I find it interesting that when my parents are asked this question about my brother and I, they are very quick to say my brother is a doctor. Its easy, definable, people know what that is and what he does. When it comes to me, however, they get a bit flustered and slightly incoherently end with a variation of “he works for the church”. You know, the whole church. All of it. I work for it. Doing…oh who knows the conversation has moved on!
There has been a thought bouncing around my head now for the past while around the purpose of ‘youth ministry’ and what makes us different from those who do ‘youth work’?
To be honest this thought is not a new one or even an original one because although I know I am not the first one to have tried to define it, I actually tried to write about it before 5 years ago while I was a student at CYM.
So, why have I come back to the idea now and why does it matter?
Over the past few months I have started a new job and with that I have encountered a fresh set of people who, once they hear I’m a youth worker, quickly follow it up with a response of;
“Very good, but what does that mean?”
My parent’s reaction of feeling a bit lost for words or embarrassed actually highlight the emotions that I feel some of those in youth ministry feel about themselves, especially when it comes to describing what we do for a living.
In the months leading up to Christmas my teaching with CMS was concentrated around exploring the topic of leadership, focussing on how we lead. It was through thinking about this that I have become more confident in understanding and explaining why I do what I do.
I have always found that the simple points are the most effective, for example Tanner within his book Eschatology and Ethics writes about the importance of hope when failure seems to be everywhere we look.
As I said earlier, over the past few months I have started a new job working on a housing estate in an area of Belfast that just misses out on being shortlisted within the top 10% most deprived communities in Northern Ireland.
The project I manage aims to be a place where young people experience hope, love and acceptance – three things that Christ offers us.
By being present in the community and by bringing hope into the situation that we work it is our belief that the atmosphere in the community would begin to change to a point where young people might notice Christ within us and the projects we work for.
This point of realising our difference is our hopefulness is only the beginning because as Moltmann describes it ‘Faith wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest… It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man.’
Believing in hope causes us to change in a way that defines what we are. No longer are we just people who work for the church. We are activists for social change. No longer are we just people who play xbox or pool but we are models of a brighter future.
By painting nails, baking buns, sharing food and creating murals we are creating trust that allows us to listen for where hope is lacking in the people we work alongside.
Hope not only sets us apart, it also motivates and drives us to expect more for those we work alongside.
Believing in this simple explanation makes us different from those who simply youth work. This means that we shouldn’t carry and embarrassment or guilt into what we do but should be proud and expectant for what hope can awaken.