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Youth work after lockdown

What is happening to our young people during lockdown?

What will happen to our young people after lock-down?

And what will be the shape of Christian youth work in response?

As I grow Youth Work Journeys I have so many fascinating conversations with youth workers and many people who are concerned for our young people. Then I listen to young people and my own teenage children with their joys, concerns and hopes. I listen to the radio news. I read the Guardian and explore its’ amazing journalism. I listen to teachers and teaching assistants. I also seek the listening places with God.

I listen to them all.

And I think, and I write some, think then write some more and finally, slowly decide to speak.

In lockdown our young people are being changed; opportunities lost, hardships and griefs endured. Some of them are less affected and some are even finding benefits to lockdown, notably those who struggle with fitting into school. Today as I hear politicians speak of paths out of lock-down I want to state what I think life will be like for young people after lockdown and how youth workers should respond.

I think young people will respond to the easing and perhaps even ending of lockdown in two ways. Downwards and inwards is the first, upwards and outwards is the second. The first, downwards and inwards will be a continuation of the depressing spiral of doubts, fears, anxieties and mental ill-health that will keep vulnerable young people isolated and struggling. Losing confidence and connections they will be increasingly hard to meet or re-connect with.

The second response, upwards and outwards, will be the joyful explosion of young people back into the world. They will be desperate to re-connect with friends and break-out into old and new experiences. At worst this may lead to excess drug or alcohol and harmful relationships. At best it will be a celebration of compassion of creativity to re-make their world. And I suppose there will be some who drift in-between those two positions.

For youth workers, churches and youth projects the challenge will be to respond to both movements. ‘Downwards and inwards’ will require counselling, one-to-one work and a patient compassionate presence amongst the hurt. ‘Upwards and outwards’ will require dynamic and high energy youth work that provides quality relationships with trusted people. This is not just entertainment but a way to harness the incredible vision, energy and creativity of young people, who in the same breath want to play silly games and also change the injustices of the world.

As Christians therefore we look to Jesus meeting the woman at the well in John 4 as a model for the ‘downwards and inwards’. Here the hope-filled healing of a whole community grows out of Jesus’ compassion, sensitivity and support to a person excluded from the society, turned in on herself and away from her neighbours. Downwards and inwards indeed.

For the ‘upwards and outwards’ perhaps Matthew’s party in Matthew 9 is the guide. At this party all kinds of people find themselves at home with Jesus. Sinners and saints, the keen and the passer-by all found life around Jesus, a ‘life in all its’ fulness’ kind of life. Can you imagine the conversations! This was not just entertainment though, for this party sparked God’s new life.

I love to think that I could support Christian youth workers to enable this kind of work across Scotland. While I cannot know exactly what they will do, I know that the ones who will discover growth and new life will not just sit back and do the same as before. There will be no return to ‘normal’ for this crisis is a huge time of opportunity. A timid approach sitting in the middle of our churches will not be the answer. A life-changing adventure of risk and love and service in God’s name is the way and has always been the way for the best Christian youth workers.

I look forward to sharing that journey with you.


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