Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Rethinking Staff Driven Youth Ministry

    Five years ago, the youth ministry of the church where I am currently serving was run almost entirely by adult volunteers and lay leaders. Their leadership was, and still is, extremely impressive. But over time, we have shifted to a more staff driven ministry. I, along with a coordinator of youth ministry, oversee the day to day functions of the youth ministry.

    As we begin to plan for the upcoming school year, it occurs to me how important it is to have committed adult volunteers and leaders. Somehow there needs to be a balance between staff driven and lay driven ministry. The advantage to staff driven ministry is that you are able to control how and when events unfold. The disadvantage arises out of the same scenario—YOU are overseeing events. Whenever youth ministry begins to focus more on staff and less on volunteers I think there is a need to reflect on how ministry is taking place.

    Everyone leads such hectic and busy lives (this is another topic in itself). But what can we do to purposefully engage our adult volunteers and leaders? Here are just a few thoughts:

    1) This year, in early August, we plan to have a large planning session for parents and adult volunteers. We hope to have an almost finalized calendar of the upcoming year. For each of these activities, we will ask our parents and volunteers to help lead and coordinate a specific event.

    2) When we ask for leaders, it will be done through prayer and discernment. For example, this is what we might say to someone: “We realize that you have a particular spiritual gift in working with youth (then name that gift). Will you prayerfully consider helping us with this activity/event? Before you answer, please spend some time praying about your response.” The act of leadership and discernment should be rooted in prayer.

    3) Consider forming a parents’ small group to meet at the same time as your youth group. Parents can take turns helping with different events and activities.

    4) Identify the spiritual gifts of the members of your congregation. Don’t rely solely on parents. Look to all age groups.

    5) Invite certain individuals to begin praying for the youth and youth ministry of the church. Maybe even have a prayer group that meets prior to your youth group meeting.

    6) Invite leaders of your youth ministry to a retreat. Take time to plan events together and demonstrate how much you appreciate their support. Give leaders tips for how to interact with youth. For example, an easy suggestion is instead of saying, “Did you have a good weekend?” Ask, “What did you do this weekend?” Yes or No answers are conversation killers with teenagers.

    7) Introduce the leaders of your youth ministry to the entire church. Have a special Sunday, or even in the church newsletter, where you lift up all of the different ways lay leaders make such ministry possible.

    8) Let your adult volunteers lead youth group and utilize their ideas.

    9) Send postcards thanking them for their help.

    10) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ministry is a team effort.

    What else would you add to the list?



    Anonymous said...

    hey man you mind me using this with my staff, and more for myself. some great reminders to myself on how to equip and lead others in making disciples not myself being the lone ranger

    Anonymous said...

    Great thoughts, I like the idea of having a planning meeting. We usually involve only leaders, but its an awesome idea to invite parents to the planning meeting as well.

    Jacob said...

    ypguybrit, thanks for the affirmation. If it helps, please use this however you would like.

    Keystone...thanks for the comment. Having the support and awareness of parents is definitely crucial.

    Randy said...

    good observations and suggestions. the vol/staff balance is a hard thing but very important. i slide back and forth over the years on the balance in what i do, too often erring on the me-doing-too-much side. thanks for reminders and ideas on how to do better.

    Brian said...

    Great suggestions. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to "call" folks into youth ministry based on their gifts, not just on who raises their hand when we ask for help.

    Jacob(and anyone else reading this), what are your thoughts on caveats when using parents as regular volunteers to actually lead activities? I've done this, but only sparingly.

    dbsalerno said...

    Interesting discussion.

    Personally, I think there is too much staff-driven youth ministry, especially when Biblically speaking the responsibility to raise spiritual youth falls on their parents. Sorry if this is stepping on toes, guys... :)

    As a lay youth director, I see the push within my church to hire a full-time Youth Pastor. The only problem with that, is that those calling for this Youth Pastor aren't volunteering now, and I certainly don't expect them to volunteer after he/she's hired. In fact, I expect all volunteers to back away from the ministry, since after all we've "hired someone to take care of our youth". And that's not fair to the Youth Pastor, or to our youth.

    I'm sorry, I just believe that youth ministry is the church's responsibility.


    Brian said...

    David, thanks for commenting. Our friend Jeremy at the Small Town Youth Pastor blog has said several times that he believes the future of youth ministry will see the end of the professional youth pastor and I tend to agree. A good youth pastor should see her (or his) work as that of "equipping the saints" -- helping the laity to find their calling within the youth ministry.

    Danny Bradfield said...

    As I continue to work on developing the youth program at my own church, I'm pondering a youth driven youth ministry. As a youth and now as an adult, I've been involved with scouting, where the adults are their for guidance, but the actual hands-on leadership is provided by the youth themselves. In church, I've seen this at a regional level, where regional youth leaders are given responsibility for planning and running various aspects of regional camps...

    Brian said...

    Though I've often been guilty of the "it's just easier to do it myself" style of leadership, I resonate with Danny's suggestion of youth driven ministry. I've tried a variety of approaches to encourage youth to take leadership within the ministry. I've found that, with adult guidance and help, youth are capable of doing just about anything in the ministry, including teaching, worship leading, planning mission trips, etc. And what a great way to help youth see a more holistic and realistic picture of what it takes to make the church "go" (as opposed to ministries that simply focused on keeping teens comfortable and entertained.)

    Jacob said...

    i agree 100% with youth driven ministry, but it is hard. We try to do this, but sometimes even the best intentions by youth leadership don't get carried out. In order to set youth up for success you have to be willing to spend the time working with them and developing the process for how to be a leader--a process that often gets rushed and overlooked. I too am guilty of the "it's just easier to do it myself" syndrome.