I love my job as a youth minister, but I also enjoy working my “other job” in the volunteer department of one of the largest food banks in America. I get to live out Jesus' calling in Matthew 25 to give food to those who are hungry, and help others do it as well! In a given year, I work with nearly 13,000 volunteers. Thats a lot of people! One thing I love seeing is the number of churches and youth groups who give up several hours to serve others.
On the other hand, I also see a lot of the “dark side” of volunteering.
Volunteers sometimes don't work very hard, or complain, or get things wrong, or don't pay attention. This causes everything from frustration to potentially hazardous circumstances. It's even more painful for me as a youth minister to see youth groups who volunteer act out many of these same behaviors.
Don't get me wrong: the vast majority of youth groups are excellent servants. Yet, it just takes one bad apple to ruin it for everyone.
I want to see teens living out the commands of Christ, and that means they must serve others. I'm sure you feel the same way. And so at some point, you'll partner with other groups or agencies. How your group acts is a powerful statement to the people for whom you're volunteering, the other people you volunteer with, and anyone else that happens to observe you. So when you volunteer, I'd like to encourage you to always keep these two things in mind:
- You are representing Christ
- You are representing your Church
First of all, how your students act is a powerful testimony of Jesus. Your students will either present a positive view of Christ and your church, or a negative one. For your students, make sure they realize this fact. They don't have to wear choir robes and sing hymns the whole time. They should feel free ot be themselves. But, if they act like escapees from an traveling circus (trust me, I've seen some that have), it will leave a sour taste in everyone's mouths. Work hard, be enjoyable to be around, and listen to what other people are telling you and you'll have everyone saying, “What a great group to be around!”
It doesn't end with your students behavior, though. As a leader, it's amazing what an impact getting all the paperwork and information in on time can have. Return emails or phone calls in a timely manner. Keep your group in line. Arrive on time and don't expect preferential treatment. Your leadership can make or break a successful volunteer experience.
Let me assure that these things do matter. People notice and they talk. I remember many one of the bad groups we've had come in, and so do other volunteers. For example, there's a big company that has lots of volunteers who come in. I will not name the company, but it's a huge nation wide organization. The volunteers who come in are often surly, uncooperative, and a pain to work with. That has sullied everyone's opinion of this company, which is the opposite of what they wanted to accomplish by having their workers do this.
So, remember you represent Christ, and you represent your church. Represent them well, and leave a sweet aroma for those you work with.
(Originally published in Fall of 2013)