I know the struggle that comes with volunteers. Looking back, after seven years in youth ministry, it wasn’t what I thought it was. I thought that it was my job to do all of the work of the ministry and if I could get some help then I would take it, but still try to be in charge. Let me be clear, your leadership role in whatever ministry you are leading is extremely important, but it was never designed to run this way. I know the passive-aggressive comments, begging people to help out while they “pray about it,” and communicating clearly so the youth committee doesn’t get upset with you can be discouraging, but you should not bear the weight of the success and health of the youth group.
Your volunteer leaders are the ones who are to help you carry the weight. When you lead them well, it is a glorious thing to be a part of. I want to offer a couple of suggestions mainly from mistakes that I have made in my past ministry, and how I learned from them.
One thing to note is that all contexts are going to be different. You may be the full-time youth pastor, the part-time youth pastor, the youth director that molded into the position in someone else’s absence, or a parent who just kind of ended up where you are. All of these are okay and each has their own unique struggles that come along with them.
God has put you in this position to lead this ministry so do so well. Let the Bible be what guides you as you lead the ministry. Let the Bible rule the context of your Wednesday nights, your Sunday School, your mission statement, your logo, your budget, and your calendar.
Be On the Lookout…
When it comes to volunteers, you want much more than a warm body in your ministry. You want much more than the helicopter mom who just wants to be nosy (What?! Crazy I know! It happens!) You want someone who is passionate about the ministry God is using in your church. You want someone who truly cares about investing their time and emotion into the lives of the students in your ministry. And let me say, because God has seen fit that you lead this ministry, you set the standard for the volunteers in your ministry. Say yes to the qualified people in your ministry, and no to those that don’t fit the qualifications. It would be wise that you have qualifications for your volunteers, and make those qualifications known. (This does not mean post that you are taking applications for youth volunteers in the bulletin as if it were a job application.) I would also say about qualifications, to make sure that they are reasonable qualifications that focus more on passion and character rather than quantitative goals to be met before you are able to serve. Remember, they are volunteers.
You may make these qualifications known in a few ways:
- Make sure that all current volunteers fit those qualifications.
- One on one conversations to those that show interest or who you are trying to get involved.
- An interest meeting or Vision Night which I will mention later.
It is important that you as the leader keep your eye out for these people in your church. They may be new Christians that you want to get involved, or new church members that are not plugged in. Be on the lookout, and always looking for new people to get involved in the ministry!
Once You Have Them…
Catch the Vision, then Cast the Vision
I remember at one church that I served, there was a moment that changed the trajectory of the ministry. I had only been there a couple of months, and there was a lot going on. We were already seeing growth spiritually and numerically, but I felt a disconnect somewhere. I remember sitting in my office wondering where all of my efforts were going, and even greater where the ministry was going. I could not answer the question; Where is this ministry headed? I had no vision. I had no direction. This broke me. As leaders, we have to be the one that catches the vision first. I began to pray, and read, and pray and read, and talk and pray and read. I began to catch the vision that I so desperately needed. This changed everything about what I did in the ministry. Along with some other situations that were going on in the ministry, I knew I had to catch the vision but also to cast the vision.
Casting a vision is something that all leaders must do at some level. To some, it will be natural and to others, you will have to work your tail off. Either way, the students and volunteers have to know the direction or else they will default to their sheep-like behavior. (Isa. 53:6) So after you catch the vision, you have to cast that vision! A couple of practical things that may go into your vision:
- Mission and/or Vision Statement
- Branding your ministry
- Purpose in everything you do
A couple of ways you may go about casting your vision:
- Constant emails (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly)
- Give your volunteers resources via email, Facebook group, hard copies
- Vision Night (twice a year)
Mission and/or Vision Statement: This is just a clear statement that will articulate the purpose for every event, ministry, teaching, etc. you will do.
Branding: This is not a necessity by any means, but can help create a culture in your church.
Constant emails: This is a way that you can consistently communicate the things that are going on and why you are doing them. People get caught up in what they are doing rather than why they are doing it, so this constant email list will allow you to keep the “why” at the forefront of their minds. You should constantly be pointing people back to the vision.
Purpose: Every event, sermon, bible study, conversation, meeting, should have a purpose. Too many youth ministries are being aimless with their resources. Have a purpose when you do something.
Vision Nights: This was a practice that I started to focus on our volunteer leaders. We would go over expectations, schedule, policies and procedures, the results of our ministry efforts (spiritual growth, salvation and baptism numbers, etc.), etc. We would also have some sort of fun (Nerf War, scavenger hunt, games). Use this night to cast vision and spend quality time with leaders to rekindle the fire in them to serve.
You can shepherd your volunteer leaders in many ways but consider these four:
- Know them: Take time to genuinely get to know your leaders. They too need to be ministered to as well. A good practice is to have an intentional meal with a different volunteer each month. This can be go out to dinner or have them over to your house. Whatever or however you do it, get to know your leaders.
- Challenge them: Challenge them spiritually to trust the Lord in all circumstances. Give them opportunities that will get them out of their comfort zone. You will see that they grow the most when they are uncomfortable.
- Encourage them: When you see your leaders growing, and serving well, encourage them with that. Let them know that you see them serving, and growing, and that you are praying for them and are thankful for them.
- Trust them: Your volunteer leaders need to know that you are on their side. Make this a constant practice of reminding them that you believe in them and trust them.
It’s a Culture Being Built
Your long-term goal is to build a culture of leaders that can either replace you when you leave, or be sent out to lead a ministry themselves. Tragically, when youth pastors leave churches they fall apart. May it not be so at your place of service right now. Take time and work smarter AND harder to build a culture. A program can be replaced, you can be replaced, but a culture shapes and shifts everything that is done. Remember to let the Word be your guide to build a culture, not other things. Stop looking to the secular world and other cool churches for what works best. The bible has stood the test of time. If a ministry context is going to get direction, it must be from the scriptures. You are where you are because God has placed you there, take advantage of that. Catch the vision, cast the vision, and build leaders for the glory of God!