Five years on. Wow, the time just starts accelerating the older I get! Anyway, back in 2018 I wrote an article for Church Times about the value / worth placed on children’s, youth and families ministers in terms of remuneration and support. You can read that [here].
There are some encouraging things that have been said in the intervening five years, but – as I write – no substantive change. I want to suggest that there are five challenges that we face – and we need to tackle each of them to move forward.
1. We need national advocates for change. I think, in the youth and children’s ministry world I have a little bit of profile for talking about this – and there are others doing so (such as Paul Friend and Joel Preston, both involved with leading SWYM) but us raising our voices and calling out poor pay and terms isn’t going to bring about the change required where structural / institutional decisions need to be made. We don’t set standards of pay. Of course, the real problem is that nobody does. What would be wonderful is if denominational leads (not just those with a youth and children’s ministry remit) but senior clergy and Bishops or equivalent spoke up about this. This is an aside perhaps, but it really doesn’t help that it seems every publication that advertises posts will do so regardless of the pay being offered – whether that is New Wine jobs board, Premier Jobs, Christian Jobs, Church Times . . . So, denominational leads (Archbishops, Moderator of Church of Scotland, President of Methodists, Leadership of Pioneer, General Secretary of Baptists etc) should there be a minimum standard for pay?
2. We need to tackle The inescapable autonomy of the local church (Here I speak particularly to the context in the CofE). Local churches can, and do, employ with no thought or regard to the process. CofE doesn’t have (at the moment) any requirement that a local parish seeks advice and support before employing anyone, because each parish is a legal entity in its own right. As a member of my PCC, I’m also a trustee and part of the “employing body” for our employees (ops manager, kids and families minister, youth minister). We can have “national guidelines” but churches can do what they want – at the moment. Is there a will / desire to change canon law or make some shifts where paying a basic minimum becomes effectively “statutory”? We’ve done this with safeguarding training (everyone has to do the basics and foundational training every three years – if they want to work with children and young people in the church, whether salaried or volunteer), we’ve done it with church wardens (have to turn up and shake the hand of the diocesan registrar as they have a legal responsibility for the running of the parish). What are the barriers to making this happen – and is there a will to overcome them?
3. We need financial support for Quality Roles / Training / CPD. Really, if we are to see lasting change then denominations need to be financially supporting the roles. I don’t know how we get there, a few things are shifting nationally – but it is generally too little. £1 million a year, every year, is being made available for training (CofE). Whereas, funding of £9.4 million has been made available for an additional 70 stipendiary curacy posts from this year, with a further £8.4 million made an available for additional curacies in 2024. Extrapolate this, for 3000 newly employed children’s and youth workers (a bold aim for the CofE strategy by 2030) and the money required is : £134,285 per post – assuming (!) stipendiary type support for these posts and that this money covers 3 years (the equivalent of a curacy) this would mean funding of : £402.8 million. If someone could sign this off then we might be able to advertise posts that are attractive enough to recruit the 3000.
4. We need to embed a Vocational Pathway. This doesn’t exist at the moment. It’s a key structural element that should exist, creating a meaningful sense of progression and ongoing support. However, the autonomy of the local church is also reflected in the autonomy of the individuals employed. Nobody knows how many, where they are deployed, with which denomination, how they are supported – or not. Individuals are lost through redundancy, burn out, getting constrictively dismissed . . . and we (collectively the “church”) looses track or we just don’t know who they are in the first place. The vocational pathway really matters – when I carried out my survey in to terms and conditions in 2019, 75% of respondents said they would stay in children’s, youth and family ministry until retirement if they could. We shouldn’t be loosing people, we shouldn’t be in the position where half our dwindling workforce have been in salaried ministry for less than five years.
5. Whilst it is a challenging environment, the crisis continues and we loose good people. The crisis is becoming existential. The longer it takes to address it properly, the harder it becomes for churches who are looking to employ well to find any decent candidates. The employment package is a key reason people are leaving between 5 and 10 years of being employed and, the recent training stats from David Howell reveal we are continuing to see less people take up the remaining training offers (whether CYM, SWYM, St Mellitus, whoever . . . ) – for a report on his latest research, see [this article]
I’ve finished with that final challenge because five years on from things being bad they are worse. This can’t be left for another five years, and – despite all the positive words and the glimpses of possible change and development we remain quite far from the structural and culture change required if we are to move from decline to people choosing to pursue ministry with children and young people with passion and hope that the church genuinely values the incredible difference they can make. We need to act now, another five years and it will be too late.