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?