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Youth ministry needs long-term investment

10 June 2022

The C of E’s plans to ‘grow younger’ will falter without funding to train specialists, argues Pete White

THE next three years’ new funding priorities, which seek to double the number of children and young disciples by 2030, are to be welcomed (News, 13 May). It is disappointing, however, that the headline priorities make no mention of specific funding to make this happen. If the Church of England is to “grow younger”, it will need to change drastically the way in which it thinks about, and invests resources in, training leaders to work with children, young people, and families.

A training pathway is needed for specialist children and youth workers or ministers who can provide particular skills, expertise, and experience with younger age groups, and who work closely with clergy and lay ministry leaders to enable the Church to grow younger. We must also invest in training all clergy and lay ministers to be confident in their ministry with younger age groups.

Clergy set the culture and priorities of their churches. It is they who will lead the change that is needed if the Church is to engage with younger generations. They need to think about children, not only adults, as the focus of ministry, and understand how to ensure that they are a valued and central part of the church community. Theological colleges must ensure that younger generations are considered when applying teaching in every course module for every student, not just those who show interest in this area.

IN THE diocese of Peterborough, we are encouraging all of clergy to prioritise ministry with children, young people, and families. In practice, this means one training day every year for each year group of curates. It means actively recruiting new clergy who have experience and skills in work with children and young people. It means including questions in Continuing Ministerial Development reviews about ministry with younger generations. And we make sure that we have the specialist training and coaching support ready to offer to those parishes that are keen to develop this vital ministry.

We also include children’s and youth ministry in our training programmes for lay ministry. It is so easy to think about adults only when we discuss ministry, whether it is in the context of preaching, teaching, leading worship, prayer ministry, or evangelism. Yet we need to recognise that children and young people will be present in our churches. If we assume that they will not be, then the chances are that they will not feel welcome, and we should not be surprised when they do not hang around.

But none of this will be effective without the specialists: the children’s and youth ministers or workers. It has baffled me for years that the C of E has never provided a centrally funded or endorsed route for qualification in youth and children’s ministry, and no formal recognition of this as a valid ministry. If this ministry is your vocation, you have to find your own way; and, once you get there, it is up to your bishop whether you get any authorisation or licence as is given to other lay ministries.

A CHURCH that is to grow younger needs specialist children and youth workers to work alongside the clergy. We know that church growth and investment in children and youth ministry go hand in hand. Yet we have failed to do anything more than take note of that fact. Fewer youth workers are employed in the C of E than ten years ago, and even fewer are being trained. There is a shortage of qualified and experienced youth and children’s workers for churches wanting to employ them.

It is obvious to most young adults that, if you are called to minister to young people, you will have to find and pay for your own training. After that, any job on offer will most probably be on a short-term contract and poorly paid.

Youth and children’s ministry posts in churches tend to be either part-time or funded for just two to three years — often both. This is an obvious deterrent to those considering this as a vocational option, but it also means that the youth ministry often never really develops. This short-term thinking has to be challenged, because it is at the heart of the reason that, for decades, the C of E has not been growing younger.

Our diocesan Strategic Development Fund project offers both a funded training pathway to degree level and longer-term employment. It seeks to make an offer to children and youth ministers that is similar to that which is made to ordinands. This means that the diocese will support their college fees, and pay them to work for us while they train, and then offer a full-time post after qualification, as they embed their post as a deanery children- or youth-ministry enabler. By tapering the funding for parishes, we aim to achieve sustainable funding that will develop the long-term relational ministry that the Church needs.

Growing younger will start to happen when the Church ensures that all ministers, ordained and lay, are equipped for the task. I believe we will see the biggest impact, however, if we take the long-term view: make significant investment in the training of specialist children and youth ministers, recognise their ministry as equal in status to other lay ministries, and identify ways to secure longer-term posts in which their calling is honoured and their ministry can truly develop.

Canon Pete White is director of children and youth in Peterborough diocese.

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