A hallmark of youth ministry in recent decades has been an emphasis on relational (or incarnational) ministry. Well-rehearsed preaching and over-the-top events only go so far if we aren't willing to compassionately and unconditionally love teenagers with no strings attached. My guess is that most youth pastors were first drawn to youth ministry because of their knack for that kind of relational ministry. Once you practice relational ministry, you know that it takes time to love teenagers in that sort of way.
But relational ministry can't be neatly scheduled into an hour a week or a monthly program. As a result, simple math dictates that to reach more than a few teenagers this way, you need a great team to serve alongside you.
If we aren't intentionally building a team of relational volunteers, we'll limit our impact to only the teenagers we spend time with. We'll burn ourselves out in the process. And we won't be very effective in reaching more students. We need help.
Building a team of relational volunteers can be a challenge, but if you've ever worked with a team of adult leaders who know how to really love teenagers, you know that it's well worth it.
Here are a few tips to help you along the way:
Be clear about what you expect of your leaders.
To you, it might be perfectly clear how to practice relational youth ministry—especially if you've been doing it for a number years. Let your leaders know what you expect out of them and give them ideas for how to practically pour into the lives of the teenagers they'll be working with. When I first started working with high school students as a volunteer in college, the youth pastor gave me a ten dollar bill and told me to take a student to coffee. It was a clear message on how he expected me to function as a volunteer.
Help your leaders set boundaries.
If it's crucial for leaders to understand their roles and what you expect of them as the pour into the lives of teenagers, it's equally important to teach them how to set boundaries for themselves as they lead. Usually, the most energetic and relational leaders also have a difficult time saying “no,” especially to teenagers they've grown to love. make sure leaders know what healthy relational ministry is—and what it isn't.
Find leaders you'd love your own kids to hang out with.
I've spent a lot of time in the past ten years of youth ministry recruiting youth ministry leaders, and I've learned a very important fact: The best relational youth ministry leaders are not always (or even usually) the ones who seem to fit the “mold” (young, energetic, and cool). Instead of looking for youth leaders by finding people who seem to relate well to teenagers because of their age, taste in music, and so on, make a list of people that you'd want to mentor your own children. You might be surprised at who makes the list that you never considered asking to serve with you before.
Be a relational leader to your volunteer team.
We can't host a two-hour seminar on relational ministry and expect that our team will “get it” from there on out. After all, it's easier to teach a volunteer to fill a slot than it is to equip him or her to be a relational youth worker. Relational youth ministry is difficult because it requires us to love and serve teenagers, not with any final outcome in mind, but just because that's what Jesus would have us do. If we expect our leaders to engage in that kind of ministry, that's how we ought to love them, too. In doing so, you'll set the tone for how you believe people should be loved in your youth ministry.
How do you help your team understand and practice relational youth ministry?
(Originally posted August, 2013)