I hope everyone is having a great start to the week. Last week’s resource “Shared Thoughts” is still up and available so go ahead and grab yourself a copy of that free resource if you haven’t already. As things start to get published on a more steady basis here at YMC, we are always looking for feedback. If there is something you liked or didn’t like please send an email to Youth.email@example.com
For these week’s blog we are focusing on volunteers. They are a huge part of any youth ministry and can be a great contribution or a hindrance depending on who they are, and how the youth minister utilizes them. With those thoughts in mind here is……
“What do you look for in a volunteer?”
Sara Clarke Turpin is the Associate Pastor for Spiritual Formation at Buechel Park Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. She graduated from Georgetown College and Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. In her free time, Sara enjoys playing the flute, taking walks at the park, exercising at the Y, and binge-watching Netflix shows with her wonderfully supportive husband, Neal.
This past summer, I ran into one of those days during vacation season – all of my youth Sunday school teachers were going to be out of town or unavailable. In fact, even I was not going to be there that Sunday morning, as I would be headed back from camp with the kids. So I had to do some quick recruiting. Luckily, I didn’t have very far to turn as my husband volunteered for the job.
Neal hasn’t spent a lot of time with teenagers, probably since the time he was one. So when I returned, I asked him how it went. “Good,” he said, “though I didn’t realize how often they do strange things like drop to the floor for no apparent reason. I just don’t understand them.”
And there you have it, the #1 reason people are terrified of volunteering for youth ministry: “I don’t understand them.”
Youth are constantly growing and changing. Most of the time, they don’t even understand themselves all that well. So when I look for volunteers, I don’t look for people who think they’ve got teenagers figured out. Instead, I look for people who are willing to journey through the confusion with them in healthy ways.
Of course, there are the basic hurdles of making sure an adult can be a volunteer. They need to pass a background check and agree out our leader’s covenant, which details what is expected of anybody who works with minors in our church. They need to be known and trusted within the congregation. Youth ministry volunteers should also know how to differentiate themselves from the youth. Just because we’re all playing a ridiculous game, doesn’t mean they can ignore what is appropriate and safe. Adults need to know how to have fun with youth, but still remember that they are not teenagers themselves.
Other volunteers go beyond chaperoning and become leaders, teachers, and mentors of the youth. While all of the above is expected of them as well, I look for a few additional things. They need to have a mature theology and spirituality, with the ability to communicate these ideas at an appropriate level for teenagers. I’m not saying they have to have it all figured out (I certainly don’t), but they do need to know how to guide youth in conversation. I need to be able to trust them to be prepared to lead and to facilitate group activities. These volunteers should be able to ask tough questions, explore a variety of deep topics, and know that it’s ok not to have all the answers. I also look for diversity in volunteers, trying to maintain some balance of gender, age, background, and perspective, among other characteristics.
Lastly, I look at the needs of the youth themselves. I look for teammates who are able to bridge gaps and reach youth that I struggle to relate to. Because really, I don’t understand youth either. Each pre-teen and teenager is unique and worthy of an individual relationship in order to be even partially understood. So it takes a village – a team of volunteers and a church community who wants to know them, to walk with them, and to love them every step of the way. I look and pray for volunteers who want our youth to be safe, to be loved, and to be nurtured as they grow in faith and as they seek their own understanding.
Josh Plant is the youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor for undergrad and then got his M. Div. at Truett Seminary. He is married to Camille and enjoys the Texas Longhorns, Netflix, and Chick-fil-a. He isn’t cool enough to have any pets…yet.
Andrew Shaffer is the Minister to Youth and Their Families at First Baptist Dalton, GA. He is a graduate of Mississippi State, Samford and Truett Seminary. He has worked in youth ministry one way or another since 2000, and has been bitten by an otter.
I have one specific qualification that I look for in volunteers: a pulse. If someone is willing to put up with me and get involved with our youth then I’ll find somewhere for them to jump in.
To be clear there are, of course, particular situations in which I would encourage someone to be involved elsewhere. We run background checks just like (I hope) everyone else, and both myself and other volunteers and ministers look into everyone, and in a smaller town this is usually done well ahead of time whether one asks or not. That being said, I’ve never had to turn anyone away, and specific red flags or nuclear personality clashes notwithstanding I probably won’t.
Not everyone is convinced they’re wired to work with youth, personally I think this is false, but I was told just the other day, “I really just can’t handle youth.” I get it, and I’ll respect that – I can’t handle kids and I acknowledge my double standard. So I until I can find this person’s niche with the youth I’ll let it slide.
While all volunteers have something to offer, everyone isn’t equipped for everything. Some folks cook and are incredibly gifted in hospitality (I am not some of those), but when put in a teaching situation they crash and burn. Others may have unique organizational skills that prove invaluable to your large group events, and others will be key prayer partners for both youth and teachers, I think you see where I’m going. Everyone isn’t a small group leader. No lie, I had a parent not long ago that saw it as his sworn duty to plan the most productive and streamlined pit-stops possible on road trips, and it was pretty amazing. Luckily, most ministries have an existing pool of volunteers, which can translate into a vast wealth of knowledge about unique skills. However some bubble to the surface over time.
Of course there are times when it’s necessary to um… diversify your volunteer base. And there might be specifics you have to find. If you’re adults have all newly come into that distinction, it’s time to seek out more seasoned volunteers – and vice versa. In my experience the volunteers are usually parent-heavy, and going both younger and older can produce surprisingly productive results. Don’t discount the grandparents though, I’ve found most of them are way more fun that you might expect, and they have all sorts of wisdom that youth need (and we do too).
So yes, welcome everyone who shows interest (and recruit those who don’t) in your youth ministry, but get to know them. Find out what makes them tick and maximize that gift in your ministry. I have run series in the past on “life skills” as a ministry: changing tires, balancing checkbooks, writing resumes – these are skills people don’t usually associate with youth ministry, but they were doorways to fostering intergenerational relationships, and creating long term volunteers (and a healthier ministry). There are times when it might take a little work or cajoling, but it never hurts to ask!