Part of CYMT’s mission is to equip churches to have effective youth ministers and we also want the church to have effective volunteers for their youth programs. We know all CYMT churches have volunteers who need to be recognized for their hard work and dedication, so CYMT held its first “More Than a Volunteer” recognition contest.
Stephanie Holland from Crievewood United Methodist Church in Nashville was awarded the recognition this year. Steph Dodge, her youth minister and 2012 CYMT graduate, nominated Stephanie because she has been dedicated to coming regularly to work with the youth on Sunday nights and helps lead one of their small groups. Steph said Stephanie joined the youth ministry excited to once again be a part of the church family. Stephanie’s occupation as a teacher helps Steph brainstorm the most effective ways to lead the youth, and her passion for serving others and for living life to the fullest is apparent to everyone around her.
CYMT interviewed Stephanie after awarding her “More Than a Volunteer” to find out why she volunteers at Crievewood UMC and what advice she has for others.
Why do you volunteer in the youth ministry, Stephanie?
Volunteering with the youth seemed like a natural extension of the rest of my life. Let’s just say that I am young at heart and in spirit. I suppose to understand why I volunteer I should first explain what my youth group meant to me. The youth group was always a place a refuge for me. It was where I first learned about what it means to be in community. The adults who volunteered each week became a part of the fabric of my story, and the highlights of my adolescence could be viewed as a collection of moments strung together that I spent with those adults. My youth counselors loved me and took time to really get to know me. They made an investment in my spirit when it was needed the most. When I think back to those early moments in my walk with Jesus, it is those faces that I remember. Those adults showed me what it meant to be a follower of Christ and taught me to serve. They shaped and molded me into the adult that I am today. It is really important that I bring that experience full-circle and give back to something that meant so much to me. It is my privilege and responsibility to try to pass that on to a new generation of youth.
What do you get from volunteering?
Not only does volunteering with the youth allow me to be a part of my church in a really specific way, it lets me focus my attention outside of myself. A wise adult once told me that we often gain the greatest rewards when we are focused on others rather than ourselves. It’s funny how that works. It feels really great to be a part of these kids’ journeys. To be able to watch them wrestle and grow in their faith is a really special thing. And it isn’t that I know more. These kids teach me something each week. Sometimes they are teaching me about which member of One Direction is the coolest or the best way to wear my skinny jeans, but they also teach me about what it means to look at the world with fresh eyes. We are truly in this together–all of us. Working with the youth means that I am choosing to engage in ministry. In order to grow in our own faith walks, we must be challenged. Our beliefs and our positions on certain issues have little meaning if we are never pushing their boundaries. There would be no growth if we just settled. Volunteering with these kids challenges me on a daily basis to be better. It calls me to think about issues in new ways. Am I loving as Jesus has called me to love? Am I giving all that I have to give? When I ask these questions of myself, I am forced to spend time reflecting and examining my choices which results in personal growth. I owe a lot of that to these kids. That is why I volunteer. I like to think we are making each other better people.
What advice do you have for other volunteers?
I would like to give a shout-out (Wait, do people still say that? Where are the kids when I need them?) to all of the volunteers out there. It is not always an easy task. We are all giving in the best ways we know how, and we all bring different sets of skills to the table. It is the collection of those talents and skills that provides the kids with a team of people who love them. I do think it is critical for there to be some adults who are there each week. Any amount of time that a person is able to volunteer is welcomed, but I think it is really critical for there to be some adults who are always there so that the group is able to form a cohesive bond. Each youth group is like a little army, and it will function better and accomplish more if there is a sense of unity. One of the greatest and most humbling aspects of being a Christian is that we are called to serve. When we have those close relationships established and a sense of trust is present, there is no limit to what we can do. I’m forever grateful to have this opportunity to work with these kids and other adults at my church.
Steph Dodge additionally said of Stephanie, “She has been willing to serve in any capacity from leading a small group to driving the youth to events to staying after to help clean up and was even willing to give up her Saturday to attend a volunteer training to learn how better to serve our youth. Stephanie Holland truly shows us what it means to be More Than a Volunteer.”
Congratulations to Stephanie on being CYMT’s first “More than A Volunteer” recipient. You can learn more about Crievewood United Methodist Church at crievewoodumc.org.
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.