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 Ali Campbell started us off looking at what Youth Work Consultant does; this week Liz Edge has returned to tell us all about her role as a Freelance Youth Worker. Liz is a quality professional freelance youth worker with a passion for emotional health. Check out her new book at www.liz-edge.co.uk
A ‘freelance Youth Work Practitioner’ sounds like a dream job, right? From writing youth work articles in my pyjamas and drinking coffee at networking meetings – many fellow youth workers would kill for this freedom. So, what do I actually ‘do’?
Like many of us, most of my working days begin with a substantial caffeine hit and a commute to the office. The spare bedroom in my apartment is my ‘office’ – comprising of a desk, white board and spare dining room chair. It takes about 30 seconds to get to which means even on snow days, I can make it to the office. I open up my emails, check my to do list and crack on with whatever project I’m currently working on.
Freelancing means I’m my own boss. I choose the hours I work, the projects I take on and the work expenses I can claim. I have no allegiance to one particular company, charity or church denomination. There are no geographical limits. I’m able to work locally, regionally and nationally – heck, even internationally if I wanted to. I have no job description as such that I have to fulfil, but rather tailor my work to a specific project that I choose to work in. I try to fully embrace the freedom in freelance – yet it’s not without its challenges.
Freelance is not for the faint hearted. It takes courage to ‘sell’ yourself – putting your skill set and expertise ‘out there’ without any backing from a company. Being a youth worker for a church or a charity means you have a safety net – you’re advocating for their work and living by their ethos. For me, there’s nowhere to hide. I’m on the frontline being the sales rep, accountant and the youth worker delivering the project – there’s no comfort from an institution. It’s incredibly vulnerable. I’ve had to create my own ethos and boundaries; learning to trust myself so I stick to them – even if it means declining work.
There’s no average week for me. No Monday morning team meetings or Wednesday afternoon supervisions. My to do list can be anything from writing a training session on depression to chasing up unpaid invoices. Days can be full of networking meetings or phone calls to writing thousands of words alone on the sofa.
Freelance means I can tailor make my work to suit the needs of the organisation. The different ‘hats’ I wear are anything from trainer to author, consultant to mentor. In the past this has looked like:
– Regularly contributing articles for magazines, websites and blogs.
– Volunteering at the Friday night youth club of my local church.
– Creating a series of cell group outlines on spiritual disciplines.
– Training youth workers, school staff and chaplains on mental health topics.
– Lecturing undergraduate students on young people and self-harm.
– Running therapeutic group work in schools.
– Mentoring a student on a Christian gap year programme.
– Publishing a resource for youth leaders on emotional health and young people.
– Speaking at one-off youth clubs.
I recognise that I’m a bit of a rare breed. Freelancing in youth work isn’t the norm and isn’t what I thought I’d be doing once I graduated with a degree in Youth Work and Ministry. I knew I didn’t want to become a youth pastor of a church or pastoral worker in a school. What I did know was I wanted to make a positive difference to the lives of young people; focusing on their mental health and exploring how a Christian faith fits into it all.
The flexibility of being self-employed means I’m able to manage my own poor mental health and still pursue my own chosen career. Having depression and anxiety means I’m less likely to find a job that can suit my needs. This could be anything from waking up exhausted after a nightmare induced sleep to managing the side effects of a change in antidepressants. I’m breaking the mould of a traditional youth work job – using my personal experiences and academic ability to enhance the lives of young people, both inside and outside the Church.
So, let’s not forget that there is value in all of our work. No matter what tile your role may have or whom you work for, there is value in all of our ministries. There is no mould for a youth worker to fit in to. Join me, as someone who regularly feels overwhelmed, under-qualified and under paid, in remembering this quote: Do what you can, with whatever you’ve got, from wherever you are.
Liz Edge is a professionally qualified Youth Work Practitioner holding a First-Class BA (Hons) Degree in Youth Work & Ministry. She is the author of Exploring Emotional Health and has contributed to the work of local and national organisations; these include Romance Academy, selfharmUK and Premier Youth and Children’s Work.
As a freelancer, Liz is able to offer a wide range of youth work through education, training and intervention. Her practice is made authentic by drawing from her own life’s adversities, including living with depression and anxiety for over a decade.
In all her pioneering work, Liz’s ethos is to provide holistic support to adolescents in their relationships and to promote positive wellbeing; with themselves, with others and with the wider world.
You can find out more about Liz at Liz-Edge.co.uk and can follow her on Twitter @LizEdge_ and Facebook /LizEdgeYouthWorker – she’d love for you to say Hi!