6 things I’ve learned as a volunteer youth worker

Lessons as a volunteer youth leaderI’ve really enjoyed this past year of being a volunteer youth leader at New Life Christian Church! It’s been a lot of fun to build relationships with the teenagers and be able to do all the parts of youth ministry I really enjoy.

The past year of volunteering has been very refreshing for me in many ways. The youth pastor, Jeremy Schneider (one of the LISM Mentors), has been great to work with! He truly has a team mentality, values each of us youth leaders, and is continually asking good questions of himself, us youth leaders, and the church as a whole that helps move the ministry forward in it’s community impact.

Through my experiences in volunteering there this past year, I’ve learned several things on this side of the volunteer leadership role.

1. Volunteering is awesome! There’s flexibility and genuine freedom to build relationship with people without all the church politics at work.

2. I feel like I almost have more influence now than I did as a paid guy because kids, parents, and others in the church know I have a choice about being at youth group or not. When I take youth group kids out to lunch, invite them to join us on family outings, or when they come over for Bible studies, they know my wife and I have no other incentive other than that we care about them. The relationships feel very authentic.

3. Along those same lines, I feel like I can help Jeremy recruit other adult leaders for the ministry better than he can on some levels. When a paid guy approaches someone, there’s almost this, “Yeah, you’re the paid guy — it’s your job to get people involved with the youth group,” but when I approach someone in the church about it, it’s almost like they’re taken off-guard. They’re not expecting me to be that excited about the youth ministry! They listen to my stories and become very interested because here’s a guy talking to them about it who doesn’t even have to do it. (Just for the record, I always run potential names past Jeremy before I talk with them about joining us.)

4. Most youth pastors probably don’t communicate with their leaders as well as they think they do. I think I was guilty of this, too. Jeremy communicates well, but I still have those occasional, “Oh, I didn’t know that was going on,” moments. And I totally get it because, as paid youth leaders, youth group stuff is what they think about and plan all day long. It’s easy to forget that others aren’t thinking about it all day like they are. Sometimes things they know in their heads sometimes don’t make it out to other people’s ears or inboxes. I think I’ve learned now from being both the paid guy and a volunteer that if the youth pastor feels like he or she is over-communicating, they’re probably doing it just about right.

5. Volunteers enjoy having ownership and responsibilities! It’s part of why we’re there. I love Jeremy’s approach: unleash us to serve according to our gifts and, if there’s too many with the same gift, run us on a rotating schedule. For example, the three of us who enjoy teaching get to do so every three weeks. The five leaders who offered to lead games do so every five weeks. And so on. But he also knows to look for things in the youth leaders that maybe they haven’t even identified themselves (and may not even feel comfortable with!) and then pushes them a bit to use it in the ministry. I remember as a paid youth leader that I felt like it was my job to run things so the leaders could just chill with kids. As a volunteer myself, I now know that’s not always true. Some leaders like to have ownership.

6. Most volunteers enjoy being a part of the decision-making and brainstorming process. Again, I sometimes felt that was part of what I was supposed to do as the paid guy, but volunteers appreciate it when you give them more ways to have influence in what happens and what direction the ministry takes. I appreciate our youth leader meetings when Jeremy lays out his thoughts and genuinely asks, “What do you think?” If one of us has a completely different thought, we all hash it out together and usually go with the group’s consensus while respecting Jeremy’s right to veto if he feels it necessary to do so (that hasn’t happened yet, but when it does, I know none of us will have a problem with it, probably because we were respected throughout the process).

YOUR TURN: According to this year’s LISM reader survey, a little over 20% of you reading this are volunteer youth workers in your church. I’d love to hear what things you’ve learned as a volunteer youth leader who serves under a paid youth pastor. Let us know in the comments below!

P.S. I have Jeremy’s full permission to write all this stuff about him. :)

Posted on October 20, 2011

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