Every conference, every seminar, every youth worker meeting, every time more than two vocational youth workers are in the same room the topic comes up; volunteers. It is such a popular topic because it is a constant process, and I have yet to meet a youth worker that has complained about having too many volunteers.
My entire time as a full time vocational youth worker I have spent considerable time recruiting, screening, training, investing in, and praying for the volunteer youth workers I work with. This school year as we started up our small group discipleship groups, there is one group that does not have a leader. This is an obvious major need, it absolutely breaks my heart to have a group of 5 girls wanting to be discipled and not have an adult to do it, but that is exactly where we are.
All of our other youth small groups have been meeting for a month, and this group has yet to start. But I have 3 women that are going through the process toward being on our hands on team, and all 3 could end up co-leading this group. I, along with all of these girls, are very excited about this fact.
I am sure you, like me, have some major needs when it comes to volunteers. Here are a few things I have done and not done to fill this need.
I did…pray, a lot.
I have always (and still do) believed that God will provide all the leaders I need to lead the students He brings us. During this past month as these girls ask me every week about their leader, I never stopped believing this. Are you diligently and specifically praying for your need?
I did not…put a general announcement in the bulletin
Every relationship based ministry is a calculated risk, but especially our small group program because it promotes a deeper relationship between adult leader and student. Relationships are powerful, and a rotating door of adults in a youth ministry can do more harm than good. I know I could have filled this need the first week with a general announcement to our congregation, but it would have been with a warm body, not someone who feels specifically called to this need, and most likely would not have lasted long.
I did…have a lot of personal conversations
As I and my other leadership prayed, I did have personal conversations with every person God put on our hearts. Even if it seemed like a far fetched possibility I still asked them “have you ever thought about being on youth staff?” One of these three women had not thought about it at all, yet is now feeling God leading her toward it. Another one had been thinking about it for over 2 years but had never said anything.
I did not…have them start as soon as they expressed interest
I have a several step process (including a background check) that every volunteer goes through with me before they start working with students. All three of these women are going through it right now. No matter how urgent your need is and how excited you or the potential volunteer is, stick to the process you have in place, EVERY TIME. If you don’t have a process, make one up, or ask me about mine and I will help you establish it. Once they finish the process they will fully understand what they are committing to and will be able to stick with it. Remember – relationships are powerful, protect the volunteer and the students involved from the pain that can come from broken relationship.
I still fully believe that God will provide all the volunteers you need to properly minister to the students He has entrusted to your ministry, but you have to hold up your end of the deal too. Start praying!
The last several months for me have been crazy. Conferences, winter camps, family trips, sick kids, launching a new program (LHGH), mission trip fundraising and planning, all on top of the ‘regular’ stuff that goes with being a youth worker. I can not even imagine what I would feel like if I was not full time, and still have all of these things going on. If you are part time or volunteer, I tip my hat to you, because I know you deal with all of these same things.
Through these months though, I have realized that the busier I get, the less time I take for myself. We have all heard and felt the expectations of a youth worker; ‘it is about service’, ‘sacrifice for the sake of the ministry’, ‘do more so God can do more’. In fact, we often times use the phrase ‘I’m really busy’ as a badge of honor. At least for me, what that really means is I have been doing a lot for everyone else, and personally I am tired, overwhelmed, spiritually drained, and see no end to this craziness. With this mentality, no wonder most people get out of youth ministry because of burn out.
But here is my dilemma, blame it on a servant’s heart or just me being weird, but I feel guilty and selfish if I slow down. This isn’t just regarding the church and ministry, but also with my family. Am I alone in this? I understand the two greatest commandments; God first, others second. (Matthew 22:37-40) But, I know in the midst of my busyness, God does not always hold that first spot. Just think about what is the first thing to get pushed off the schedule; prayer and Bible reading. And the truth is I am supposed to love others as I love MYSELF. If I deny myself all the time in the name of service, then eventually I don’t love myself at all; which in turn makes that commandment impossible to fulfill.
As I have worked through all of these feelings these past months, a phrase keeps coming into my mind, be selfish. It seems strange that God would be telling me to be selfish, but I think that is exactly what He has been telling me. If I sit down to read and pray instead of playing with my boys, I feel selfish. If I go into the office an hour late because I was at an event late the night before, I feel selfish. If I watch a movie and take a nap on my day off instead of catching up on work, I feel selfish. If I go out golfing or on the boat without taking a student with me, I feel selfish. And God is saying to me, THEN BE SELFISH! I understand being selfish can go to an extreme, which is not healthy, but an equally dangerous extreme is selflessness. God knows better than anyone what a balanced and healthy life looks like for me, and I need to trust His wisdom. I know during these past months, selfless has become an extreme for me. God is telling me to pull back a bit to be healthy. If I am not leading a balanced healthy life, I cannot be the Husband, the Dad, the youth worker, or the Christian He wants me to be.
What extreme are you living in? What steps do you need to take in your life to bring balance? I challenge you to ask God, I know he will tell you. Then the hard thing is to trust what he reveals to you and then live it out. I am trying to be a little more selfish, what do you need to try?
The other day I was reading through the gospel of Luke and noticed a verse that seemed kind of odd. The content of the verse is not odd, but how it is placed between two different miracle stories is, at least at first glance.
Luke 5:16 (NIV) 16But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Jesus heals a man of leprosy, then moves on to the crowded house where the man is lowered through the roof and eventually healed. This one simple sentence randomly sits between these two stories, seemingly having nothing to do with either one. However, in verse 17, right before the man is lowered through the roof Luke makes this statement: “the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.”
There are two powerful lessons that I need to be constantly reminded of from these two simple statements by Luke.
1. It is all about God’s power.
If I am doing anything out of my own power, it won’t be as good or effective as it would be with God’s power. Even Jesus could not heal someone without God’s presence. I can’t accomplish anything in ministry without God’s presence either. Sure I can entertain teenagers on my own, but that is not what God has called me to do as a youth worker. In order for teenagers, or anyone for that matter, to be saved or grow as a Christian it has to be God’s power working in and through them. The truth is I cannot save anyone, only God can do that. My job is to present them with the truth, help them anyway I can to tap into God’s power, and then get out of the way.
2. The way to get God’s presence and the power that comes with it is through prayer and solitude.
The more I study the life of Jesus, the more I see how often Jesus went off by himself and prayed. The more popular he became throughout his ministry the more he did it. Typically the more successful I am with stuff the less I do it. Obviously this is not a good trend on my part, and also why it is easy to start relying on myself instead of God for success. If I neglect my own faith and spiritual health because of the busyness of ministry I am not being an example worthy of following, and I never want to be in that place.
These are two truths that I need to be reminded of on a regular basis. How about you? How are you doing at living these out?
For my first post I pondered what to do. I have considered putting on a few old articles I had written for other things just to get some content up. I have considered posting some amusing ramblings about something random. I have also considered just giving up on this whole new venture into the world of youth ministry blogs. But alas, here is the first post—and it is none of the things I just described.
For this inaugural post, I think you need to understand better who I am and what I believe. I am a weird youth worker. “What makes you weird?” you ask. What I believe about youth ministry makes me weird…
I believe my own faith walk is more important than my ministry to teenagers.
I believe that my wife and kids need to know I love them more than I love the church.
I believe that huge numbers is not the goal of youth ministry or the measure of health.
I believe that I should have a good relationship with my senior pastor and other church staff; after all we are on the same team.
I believe that I should not do ministry alone. I need to team up with volunteers and other youth workers in my area to promote unity within my church and my community.
I believe that youth ministry is a long term commitment not a stepping stone to a real job within the church.
I believe that as a Christian I signed up to fight in a war along side God, and that youth ministry is the front lines of the battle not a way to get paid to play.
I believe that teenagers are an integral part of the church today; they are not the church of tomorrow.
I believe that the current paradigm we live up to in youth ministry is hurting us more than it is helping us, and that we need to admit it and challenge it head on through the Truth of scripture.
After reading what I believe you are probably reacting in one of two ways. Perhaps you are deciding you will never read my blog or anything else I write ever again. Or, you are nodding in agreement and glad that someone finally said it and you want to hear/read more.
My hope and prayer is that you will be weird with me as we pursue something different within youth ministry together. If that is you, may I ask two simple things of you?
- Please pray for my book to be taken by an agent and/or a publisher. I have written a book about this topic, so if you want to read more it needs to get published.
- Read and interact on this blog to show there are other youth workers out there willing to step out and be weird with me.
Are you a weird youth worker? Do you want to be?
Whew, the first post is done. My hope is they only get better from here!