The Heart-Breaking Side of being a Long-Term Youth Worker

I’m a huge advocate for youth ministry as a long-haul vocation, rather than a one-stop ride on the way to ‘proper’ ministry. We’ve got to dig in, get comfortable, and prepare for a real journey.

There is, however, a darker side to being in it for the long haul, one we don’t often talk about in the wake of trying to keep people from giving up. In a nutshell it’s this: people leave.

Friends to but not friends with

When you are ministering to young people it is important to remember that you’re not their mate. You can be a friend to a young person, but not a friend with a young person. We’re not their peers (that would be creepy), and as adults with duty-of-care, we need to exercise healthy boundaries that are stricter than the average friend.

All that said, you do grow to like young people. You spend a lot of time with them laughing, making memories, opening up, being supportive; and many of them – over the long haul – mature into fully fledged adults. I can honestly say that I’m now friends with several adults who used to be in my youth group when they were younger.

These are the first of two groups who leave.

When friends move away

When kids become adults, they do things like go to university, get jobs, and move away. This has happened to me more than a few times now, and it’s a sad recurring story.

When you have invested so much into a young person – who then grows into a healthy adult – a bond is made and the relationship can easily grow into an adult friendship. Then quite suddenly there’s marriage, new families, and jobs far away. It’s always sad to see friends go, and there’s a bittersweet irony when these friends used to be young people to whom we invested so much into their maturity into adulthood.

 

When young people drift away

It’s not just these maturing young adults that leave. Over my years as a youth worker I’ve seen many young people come and go. In some cases, these young people stayed around for just one week, but in others they were around a year or so then drifted off without a word.

Sometimes they fell out with God, other times they fell out with me. In some cases, there was an issue at home, a tragedy, or just a change in personality. Whichever way, young people often leave.

The longer you spend in youth ministry the more you look back over the names and faces that you no longer see. There are good memories to be sure, but there’s also grief and loss.

This is the other side of long haul youth ministry that we rarely talk about – and it’s important to remember that we’re not alone. Considering how isolated youth ministry can be, this feels like we should prepare for this more.

How do you handle the loss?

I’m not entirely sure, as I’m only just realising that this is a thing in my life, however I offer up a few simple suggestions to get us started.

  • Let yourself grieve
    It is important to genuinely feel what you’re feeling and to allow yourself to move through the stages of sadness.
  • Make an event of people leaving when you can
    Closure goes a long way and celebrating a young person’s movement into adulthood is incredibly affirming for them.
  • Keep in touch
    Be realistic, but keep a few details and drop a ‘hello, how are you?’ every now and then. It will be valuable to both of you.
  • Remember that it’s hard for them too
    You’ve been a significant part of their life, and you too will be stepping out of their world.
  • Keep healthy boundaries
    Goes without saying, but make sure you do move through your ministry with the right measure of strict and organically reactive boundaries to keep the relationships in safe areas.
  • Pray for them
    Give thanks to God for them, and them let Him have them completely.

Premier Digital Finalist for the 3rd Year!

It’s really exciting and humbling to be going to the Premier Digital Awards again this year, after being shortlisted as a finalist for both the ‘Most Inspiring Leadership Blog’ and ‘Multi-Author Blog of the Year’ categories.

Huge thank you to everyone who nominated Youth Work Hacks, and a big thanks to Premier Digital for recognizing this humble little youth work blog!

It was amazing to win both of these awards last year, and particularly to win ‘Most Inspiring Leadership Blog’ for the second year running.

Do check out the other utterly amazing blogs in these categories – have I’d a wander through them all, and they are fabulous! Special plug to Chris Green’s ‘Ministry Nuts and Bolts’ which is fantastic… and he used to be my New Testament teacher at Bible College!

Most Inspiring Leadership Blog

Campus Awakening

Ministry Nuts and Bolts

Nick Wright

The Additional Needs Blogfather

Multi-Author Blog of the Year

Be Loved

Clarity Magazine

Girl Got Faith

Chapel

Living with insomnia as a youth worker

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with sleep.

Most nights I’ll drift off nice and easily, but then I’ll wake up at the smallest sound, and usually I’ll be wide awake by about 3am, only to have my tiredness return by 7am. This is always fun.

When I’m asleep I grumble, mutter, and grind my teeth. Sometimes I tell full-blown stories. In fact, this was one of the first things that my wife discovered just after we got married. One time, while fully asleep, I opened my eyes, leaned up on my pillow, looked at my wife and said to her:

“Harry Potter… He’s an angel… and he’s got these wings… and he flies around… but he gets really really tired about every fifteen minutes.”

With that I dropped back onto my pillow, but my wife was laughing so hard that she woke me up!

I average about four hours of sleep per night, but that’s not consistent. Some nights I’ll get two hours and some nights I’ll get ten. In fact there really is nothing consistent about my insomnia.

I’ve taken meds, tired therapies, and I’ve talked to doctors. The last doctor I talked to , however, spent most of the appointment telling me about a recurring nightmare of his wherein a giant set of chess pieces were trying to kill him. Fun, but not really very helpful. I haven’t exhausted the entire list of medical options, but I have dug pretty deep.

The thing is, I just don’t sleep well.

For the tech-heads among you, I spend far too long in REM, nowhere near long enough time in NREM, and I tend to only complete the first few sleep cycles, leaving the latter cycles (which mostly deal with cognitive function) incomplete and disturbed. It’s not good for organ recovery, and it always leaves me a little groggy.

Enter the world of youth work

Other than the shadows under my eyes, which I mostly hide with framed glasses and eye-cream, you wouldn’t necessarily know this about me. I don’t talk much about it for fear of the ‘I’ll fix it’ crowd. I’m also slightly onto the ADHD scale, and I’m rarely visibly short of energy during my youth projects. But boy do I feel tired a lot!

I think if I really had to pinpoint when this cycle of poor sleep began, it was when I had a series of operations in my early teens and spent a month in hospital, and no-one sleeps well in hospital! Not long after this I entered into the church youth work scene, first as a young person, then a young leader, and finally a professional youth pastor. It’s all I’ve ever really known.

My introduction to and growth into youth ministry happened on a parallel track to the setting in of my sleep disorder. The two grew together.
The general patterns of youth ministry are simply not well suited to someone with diagnosed insomnia. There are inconstant hours, late nights, early mornings, spontaneous events, overlong meetings, high-energy projects, deep one-to-ones, all-nighters, back-to-back camps, locks-ins, and then reports. If I hadn’t grown into youth ministry while developing insomnia, I never ever would have learned the energy management to go with it.

So what do I do / what should you do?

I honestly have no idea. I’m constantly trying to ‘work on my sleep.’ This is frankly one of the weirdest posts I’ve ever written because I have very little wisdom to give on the subject, despite actually having quite a lot of experience.

I mostly wrote this as a testimony to any other youth leaders who struggle with sleep. Hopefully it will be a little ‘you’re not alone’ post that might offer some solidarity.

I’ll say a few random things though:

  1. Youth leader – take your days off, book holidays, don’t distain rest, turn off when your home, don’t be an ‘always on’ leader.
  2. Insomniac – seek help, develop consistency as much as possible over sleep quantity (waking up a the same time tends to be more important than going to bed at the same time), make peace with the fact that you will just be tired. Life’s too short to care too much. Also – don’t underestimate the power of regular exercise and a good diet.
  3. Managers – Be careful how much you ask from a youth leader that isn’t on their job description, and take care over which meetings you invite them to.
  4. Nappers – if you nap, try to do it properly.
  5. Self-diagnosers – Please see a doctor before you announce to the world you have insomnia. Some of us really do.
  6. ‘Helpful’ people – I’ve read books, talked to doctors, and probably spent more time googling than you have… probably at 4am. Please don’t try to fix me. Encouragement, sympathy and prayers are much better! Thanks 🙂

It’s publication month for Rebooted!

This last year has been a dizzying ride, however it’s finally coming – the publication month for my book Rebooted: Reclaiming Youth Ministry For The Long Haul – A Biblical Framework.

 

Thank You!

I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has been involved. Without the loving support of my friends and family, there would be no book – just a Tim left on the floor in the foetal position muttering vaguely about ‘youth today.’

I’m grateful for my prayer team, who have faithfully walked this journey with me and responded to babbled emails with solid encouragements. I’m grateful to my trustees and team at Llandudno Youth For Christ for allowing me the time to write this. I’m grateful for the passionate people at IVP, especially Eleanor my editor, who greeted the project with understanding and enthusiasm.

I’m grateful for the amazing leaders who have contributed this book and elevated it. To Dr. Samantha Richards, Mark Oestreicher, Rachel Turner, Andy De Feu, and Neil O’Boyle. And to
Glen Scrivener for providing a clear foreword.

I’m especially grateful to my readers – Pastor Rob Beamish, Ali Campbell, John Hawksworth, and Andy De Feu – who read drafts, offered incredible insights, and weren’t afraid to challenge me.

I’m grateful to my wife, Katie, who sat with me through tears, and grounded me during pride. She read every draft, making more than 3500 comments! This book wouldn’t be the shape it is without her.

I’m grateful to God for this opportunity – and for walking with me on this youth work journey for over a decade. This book is testimony to all the mistakes I’ve made, and all the grace He’s shown.

 

Can you help me?

I’d love to get this book into the hands of as many church pastors and youth workers as possible. Can you help me to do that?

Book a speaking date.
Throughout the year I’ll be touring the UK speaking at various venues (including Bible Colleges, conferences, and CUs). If you have an event or a group that you think could benefit from a couple of hours talking about the Bible and young people – get in touch.

Buy a copy.
So this might be an obvious thing to say, but please buy a copy and give it a read. Maybe pass it on to your pastor, youth worker, postman, or dog. You can pre-order from here.

Come to the launch.
It would be great to get as many friendly faces as possible to the launch event. 22nd September, 5-7pm, at Gloddaeth Church, Llandudno, LL30 2SY. They’ll be food, readings, a Q&A, and a fab mesage by Andy Hughes, Impact Team Leader Wales & Celtic Nations Team Leader for Urban Saints.

Pray like crazy!
I want this to be God’s venture though and through. Please pray for the sucess of the book, but also please pray for the shape of my heart throughout.

Thanks everybody!

 

What are people saying.

Rebooted strips back Christian youth work back to its roots (maybe it should be called “re-rooted”?) in the tried and tested pages of Scripture. Tim stays clear of gimmicks and the “gospel” of self-help, offering a fresh take on old themes. Essential reading for every Christian youth worker

Andy du Feu, Director of Youth and Community Work and Acting Vice Principal, Moorlands College.

 

This is exactly the kind of book I needed when I started out in Youth Ministry, it places Youth Work within the context of a biblical narrative and a wide variety of practical out workings. Tim writes really well, he is encouraging, constructive, challenging and provocative in part, and what’s more he combines both theology and years of youth work experience in a well-rounded manner. This is a must read, it will captivate and stretch you!

Neil O’Boyle, National Director, Youth for Christ, UK.

 

Tim’s passion to ensure that the Bible shapes – rather than just informs – our work, is both admirable and infectious.    In this book he presents a compelling model for youth ministry which doesn’t feel tenuously extrapolated from Scripture, but completely faithful to the entire narrative arc of the Bible. It turns out that every page of the Good Book – from Genesis to Revelation – has something vital to say to us about the way we work with young people.

Martin Saunders, Deputy Chief Executive, Youthscape. Author, Youthwork from Scratch. Previous Editor, Youthwork Magazine.

 

I’m so proud to see a book of this calibre coming from a Youth for Christ staff worker. I learned so much! It addresses a key reason why youth ministries are failing to nurture vibrant, mature adults who will devote themselves to serving God in church and society. If we follow this approach to life and ministry we will nurture people who are equipped with a worldview that will help them withstand the challenges that come to their Christian life. May this book contribute to the revival of biblical youth ministry that we so need in the church today.

Ajith Fernando, Teaching Director, Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka. Author, Jesus Driven Ministry (IVP). 

 

You’re a youth leader? Or you will be soon? Or you want to support the youth ministry in your church? This book will be a huge help. It’s a good read, an easy read, an important read, and it will be worth reading it for the sake of your young people. So…. do read it! And then pray for help putting it into practice tomorrow evening.

Phil Moon, Vicar of Bishop Hannington Church and Co-Author of Christian Youth Work.

 

Tim’s book reminds us that the old story of God’s people in the Bible has plenty to say to help direct and shape our discipleship of young people today. Calling youth workers to be facilitators of ministry among young people, Tim shows us how youth ministry is essentially about living out the biblical story with young people.

Graham Stanton, Lecturer in Practical Theology at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia & a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry (IASYM).

 

Tim loves young people, loves Jesus, and works hard to help more young people love Jesus.  This excellent new book is the fruit of years of experience, and he argues powerfully why we need young people to love God and love His word.

Mark Russell, Chief Executive of Church Army.

 

As someone who publishes youth ministry books, and has written many also, I can truthfully write that the vast majority of books about youth work are in one way or another a restatement of ideas or approaches that have been written about previously. What struck me most about this excellent and compelling book is two-fold: it’s 100% fresh, and it shouldn’t be. Read it, and you’ll see what I mean!

Mark Oestreicher, Partner in The Youth Cartel, author of many youth ministry books

 

This is such an important subject and Tim combines a vast knowledge of the Bible and youth ministry with an easy to read and witty style.

 Ruth Jackson, Editor of Premier Youth and Children’s Work Magazine.

 

 

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

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 🙂

 

A funny thing happened on the way to the tomb…

Great video to share with your youth groups with Easter Sunday. From SpeakLife.

What does a Church-based youth worker do? With Jonny Price

Welcome to our new series: the variety of youth workers. We’re going to be looking at six types of Christian youth worker including; The Consultant, The Freelance, The Parachurch, The Church-based, The Secular, and The National Role. Each will be written by a known practitioner in that field.

Last week Liz Edge told us about being a Freelance worker, and the week before Ali Campbell explained his role as a consultant. This week, Jonny Price, Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader in York, returns to tell us about being a Church-based youth worker.

 

What does an average week look like?

There is a strange mix of regular, set in stone, activities; those things that need doing week-by-week, and then some less regular things which come around monthly, annually, or are just a one off. The few things that I know will be in the diary each week are:

  • Staff meeting
  • Wednesday Youth Cafe
  • Friday Drop In
  • Sunday morning
  • Younger JAM, our Discipleship group for 11-14s
  • Older JAM, our Discipleship group for 14-18s

Around those I generally have prep time, admin time, supervisions, and meetings. Meeting up with young people, meeting with volunteers, meeting with other youth workers from around the city… just generally a lot of meetings!

Each week I try and make sure I have one solid office day. This is so I can really get my head down and power through my to-do list, as well as take a slightly wider look at what is going on across the ministries I oversee. Alongside that I have half a day reading time each week as well, although often that is the first thing to get squeezed out when things get hectic.

Finally, there are the things that come up within the calendar. At the moment, for instance, we are looking ahead to our Good Friday sleepover, and putting together all the practical things for prayer stations, food, films, popcorn, and all the rest of it.

What are your top priorities?

There are three really that carry across everything we do in Clifton Parish. They are:

Make sure that my volunteers are equipped and feel able to fulfil their roles to the best of their abilities.
Give all the young people and children we come into contact with the opportunity to explore their spirituality, and to introduce them to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Make sure that – across everything we do – we are allowing our young people and children to take the next step in their faith, and to take their faith wherever they go in the world.

I feel that I need to explain why my volunteers are at the top of my list of priorities. Without them, nothing else can happen. If my volunteers are well equipped and trained, if they feel called to what they do, and if they feel confident in what they do, then everything else will follow. If they aren’t, then priorities 2 and 3 are a bit pointless.

What are the hardest things about being in church based youth work?

There are a couple that really stand out to me. The first is that often you are treated as a young person because you work with young people. I have lost count of the number of meetings I have been in with clergy who have felt the need to explain to me how I should be doing my job, as if it is not something I have spent a significant amount of time and energy thinking, praying, and reflecting on.

The second is the weight that you can carry for other people. Because of the part we can play in young people’s lives they will unload their burdens to us, open up to us about things they haven’t told anyone else, and they can lean on us heavily. The challenge in creating boundaries so that we can serve them safely, look after ourselves, and not create a culture of dependancy, which can be really hard.

What are the best things?

Because you are investing in a community and (hopefully) spending a significant amount of time there, you see young people grow up. I spent nearly seven years in my last job, and seeing the young people grow from young teenagers to adults was one of the greatest privileges.

As well as that, I love seeing people step out in faith and try things for the first time. I have a number of people on my teams who have stepped out of their comfort zone to get involved in youth or children’s ministry, and it has helped them understand what gifts God has given them, and has had a wider impact on their lives.

How do you think Church based youth work is different to other kinds of youth work?
Being Church based means that we can be more holistic in our approach to young people than many other organisations. We can offer them the chance to become part of an multi-generational movement through which we can transform local communities.

Many organisations can do the individual bits which make up church based youth work, but having the church as the basis for the work that we do is what gives us the opportunity to have long-term, significant, and hope-giving impact on communities which otherwise struggle to find any hope in the world.

What would you say to someone considering becoming a church based youth worker?

‘Great, are you sure?’

It is a fantastic role and I would not have spend the last 9 years doing anything else, but you need to be ready for it.

Talk to people who have been doing it for a while, find out what to expect, make sure they are telling you about the ugly bits of it, and then pray. If God wants you in this, you won’t be able to stay away.

And before you jump in, make sure that you have people there to support you when things get tough.

Anything else you’d like to add?

This is the best role in the world. We have the opportunity and privilege to connect a generation to the church, and through doing that to transform both. We can see young people discover who God made them to be, see them step free of damaging patterns of behaviour, and watch them have a positive impact on the world around them.

And if we occasionally have to explain why we don’t want to be vicars, then I think I can live with that.

 

 

Jonny Price is the Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader for a Clifton Parish Churches in the North of beautiful York, where he lives with his wife, Carly, and son, Ethan.

When time allows he can be found cycling, either road or mountain, cooking or reading.

He holds a BA (Hons) in Mission and Ministry with a specialism in Youth from Cliff College, and is currently studying for an MA.

He loves Jesus and the Church, and wants to see the Church work to help young people live transformed lives by experiencing the redeeming love of Jesus.

 

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

What does a youth work consultant do? With Ali Campbell

Welcome to our new series: the variety of youth workers. We’re going to be looking at six types of Christian youth worker including; The Consultant, The Freelance, The Parachurch, The Church-based, The Secular, and The National Role. Each will be written by a known practitioner in that field.

Kicking us we’re fortunate to have Ali Campbell; youth work consultant and founder of The Resource. Ali has been involved with youth work at the local and national level for decades, and is a solid wealth of information. This is a long post, but it’s worth it – enjoy!

What does a youth work consultant do?

Yeah, that is a good question!  As I work for myself, as a sole trader, it is not something I have been appointed to – so, in some ways, I get to define what it looks like for me.

I set up The Resource in order to be that, a resource for the local church and faith based organisations working with children, young people and families.

So that is the first thing, I aim to be a “resource” through sharing ideas, material, thoughts and articles about ministry and signposting those I engage with to the resources, ideas and material of others – a key thing for me is adding value, so I try and make a point of knowing what is “out there” and, if I can’t help directly – I try and make sure I know who can!

Secondly, I work for people in a number of ways – it could be writing resources and material, it could be doing a piece of research around children, young people and the home (which I’m particularly interested in from a faith perspective), it could be visiting churches and helping them think through their strategy and vision, it could be advising organisations on employing youth and children’s workers – looking at job descriptions and contracts, stuff like that, it could be training sessions delivered for a diocese or group of churches or a theological college.

What does an ‘average week’ look like for you?

Ha! There is no average week – but here is a snapshot.  Most mornings I start early, about 7am, to get emails replied to and maybe line up a few scheduled posts for my Facebook Page and, if I’m feeling inspired, cracking out a blog post on ministry.  I then look through my “up coming” deadlines and try and prioritise what I need to work at – so, right now I’m planning for a lecture that I’m delivering this weekend coming (as I type) on Reflective Practice at a residential retreat for those preparing for ordination. I’m on a retainer with a small charity, so a portion of most days is spent doing work for them – involving funding applications, tinkering with their website and promotion of their activity.

As my time is flexible, I also generally do school drop off and pick up for my youngest daughter.  I then have this sign in front of my face that, from 9am, I try and keep at the forefront of my mind – it just says, “do what is in front of you.”

Working for myself, I could spend my days chasing work (if I don’t do work for people, I don’t get paid so that is a motivator for getting myself out there!), however, I’ve found my days are more productive if I focus on the work I already have – not might have one day.  Working through my work generally means writing, preparing presentations, researching and hanging out with my Mac and a coffee 🙂

How is it different to other types of youth ministry you’ve been involved with?

I’ve been involved in six different kinds of roles within youth work, each is different, with it’s own challenges and joys – these were:

Volunteer youth worker.  Where I started at 18, did this for a decade.

Student worker. Two years study with Oasis before there were degrees, getting a certificate in youth ministry.

Full-time youth worker.  Worked for a local church for 7 years.

Diocesan adviser.  Worked for a Church of England Diocese for 9 years.

Children’s and youth event host / leader.  Led children’s and youth stuff at a national family conference for 14 years (this isn’t concurrent, I’m not that old!)

Youth conference organiser.  Led a team organising a couple of national conferences plus worked with a team of people to plan and run the now sadly finished “Youthwork The Conference”.

I don’t count what I do now as a seventh, it is more an amalgamation of all of the above.  The main difference is not being responsible for a bunch of young people – although I have gone full circle, and volunteer in my own church.  I guess this means I can be pretty objective as I go out and about to encourage and support others.  It also means I have to find ways of keeping my hand in, as there is nothing worse in ministry than teaching, lecturing or speaking to people about what you “used to do”.

What are the pros and cons of being a consultant?  /  What do you find easier, and what’s harder?

I think I’ve learnt from a lot of mistakes that I’ve made in the past about how I manage my time, plan work, invest in my own live with God. I wouldn’t say that it’s any easier(!), but I think that just comes from age, being nearly 50.

Big pros are working for myself and – in a work context – being asked to do a piece of work because people want me to do it. That might sound odd, but I don’t sit around wondering if I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing when it doesn’t match up to my job description.  Generally, the work I’m asked to do is pretty focused, and if people come to me with a very vague proposal, I try and help them drill down to what they actually want me to do and when they want it by.  I also love the variety and pushing myself in to new skill areas. When I started The Resource in September 2014, for example, I had to get to grips with creating my website, how I was going to communicate what I was doing, becoming a sole trader and thinking about tax, invoicing and all that admin stuff.

What is hard is not, at this moment, mentoring or discipling a group of young people myself.  Although, that isn’t strictly true as I have a 10 and almost 13-year-old in my own house.  It is also hard, at times, not being part of a wider organisation – that sometimes creates “Credibility” all by itself – “hey, I work for such and such.” I have to demonstrate to people I know what I am doing and share a bit of my story about why I’m working for myself.  However, what I love, love, LOVE is not being involved in politics and hierarchy stuff. I sometimes feel that I don’t have the influence I could have, but then I am reminded that I can (within reason) say what I like if there is injustice, young people are not being listened to or valued, or I think the national church needs to sort its priorities out and – because I work for myself – nobody can “fire me!”

What do you miss from before you were a consultant?

A team.  And growing a team. I miss having my own team to be part of – throw ideas around, encourage each other, iron sharpens youth ministry iron etc.  I’ve had two very different teams.  One, when I was a full-time youth worker at a church, were all at least a decade younger than me – encouraging, equipping and releasing them in to ministry stuff was a joy.  Secondly, I had a team of experienced people at the diocese, I had to determine best how to focus their many talents, so we could be of most benefit to the churches we served.

I’d love a team again.  Right now, don’t see how that happens, I think being a sole trader and just being / doing “The Resource” is the fit for me, but – I’m open to what God says about that!

What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a youth work consultant?

It is wonderful.  It is hard work.  It is flippin’ scary starting out.  You have to have a combo of confidence in the Lord and confidence in what He has called you to.

There are knocks, work you think you should have had you don’t get; Challenges around your identity and worth, depending how you get going with being a consultant. I haven’t mentioned it, but – although it feels absolutely right for me, I had to go through a redundancy to get here. If you can choose to make a start with this, rather than react to circumstances – I’d take that route.

Here are a couple of things that I would say to you if you want to make work:

  1. You have to put yourself out there. It is you that you are selling, and you represent yourself not an organisation. So, work out what you have to offer that is distinctive, create stuff for free that shows people what you can do, add value to the work of others, and bless other ministries doing similar things to you.
  2. Network like crazy. Be at things that matter in your field of work. Whether that’s conferences, gatherings, training.  Look for gaps – what isn’t being spoken about or done? What training isn’t being offered but should be?
  3. Find support and accountability. Get a bunch of people around you who will pray for you, encourage you and back you – but who will also call you out for heresy, when you are working too hard, or losing perspective and balance. You might need to sacrifice things to make this work, but don’t let those things be friends or family.

I love it and, right now, wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

 

You can get in touch we and or follow via:

Twitter: @AliCampbell_68

Facebook : www.facebook.com/alitheresource

Web: www.theresource.org.uk

Call: 07921 472589

Email: ali@theresource.org.uk

 

Thank you Billy Graham.

“I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right.”
[Billy Graham]

When I was 14 I first heard of the work of Billy Graham. I couldn’t believe the size of the crowds that he drew, or the authority of his voice. Could Christians really have that kind of impact?

By the time I reached 18 I knew I wanted to do exactly what he did. I wanted to speak to as many people as possible about Jesus. I packed up for Bible College and started to train. During my time there I read two biographies of Billy. These told of the lengths he would go to speak the gospel to small groups of people. I was inspired by how he kept ‘the main thing’ the main thing, and how clearly he made worship of the the Jesus of the cross his central focus.

Billy was the first Youth for Christ staff worker, a charity that I’m proud to be a part of today. He was a fabulous youth worker in his way, a bold preacher, a warm counsellor, and a wise leader. It was always in my heart to one day meet him and say thank you for inspiring me.

Today, at 99 years old, Billy passed away in his home. He is with the Jesus that he loved so dearly and made known so consistently.

Billy had spoken to over 200 million people since becoming ordained just as WW2 broke out. He gave his life to Jesus at 16, and followed him faithfully every since. He grew into a wise and solid figure and I’m always going to be grateful for the seed of inspiration he gave to me when I was so young.

Thank you Rev. Billy. Still can’t wait to meet you.