That was the question posed to me over lunch with a member of my church after the service one Sunday afternoon. At first I thought that they were joking or had asked the question out of a automated list of questions that you are supposed to ask to fill in awkward moments. However, that was not the case. What made the question so shocking was that my job was as the Youth Pastor at the church. The person asking me the question had kids in my youth group.
I wish I could say that was an isolated incident, but it is a rather common question. Many people don't realize that the life of a youth pastor or a community youth worker is often times a job that consumes much more time than an actual 40 hour per week job. That is because of the work that we do is either unseen or noticed. In fact when we do our jobs well, no one can tell.
- The teen that struggles with violence does not end up getting arrested.
- The suicide attempt that the kid has been wrestling over never happens.
- The group of kids stays in and watches movies instead of drinking at the park
- The youth center is not surrounded by fire trucks.
However, part of the problem is that as youth workers we often get so busy doing the job of building relationships with the teens in our care that we have little to no energy to promoting our work to others. The other part of the problem is that the terminology that we use doesn't sound much like work to those that are not involved in it. For instance, if I say that i was hanging out with a group of kids where we played video games and ate pizza, that sounds a lot easier than pounding nails at a construction site. Doesn't it?
For that reason my team and I have worked hard to help people understand what it is that we do and how we spend our time.
Rather than say we hang out at schools or skate parks - - - we say we INTERSECT with kids in their every day lives in the places they already are.
Rather than say we hang out with kids at a coffee shop - - - we say we INVEST into young people that need a friend and talk about things that matter to them.
Rather than say we hang out with the other youth workers - - - we say we INTERCEDE in the lives of young people as advocates helping their friends, family, teachers and the greater community better understand the issues our young people are facing
Rather than say we hang out with a youth group - - - we say we INCUBATE an environment for growth and development. That is, we don't force kids to grow or believe the things we tell them, but rather we give them space to be challenge to think in deeper ways if they so choose.
Rather than say we hang out in some cool places - - - we say we INSPIRE young people to make a difference in the world around them, be that picking up garbage off the street or organizing a benefit concert. We want to help them achieve their dreams.
When you start to look at things that way, you can begin to see how time consuming it all is. The time "hanging out playing video games and eating pizza" is not an escape from real work, it is part of the job. Sometimes the job is awesome and fun. Other times when you on the phone in the middle of the night with a crises it is less so. Every job has it's good point and bad points. Just think though, even with just a kid or two, that would take a lot of time. My team literally comes into contact with thousands of young people every year.
Now when someone asks me what it is that I do for a job when they should know, I am not offended - I take it as an opportunity to help someone understand how important the role of a youth worker is to the kids in the community and I hang the conversation around this phrase.
As a youth worker striving to live out my faith you can find me engaging in the lives of young people and fostering the connections they need to thrive.
That is what a youth worker does.