I like listening, and I like coffee, so I network.

I caught up with a local youth worker recently, in my efforts to network. Specifically, I wanted to talk with her about how traditionally ‘secular’ and traditionally ‘faith-based’ youth workers could co-operate. I think the two have some key differences, but on the other hand, modern Western youth work has mostly grown from passionate Christians who ventured outside the box to connect with children and young people. Sure, they were sometimes paternalistic but that’s not just a problem from the past.

I have written on a similar topic – seeking to broaden out our view of what we consider ‘Christian youth work’ to be. Aaron Garth, fellow Godbotherer, from Ultimate Youth Worker has written on this issue, and his contention is that workers in ‘youth ministry’ need to update their theory and skills so that they can work with today’s young people who are mostly outside the bounds of church as we know it.

Back to the conversation with the youth worker. She mentioned that she had met with a number of church youth pastors, given them opportunities to help out with various community events/programs for young people, and then heard nothing back. Reading between the lines, this episode that had led her to abandon partnering with churches. Which is a bad thing.

I realise there are deficiencies with the way this youth worker responded to the setback, but I want (as a Christian) to look at the issues from the churches’ angle.

What are the 3 main factors that lead churches to avoid true partnership with non-Christian organisations?

  1. Identity as a Christian Tribe: the strength of Christian youth ministries is that we create a strong sense of belonging that is often missing in professional-driven youth work. We usually don’t focus on narrow target groups and thereby we can include an interesting bunch of young people, which tends to an interesting, and attractive, ‘tribe’. However, a strong sense of tribe can lead to outsiders being viewed as a threat to the integrity and stability of the group.
  2. Cross-purposes: Christian youth ministry has an overriding Christian purpose – that’s obvious. Non-Christian youth work will not have the same overriding purpose. So, in a bit of Christian brain-fade, we assume that non-Christian youth work is basically useless, or a serious waste of time and money.
  3. Putting your faith into words everyone can understand: You might be surprised that I haven’t included ‘fear of compromise’ in this list. It is usually quoted in discussions of these kinds. That is, that a Christian youth worker will (apparently) need to compromise by not doing  _______________ (insert essential Christian practice) or being obligated to not make public ______________ (insert essential Christian belief). But most secular agencies and youth workers are more than willing to have a conversation or argument about these things. Instead, I suggest Christian youth leaders are a tinsy-bit intimidated by the thought of defending and explaining their faith to people who aren’t part of the tribe.

From my tone, you can tell that I think this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

What is the solution? Read about it in my next post…