The Parable of the 2 Youth Workers

In a land far, far away there lived two youth workers. They couldn’t be any more different from one another and they had different levels of success.

The first got his first job working for a church. He was idealistic and keen to impress. He didn’t want anyone to think he was out of his depth and so did everything to please his new employer.

He’d faithfully attend the monthly Kirk Session meeting and share his latest ideas. The Elders smiled and the minister nodded his head in approval. “Let’s us know next month how you get on,” they said.

And so, as the months and years rolled by our first youth worker made great strides in the local community. New groups emerged, new projects took shape and new families joined the church.

It was like he had the Midas touch – everything he started was a success.

Everyone spoke about how great the youth worker was – the kids flocked to the groups and the adults were happy because the church was full.

“It’s just like the old days,” they’d say.

But the youth worker noticed the more successful he was the more those who had volunteered would step back. He was doing everything, but the people seemed happy. The parents loved how he was with the kids and the church members were ecstatic that the church was so busy. And so, he carried on, tired but happy that people thought he was a big success.

But there came a time when he decided to move on to pastures new and seek out a fresh challenge. Those in the church said to themselves, “we’ll never find a youth worker quite like him.”

And as the years went by the groups that were once so popular and successful started to die off until there was nothing left.

“If only we had our old youth worker,” the church members said to themselves. “He’d know what to do!”

The second youth worker had a different approach. She seemed so unsure about what she was meant to be doing. She spent more time talking to the old people in the church than she did with the children and young people.

In an attempt to be helpful, the elders and the minister would suggest ideas and projects for her to start. They’d really expected more when they had taken her on, she came highly recommended.

She seemed to concentrate her time on drinking coffee and chatting with the over 65s. Definitely not what the church expected when they employed a youth worker! Hours she’d spend enquiring about the people’s interests and passions. She’d encourage them to share their talents and gifts.

“Oh, we can’t do that,” they’d say. “We’re far too old and we have nothing to offer.” Or they’d say, “I used to be involved but I took a step back.”

The minister was really starting to tear his hair out – after 39 years in ministry he was mostly bald anyway! Why can’t she be this way with the children and young people, he thought to himself.

So as the months went by, no new groups or projects with young people emerged. It seemed to the minister nothing had changed from the first day she was hired, but he did recognise that she had built up good relationships with many of the older people within the church.

Aware of some of the groans in the background the youth worker decided it was time to move on. She hadn’t made as much progress as she would have liked to and the youth group still had to the same two members that were there before she started. The minister agreed that maybe it was best they parted ways.

The youth work experiment was deemed a failure and most of the church resigned themselves to being the next church earmarked for closure or even worse…a union.

Unwilling to give up that easily, two of the over 65’s in the church decided to start a craft group. “If no one else is going to do anything, then maybe we should,” they reasoned. “If nothing else, least we’ll be doing something we enjoy.” And so, they opened the doors and only one young person came. He loved the attention he got from the older ladies. They reminded him of his Gran, and he enjoyed getting to making lots of different things. The next week he came back with some friends and slowly but surely the group grew.

Gaining confidence from the success of the craft group some of the people within the church began to think of more ways they could use what they were passionate about to reach others.

One of the elders – who enjoyed hiking and the outdoors – decided to try setting up a walking group.

Another – who was a former teacher – decided she could spend an hour a week mentoring a pupil at the local high school.

A small group of the ladies wondered if young people would be interested in baking. And so, they made plans, on the first week they made a Victoria Sponge and the following week they worked on making a cheesecake. It was a huge success and the young people decided they could help a local charity by making and selling cakes. And so, the group continued.

Before the church knew it, its work with young people was thriving. They became famous across the country, and people would visit from other congregations to learn what their secret formula was.

As the group of over 65’s reflected on just how far they had come as a church in their work with young people, they all said the same thing…

The youth worker was right – we could do it!

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