What’s this about? The irony of working age and youthwork: the irony of being too young to know what you are are doing, or too old to be relevant. So they say….

A question came up on a facebook group the other day: ‘I am 21 years old and feel as a youthworker I don’t get any respect, what can I do to appear older/get more respect? I think it is because of my age.’

I’ve loved all my years of youthwork and working with children, but it’s not all been plain sailing. The biggest problems usually have been around my interactions with adults who don’t do the work, but like to give advice from the sides.  A bit like those people at football matches shouting instructions to the players, and saying if they are good or bad….

But like those in-the-stands advisors, the people who gave the advice on how I should be doing the youthwork hadn’t had the training. Hadn’t actually had the experience.  And certainly weren’t in it. (As a side note, a friend of mine has just experienced exactly the same thing…so this is still relevant to 2018!).

It was probably my age. When I wasn’t being told what to do, or I could resist what they were saying, things grew massively.

Yes, people thought I was too young to actually know what I was doing. Even though I did.  The good news and the reason why they employed me is that I was ‘relevant to the kids’ because I was nearer their age.  So I was more understanding. More relevant. Trained…but obviously too young to actually KNOW what I was supposed to do….

Then there is the irony.  Because growing older there is the assumption in the church that you will move on to become a teacher, or to become a minister.  I even had it said to me as I was in my training that I was no longer someone who worked with youth and children, even though I was convinced and am convinced to be that I am a minister dedicated to working with young people and children. It is my natural habitat. And look at all those years of experience…

But I kind of get the feeling that if I look at applying for jobs, I have a bit of a problem. My age. Surely a 48 year old is now a little irrelevant? I should be in a more mature advisory capacity or something.

Now youthworkers won’t think that. But there is part of me that wonders if employers would look at me and consider that I was to old to be relevant.

Ok, so heres the thing. My mum kept doing youthwork until Dad retired. Not children’s work, youthwork. And she has been awesome. And they loved her. And many of them are in church today from the years of faithful work that she has done.

Of course there is also the problem that I face that being somewhat more advanced in my skills base and stuff I do get paid much more now than I did as a fresh faced youthworker.  So £26k for a youthwork job when I am also going to have to find money for rent/mortgage is just not going to cut it.  Family to feed…and in future possibly university bills to pay.

In 1 Timothy 4.12

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

The problem, as I see it, is that we have two problems going on.

The first is that we live in a Peter Pan climate. Everyone trying to be young all the time…and the fear of employing people past their sell by date EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE THE MOST EXPERIENCED AND BRING LIFE AND 10,000 HOURS TO THE SITUATION.

So older people are going to be looked after in favour of younger people who can do the work. Interestingly the church is looking to try and be more relevant by being younger and doing cool things. Ok, so I DJ…and you might think that is me just trying to be cool. Until you look at my track record and what I do and what I am into. You’d realise that I only do things because I love to do them. And just because I am on trend is actually completely by accident. (I have just bought first record player in ages, one of those ion ones

And latest ‘stormzy’ vinyl. Didn’t buy it to be cool, just like it. And vinyl…. When I bought it I couldn’t get to the shelves without fighting with 14-25 year olds flipping through the racks… and buying old stuff! And if I use it enough then I will get a couple of decks to go with my DJ gear.)

And I am writing this whilst listening to some drum and bass from Spearhead records on Mixcloud.

Hashtag never too old….

The problem is that the church is trying to have a youthful look, but its repeating its mantra of ‘hey look, we are cool…now come do things our way’. (see James Ballantyne’s reflection on this ) Fresh expressions is all about emersion in the culture. The message is the same ancient path. But the context is a new wine skin, proclaimed fresh amongst every new generation.

Of course we do need relevancy, and some younger workers do relate better. And the older one’s need to pull back and make room. But how far should we pull back? Is perhaps the problem not enough young people to work with? Er…no….lots there still. Oh hang on, there’s not a lot actually in CHURCH. Ah…so what we need to do is to go. Work out how to do that. Get out of the pews. And stop trying to get the young people into pews.

How about young people could become Christians and transform the places where they are. Discover Jesus in their context. Ooooo…now that would be exciting.

Oh hang on…that’s what I am trained for. Awesome!

OK, so too old, or too young? Seems like you can never keep all the people happy all the time. I don’t even remember the cross over period when I was baby bear’s ‘just right’. Still people are telling me what and how I should be doing things (and once they stopped and I went under the radar things have grown….history repeats….) but now I just get that sense of others thinking I am too old. Perhaps I should grow up? Rubbish. You can’t win.

So if you can’t win, you be yourself. You just do it. Because God made you and me the way he made you and me for today: this time and this place. You don’t like my age? Or how I do things? Well actually I do them in the way I feel God wants me to do them today.  I am neither too young, nor too old. And will never be.

Maybe we should also be saying, don’t look down on you either because you are too young or too old?

What do you think? What’s your experience? Do you feel too old or young? (I reply to any comments you leave, so feel free to leave them).

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Any any thoughts are my own and probably should be taken with a good pinch of salt 😉