The Downside of Being a Well-Resourced Youth Worker

My latest back page column (“Mark: My Words”) came out in the latest issue of Youthwork Magazine (UK). I wrote it for British youth workers, and there are a few places you have to remember that perspective if you don’t want to get confused.

The Downside of Being Well-Resourced

What youth worker, young or old, small church or large church, liberal or conservative, paid or volunteer, wouldn’t like to have a bit of an increase in resources for youth ministry?

You might be thinking: Nope. I’m good. I don’t care at all that we have, quite literally, no church budget to spend on youth ministry. I don’t care that we don’t have a room to meet in or give a little personality that reflects teenagers. I don’t care that the only piece of technology available to us is a 40-year-old overhead projector with a burned out bulb.

Sure. If you’re agreeing with that in any way, let me just come right out and say: You’re lying.

If I offered you a few thousand quid, or a sweet space to meet in, or a sexy laptop and projector (or whatever other bit of technology would spark your pilot light), you’d take it. You might demure a little, hem and haw once or twice. You might even say, “Well, we don’t really need this.” But you’d take it anyway.

Honestly, I get it. I’ve spent decades trying to weasel more funding, better space and some piece of technology that would at least bring us into the 1990s.

Resources make ministry easier, right?

Maybe. But there’s a darker side to being well-resourced.

I’m in New Zealand as I write this. I spoke these last few days at two youth ministry conferences: one on the south island, and one on the north island. Really wonderful youth workers here—brothers and sisters of ours who, just like I feel when I’m with my British youth ministry friends, are compelled by the same unique calling I have to reach teenagers with the love of Jesus.

Compared to youth workers in other countries I’ve visited, Kiwi youth workers are pretty well resourced. But compared to my ministry colleagues in the States, these youth workers of Aortearoa are way underfunded and under-resourced.

I see this under-resourcing even more dramatically when I’m with Latin American youth workers. A conversation about budgets and youth group rooms and allocated technology would simply be met with blank stares of bewilderment. They’ve got nothing, resourcewise.

And, while I might not be excited about swallowing the pill of what I’m about to write: I can tell that these under-resourced youth workers are better for it.

Their ministries might not be as slick. They might not be able to pull off much in terms of flash and wow. But at the end of the day, I think I need to call them blessed. Here’s why:

Over and over and over again, I have seen the resources of American youth workers (and I’m sure this is true for the few well-resourced youth workers in other countries, yours included) quietly and seductively become the focal point of hope.

I’m not saying that all American youth workers place their hope in salaries, budgets, rooms and tech, or that no youth workers from other countries don’t have misplaced hope. But I am saying, with some level of certainty of conviction based on the observation of thousands of youth workers: Resources can rob you of well-placed hope.

Once a youth worker acquires resources, they can quickly become demanding mistresses, begging for more attention. And even more dangerous, awesome resources consistently whisper to us: If you see good things happening in your ministry, it’s because of me.

Finally, looking at hope theologically, biblical hope always implies some ongoing longing for what we don’t yet have.

So: If you’re one of the few with a good amount of resources, beware. Be intentional about viewing your resources as a tool, and not a source of hope. And if you’re under-resourced, rejoice. You are blessed.  

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Mark Oestreicher
Mark Oestreicher is a 30-year veteran of youth ministry, and the former President of Youth Specialties. Marko has written or contributed to more than 50 books, including the much-talked-about Youth Ministry 3.0. Marko is a speaker, author, consultant, and leads the Youth Ministry Coaching Program.

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