Being professional – it’s part of the calling

The latest edition of Youthwork magazine is out and with it nearly four sides of letters responding to Ali Campbell’s article, “Youth ministry: profession or calling”, in the December edition. [Ali’s blog]
We all knew the article would stir up a storm and by golly it has. I find it in equal measure hilarious and tragic when people take up such polarised positions on this sort of thing. The very fact that there are strong feelings supporting the primacy of ‘calling’ and also of ‘profession’ suggests that there’s something important about both. Pete Leveson has made some helpful contributions to this discussion on his blog, try here as a starting point to his various posts.

I think there are three strands to this…

Professional
Whether qualified or not, salaried or volunteer, we should all aim to be professional, by which I mean to pursue excellence in what we do and to work to the highest standard. If you believe you’ve been called by God, you owe him your best, and that must include taking account of contemporary best practice.

Qualified
Whether we see ourselves as an “anointed youth minister” or a “professional youth worker” we should all aspire to continue learning, not just informally but formally as opportunities and resources allow. Qualifications aren’t everything – there are loads of people (some of them very famous) who are great youth workers who have no formal youth work qualifications. But equally, a qualification shows that someone has applied themselves to understand their field of work and reached a reasonable standard of competence. It tells you they’re serious about what they do, even if it tells you little about their passion, vision or character. To have nothing to do with even basic training (eg child protection) or qualifications (eg first aid) is irresponsible. To avoid training opportunities in youth work or theological education because you think you’ll learn all you need by being ‘led by the Lord’ is just pride and suggests that you’re unteachable.
At the very least, buy the occasional book on youth work/ministry and read it. A little training can go a long way.

Calling
Youth work is as broad as some people’s opinions seem to be narrow. So it’s not surprising that some are called to work as Christians within a non-faith based context (I choose my words with care) whereas some are called to work in more overtly evangelistic, discipleship or even church planting roles. What a glory this is, that in all spheres Christians are working with young people. And how thankful I am that there are many working in areas of youth work that I could never do.
God gifts and inspires us differently so it’s no wonder that we come to youth work with different aims, visions and goals. Within a responsible approach that embraces good practice there’s room for those with degrees and JNC’s as well as those with a natural gift of working with young people who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, have no formal qualification for the task.

Here at CYO we have, or have had, people on the team with no (relevant, formal) qualifications, people studying with the Centre for Youth Ministry, people doing part time study, and people with youth work diplomas or degrees. When recruiting we value qualifications and experience but especially character and, dare I say it, passion. But we also value potential – someone with an obvious hunger for this work and a desire to learn all they can about how to be the best they can be.

We want to keep on learning, pursuing excellence and seek always to be professional – it’s part of the calling.

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4 Responses to Being professional – it’s part of the calling

  1. Pete Lev says:

    Tim, thanks for the reference to my blog! Apprecaite your thoughts here. Like you I’m not surpised that the Youthwork article caused a storm (provoking is something Ali is good at!). I think this issue is part of a wider “crisis” as we shift to Post-Christendom and work out the church’s role in the wider community.

  2. Tim Abbott says:

    Pete,
    you’re definitely on to something in identifying the crisis as that of working out our role as youth workers within a post-Christian community. I guess it’s a bit like a youth work equivalent of the debate between inherited and emerging styles of church. It would be interesting to explore this further.
    I think one of the potential blind spots for people is understanding how much statutory youth work is beginning to appreciate the involvement and professionalism of Christians. It’s good to read the comments of the Chief Executive of the National Youth Agency in Youthwork magazine where he says, “Graduates from the CYM courses are among the country’s finest workers.” There’s also the growing interest in the field of spiritual development within youth work. In other words, a post-Christian society seems to be becoming increasingly open to Christian input (as part of a wider provision). We have examples within our own work.
    This is, in one sense, Christians being prophetic in their involvement in youth work in wider society beyond the church. God seems to be calling more and more to this kind of work – and you can’t do it without qualifications.

  3. Tim Abbott says:

    Pete,
    you’re definitely on to something in identifying the crisis as that of working out our role as youth workers within a post-Christian community. I guess it’s a bit like a youth work equivalent of the debate between inherited and emerging styles of church. It would be interesting to explore this further.
    I think one of the potential blind spots for people is understanding how much statutory youth work is beginning to appreciate the involvement and professionalism of Christians. It’s good to read the comments of the Chief Executive of the National Youth Agency in Youthwork magazine where he says, “Graduates from the CYM courses are among the country’s finest workers.” There’s also the growing interest in the field of spiritual development within youth work. In other words, a post-Christian society seems to be becoming increasingly open to Christian input (as part of a wider provision). We have examples within our own work.
    This is, in one sense, Christians being prophetic in their involvement in youth work in wider society beyond the church. God seems to be calling more and more to this kind of work – and you can’t do it without qualifications.

  4. Ali Campbell says:

    I hope I don’t just provoke people . . . !

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