This is a guest post by Mitch Canter, a volunteer youth leader in Tennessee.
Becoming a youth volunteer is, without question, one of the most rewarding parts of my life. I love coming to our youth worship service and see students passionately worshiping God, sharing Christ with their friends, and serving in their community. Getting to know them, and becoming a guide to them on their walk, lets me play a small part in Christ’s story for their life. As a Christ Follower, who could ask for more than that the ability to purposefully plant seeds in someone’s life?
Having a youth pastor that equips us effectively as volunteers really allows us to fulfill the potential we have. We are able to have relationships with our students without worrying that we will not have what we need to disciple them as we walk with them through their student life. Over the years (and through a few different ministries), I’ve realized that there are five things that a youth pastor can give to guarantee the success of their adult volunteers:
This may seem like the obvious first choice, but prayer over your volunteer team is both essential and critical to your ministry’s success. Youth leaders are on the front lines of the fight for teenager’s souls, and are typically the ones seeing the damage and scars teenagers have first-hand. Knowing that they have someone in a leadership role guiding them, directing them, and praying for them allows the leader to focus more on building the relationships that may ultimately change that student’s life. Let your volunteers know regularly that you are praying for them – sometimes, a simple acknowledgement is enough to get leaders through their roughest patches.
Leaders are people, too. We go through struggles, hang-ups, and trials just like any other person. Having another person in which to share those burdens will allow leaders to focus more on their true mission: leading students to Christ. Take the time to meet and listen to your volunteers one-on-one, even if it’s just for coffee or a quick lunch. It’s also a great way to get feedback from your volunteers – some of the best ideas I’ve had as a volunteer came from an idea session with our youth pastor, and I know that if I have a problem I can turn to chase for encouragement and guidance.
The youth ministry may be controlled from a leadership team or committee, but letting volunteers know what’s going on is a great way to keep everyone on the same page. If there’s huge changes coming up, keep the volunteers in the know – if you’re able, even let them provide input. As mentioned before, volunteers are typically the ones that are in the trenches, and can provide valuable insight as to what’s going well (and not going well) in the ministry. It will also give them a sense of ownership – meaning that they may feel the call to step up to take more responsibilities.
A Heads Up
Some of my most turbulent times in youth ministry occurred when the youth pastor didn’t know what was going on. A lot of times, in previous ministries, the youth pastor wouldn’t let us know until immediately before our weekly service that there was a change in plans. This led to a lot of confusion in the leaders and, ultimately, meant we weren’t able to perform as we should have. A quick heads up – via email, Twitter, text, or even Facebook – letting volunteers know about changes ahead of time is always better than being blindsided and confused. As for a long term schedule, having a week-to-week (or at least month-to-month) listing of events allows volunteers to prepare their schedules in advance, meaning you have more attendance and buy in to any events you want to have.
A simple thank you goes a long way. We get regular emails from our youth pastor reminding us of the difference we make in students’ lives. Sometimes we even get stories from the students themselves, letting us know that a student decided to follow Christ, or that they had accepted a call to ministry. It really allows volunteers to put their work into perspective, see tangible results of their hard work, and goes a long way in preventing “volunteer burnout.”
The Bottom Line
If you could boil these five ideals down even further, I would say that the most important things a pastor can give to their volunteers is face time and knowledge. A volunteer who is spirit covered, prepared, and who is encouraged to take ownership in the ministry, is one that can truly be used by God to change student’s lives.
Mitch Canter is a youth volunteer at Rolling Hills Community Church in Franklin, TN. He writes his thoughts and musings at ThatYouthLeader.com and can be found on twitter @studionashvegas.
Posted on December 13, 2012