Youth work (in my opinion) is any activity, be that a youth-group, youth-club, youth-whatever, that is based on the principles of empowerment, equality of opportunity, participation and education(1). Youth work employs methods of informal education rather than formal education(2). In my mind at least there is little doubt as to what youth work is (there may however be some questions as to what qualifies as youth work, but that's another issue).
Youth ministry on the other hand, seem to me to be a little less well-defined. Well, it's possibly over defined, in that I can see two broad definitions of what it is....
"The term ‘youth ministry’ seems to have a variety of uses. In Youthwork and the Mission of God(3), Pete Ward, speaking about the British context, uses the term ‘youth ministry’ to refer to the activities of professional youth workers engaging in Christian youth work, youth work which is funded by the Church . Ward uses the term ‘ministry’ in order to draw parallels between the activities of the professional Christian youth worker and a member of the clergy.......American literature on ‘youth ministry’ includes theory linked to carrying out informal education activities in the light of the Christian tradition(4), as well as the “‘how to do it’ guides and checklists”(5) which by their very nature encourage a mentality which believes there are set patterns of behaviour to follow for both youth workers and young people.In writing that essay I was analysing different approaches to working with young people, using langauge taken from certain areas of missiology. By 'pragmatic' I am referring to practice which begins it's response by first considering the current context in light of the Christian tradition, then acting appropriately. By 'normative' I am referring to practice which begins it's response by seeking to ensure that certain beliefs, traditions and rituals will be passed on to future generations.
With the increasing popularity of North American ‘how to do it’ youth ministry literature in Britain(6), the term ‘youth ministry’ now seems to have two meanings in the British context. Amongst those Christian youth workers who have gained professional qualifications in youth work, qualifications recognised in the secular field as well as the religious field, ‘youth ministry’ refers to the “more reflective and academic approach to Christian youth work”(7), an approach which could be described as pragmatic. Amongst Christians who are influenced by the American ‘how to do it’ youth ministry literature, the term ‘youth ministry’ is describing an approach to working with young people which could be described as normative."(8)
In my opinion there are instances when 'youth work' and 'youth ministry' are interchangeable terms. But not always. For example, there may be occasions when youth ministry uses formal education methods. In my understanding this means it is probably no longer classifiable as youth work.
I also take Richard Passmore's point (see these comments), that possibly this whole argument about youth work or youth ministry is a little unnecessary.
Pesonally, this is how I currently see what I do (in no particular order)....
I try to work with young people using the principles of informal education. I believe that these methods are not oppressive, ie. they do not hinder other people experiencing what it means to be more fully human.
I try to work in a way which will promote fullness of life (opportunities to be more fully human) for those I work/live alongside.
I try to work and live in a way which will enable young people (and all people) to experience a right relationship with themselves, with other people, with the world around them, with God.
(1)Kerry Young, Towards a Core Curiculum – The Next Step: Report of the Second Ministerial Conference, written by Kerry Young on behalf of the National Conferences Steering Committee (Leicester: National Youth Bureau, 1991) 16 quoted by Kerry Young, The Art of Youth Work (Lyme Regis: Russell House Publishing, 1999) 15-16
(2) See a website such as www.infed.org. Alternatively go and read some of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (London: Penguin, 1996), 52-60
(3)Pete Ward, Youthwork and the Mission of God (London: SPCK, 1997) 2-3
(4)Dean Borgman, When Kumbaya is Not Enough: A Practical theology for Youth Ministry (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997
(5)Michele Erina Doyle and Mark K. Smith ‘Christian youth work (youthwork) – a guide to reading’ [website page]; available from http://www.infed.org/youthwork/b-ywchri.htm; Internet; accessed 18 April 2005
(6)An example of such a book is Doug Fields, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry: 9 Essential Foundations for Healthy Growth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998)
(7)Pete Ward, ‘Introduction’ in Dean Borgman and Christine Cook, eds., Agenda for Youth Ministry (London: SPCK, 1998) 1
(8)This is quoted from an essay I wrote for my MA - the module was Research Methods - my favourite ;o)
There is a really helpful diagram here, that shows a way in which youth work, youth ministry and formal education might fit together.