At the YWS Early day Marko shared how the priorities of adolescents have changed over time. He suggested that teenagers have three developmental priorities Identity, Autonomy and Affinity. Explaining that in the later 20th century teenagers’ primary priority was in gaining Autonomy, and the other priorities were then understood and worked out in the context of Autonomy. Where as there has now been a shift towards Affinity [understanding where do I belong] being a priority with the other elements being set in the context of to what to I belong
A key point being that many of the models of Church youth ministry that we use are based on the model of helping young people develop autonomy by working with them seperately from the body of the church. Where now we should be focusing on helping them to see where they belong. However it has now struck me that two of the youth work values that we are taught to uphold as sacred in youth work, are also aimed at autonomy. Voluntary Participation and Empowerment, as valuable as they are, should perhaps be joined by a value to Enable Belonging. In the context of my own community based youth work, where the primary aim is not discipleship, I can now see this working our in that the young people are developing a sense of belonging to the project. This also helps me to understand why my attempts to empower them in their community have been met somewhat with less enthusiasm than I envisaged.
But what does this say about longevity and commitment to youth work. I am convinced that short term community youth work can be more damaging than nothing at all – a funding requirement in a previous project meant that I was never able to work with young people for more than 8 weeks. Given the what I have written above, young people would in this situation be looking to us to see if we offered a place where they could belong… just as we stopped. I did not need today’s teaching to show me this was a bad model to work with. However the alternative does then cause us a danger to slip towards the endless pressure put upon youth workers in supposed relational youth work – where there is never enough time to spend the time with every young person that deserves it
There is therefore a need to recognise the importance of creating a sense of belonging, brought through longevity in youth work, without that belonging being focused on us as individual workers, but belonging to God’s family through Christ. How we practically do this? I’m not quite sure…