In-between times in youth work
Posted on September 23, 2019
In this post, I reflect on the importance of in-between times in our professional lives, and by the by name some of my beliefs about youth ministry. In the last post, I reviewed my history with Praxis and Urban Seed, and then a few short-lived stints in school-based chaplaincy/youth work. Although I had frustrations about this time, it was important. There were 3 main reasons for this.
The Upside of Bureaucracy
First, I was held within a bureaucracy which gave me clear things to do, and therefore I did not have to create things from scratch. That’s the nature of bureaucracies: processes are decided upon and followed; clear limits are set and healthy practice is defined as what fits within those limits. Why is that important? It allowed the “pioneering” part of my brain to percolate ideas for the future, without needing to put energy into putting these into practice. Of course, as I say, that was somewhat frustrating: the concrete experience of operating in a bureaucracy is contrasted with the creative process going on an unrealised level. It’s tempting to think that the unrealised ideas will be more enjoyable, easier, and more fruitful than what is happening in the concrete now. None of things is straightforwardly true. Nonetheless, this time was important for this high level “thinking”; calling it “thinking” is not that accurate as it was more a process of very intuitive and non-linear “chucking ideas in the air” and wondering about them.
Conversation with Peers
Second, it gave time for me to talk through the underlying philosophy of a church-initiated youth “thing” (whatever that might be), and the practicalities, with a couple of peers. One was an old acquaintance who eventually withdraw from the process, and one was a church volunteer who wanted to help. This helped me, and them, work out what our aims might be, what the “thing” could look like practically, and solidified some of my central beliefs about youth ministry. What are they? Mainly – (1) Some explicit exploration of Jesus and life is central to youth ministry – how and when this happens is very flexible, though; (2) Participative processes are central, where young people are given real power to shape what the youth initiative looks like; (3) youth ministry needs to deliberately focus on those who are not “churched” or middle-class – because it is both biblical and Christ-like, but also because it is a corrective to the inexorable pressure to cater for church kids.1
Young people rock
The third reason was that the time working as a volunteer, chaplain and youth worker in the school made me realised how much I enjoy connecting with young people! They really do energise me; even the times of pain, struggle, and lostness that they experience. The challenge of youth work stimulates me intellectually and emotionally; much like classroom teaching does. There is so much to say about this “affective” side of being a youth worker – maybe another blog post I think. I don’t mean to put myself in the prime position in the youth work task, but it’s important to acknowledge the joy and satisfaction that I derive from interacting with young people.
This in-between time gave me time to percolate ideas, talk them through logically, and re-connect with my own sense of joy in youth work. It re-affirmed for me the importance of “in-between” times in our personal and professional lives: they play a role that can’t be underestimated for future fruitfulness. All these things eventually coalesced into a decision to start some form of youth group or club for young people in Long Gully, primarily who were not part of our church.
The next post will be about the reasons for this decision.
- Of course, this does not mean I think we should ignore kids in church. That would be fatally short-sighted. But we need to find ways to engage church young people in mission and discipleship, rather than assume they need entertainment. ↩