Disclaimer: I do relate with youth workers... in fact, I understand where they're coming from (indeed, we are coming from the same place) and I love being around them. I am passionate about the formation of avenues by which youth workers might be a support to one another, praying for one another and welcoming one another even across denominational lines. I am a youth worker and I love youth workers.
But there is a distinction I have observed in many youth workers--at least enough of them to speak generally. Youth workers, perhaps more than any other demographic in the theological community, are committed to practicality. For them, theology is at the service of practice... which is a great thing. Mission is, after all, "the mother of theology" (David J. Bosch). But many youth workers have trouble finding motivation to think through the deeply theological elements of their work. If it doesn't seem immediately "practical" to them, they have little patience with it. They hold their breath in the waters of theological reflection, but they always have to come up for air in the realm of application. They have to "get through" theology in order to get to ministry.
This is where I often feel like a distant relative to the family of youth ministry. I'm not just trying to get through the "theology stuff" in order to get to the "practical." I can breathe just fine in the waters of theological reflection and ministry/practice is just an extension thereof. In fact, I think that theology--even thinking through trinitarian controversies and the ontology of religious symbols--is ministry. I don't relate to the youth worker's apparent need to return to what they see as the surface because I am actually passionate about the water itself. I love reading Jurgen Moltmann and John Calvin. I enjoy the things that so many youth workers see as generally "impractical." You'll rarely find me complaining about a systematic theology class.
I know I'm speaking too generally. I know I'm not alone. I know that there are others like me... but I still can't help but feel like I don't relate in general to my own family, to the community of youth ministry. I don't, however, see this as a problem. Perhaps it's an opportunity, a calling.