Using unsaved adults as youth leaders?

What suggestions do you have for this fellow youth worker?

Chris Day serves a church youth ministry of about 150 students, most of whom are from the community and do not know Christ. At a recent parent meeting, a couple unsaved parents asked about helping out at youth meetings. Chris emailed me about it and would love your input:

Can non-believing parents be “staff” on youth nights and trips as long as they aren’t put in a teaching position? For example, can I use non-Christian parents to help oversee the game room, serving concessions, and greet students as they arrive and leave? Then they would be exposed to the Gospel and maybe they would give their lives to Christ along with their kids. Would this be a wise move?

Personally, I wouldn’t let unsaved parents serve in my ministry for a lot of reasons. Here’s three:

1. Whether I like it or not, youth workers become role models for the kids. I would not put any unsaved adult in that position for my kids. I won’t even put a new believer or any emotionally or spiritually immature person in that role either. It doesn’t matter if they’re a teacher or a server — kids still see them as an adult authority figure. The new kid who visits will have no idea that this adult they’re carefully watching isn’t intended to be a role model. Besides, there’s no way an unsaved adult can be a spiritual role model.

2. Unsaved youth workers, although well intentioned, don’t share the same values and goals I do as a Christian. We don’t even think on the same wavelength. The last thing I need is an adult making an unwise statement or action toward a student. An unsaved adult is at a much higher risk for this to happen.

3. Youth group is not intended to be the place for evangelism to adults. The primary ministry is to the kids. They come first. If I was in this situation, I’d encourage those parents to get involved in other areas of the church that are geared specifically for them. Or, I’d go hang out at their house with their kid sometime for dinner and share the gospel.

I’m sure there will be plenty of different opinions on this. Let ’em rip!

Posted on October 28, 2007

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  • Brett

    Hey i agreee with you, but what do you do if you inherit leaders from the old youth pastor, and one of them is extremely immature both mentally and spiritually.

  • I think there is a clear disctinction bewteen “youth staff” and “parents.” I would strongly encourage parents to get involved in activities such as concessions or making sure students don’t kill each other in the game room AS PARENTS. However, I would not classify them as STAFF. That is a key disctinction. I think you could handle this proactively by having a clear process and specified job description for your youth staff – maybe even with separate name tags at programs. I want to include parents in as many activites as I can – especially unsaved parents who want to get involved and be exposed. I can’t think of much good that would come out of excluding them from opportunities for exposure and spiritual growth – especially with their kids! However, I would also certanly not put them in leadership positions or grant them STAFF status. If you don’t have clear boundaries between the two in your ministry then I think you may have more of an administration problem than anytyhing else – and you can handle that without excluding these “seeking” parents or granting them a leadership position in your ministry.

  • Wow that is crazy? Yeah they can be role models, but my question is what is their ethical and moral standard that is driving their actions and behaviors? That is risky???

  • Tim

    @ Brett: I’ve been in that situation before. I first talked with the volunteer about it, but after two or three different talks, nothing changed. So I talked with my Sr. Pastor and then, at his recommendation, our church leadership board just so they knew what was going on. They all gave me their support in asking this leader to step down from the youth ministry until certain other things in their life were corrected.

    @ Mike: Hmm… I don’t see any distinction between parents and staff at all. Practically speaking, I don’t think kids do either, especially visitors, who don’t know the difference between who you label as someone they can look up to and someone they can’t.

  • I somewhat agree with Mike – if it were not parents who asked I wouldn’t even consider it. That being said… I understand the concerns that you shared Tim. I think what I would do is to find behind-the-scenes work for them to do.

    If you have a bunch of unchurched students coming to your ministry you will have to engage with their parents at some level.

    That doesn’t mean putting them into a position of leadership though.

  • great thoughts Tim. you are right on. students will never be able to differentiate between who is a parent and who is a leader.

    With that said, we do have an open door policy for parents so that they can feel free to hang out and see what goes on at our student ministry. The balancing act that we do with this is that they have a specific place that they sit (in the back) so that they can observe – and the students know that they are not part of the youth team.

    as to reaching unsaved parents – student ministries are for students. plain and simple. Our leadership team does try and meet with the families of new students and we encourage the parents to get involved in a small group that is for adults that could help them with their own spiritual questions/growth. By making contact with the families and connecting them with a small group leader who will follow up with them and invite them personally to an adult group we try and be more family friendly while keeping our leadership focus on the students first and foremost.

  • Lynn

    you have some great pictures with your brother’s family! it’s so great you are able to see them often!

  • So, how do we determine if they are “saved” or “unsaved” ?

    Had to throw it in with Tim’s lat statement.

    I would have to know what our definition of a leader was before I answered this question in depth.

  • Tim

    @ Jeff: Well, if the parent says they’re not saved, as in Chris’ situation, there’s not much of a need to determine otherwise. And I guess I’m not sure why defining a “leader” is important because regardless the unsaved adult is with your youth group kids to one extent or another.

  • My experience in youth ministry is that parents almost never serve in the ministry, beyond driving to events. So, the idea of parents being highly-involved in youth ministry is sort of foreign to me. — The idea behind that being that the youth group should be a place of safety for students to express themselves without the worry of their parents response.

    From my perspective, inviting (allowing?) adults to have regular contact with students is making them a leader. Students are not always aware of titles and roles or expectations, they ultimately care about the relationship. The youth group should be a place of positive, Christ-based, role-model relationships.

    I know that serving is a powerful tool in spiritual growth, but there are plenty of places to serve where you don’t have to live up to the standards that I think scripture requires of leaders.

    I’ve worked with a leader who placed a couple of wayward college students in ministry to high school students, for their benefit, and will testify that the students they were closest to were negatively impacted. (For the most part) They’re modeling the wayward behavior of their role model.

    Just my thoughts and perspectives on this.

    As far as inheriting staff, I am someone elses staff and don’t have my own (yet) but if you have determined that somebody shouldn’t be in your ministry — they shouldn’t be in ministry. Go to Starbucks, sit them down, thank them for their service, explain your reasons, and recommend a different ministry. Students are to precious not to act.

  • Here are some other questions that fall into this conversation as well before I give my honest opinion in this.

    – Is family based youth ministry important (as most youth min. veterans teach)? – If so how is that achieved?
    – What does it look like?
    – What is the place for parents?
    – If we are willing to say that parents have no place in a student ministry then are we willing to say that students have no place in a regular church service that is geared towards adults?

  • Tim

    @ Chris: The emphasis of my seminary degree is actually Family Life Ministry, so I’ve thought through some of these issues before. From my perspective, family-based ministry is not the same as using unsaved parents as youth workers. Family-based ministry may include using parents as youth workers provided that they are spiritually mature and able to spiritually influence students, but that is not what family-based ministry is. Family-based ministry simply reaches the family through the student and equips parents to do their God-ordained job of raising their kids in a godly home. There’s almost an unlimited number of ways to accomplish that. So no one is saying (at least I’m not) that parents have no place in student ministry because scripturally and statistically the parent is the kid’s primary “youth worker.” What I am saying is that serving in a position of influence at youth group is not the proper place for an unsaved parent, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a different place in the ministry may be more appropriate.

    The only scriptural mandate that comes to mind concerning this situation is 2 Corinthians 6:14-15:

    Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?

    You’ll have to define what being “yoked together” means in this unique situation.

    The other thing to consider here is that every ministry is unique. I’m not telling you what to do as much as I’m sharing how I would handle the situation. I’m obviously not you. God uses your ministry in ways that He hasn’t equipped me and my ministry. For my ministry, there really isn’t a place for unsaved parents to serve and I’ve already shared some of my reasoning for that. If the situation presented itself, I’d probably create some sort of place for them that I felt comfortable with along with the advice of my sr. pastor and the youth advisory team. But you guys are a different group of people with a different vision, different gifts and a different context but with the same Word of God. There’s no way I’m going to judge your decision either way because I know you’re sensitive to the Lord’s wisdom and that you seek Him and obviously the advice of others in this matter. God bless you, Chris! :)

    P.S. Have you talked with your sr. pastor about this yet?

  • @ Tim – first I haven’t said I am going to do this. It just got me fired up and made me re-think the question and position I hold on it. I have actually been doing youth ministry for almost 11 years now…believe me I wouldn’t do anything without my sp’s approval. Unless it’s something simple and I wouldn’t need to ask. :)

    I am aware of what family based ministry is. I have read most of the books out on the subject actually and am VERY familiar with what it is. I asked the question to kind of push this along and make people practice their thinking abilities a little bit as well. I mean after all that is what this is for right?

    I too have an “advisory team” which are my leaders. They would have to be willing to make a call on this or any other sticky topic before I would approach the SP or the board with the an idea. That’s how we do things.

    So what is my position?

    I wouldn’t use them unless some very specific things happened.
    – SP, youth advisory, elders board approved as well as going through our nominations team
    – heard God audibly.

    My only other question is…and I’m not trying to beat a dead horse…I just love asking questions and exploring situations from EVERY angle. Can you allow unsaved/ non-churched parents to even drive to an event? They do have/ will have influence over our students no matter what the capacity is they are in. So is even driving an option?

  • Tim

    @ Chris: Sorry if it sounded like I was talking down to you or something. I just re-read my last comment and it sounds like I am. (I should really learn to look over stuff before I post it, huh? Doh!)

    You’re a wise man and you’ll do what’s best for your students and your ministry as a whole. I have full confidence in that.

    As far as helping drive to and from events, I’d be comfortable with that as long as there was another trusted Christian adult with them in the car. But again, that’s my call, not necessarily what’s right or wrong. It’s a pretty gray issue, huh?

  • You know it really is. I mean you can’t say “no involvement” and then let them drive becuase it goes against the “no involvement.” But then again you can’t say “we want them to be leaders” and not let them do certain things either. That’s why I brought the question here. I think it is a gray area and obviously there are going to be certain judgment calls that have to be made for every situation becuase they are all different.

    When I had the few parents ask me my first response was, “Man why don’t the adults in our own church get this pumped about what we are doing. This is pretty cool.” Obviously I was thinking this. And it is a great thing to see non-churched parents get that pumped about it. It’s stinking awesome really. however their involvement is a whole-nuther-deal.

    Don’t worry about sounding like you were talking down to me. Not a big deal you jerk. Haha…just kidding…just kidding. Tim I have a lot of respect for what you are doing…you know that and I think it goes both ways. Again another reason why I thought it would be good to bring it up here. A lot of youth workers value your input and this is a great topic to discuss.

    Thanks for doing what you do…and may God bless you greatly for it.

  • I see everyone’s points in this matter and I lean towards not allowing unsaved parents from volunteering with the youth ministry. However if you are going to have a discussion regarding something at least share your opinion. I think Chris needs to stop asking questions and start answering them and actually give his opinion.

  • Jeff I did.

  • Jeff Bridell

    Chris, I see that now. I don’t believe your post was viewable when I posted my response otherwise I wouldn’t have chimed in the way I did. Nothing personal, I just wanted to know what you thought. I appreciate your input and humility throughout the discussion.

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  • Jeff no biggie.

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  • You youngsters can really make an old person think!!!!

    There seems to be two good sides to the question. We never had enough help from unsaved parents to question it. Seems they should surely be welcomed to do the background stuff. BUT I really cringe when I hear almost-cuss words tossed around so lightly… (and especially if it’s by a professing Christian leader.)
    Evangelism is at work all the time… even how we welcome unsaved people in to our midst.. God is the One who works in these peoples lives at all levels. Our primary goal is to see people saved and infused with God’s Holy Spirit.

  • Arlene

    It’s interesting to see what others think about your question. But you know the only one that can correctly answer your question is God. He the one you have to answer to at the end.

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