No man is an island, entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.John Donne
This excerpt from the English poet John Donne should adorn the wall of the office of every youth worker. Stereotypically, youth workers are seen by those “on the outside” as being fun-loving extroverts that are surrounded by people almost all the time. Although there is some shred of truth to that perception, the reality is too often vastly different. After 20+ years in youth ministry and having countless conversations with youth workers throughout that time, it is clear that being a youth leader is often a lonely place, dare I say an island.
For this reason, it is critical to the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being for youth workers to connect with other people in their field. As those relationships and networks evolve over time incredible collaborative ministry initiatives bubble up. Below are 4 steps to creating a collaborative community of youth workers that will insure that you don’t find yourself as “an island” and might produce effective initiatives as well.
1. Reach Out – Every relationship begins with one party reaching out to another individual. Building a network of youth workers begins by taking a risk and reaching out to other youth workers. Maybe that is identifying other youth workers within your denominational structure. Or maybe it is drawing a 10 mile circle around your church, finding every church in that circle, and contacting them to find out who the youth worker is. Even if it is only a group of 3 or 4 that’s okay. The number involved is not nearly as important as the community created. So make a list and then make some calls.
2. Open Up – Vulnerability has become somewhat of a buzzword in our Christian culture, but it is a crucial aspect that needs to be a part of any true community. So as you begin to meet with your community of youth workers, be willing to open up with them in order to move the relationships beyond the surface level. Clearly, this will happen over time as you get to know each other better and as the trust level increases among the group. But once a safe climate is created, be willing to open up. It might make sense as a group to create a covenant agreement early on that would help ease the anxiety of sharing with each other.
3. Share Passions – Don’t just spend your time together griping about your church culture or parents or that one junior high kid that annoys you to no end. Share personally about what passions you have for youth ministry. What keeps you doing what you do in ministry? What activities make your heart jump for joy? You might find that there are common passions among the group that you could build upon.
4. Address Common Needs – Brainstorm together common needs among your churches and/or your community. I know of one community that had a season where 4 young people committed suicide in less than a year. A group of youth workers that had created a community came together and pooled resources to host a gathering that dealt with the issue of suicide head on. It was very helpful for that community to begin the healing process, but none of those churches could have pulled that off on their own. Too often in churches we focus more on what makes us different rather than what we have in common. Maybe your youth worker network could begin to change that mentality in your community.
God created us to be in community. We were not made to do life OR ministry on our own. Even when we are fortunate enough to have persons within our congregation with whom to share ministry, it is helpful to have persons from outside of our congregation to walk alongside as we fulfill our calling to be in ministry with youth. May these suggestions help you get off the island and into a community of other youth workers as you seek to have His kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.