Ding Dong the Book is In

So, you may have wondered where youthworkhacks sneaked off to over the last week or so, and why you’ve not heard anything new about the quirky world of youth ministry.

Well I’ve (Tim) been writing a book, and it was due to the publishers yesterday! Mission accomplished, I sent it on time.

‘So whats the book about Tim?’

I’m glad you asked. 😛

The book is currently called ‘Rebooted’ and its all about taking youth ministry back to the factory settings found in the Bible.

Have you ever thought about youth work in the Bible? Was it a practice, was it a real thing – or did we just make it up it like we ‘invented’ adolescence and the Macarena?

I think that if you look through the pages of the Bible, however, you will be pleasantly surprised! You’ll find specific young people’s work, youth workers, mentoring programs, teenage-specific object lessons, and even Nerf wars! O.k. I may have made that last one up, but I still believe that you can find a pattern of youth ministry in the Bible.

This is that book. It goes through the whole Bible piece by piece and brings out eight essential principles for Bible-driven youth ministry. I call these principles supracultural – which is a really posh and snobby way of saying that they should always work, regardless of the time or culture or language you find yourself in. They’re foundational, so should always be important, whatever shape your youth ministry takes.

It now goes through – what I imagine will be – a grueling editing process. I’m preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best! So please be praying for my heart, mind, faith, and dignity to still be intact by the end of it. Thank you!

Over this next week I’ll be writing a paper on the theology behind incarnational youth ministry – so I may still be a wee bit elluisve. However, fear not! Once that’s handed in, I’m all yours! (Well, I’m Gods, my wife’s, my ministry’s … and then yours – but I fit a lot in to my weeks!).

See you soon!

t.

 

YouthWorkHacks has been nominated for two awards!

Last year it was an amazing privilege to be nominated for the Premier Digital Awards, Most Inspiring Leadership Blog – and then an enormous surprise to win it among so many fantastic blogs. This year I’m blown away to be nominated for two awards:

This, again, is amazing! Big thanks to everybody who nominated the blog – you guys n’ gals are awesome.

In the meantime, check out the fantastic talent that has been nominated alongside me:

Multi-Author Blog of the Year:

Clarity Magazine

yesHEis

Girl Got Faith

More Precious

Most Inspiring Leadership Blog:

Apples of Gold

Martin Salters Blog

Speak Life

The Additional Needs Blogfather

 

Again – these are awesome blogs, and it’s fab just to be seen on the same page as them.

Watch this space everybody! 😀

 

Please everyone? Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.

It’s really hard in youth work to juggle everyone’s expectations, hurt feelings, and mixed theologies. I totally try though, and I think it’s really worth learning how to get on peacefully with everybody. Some things are worth the passion, and the pain, and the fury – and some things are just not; and it’s those things we get stuck on. The little upsets that I think we spend a lot of our energies on. It’s also usually those things we can’t change.

This evening (yesterday now… as I’ll be publishing this tomorrow – which is now today! Hey!) I dropped one of my team members off home. It was about 8.50pm, and we stayed outside her house for about five or six minutes chatting about the day (it’s her birthday!). I noticed an elderly lady poking her head around the curtain, so I thought I must be bothering her with my headlights, so I turned them off.

After that she came outside, leaned on her face and stared at us. I said to my friend that she looked like she was going to start yelling at us so we should probably call it a night. We said good bye and I started to drive away.

On leaving, this tiny little elderly lady said something obscene and gave me the ‘up yours’ sign.

Perturbed, I reversed back, pulled my window down and asked if everything was ok. I asked a couple of times and she just ignored me – so I drove on home.

I was so upset!

Angry, confused, miffed, and totally weirded out.

I was sad and I wanted to go back and talk to her. Find out what went wrong and help change her mind about it. Tell her I’m a nice guy – a Christian youth worker just trying to get a female colleague home safely. Then I prayed. I told God how I felt and I prayed for this little old lady. Then I started to let it go, and arrived home.

Sometimes you just can’t please people. You can’t change how they feel or reverse how they think. Sometimes you’re just giving yourself away by trying. Hand these times and these people over to God; continue to be faithful to His calling on your character and push through to the positive:

You are a child of God, saved by grace alone, divinely adored and yet living in a hostile world. And that’s ok.

Grace goes a long way afterall.

Tomorrow, I’m going to sneakily leave some flowers on her doorstep and a note that says, “I’m sorry I parked outside your house last night when dropping a friend off home. I didn’t mean to upset you so. I wish you all they best!” I hope that little act of peace-making brings some measure of joy to an obviously hurt, vulnerable, and frightened woman.

It’s the best I can hope for – and whether or not she likes or accepts the gesture, it will have no bearing on, or power over me any more. I am a child of God, saved by grace…

…and I can’t please everyone.

Dear Youth Worker, keep hold of yourself

I think one of the hardest battles that I’ve had to consistently struggle through in youth ministry is keeping hold of myself.

From the day you interview, through to meeting the kids for the first time, sitting in Eldership meetings, and talking with concerned parents, you are constantly working with varied and changing expectations. You listen actively, you discern the needs, and you respond with the subtitles required to pacify, subdue or waylay the particular ethics on the table. This can often mean keeping yourself in a constant state of pliability.

After years of this, I wonder how many youth workers today feel like their identity is spiritual putty – or in consistent flux. Foundationally wobbly, this youth worker becomes an increasingly good actor, increasingly desperate for internal stability, and increasingly fearful of being ‘found out.’ At it’s worst, this becomes a hollowed out shell with Nike labels and an iPhone.

The sense of this is hauntingly familiar in Johnny Cash’s rendition of the song ‘hurt.’

Very very rarely a strange things happens in music: A song actually changes ownership from the original writer to a new cover artist. I can think of two, maybe three times that this has happened. Hurt was written by Nine Inch Nails, but was redone as a stripped-back acoustic cover by Cash just a year before he died. The last lines wobbled out in his aged, baritone voice as,

‘If I could start again,
a million miles away,
I would keep myself,
I would find a way.’

Hidden in these notes is a strong sense of personal history. A fear of wasted time, and loosing touch with who he could or should have been. You feel these words testimonially deep – you know he means them.

Sometimes I feel a whisper of that same fear in me: Do I really know who I am. Have I kept a clear hold of myself? Have I spent so long trying to navigate the many expectations that I forgot somewhere who I am?

The answer this this – and any identity crisis – is not to look inward. That’s the humanist, or enlightenment (or dare I say millennial) approch. The answer is to look to Jesus Christ. Our identity is discovered and shaped by our proximity to Him. Our nearness to Jesus sculpts us like marble.

Dear youth worker: Keep a hold of yourself… by keeping a hold on to Him.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

YouthWorkHacks in America

Hey! Where have you been YWHs?

Sorry folks – I’ve been in America for the last few weeks. I’m now sat in a motel room on the edge of Sacramento, California, on a quintessential motel duvet, after having a shower from what looked suspiciously like the one from Psycho.

Before arriving here we had spent a week in a tent in Yosemite National Park hiking, and then we were in the Santa Cruz Mountains before that hanging out with the In-Laws – which included a couple of cats, seven miniature horses, and two incredibly fractious chihuahuas.

So, sorry I’ve not posted for a while! We’ll be remedying that soon. However, I thought I’d leave you with a brief encouragement.

While visiting my wife’s old church I came across two young people that I’d spoken to on a camp here in California about eleven years ago. Both are still part of the church, and both still going strong following Jesus. I had a good long chat with each of them and realized that I had – in a small way – been part of God’s work in their lives.

This is now the second time that I’ve had a significant encounter with a young person years after my ministry influence in their lives. I had no idea at the time of ministry just how God was using me and how it would form a piece of their Christian lives for the long haul.

Being able to have these moment where God shared just a little with me about how I was involved is precious. It reminds me to treasure the time I have with my young people now – and to not underestimate what God can do with these passing ministry moments.

Anyway – I’m off to a Wedding now in Nevada City. See you all soon!

Dear Pastors, please protect your youth workers

Over the last few years I’ve been collecting stories of youth workers who have had terrible times in their job because the pastor didn’t know how to properly mediate between the worker and the church.

A year after starting in full-time youth ministry, I had my very own initiation to this issue. I had run my first very large holiday club and someone on the team had decided to create, distribute, and compile people’s feedback of the event. That was a good idea!

What this person actually did, however, was to take in the feedback forms, distill all the ‘good’ feedback into 4 very clipped bullet points, then proceed to berate me across several full pages of prose. It was clearly their own perspective, rather than a compilation of feedback. It was also deeply personal, it was heavily exaggerated, and frankly it was legally slanderous.

To make matters worse, they circulated their heavily biased report to forty members of the church leadership and holiday club team. This included several young teenage helpers.

It wasn’t sent to me. Instead, I found out about it when three young people came to me incredibly upset, saying they never wanted to serve in that church again. They didn’t just disagree with the feedback, they were shocked that a Christian could speak so ungracefully about another person.

As a 21-year-old youth worker, I was totally broken. I took this to my two Senior Pastors who were equally shocked and dismayed. They went through the tirade with me point-by-point, to see whether there were actually some genuine areas that needed to be improved upon. Mostly it simply came down to producing earlier communication, and trying to print T-shirt logos straighter.

What didn’t happen, however, was any conversation with the person that compiled the feedback. They were not challenged or rebuked. They were not asked to produce the original forms. There not held accountable to what they wrote, and no further communication happened with the forty recipients of the report.

I was left very confused and totally vulnerable.

Not only did I feel abandoned, but the lack of response gave the person who made the report free license to continue to make my life difficult in the following years. They served in a position on the church council, and continually destabilised my work personally. They were individually responsible for the cancellation of some projects, they started to pool people into a gossip group against me, and they regularly sent me rude, upsetting emails.

This was ten years ago now, but it still smarts. There’s no closure and nothing that can be done about it now. It needed a firm, and properly directed response from the person charged with my care. But to maintain decorum, and out of fear, I was left without the protection of a Pastor.

This comes up now because I’ve just heard three more stories from great youth workers who have lost health, security, and jobs because the Pastor failed in one of their most basic tasks.

Dear Pastors…

I know you have a very difficult job, but get your priorities straight. Your first task is to be responsible for those under your immediate care. That’s your family, and then your team. Youth Workers have it hard. They are often young, inexperienced, with new families, and thin skin. Don’t train them to defend themselves from a congregation that they need to integrate within.

Sometimes, Mr Pastor, you have to be the bad cop, and take  very special care of those charged with looking after the most vulnerable members of your congregation.

Let’s get this one right.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

An open letter to Nitin Passi, CEO of Missguided reg. their ‘Send Me Nudes’ sign

Below is an open letter to the CEO of Missguided regarding a reckless sign put up in their Bluewater store.

Kudos to Rachel Gardner for finding this and bringing it to the youthwork community’s attention. Credit also to Rachel for starting this petition online. Please sign and share!

Please consider writing / tweeting to them yourselves. This is not a small issue, and it needs a big response!

On to the letter…

 

An open letter to Nitin Passi CEO of ‘Missguided’

Missguided HQ
Missguided Ltd,
75 Trafford Wharf Rd,
Trafford Park,
Manchester
M17 1ES
@Missguided
@Missguided_help

 

06 Aug. 2017

Dear Nitin Passo, CEO

I am a youth worker with over a decades’ professional experience working with teenagers and vulnerable young people.

I was horrified to learn that your brand store in Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent, has a large neon sign reading ‘Send me nudes X.’ It may be that you’re ignorant to either the sexual pressures of young people, or the law regarding sexting culture.

Young people are under enormous pressure to produce and send sexually explicit pictures of themselves via the internet and on their smart devices. Childline, the NSPCC, and the The UK Home Office classify pressuring young people to ‘send nudes’ as abuse.

Legally, asking a young person to ‘send nudes’ is asking them to engage in the creation and distribution of child pornography. Your sign, thus your brand, is complicit in that.

Legality aside; if you had spent any real time with a sixteen year old consumer who had followed your advice to ‘send nudes’, then you would witness first-hand the destruction that such a simple act creates. You would see the wake of broken relationships, emotional havoc, and intense bullying. You would learn about moved schools, social service involvement, police case numbers, and court hearings.

You would see childhood robbed in a moment of poor decision making. Your sign, thus your brand, is complicit in that.

As a brand marketing to the 16-35 year old female consumer bracket, having such a sign on your wall is simply shameful and reckless. You have a responsibility to liberate the girls to which you sell your clothing, helping them to feel empowered and stand against the abusive peer pressure they increasingly face.

Please. Remove this sign, and consider the awesome influence you have on the lives of young people.

In the meantime, I will continue to work with the young people you are treating so cavalierly, helping to pick up the pieces. I will also use my own influence to encourage young people to boycott your brand and affiliates.

Tim Gough

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!

42 Things not to say to a youth pastor, that have ACTUALLY BEEN SAID to youth pastors!

This is a genuine list of things said to real life youth pastors that should NEVER have been said to youth pastors! I had 73 responses, and deleted a bunch of repetitions.

Food for thought – please share and educate! 😛

  1. When are you going to get into proper ministry?
  2. When are you going to be a real pastor?
  3. It must be great to get paid to just play with kids!
  4. What do you do all week?
  5. What is your job, job? I mean like, real job, like how do you like you know make money?
  6. How about taking on the Children’s ministry too?
  7. God told me some things about you. But I’m not going to tell you what it was
  8. Why do you need a vacation? You just spent a week at camp with the students!
  9. Does you wife play the piano?
  10. I’m too old to help out with the youth group
  11. Can you fix my son/daughter?
  12. I have an old [*insert random piece of crap here]… you can have it if you pick it up… and maybe give a ‘token donation’
  13. We had to write a paper in class about our hero, so I wrote you’re name at the top…..then I couldn’t think of anything else to write so I erased it and wrote a paper about my dad instead
  14. You’re the youth pastor? I thought you were a student/new youth pastor’s son/married to the youth pastor.
  15. I know the deadline was last week but can I still go to camp tomorrow ?
  16. Oh I saw something on tv yesterday…was it Joel Osteen or was it Joyce Meyers…mmm Ill find it and send you a link.
  17. *End of the Summer,* Pastor says “You really need to work on getting your numbers up! Btw, our kids have ball games so we wont be there this week”
  18. *Kid gets scholarship to go to camp,* “Sorry, I wont be able to go to camp, we’re going to Disney that week”
  19. I won’t be at youth on Wednesday, I’m going on a first date to see Deadpool.
  20. You need to make those kids behave” – after the kids have been yelled at by that adult.
  21. So, do you play guitar? Can you sing? No? Are you really a youth pastor?
  22. Your messages are great and stuff, but they want to play more games.
  23. I’m not going to send my kid to student ministries because (while I’ve never checked your program out) I’m pretty sure all you do is play games and never open the bible!
  24. So when are you going to get married and have kids of your own?
  25. “Are you married?” “No..” “Oh, better get on that..”
  26. Well here’s the thing, the old youth pastor used to…
  27. The way we used to do things was…
  28. It worked when I was doing youth ministry (40 years ago).
  29. A parent concerned about the safety of a game lectures you for a solid 10 minutes saying “I think you need to pray about it” at least 7 times.
  30. We need you to start focusing more on the ‘core kids’ who’s parents tithe rather than the kids who come to church by themselves.
  31. The Youth Pastors’ job is the most important job in the church because it’s his job to go out into the community to find teenagers to bring into our church, and then their parents will come, and then they will tithe.
  32. “I didn’t know anything about that,” (after verbal announcements, social media posts, email, remind app).
  33. I see you’ve lost your razor.
  34. Are we doing anything fun tonight?
  35. Where is everybody?
  36. Could you recruit some kids to ____________ this weekend? We’re not going to pay them or anything, we just need some extra workers.
  37. Isn’t that what we hired you for? (Following a request for volunteers)
  38. Can you get my child saved at camp this weekend?
  39. (Parent, after child’s baptism), “well, your work is finished.”
  40. My son is doing this, this, this, this, this, this and that. I want you to talk to him about it but don’t tell him I told you.
  41. You’re 40? Isn’t it time you move on to something else.
  42. I thought you lived in the bell tower.

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.