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?
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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
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