This blog was written by Mike Stark, youth pastor at Niddrie Community Church, a church plant in the projects of Edinburgh Scotland. Please pray for their church as they host various Christmas activities this month for the local community. You can read the original blog post at:niddriepastor.com.
If any professional ever had a claim to the title ‘Jack of all trades’, it would surely be the church Youth Worker. What other profession can boast such diversity in roles as counselor, entertainer, artist, cleaner, cinematographer, people manager, taxi driver, web developer, teacher, caretaker, do-it-yourself expert, technology guru, chef, referee, befriender, musician, theologian, administrator, shepherd and pastor? That’s by no means an exhaustive list, and very few of these roles feature on my job spec. Why is it that Christian Youth Workers will almost certainly have to try their hand at most of these roles (and others we might add) throughout their time in ministry?
Part of living in a community is being aware of the needs around us, having compassion on those in need, and being flexible and prepared to meet the needs of those in our community to the best of our ability. This is community living, and it’s not just limited to the realm of Christian Youth Work. Most of my ministry staff team will relate to the feeling of being a Jack of all trades too.
What do young people need?
So the question is: what are the needs of the young people in our community? Let’s first differentiate between perceived needs and actual needs. As Bible believing Christians, we know that the actual need – the fundamental need – is to hear the Gospel, to trust in Jesus and be transformed from the inside out, under the lordship of Christ. Obviously, few young people will approach you directly looking for the antidote to their sinful heart condition, and demanding an introduction to the Lord. For the young person, their perceived need will be quite different, though not insignificant. This is where we need to be alert to the perceived needs and flexible enough to work with them. And as we begin to meet these needs, we actually find ourselves with many more opportunities to address that more fundamental need.
For those within the 16-20 year old category in Niddrie, getting a job is one of the biggest perceived needs. In fact, quite a number of the opportunities I’ve had with this age group have come off the back of what you might call careers advice. So we can go ahead and add ‘careers adviser’ to the list above…
This week, UK Chancellor George Osbourne outlined plans for a £1bn package to tackle youth unemployment, which has been on the rise since the turn of the millennium, and hit a record high of 1.02 million in the months running up to September this year.
The "Youth Contract" proposed by the coalition government hopes to provide nearly half a million new opportunities for young people, including apprenticeships and work experience placements. Employers are being offered cash incentives to take on apprentices between 18 and 24 years old. (Read more about the Youth Contact scheme on the BBC: "Clegg: £1bn scheme will 'provide hope' to young jobless")
How does this apply to us? In Niddrie, we have some young people who want a job but aren’t motivated enough to find one, while others are desperate for a job, any job, and will do whatever it takes to get one. It’s the latter group that I seem to find myself working alongside most often.
So I help these guys put together their resume, fill in job applications (online or written), provide potential employers with character references, and coach young people through interviews – I’ve even loaned out one of my ties. All the while I’m keeping an ear to the ground for any jobs that might be going among employers I know personally, and looking for ways to develop the relationships I have with these young people beyond "careers advice" to genuine friendships where the gospel naturally comes out. It’s a different approach to that of all the other youth organisations and careers agencies (and there are many!) that are working in the community. Not better… just different. The sad reality is that there are loads of employable and motivated young people who still can’t find jobs in the current climate, especially in areas like Niddrie, and that’s disillusioning.
Micro-businesses and apprenticeships
With so few suitable jobs going, what more can we be doing for these young people? Of course we can continue to offer advice, polish their CV’s and point them in the direction of suitable vacancies, but is there a way in which we can actually provide gainful employment ourselves? Can the church be that vacancy? As I read these articles about youth unemployment and the government’s Youth Contract proposals, different individuals and situations were brought to mind and I couldn’t help but dream of the possibilities.
Some of the ideas we’ve had in the past have been focused on training; for example, young people working alongside Christian tradesmen, learning new skills and being exposed to the gospel. This would be a more accessible, manageable step towards an actual trade apprenticeship.
Lately, we’ve been thinking about helping young people establish micro-businesses: 1 or 2 person businesses with little overhead costs and a reasonable profit-margin. These might include: gardening, cleaning, pet-sitting, selling crafts, or anything we can imagine. I know of a guy who makes bracelets in his spare time out of high-tensile parachute chord which can be undone in such a way as to provide a length of chord of several feet for use in emergencies. He makes them while watching TV each evening and sells them on eBay to Jack Bauer wannabe’s and makes a fortune!
Might we offer Christian young people church-based apprenticeships, covering the gambit of work we do as a church? Maybe training them in adventure activities and outdoor education, giving them experience of work with the elderly, serving in the café, or in the schools? Wouldn’t it be great if, in the not so distant future, the church could plug into initiatives like the government’s £1bn Youth Contract scheme, and actually offer young people short term employment and training opportunities ourselves?
Nick Clegg says that the £1bn scheme will ‘provide hope’ to the young jobless. It would certainly be great to see more and more young people finding work, but at the end of the day we’re not careers officers. We know that the real need of our community goes beyond jobs and financial security, important though these things are. So we, through whatever means, seek to share that real, deep-seated, lasting hope that we have through the gospel.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)
Pray for us as we think these things through.