Monthly youth leaders column
Then there were none...
Young people continue to leave our churches, although the rate seems to have slowed.
The remedy we came up with was to appoint youth workers / leaders / ministers to our staff teams in the hope that they would solve the problem. There are now quite a few of those people who have completed ten years of active service and are beginning to ask the question, ‘What next?’
Perhaps they shouldn’t even be asking the question — perhaps they should just keep going until the end of their days, but, because cultural relevance is often given higher currency than gifting in ministry, many of these people are looking to move out of their work into either adult pastorates or secular employment. We are now losing a very valuable resource — a group of experienced youth ministers. After ten years of employment many of them have young children and simply cannot live on the packages they are offered. By this time they are often, at least, the second most experienced member of staff and know the church well, but, because the vast majority are not ordained, they are not seen as being in a senior role. As I heard a church leader once say — ‘he’s only the youth leader’.
The very fact that we have so many titles for these posts reflects confusion and, at the other end of the scale, we have younger people who are being appointed where they are confused about their own role and feel vulnerable through lack of management from senior staff. One leader, just recently, told me about her annual review which consisted of the question, ‘How are you doing?’ to which she replied, ‘Fine’, to which he replied, ‘Great’. They didn’t even sit down and have a coffee because the senior minister was too busy. We are not appointing youth ministers (my preferred title) to block up the leak of young people in order to cut down the number of parental complaints. They are not on staff teams to give people a quiet life. They need to be seen as an integral part of the ministry of the local church and often this is not the case.
Many are appointed without job descriptions, but, of those who are, that is often where supervision or mentoring ends. Youth ministers are young and inexperienced at the start of their ministries and so need more supervision and care to mould them into effective servants of the kingdom. It is quite rare to find regularly functioning supervision groups which give the worker a sense of belonging — an often quoted figure is that the average tenure of a youth ministry post is well under two years. The pattern is often a six month ‘honeymoon’ period where everybody wants to know you and you eat well in all the church families — after that the expectation is that you will return all the prodigals to their places in the pews.
And there is the heart of the problem — expectation. Whatever the job description said, the expectations of church people and what the youth minister came to do are widely divergent and that can lead to disillusionment or, even worse, a breakdown of relationships. I believe the time is coming where the whole basis of the appointment and supervision of full-time youth workers must be looked at and that is not a conference for youth ministers — it’s a conference for senior ministers.
If you are attending New Word Alive, we have scheduled a lunch-time reception for those interested in youth ministry — it will be under the banner of ROOT 66, which is a training initiative I am responsible for. There is also a ROOT 66 website where we offer consultancy to churches looking to make good appointments for youth ministry. As ever, I would welcome contributions from others on this issue.