Before they finish as fully qualified youth workers, our third-year children and youth work apprentices share a few things they’ve learned along the way.
Richard Samuel (St James’ Alperton)
Observe just as much what they don’t say, not just what they do say
I have worked with different groups of young people – within these groups, there has been a great deal of diversity, as it is with life in London. You have introverts, extroverts and everything in between. Just as people learn in different ways, people feel comfortable communicating in different ways. It’s very easy to pay attention to the ‘louder’ ones and that’s when the others could get lost in the group. Have a quick chat with the quieter members and see what they say (or don’t say). It will help you to help them. Think of young people as icebergs, only 10% is on view but there are a plethora of riches just below the surface. Learn to read between the lines and observe body language and you’re already a step ahead.
Always give them a clean slate
When I started working with young people, I took certain behaviour and attitudes towards me quite personally. I quickly learned that if I wanted to deliver my best work, I couldn’t go around holding “grudges”. It affects your output and demeanour, which young people pick up on and react to. Not a good cycle to be a part of in the long run.
DON’T be scared of them
It might sound silly, but in over three years of youth work, I’ve heard many people give excuses as to why they don’t want to help with young people. The majority in some way or another boils down to Ephebiphobia (fear of young people). DON’T BE AFRAID! Plato himself lamented “What is happening to our young people? They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” Sounds scary right? That was in the 4th Century BC and many others from every generation since have said the same. Despite their worries, we have thrived as humans because of generation after generation of new young people and the ones who nurtured them. Most people in general fear the unknown and I get that…so get to know the youngsters and your fears will soon dissipate. Youth work is a voluntary contract, there is no obligation for them to be there so if they are, they most likely want to be.
Steven Payne (St Catherine’s Neasden)
Learn from young people
God works through anyone, especially young people. If you ever run out of ideas on what to do for your junior church or youth club, then your greatest resource is the young people themselves. At St Catherine’s, I’ve learned that adults don’t always have the best ideas – our young people notice when something isn’t quite hitting the mark and will often contribute something you would never think of. Try to ask young people what they would do and see what they come up with to solve a problem.
Make the Bible fun
There are many children’s Bibles out there that engage young people really well with the message of Jesus. We invested in two copies of the “Action Bible” (a comic book version of the Bible) and our kids loved it. Also, you can once in a while, let kids watch their favourite movies and try and compare and contrast the film’s message with the message of Jesus. This will only reveal the relevance of the Gospel, but it helps youngsters understand the importance of applying Jesus’ message in their lives.
Never be discouraged by failure
None of us likes to fail, especially when we put a lot of effort into making a project or activity and it just falls apart. I have failed a few times and some were hard to bear, but actually when I reflect on them, I learned where I went wrong and tried again with more success. Never be afraid of failure; embrace it and learn from it. You will only grow stronger and wiser if you go through some form of failure.
Samuel Benjamin (St Hugh’s Northolt)
Don’t be afraid to open the Bible
At St Hugh’s, every youth activity revolves around opening the word of God. Over time, it’s become normal. As I’ve grown and been challenged as a Christian, I’ve learned just how important it is that young people learn the Bible for themselves. It’s normal for us to open it at least once during every activity we organise. It’s become something that the young people now expect of us (which seems fitting for a church!) and I’ve discovered you can incorporate it into pretty much everything, since its application covers our whole lives.
Tap into what technology can offer
The young people completely surprised me by using a video-calling app to start studying the Bible together. It made me realise how much technology can enable things to happen when young people aren’t physically together – and how important it is for us to think outside the box of “in church” ministry. Consider how you might get more contact time with the young people in your church and how technology could enable that to happen.
Let young people own their ideas
When this Bible study started happening, I didn’t try and take control of it because I wanted them to keep it going. I ended up getting invited along to add to what they were doing, but I decided to be completely hands-off and it still hasn’t died a painful disorganised death! When an idea comes from the young people in your church, it’s good just to encourage them to make it happen. They’ll find a way and because they own it, they’ll want to keep it going. I learned just how much ownership young people can take, especially if an idea is easy for them to sustain. Let them own it and ask yourself how you can help it grow, instead of maintaining control over how it happens.
Nikkita Robert (Southall Group)
You cannot do it alone
I found that it can be so easy to see all the tasks you have in front of you and know how you want them done, in what order and so forth. But I’ve learnt that there is joy is delegation. Not only does delegating empower your team, but it gives you more room to focus on the tasks that really do need to be done by you, not the tasks you want to do.
Don’t always rely on the script/plan
I will never forget the Friday night after Grenfell – over dinner, my young people had so many questions. Their hearts were hurting because of the confusion and heartbreak that surrounded Grenfell. I remember having the entire night planned out, but as we went into our breakout session, I knew God told me the plan needed to be thrown out. So we grabbed some beanbags, prayed into the night and allowed God to move in the room. I’ve learnt that in youth work, the true reality of meeting young people where they are at can mean throwing your own plans out the window. Never be too committed to the plan!
Embrace the season
This is probably my favourite lesson learnt, but there is a reason why God has granted us the privilege of journeying with some of the most amazing young people – He wants us to embrace it. Laugh with them, hang out with them over tea and coffee after church. One Sunday, I missed two buses because I engaged in a great conversation with my young people…they eventually told me to go home! You’ll never get this season, these set of young people and this dynamic again. Embrace the season you’re in!
Meet the apprentices…
About our children and youth work apprenticeship
The apprenticeship scheme, in line with our Capital Youth objectives, aims to stimulate parish mission among young people and raise up a new generation of children and youth workers from within our communities.
Levi is the Creative Lead for Growing Younger, a priority of the 2030 Vision for churches in the Diocese of London. Levi is part of the Children & Youth Support team, volunteers in youth ministry and leads worship at his local church. Levi completed a degree in Applied Theology before working in marketing and design in the corporate space, bringing both worlds together in his current role.
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