And if your job is upfront youth ministry, no teenager will ever think less of you for being nervous – quite the opposite! If anything, it makes you human, and they’ll appreciate that more than anything.
Be upfront with your colleagues. Be honest about what scares you. Hidden situations only get worse.
2. Do what you need to do (within reason).
Step back. Take a breath. Ask yourself, what will make this situation less terrifying? For me, it was knowing that I had other more experienced youth workers with me, and I could take a few minutes in the back room if it got too much.
This is easier with some things than others. For example, if you need to take breaks between each email to stuff your face with chocolate then do it! Think you might need to call someone up you trust to help you through some admin? Do it!
If you need to ask for help, do it. Needing help doesn’t make you weak. There’s a reason God created more than one human. We’re not meant to go it alone.
3. JUST DO IT (Shia La Beouf voice)
My last piece of advice would be, NEVER let the fear stop you. There’s a part of me that still fills with fear when a new young person enters the room and I have to go and welcome them, but I never regret it when I do.
Who wants to look back on their time as a youth worker and see a list of things they never tried, or gave up on too early? The Bible isn’t made up of stories of people who would have but didn’t. It is, however, made up of stories of people who were scared but did it anyway, because God was with them.
And that’s the most important part (surprise). God’s with you. Anything good you do hasn’t actually been done by you anyway. God did it through you. It works the other way too; if you have Jesus at the centre of everything you do as a youth worker, then it won’t matter if you mess up; God meant for that, too. God doesn’t just use our triumphs, he does wonders with our failures too.
Of course, there is so much more to learn about conquering fears, but hopefully you’ll appreciate these little drops of advice.
Now I’m off to go swing a pair of orange-filled tights around my head around for the entertainment of my truly brilliant young people.
When not doing youth work, she is a musical theatre tutor for children aged five to eighteen (keeps her fit!), and has lived in North Wales since she was born, and will continue to live here until they kick her out.
She also plays the saxophone but saves that for parties.
You can find her at any Comic-Con in the country, and her life ambition is to dress in cosplay more than in her regular clothes.