Living with Cancer as a Youth Worker

This brave and honest post has been written by youth work volunteer Megan Dyer, who recently was given the all clear after treatment for cancer. We hope this will be an encouragement to anyone walking through similar challenges.

Cancer, My Youth Group & Me.

Cancer:

In August 2016 I was diagnosed with a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which is a type of blood cancer. It meant that I had to have lots of different treatments and medications and trips to the hospital and in turn meant that my life became very isolated, quiet, and slowed down quickly.

It was an extremely tough time full of experiences and situations that I never expected to happen to me, and I pray will never happen to anyone ever again. It wasn’t a fun time. God, however, is absolutely amazing and has a pretty awesome way of restoring hope, love and joy; and bringing the right people around you!

‘The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.’ [Psalm 28:7]

My Youth Group:

I volunteer at a youth group called Redefine on Sunday nights. It’s an amazing team with fantastic young people, and it is very very special to me – for multiple reasons. How they all reacted and supported me through my cancer and recovery just astounded me and made me so very very thankful!

The Sunday after I was diagnosed I talked to the team first, and then the young people. I said that I had cancer, and that I would be going on a series of treatments and medications. This would mean that I wouldn’t be able to volunteer as much as I would like for a period of time, but that when I was better that I would come back. They were all so amazing about it – and I was fully aware that they were all praying for me. This was a huge comfort!

I kept them updated throughout my treatment and was hugely comforted and held-up by their messages back.

Me:

I am 100% fine and healthy now, and I’m back at Redefine and I love it!

One of my favourite teaching series that we did a while back was called ‘what makes us tick’ where each volunteer was given a session to speak about anything they were passionate about.

Part of my talk in this series was telling the whole group how their prayer and my prayer was answered at a pretty critical part of my treatment, and how ridiculously grateful I was for all their love and support! Their prayer meant that I only had to do four months of chemotherapy instead of six, which was amazing!

What I’ve learned

Life is an adventure. Which means it can be both wondrous and fun and exciting as well as bleak and tough and exhausting. What’s amazing though is that we don’t have to do it alone. We have God but we also have people. If you’re a leader going through a tough time, then trust the people around you. Let them help. If you’re a team with a leader going through a tough time, be there for them. Encourage them and support them. Check in on them. It often means the world that people care enough to remember and send a message to just say ‘hi, hope you’re ok, we’re here and we’re praying’.

 

I work as a volunteer for YFC at Redefine youth group with Tim and some other awesome people. I’ve been a part of the Redefine team for almost three years now and I adore it! I have two jobs! You’ll either find me building websites or laughing with customers in the retail shop I work in. And at home you’ll find me watching murder mysteries, reading for hours on end, or out and about, walking.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Logan Nolin on Unsplash

10 financial tips to a youth worker from a youth worker

This might be one of the most hypocritical posts that I’ve ever written and that’s saying something! I’m rubbish at handling money. I don’t care all that much about it and I don’t think all that much about it either. In fact, it was only when I really understood my serious lack of stewardship gifts that I handed the responsibility over to my wife and then we began to get straightened out.

I do, however, spend a lot of my time mentoring and coaching youth workers. That – along with my own disastrous financial experience – means I understand and have lived through many of the pressures and conflicts surrounding money in ministry. I don’t think we pay ministers enough for sure, and youth ministers are often at the bottom end of this – but this is the reality of our world that we need to learn to live within.

I’m fortunate now to work for a charity that wants to support me well for the work I do, but many youth workers don’t have this, and even those of us who do still struggle. When I was in my first youth ministry position, I thought I was paid quite well – that was until I discovered that we were in the bottom 10% in our area and were racking up more and more debt each month!

The bottom line is that we don’t get into ministry to be wealthy, and we are often paid less than many of people that we serve. This is the nature of the beast. Some of us also get into ministry quite young, want to start families, and hold the baggage of student debt to boot.

It was only a few years ago that my wife and I were still in almost £10,000 of debt. A better job, a clearer understanding, some generosity, and a lot of planning helped us clear this completely. Credit for this needs to go to my wife, but here are a few things that I picked along the way.

This is the one of the weirdest posts I’ve ever written, but the more time I spend with youth workers the more I realise that many of these basic skills and understandings are just often missing.

Hopefully these aren’t too condescending, and hopefully for some people they may be helpful too. Enjoy!

1. Make peace with the reality of your role

As a youth worker in the West, you should consider yourself a missionary. Your work primarily will be finding and winning souls in a culture foreign to your own. There is frugal mindset that comes along with being a missionary, and an acceptance that you’re not going to be exactly like the people who surround you. Thrift stores should be your friend and an old car your chariot.

I see many youth workers who still aim for the idyllic lifestyles of families with different resources surrounding them and assuming that’s what ‘normal’ looks like. Dates, houses, cars, strollers, supermarket choices etc. all try to follow in these lines. As a missionary you need to budget robustly, spend creatively, and prioritise clearly.

2. Don’t buy anything on credit

Every time I go to a youth worker gathering, I find myself wondering how so many fellow workers are driving newer cars. Then there’s top phones, branded clothes, and planned holidays. I’m one of the slightly better paid youth workers in the UK, which still means I take home less than an entry level teacher – so how are my brothers and sisters doing this?

In some cases, it could be two sources of income, generous gifts, or well-planned savings, but it’s unlikely to be these across the board. I started to ask around and it turns out that so much of it is bought on credit. Little is actually owned, and variable debt is piling up beyond the means to pay it back.

I think this comes from not having the mindset of the missionary and assuming that were supposed to be just like everybody else – and thus have what everybody else has. If at all possible then, avoid buying anything you don’t need to on credit. Consider, for instance, that buying a mobile phone out right – even brand new flagships – then having a sim-only contract works out at almost half the price of a ‘free’ phone under a regular contract.

Credit promotes false economy and dictates financial terms for years to come for the promise of instant fixes.

3. Become a jack-of-all-trades

Creativity goes a long way financially, and as youth workers, we should really be rocking this:

  • Learn some basic mechanics and maintain your own car. YouTube is your friend.
  • Use comparison websites, understand vacation calendars, and book ahead.
  • Look for, save, and use coupons.
  • Know how to squeeze the most from your computer – update the hardware and keep the software clean.
  • Spend some time learning about different bank systems, savings accounts, investments, and long-term interest.
  • Know which shops sell which products at the best prices – even if this means doing the weekly shop in four different places.
  • Know which days and hours in a week are the best times to find bargains.
  • Don’t pay people to ‘make things easier’. Learn how to do things yourself.

4. Save anything

For the longest time I said that we couldn’t save until we were out of debt. I then said we couldn’t save until we are in “a better place financially”. Both of these what are based on misinformation and poor assumptions.

Sending a standing order, even just £5 a month, into a savings account is worthwhile. By the end of the year, £10 a month might pay for Christmas. My wife and I started off with two very small savings accounts, with ludicrously small standing order amounts. The first would cover spending on holidays, or birthdays that we forgot about; the second we would never touch unless in an absolute emergency. Even the silly small amounts have made a difference to our budgeting and planning. We also save loose change in a jar for the occasional take-out or treat. The best thing about this is it’s not money we factor in and so it doesn’t affect our budget.

5. Budget everything

Have a look through your last year of accounts and find out everything you spent on beyond direct debits and standing orders. Chart all these out and put up some budget boundaries.

Just about everything we spend comes out of a carefully planned budget. Food, hygiene, coffeeshops, appointments, entertainment, streaming services, fuel – everything possible is budgeted! It even includes a little bit for pocket money and date nights. This took a long time to get right, but it’s so worth it.

6. Give cheerfully

A think it’s a biblical principle to give out from all we receive – and not to wait to give until we are able. My wife and I give regularly, in small amounts through standing order, and less regularly in large amounts a couple of times a year.

I believe it’s a poor and unfaithful decision two wait to give until you ‘feel’ secure. Although there are many ways of giving, it’s too easy to count out financial stewardship through fear.

7. Receive gratefully

Enjoy gratefully the help you get from friends, family and church. Speaking gifts, dinner at people’s houses, babysitting, old cars, or even help gardening are wonderful expressions that we should not be too proud to receive when offered cheerfully.

These things shouldn’t come with strings attached, and you shouldn’t let yourself create guilt-burdened links because of them. Say thank you, be thankful, and receive gratefully.

8. Shop smartly

EBay, facebook, gumtree, and charity shops are your friends. Don’t always buy new and know how to shop smartly. Read reviews carefully and make sensible choices for what you really need.

Last year I bought a new phone, and I really wanted a good one. I needed long battery life, durability, and a solid camera. Everyone was telling me to buy the new Samsung flagship, however, after careful reviews I bought the LGG6. Because this came at the same time as the Samsung, it was overshadowed by it, and was therefore much much cheaper. No one wanted it even though the package was almost identical, and in some areas better.

This also goes two ways, sell what you don’t need regularly. Don’t horde, and keep cash moving.

9. Automate it

If you’re like me, then you might be a little bit reckless, impulsive, and fearful when it comes to money. Setup standing orders and direct debits so you never forget to pay bills, pay off debt, save, and budget.

Automate everything so you’ll never get late payment fines or unplanned overdraft fees. Don’t just trust memory; instead use the systems that are available to you.

10. The best things in life are free

Enjoy the good things that don’t cost. Hang out with friends, go for walks, take up healthy sports that don’t require memberships or much equipment. There is a lot to enjoy in life that doesn’t require money – just a joyful spirit and a little creativity.

Enjoy – remember that we’re just passing through. 🙂

 

Should Dr. Jordan Peterson be a role model for Christian youth workers?

Jordan Peterson. Is he the opium for the masses of yesteryear – fighting a last hurrah for traditional masculinity before it plunges into the abyss? Or is he the the national self-help coach, strapping a pseudo-understanding of a plethora of human interest topics onto his otherwise robust portfolio of clinical psychology (with grey tape and bungee chords), and hoping that no-one noticed? Is he a misunderstood messiah, or troubled and troubling? Who is he, and do we really want to learn from him?

Upfront I want to say that I like Jordan Peterson – mostly. I’m not a lobster t-shirt wearing ‘bucko’, as his more effusive fans are affectionally called. I’ve read ‘The 12 Rules for Life’ and, despite being written in uninspiring prose, it does have a lot of well-tested, sensible ideas to take away. I’ve also listened to many of his interviews and lectures, and have learned much in the process. Some of it I liked straight away, other parts challenged me directly and won me over eventually. I respect that, however unpopular his ideas might be, he engages in calm and collected reasoning, allowing anything to be discussed on the table as long as it is presented respectfully.

I think Dr. Peterson is helpful on the legal issues surrounding gender pronouns, helpful on the need to do stuff and not just yell about stuff, helpful on compassionately responding to suffering, and helpful on taking responsibility. I think he is less helpful on conspiracy theories, less helpful on equality (although that’s a mixed bag), less helpful on social order, and less helpful on developing community.

From a Christian perspective, there are some specific problems to navigate through. These are issues that need to be taken on board very carefully before we surrender our own reasoning abilities to his. Dr. Peterson is becoming a role model for many ministers of the Gospel, but some caution is needed before getting too caught up in his approach.

Tread Carefully

I’ve just finished an MA in the hopes of soon starting a PhD, and – although I did well – one of the most consistent pieces of feedback that I received from professors is that my analysis is good but my conclusions are often overstated. I wonder if the same can be said for Dr. Peterson?

When you listen to Dr. Peterson question, dig, differentiate, clarify, and present clinical studies as evidence – he is on fire! His critical reasoning abilities, especially in the line of hostile debate is incredible. His analysis is often spot on, sourced properly, and undergirded with a startling, well-honed talent for critical thinking.

His conclusions, however, often jump wildly to something that can be completely left field. His credibility was built during the analysis, which – guard now dropped – makes us accept his conclusions all too readily.

The underlying problem is that he is looking for the ‘true’ meta-narrative of the universe without actually knowing God. He is attempting to find this ultimate truth in the orbits of myth, legend, ancient story, classical philosophy, and even the Bible. These, however, all surround an aura of an idea that he hasn’t properly grasped or digested, thus are all held with equal weight.

Dr. Peterson is looking for an ultimate ethic; an absolute foundational set of principles to guide humanity, but without a living relationship with the living God. This means that he is working from the outside in – getting close, but misunderstanding the weight of his evidence, and thus missing the truth.

Without a fundamentally Christian ethic he can only get close, but not actually get on point.

What does this look like?

His idea of the divine results in an Eastern balance of equal and opposite forces – almost karmic. The yin-yang is his meta-type metaphor that he uses to explain the chaos and order which battle in the world. This stems from a serious lack of understanding of the nature of sin (the actual bringing of chaos), and the character of God (ultimate order).

His conclusion is balance (over equality), and with this comes an acceptance of suffering as a part of life, helped only by the masses individually trying to correct unjust situations.

There is a lot of admire in this, but ultimately it is a pure form of humanism, and not compatible with Christianity.

Aspects missing from Dr. Petersons worldview – but clear in Jesus’ – are things like:

  • Ultimate sacrificial love
  • Servant-hearted leadership
  • An honour in humility
  • Seeking to be last in order to be first
  • Dependence upon God
  • Seeking the goodness of others above personal success
  • An end to suffering – ultimately
  • Chaos solved by surrender to, not creation of, order

This is not to say that Dr. Peterson isn’t immensely compassionate, and fiercely ethical. I believe he is. Christian ethics, however, cannot be tamed by conventional wisdom, or dammed by conventional fears. The God-man, Jesus, demonstrates the perfect picture of leadership that runs counter to the ideas of self-actualised success as presented (at least in my understanding) of Dr. Peterson’s work.

Some of this comes down to him being a traditional scientist, measuring all evidence with equal weight as is responsible to the method. Thus the Bible is put alongside other sources rather than above it. Some of this, however, also comes down to a poor understanding of the Bible. When he does quote from Scripture, he seems to cite odd scholarship and rather mess up fundamental exegetical methods. Finally, I think some of this comes from a dark worldview that is strongly reactionary (and rightly so) against the Communist atrocities of the last century – particularly in Russia and China. He sometimes just seems a little without hope.

We do, therefore, need to tread carefully when mirroring Dr. Peterson’s worldview. This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t learn from him.

What can we learn from Dr. Peterson

Going back to his analysis, I think that the most important takeaways from Dr. Peterson is both his critical thinking ability and his calm response to conflict.

Critical Thinking

I believe that critical thinking is one of the most undervalued aspects of early education. Throughout high-school (in the UK at least), the emphasis is placed on the memorisation of facts, rather than on the discovery of them.

This in turn has deeply effected our evangelism. I guess that almost half the questions that I’m asked by young people would never have been asked in the first place if they were taught how to think. Misplaced stereotypes and new-atheist propaganda has been swallowed hook, line, and sinker, as if it was candy rather than a barb.

When we are asked a question, our natural response is to answer it – either as stated or as categorised as something we’ve heard before. Neither of these, however, might actually answer what the asker was interested in.

Instead, when asked a question, Dr. Peterson, clarifies the question. He asks a question back (or twelve), not to avoid, but to focus. In doing this he better understands the question, shows more respect for the person asking the question, and he starts to find holes in the assumptions given within the quesiton.

Take this question for instance:

‘If God exists why is there suffering and evil?’

There’s a question we’ve all heard many times, and we probably have a stock answer ready to roll. However, using critical thinking and being a little Socratic about it, we can have a much more effective answer. How about responding to that with one of these:

  • Why do you think suffering and evil means God can’t exist?
  • What kind of God are you talking about?
  • What kind(s) of suffering and evil are you talking about?
  • How would you do it?
  • Can you think of any way suffering happens for a good reason?
  • Are you struggling with something right now? Do you want to talk about that?

A little bit of critical thinking reveals that this question doesn’t challenge God’s existence at all. Instead it brings up whether or not someone likes the idea of God, which is a much weaker – but more honest – position.

This effects our Bible studies and talks too. If we only ask closed-ended questions, or speak at young people, then we won’t be training them to discover truth for themselves. What about printing off Bible verses, and letting young people try their hand at some exegetical tools for themselves? What about getting them to first write a Bible study and then deliver it?

Critical thinking is gold, because we love and serve a reasonable God. He wants us to think, and He wants us to discover Him.

Calm under Conflict

If you watch Dr. Peterson when he comes under fire in an interview or debate, you’ll notice a few things.

First, his posture doesn’t change. He stays leaned back, with his hands folded.

Second, he doesn’t loose eye-contact. He stays connected at a personal level.

Third, his tone, although firm and direct doesn’t gain an overly aggressive edge. He remains respectful.

Fourth, he listens critically, doesn’t interrupt, and takes a minute to understand and clarify. He processes his answer carefully.

If you watch me, however, especially at my worst, then you’ll see me do all the opposite of these things! I lean in, I fidget, I interrupt, I look anywhere but at the person’s face, I speak erratically and defensively, I say off-the-cuff things or placating things, and I speak too quickly without digesting properly. Bad!

This is one of the main reasons he wins his debates, but is also one of the main reasons he is respected. He shows respect and remains calm and thoughtful when under conflict.

He can be slightly less reasonable when the person attacking him is rude and unnecessarily aggressive – which is fair enough really. However, as we work with teenagers and in churches, we may need to dial up our tolerance for this kind of behaviour.

So what?

Dr. Jordon Peterson, I believe, is a helpful figure in public discourse. He’s thoughtful, compassionate, helpful, and articulate. He thinks before he speaks and he listens carefully. He doesn’t dismiss the supernatural out-of-hand, and he believes in the power of story.

He does not, however, represent a Christian worldview, or present a complete picture of Christian leadership values as displayed in Jesus. Thus we need to tread carefully around his conclusions.

Dr. Peterson does provide us a wonderful role-model for critical thinking, and remaining calm under conflict. Both of these traits will, I believe, serve us very well in our ministries with young people. For that we should be thankful for him, and pray for him to come into a living relationship with Jesus.

The trap clause that all youth workers have in their contracts – and needs to be removed.

Endemic in the youth work world is employers who don’t really know why they want a youth worker. Most churches know that they want someone to work with young people – running Sunday schools, providing entertainment, organising camps, and doing some measure of discipleship – but beyond this, it all gets a little fuzzy.

If a church can’t answer the question ‘why do you want a youth worker’ with anything more generic broad generalities, then my suspicion is that they don’t really know what youth worker actually does, and how a youth worker will need to spend their time.

With such a limited understanding of a youth worker’s working week, and with pressure to justify the cost hiring one, a sneaky clause gets added into job descriptions. It usually runs like this:

‘Any other duty or duties that the pastor or elders deem necessary.’

And it’s everywhere!

I recently asked some professional Christian youth workers whether they have a similar clause in their contract – all of whom did. Here’s what it looks like for them:

‘Other duties as assigned’

‘Other duties as found applicable.’

‘Yes and it’s been crazy trying to say no. It’s a trap clause.’

‘Oh yeah! And I’ve realized that can entail so much.’

‘We have the other duties as assigned clause as well. They include hospital visits, handy work around the church, senior adult outings, and many other things that don’t always equal youth ministry. Throw in to that mix the fact that I am children’s pastor as well, and yea, time can be sparse’

‘That or, “Youth and Associate Minister.”’

‘Ah, yes… youth pastors can wear many “hats.” … I don’t mind doing other things so long as they don’t begin competing for time where my focus needs to be… youth ministry. Learning to say, “No” is big!’

In my time helping churches hire youth workers, I’ve never seen a contract that did not have this clause in some form or another. It’s everywhere!

So what’s the problem?

When I was working my first full-time youth work position, this sneaky little cause in my contract could easily account for between 40% and 60% of my working week.

I had three-hour staff meetings every Monday morning with the two Ministers, which required my input for maybe 20 minutes at most. This met in my office, and set the tone for my week. Off the back of this, I would often have to you organise prayer meetings, home-group gatherings, music, lifts, and often with no warning or preparation time. This regularly bleed into my days off – which, as you can imagine, were rarely taken.

Because I was still trying to perform my youth work job, this stuff was piled on top of what I was supposed to be doing. This meant that I was regularly working 70 hour weeks.

After a year of this, I raised it as an issue with my senior pastor. His slight impatient response was this:

‘Well, we all do that Tim. That’s just ministry!’

As a result I was always tired, always forgetting things, always navigating conflict, and spiralling quickly towards burnout. After nearly four years of decreasing health, and acting on the advice of a doctor, I sought another position – and almost quit youth ministry all together.

Now this was nearly ten years ago, and it is a particularly extreme example. It should also be nuanced by the fact I was too young and inexperienced to battle for my time properly, and I actually wasn’t line-managed in all the time I was there.

It does, however, flag up the potential dangers of the ‘any other duties’ clause. I have also since seen many youth workers burned out with similar stories. It has got to stop.

How to fix it… or at least start to

Some of the youth workers that I spoke to saw the necessity of a clause like this when working for small churches with under resourced teams. Some even enjoyed the added experience that came from these additional jobs. However, all of these said that it should be for a specific, pre-agreed, maximum amount of time. For instance, they said that the ‘other duties’ clause should account for ‘no more than 5% of a working week.’

This is not a bad idea, however, I have a slightly different answer:

Just take it out.

There is no practical or legal reason this clause is required in a contract. If it’s in your contract, request a conversation with your manager about removing it. If you’re about to hire someone, don’t put it in in the first place.

The ‘other duties’ statement is a trap cause, as someone said above, and as such is a recipe for abuse. It demonstrates a serious lack of understanding by the church of their youth worker’s week, and gives contractual, legal permission to burn out a fellow minister of the gospel.

This is not ok.

I do believe that youth workers should be actively involved in their church outside of youth ministry; but that it should be voluntary and given as an act of service. It’s a pastoral issue, therefore, and not a contractual one.

If you hire a youth worker properly, and line-manage them clearly, then you won’t need to dictate their priorities. A quality, well-supported and well-managed youth worker will develop ministry that integrates with the wider church naturally. Making sure they’re in line and supportive of the church ethos and mission will work without needing to leave a hook in.

So, please please please let’s get rid of the ‘other duties’ clause – and see if we can’t extend the health and longevity of our youth workers by a few years, eh?

Thanks 🙂