by Chris Cummings
In August 2012 the organization Youth Pastors Anonymous (YPA), a support group for paid and volunteer youth workers in the Nashville area, hosted the inagural youth ministry volunteer team training event, MORE THAN A VOLUNTEER.
The idea for this event came out of the fact that, for youth ministers, training volunteer teams can be difficult and tricky, but it is of the utmost importance in having a strong youth ministry. The members of YPA decided that it made sense to pool our expertise and our resources to train all of our volunteers together rather than separately. The event was a huge success for all who attended.
Reflecting on the event, here are a few thoughts on training volunteers for youth ministry.
It is easy to get to the point of just trying to find warm bodies to keep an eye on teens, but often that desperation can lead to issues. The best practice for choosing volunteers is to think about the congregation with your youth. Who are those who are already leaders in the church? Who already reaches out to teens? Who is committed to God and your church? Once you have identified those people, go ask them to commit to the youth ministry in some way. You may have to start small, but once they get comfortable, they will be more likely to jump in and help in a larger role.
Sometimes, we as youth ministers can forget to check on our volunteers and see how they are doing personally. If they are flaky (either occasionally or constantly), we might get frustrated without knowing what is going on in their lives. I meet with my volunteers 30 minutes before youth group every week. This time allows for them to get ready for the lesson that night, but much more importantly it creates a small group for the volunteers. I encourage them to share how they are really doing, and it creates a solid bond between the leaders in the room. Creating this space for your volunteers ministers to them, but it also allows them to be better ministers to your teens.
It’s a good idea in stocks as well as in volunteers. Finding volunteers who are a lot like yourself would be simpler, but it won’t be very helpful to the youth ministry. The more diverse a volunteer team you have, the more diverse teens your church can minister to. There are many things I can relate to teens about, but there are many other things that my volunteers are better at relating than I am. After all, the body of Christ should be made up of many parts, and not all of those parts work the same way.
Finally, if you do nothing else, you must encourage your volunteers. We all have doubts about ourselves, and when you work with teens those doubts can come to the surface more quickly. Make sure to encourage your team: they are enough, because God made them so.
When you’re encouraging your team, share the following that I wrote a few years ago for a training:
Be you…exactly as God has created you to be.
Be you…even when it is easy to feel not good enough, not fun enough, not cool enough.
Be you…with all your strengths and weaknesses, with all your joys and pains, with all your history and experiences.
Be you…don’t feel like you need to be like someone else; don’t feel like you need to be like another volunteer because teens need diverse adults in their lives.
Be you…and know that God has done a good work in you.
Be you…and know that God is God, and you don’t have to be.
Be you…and be confident that that is enough.
If there is one thing that will help you more in youth ministry than anything else…It is to BE YOU.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:3-6)
For more information about Youth Pastors Anonymous, please visit www.youthpastorsanonymous.org.
Chris Cummings is an alumnus of the Center for Youth Ministry Training: he completed the program in May 2012 earning a Master of Arts in Religion and he serves as the youth minister at Forest Hills United Methodist Church in Brentwood, Tenn.
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