How Church’s (De)Form Youth Workers

How Church’s (De)Form Youth Workers

How do churches form and deform youth workers, who often leave to take up “secular” positions? Drawing on extensive interviews, David Fagg argues that while churches lay a solid foundation, they would do well to embrace the risk of reaching outsiders, and learn from dialogue with youth workers outside the church. 

Full Title : Church as Formative Ecology: The Youth Work Vocation in Secular Settings


Church communities play a significant role in shaping the youth work vocation. The presence of affirming and respected adults, combined with opportunities for responsibility and service, often results in a strong sense of call to serve young people. However, many talented and passionate youth workers become dissatisfied with church-based youth ministry, and leave to engage in secular youth work contexts, resulting in a diaspora of Christian youth workers. To understand this process, we ask “How does the ecology of the church shape the vocation of these youth workers?” 

This chapter draws on extensive interviews with youth workers to answer this question. It finds that: (1) the vocation of Christian youth workers is formed through the participatory community of the church; (2) discontent with the “safe” nature of church-based youth ministry is the dominant reason for Christian youth workers’ departure; and (3) there is a problematic divide between Christians in secular youth work, and leaders in church-based youth ministry. In response, the church needs to better recognise its formative role in the youth work vocation, and youth ministry leaders need to engage in dialogue with Christian youth workers.


David Fagg is a doctoral student at Deakin University, in Melbourne, Australia. His interests are the sociology of youth work, youth, and religion. With qualifications in education, theology, and youth work, David has twenty years’ experience in youth work, and youth worker education. He lives in Bendigo, a regional town in Victoria, Australia, and works as a community and youth worker at St Matthew’s Church.

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