In Part 1 of a Vision for Volunteers, I talked about my paradigm shift to allowing my understanding of Scripture to shape my methods. In Part 2 we will look at some of those methods. No single area was impacted as much as my prayer life. So prayer is the acrostic I chose here to explain my new methods.
Patiently wait on the Lord. This is His work. He calls the partners. Don’t panic. Just get on the same page with what He is doing. When I first stepped out and began to take this seriously, I was tested right away. During our annual Ministry Team Retreat, one of my long-time Sunday School teachers arrived late, came to the front and announced, “I am retiring from teaching effective immediately. But don’t worry. My replacement is in this room.” Someone called out, “Do they know?” He cheerily responded, “Not yet. But the Lord will tell them.” Everyone looked at me. I swallowed hard and said, “Let’s pray and take a break. Lord, if this is a word from you, give us the eyes to see it, the ears to hear it and the heart to respond. Amen.”
During the break I walked over to someone who was sitting quietly. “Hey, how are you doing?” “Okay, I will do it!” he responded. I protested, “I am not asking you to do anything. I’m just saying hello.” He said, “I know, but God is speaking to me. I’m going to obey!” Wow. That was memorable. It has never again been that dramatic, but I have found God faithful to move when we wait on Him in prayer.
Recruit. Waiting on the Lord is not passive. As you seek to align with His initiative, be active in strategically sharing the vision and inviting those who resonate with that vision into community. Allow them to check things out around the edges so that the Lord can stir in their heart. Don’t ask for volunteers (for anything that matters) in bulletins or emails or from the pulpit. Quality people are worth quality effort. And it is much harder to dismiss a poor volunteer than recruit a great one.
Recruit individuals and couples year round. Share your vision and your sense of the Lord’s leading. Be specific with expectations for those who become team members. I have found it helpful to ask for a minimum of three hours a week for a two years, renewable annually after that. I recommend sharing ministry philosophy and vision with possible partners 6 to 8 months ahead of an expected “need.”
Allow gifts to emerge. Don’t micromanage. Let them discover their place on the team. Give them boundaries and orientation, point them toward relationships and let their gifts emerge as they begin to “pace” with students.
You must let go. There are some things that are yours to do as the hired staff (volunteer recruitment/training, safeguarding the vision and integrity of the ministry, maintaining the safety of students etc). But your volunteers need room to risk, room to fail (when students are not at risk), and most of all, room to succeed. When you create room for them to grow in the ministry, you create room for ownership. I watched a popular high school pastor of eight years leave and the youth ministry hardly miss a beat because of the strong ownership and leadership of the adult volunteers.
The churches where we serve need youth ministers and shepherds mature enough and secure enough not to use the young people to get our own needs met. And the youth in our churches don’t need their primary attachment to be to a youth minister who may move in a few years. Young people need to be connected with adults in their congregation who are passionately and authentically in love with Jesus.
One note of caution: Letting go is not abandonment. Many of us have seen only micromanagement or abandonment modeled by those in authority. Resist embracing these so-called “leadership” models so common in the world. Simply delegating tasks and then abandoning our volunteers encourages performance orientation, the devaluing of others, and ultimately burnout. And micromanagement stunts growth and creates warped systems. God has called us to lead as His undershepherds. (See Ezekiel 34 for insight on shepherding with integrity)
Equip. As youth ministers we have the opportunity to create programs, to write or review curriculums, to receive training, to take extra time for the study of the Word, the culture, adolescence and youth ministry. Take that privilege seriously, but don’t keep the growth or information to yourself. God has called the whole community of Christ to pass the faith to the next generation and not just us. Be intentional and proactive in discovering ways to equip your youth ministry team.
Relationship is the soil of effective ministry. Volunteers are not the ones who do our work…or who help us do our work…they are the co-laborers with whom God has given us the opportunity to sharpen iron together in ministry. You may consider changing how you refer to them to adopt language that better reflects this than “volunteer.”
Adults as well as students are drawn to our ministry because of a relationship. If we only use people for their gifts, instead of also loving them for their person, we may be promoting a performance-driven consumerism instead of allowing the Kingdom of God to flourish in their lives. If their value to us is merely what they can accomplish for us, we need to spend some time with God and have him break our heart and give us a call to His ministry instead of ours!