Christian Youthwork is still in essence, a new principle for Churches. Unlike other areas of pastoral Church work, it hasn’t cumulated centuries of wisdom to stand upon. This is probably why it only takes a few years to be considered a ‘veteran youth leader’.
At it’s most basic level, working with young adults and children with specific needs is as old as the world itself. However, embracing youth work as project ministry with clearly defined perimeters, staff, budgets and gift sets outside the immediate purview of Church elders and parents is certainly still in infancy.
As with anything in sapling stages, we must be continually open to various ideas to make sure we’re not growing against a wonky stake. A forced change in shape at this stage will simply mean deformity later.
Christian Youthwork in the west has cycled around clubs, events, mentoring, short term mission projects and in more mature ministries youth leadership. Generally we transition through incarnational youth work, into funnel models of youth work aiming at two ends of a spectrum: the large crowd event and the small discipleship group. Usually we stick a middle ground youth club in to create the funnel link (and many of us don’t go further than this). If we are developing both ends of this spectrum with reasonable consistency and are keeping a mid-layer youth group solvent then we give ourselves a hearty pat on the back and start training others to do the same.
“Compassion ministries are driven by the conviction that Jesus meets needs, heals hurts and brings the kingdom to earth – not just to church.”
This has led to increasing unease in the Youth Ministry world. With further distance between the polarising worlds of church and culture, and a mighty drop off of young people church attendance we are starting to find holes in these classical methods.
For instance we keep meeting young people who really need something different and something more substantial than what these well managed systems can produce – and even more frightening we keep not meeting young people in general because they have no connection point within the models we manage.
This has led many over the last few years to wisely abandon classical youthwork in pursuit of specific mission focused projects working with marginalised young people, young people in poverty, young people from other faiths and young people with various behavioural and social difficulties.
“The future of Youth Ministry is, I believe in these compassion ministries.”
This is a colossal step in the right direction! These are compassion ministries – ministries driven by the conviction that Jesus meets needs, heals hurts and brings the kingdom to earth (not just to church).
The future of Youth Ministry is, I believe in these compassion ministries. I want to challenge all of us to step out in faith and think about the following list, and I’d like to urge Bible Colleges and training centres to teach these things at the highest possible level:
– Support groups for those will mental health issues
– Mentoring, Counseling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
– Art and creative therapy
– Stress and anger Management
– Conflict resolution and mediation
– Social Enterprises to get young people vocationally trained for work
– Social Enterprises to teach young people fundamentals of emerging adult life (hygiene, social interactions, literacy etc.)
– Integration and support for those with learning and social difficulties
– Social work projects for whole families
– Parenting and ‘big brother / big sister’ training
– Local social action groups
– Trusts and funds to support those 13-18% of families that are living in genuine poverty
Compassion Ministries meet genuine needs, make authentic connections and drive holistic community. They are the modern equivalent (along with others) of ‘having everything in common’ that the church in the book of Acts teaches to us.
If I could take 5 years out to ‘retrain’ as a youth worker I would study law, cbt, and conflict resolution. I would get accredited as a counsellor and mediator and would start setting up social support groups in every school and hospital I could find.
The First Steps
I have some amazing leaders who naturally get this.
One of my leaders is passionate about mental health resources for young people. I’m convinced she will do enormous things in this direction and she is starting by simply chatting, asking questions and studying what is currently missing in her local context.
Another of my leaders works as a teaching assistant in a local school for young people with various learning and social difficulties. Every morning he packs cereal bars in his bag and gives them to young people who haven’t had any breakfast.
This is the future of youth work. This is how we must move forward. Small acts of compassion aimed at meeting genuine needs in young people. Any youth work strategy that does not include these things in the next few years will be as irrelevant as the dinosaurs.