"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Five Core Principles Core Principle #2: Leadership Team

Finding and Supporting Volunteers (Part I)

Dr. Barry St. Clair

A revolving door. That was the best way Clyde could describe the volunteers who ducked in and out of his youth ministry.

The pattern seemed the same with each new worker. The recruit would begin with enthusiasm and optimism but within six months would be lucky to show up even for major activities. Next it was "out the door," and the leader would be gone.

"Why did you quit?" Clyde asked Polly after she had been AWOL for several weeks. "I have to do the ministry whether you show up or not. I really need you."

"That's the problem," responded Polly in measured tones. "You do the ministry whether I show up or not. It is your ministry. Somehow I don't seem to fit in."

I admit it. I still get the rush of success when young people pack out my meetings. But in defining success I keep coming back to a man who often avoided the crowds in preference to a small group of potential leaders He called His disciples. Jesus loved the multitudes, but He knew His long-term ministry would be accomplished through training key leaders. We would do well to follow Christ's example.


They round out an otherwise lopsided ministry. Perhaps youth ministry is more a field of service-a calling-rather than a gift. Some youth pastors have, for example, the gift of teaching. They employ this gift in their God-given ministry field-youth ministry. But many other gifts, such as mercy, administration, helps, and exhortation are needed to lead a successful youth ministry. No youth minister has all the gifts. In order to take the theology of the body of Christ seriously (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4), we must staff volunteers to complement our weaknesses.

Someone has said that a church can be compared to a football game-twenty-two athletes on the field desperately in need of rest being cheered on (or booed) by ten thousand people in the stands desperately in need of exercise. The model for biblical ministry should be like the credits run at the end of a movie that cite scores of workers of various kinds: scriptwriters, director, actors, grips, caterers, all doing their part to produce an excellent product. A good question to ask ourselves regularly: "If I ran the credits after this week of ministry, how full would the screen be?"

Youth ministry flows through relationships. Jim Burns states, "today we realize that long-term influence with lasting results comes from significant relationships and role models" (Burns 1988, 15). Although our love for youth and ability to relate to them probably influenced our decision to go into youth ministry, we can significantly relate to only a small group of young people. We may never relate well to certain youth, or even an entire subculture of youth. If indeed youth are primarily changed through relationships, we must multiply our ministry through godly volunteers who also love youth. Then we will find our greatest joy in seeing our volunteers successfully ministering to youth.

A broad ministry can only stand on a broad foundation of volunteers. The minister who shoulders the entire responsibility for teaching, evangelism, administration, and counseling will end up either burned out or severely limited, or perhaps both. We need help. But we also need camaraderie, accountability, and vision.

One youth pastor led an unusually successful ministry. According to one volunteer, search committees called almost daily, urging him to join their teams. "What's his secret?" someone asked the volunteer. "Love your volunteers," she said. "Sometimes we have almost as many adults as youth on trips."


"Love your volunteers." We might have expected her to answer, "He loves youth." I'm sure he did, or he would have never gone into youth ministry. But at some point his heart went out to those volunteers who shared his heart for young people.

This youth minister didn't use volunteers to accomplish his goals and expand his ego. He sincerely loved them, wanting to see his volunteers blossom in their ministries.

To exhibit the kind of life that a volunteer would want to follow, the leader must walk with Jesus and draw security from Him. Then the leader can take delight in young people bypassing him or her to lift up a volunteer as their most significant spiritual influence.

One volunteer is pursuing early retirement to spend more time doing volunteer work for his church's youth ministry. "What makes your youth minister so successful?" someone asked the volunteer. "Is he a powerful teacher?" Answer: "Boring." "Then he must be a great administrator?" Answer: "Others administrate for him." How did he lead the largest youth group in his area so ably? The committed volunteer proceeded to describe an incident where the youth pastor spontaneously prayed with a group of distressed youth and adults. The youth leader loved God and loved people. His character evoked the best from his volunteers, bestowing upon him that elusive quality of leadership that made others want to follow.


Different types of volunteers require different qualifications and training.

Those who will provide spiritual leadership
correspond most closely to the twelve disciples during the life of Christ or to the elders in the New Testament church (Mark 3:13-15; 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). The qualifications include having a good reputation and self-control, being above reproach and gentle, and having the ability to communicate with and relate to youth. Speaking skills alone are not enough. In order to fill the roles of teacher or discipleship leader, volunteers must exhibit strong character and be adequately trained. It is better to shut down a certain ministry than to shove an unqualified warm body into such slots. "Not many of you should presume to be teachers," James warns us, "because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1).


Those who will provide services correspond most closely to others besides the disciples who accompanied Jesus and to the deacons in the New Testament church (Acts 6; 1 Timothy 3:8-13). These invaluable volunteers keep records, organize retreats, set up rooming charts, and lead the decorations committee. Although their qualifications are nearly as stringent, their training is less extensive and more specialized.

Don't forget that youth can be volunteers!
Tony Campolo well said that if we lose this generation of youth, it will not be because we have challenged them too much, but because we have challenged them too. little. One youth minister recruited some intellectually inclined middle school students as research assistants for a book he wrote for a major publisher. He never told the publisher that several of his research assistants were ninth graders!

An active student council or student leadership team can provide a structure through which youth serve. Their leadership is invaluable in evaluating events and planning. Some churches elect youth council members by presenting the qualifications of deacons to the entire youth group and adult leaders and then having them vote by secret ballot to elect peers who qualify.

Outside the leadership team, students can assist in leading worship, planning events, assisting in research far messages, decorating classes, planning parties, doing outreach. If youth simply attend meetings planned for them by-the youth minister, they may never discern their own gifts and provide church leadership for the next generation. When youth are involved in leadership, they sense ownership of a ministry and push hard to make it succeed.


Pray. Jesus set the example by spending a whole night in prayer before choosing His disciples (Luke 6:12). On another occasion, He challenged His disciples to pray for laborers (Matthew 9:38).

Keep a list of potential volunteers. Ask youth for their ideas. Then, when approaching adults about a position, you can let them know, much to their delight, that some youth recommended them. Also, ask other adult leaders, including church staff and parents, for recommendations.

Keep the congregation abreast of youth activities. The congregation needs to know that God is alive among the youth! This makes more people eager to be a part of what God is doing.

Invite new volunteers to fill short-term, helping roles. Check them out before placing them in long-term, teaching roles. An attentive observer can learn a lot from watching new staff chaperon a retreat. Do they love youth? Are they comfortable with who they are, or are they trying to perform for the young people's acceptance? Are they here to serve, or to be served? Do they draw students closer to Christ?

If they are faithful in a little, they can be trusted with more (Luke 16:10). Give a potential teacher an assistant's role. As the volunteer meets weekly with a small group of youth, occasionally substituting and assisting with the teaching, and shepherding under a teacher's supervision, both you and the volunteer will discover whether or not teaching youth is his forte. Much better for you to discover this when the volunteer is still an assistant than when he or she is four months into a teaching position!

Get to know them and observe their character. Ask around about their reputation (1 Timothy 3:10), particularly leaning on the input of other church staff. We should ask ourselves, "Is this the kind of person I want my students to become?" (Luke 6:40).

If all signs are go, provide them with short-term and ongoing training.


Unfortunately, people who have a tendency to abuse young people entrusted to their care will be attracted to active youth ministries. They would be easy to detect if they conformed to the stereotype of a shifty-eyed pervert in an oversized trench coat. Instead, like Satan himself, they appear as angels of light.

Even if a volunteer is asked a direct question about abusive activities in the past, if he wishes to hide those sins he will simply lie about them. Some abusers are merely sick people who are actively looking for venues in which to exploit vulnerable young people. Others think they have overcome the sins of their past and are desperately looking for a new beginning. In rare cases, a volunteer may have completely blocked out the memory of abusive activity.

Steps must be taken to protect both the young person and the at-risk volunteer. The following steps would be a start.

Require written applications. Every volunteer should be asked to fill out an application form that includes a question about abusive activity. The question should focus on previous actions, not on accusations or actual convictions. The application may serve as a filter that allows vulnerable volunteers to avoid detection by withdrawing quietly and not following through with the process necessary to become involved as a youth leader.

Interview every volunteer. Whether the person wants to teach or merely to organize social events, the interview is essential. The volunteer should be pointedly asked: "Have you ever abused or molested a child or young person?" Though it may be uncomfortable at first for the interviewer to ask this question, it will become natural with use. Look the interviewee in the eye as the question is asked, and watch for any hints of deception.

Avoid using people new to the church. Certain abusers move from place to place, hoping their reputation will not catch up with them. After a year of involvement with the broader church fellowship, a person's reputation should be established. If the person has been a loner, be careful. Be sure to ask people whose judgment you trust for their impressions of the volunteer.

Network with other youth ministers. Make sure you have a forum with other youth ministry professionals for discussing the problems related to abuse. Social workers and educators are helpful in understanding local laws and resources. Their insights and perceptions may be invaluable.

Avoid letting volunteers be alone with young people. The current climate may have precluded one of the most important youth ministry tools, the warmth and confidence that come from private personal conversation. The youth worker must now work to create the same dynamics in more public locations. Remember, even Christ seldom placed Himself in one-on-one situations. When such situations are appropriate, the youth worker must be sure to notify someone else ahead of time.

Return back to the list of articles (see top of page) to read "Part II" of this article.


Taken from Reaching a Generation for Christ, ed., Dunn and Senter, copyright 1997, Moody Press. Used with permission.

Acquiring this Book:

Dunn and Senter gathered writings by over fifty youth experts to put together a massive 700 page volume on youth ministry. If the sheer weight of the volume seems daunting, simply choose the topic you need help on from the 31 chapters that could each stand alone. Click here and scroll down to Reaching a Generation for Christ to order through Amazon.com.

Works Cited:

Burns, Jim. 1988. The Youth Builder. Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House.

Hendricks, Howard. 1987. Teaching to Change Lives. Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah.

St. Clair, Barry. 1991. Building Leaders for Strategic Youth Ministry. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor.

Further Reading:

Christie, Les. 1987. Unsung Heroes: How to Recruit and Train Volunteer Youth Workers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Coleman, Robert. 1964. The Master Plan o f Evangelism. Old Tappan, N. J.: Revell.

Ilsley, Paul J. 1990. Enhancing the Volunteer Experience. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Johnson, Douglas W. 1978. The Care and Feeding of Volunteers. Nashville: Abingdon.

MCGinnis, A. 1985. Bringing Out the Best in People. Minneapolis: Augsburg.

Senter, Mark. 1990. Recruiting Volunteers in the Church. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor.

Stone, J. David, and Rose Mary Miller. 1985. Volunteer Youth Workers. Loveland, Colo.: Group.

Wilson, Marlene. 1983. How to Mobilize Church Volunteers. Minneapolis: Augsburg.