Placement One

For my first placement as part of my youth work degree, I arrived as a fresh-faced youth worker ready to work, learn and have fun. Very quickly the reality set in of a lonely placement where I was viewed as a pastor of the whole church, rather than the youth work placement I had expected.

In my first month, I was asked to baptise someone who I didn’t know and hadn’t worked with in order to ‘establish authority within the church’. I believe authority, when used correctly, is appropriate and needed in many organisations, including churches. However, this immediate need to establish me as a pastor of the whole church, as well as a number of other circumstances, left me in conflict with the senior pastor from the first. By Christmas, I was on antidepressants and I went home as much as I could to surround myself with friends and family.

The academic year went on and I continued to work at meeting all the competencies needed for my degree. During the final months, my college and I found another placement for my final two years.

Placement Two

In my second placement, I found an established youth worker to work with who knew the church well. The youth calendar was full of socials, Bible studies and café church, meaning there was plenty to get involved with. I breathed a sign of relief that the hard bit was over; now it was time to focus on what I loved most – supporting young people. I completely threw myself into the academic work during this second year and fell in love with learning theology – discovering who God is and seeing how that affected my interactions with young people.

The biggest lesson I learnt was around the importance of healthy working relationships. It was brutal to learn but it shapes my attitude to all areas of life to this very day. As my relationship with my second supervisor went sour I began to develop a complex around whether I was bad to work with. The final straw came when I was sat down for what I thought was a regular supervision meeting. I went in with my notepad and pen, ready to discuss the agenda from the previous meeting. What happened next felt like the end of my career in youth ministry, and the end of my walk with Jesus.

He sat opposite me, pulled out a notepad and proceeded to explain to me, with examples, why I was a bad youth worker and how untrustworthy I was. It was ruthless. The saddest part was that he didn’t even realise how cruel he was being; he truly believed he was doing the right thing.

My hours were cut to five per week. I went into intensive counselling twice a week – I felt dead inside. My mind, body and soul had officially tapped out of the youth ministry game. Unsurprisingly, my college and I decided to move placement again. Third time’s the charm, right?

Placement Three

For my third placement, I sat in front of two directors and was brutally honest about what had happened over the last two years. This included my complex about being bad to work with as well as the great anxiety I felt coming to a new placement. I didn’t even think they’d take me on, yet, to my surprise they did.

As the final year of my degree went on, I was praised for appropriately exposing my vulnerabilities, for my professionalism in the work place and for my desire to grow young people, those I worked with and myself to be the best we could possibly be.

The biggest lesson I learnt was around effective supervision. I am living proof that effective supervision can help a person flourish into the best they can be. After everything that happened, including telling lecturers, ‘I quit,’ I graduated with a first class degree and a glowing reference for future employers.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have challenges in my third placement. However, those challenges occured within in a supportive environment and they developed my character even more. It’s truly amazing what can happen when people believe in you. I feel exhausted just recalling all that happened in those three years yet I refuse to not learn from those experiences:

Youth Workers… you are not alone. Think about why you’re involved in youth ministry and use that to motivate you to continue learning, growing and developing into the best you can possibly be. Have grace for yourself and those you work with. You know best that youth work isn’t about drinking coffee and playing games. It’s hard work and you’re allowed to have ‘off days’.

Supervisors… take a moment to think of positive elements of those you supervise. You’re not there to create a mini-you but to support an individual to flourish. You have a challenging yet privileged position to help develop others into the best they can be.

Students… look after yourself! That day off you’re meant to have? Take it and treat yourself to an overpriced coffee and cake. Look after your mental health by having a mentor you can ‘offload’ on and support you during your youth work training. The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous

The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous