I have just mussed about this in my office with one of my team, admittedly this was one of those “off the top of my head I think . . . ” kind of conversations. Despite that (or maybe because of it!) I am going to write down here what I just spouted . . . . I think there are five “main” types of youth worker . . . you (and me) cannot “be” all of these things, but if we are salaried or work for a church quite a bit of the time, then we can expect that we MUST be all these things ourselves. There is a five fold ministry thing in the Bible that some refer to – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers . . . there is no expectation from Paul that these gifts and ministry “types” are found in one person – so, lets not kid ourselves that in youth work we need to be some kind of “jack of all trades one man band kind of thing” and “master of none”. I believe many of us ARE masters in particular areas of youth work, but have neglected it, got too busy doing the things other people expect, are frazzled and forgotten why we got into this thing called “youth work” in the first place. So two purposes for this list – get inspired again by WHAT YOU ARE as a youth worker, what you are REALLY good at. Get inspired about equipping your team IN their skills and helping them to make the most of their talents and gifts.
1. The Natural. OK, this is the one we might all be envious of. I used to play golf as a child with what was termed by those who watched me play, “a natural swing”, it did – if I remember rightly, all feel pretty effortless. Then, someone tried to “correct” my swing – I became what I am now, a “hack and slasher”. I could have been a contender! But, seriously – we all have met those youth workers who, when in a room full of young people are absolutely in their element – without breaking a sweat, they build rapport, encourage young people, can play pool with one hand whilst fending off another young person over a table tennis table. In a de-brief scenario, you might want them to give some tips to the others on your team . . . but they would struggle to do that – youth work for them is a bit like breathing. They just do it, almost unconsciously – if they stopped to think about it or reflect on it, it might all fall apart. These people are gold dust, hold onto them, but don’t try and mold them too much – their youth work is instinctive.
2. The Trainer. These are pretty key people if you want to grow a team and not run around like a lunatic trying to deliver everything yourself (which, of course you can’t do anyway – ratios / health and safety / child protection etc). The “trainer” is great a equipping others on the team, they have skills, they might be experienced youth workers and what they LOVE doing, and take every opportunity to do it . . . ! Is to pass on what they have learnt to others, they are a bit of a sage. They do need a bit of harnessing – but – they CAN put into words what it is that the natural youth worker is doing, in such a way that others can learn from it and grow as youth workers, use your trainers well and wisely!
3. The Manager. This is the person you want in charge when you plan an event (big worship celebration // joint event with other churches locally // taking your young people away). They love planning, they love a project. In my experience, they are not always brilliant with people – unless it is briefing someone on the task required to forward the purpose of the plan. You need people like this though! Things get done when someone is focusing on the tasks that need to be accomplished. Whilst some get thrown by the immensity of an event – this person also has the ability to break it down into manageable bits and delegate like crazy (and do stuff themselves) to make sure it happens.
4. The Resourcer. This person KNOWS what resources are out there – but, more than that, they could (given the encouragement) write the stuff themselves. They have a knack for pulling existing resources apart and making the best of them (even the rubbish ones), they have a nose for the perfect illustration, film clip, idea, themed evening, mini teaching series etc. Make sure this person is involved when you plan a terms activities, they can help you pull it together and would love the “hunter gatherer” experience of finding the material and equipment that will work well with that is being planned.
5. The Visionary. This person is both essential and a total nightmare. They “see” the big picture, are not bothered about details . . . they might have a vision for youth work that is greater than the local church, ecumenical partnerships, the local town (even your town). They love to start new initiatives and get bored easily. They take the long view though, and this is really important. Where will these young people be in a decade? Can we do something that means in 3 years we will have a youth worship band? How will we work together with others to get into schools in our community? If this person is also “strategic” it really helps, but their vision drives work forward, it stops things getting into a rut. They are often less bothered about failure and willing to take risks to get to a place with the youth work that it has not been yet. Often, they haven’t been there either! It can be challenging working with a visionary, and not everything will work – but when it comes off – wow!
And then there is YOU. I don’t know who you are as you read this. You might identify with some of these above, or none of them. The thing is – youth work in a local church context (or any other context) only works if there is team. Not everyone is the same. All of these kinds of people are important if you want to have a well rounded team able to work with young people by building great relationships, running superb activities and programs, creating a sense of excitement, hope and purpose for all those involved – youth workers and young people alike.
So, which of these 5 do you most identify with? Do you make it a core part of your job to identify those who are different? Too many times I have seen youth work delivered in a one dimensional way because everyone on the team was “the same” (all white, male, guitar players for example) rather than a diverse group of people. It is true that “like attracts like”, but it is not true that we should only do stuff with people who are “like” us! Certainly not if we want to create an open, friendly, anyone is welcome, no cliques here, kind of youth work.
Look at your team. Wonder at their total amazingness, but also make sure each person you have is playing to their strengths. Our team, our volunteers, our dedicated part timers are not canon fodder to chuck in a room of young people to make up the numbers. INVEST in your team, INVITE them to take a lead in their area of strength, INVOLVE them in your plans and hopes and dreams.