Hayley James

sustaining youth workers - resourcing

by mjjames04/10/2009

so i've done two youth streams at church weekends away in the last month, and as i've been spending time talking to churches and youth workers a recurring theme has been evident. what many people involved in this type of work have been expressing is how unispired and uncreative they feel, and how they need a fresh wave of inspiration to revive and develop their youth work. many have shared how they feel they have hit a brick wall which they are unsure how to scale, break through, tunnel under...etc. what many wanted to know was how they could revitalise their sessions, how they could creatively share the gospel and what new activities could they try to develop relationships and the young people they work with.

this got me thinking about the needs all of us, as youth workers have, of resourcing ourselves effectively. this may be by finding relevant material that can aid us in our delievery of sessions, writing new and creative material or incoperating completely new and potentially crazy activies into our general programme.

whoever we are and what ever type of work we are in, we need to constantly develop and grow our material and approaches to consistently meet with the ever changing needs of our young people, further our relationships and if applicable enable them to grow in their faith. which if i'm honest can at times seem like a mammoth effort. often when sitting in front of a computer, trying to prepare a cell group session, knowing i need to design something engaging, fun, but also informative, willing myself to be inspired and creative, i often feel the opposite, and it seems the more i seek a new and exciting approach the more illusive one becomes, and, in the end i revert back to something i've tried, something i know works, or i spend time scouring the internet for some kind of idea i can adapt and use. what i realised during my times away was that i'm not the only one who feels like this... the youth and church workers i spent time talking to confessed to the same problems. and so i guess that there are more of us out there and probably many (like me) who don't want to admit to this problem, because heaven forbid someone thinks we can't do our jobs effectively, or that we are not as creative and resourceful as we should be, or that we are not the shiny, funky, cool, constantly relevant, all singing, all dancing youth worker that they hired us to be.

but here's the good news, it's ok to feel like this. in fact at some point we all feel this way. the issue is not that we feel this way, but how we effectively deal with it... what we do to overcome this.

in this series i am exploring the ideas around youth worker burn out and suggesting areas which we need to develop in order to overcome this huge phenomenom. lack of resourcing is one such contributer. when youth workers feel that they have nothing new to offer, when they can't seem to make progress, when they are unsure of what new things to try, they can begin to believe that they have nothing left to give... that their job is over and that they are finished as youth workers, or that they need to move on elsewhere to start again. many of those i spoke to whilst still having a heart for the group, felt they had nothing left to offer... that maybe they should let someone else with fresh ideas take over... as if we all have a set repetoir which once exhausted renders us useless and begs for someone else with a different 'youth work box of tricks' to step in and develop the work.

now i'm going to give this point a line of its own because it's important...


... youth workers do not (or maybe should not) have a 'box of youth work tricks' that they use until they have been exhausted and then bow out to let someone else have a go.  you definately are not finshed up just because you are lacking some fresh inspiration and you definately shouldn't move onto another area just because all your material is used up (unless God tells you to do so).

now here i want to come back to the idea of effectively dealing with it... overcomming the issue.  feeling uncreative and uninspired at times is fine, but how do we effectively 'resouce' ourselves so that we can erradicate these feelings or overcome them when they hit? how can we live in a place of continuing development, that keeps us fresh and frees us to be creative with our planning, programmes and delievery?

a big way to overcome burn out is to constantly and consistently aim to develop yourself and your material as a youth worker... keeping fresh and alive keeps you active... so ensure you take time to do this... the most important thing is to set aside some time each week to focus only on developing yourself and your work... which could include...

1) read blogs by those involved in youth work or those involved in areas that interest you... i read blogs by youth workers around the world, blogs by friends, blogs on creative prayer and worship etc. blogs written by real people involved in real work will inspire and encourage you and often give you new ideas. also try writing your own blog... you may inspire and encourage others.

2) find some good youth work websites and bookmark them... there are some really good and some really bad sites on the internet... but there is a lot of useful material out there. spend some time finding some good sites. youthwork magazine generally has links to useful sites, the youthwork site itself is also helpful.

3) give yourself time to be creative... often when we decide we need to be creative and design something specific it can cause a mental block that is often difficult to overcome. instead of forcing yourself to do something specific give yourself some time to just play and create anything. also keep a little book with you... then any time you have an idea or a bought of inspiration hits you, you can write it down. its good to build up a whole file of ideas which you can turn to as and when you need them. i often find that my best ideas come when i'm not actually trying to make something specific or that a breakthrough in a certain situation comes when i am not forcefully looking for the solution.

4) share your ideas with others... this is linked with belonging to a community and a future blog to come on networking (how holistic am i!!!)... but its really important... when you have good ideas - share them - you may just inspire someone else. this can be done in anyway, talking, creating resources which you share with local churches and organisations or in a personal blog... however you do it, do it. it's important and it will encourage others to do the same.

5) invest in some good youth work materials... there is a huge amount of material out there, have a look at it, see what you like and invest in some. i never recommend using anything as written but there is lots of good stuff that can give us fresh ideas, even if we don't use it all.

6) commit to read books around youth work... this may be an idea that makes you yawn, but i truely believe that to constantly grow as youth workers we need to commit to developing... many youth work books can present us with new ideas, fresh approaches or generally revitalise our passion and love for youth work... often giving us a new lease of life for the work that God called us to in the first place

7) attend training courses or themed sessions... training courses can give us new ideas, give us opportunties to meet with other youth workers and develop our approaches. they can also cut through some of the 'unhelpful' things we aquire as we journey through the maze of youth work, churches and organisations, and can also throw illumination on some of the theories and theologies that underpin what we do. i was involved in a training session a few weeks ago where one of the major themes was relationships not programmes and although everyone there agreed that this was what was most important, when they began looking at what they were doing they found that they had become more and more focused on the programme, which undermined their whole reason for the work in the first place. the session gave them to opportunity to reconnect with their original vision.

8) evaluate... this one is more about the work itself and the young people you work with. in order to stay fresh and relevant you need to find out what the young people want, what they like, what they don't and how they want things to develop. as a team you also need to explore what works and what doesn't. you also need to think about your vision and values and if you are growing with those.

9) use cultural resources reflectively... for example use music, films, tv shows, art, books, stores, games, etc to come at youth work from a different angle. don't be afraid to talk about a song and tie it in with a theme you are exploring. or you might get a youth group to create something that expresses in their own way their understanding of a topic or response to an idea. remember that including opporunties for young people to be creative themselves is an important part of youth work.

ok so this is now the longest blog post i've ever written, congrats if you've made it this far. finally in summary, being under resourced and feeling uninspired can cause us to burn out or at least to feel run down. it is ok to feel like this at times, however we need to be building in regular activities that keep us growing. we cannot wait until we feel like we have exhausted every idea, every approach and are left feeling deflated and unuseful. we need to build in a system that challenges and stimulates us continually. make the time and ensure your employer understands the importance of this... if you don't keep yourself resourced you will quickly become depleated and what benefit will that have to those you serve? the ideas listed are just that... ideas. they are some of the things i think work and i hope might inspire you, there are more, many more, more that you can probably add... that's great, please do. the important thing to remebember is to do something and to do it now before you let yourself get crushed under the weight of having to start all over.

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