Resumes force us to pin titles and descriptions to what we do. We write down the positions we’ve held and the time we’ve spent in them. Every church has it’s nuances. They want a youth leader, youth pastor, youth worker, youth director, or youth minister. Sometimes the title depends on different types of qualifications. Sometimes it’s about the church culture. Sometimes there seems to be no underlying reason–they drew a title out of a hat. But if you ask people who are dedicated to youth ministry, they would tell you that none of it really matters to them.
I’ve been all of these title before–none of them that different from the other.
Call us whatever you want, as long as we get to do youth ministry.
The activity (responsibility) of caring for youth and their families. Sometimes we call it youth group, sometimes it’s age-specific (middle school, high school, college), it’s the way a faith group (a Church or religious organization) engages it’s kids.
The person or people who lead that effort are the youth minster director pastor worker leader people.
But there’s something more to it than this simple definition and title.
There are dynamic people involved. They are people who Jesus loves, people he was broken for. Because we know that, we’ll pretty much do anything for the ones we serve. It’s more than a program. It’s more than hype. It’s real people with real needs. And sometimes those needs lead us to washing dishes in their mom’s kitchens, sitting on curbs waiting for rides, letting our bags get rummaged through by gum seeking pirates, giving up our bonuses and paychecks for pizza and pop (soda, Coke, carbonated beverage).
And it’s also about advocacy.
If you want, you can go ahead and add youth advocate to your resume. You may not realize it, but it is what you are.
I’m learning, as I find may way around in a new role in youth ministry,that youth ministry has always been about advocacy.
Here’s a simple way to describe what advocates do.
- Advocates speak on behalf of someone who can’t speak for themselves
- Advocates raise consciousness about something
- Advocates do the things that need to happen for speaking and influencing possible (the implied actions of one and two)
I’m not saying that every youth worker person needs to change their name to “youth advocate”. Call yourself whatever gives you the most influence for a kid and their family. What I am saying is that advocacy is something you should be proud to say exists in your youth ministry.
Who does a youth person speak for? They speak up for kids. They speak for families who are learning how to be better families. They notice needs and notice patterns. They intervene and interrupt cycles of pain with glimpses of hope. Youth people fight for hearts ( they advocate for hearts to be whole and healed). They give imagination to kids who may not be able to see the shore from their current storm. They speak for teenagers who have never had an adult speak up for them before. They speak for the lonely and the confused. They speak for the one who can’t put their faith into words yet, they make more room for everyone.
What do they raise consciousness about? They teach communities that families are important and powerful influences on a kids life and faith formation. They hold the bull-horn for protecting vulnerable kids and are the once who come to staff meetings with broken hearts every week. They educate families about development and walk with parents when they are learning that the phase that their kid is in isn’t the end of the world but the beginning of a new one. We educate kids about their parents and their friends and teach them how to have conversations with adults (and with each other) and how to ask good questions. They teach the world how valuable kids are in the world.
What do youth advocates do? They do their best to answer three questions
- “What can I influence?”
- “Who can I influence?”
- “What breaks my heart in youth ministry?”
People who make caring about teenagers and their families their life’s work understand that we will never have what it takes to tackle every need that we see. But we do have what it takes to interrupt the cycles of despair in a persons life. We do better looking at the whole picture, at how a kids life can be changed over time and when the root causes of pain, brokenness, hurt, poverty, dysfunction….are interrupted with hope, care, presence, prayer, community, play, truth, trust, and story.
The more specific you get about your advocacy the more you’ll be able to speak up and influence the thing that breaks your heart in youth ministry.
So, go ahead and add youth advocate to your linked-in profile (that profile you never pay any attention to) so when someone wants to know more about you–it’ll be clear. It’s what you are. You’re all about fighting for hearts, for kids, for families, for unbroken places in the world.