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So, you’re in a church that is too small to hire a youth minister, even a part-time one- welcome to the majority of churches in the world! Most churches in the world have a completely volunteer led youth ministry.
The median church size in the United States is 75. In fact, it is reported that 59% of churches in the U.S. have less than 100 worshipers on Sundays, and the overwhelming majority of churches have less than 500 in weekly attendance. Most churches this size cannot afford a full-time (or even part-time) position for a youth minister salary, yet it seems like most of the training and resources in the world of youth ministry cater to paid youth workers.
Volunteers may certainly be aware of great resources like the Center For Parent And Youth Understanding but many are not. Many volunteer youth leaders may easily get discouraged, having faithfully prepared a lesson for Sunday morning or Wednesday night, only to have one, or zero, youth show up. Volunteer led youth ministry can feel lonely.
What strategies might work to get a volunteer driven youth ministry going in your church? How can workers keep from feeling discouraged or burnt out? Here are three simple ideas that can make an incredible impact on the way we do ministry with teens:
- Find ways to merge teens into the life of the church without feeling the need to start a whole new program. Every church wants a thriving youth program, but many churches are not program size congregations. Most churches that are able to hire a youth minister will initially fund the position on a part-time basis. Teens do not need a flashy program for discipleship to occur, they need nurturing in their faith and to see Christ’s love modeled by caring adults. They do not need to learn that church exists to cater to them, but that we are all in this together, and that inter-generational ministry will have lasting value on their lives. There is certainly a time and place for a program based youth ministry, but I predict that youth ministry in the future will become less entertainment driven and more incarnational, and that small churches may take the lead in being labs for youth ministry experimentation. How exciting!
- Partner with other church groups for youth events. Instead of creating an entire youth program for your church (and expecting teens to magically show up) partner with other churches that may also only have a few teens. Starting small, and finding other volunteer youth leaders in the community to partner with is good for students and for volunteers. Students see that there are teens in other churches and have a chance to fellowship with like-minded people their age, and volunteers share the burden of planning an event like a weekly Bible study, a monthly fellowship, or even a summer mission experience.
- Share your passion for student ministry with your pastor. Many pastors are former youth ministers and already share your excitement about reaching teens and their parents with God’s love. This means that pastors may naturally serve as valuable resources for volunteers looking for youth ministry ideas. (As a starting place, you can always download some free lessons from the SMI team here.) If you share your heart for youth ministry with your pastor, I’m sure he/she will show gratitude and excitement, and remain excited to help equip you in the work of youth ministry. If you are a volunteer who has a passion for youth ministry and you have to deal with a pastor who is not supportive of your passion to reach young people, I’ll be praying for you, and for the future of your congregation!
Our youth are the future of the church, (cliché, I know) and you are likely reading this because you agree that ministering to youth is important. My encouragement to you, especially if you are a volunteer youth leader, is that the work you do is vital. God has given you a passion for reaching students with the love of Christ, and we are here to help. Have questions? Have ideas? share in the comment section below!
I have done youth ministry for well over a decade and I am always amazed at territorialism in the church. Like Paul, I feel like there have been times where I am “chief among sinners” in this regard. I am guilty of building my empire and not God’s Kingdom.
Some of us have served on staff at churches where the issue of territory was prevalent. Conversations like, “well you can’t use resource X because resource X belongs to the _________ ministry team and they don’t like people touching their stuff.” Or perhaps your church is short on space for storage, and a few ministry teams insist on keeping many things in closets that will likely never see the light of day. “But what if we need that VHS curriculum for an adult small group?” or, “Could we use those cassette tapes for children’s choir?” Perhaps you’re the perpetrator, and have said “I just can’t part with _______ because I might need it for a crazy rec game at camp in 2035.” In one way or another, we all try to protect our territory and the resources that belong to our ministry department. There comes a point however, when this is unhealthy. Territorialism is NOT Christian stewardship.
Donna Flagg, founder of The Krysalis Group identifies territorial tendencies as “turfism.” In a post for Psychology Today, she states that “turfism erects walls, commonly known to produce what has been coined in workplace jargon as a “silo effect,” which ultimately limits communication, hinders the development of relationships and infects the culture with an overall lack of cooperation among people and departments.” Protecting territory and erecting walls between others on your ministry team is NOT a healthy way to manage resources.
In Acts 4, Luke points out that all the believers shared everything they had because ”No on claimed that any of their possessions where their own” (Acts 4:32, NIV). This worked in the early church, and it works today. We need to understand that the resources that we are blessed with are not our own. We are all on the same team, We all have the same goal of reaching people with God’s love.
We should build God’s Kingdom, not our own empires. The Gallup Business Journal identifies “empire building” as the ”pinnacle and most extreme level of pyramid bureaucracy.” Read the full article here. When we build our own empires through turfism, the Kingdom of God becomes secondary. So how are these pitfalls avoided? Three ways to avoid personal empire building in your own ministry are:
- Try to see the big picture. We we view things narrowly and from our perspective alone, we are on the road to empire building. Take other views into consideration and maintain a flexible spirit.
- Admit that everything belongs to God. Realize that the resources you have are not yours, or your departments, or even your church’s. They belong to God.
- Let go of your fear to fail. Too often, we fear our own failure and so we grasp for power. This may include trying to take over or “help” in multiple ministry areas, or even an unwillingness to share a storage closet. God is the one who called you to ministry, so let go of your need to impress others and find true joy in serving the Lord.
Contrary to the Jay-Z song, Christians are NOT called to have an “Empire State Of Mind,” but a Kingdom of God state of mind. Let’s get busy building God’s Kingdom instead of our own.
Well, summer is upon us! School is out, kids are ready for extra activities and crazy events, and you’re dreaming dreams of camp registration forms and late nights on an air mattress during missions week. My back hurts just thinking about it. So the question is: when and how do YOU find rest in the busy months of summer?
I Once read a book called “Your Right To Rest” by Wayne Oates. Oates wrote in the early eighties that western people were so busy and plugged into technology that they hardly have time for rest. Ironic. I wonder what he would say if he could see our world today. The truth is, even when I have time to rest I have a hard time unplugging. Here are a few tips that have been helpful to me this summer:
- Go to bed early when you can. Your body was made for sleep and rest just as much as productivity. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.” Did you catch that last word, epidemic. I think about lots of things when I hear the word epidemic, like Aids, Malaria, malnutrition/hunger, Flu, but sleep?!? Apparently so few adults (or teens for that matter) get enough sleep, that the use of a word like epidemic is warranted. So what are some cold hard facts? According to the CDC, ”Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.” At the end of the day, the quality of your life and the quality of your ability to faithfully perform the ministry you are called to depends on your ability to get enough sleep. To learn more about the CDC’s incredible findings click here.
- Unplug from technology. If like me you’re a tech junkie, then its crucial to unwind from looking at a screen all day. I have a dual-monitor setup in my office with my iPad on one side of my laptop and my iPhone on the other. That’s four screens on my desk at any given time, and three of them come home with me! When I get home I have a TV in the living room that makes it tempting to enter into a vegetative state, especially after my toddler is asleep. Finding time to unplug can be hard when you’re plugged in all the time. My unplugged time is in the mornings when I take our son to a local park. Chasing him around is tiring, but the time away from a screen is refreshing in its own way. Try and find time this week to unplug. Some suggestions… 1) Many phones today have settings for “quite hours” when you do not want to receive calls of notifications. Certain numbers may also be allowed through in case of an emergency. Set your quite hours and stick to them. Just because students may want to text you at all hours doesn’t mean you need to respond. 2) Get outdoors before it gets too hot outside and enjoy God’s creation. In the Houston area this is often before 9:00am. Yes I’m up by 9:00am. Remember that whole go to bed early thing? 3) Spend some time on a desert island. Seriously that’s about the only place where there’s no cellular coverage!
- Realize that you can’t do it all. The day it occurred to me that I could never DO all the ministry that needed to be done was overwhelmingly stressful. The day I let go of my need to DO everything was overwhelmingly freeing. During the summer, we youth ministers get so busy that some things may just fall through the cracks. Sure your church should hire you a secretary. Sure you wish you had more interns. Sure none of the parents realize the work involved in successful camps and mission trips. There comes a point in ministry where you can either burn, out or trust that God will work in spite of all the things we wish we could accomplish. It sounds cliché, but “let go and let God” is a great motto for minister in desperate need of rest. God was working long before you came into the picture, and will be working long after you leave.
- Explore the idea of Compensatory time (comp-time) with your personnel team. Some senior pastors may read this and laugh out loud. Chances are they’ve never done youth ministry. Maybe you have never heard of comp-time. Until I worked at a church that had it in their personnel policy neither had I. Here’s how it works. You go out of town for seven days on a youth trip. While you are gone you miss your day/days off for the week because you are taking care of teenagers 24/7. A church could set it up so that when you miss your day off due to a youth trip, you get it back as a day off at a later time. Alison Doyle, a well known employment and HR expert defines comp time as this: ”Rather than paying employees time and a half in overtime pay, a company which has a comp time policy gives paid time off from work, for the equivalent amount of time to the extra hours worked.” If churches value healthy employees who are functioning at their peak levels of capability, then comp-time should be part of the policy manual. Each state has different laws about comp-time so learn the laws of your state before taking this great new idea to your next staff meeting.
My hope and prayer for you is that this summer, you find ways to find rest in midst of your hectic student ministry schedule. On the seventh day God rested. Rest is part of the cycle of the created order. Its part of the nature of who God is. I hope that you can make rest part of your life’s rhythm as well.