LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE:
I can still picture the conversation.
My wife and I had recently started attending a new church. We both grew up in Christian homes and were active in church our whole lives. So we walked in with lots of expectations but also a sense of purpose. We had spent several weeks getting to know the staff and the pastors and being available as much as possible. We were ready to jump in!
I set up a meeting with the Student Pastor to share more about us and see how and where we could serve the student ministry. But the conversation fell…a little flat. As eager as I was to jump in and serve, help lead students to grow in their faith, maybe grab my guitar and help teach students about worship leading, I was met with indifference. My experience, excitement, or desire didn’t seem to matter. It seemed like all of it was a moot point to him. And thus, I was told, “Uhh, I guess you can just hold the door open for people coming in, and then we’ll talk later.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not above serving where I’m needed. Serving where you’re needed is imperative. As a student ministry leader, you need to make this your attitude. Not sure who needs to hear this, but there are always some tables and chairs that need to be set up. But we had just spent an hour or so talking about student ministry and all the incredible opportunities to minister to young people, so is this really what was needed? Or was I just being set off to the side and added to a list of names? That’s sure what it felt like.
I knew that very moment the endless frustration I would feel there. I feel like reinforcing that, yes, I did walk in with expectations. I did have ideas of what I wanted to do. But I also hoped to serve in a place that would empower me in my gifts and develop me as a leader. Unfortunately, no amount of backstory or fervor was going to change what the response was here. My biggest issue with that whole conversation was the lack of interest in my wife and me serving a ministry we cared so much about. Not once in that conversation was this simple question asked: “how do you want to serve?” It is such a simple question with a profound purpose and context.
I now have the joy of serving as a Student Pastor in a suburb of Dallas, TX. And I love getting to meet others who are passionate about serving in student ministry. I usually end any volunteer conversation with the question I wanted to hear, “how do you want to serve?” Answers are always different. But you can see the excitement in a volunteer’s eyes every time.
I recently had a student who had graduated a few years before come back to the church and ask to serve with us. Background info, she is a PHENOMENAL singer and worship leader. And I was hoping she’d take the lead on our student-led worship band. But again, I asked, “how do you want to serve?” And her answer was a surprise. She wanted to help lead our high school girls group. Not what I expected, but ok, let’s talk. Her eyes lit up as she talked about why she’d rather help teach that group instead of worship leading. She’d always led worship. That’s what was expected of her. And she had much more to offer but was never asked to do that. Would you believe it if I told you that our high school girls group has been the most engaged I’ve seen them in my time here? That volunteer brings a new level of excitement to the group because she wants to be there. It’s been fantastic to watch.
So my encouragement to you is this: don’t just fill holes. Don’t think of people as checkmarks on your to-do list. That’s unfair to them and your ministry. We often think of ourselves as only ministers to students, so we completely miss the adults or families we are there to work with. Your volunteers are people you minister to as well. Let me repeat for those skimming here. Your volunteers are people you minister to as well.
This small shift can completely change what serving in your ministry looks like. Your volunteers won’t flame out, trying to fill a spot they were never made to fill. They’ll be excited to serve. You’ll appreciate them more because their excitement to be there positively impacts your students. Students will connect better with adults who are excited to be there. And even more so, you’ll shift from filling volunteer holes to equipping adults for ministry.
So my encouragement and suggestion to you would be to burn this question into your mind: “how do you want to serve?” If done with purpose, I promise that it will change your entire mindset on volunteers. And it will change your volunteers’ entire mindset on serving.
Ironically, I had another new volunteer start a few months ago. And you know where she wanted to serve? Holding the door for students as they walk in—pure gold.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- Have you asked your volunteers where they would like to serve? Do you think that it would have an impact on your ministry?
- What other ways do you care for your volunteers to make sure they feel appreciated, seen, and loved?