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. 🙂

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… ish.

Hi folks. It’s great to be back! And a massively Merry Christmas to everyone.

It’s been a fabulous Christmas season here in North Wales working with the most amazing young people, and an incredible team. We’ve had Christingles with chips, movies with muppets, and even hobbit-starwars mashup nativities! (Really… but don’t tell New Line or Disney… shhh…)

To be honest though, this has also been the most difficult Christmas season that I can remember.

After a week of deadlines (book manuscript, postgrad essay, and magazine column), my brain effectively stopped working. I couldn’t read, write or even speak properly, and I was having flash headaches when looking at screens. This was then followed by a week of about nine different seasonal events and school assemblies. My cool exterior was starting to show cracks from the emotional underbelly that I usually keep comfortably hidden under a tonne of peat.

However, with the help of an indescribable God, an unbelievable wife, fabulous friends, and a servant-hearted team, I seem to be back on the mend.

It’s been a weird experience though. My brain has always been the muscle that I can trust when everything else stops working. Not being able to string a sentence together while navigating continual brain-fog was a totally new experience for me. I went through a few days of carnal fear. There was one point where I was afraid that I may have done some very real cognitive damage. It was horrible!

So what have I learned? Well, it’s too soon to tell really, but here’s a few things that have drifted to the surface…

– Humans really do have limits! That stinks.
– The brain can get hurt too. Look after it.
– Good people are worth many times their weight in gold. Treasure them.
– Taking time out to do nothing actually needs you to do nothing. So do nothing.
– You don’t always need to justify a reason to grieve in order to feel grief. Let yourself grieve uncritically.
– Proper food makes a difference to everything. Eat right.
– As does sleep. So sleep!
– God doesn’t want your quality, or your ability – He’s got plenty of that already; He just wants you. Be His.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Let’s stop telling future youth ministers to skip training!

(Sorry – slightly ranty post)

Over the past decade, Bible Colleges in Britain have really started to struggle getting people to apply. This has been most clearly seen in youth work courses. Not only have several large and well-established youth work training centres now closed, but many of the biggest Bible Colleges in the UK don’t even have a dedicated youth work teacher.

I find this really weird, because also over the past decade, loads of deep-thinking books and resources have come out on youth work. There is now a plethora of relational practice books, educational theory journals, and theological youth work PhDs published each year. The knowledge base is constantly growing. I thought we were just starting to get it?

Ministry Lite?

Youth ministry has been seen as ministry lite for a while now. From the outside it looks like underpaid, entertainment-driven purgatory, where a Nike-sporting young wannabe is waiting for ‘real’ ministry to start later. Only a cursory glance into the youth work world, however, would reveal just how many areas youth ministers need to be carefully developed in.

Youth ministers need to be trained theologically for sure; but they also need to understand HR, safeguarding law, project management, team development, conflict resolution, additional needs, mental health, and a mountain of other very specific, and vocationally professional areas.

Youth ministry is no joke. Done badly it can bring down a church, done really badly it can bring the entire Gospel into genuine disrepute. It’s now easier than ever to make these huge mistakes without even being aware of the issues that cause them.

So why are we so blasé about formal training?

Paediatric doctors will train for years. As will mental health nurses, psychiatrists, counsellors, sports coaches, and of course teachers. We see these as professions which require real training efforts. We take these seriously because they are all involved with the care of vulnerable young people. But wait – isn’t that exactly what we do in youth ministry?

Taking Youth Ministry Seriously

Youth work is no joke. It involves holistic care and theological security. Youth workers – especially those in lead ministry positions – need training. Experience alone simply doesn’t cut it; theological illiteracy is too epidemic, laws change too quickly, and young people vary too widely.

I’m not saying that youth workers need to be more intellectual or more academic. Not at all! We’re not running a school after all… but come on! A little hard effort into understanding complex issues and deep truths about young people goes for miles in ministry.

In most of my posts I’m totally on the youth worker’s side – but in this one I’m asking the impertinent question: What are you doing to show that you take your own ministry seriously?

Are you enrolling on courses, reading books, going to training regularly, and asking for a bigger budget to do just that? Do you know the options for degrees, further professional development, or even research? Do you know the gaps in your knowledge – and where to go to fill them? Are you intentionally putting yourself in situations where you’re challenged? Do you surround yourself with people smarter than you?

I really believe that youth workers should see their role as a calling – something long term. If you believe that’s you, then taking a few years (yes, years) out to do proper foundational training should be seen as an obvious thing to do.

Training doesn’t replace experience of course, nor should it eclipse your own reading, but you can build concurrently and afterwards. The first time I did a theology degree, I spent my free time volunteering in several youth projects – and worked part-time. It’s much easier to gain experience while training than it is to train while working.

Why would you not?

There are several routes into youth ministry, and many of them don’t require any formal training: Internships, apprenticeships, or graduating from voluntary work are often the most regularly travelled paths.

I love these options and I’ve seen some great youth workers come out of these routes too. However, these options often (if not always) leave signifiant holes that need to be plugged. They tend to be too particular, too basic, or too unaccountable.

When someone asks me about youth work training – and specifically about getting a degree – I always ask: why would you not?

Yes, some people hate the classroom and really don’t do well with traditional academic methods – but there is now so much choice in the UK for youth workers who feel just like this. There is also a wide range of funding options, distance learning courses, and timeframes to consider. You can usually discover a good fit if you are willing to put the effort into finding out.

There is also a lot of criticism levied against formal theological training: It’s not worth the money, universities are too hampered by their awarding bodies, youth don’t need another pasty-faced academic, I’d rather just be doing it, I can get all the same information from books etc. However, I’ve only ever heard these arguments from people who decided not to train. The Dunning-Kruger effect comes to mind.

The fact remains for me that the best youth workers that I’ve ever met personally are both well-experienced, and formally-trained. They didn’t feel like they we’re already ‘good enough’ to skip it and move on, and they didn’t feel like youth work didn’t deserve the time or the effort. They are all doing amazing work today that will long outlast them.

Is it always necessary to get a degree?

It probably sounds like I’m saying that right? Well, no it’s not… but I’d like us to start seeing degree-level-trained youth ministers as the norm rather than the exception. At the moment there are a lot less formally trained youth workers out there, and I’d really like to see that balance tip.

So there are genuine ways you should be able to go into youth ministry without getting formally trained – but I’d love to see that as the exception, not the rule. And I’d hope, if you are in that position, that you’d be looking for options as your ministry develops.

There are experiences, information, and learning environments that you just cannot get any other way – from people who are paid to stay up-to-date and informed – in a space designed for you to make lots of mistakes and ask lots of questions. Why would you not see that as the first option?

I kinda think about it like cyclists legs. Cyclists legs really creep me out; it’s like they have a chicken, or half a ham wedged into their calf, while the rest of their leg is super skinny. Experience might build a couple of big solid muscles, but training should give you what you need to develop everything in balance.

So get on it!

Formal theological and practical training in youth ministry is worth every minute.

Rather than asking ‘what else could I do’, start looking at formal, foundation training as the first option. You wouldn’t want a doctor working on you without proper training, or a mechanic working on your car with big gaps in their knowledge. Lets take youth ministry at least as seriously.

😛 That is all.

Rant over.

 

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Can you be a Christian and watch Game of Thrones? 5 Better Questions to Ask.

I’ve had a lot of these ‘can you be a Christian and…’ questions recently. Although they usually come less in the form of the genuine and curious, and more in the form of the judgemental and arrogant, thus ‘how can someone possibly be a Christian and…’

So lets’ break this down. Can you be a Christian and…

  • Watch Game of Thrones
  • Watch Deadpool
  • Read Harry Potter
  • Read Twilight
  • Like Rob Bell
  • Listen to Iron Maiden
  • Smoke
  • Swear
  • Not go to church
  • Have ginger hair
  • Support Blackpool Football Club?

Yes. Yes you can. The only action that can actually and effectually make you ‘not a Christian’ is denying Christ. We are saved by grace through faith, not by any other peripheral actions that we might or might not do.

Paul was a murderer who was saved by grace. David was a murder and a rapist, and saved by grace. I’m an ass – saved by grace.

So yes – it’s possible to ‘be’ a Christian and do all kinds of things. So let’s think about some other ways of considering the question:

1. Could it eventually steal your salvation?

Well, without getting into the ‘once-saved-always-saved’ debates, it’s worth noting that the Bible does distinguish salvation (coming into relationship with God) and sanctification (growing in that relationship with God).

In the same way that the wedding it not the marriage, and your partner might still marry you after knowing your darkest issues… she might reject you eventually if you make no effort to change them and grow once married.

Being addicted to pornography, for instance, can steadily pollute and corrupt a relationship, first through secrecy, then by objectifying your partner, and finally through rejecting their comforts in favour of the internet abstract. Thus the intimacy and commitment of marriage breaks down.

Indulging in areas that pollute your relationship with God can do exactly the same thing; leading you to know Him less, and eventually either reimagining Him into something He is not, or just rejecting Him altogether.

Does Game of Thrones do that? After reading the parents guide on imdb, I decided it would not serve my personal relationship with God, so I decided not to watch it.

2. Is it helpful?

Twice in 1 Corinthians Paul says that all things are permissible (saved by Grace right?), but not all things are helpful.

‘“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.’ (1 Cor. 6:12, ESV)

‘“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.’ (1 Cor. 10:23, ESV)

Both of these appear in the context of honouring God and not giving over to idolatry – including sexual immorality (ch. 6).

In the first verse Paul hints at becoming mastered, or under compulsion, or even addicted to something. There’s a lot of stuff that we indulge in that places us under compulsion and easily leads to addiction. This list includes porn, drugs, and gratuitous violence to be sure, but it also includes simple and mostly innocent things like sugar, exercise, food, cartoons, and action films. Anything that gives us a isolating comfort or an unnatural spike of dopamine in our systems can become addictive – and needs to be held accountable to our worship of God. Does Game of Thrones do this for you? It might – it might not. But it’s a good question to ask.

Another way of putting it might be like this: if it seems that giving something up for a while (fasting) would be a really hard, then you might be under its compulsion and possibly might need to be without it for a while.

In the second verse, Paul opens the net wider, pulling in the community in which we live and serve. Our passion, he said, should be to love and serve the world around us and support our neighbours. If watching or reading something subtly shifts our priorities consistently away from serving others to serving ourselves then it needs to be pulled back on.

I think you can add this to serving your partner too. Does my wife want me to be entertained by another woman simulating passionate sex acts? Is she served by me spending time enjoying the intimacy of private relationships with someone that is not her? Does this serve her or serve our marriage in any legitimate way? For us – I don’t think it would.

3. Can you honour and worship God with it?

Staying in 1 Cor. 10, Paul says that everything we decide to do should honour God as an act of worship:  ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (v.31, ESV). This idea is again repeated in Colossians; ‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (Col. 3:17, ESV).

So, crux time should be asking yourself whether or not you are able to engage with God at the levels of honour, worship, and self-sacrifice, for the building up of His glory, as you engage with something.

Again, I decided that I wasn’t able to do this by watching Game of Thrones. However, I also decided that it was doable for me reading Harry Potter. What do you think?

4. What if I’m just a ‘stronger brother’?

This comes from 1 Cor. 8, which is one of the more woefully mismanaged and misapplied verses in the Bible.

Paul is saying that those of you who have accepted grace enough to understand what food will and won’t effect your salvation should eat away – but not if it causes others still working through that process to struggle. The focus is not on you, but on your ability to love, serve, and help those who are working through different issues than you.

Frankly, its not for us to decide what we can get away with based on how ‘strong’ we think we are in comparison to others. The focus of that passage is on serving others. Deciding how much your faith can ‘tolerate’ before it corrupts is just a spiritual car crash waiting to happen.

5. What is I’m just trying to be relevant?

There’ll be a longer post on what actually makes us relevant coming soon, so watch this space. For now I’ll just say that the peripheral things that we think make us relevant actually give our relevancy a shelf life. Things that make us genuinely relevant don’t require us to expose ourselves to corruption, but more to the Holy Spirit.

So what?

We shouldn’t ever chose to do something because we can ‘get away with it’ – we should choose it because it draws us closer to God, builds up others, and helps us honour Him.

This, honestly, might include Game of Thrones for you. I, personally, cannot imagine how it could; but I know myself and not you.

Sometimes sacrificing something we enjoy is just the right thing to do if it means giving God that extra devotion, love, worship, and time. The question should never be ‘can I watch/do/read…’ but should always be ‘will this help me worship Him…’

Food for thought.

How many things can a youth worker squeeze into a year?

This year is shaping up to be pretty full on. The blog will be soon going through a complete overhaul and rebranding process, I’m studying (technically full time) for an MA in pioneering ministry, learning to snowboard, climbing the 3000 challenge again, doing Britain’s largest bungee jump, and still working for Youth For Christ! Oh, and I got my first tattoo. My wife and I have also joined the Banff Film team, and are aiming to open an online t-shirt store too. I’m also working with a publisher on a book! Full. On.

I’ve always been someone who needed a portfolio of activities to keep me motivated, but for the past couple of years I slowed that down thinking it was a sign of immaturity. I listened to the older, wiser voices of reason who perpetually encouraged me to settle down, and so I chose one or two things. I did indeed find myself settling, into deeper patterns of restlessness, boredom and depression.

Some people, I think, are just geared for activity. The pioneering spirit in them needs to keep moving. When I started to embrace this early last year I faked my way into becoming a freelance writer and designer, and had some incredibly wacky experiences. All of which helped me in my youth work! Well, most did. I then took an online course with Oxford University, and started to push out into more academic study.

The result was simply feeling more alive again! My blog won an award and started to get noticed more, the team really started to come together at work, and issues that had been buried, started to surface and be addressed head on. We joined a gym and started committing to people more broadly than we had before.

Who knows how this year will end, or what state I – or my wife – will be in at the end of it! For now, however, this simply serves as a short encouragement to push out if you feel a nudge of God.

I believe many youth workers are multipotentialites, and that we are living in a new Renaissance for creative people – a kick back against the right-leaning fear of the Western establishment. These youth workers need to be nurtured, and shouldn’t quickly be dismissed by the overflowing baby-boomer generations as simply unstable or immature.

Accountability is key, but living life on the edge with God is essential.

Let’s see how this goes!

The Top 8 Reasons Why Youth Workers Burn Out

Youth worker burnout is a very real issue. In the UK youth workers last an average of 2 years in a position, and around 3-5 years in total before throwing in the towel.

I spent some time with a great youth worker yesterday who has put some real energy into properly researching this dilemma, and has made some very helpful observations. He has agreed to write up his findings for us – so watch this space!

Now our appetite is whet, I thought I’d compile a list of what I think are the top reasons Christian youth workers burn out. Enjoy!

1. Expected to be each Biblical office

Is the youth worker an elder, pastor, teacher, apostle, evangelist, prophet, deacon, or overseer? The truth is that this will depend on the unique sensibilities of each role in context, however most youth work positions expect their worker to be most if not all of them!

The problem is that the gifts and personality types of an evangelist are very different to pastor-teacher. The same is true for elder and apostle, prophet and deacon – there is a reason they are distinct roles within the church, and why it’s unhealthy (for ministry and minster) to be all of them at once.

As a pioneer will be frustrated, and likely to cause damage trying to be a pastor-teacher, and an evangelist will not have patience for the polity behind eldership. You’re heading for an emotional car wreck trying to contort yourself into these positions.

2. Mixed or no accountability / management

A common problem youth workers complain about is an unclear line of management. In some cases the management structure can be so arbitrary that everyone in the church tries to fill the void and become ‘the boss.’

Parents, kids, elders, pastors, wardens, caretakers – can all try to hold you accountable to their own standards and particular sets of expectations, whether or not they are in your job description, or conflict with the other 300 people you are trying to please.

In other scenarios you have a line-manager, but in reality they are  really trying to mentor you. Or you have a line manager who is also the Senior Pastor, thus has conflicting aims when you meet.

In *this post* I argue for a threefold structure of manager, pastor and mentor, which – when communicated properly to a church – is surely the healthiest model.

3. Isolation

Youth workers are often mavericks, and can find themselves easily in the role of ‘lone solider.’ Timetables are full, friends are few, and most of the time is spent with people in a completely different stage of life than you.

Youth workers need friends who are totally unrelated to their work – and youth workers need to know other youth workers.

Making the effort to get to network days and training are essential, as is carving out the time for just going out with mates.

There’s a lot of lonely youth workers out there, lets take it seriously.

 

4. Unrealistic expectations

I was also told a story yesterday of a youth worker who was expected to double her youth group numbers in six months. Really? Then there are training manuals and courses that leave you with the impression that you should be ‘always on’ for the young people and ‘make every opportunity count.’

A lot of these expectations come out of poor management. Having real goals that genuinely make sense of working hours and are regularly evaluated is key. As is holding the youth worker accountable to their working week, holidays and days off.

Focus, identify clear objectives, work to your resources, build a healthy team, take your time off, have a life and settle in for the long haul.

5. Having no idea what they’re doing

This might be the biggest issue. Youth workers, let’s admit it, we don’t have a clue! We’re expected to understand and relate to the monstrous and mysterious beast known as ‘youth culture,’ develop professional plans to execute sophisticated projects, and hold in tension conflict, personality types and genuine spiritual needs, emotional abuse and organic community.

We are expected to be team managers and recruiters, teachers and trainers, counsellors and mentors, sociologists and missiologists, scholars and facilitators – and expected to look like we’re none of these things so we can ‘fit in’ with the young people. Usually a youth worker has up to 1 year of training to learn all these areas where genuine practitioners have spent half their lives in school to develop.

We don’t know what we’re doing!

This can be helped by defining the role and having realistic expectaitons. It can also be resolved through ongoing training, professional development and support. Mostly however, we just need to hold tight to the expert… which is God.

6. Forgetting who God is

This is, unfortunately, probably the saddest, but most frequent. It can be propagated by all the above, and exacerbated by a lack of genuine spiritual mentoring and accountability, but mostly it just results from being tired all the time.

In my experience youth workers tend to be badly trained in how to use their Bibles. This means a shaky foundation and an especially insecure problem-solving mechanism. Without having a solid understanding of where their role comes from, and what is needed when the rubber hits the road, the proof-texting they have grown up with tires and leaves them wanting.

The worst thing is starting to forget what God’s voice sounds like, so you stop recognising him when he leads, warns and protects you. The security fails, the passion dies up, you start to feel guilty, believe you’re a fraud – and give up.

The most important thing a youth worker should take seriously is their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Before you are a youth worker, you are a child of God. When that turns round – so does everything else.

7. Just getting bored

I sometimes wonder if the reason that youth workers come across as so wildly creative is that they’re just desperately trying to break the monotony.

On the surface, youth work looks like a lot of activity, and it is but I’ve found that for every hour of creative fun, theres two-three hours of planning and then at least an hour of cleanup. Because you’re working with volunteers, this can often be alone and repetitive.

Add to this a lot of written work, planning, management, conflict resolution and reporting, it can start to get to you. Then you need to consider that you are spending your time dialoging with people of a very different maturity and life experience, having the same four of five conversations.

8. Low pay

Ok, this is going to sound weird, ungrateful and materialistic – but it’s still true. Youth workers get paid usually less than entry-level teachers for a similar job, expectation set, and working hours; and we all know teachers don’t get paid enough!

There, of course, is a pastoral humility required for ministry, a lack of material desire, and I’m not sure that the youth worker should be paid more than most of the congregation. However, for such a stressful job, the low pay can put a massive amount of pressure on the youth worker’s family.

This can affect a lot of life choices: Does my spouse also need to work full time? Can we afford to have children? My biggest stresses throughout my youth work career has been a secure place to live (we’ve had to move six times) and maintaining a car (been through seven in five years). We also once went two years without more than a half a tub of hot water a day and no heating. With a very unwell wife, this was insane!

I know a lot of youth workers who survive off credit – lease-agreement cars, back-paying bills, and crazy mortgages – just so they can maintain a family alongside their work. I know it’s a difficult economy, but churches should carefully look into how their youth worker is living and consider the church’s responsibility for them.

3 Things A Youth Worker Learned In The Gym

I thought, for this post, that I would share a little bit of my recent story, and maybe pull out some unexpected lessons that I’ve learned.

Over the last decade my health took quite a knock. Tension headaches and migraines, lots of spontaneous fatigue and a very erratic sleeping patten. A couple of doctors told me it was just work related stress, which, as it made sense for a youth worker, I didn’t question. Even with treatment and a change of circumstances, however it wasn’t getting any better. In fact, it got worse.

I started getting dizzy with strange sudden feelings of vertigo, then I randomly would black out. Not so good! I bit the bullet and went back to the doctors. It turned out that the root cause is much simpler than stress – I have very low blood pressure due to being underweight.

I’m, in fact, very underweight. My bmi is around 18, rather than 20-22 where it should be. This puts me in a very close bracket to conditions such as anorexia. My body just doesn’t break down or store fats very effectively. This means I don’t retain any energy reserves, which – when linked to low blood pressure – just wipes me out.

The treatment for this began a year ago with big changes to my diet, the most significant of which was trying to consume 8000 calories a day. This was ridiculous! I can manage about 3500 on a good day, but any more than that and I’m risking other issues – and I just can’t do my job with constant nausea! Step two, therefore, was to get seriously stuck into the gym – which is where my little bit of hell began.

Enter The Gym

In the gym, I’m on a workout routine that blends exercises from both anorexia recovery programs, and super-human muscle mass gain workouts. No cardio, very little warmup, and big hit ‘heavy’ weights three times a week. I’m now on my fifth week and doing relatively well. I’ve not gained any weight, but I’m sticking at my higher average, which is a good sign, and I’m not randomly falling asleep in the middle of the day.

The gym doesn’t really sit with me as a ‘happy place’ though. It’s smelly, sweaty, inconvenient and incredibility good at poking all of my insecurities. I’m the only guy in the weight section that’s not already built like a tank!

After the first couple of sessions, however, the routine and the sense of personal challenge kicked in, and now it’s starting to make some measure of sense to me. Here are three (and a bit) unexpected lessons that I have learned so far.

1. Mobile Phone Bliss

I made a very early decision that the gym would be a mobile phone free zone for me. It’s just too tempting to do business or panic about something if I have it. For the 5 minute walk from my house and back, and for the 45 minutes I’m there, I am mobile phone pure.

These three weekly hours represent the single longest times in my week without my phone. That’s no access to calls, messages or emails. No evernote and no calendar. For the first few sessions, this was horrible. Like kicking an addiction, my hand kept reaching for my pocket, but the phone wasn’t there. No constant undercover bubbling of panic or quick relief when I checked my notifications.

The gym has given me real time not connected to anybody. No one can get me, unless they pay to get in to see me! This has been a wonderful habit kicker, and has helped me prioritise my ‘check in’ times online much more sensibly the rest of the week.

2. Focus, Focus, Focus

I am a natural mental multi-tasker. I’m always thinking of some new idea – or panicking about some unfinished project or unfulfilled suggestion. If my mind wanders at the gym though, I get hurt!

It’s very hard to think ‘did I send that email’ or ‘I wonder if I used the right tone of voice when I spoke to x’ when you’re trying to lift weights that desire to kill you. If you take your mind off the suckers, they will tear your muscles to shreds!

The gym, has taught me in 5 weeks, what years of trying to contemplate Jesuit and Ignatiun mindfulness techniques couldn’t – to shut my mind off and just focus on the moment.

This has also transposed over into my life as I have recent and consistent mental-muscle memory of what single focus feels like.

3. Non-Work Related Commitment Is Really Healthy

I’m committed to my wife, and I’m committed to my job. Beyond that, I’m a bit woolly. I have hobbies – things that I like to do like painting and playing the guitar. Mostly, however, real person-development-based commitments only focused on what I get paid for or to whom I’m married. Sometimes it’s even hard to include God in that list, as my relationship with him is often so tied up with my ministry job.

Fifteen trips to the gym, however, and I’m finding a new commitment that has nothing (directly at least) to do with either my job or my wife. This has created a real sense of balance to the flavour of my life. A commitment that just focuses on health and personal growth has been fantastic – it’s reminded me that I’m valuable before I’m a husband or a youth worker. It’s made me more thankful and a little bit more receptive to my Dad in Heaven.

3-and-a-bit. Health Is Apparently Important!

I’ve been through clinical treatment for stress and counselling based therapy. You really do have to look after yourself to thrive at God’s plan. Your body is a temple that needs to be respected, and proper diet, sleep and exercise have such a huge impact on the chemical balances of your body and the acuteness of your mental processes.

Thus – you will be more receptive to God and a better youth worker if you look after yourself.

That said – working out sucks! 😛

Youth Work and Mental Health Pt. 1 – A Gentle Poke

When I was 14, one of my best friends was Daniel. I didn’t know Daniel was clinically depressed or that his random outbursts were actually early signs of bipolar disorder. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t normal that Daniel’s room only contained a mattress, a guitar and a pile of black hoodies. All I knew was he was fun and unique to be around, and that he had an unusually broad talent for music.

We drifted apart over the years, which meant it came as a bigger shock when he was found in a flat, dead at age 23, after swallowing a mix of alcohol and methadone.

Daniel was a disruption to the classroom environment. He was always in trouble and – as far as I knew – had no-one working with him to identify or work with his root causes. To me though, Daniel was just a mate who I’ll never see again.

I’d like to think that I’m a passionate advocate for the mental health world. At least I believe that we neither spend enough or research enough to develop treatment for those who really struggle. Classrooms are simply not geared for it, and the health service doesn’t really step into that gap. Self medicating is all too often the only option that seems available.

I also truly believe that the Church is supposed to define and lead culture – that we should be setting the trends, making the calls and leading the charges. Can we then, as youth workers and as Church develop programs that specifically work with young people during the early signs of mental health issues? Can we cultivate a culture in our programs that leaves room to observe, identify and even treat young people who are going through these struggles?

Daniel was my mate, but there was at the time no language to discuss these problems, or develop an awareness that this could be happening to someone I knew. The language is more available today, but I’m not sure if we’re any closer to implementing real, culture-saturating change.

Bill Hybels said “the local church is the hope of the world.” Can we be this hope that the world is so desperately craving? Daniel’s mum said, “I hate to think another young life could be wasted as tragically as Daniel’s has been.” Can we be the answer to her prayers?

Please, talk to your young people regularly and clearly about mental health. Talk to your team about how to organically identify and respond to needs. Finally, lets keep talking to God – crying out to him for healing and restoration; for the redemption of a culture that lifts up the broken and downtrodden, and helps all people live a life to the full as Jesus taught (John 10:10).

Writing, Research & Study – What’s Going On?

Summer is always a quiet time for the blog – too much going on with everybody! This year has been even more inordinately so, which leaves me – once again – grovelling with apologies and explanations of where I’ve been!

First off, I’ve had a booklet agreed with a publisher on a Biblical Model for Youth Work. This is exciting, but the first draft is due early October, and I’ve only just really started serious work on it in the last fortnight. Watch this space though, because if they like what I’ve produced, we could be moving along for a publication date next year.

Secondly, I’ve been accepted as a member of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry (IASYM), which is cool – but opens up a whole new wing to my portfolio and time-constraints.

Finally – I finished a part-time philosophy course at Oxford, and decided I wanted to keep studying. I’ve enrolled on a distance learning MA at Cliff College on Mission, Pioneering Ministries and Fresh Expressions.

Mix this with the September launch of my own projects, and a lot of movement in my team, it has left YouthWorkHacks sadly wanting!

More will come though! Please don’t loose touch 🙂

Tim