Monday, March 14, 2011

Success in youth work is changing yourself more than trying to change others

Success in Youth Work Part 2

I have been a youth worker for a long time and through many different phases of life.  At each new phase it becomes necessary to stop, catch my breath and reevaluate why and how. 

The situation:
As a high school student I was a part of vibrant and growing youth group in my church.  I learned a lot and was challenged to grow in my knowledge of the bible, I was given opportunity to serve and most importantly I felt like I belonged and was loved. However as I this group graduated and transitioned into post high school life, the church noticed a disintegration of our group’s attendance and commitment.  After several attempts to figure this out I was approached to take leadership of the group.  I stepped into this figuring it was a great opportunity to hang out with my friends more and be serving at the same time.  What happened was that I was overwhelmed by complaints about meeting times, length, content, etc, etc, etc.  I was busy trying to balance relationships, work and school so I took a lot of this personally and figured that the hostility that I was facing must be directly related to something I was doing wrong.  After all, we never had faced these issues when we were all working in ministry together in youth group.

Why was I doing this?
I realized that I was asked to provide leadership to a group of people that was grieving their community.  They were missing the belonging and security that they had found within the youth group and were being asked to move on.  The “college and career” groups felt as though they were tossed aside by the church.  You don’t belong in youth group and hey you don’t really belong in “big church” either.  In trying to base a group that tried to incorporate everyone’s schedule and personal wish lists was not working.  Instead of collaboration I needed to provide leadership. 

How would I do it?
I set a date, time and format.  Lost a lot of attendees, and ended up with little more than a hangout time once a week.  Some people were upset that it didn’t work with their schedule, so I directed them to other churches and ministries to find something that would work for them.  I even attended some of these with them until they found new friend there and were willing to go by themselves.  Ultimately the group I was leading was really nonexistent. 

Through this experience I was able to learn that success in youth work is being able to adapt to the changing culture of young people rather than simply trying to corral people into my list of goals for their life based on my organization’s wishes.  In other words a good youth worker is a kinda like a Universal Adapter.  You don't change the fact it is electricity but you change how it is delivered. I was fortunate that my church was willing to let the group change and was not too upset about the young people moving on to other places that better met their needs.  However,  I felt that somehow I had failed.
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