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.

What makes a ‘rubbish’ youth group work?

I sometimes wonder about our standards for what constitutes ‘good’ youth groups.

If young people are as varied as humanity itself (which they are), and a leader’s love for them can express itself in many different ways (which it can) – then who are we to decide if it’s quality youth work?

I get to visit lots of different youth clubs as part of my job – and one of the things I’m supposed to do is say what’s not working and how to fix it. A few years ago I visited a ‘rubbish’ youth club.

The Group

It met in the evening; too late to be an after school group and too early to be an evening out. It was right around dinner time, so the kids were missing food and missing family time.

The meeting – which was a completely random mix of young children and teenagers – gathered round a few nasty looking go-pack tables, sharing over-diluted orange squash, and too-soft biscuits that had been stored in cling-film.

There were no games, and a completely incomprehensible craft. The materials they used were both too young for most of the group, and too dated to have been considered relevant for any of them; the weirdest bit though – was the youth leader.

The Leader

She was about 85 years old, wearing every manor of doily, and smelling faintly like old spice and fish. She sat a the end of the table and ruled the room like a quietly spoken drill master. I sat in the corner making a long mental list of everything wrong with how she ran the group.

At the end of the session, this leader broke the news to the young people that, because of her diminishing health, she would have to step down from being their leader. I was totally unprepared for the response.

Tears. Everywhere. From the youngest children to the hardened 16 year old boys. There were quiet sobs, many hugs, and a real brokenness in the group. She then proceeded to talk to every single person around the table one by one to tell them what she loved about them, and what her favourite memory was of each of them.

She had remembered everything! And – as was clear from her examples – she had spent decades opening up her whole life to these young people. She had taught many of them to bake; she was a math tutor to several more; she had provided a home for some who had lost parents, or had run away. She had looked after their parents, and she had been there for many of them, literally, since birth.

I had never seen anything like it!

They were committed to coming to this ‘terrible’ youth group, because she had committed to loving them.

I had never seen love like that.

The Love

These were healthy, holistic, cared for, supported, nurtured, discipled young people – in the worst looking youth club I’d ever seen – technically speaking.

Let’s get our youth clubs right, of course! Let’s be clear, fun, relevant, engaging, and accessible. But – so much more than that – let’s love.

If we get nothing else right – let’s get that right. Let’s love these young people. It’s that which holds everything together, it’s that that makes the pieces work, and it’s that which changes young lives.

Love transforms everything – genuinely. Whether or not you can afford the latest gadgets, or coolest paint scheme is irrelevant if you don’t love first.

1 Cor. 13

Photo by Kev Seto on Unsplash

5 forms of criticism that I’ll always ignore… or try to!

Exactly a year ago I wrote a post called ‘7 Ways Not To Complain To Your Youth Worker’. As a result I received comments and messages from other youth leaders that had gone through the same things. Some of the stories they shared were just heartbreaking.

This made me realise that we’re not done with this topic yet.

Critique is vital to health; it’s so important to have an objectivity about the work that we do, and a humble perspective on the difference between ‘God’s’ work and ‘ours.’ We need to keep ourselves accountable to trusted, godly men and women who will feedback with clarity and gentleness on our ministries. We need to be open to challenge so that we can truly grow as teachable and dependable ministers of the gospel.

Without an openness to healthy critique, we are just asking to fail.

However…

What do you do when the feedback is poorly given, ill-conceived, spiritually dangerous, or just personally stupid?

I don’t mean what do you do if you don’t like or agree with the feedback. There’s lots of stuff that we won’t like or agree with that will contain nuggets of truth that we need to listen to. This is a post, however, on how to identify feedback that needs to be left by the door.

I recently (ish) received some ‘feedback’ that was hurtful and – frankly – just wrong. As a result I spoke to some friends that I genuinely trust for their perspective – trying to find out if there was some truth that I couldn’t hear because of my upset. One of these guys said to me that he believed some feedback was a form of abuse, and needed to be disregarded quickly before it stuck.

Some critique must not be allowed room to breath.

So I’ve called this ‘5 forms of criticism that I’ll always ignore.’ A more honest title however, would be ‘5 forms of criticism that I’ll try to ignore’ or ‘5 forms of criticism that I really really should ignore.’ The truth is I’m human, and if you get punched to the gut, it hurts!

Hopefully, however, we can all team up on this, and support each other by identifying some kinds of criticism that really don’t need to be taken seriously. If there are nuggets of truth, we need to pray and ask God to reveal those to us in healthy ways that we can action unconditionally. Some feedback, however, needs to be named and shamed, and not even given time of day.

1. Hostage feedback

This is feedback that won’t let you off the hook. It’s forceful, repetitive, and needs very specific agreements. Feedback that holds you hostage usually comes in the form of a conversation that’s impossible to leave. ‘Thank you very much, I’ll go away think about it’ just doesn’t work.

When someone holds you hostage to their feedback, they’re expecting very particular agreements to what they’re saying, and very specific and immediate appropriation of their suggestions. It’s all on their terms. The ransom is only paid in complete submission and total surrender to their opinion.

If the person giving you feedback doesn’t respond appropriately to your need to go away and process it, then – rudely if necessary – turn and walk away.

2. Delivered via gossip

Thirdhand, or ‘gossip’ feedback, is when someone is hoping you’ll hear their criticism without getting their fingerprints on it. Criticism via gossip means they have spoken to everyone but you. The most hideous form of this is when it arrives on your doorstep via your wife, your husband, or your kids.

Gossip is an issue that needs to be tackled at the pastor level; however it is worth identifying the source, approaching them directly, and getting them to tell you their problem eye-to-eye. It’s always important to call gossip out, otherwise it festers and continues.

3. Without proper examination

I recently received feedback from someone I’ve never spoken to before that questioned my very relationship with God after they walked out of my session three minutes in. Not only did they leave with the exact opposite point that was delivered, but they made huge assumptions and bold assertions with very little information. There was no questions, no listening, and no attempt to understand. It was an attack – quite literally – on nonexistent content.

This particular feedback was given in anger (which isn’t always a problem) and was fuelled by significant misunderstanding. In this case I really struggled to let it go as it called my faith in God to account. So I sent my recorded talk to several friends who are theologically solid and not afraid to challenge me. They left with the opposite impression than the person who left early. Their feedback suggested a personal trigger, rather than a problem in the content.

If any feedback given doesn’t flow from the information that was available, then it’s probably fuelled by something else – something that’s personal to the individual. Don’t digest it – it’s probably not about you.

4. Overgeneralised and unspecific feedback

‘You’re always doing this’, or ‘you’ve never been like that’, or even ‘that project you run is total shambles!’ I’ve had all three of those.

Feedback, and especially criticism, needs to be given in love with the hope of edification and correction. This means it needs prior thought and careful steps before delivery. Usually overgeneralised and unspecific feedback means there is simply a difference of opinion – maybe they just don’t like you!

My response is usually ‘sorry, I can’t work with that, can you bring me a particular circumstance or tell me a specific example.’ If they can’t – leave it behind.

5. Overreaching feedback

2+2 equals a sack of bananas, right? Overreaching feedback points to a problem, then makes a totally inappropriate conclusion. Like someone saying you need to rethink your relationship with God… because there was a broken window at youth club.

In a previous position, someone complained in our eldership meeting that I didn’t want to go on their suggested safeguarding course. Their conclusion was that it was inappropriate for the church to hire a youth worker who wasn’t trained in safeguarding. Of course I had done lots safeguarding training, I just didn’t like the particular flavour of the course they were suggesting.

Feedback should flow between problem, consequence, and solution. If there is serious disconnect, then disregard.

But what if they’re right?!?

And here is my big problem! I don’t disregard a lot of feedback that comes in these various ways because I want to be open to change and growth. I don’t want to be a feedback snob! And there could be valid criticism buried beneath all that goop!

However, I have my whole life the work on problems, and I know that my work is held accountable to people who’ve earned the right to speak into it. I’ve regularly got things to work on, and all of my work is held accountable to a manager, a board, a team, good friends, and committed mentors. This affords me the space to be discerning about when feedback is given inappropriately.

So don’t be afraid feedback – surround yourself with people who love you, are smarter than you, and are not afraid to hold you accountable. If you have a system in place for healthy criticism you won’t need to jump at every wagging finger.

In a future post we will consider these five areas again, but in reverse – and talk about more appropriate ways to give feedback.

Thanks for reading!

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

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!

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.