I wrote a whole post answering whether I felt the youth work I have been involved in over the last two years has been successful. I got to the end of the post, read it back and deleted it.
Something didn’t seem right about it.
And the truth is, I’m not sure how to evaluate Christian youth work. Yes we can use the questions I proposed in the last post and (kind of) measure if the young people we are working with are developing, moving on, making christ-like decisions but I’m not sure that’s the point.
I guess it depends on the type of work you’re involved in. When I think about our youth fellowship and our house groups, it is hard to evaluate them.
I look at the work that Jesus was involved in. He got to the end of his two/ three years (there’s debate as to how long it actually was) and what had he achieved? If we evaluate the work, what had he really done? The twelve he had worked with had mostly deserted him. On the face of it, that looks pretty poor. If in two months, when I move on from the church, there are no young people there to say goodbye, no young people left in the church, I’ll feel like I’ve failed.
I wonder what Jesus thought as he hung there on the cross. I wonder what he thought of his work?
I worry about the work I’m leaving behind. I worry about the young people. I worry about the church.
But at some point, I just have to trust. I have to trust that God is not finished with him. I have to tell myself that “I’m not Jesus”. I’m not their saviour. I guess that’s why I started writing about evaluation in the first place. I was scared that maybe I’d achieved nothing. That everything I’d done had been for nothing.
And without God, it would all be for nothing.
But there’s God. And I need to trust in that.
- Success in Youth Work (smoorns.wordpress.com)
Reflecting on it some more, I think there are some questions we need to ask ourselves as we reflect on how we travel with our young people through these experiences.
When are young people ready?
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, our culture tends to put an ‘age’ on when cultural rite of passages should happen. ie first sexual experience, smoking, drinking etc. But adolescent development teaches us that there is no set age for when someone is ready for this. An indicator for me is when young people start reflecting on things outside of themselves. The moments when they begin to realise that the world is bigger than them and they start to care about what else is going on in the world. These are signs that young people may be ready to move into a new ‘status’ and that a rite of passage experience may be helpful here.
What rite of passage?
Yesterday I reflected on how my first mission to London with my youth group was probably a rite of passage as it allowed me to put into practice some of the theology (god talk) that my youth worker had been teaching us. There is no one size fits all when it comes to this but an understanding of the young person will aid this discussion.
Who joins them on the journey?
Generations ago, men join with the young boys and lead them into adulthood. the same with women and girls. Children of both sexes had older examples that they could look up to and imitate. This has all but been lost in our generation because rather than seeing adolescent as a transitional stage between two fixed stages “child”/ “adult”, we have turned it into its own fixed stage “teenager”. Faith communities have the opportunity now to bring some of those ancient practices back to the forefront. There must be older men and women joining in for the rite of passage. I am not saying there needs to be a set age but it cannot simply be just their peers and there must be older guys for boys and older women for girls.
Any further thoughts? Have I missed things?
I had a really good morning at church yesterday. I’ve been putting together a 24 hour prayer room for the church in June and there were nine hour slots left for people to sign up for. I spoke during the service about the need to humble ourselves and spoke about how the civil rights movement, the NHS and the modern school system all came out of prayer meetings. I spoke about my excitement and expectancy for what God might lay on our hearts during those 24 hours.
After the service, we are left with just one hour block needing filled. I was happy.
A parent also came up to me and said I must be doing a good job as her son (and two friends) came and asked them their thoughts on a whole bunch of theological issues. She was pleased that they were engaging with faith outside of the ‘normal’ groups. I felt really good.
Ten hours later, I returned from the Sunday night youth fellowship tired, weary and one question swirling around my head: ‘why am i doing this?’
Nothing bad happened last night. The young people didn’t trash the place or anything like that. Nobody attacked me or swore at me or did anything to annoy me. It was worse than that. Nothing happened. I didn’t have any real opportunity to engage with the young people. I was overseeing the night, presenting it from the front and clearing things up at the end.
I guess that’s the problem of being the youth worker of the church. You want to do everything, but you can’t. You want to be the one running the event, getting to know the young people, building relationships, working with the volunteers, helping everyone grow, planning for the future etc.
I’ve been trying to do that for the last nine months. And it’s left me tired and weary.
I can’t do everything. And you know what, I shouldn’t. It’s not all about me, regardless of how much I want it to be.
Does anyone else go through this?
It’s silly. I get jealous of some of the other volunteers who seems to be getting on great with the young people whilst I’m standing about picking up the rubbish. But so what? It’s not about me. I’m just here to facilitate. I can’t be ‘super youth worker’!
It reminds me that I need to centre myself before God again and realize that I am called to do a certain job and that’s the job I need to do. We are a team. The volunteers play their part and I play mine. Sometimes it means I’ll have the night to talk to the young people and sometimes it won’t. My job is to fill the gap. To see what needs to be done and do it. So what if I can be everyone’s friend? So what if I can’t be the one that they all confide in for advice? Can you imagine what my life would be like if that were the case? I’d be enough more weary than I am right now.
I’m also looking forward to a holiday. I’ve been working since August and apart from a few days at Christmas and Easter, I’ve not had a proper holiday. A holiday where I turn off the phone, the laptop, the e-mail and be me again. Where i remember that what is important is my relationship with God and my family. Where I remember that it’s not all about me.
Where I remember that i am created to be. Not do.
- The Life of An Insecure Youth Worker (smoorns.com)
“Because we’ve been led by scholars for so long, we have slightly distorted ideas about Christian discipleship. If you want to grow in Christ, you should study more. Christian growth, then, is an academic path. And like educators, we only advance to become higher level educators. The point of learning is always teaching which produces further learning and then more teaching. The only difference between the church and another educational institution is that nobody ever graduates from the church. We just keep going to school.”
As a youth worker, I wonder what our youth fellowship would look like if it at its core we understood christian growth as learning through doing rather than learning from hearing?
I wonder what our YF would look like if we handed over the complete running of it to the young people?
Definitely something to ponder…