A few weeks ago, our family was playing a few games of Uno after dinner. We’ve got two young daughters, so playing card games as a family is still a relatively new experience for us. On that night, our oldest daughter won the first game and was well on her way to winning game number two. I began to sense frustration on the part of my younger daughter when I realized something pretty important: I had failed to explain to her the point of the game. It got me thinking . . .
The mistake I made in not reminding her of the rules is the same mistake many youth workers make when it comes to leading.
We assume that the point of youth ministry is so obvious that we often forget to remind those who serve with us why we do what we do. Just like I let my daughter happily play our game without telling her how to win, it’s easy to let our leaders toil away at their roles without making clear how they can “win” as leaders. We put them to work without explaining how they will know whether they are doing a good job.
The problem with this scenario is that when we don’t help our volunteers understand the vision and direction of our youth ministries, one of two things will happen:
- They’ll become frustrated (as my daughter did) and either quit, or simply go through the motions, or
- They’ll operate based on what they believe the vision and direction of the youth ministry is, which could result in confusion (at best) and dissention among your team (at worst).
To avoid this kind of scenario, there are a few simple things we can do as leaders.
Sum up the purpose and direction of your youth ministry at every opportunity.
This doesn’t have to be a 30 minute sermon every time. In fact, if you can’t explain the vision and mission of your ministry in a couple of minutes, or so, you probably don’t have a good handle on the vision and mission yourself!
Be careful about oversimplification, as well. You may have spent (and continue to spend) a lot of prayer, Bible study, and thought on discerning where you think God is leading your ministry. It may seem obvious to you. But it’s not so obvious to your leaders if you don’t repeat that vision often.
When you plan an event, identify a one-sentence summary of why you are doing that event.
Why are you going on a retreat? What’s the purpose of your mission trip? Is there really a point behind the madness of this next lock-in? If you’re able to simply and quickly communicate why you’re asking volunteers to help with an event, and how that event fits into the broader vision of the church and youth ministry, your volunteers will grasp why the event is important, and what their role is.
Assign specific roles to every volunteer.
This is one I’ve learned the hard way. Even if what you expect from a leader is to simply sit with students during youth group and interact with them, make sure they know that. There aren’t many things more frustrating for a volunteer than not knowing what his or her role is. Do your team a leader and make sure your volunteers know their specific roles so that they can do their jobs well.
Ask volunteers how they feel like they are personally helping the youth ministry accomplish its purpose.
It’s one thing to help volunteers understand why you even have a youth ministry in the first place; it’s quite another for them to see how they fit in that overall purpose. Volunteers who grasp and are on board with the mission and vision of a ministry to the point where they know how they can further that mission and vision are amazing assets. Help them along by encouraging them to pray about how they fit into God’s overall plan for your church and youth ministry.
Don’t let volunteers veer off mission.
No matter how well you communicate the purpose of your youth ministry and where you think God is leading your team, there will occasionally be leaders who either don’t understand or don’t care. They’ll do what they want to do.
In these cases, it’s your job to point out (in private, not in public) the issue. Explain that while the ministry is heading on one direction, the volunteer seems intent on heading in a different direction. If the volunteer is willing to take this correction, then you’ve done the volunteer (and the students he/she leads) a favor. If not, then it might be time to lovingly find that volunteer a place to serve that’s a better fit.
What are other ways to make sure volunteers know how they can “win” as leaders?