Dr Jo Griffiths, former Cambridge CYM Director, conducted a yearlong study of eight Cambridge CYM graduates during their first year of employment after graduation seeking to address the issue of how professional identity of newly qualified professional Christian youth workers was formed during their first year in practice. All graduates had been awarded a BA (Hons) in Youth and Community Work and Practical Theology.

The roots of youth work, both secular and Christian, are firmly planted within the Christian philanthropist era of the 19th-century. Social justice and Christian witness were key motivating factors. A voluntaristic ethos underpinned effective practice, not least within evangelical youth work projects. This expression of work/ministry focused primarily on the middle- to upper classes in reaction to early philanthropic work, which had primarily focused on the poor. The onset of both World Wars changed the landscape of work amongst young people. A sense of moral panic mobilised successive Governments to form policies aimed at influencing young men especially. They looked to voluntary organisations for knowledge and skills, and provided funding to develop the work. In this manner, the relationship between voluntary organizations and the State developed until the Albermarle Report (1960). The Report provided a blueprint for the State funded Youth Service. As a result, professional training for youth workers was put into motion. One by-product of that was the impact on youth work provision within the Christian sector, which became a more discrete, volunteer-led, practice.

A shift in the voluntaristic mindset occurred in the years leading up to the late-1990s. During that time, churches began to employ full-time youth workers. Unlike their State-salaried counterparts, they were mostly unqualified young people who possessed a charismatic personality alongside a willingness to work 60 to 80 hours per week ‘for the sake of the Kingdom of God’. As such, these workers rarely lasted more than two years in post. Coupled with the decreasing numbers of young people attending church, this led to something of a crisis for Church leaders. It was recognised by those involved in Christian youth work education that a higher level of qualification was needed for faith-based practitioners. Professional status for Christian youth workers was advocated. However, a professional qualification alone was considered unacceptable. This would not address the features that marked Christian youth work as distinctive from secular youth work. Those in authority within the Church believed that a higher level of qualification for Christian youth workers should equip the practitioners for both mission as well as education. As a result, in 1999, the first cohort of CYM students enrolled on the first undergraduate degree for Christian youth workers, which offered theology as an accompanying discipline alongside the JNC professional qualification (Mayo, 2002).

Fifteen years on, a professionally qualified Christian youth work force is deployed throughout the UK in both Christian and secular organizations. Nevertheless, the discussion about the need for an adequate qualification is still ongoing. In particular, there has been a shift within the evangelical Christian constituency in this regard. Undergraduate Christian youth work degree courses have been developed in recent years that do not include any professional qualification at all. This, in itself, is a resistance practice; a result of the growing fear and mistrust of what is regarded as an essentially secularised professional approach, to Christian work. The irony of this of this lies in the fact that the term ‘professional’ emerged from Christian sources through Franciscan monks who regarded their service to some of the poorest members of society as a ‘profession’ of their faith and therefore understood their ministry as ‘professional’.

A summary of some of the findings, which are the result of data collected by twelve monthly practice diaries and four in-depth interviews with each graduate was published in “Faith in Transition” the 2nd issue of Praxeis, the CYM bi-annual journal.