Dialog in 140 Characters: Youth Ministers on Twitter

20 April 2011 — 17 Comments

So yesterday, @sparticus started a conversation on twitter that quickly gained momentum with a number of Christian youth workers. His original tweet was:

He later explained it in a post on his site:

As far as I’m aware [my tweet] a complete lie, but it sparked a discussion around what was reasonable to pay a youth worker as a salary, and that some churches seem to be advertising less than reasonable salaries…

Is this pay or compensation enough to allow the worker to live in the area they are ministering to?

Over the day the discussion about youth work pay developed into other aspects of youth ministry including longevity, volunteers, and church leadership. This prompted people to start thinking about a tweetup to discuss some of these ideas. However, as more people got involved, the messages became quite comical:

As I understand the conversation (I dipped in and out during the day), there is a concern about the amount of pay being offered by some churches for youth workers, and a recognition that many churches simply can’t afford to employ a worker. In this situation, how are churches supported and encouraged to develop work with young people?

In addition, once a youth minister has significant experience and/or training, there seems to be even fewer opportunities for them. At this stage of their career (or in some cases ‘calling’) they often have families, mortgages and other responsibilities, yet there are no senior positions that reflect their abilities.

I need to point out that getting a balanced and detailed view from 140 character messages is very difficult! I’m not sure how many denominations the tweeters represent, or even their own background or experience. Therefore it’s hard to say if this discussion truly paints an accurate portrait of the situation in across the UK, although it does sounds familiar.

It does link in to points raised by others recently. Ian from Youthblog wrote about the Joint Negotiating Committee (the body which sets the national framework used to grade and pay youth work jobs):

Is the JNC dead as the underpinning framework for Christian Youth work?

Up until now the likes of Oasis and CYM have run JNC validated courses affiliated to a university body and enjoyed the fact that the Government has contributed financially a whole heap to the education of Christian Youth Workers.

However we are now in a very different world though where students will need to pay large fees to access a degree programme. Given that there is no career or structure for faith sector youth work, how attractive an option is that going to be? Allied to that is the fact that the statutory sector has cut so much of the youth work that is fuelled by the JNC values, and instead moved to a model of targeted work more akin to Social Work than youth work. Does the ‘JNC’ as a currency still have any clout or is the JNC a bit up in the air at the moment

These are valid points. But where this conversation goes next is hard to say. There are already some good outlets for this kind of discussion, including the upcoming Youthwork Summit which was designed to open dialogue among youth workers, but it is really interesting and encouraging to see such active participation over twitter from youth workers and I’d like to encourage it to continue.

Personally, I would be keen to see a group get together and start honing down some of these questions, before posting a clear summary of the issues which could be disseminated wider. If any action is needed at a national level, then it may take events like YWS, media like Youthwork Magazine, or movements like ‘We love our youth worker‘ to get things going.

Whatever the outcome to this, I’m enjoying the discussion. It’s feeding ideas for some future projects I’m thinking through…

Jon

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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

17 responses to Dialog in 140 Characters: Youth Ministers on Twitter

  1. Jon,

    Thanks for seeking to bring this all together, particularly for those of us that missed it yesterday. Sounds like a great conversation was had by all involved through twitter which is exciting.

    If I might add (in far more than 140 characters) my own thoughts on this matter.

    I completed a degree with CYM in 2009 and so I have had almost two years of working full time post-degree. When thinking about career progression and professional development recently with a DYO I was challenged by the following comment;

    ‘There are only really three roles I think you should consider looking towards in the future. One would be the role of a DYO, the second of a teacher or lecturer in youth work and the third of working with a parachurch organisation in a leadership/oversight role.’

    While I felt encouraged that they could see such potential in me to fulfil a more strategic role, it did get me thinking about how the young people and working directly with them are essential to my calling. It seems to me that to progress in the Christian youth work world means you move further away from the young people. This is probably true in most youth work if my observations of the statutory sector are correct, but I wonder if there are ways of allowing workers to develop without removing the face-to-face work that energises them completely? Is this a ‘senior role’ that may develop in time? I have seen some of the best youth workers I know in the statutory sector strive for career development and then find that because their passion was engaging with young people they lose their energy, motivation and call and ultimately leave the sector.

    In terms of pay, it also seems to me that any potential earnings increase from my being successful in taking one of these roles would not be significant. Is it the case that there isn’t an adequate differentiation between roles in our context and therefore appropriate renumeration for them?
    Is this simply how it should be in the Christian context?
    Are we all equal and should be paid equally anyway?
    Are we simply afraid to talk about money because the institution of the church also in general (apologies for the sweeping generalisation here) steps back from it?

    I am very fortunate in that I am paid according to the JNC scale at the level appropriate to me and there were people involved in the development of the job description and contract who were adamant that the church should pay ‘the appropriate rate’. There are other’s who believe that the passion for youth work should outweigh our passion for money. We need to balance the fact that we should be passionate about our work with the fact that we also need to ‘live’ in the world and we have responsibilities to our families, wives and children. We should be as passionate about our family as we are our work. Recently I noted that I earn a similar amount to our Vicar’s, but I am expected to pay for my own living costs, to rent a house and pay utilities in our relatively expensive town whereas they are provided with homes (and usually substantial 4+bed homes too). This difference is not always recognised – where accomodation is provided the pay decreases to a rate that probably places it somewhere below the minimum wage. Christian youth worker’s are as passionate as clergy, have often considered their call as thoroughly, increasingly spent time training and importantly take on similar pastoral responsibility (for a focussed group, but we aren’t always seen as so similar to our ordained colleagues.

    In my opinion, church paid youth work is in some respects still in it’s infancy (historically it has longevity and was obviously the originator of youth work as we know it, but it is more recently that church’s have appointed salaried youth workers). What responsibility do we have as youth worker’s to make sure we are appropriately renumerated?
    Is there a way that we can encourage those who have successfully employed and developed youth worker’s to bless those church’s which cannot afford a worker?
    As youth worker’s are employed is it possible that more senior roles that reflect the abilities of a growing and developing workforace will emerge?
    How can we encourage people to see the work of the Kingdom rather than of the local church?
    What can we do for those who will follow us to make sure they are treated fairly?
    How can we make sure that the church pays realistically, according to its own situation, but doesn’t take advantage of passion?

    I notice that you have covered many of these aspects in your blog post and on twitter so I apologise for any repetition. This is something that has been on my mind for some time, and it would seem other’s too. I am encouraged to see that through the medium of twitter conversations have begun and I would be delighted to be involved, or at least kept informed, as the conversation continues and develops.

    PS – Apologies for the essay!

    • Wow Dan, what a response!

      That’s very interesting advice you were given: “There are only really three roles I think you should consider looking towards in the future. One would be the role of a DYO, the second of a teacher or lecturer in youth work and the third of working with a parachurch organisation in a leadership/oversight role.”

      From a professional, career-focused position I would agree. Within current youth ministry, those are the most likely options. Having read some of the other comments below, and with your own reflection, I think there is a bigger question being raised about ‘calling’ verses career and the tensions it raises.

      One of ways I see this going, is that ‘professional’ workers develop expertise and income outside of church-based youth work, and become volunteer ministers again in their spare time. Certainly I know a number of people who have found themselves doing this and outworking their calling in a voluntary capacity.

      It will be an interesting time as the current swath of trained, professional workers develop their ‘careers’ beyond the means of the churches they serve.

  2. Yep, that sums up much of what was discussed. What we were suggesting, was in effect a ‘working group’ type of idea, where we meet to discuss some of these issues and possibly think of solutions or recommendations which could then be fed back to the wider community, and maybe thrown into the discussion at yws or the youthwork conference…

    • Thanks Emily, you’re right. The main action point is to develop a ‘working group’ to discuss some of this in more detail. Thanks for contributing!

  3. Thanks for the summary Jon. I tried to follow on Twitter yesterday, but ‘work’ got in the way ;o)

    I guess I’m a bit of an oddity in this conversation. I’m a CYM graduate, just like Dan (above), and full time youth worker/minister. But I’m also an ordained Baptist Youth Specialist – so my salary/stipend is fixed at the rate set by the Baptist Union of Great Britain. The ‘seniority’ of any future position is unlikely to be reflected by an increase in pay. To most people, my natural career progression will be to the position of ‘proper’ minister – but that wouldn’t involve an increase in pay either.

    Personally, I feel called to Youth Ministry, and so unless & until the Lord calls me to ‘proper’ ministry, that’s what I’ll be doing. I totally understand the need to salary/stipend to increase in time in order to keep up with the costs of living, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea of career progression. For me this is a calling, not a career, and there is no real progression to be had.

    The comments about progressing by losing face-to-face youthwork, are absolutely valid, but I’d argue no more so than in other professions. As you progress, you take on more responsibility for certain areas, and have to take a more strategic approach, but that usually means less work ‘at the coal face’. In my previous career (before following the call to ministry) I was making progress up the career ladder, and every step up meant less and less time doing what I really loved (the work at the coal face, and what had original brought me to the role).

    I can see that as I grow & develop (personally and in this role) that there will be a greater call for more strategic work, and perhaps less face-to-face work with young people. For me, as long as other people are able to take on that face-to-face work, hopefully with me supporting them, then that will still be rewarding, energising, and fulfil my calling to Youth Ministry.

    Thanks to everyone for kicking off the discussion – I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

    • The discussion over progression in a career is an interesting one. For myself, like you, I’m not actively pursuing a higher salary or senior position, but I do feel a need to develop myself and my understanding of youth work and ministry. To that end I’m considering further post-grad education. The thing is, the usual route for such individuals is to take them out of face-to-face work and to seek positions that recognise their level of training.

      I agree that as we develop strategic roles, we need to allow others to take on some of the face-to-face activity as you describe. Do you think there’s ever a way to do both?

      Im also enjoying this topic!

  4. Broadly I’d agree with what Ricky Rew is saying here.

  5. Hi all, i would agree with the overall thoughts and ideas mentioned previously.

    As a near 38 year old youth worker with no qualifications in youth work but a sense of calling, vision and empowerment i get on with it!

    For me there can be a confusion as to what role a youth worker has alongside the rest of the church, leaders, volunteers and parents included.

    Is employing a youth worker the right thing? Does it send a message to the church that you have a ‘professional’ now, you can all relax! If not handled right by the youth worker and church leadership it can seem like a desertion of volunteers!

    I’ve been paid for the last 8 years to do youth work (voluntary before) but feel i am only starting to scratch the surface of what its all about.

    I am starting to question the splitting up of ministry! Kids, youth, OAPS, what happened to the family?
    Where is the synergy, the idea that the church body looks out for each other including the kids and youth?
    Sure you can have people gifted in these areas but dont rely solely on them.

    At the moment i feel i am being directed to work closer than ever with parents and families of all ages as they are the greatest influence over children’s lives.

    How do we equip a church to realise we are all spiritual brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents and not business specialists?

    Basically i think we need to look at how family works in scripture, how leadership and body ministry should be carried out and look at a holistic view of how we bring the kingdom into each others lives and community…not just the youth worker, evangelist or pastor!!

    Would love to meet up and chat this through.

    Blessings

    Gary

    • Hi Gary,

      There is definitely something significant in working cross generationally. I do think that some people will have particular skill sets for working with specific ages (e.g. youth workers) and they should be able to focus their skills in that area, but they shouldn’t work in isolation. Sadly, that’s what we youth workers do (most of the time).

      I fully agree there should be much more joint working across the ages.

      It sounds like you’re being challenged about it. Is this something you might need to transition into? Could you develop and research better family and cross-generational ministry? I could certainly use some expertise in that area!

      Let us know!

  6. Thanks for the reply Jon and Ricky, Mark and Gary too for their subsequent responses that have helped me to think things through from other perspectives.

    I guess we will always have the career vs calling question. I hope I didn’t come across as a megalomaniac wishing to further my career ahead of following my calling in my previous post!

    I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we help young people to equip themselves for the world of work and wonder how we help them to recognise and be able to hold the tension between calling and career in their workplaces. This is obviously a tension we are all working through. We all know that not everyone is called to be a youth worker or minister, but how do we help people recognise and respond to the call of God on their life, particularly against the backdrop of a society that measures success largely on material wealth?

    I wonder if it is a question of balance, for us and them. We all have a call on our life and we all have a career, while our career vs call equilibrium is balanced the outworking is positive, but if our desire for career progression becomes more important than our call then obviously we are guilty of idolatory and make our career our God.

    This conversation is great! Thanks for kicking it off and letting me participate 🙂

    • Nope, you didn’t come across as a megalomaniac (this time). 😉 I totally understand it’s a tough thing to balance: career and development against a sense of calling and service.

      Good question about how we enable young people to work this through. I guess by being open about our own struggles in doing it?

  7. The public sector is contracting big time.

    I was a Senior Lecturer (Youth Work BA – University of Chichester) the BA was cut by the Uni Senior Managment Team. No ifs , buts or maybes here!

    The whole of the public sector is contracting and consequently pay agreements and so on are very ‘flexible’ shall we say. Youth Work generally is seen , I would suggest, by some Churches and certainly many local authorities, as expendable. I don’t agree of course with this view, but, really good projects and staff are being got rid of big time.

    In some senses the Church sector is fortunate, in that it will have an even larger influence than it does now. Our excellent church youth worker (Jon Jolly 🙂 ) probably has more work than he get shake a stick at. The ”Big society” will need Youth workers and mean time salaries will be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. This is the nature of the times we’re in folks. C’est la vie!

    • Hi Dave, thanks for taking the time to comment. It is certainly an interesting time, and a pivotal opportunity for voluntary groups like churches. I was given £3,000 a few months back because it needed to be spent before April!

      I can see we’re heading to a climax with “professional” youth work. The NYA are desperate to validate their role as a national body so are pushing forward with a voluntary registration scheme for workers, jobs are being decimated, and we’ve got more trained youth work professionals than ever!

      I think we’ll see a resurgence of grass-roots, locally led, creative work with young people irrespective of the Big Society agenda. People will give their time to do something worthwhile with young people and the majority of this will be through the local church.

  8. a great summary and some excellent follow up since. There are many issues that seem to be meeting head on and it appears there is plenty of scope for further conversation and the need to engage again with some significant issues.
    As someone who has moved out of salaried youthwork (15yrs) and into a volunteer capacity (part of my new salaried role engages with youthwork but more in terms of management than face to face) I am still passionate about seeing greater stability and supporting the youth work in its various shapes and forms – I believe these conversations could be significant in shaping the next phase of the journey.
    Jon, thanks so much for being a key player in all this

    • Hi Roy, thanks for contributing.

      One of my thoughts today has been around getting a diversity of experience to really thrash this out. I believe we need to talk to people who’ve been doing this longer than 20 years if we want to appreciate the issues involved in longevity. I also think your experience in moving out of salaried youth work will be very helpful.

      Without wanting to draw you on personal details, what made/allowed you to transition and what was your thinking behind doing so?

  9. difficult to summarise but a mixture of lack of opportunity and lifestyle choice. 2 yrs after making the move there is still an element of things “working their way out” – still miss it badly, even though I engage in volunteer capacity now.

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