Dear Youth Worker,
It’s tough. Often your work is treated as less significant than that of the preacher, or the musicians, or the pastoral team. Often you work with people with very little training, who don’t put time or effort into what they teach, planning what they’ll present to vulnerable, growing minds the morning they’re leading. Sometimes (even often) you do the same, approaching your group as an exercise in crowd control rather than the next generation of God’s Kingdom. There’s that frustrating kid who always asks irrelevant questions, not to mention the one who just will not sit down. You get paid badly (if at all), you are treated as a resource to be exploited some of the time and you feel responsible when the Church’s teenagers screw up.
But here’s the thing – you are in the unique, terrifying, amazing position of doing evangelism and discipleship at the same time. Other church workers don’t know this, so cannot appreciate the challenge you’ve taken on. They might see you as someone who does youth work that can’t preach to ‘real people’, or because you just never grew up. Since we’re supposed to approach the Kingdom of God like little children, the second assumption is hardly a criticism. Your job takes huge amounts of maturity, patience, study – to teach something simply and clearly – you have to understand it really well yourself.
Be glad you’re in a job that will regularly humble you. People your own age will rarely (if ever) see the work you do, and so won’t congratulate you for it. Your young people will sometimes look up to you and often ignore your advice. Your heart will be broken and disappointed when they fail you – and in that moment you will get a glimpse of the pain of your rejected Father in heaven.
Please, youth worker, take what you do seriously. It is so easy to become disheartened or complacent. Maybe you’re not accountable to people of your own age when it comes to what you teach – whether to a big group or one child – so it’s easy not to put that extra hour in, and just look forward to getting through another Sunday morning without any bleeding or crying.
You are called to work harder than that, to care more than that, to give more of yourself than that. You are called to nourish and protect the most vulnerable seeds that God has planted – in a way, your job is the most difficult of all.
God is with you when you deliberately embarrass yourself to put young people at ease. He is with you when you have to discipline an angry, hurting child. He is with you when you read the Bible with a teenager and you watch their eyes light up as suddenly they understand how God sees them. He is with you as you mourn over their mistakes and rejoice in their achievements.
He sees your heart. Doesn’t that comfort you – and challenge you on the days you just can’t be bothered?