Youth work: what’s the point?

Graeme Thompson

11.10.2022 | Congregational Life, Youth & Children

Graeme Thompson, PCI’s Youth Development Officer, reflects on the importance of regaining purpose in this season of work among young people.  

Anyone involved with young people for any length of time will at least once have found themselves asking the question “what’s the point?” People let us down. Young people don’t show up. The programme turns out to be a disaster! Or we can simply question whether our efforts are achieving anything. Many leaders feel weary at the start of this season and, as they face numerous challenges, may be asking if it is all worth it. 

But actually, this is a really good time to ask “what’s the point?” - perhaps there has never been a better time. “What’s the point?”can be a positive question which gives our work meaning, purpose and vision. Simply running familiar activities and programmes with no clear understanding of why can be discouraging. However, if we carefully consider what the point is of what we are doing, the answer will shape our priorities and give us clear motivation for what we do week by week. 

At a recent event for youth workers, Nicola Clarke from Orangefield Presbyterian shared her vision for the work with young people in her congregation and community. She explained that her motivation and purpose are based on Isaiah 61, “to proclaim good news to the poor…to bind up the brokenhearted…(that) they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (v1-3) What Nicola outlined prompts us all to ask: is our vision for young people big enough? Do we ask God to let us see them as he does? Each young person has enormous potential in the hands of almighty God, not just for the future but for now, not just for themselves but for transforming their communities. When we see “the point” through the eyes of God, it changes everything. 

Whatever the size or resources of our congregation, this can help us to think differently about what we do and to see young people as not just consumers of the programmes we run, but people with innate, God-given potential. It makes us think about which young people we should be engaging with in our churches and communities, and what our vision is for them. If we take time to review our focus, adjust our sights to ensure we are looking in the right direction, we will look:

  • Beyond maintaining programmes, towards making disciples:

As we emerge from the interruption of the pandemic, it is tempting to protect what we know best and hope it will work as it did before, but in these days we must ensure that we use limited resources to invest in young people as individuals in a focused way. That may mean readjusting our cycle of activities in order to give the best opportunities we practically can for each young person, introduce them to Jesus and equip Christian young people to live for him. 

  • Beyond congregation only, towards community opportunities:

The young people in our organisations and church member families are so important to us, so we will naturally begin with their needs and potential. But we must not stop there. For long-term growth and strength, not just of our youth ministry but our congregations, we must increasingly look at the opportunities in our wider sphere of influence, through friendship connections, fringe members and into our wider community where we can.

  • Beyond frantic activity, towards focused outcomes:

When we clearly identify what we want our programmes and activities to achieve in the lives of our young people, we will be better able to work towards making them effective and fruitful. Having a clear reason for every organisation, session and activity cannot guarantee “success”, but will certainly be more fulfilling and never feel “pointless”! 

When we know the point, it helps us ensure that we have not just taught truth to young people, but helped them to live it out in their real lives. When we know the point, it helps us to remember that if our organisation is a gateway for young people from outside the church, it is important to build bridges to the rest of the church family. When we know the point, it helps us remember that it is sometimes better to train young people up to do something than take the easier option of doing it ourselves. When we know the point, we feel at liberty to change or drop part of a programme in order to make sure it works best in that moment. When we know the point, we feel the satisfaction in seeing the value of our part in a bigger picture, and remember not to try to do everything.

So whatever our engagement with young people in this season, we may do well to ask two critical questions:

Why am I doing this? What drives me? What guides me? What gets me out on a cold, wet evening to work with messy young lives and unpredictable situations? If the answer is the love of Jesus and our desire to show, or tell, young people about that love, then our work will have a purpose and energy that overcomes any weariness or challenge. 

What is the point? What is the purpose of this activity or programme? What do I want to see happen in these young lives? How do I know it is working? 
Let us ask God to show us the potential in each young person and the point of everything we do as our part of something much greater.

Graeme Thompson is PCI's Youth Development Officer.

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