Last week Oasis College announced it is not taking any more applications for their undergrad and postgrad courses. You can see their announcement here. As a previous Oasis student and also as someone with experience of working in the world of qualifications for youth workers this news is sad but not surprising. After all, I firmly believe that change is coming!
A conversation with several interested people on Twitter revealed something interesting: we all talked about a loss of vocation in the field of Youth Ministry and this is something that Mike Pilavachi talked about in his somewhat controversial interview with Premier YouthWork magazine this month too. Youth Ministry as a career seems to be on the wane, as evidenced by the Oasis deicison; it’s fair to say that although they are among the first (King’s College dropped their Youth & Theology courses a year or more ago) to come to that decision, they are not the only ones battling with decreasing student numbers and rising costs. I think, and there are others who agree, that we’ll see more closures of youth work related qualifications/training providers in the coming years.
And it’s not a trend which will reverse on its own, not simply a blip in the overall picture. It’s a trend ostensibly driven by austerity measures of the last 6 years that are putting the squeeze on everyone’s personal finances, which are having a knock on effect in churches who now don’t have the funds to pay staff, let alone fund qualifications for them. But it’s a financial trend that exacerbates the view that Mike was talking about in his interview, one that has been talked about for much longer, the one that says the youth work position in a church is a stepping stone into leading adults, this topsy-turvey way of thinking that suggests our adults are more needy than our young people, that more of our resources as a church community should be put into leading the adults than leading the young people.
One good thing to come from it is that we’re seeing far more reliance on volunteers, people who do the work of discipling our young people in an unpaid capacity – if this is you, you’re amazing! Thank you, without you the world of youth work really would be in trouble!
A note of caution however must be mentioned here because where the volunteers are untrained, unsupported by a paid member of staff, left to their own devices and at the whim of their own passion for the work, who are relied upon to teach, disciple and mentor our young people whilst also holding down a part or full-time work themselves. These volunteers are ripe for burn-out and have the potential to crash and burn in the worst possible way.
This is not a ‘work harder, faster, be more efficient’ post. The fate of Christian youth work in the UK does not rest on your shoulders or mine for that matter. The answer rests with God and His call on your life. And what is his calling? Romans 12 v 11 helps us with this: Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fuelled and aflame. (MSG) and also we have Paul’s exertion to ‘finish the race’, not burning out before reaching the end, not running ourselves ragged striving to plug all the gaps.
I want to join in the voices calling for a reimagining, a reinvention of the world of youth ministry. I’m intrigued by the number of long-term career youth workers we’re seeing entering vicar training for one denomination or another. Could this lead to a deep shift in the focus of many mainstream denominations; might the focus finally rest on the long-term recruitment and retention problems of youth workers by realigning a whole denomination’s priorities around young people? Will these guys prove a tipping point into an era of church where a focus on reaching and discipling young people becomes reality instead of something many of us have been calling for without being heard?
It’s time for a rethink, time for passionate people to get together and pray, dream and spur things forward. Who’s in?