For the first time ever, Youthwork opened up its doors for a one-day writers masterclass. Sixteen youth workers gathered from all corners of the country to share ideas, learn skills and to hone their craft. In the coming weeks we will be posting guest blogs from the attendees – here’s one from Jon Ashley.
Until quite recently, I had two phones. One was for work and hidden away on my precious day off, the other could only be reached by dialing my personal number. For almost two years I withheld this number as if my sanity was tethered to it not being revealed to young people – or worse – their parents.
My personal number was distributed exclusively to friends and family; but over the eight or so months since relinquishing the work handset I’ve come to the cringingly painful realisation that this two-phone arrangement was precisely that: exclusive. The whole process has really challenged the thinking behind my boundaries.
On reflection, I think I’ve been a prime example of someone who ‘over-boundaried’ at the start of my career - and it was at the expense of deep relationship with my young people. The clearer the boundary I made between work life and personal life, the easier it was for my young people to see me as two separate people and perceive a metaphorical barrier between them.
For all I know, I could be an extreme example, but it’s so easy to slip into this way of thinking, because it’s rooted in such a simple notion: ‘In general, Christians are good at giving, but bad at sharing.’ (Anon.)
This speaks powerfully into the ‘me’ culture that is particularly prominent among young people. If we don’t share our everyday lives with young people, and only ‘give’ to them, then doesn’t that only reinforce their consumer focus? But more than that, I think it seriously limits the opportunity for young people to observe radical integrity.
A lot of young I’ve worked with have admitted how easy it is to transform their character depending on situation or company. If young people have no example of a person whose conduct and values are the same everywhere, how are they going to develop into young men and women who exhibit the integrity of character that Christ calls them to as his disciples?
Our boundaries shouldn’t exist statically between ours jobs and our personal lives. Instead, they need to be flexible so that the young people we work with can learn what being a Christian looks like in every aspect of life. If you’re like me, you may need to re-learn how to share.
Jon Ashley is married to the wonderful Michelle, and has been Youth Minister at a church in Buckinghamshire for two and half years. He has future aspirations of a career in Sports Journalism, as his biggest passion in life is football (much to his wife’s unbridled glee). You can find him on Twitter @jonashley87.