Engament with adolescents

Quite a few Dioceses are facing huge financial challenges brought on by the recession and having to make some difficult decisions. Whilst I fully understand the difficulties of this I am very concerned that youth work seems to be an immediate target for cuts, with at least two Dioceses making Diocesan Youth Adviser posts redundant and then creating a new combined youth and children’s (and in some case … and something else) post.
At the very least this reduces support and development of youth work/ministry by 50% but in reality I think, much more. Youth work and Children’s work are very different skills, it’s unusual for someone to have both and I have seen many many more examples of these combined roles being occupied by children’s practitioners than I have by youth workers. Futhermore Children’s work pulls in more numbers, more ‘feel good factor’ and more volunteers meaning that even people trying to balance the roles will be (in my opinion) pulled in the children’s work direction.
I believe that this idea of an obvious saving being made by lumping support, advice and training for all young people from 0-20 under one category is unrealistic, unhelpful and unworkable (in effective delivery). Cutting deeper and therefore removing all support for work with young people is obviously even worse.
Yes, I know I am biased BUT I passionately believe that any further steps back from the Churches engagement with adolescents is to fail the young people we should be serving AND to miss out on how much we can learn from them.
I have just written the following statement in support of one project that looks like being axed. I know another Diocese that is looking at where it will cut (and there will be others). So if it’s anyway useful, feel free to quote me as saying …….
“I firmly believe that our mission with, to and among young people is critical, both for the teenagers of our country AND indeed for the life of the church(es).
In the post Christendom landscape, and current cultural climate where adolescents are frequently scape-goated for societal failings, the church standing along side young people and engaging with them is both prophetic and vital. I believe we should be the advocates, the listeners to their stories and the brokers of spiritual conversations where young people can explore meaning, identity and purpose. We have much to give and importantly, much to learn from teenagers.
In the last few years many factors together have led to many churches being completely disconnected from teenagers. Diocesan support of existing work AND pro-actively helping churches to re-engage with the teenagers needs to be a priority of our resourcing, time and energy. We are good at working with children, and experts with the elderly; but in danger of failing to help, nurture and engage with the adolescents in our parishes and deaneries.
Cutting posts in this area of Church life and mission is damaging in the now, and may prove disastrous in the long term”

7 Replies to “Engament with adolescents”

  1. Well said Ian.
    The thing that exercises me about our churches lack of engagement with adolescents is that in many ways it makes a mockery of the heavy investment in children’s ministry. I’m sure business folks or economists have a grand term for it, but it seems to be a short sighted, short term solution which as you say, gives churches a feel good factor. Intentional long-term spiritual nurture of children which carries through adolescents into adulthood has to be the aim.
    To be with teenagers as they question, doubt, go away, come back, and in the type of relationship that means you can ask ‘where is God in this?’ is such a privilege. It’s one of the things I miss most, moving from being a Church based Youth and Children’s Minister into my current role as Diocesan Children’s Adviser.
    I thinks it’s wonderful when parishes ask for help to develop their children and family ministry but I try always to ask what happens when the children become adolescents? There is often a sense of ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’, but by the time it comes it’s actually a bridge to far. As you say Ian, to the detriment of young people, families, the Church and society.
    We must seek to reinspire walking the walk alongside teens not abandoning them when they need support most but seek it least.
    Come on people…. here endeth the rant.

  2. I agree with you both….
    I have passionately believed for many years that young people need us to walk along side them….through adolescence. Its not easy..
    but I reckon the journey is worth it … if we abandon them to cope alone with the youth culture, without trusted adults and mentors to walk alongside them… then we have failed them. Never mind about filling the churches… we need to wise up to their world! A significant number of them are struggling to cope with their lives and the realness of Christianity should mean that we see behind the masks and reach them. I don’t need stats to tell me, how lonely and insecure some young people are in this youth culture.God’s Love should be shared with these young people, whether or not they are going to end up sat in a pew.The church should continue to help and reach out … ..more investment is what is needed not less!

  3. Further to my previous comment –
    “It doesn’t work if that adult is at the end of the journey tugging on a rope trying to get you to come along. A young person needs to see that you’re right there with them. A young person needs to see that you’re vulnerable – that you’re struggling too. I have to say that I haven’t seen a single adult enter our youth ministry and leave the exact same way they entered. Everybody has changed…. And that’s the way it’s got to be”.
    Nathaniel, age 15, Atlanta, Georgia
    Quoted from ‘Contemplative Youth Ministry’ by Mark Yaconelli

  4. “I have been trying for years to work across the ages – it’s really hard. Trouble is i feel that I serve neither well”

  5. Sadly the Baptits also have the tendancy to cut youth as the 1st cost saving item. Thanks for your thoughts Ian, helful (so much that I might steal some of them!)

  6. please send to the church times. no one is saying these things in a public forum and people really need to hear it…and have a debate…
    really missing it…
    hope you’re well.
    Phil G

  7. Two weeks ago,we were playing a game with the youth ministry ball ( throw and tell) and one of the young people (17 yr old) answered the question ” Where do you think Jesus would hang out today?”
    and the young person answered “Down at the local shops, with the losers”.
    Although the answer was disturbing,it was deep and reflected a view that Jesus would be hanging around getting alongside the local youths.
    The recession is hitting young people hard, the economic and social divisions are deepening.Surely this means the need is greater for Youth Ministry?

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