Youth Workers, the church and supervision

In the last couple of days I’ve been considering the importance of supervision. Why we get effected, what to do about it and ultimately the importance that supervision plays in our practice when working with young people.

This has led to me to be a bit reflective about the times when I haven’t had supervision, the consequences of that and therefore ultimately when I really did need it. Of course hindsight is a luxury that no one has, which is why considering the question, “Do I need or should I have supervision?” is such an important question to ask right now.

One of the most pressured jobs, I have ever had, was that of a church youth worker. Working in a church meant that you played a multifaceted role in the lives of young people. I found myself being a guidance- counsellor, mentor, counsellor, leader, statutory youth worker, events co-ordinator, worship leader, technician, spiritual advisor, trainer, volunteer manager, preacher, life and soul of the party (not a role I am very good at, at all), I could go on and on.

The pressures, real or perceived come firstly from within, but also from a congregation looking at you to shape and release the next generation of the church to fully be themselves reaching out to their peers in their culture, while simultaneously preserving the status quo of the existing shape of church. From parents, who don’t want their children and youth to walk away from church (please put on activities that will attract them away from what the world offers). Leadership who look to you to be the youth specialist to advise them and therefore having the ability to “manage up” becomes your greatest skill. Again I could go on.

However, the flip side of this is a very rewarding and fulfilling calling where by you have the ability to uniquely speak into the lives of young people supporting their spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing. This is what you got into youth work for, this is what energizes more than anything else; being an integral part of the lives of the journey of a group young people.

In my work with young people through paid and voluntary, statutory and youth work in the church, some of the most dedicated, always on, ever-present youth workers have been those who have been church based. Going above and beyond in their delivery of support to young people they seem to be always available and always seem to be wanting to support the journey of the young person in what ever way they can.

Yet the role of a church youth worker can be a very isolating one and this is where I believe that often, although you may feel that you are being supported through your spiritual journey, often (and I’ve yet to hear of a single case where this isn’t true) it is the case that you receive no independent clinical supervision. You deal with so much of the rubbish these young people have to go through and yet what do you do with it? Where do you process this in a way that doesn’t compromise your position with your  line management? This is why in my previous blog I referred to the importance of separate clinical supervision to that of your work supervision. Someone who is independent has no connection or investment into your position or role development.

I really believe that church leaders need to recognise the vital role that is played out in the dynamic of a church youth leader and the young people they support and therefore ensure that independent clinical supervision is part of the package of ensuring that their mental wellbeing is considered vital to their personal development.

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