When you work for someone or a group of people, it defines the relationship. Working for someone means they decide everything. All of the power shifts to one side of the relationship. In youth ministry, they decide what success and failure look like. Parents get to decide the effectiveness of the youth worker, the pastor gets weighs in on how the youth ministry is running and the teenagers vote on how much they like the person serving under this model.
No wonder becoming a Sr. Pastor is seen as a reward for so many years of youth ministry. It’s like the church says, “You survived how many years in youth ministry?! Ah, you must be ready for the big time then.”
While this paradigm isn’t all bad, it sets up the youth worker, usually a younger, less experienced for failure. The failure comes in a false sense of significance. When you work for someone, all your goals have to be their goals. The job shifts to achieving the many measurable outcomes of all of your bosses (staff, parents, teens). While you are meeting those goals (rarely) you feel good about yourself – successful. When things aren’t measuring up to all the expectations, you feel like a failure.
So here is another way. Why not work with a church?
Working with someone means you consider their expectations, weigh their needs and make your own goals. This balances the equation of longevity in youth ministry. The work of youth ministry is shared under this model. All the expectations are still there, mind you, but the youth worker gets to work within those to define their role. Working with parents means hearing their hopes for their children and partnering with them. Working with a Sr. Pastor becomes a shared burden for the people of your church. Working with teens adds a dynamic quality of ministry instead of a static program.
I admit, I’m playing a semantic game here. Switching prepositions won’t change anyone’s work. However, changing the purpose of meaning of youth work does drastically affect your work.
A great book to read if this post resonated with you would be Orbiting the Giant Hairball.