Youth ministry is no place for Lone Rangers. Whether you’re a full-time paid youth pastor or a volunteer, it has to be a team effort if it’s to be any good at all. Egomaniacs with Messiah complexes to satisfy need not apply, either. In fact, much damage is done to students when such leaders come to town.
I read this article at Youthworker Journal with great interest. Chicago-area high school pastor Syler Thomas wrote it to other full-timers but it addresses working with a team of volunteers. I hope it’s OK that I listened in!
Adult volunteers are vital to successful youth ministry as countless articles, books, DVDs and podcasts attest. What happens when volunteers let you down? Here are some suggestions for addressing this important challenge.
Let them know how valuable they are.
First of all, don’t take your volunteer leaders for granted. They’re not robots toiling in a factory. They need to feel valued and encouraged. A utilitarian approach to ministry will come back to haunt you. Volunteers must know how important they are to you, to the ministry, to the church and to God’s kingdom.
Everyone wants to feel not only needed but appreciated. To paid/ “vocational” youth workers (although that term implies that only full-time or paid staff are “called,” which I hold to be patently false) I say this: If the main time you tell your volunteers you value them is when you are about to bring up their failure to follow through on a commitment, don’t be surprised if it happens quite a bit. The kids don’t tell us directly very often they appreciate us, and their parents are more likely to tell you since you’re the face of the ministry to them. It’s rare that we hear sincere appreciation and thanks, so it must flow freely from you.
But since I try primarily to speak to other volunteers here, I would say that it’s equally important to express genuine appreciation to the other volunteers on your team. As I rotate to each new group of incoming 6th graders, I also cycle through a new team of co-leaders every year. Sometimes I forget that the level of time commitment Rene and I can make is not realistic for everyone. We have no kids of our own, and our jobs almost always allow us to get to youth group as early and often as we are needed. That makes other leaders’ last-minute job or family commitments – which leaves us to carry a bigger load – harder to accept, or at least understand. Until we remember to focus on the fact that we’re a team.
But do I tell the other leaders thanks? Do I affirm things I see them doing right? Do I ask for their advice? At times I feel the gaze of other volunteers who may hold us up as models due to our collective 30+ years as volunteers. We may have a few things figured out, but we too are learning.
I love it when our paid folks tell us what a great job we’re doing. Imagine if the culture of youth ministry allowed that to flow between all leaders, no matter what our role.