Camp month continues! I am so thankful for the amazing insights that have already been shared. I find the words people share on this site to continually be a source of insight. YMC is currently recruiting new writers, so if you or someone you know is a youth minister (in any denomination) please contact Andrew Noe at Youth.Ministry.Conversations@gmail.com We will continue with camp right now ……..
“What do you look for in a volunteer/chaperone who will accompany you to camp?”
Josh Powers is Minister of Youth at Inman First Baptist Church in Inman, SC. He attended Georgetown College for his undergrad degree and M. Christopher White School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University for his M. Div. Josh loves his minister wife Brandi, their young son Joel, comics, and the UK Wildcats!
Throughout my years of ministry, I’ve found camp to be such a rewarding experience. The fact that I have the opportunity to share with volunteers this exciting event in our youth’s lives makes choosing the chaperone(s) so important. Camp is often the highlight of the summer schedule, not just for our youth but for us as youth ministers, so we have to be intentional in who we select as chaperones. Early in my ministry career, I would find those people (many, many teachers) who had summers off or a multitude of vacation days. Parents, interns, Sunday school teachers, and other staff members became the “go-to” selections. After a few “hits” and “misses,” I began looking for particular qualities that can enrich and highlight the camp trip for my youth and myself. I determined not to see it as a selection, but see who may have a calling to go. Once I phrased it in this way, the qualities chaperones needed to have were easier to see.
- Love God and have loved God for a while. This is a must and may sound too obvious but bringing along someone who is a new Christian is like bringing along another youth. Nothing wrong with that but no youth minister wants to take away precious time spent with their youth to counsel a chaperone.
- Like the youth. Another obvious quality, but you would be surprised at how many youth volunteers have a student in the youth group and don’t like other people’s kids.
- Be flexible and open-minded. Anyone who has ever gone to camp or been around many youth ministers has to be adaptable to the camp experience, as well as open-minded to what goes on there. It’s ok to have a dance party and listen to secular music on the bus trip. It’s part of being in the youth ministry culture.
- Stick to the schedule. Camp is organized to be a non-stop ride. Rest is found in select places, but be involved in the camp experience. Things are optional but unless the youth minister says no biggie, stick to the schedule.
- Let the youth grow and think on their own. One of the biggest harms we can do to our youth is giving them the answers to theological questions all the time. Part of our and their faith journey is growing and thinking for ourselves about what the Bible says, how God is changing us, and how those intersect with this world. Sure, there will be questions that need answered but give them time to work out.
- Tell their story. Chaperones should share their life story with the youth (not all at once, please). Many times they may not connect immediately with something you went through, if ever, but later down the road a chaperone may be someone they can turn to with struggles.
This are a simple list, but any chaperone that has a combination of these or more are surely a blessing to any youth ministry and youth minister.
Jason Matlack currently serves as the youth minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. He studied religion at Wake Forest, and is married to Sara Matlack.
Hours of driving. More requests for restrooms breaks and questions like “When’s lunch?” than you’d ever care to hear. A strange college campus or camp tucked away into remote corner of the country. Sleeping for a week in a strange bed. Long, hot days. When many potential adult volunteers think about summer camp, these are some of the thoughts that must rocket through their minds. On more than one occasion I’ve heard good church folk remark “Who would give up their vacation time for that?”
Who would indeed?
I have to admit that I have been blessed in my ministry. When it has come to recruiting volunteers to help lead camp trip, I have always had a group of adults who were willing to give up a week of vacation and travel hours away in mini-buses crammed with teenagers for a week filled with long mission projects and short on sleep. But whether we select volunteers from a group of willing adults or from an unsuspecting congregation, we as ministers and youth directors have an incentive (and a responsibility, I believe) to select leaders who will contribute positively to a youth’s camp experience.
So what are some of the qualities that we can look for in potential adult volunteer for our summer camps? When I consider the kind of volunteers (or potential volunteers) that I want to take to camp, five qualities spring to mind.
First, I look for someone who has an easy going disposition. Lots of unexpected things can pop up en route to camp, while at camp, or even on the way home. Accidents can happen, vehicles can break down, and youth can make poor choices. I would much rather take someone who is willing to go with the flow, deal with changes in plans as they come up, and model a positive attitude for the group than someone who is rigid or high-strung.
Second, I look for someone who interacts well with our youth. Although many church members immediately assume that younger adults or college students must relate better to youth than older (“parent” aged) adults, this is not always the case. Watch and listen for how the youth respond to adults in your congregation. Do they ask questions and follow up questions? Do they listen? Do they laugh together? Play games together? Do youth look comfortable around them? These are signs that someone interacts well with your youth.
I also seek adults who are aware of what needs to happen and thinks ahead of what we will need. I love to hear a volunteer say, “Do you need me to do that?” The adult who has the awareness to see what needs to be done to and then do it frees me from worrying about all of the details on the trip.
Next, I always want someone who thinks in terms of responsibility and consequences and who will communicate those ideas to youth. I have heard it said that adults have to help youth “think” because their brains haven’t yet fully developed the capacity to realize all of the repercussions and effects of their actions. An adult who can take a moment to talk with a young person about how to stay safe before they run off to a mission site or who will gently remind the group to watch out for one another is a valuable volunteer!
Finally, I try to get to know adults who have had their own camp experiences as youth. Most of these adults will have fond memories of camp and will want your youth to have great summer camp memories too. They already know about the fun games, the weird songs, and the intense “camp crushes,” so they can walk with and encourage your group through the craziness that is summer camp!
While we will probably never find the volunteer who possesses all of these qualities, taking a few adults who possess a measure of these five will undoubtably make your summer camp a great trip!
John Uldrick has served in Youth Ministry in some form since 1996. He has served churches in SC, GA, & FL and is currently Minister of Students & Missions at FBC Rome, in Rome, GA. John married his wife Jennifer in 1998, and has a son Charlie born in 2000 and daughter Annalise born in 2002.
I have worked with volunteers for a long time. Over the years, I have learned that a good or bad volunteer can shape your camp experience in a significant ways. I have had volunteers who used their time and energies to stir up trouble in the midst of girls within our group. I have had volunteers who chose to make reckless decisions with students around, endangering their welfare and the welfare of others. I have had volunteers who invested in meaningful relationships with students. I have had volunteers who stayed up LONG hours driving us safely to our destination in inclement weather. I have had volunteers who have come to me with a real worry or concern about a student they love and respect. Volunteers can make or break your ministry.
Here are some VITAL attributes of good volunteers:
Do they have positive peer relationships? If they don’t have meaningful relationships with friends their own age, should they really be investing in relationships with younger people? I want adults who can show, by their actions, how to share meaningful and responsible adult relationships.
Do they show emotional maturity? Many ‘fun’ adults are not very emotionally mature. Youth Ministry can attract some fun-loving volunteers, but you want to surround yourself and your students with adults who have a good sense of self and who will build that up in the students they volunteer among.
How are they at resolving conflict? Conflict is inevitable. People are going to disagree. Youth ministry needs volunteers who will go toward problems and work together for positive solutions. Too many times, we get volunteers who just like to stir the pot and watch the fall-out or worse, get their feelings hurt and disengage from the ministry. Both are hurtful to teenagers.
Do they follow through with their commitments? You want volunteers you can count on. The last thing you need is a volunteer who doesn’t show up for that lock-in you had planned.
Do they have an ability to relate to students? If they don’t want to or like being around students, they don’t need to serve among them. Not everyone is cut out to work with middle and high school students. Surround your ministry with people who LIKE students and who want to be there.
Are they spiritually mature? Spiritual growth is a VITAL part of Student Ministry. You want people who can challenge your students to think and who will not be sent into a tail-spin when your students start asking tough questions.
Volunteers are the life-blood of Student Ministry. As I struggle to find, train, and retain them…I pray you’ll find success doing the same!
Jen Van Camp became the youth pastor of Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco in 2006 and is still loving it! She grew up in Lexington, KY and went to McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. She loves pop culture, her Kentucky Wildcats, and being the best aunt in the world to her niece and two nephews.
In my many years of camp experience, both on staff and as a youth leader, chaperones can sometimes make or break a camp experience. Thankfully I’ve never had one derail a trip, but I’ve heard some horror stories. That being said, sometimes you can’t be that picky when it comes to people volunteering to take a week off from work/life to spend 24/7 with a group of teenagers.
Ideally, what I look for in a chaperone is someone who genuinely cares about teenagers and isn’t just a parent wanting to keep tabs on their kid or who sees it as a week of relaxation. (that may sound crazy to us, but I’ve known of some chaperones who somehow think they don’t really have to do anything and will get to have a vacation for the week)
I love it when a chaperone is all in, meaning they fully participate in all the activities, from silly games to small group discussions, and can be authentic and transparent with the students. It’s our job to participate in all those things, but it’s nice to have other adult volunteers who can come alongside us and strengthen the camp experience. It’s nice when a chaperone is trustworthy and patient and is on the same page when it comes to supervising and hopefully building meaningful relationships with the youth, and what better place to do that than at camp? Ultimately I want a chaperone to be themselves, to be another trusted adult that the youth can learn from and count on to walk alongside them on their faith journey. We certainly can’t do it on our own as youth ministers, especially when there’s so much going on in a camp setting, so it’s vital to have some amazing chaperones to lean on. So…who wants to come to camp with me?