“DO YOU KNOW of a good youth worker? My church is looking for one.” This has been a question that leaders and pastors have posed to me in increasing frequency over the past five years.
The idea of a professional youth worker in local churches is relatively new. In most denominations here, the first time a professional youth worker was hired to do some form of focused ministry with youth started only in the mid-1980s. The concept and acceptance of a full-time youth ministry worker only began to pick up pace in the late 1990s.
Today, many churches in Singapore, including Methodist, have a full-time youth worker or youth pastor, or are actively looking to hire one. Our churches have largely shifted the methodology and format of ministry with youth from Sunday School and the Methodist Youth Fellowship, to the more recent idea of “youth ministry” in varying degrees.
In the light of the frenetic pace of change in youth culture, the rate of transformation in the Internet and forms of com-munication, and just the overwhelming pace of busyness in our society, many of us in the church are increasingly looking to hire full-time youth workers to help minister to the youth of today.
Full-time Youth workers don’t grow on trees
Because the idea of a professional youth worker is in its infancy in the local church context, the number of people who are aware of, let alone interested in, such a career, is very few. Some local church youth workers today cut their teeth in para-church organisations; others have had careers in social work, education or some form of youth related work.
However, increasingly, this pool is drying up, partly due to greater demand. The reality is that youth workers do not grow on trees. Churches need to face the reality that the best way to find a suitable youth worker for their own local context is to raise and develop them from within their own pool of young people and young adults.
To do so, local church pastors and leaders need to create awareness of youth work as a field of ministry, intentionally invest in nurturing, equipping and assessing “lay youth workers” (see below), and then call some of their own into the full-time ministry of youth work.
The benefits of raising a worker from within include the fact that you would have known the person for a much longer time, and that he would already know the people and ethos of your local church. Furthermore, a person is a lot more likely to sign on as a full-time staff because your church has already intentionally grown a group of lay youth workers in the process, so that the full-time youth worker will have the help of a team of youth ministry workers. He will not be saddled (consciously or unconsciously) with the onerous, if not impossible task, of being a one-person “Rambo” youth ministry solution.
Lay Youth workers
Today, we need to see and understand that every adult who is committed to a ministry with youth in the local church is a “youth worker” and not a volunteer. When we speak of ourselves as volunteers, we often (consciously or accidentally) cast ourselves Growing demand for full-time Youth workers.
in the posture of one who can quit and go anytime, or, what is worse, one who can do the ministry with the minimal equipping and reflection. This is good neither for the short term, nor the long run.
The language of “volunteers” in church ministries is a misnomer. Christian ministry is both a response to grace and obedience to the command of Christ to love one another. It is our sacred responsibility and a divine privilege. We who do ministry with youth are all youth workers. The only difference should be whether we are able and called to devote our lives full time to the ministry, or are able or best serve as “lay youth workers”.
This necessarily means that the level of competency in this pool of lay youth workers must be raised so that they can shoulder the same burden, responsibility, commitment and calling as the full-time youth workers. When we do so, we will see teams of lay youth workers who work alongside full-time staff in a competent and confident manner so that our ministry with youth can be positioned, postured and propelled to grow.
The Rev Bernard Chao is a Pastor of Trinity Methodist Church & Assistant Director, TRAC Board of Youth Ministry.
Equipping lay youth workers
THE TRAC Board of Youth Ministry has initiated several programmes to help equip your full-time and lay youth workers. For some years, we run a Youth Workers Retreat (the next one will be from May 1-4, 2010) and we have just started the School of Ministry with Youth (or “SOMY” pronounced “so-mee”) which runs two youth ministry training courses every quarter (the next is on Jan 30, 2010). These programmes are open to both Methodist and non-Methodist churches and are intended for both full-time and lay youth workers.
For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 6769-5415.