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Youth Work - Following Jesus' Example

Tuesday 13th November 2012

The Archbishop of York today paid tribute to the contribution of young people in society at the National Christian Youth Work Awards. Describing Jesus as "the world's first detached youth worker", he encouraged young people to follow Jesus's example serving others. His speech follows....

I’m delighted to be able to welcome you to Bishopthorpe Palace for the National Christian Youth Work Awards again this year. 


Last year I was inspired by some of your stories – stories of hope, stories of dedication and stories of our glorious God at work through Youth Workers and through Young People.


Today I am looking forward to hearing more of the same.  I’m excited to hear what you’re doing.  Excited to hear about what new models of youth work are being grown around the country.


And of course I’m excited to hear stories of young people coming to faith in God!


The first thing I want to say to you is THANK YOU! 


Not only thank you for coming here (I think the Awards should be here next year as well), but thank you for the work that you do.  Thank you for going the extra mile.  Thank you for your endless patience with young people. 


Thank you for your dedication to the task.


About 8 years ago I was glad to be able to start a Youth Council for the Diocese of Birmingham. 


This group of about 25 young people came from all parts of the Diocese. 


They had various levels of faith, and of course they came from all over the Diocese.  They came from the Inner City, they came from the Suburbs, they came from the Outer Estates – but each one of them was passionate about their faith, and their age and their role within the Church.

We had some amazing times – nights when the young people laughed all night long and they sometimes forgot why they were there.


We had nights when we made some decisions to change the way that people saw youth work, and of course night when we ate good food.


We ran a Centenary mission together, built up the largest Youth Event in the country at the time, created a social action weekend for 1,000 people….and they are days I recall with great fondness. 


Today some of those young people are working with churches in Outer Estates, some of them are Teachers, some of them are Missionaries in fact their lives have been a continuous exciting journey it seems….

But I recall those days with fondness because it was through that Youth Council that we raised the profile of Youth Work in the Diocese of Birmingham.


I know that I’m singing to the choir when I say that Youth Work must continue to be right at the very heart of the Church’s life and witness. 


Young people are not a treasure to be stored up for our future, they are actually our present hope of changing things for the better right now!  So thank you for your commitment to the cause.


Secondly, I want to urge you to carry on and keep pressing onwards.

Through the work of my Youth Trust I hear regular examples of young people making things better for other people. 


Through our Young Leaders Award for instance I know that we now have almost 6,500 young people involved, serving their communities, and being the change they want to see… that’s exciting news!


But I also know that on that road to success there are disappointments and frustrations.  It can be difficult communicating your vision to your churches, your colleagues and dare I say even your managers? 


It can be a hard slog and sometimes even God seems distant. 

King David writes in Psalm 10,

Why Lord do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
(Psalm 10:1)


And again even the prophet Isaiah is forced to conclude

“Truly you are a God who hides yourself” (Isa 45:15).

So in those tough times my friends, I do pray that you will be sure of your calling and be sure of your place as a child of God. 


Youth Work is an absolutely vital part of the Church’s ministry to a hurting world and we must not cease in our fight to make it become an even greater priority!


And thirdly, I want to remind you that the bible is full of young people who make a difference.  Whilst we might work with a marginalised group, throughout the scriptures we see young people at the heart of some of the most exciting stories of hope.


There is Mary the mother of Jesus.  King David, Jeremiah, Joseph the dreamer.  There is a strong suggestion also that the entire group of Jesus’ disciples are young men – perhaps only Peter is over twenty. 


Certainly this changes the way we see the Disciples if they are so young – you could almost argue that Jesus was the world’s first detached youth worker!


So as the Bible is full of young people, we must view our work as a holy calling. 


In conclusion my friends, I am so grateful for your work, your innovation and your dedication. 


Thank you for all that you do, and God Bless you in your youth work.


For more information on the National Youth Work Awards, click here.

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