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!

How is blowing your nose like youth work?

So I have acute rhinitis, which is medical code for ‘my nose is always full of snot.’ Here are four ways to release that snot, with pertinent ramifications for youth ministry

1. Don’t block the dam

When you blow your nose with your hanky, don’t block the nostrils. Allow the flow of air to leave your nostril easily; allowing the snot to move freely and gently in the right direction. Plugging your nose-holes while trying to simultaneously blow snot out just doesn’t work. Instead you cram bogies into your brain.

2. Jump up and down

Some gentle jumping up and down the spot, or walking heavy footed around the streets – all the time humming through your nose – will break the tendrils of your mucus’ finger holds, making your subsequent blowing far more effective.

3. Stay lubricated

The more you drink – particularly water and non-caffeinated hot teas – the more you will soften and dilute mucus. This will help the snot to flow freely. Basically, give your snot a waterslide.

4. Stay off the pain meds

Snotty noses are often accompanied by headaches – usually because we have blocked our nostrils when blowing our noses, so have crammed bogies into our brains. Popping headache pills that have codeine in them, however, will dry the snot up. Basically you just gave your bogies crampons, and locked them in place.

So how is this like youth work?

1. Don’t block the dam

Don’t hold things too tightly. Don’t stick your fingers into the proverbial nostrils of your youth ministry! Allow enough room for other people to have genuine input, for young people to be involved, and for the Holy Spirit to move. Blocking the movement, then trying desperately to blow life into it is very likely to backfire.

2. Jump up and down

Sometimes you need to be a loud and awkward voice that stands up for those who adults who don’t tend to listen to. Take opportunities to show your respect for young people by making sure their struggles are heard and their needs are met.

3. Stay lubricated

Constantly take in the good stuff. Spend time with God yourself, get into the Bible, be in church services where you’re not doing anything, and make sure you’re teaching from a place of personal learning and growth.

4. Stay off the pain meds

Don’t fall into the trap of being the complainy, gossipy, grumbly youth worker. It there’s a problem or a conflict, go and resolve it properly. Simply grumbling about how hard your youth ministry is will just dry you up and lock your problems in place.

Free the snot!
Free the youth ministry!
That is all.

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

7 volunteer leaders that your Youth Ministry could do without

I love working with volunteers – its one of the best things about being a youth worker. Volunteers are there because they want to serve, and they usually come without the baggage of entitlement demands and complaints. Volunteers blow me away all the time because of the energy they give to projects while expecting so little in return.

I’m hugely blessed right now to have an awesome team. All of my volunteers are a total credit to themselves and to the God they serve. The young people love them, and they support me in more ways than they know.

It hasn’t always been this way though. I’ve managed teams of volunteers for over a decade, and I totally understand the pressures of constantly needing more help. There are, however, just some volunteers that you could do without.

I’m a big believer that your ministry should match your resources, and that you should steward what you have, before you try and do more than what you can manage. Youth workers, however, are under constant pressure to grow numerically. This means a bigger team. Then begins the desperate pleas for help in the notices, and the increasingly lax expectations and requirements from your volunteers before they serve.

My volunteers go through a process which includes an application form, interview, references, police check, and probation period. Here are some of the potential volunteers that I turn away

1. Just there to make up numbers

Occasional willing help to keep young people safe by bolstering ratios is an ok thing to do. Having a volunteer on team, however, that doesn’t want to be there, but are simply worried that the youth group might collapse without them is just not helpful. They ooze disinterest and will more than likely be a limp member of the team.

Better a smaller youth group with a devoted and committed team, than a big one with disinterested and unengaged leaders any day

2. No servant heart

One of the reasons that I love my team so much is that they get stuck into everything. They’ll commit prep time in the week, they’ll cleanup without being asked, or they’ll arrive early and move chairs.

Volunteers who only come just wanting to be the spiritual big shot are simply not worth your time. Starting with a Christlike servant heart should be the foundational basis for anyone wanting to serve in ministry.

3. Not teachable

When I look for a new volunteer, I keep my eye out for the people that display faithfulness, availability, and teachability. A teachable person asks more questions than they give answers. They listen carefully before making judgemental statements, they respond well to ideas and corrections, and they respect the authority of the leader.

An unteachable person is often cynical, loudly opinionated, vocally dominant and undermining. They can be argumentative and they can foster gossip. If a volunteer cannot demonstrate teachability, then they will do little to help the wise development of your young people

4. Empire builders

We’ve all heard that we shouldn’t build empires we should build kingdom, and it’s true. A kingdom-building volunteer comes on to a team to serve Jesus in that ministry and to see how they can fit within it uniquely. An empire-building volunteer comes on expecting the ministry to serve their own aspirations.

An empire builder often talks about how they would do better, and how they started because they could fix what you were doing wrong. Even if they’re right about areas that need to change, their attitude will sink the ministry long before you can make any healthy changes

5. Unreliable

I have a busy team of people who lead full lives with jobs and family. For that reason I do my best to set realistic expectations and develop rotas that work for them individually. Leaders who often don’t show up when they say they will, or are consistently late are quickly taken off our rosters.

An unreliable team means an unreliable youth ministry; meaning the young people can’t trust it. It’s important that each volunteer signs a contract of expectations at the beginning of their time, and are then held accountable to it. Just because volunteers are not staff, does not mean they don’t have to keep to agreed expectations – especially when it affects the security of vulnerable young people

6. Called to other ministries

Sometimes brilliant volunteers show up with fantastic attitudes, but it becomes clear that really they are called to a different ministry. Although it may be heartbreaking and gut-wrenching to let them go, you too are called to build the kingdom and not your empire.

Making sure that you have regular supervision sessions with your volunteers should help you understand if there is a better fit for them elsewhere. If you release them, God will honour and provide

7. Haven’t earned it

One of the most obvious places to get new team members from is graduating young people when they become legal adults. I love this life cycle and believe it’s essential to develop young people eventually into adult team members. However, if they did not demonstrate a servant heart, if they were not teachable, and if they were constantly disrespectful towards the acting team – then I will not allow them to volunteer without some clear evidence of change.

We should set realistic, but high standards for our team. We’re not looking for perfect people (look at the disciples!), but faithful, available, and teachable people who are properly committed, servant-hearted and know where to place their priorities.

I’m totally blessed by my team today after a long time of cultivation and development. It was really worth the effort and the hard conversations. Does your team need some work?

You mean I’m not God? A 10 step guide to the youth worker power trip.

Let’s be honest kids, being a youth worker can give you a delicious feeling of power.

As the cool teacher, relatable counsellor, replacement parent, uber best-friend, and sassy sage figure, its easy to come away from interacting with your young people feeling all powerful. I mean, you get to teach what you want, give poignant advice to hormone-ridden and desperate young people, while simultaneously beating them at all their favourite games, and letting off an all-knowing air.

You can shape theology, guide political affiliations, and even mould dreams and aspirations. You can cut down with a word and build up with a look. You can even design exactly what you think God should look like to them.

This is the responsibility of a teacher for sure (James 3:1) but it’s more than that. A youth worker is put into a much broader, potentially life-shaping context with the most vulnerable and impressionable people imaginable. It’s easy to make yourself their sole spiritual, mental and emotional guide.

So, here are ten easy things to remember next time you start coming over all Gody:

1. Just don’t

Let God be God, and you be the big arrow that points to God. When that arrow starts turning inward, run away screaming.

2. Let other people teach

Allow other voices to speak into their lives; don’t let it all come down to you.

3. Be accountable to people who actually know how to hold you accountable

Don’t have yes-men mentors. Look instead for people who know how to ask you the uncomfortable questions like, ‘have you been acting like God today?’

4. Don’t set up teachers for failure

Don’t start every sentence with ‘your teachers don’t know what they’re talking about because…’ On some occasions that’ll be true, but don’t pretend you know everything about everything, especially when the teacher isn’t there to defend themselves.

5. Don’t set them against their parents

Very similarly, make sure that you are working with parents and not against them. Parents are not always perfect, but it’s not doing anyone favours by gossiping about them to their kids to make you look cooler.

6. Say you don’t know

Don’t waffle and make stuff up when you don’t know what you’re talking about. ‘Always have an answer…’ in 1 Peter 3:15 doesn’t mean pretend you know everything. You’re not all-knowing; say you don’t know and ask what they think. Explore stuff together.

7. Keep tight control of your boundaries

Don’t be omniscient – by which I mean always available. Keep to your working hours and days off. Keep your personal numbers personal, and don’t drop everything to be available.

8. Point to other resources and connect to other people

Your job is to facilitate the young people within the Body of Christ, so do just that. All roads should not point back to you, but they can converge on you as you help them connect to awesome resources and people that can do what you can’t

9. Remember who your God is

Keep your relationship with God fuelled and growing. Keeping yourself in humble perspective with Him should help you stay in the healthy human zone.

10. Don’t be an ass

When things don’t go your way, deal with it like a person, not an overly-justice-obsessed wrath mongerer. You’re not perfect, nobody is. Conflicts will happen and mistakes will too – get on with things. Apologise, forgive, move on, and be that big arrow that points back to God.

Video Bible Talks – An incredible new free resource coming soon!

An old college buddy of mine, Alan, is creating an epic digital video resource that will massively equip the church and serve our youth groups. I’m very excited for this resource, here’s Alan explaining it in his own words:

Hi, I’m Alan Witchalls and I’ve been serving in youth ministry in one way or another for over 20 years, pretty much ever since I became a Christian aged 16 years old, and I have had the joy of serving in a full-time capacity since 2007. At present, I am involved in setting up and producing a new ministry called Video Bible Talks.

Video Bible Talks is a Bible teaching ministry that is intended to equip, resource and support church leaders with faithful Bible teaching using the medium of digital video.

The idea for Video Bible Talks came about through speaking with volunteer leaders serving in church youth groups in the UK and in other parts of the world. Many churches are simply not in a position to have a full-time member of staff for the youth and children’s ministry groups. In these churches, volunteer leaders with full-time ‘day’ jobs and families of their own have either precious little time available, or feel they lack the skills and experience to adequately prepare Bible talks for their groups (maybe even both). The leaders I spoke with often expressed how under resourced they felt. While there are a number of Bible study resources available, and a number of evangelistic video courses available, there is not much by way of book-by-book, passage-by-passage Bible teaching resources out there.

That’s why we started making Video Bible Talks. The idea is that we can provide Bible teaching via digital video, while the youth group leaders can focus on what only they can do best: the personal work of applying God’s word to the young people’s hearts and minds and lives.

Below is a video introducing you to Video Bible Talks, and at the bottom you’ll find the full press release. I’d really urge you to get on board, and help support Alan and the team to make Video Bible Talks a reality.

 

 

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 to use your Bible in youth meetings – Comics by Chloe

A new set by our In House Comic,
Chloe Perrin. Check out her work
at chloescomics.wordpress.com

 

 

I’m doing Britian’s Largest Bungee Jump!

Dear Everybody

In just a couple of days I’ll be doing Britain’s Largest Bungee Jump. This means falling 400ft, in 5.3seconds, reaching just over 90mph. Check out the video below.

Heights generally freak me out – as does being out of control.

I’m doing this to raise money for Llandudno Youth For Christ, which is the youth charity that I run in North Wales, UK. We do amazing work but are always struggling for funds.

Please pray, watch, like, share and consider giving to support this important work!

Give here!

Thank you!