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

Five Core Principles Core Principle #2: Leadership Team

Finding and Supporting Volunteers (Part II)

Dr. Barry St. Clair


In "Part I" of this article, we mentioned the different types of qualifications needed for different types of responsibilities. In addition to these, look for the following for all positions.


Do they carry out responsibilities as needed, or do they need constant prodding?


Some volunteers are eminently qualified but too busy to commit to training or ministry.


Jesus' entourage was not eminently qualified when He called them. Not an M.Div. with vocational Christian service experience among them. But they were eminently teachable. Successful youth volunteers must constantly learn. This year's small group of athlete-dominated youth may respond very differently from last year's social-fringe youth.

Love of Young People

Walt wanted to teach Sunday school, but he had only a sixth-grade education. The superintendent said there was no place for him. Undaunted, he rounded up thirteen kids in the community and started his own class. He was not dynamic, but he was real. He loved the youth. He took them hiking and on other outings. Nine of the young people came from broken homes. But eleven went into vocational Christian service. One of them was Howard Hendricks, today one of the foremost Christian educators (Hendricks 1982, 21-22).

A Servant's Heart

A teacher should not be above cleaning tables, setting up chairs, or throwing away trash. Our master set the example by washing feet. He "did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matthew 20:28).

Notice what is distinctly lacking in these qualifications. First, outward appearance. Our culture idolizes the outward appearance. When a tall, handsome, athletic young man volunteered to teach a class of middle schoolers, one man said, "Students will have to respect him, for his very size if nothing else." But his class ran over him. He couldn't control the class.

In fact, in all my years of youth work I have found little correlation between outward appearance or athletic prowess and impact upon youth in a local setting. "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). The only exception to this may be in target-oriented ministries where, for example, a spiritual college athlete can reach a high school football team more effectively than the computer whiz. In this case, he can more easily "become all things to all men" (1 Corinthians 9:22), following the example of the apostle Paul.

Similarly, age neither qualifies nor disqualifies a person from youth work. Once youth get to know a good-natured, fun-loving senior adult, they may pick him or her for a chaperon over an emotionally distant college student.



The type of training depends on the type of position we are filling. A Sunday school record keeper would not need the training of a discipleship leader. The list below includes some elements the youth minister can cover in a general volunteer training program.

Personal spiritual life

This has to do with the lordship of Christ, prayer, Bible study, church involvement, Christian character, and discovering one's spiritual gift. We are not simply grooming people to fill slots in our youth program. Rather, we are developing men and women of God, helping them find and develop their gifts, and finally helping them find their niche and succeed in ministry. If no pre-existing niche exists, these people may start new ministries that fit their gifts and visions (for example, ministry to unwed mothers, to delinquents, to intellectuals, to athletes). Volunteers don't exist to help fulfill our dreams. We equip them to fulfill their God-given dreams.

General ministry skills

This has to do with witnessing, teaching, leadership, follow-up, time management, and counseling. A survey asked people to list their greatest fears. The number one choice came as a surprise to many: Speaking in public. The most confident, energetic worker may wilt before an audience. Training can give such volunteers the confidence they need to prepare talks and group discussions.

The possession of the gift of teaching or the gift of evangelism does not preclude the need to develop that gift. Dan DeHaan led a Bible study group from a small home study to over one thousand people attending weekly. His powerful teaching was one of the main draws. But an early speech teacher once told DeHaan, "Whatever you do, don't go into public speaking!" Gifts must be developed.

Student skills

Skills in this area have to do with developing relationships, understanding youth, penetrating the student culture, and presenting Christ to students. We may be comfortable y relating to youth, but we dare not forget that for many, the thought of picking up a phone and calling a youth is intimidating. The prospect of chaperoning a retreat can beget sheer terror! Volunteers must see youth as people who, like themselves, long for acceptance, love, and understanding. They also need to know certain dos and don'ts as they go cross-cultural with their faith. "Don't quote rock lyrics to those guys in the pick-up trucks. They can't relate."

Task-oriented skills

These are specialized skills for different ministries: leading the drama team, teaching a discipleship group, planning a retreat, leading small groups. For certain ministries, such as puppet or drama ministries, we can rent videos or use seminars to provide instruction and inspiration far beyond what we have to offer.


A "leadership family" composed of the leader and adult volunteers provides an ideal setting for training leadership. Volunteers commit themselves to attend meetings. Beyond covering training material, the spiritual accountability and relationships that develop will provide fertile soil for followers to grow into leaders. Although some leadership groups meet monthly or bimonthly, the ideal is usually weekly.

Meetings can include training, sharing, prayer, and evaluation of youth programs or recent events. And don't forget to plan for some fun! A game of softball, volleyball, or a potluck supper can go a long way toward building relationships. The informal atmosphere of a home is conducive to fostering friendships.

Try to spend personal time with volunteers. Let them know you care. Talk to them about their interests. Do something with each of them that they like to do. If you become interested in their world, they may become interested in yours. This caring not only develops a cohesive team but models what we want them to do with students.

Developing ministry skills requires the additional input of on-the-job training. This well-used process has yet to be improved upon:

1. I do it.

2. I do it; they watch.

3. I do it; they do it with me.

4. They do it; I watch.

5. They do it.


Without good materials, the leadership family meeting may become a lecture time. With something in their hands to prepare, the meeting can become a time of mutual sharing. Some leaders assign a book to be read. Others use training materials. Sometimes an expert on crisis counseling or teen suicide can lead the group. (For a detailed, step-by-step guide to training volunteer leaders in youth ministry, see St. Clair 1991.)

Continuing Education and Motivation

The leadership family group should continue to meet after the leaders are in positions. Volunteers will need this support group to share their victories and discouragements. Skills need fine-tuning. Volunteers also need our individual praise for jobs well done (Hebrews 10:24-25). They need us to give them the perspective of their part in the overall youth ministry and the kingdom of God. Sherri isn't just shepherding a group of giggly seventh graders; she is performing a vital role in impacting the world for Jesus Christ!

Take volunteers with you to youth worker training conferences. They can pick up the fire along with you and help you dream about the future.

Consider planning a volunteer staff retreat at least once a year. Use the time to plan, pray, reflect, recreate, and build relationships.


1. Beware of training only one or two people. If one or two are all you have, train them. But remember that the group dynamic can make training more meaningful and effective. Also, expect attrition. People move, spiritually fail (think Judas), or get recruited for other ministries.

2. Don't wait until positions are needed before seeking and training volunteers.
It's easy to come to the end of the ministry year and desperately need three small group or Sunday school leaders and then frantically look for people to fill slots, rather than placing trained people in ministries suited to their gifts.

3. Be careful about recruiting teachers through mass appeals.
Some may respond out of the wrong motives, such as the desire for acceptance, the desire to impress, or a sense of pity for the poor youth class with no teacher. Our local high schools would never resort to such begging ( "Willing Teachers Needed. No Qualifications Necessary!") to fill an open slot for a biology teacher. Is a study of God's Word less important?

4. Make job descriptions clear. Some volunteers fear being put in a perpetual teacher's position. A job description calling for a one-year commitment can alleviate those fears. Time limits can also make terminating a teacher less traumatic. It's easier to allow someone "to complete a term of service" than to "fire a teacher."

Put the descriptions in writing. Without a job description, volunteers may never know if they are failing or succeeding. When you recruit, let volunteers know exactly what is expected of the position. If you want Sunday school teachers who can minister as well as teach, include such requirements as these:

1. Contacts students during the week by phone.

2. Plans at least four class activities during the year.

3. Knows and prays for specific student needs.

4. Writes regular notes of encouragement to students.

5. Don't always expect visible success. One executive in a major corporation made a decision that cost his company thousands, perhaps millions of dollars. He faced his superiors expecting to be fired. "Are you kidding?" they exclaimed. "We just spent a million dollars training you!" In order to insulate ourselves against failure, we sometimes stifle creativity and risk taking, two essential ingredients in the growth of a ministry. Look at the success/failure rate of Jesus' disciples, and don't be so harsh with your volunteers.

6. Prepare for rejection. Some people are too busy to work with youth. Be glad that they know their commitments well enough to avoid overcommitment. Others will drift away spiritually, even after you have invested years of love and training in them. Don't be discouraged!

7. Don't overprogram, especially in your first year. By starting more programs than you can staff with qualified leaders, you set yourself up for failure. Better to start with a few programs and give yourself time to invest in your leaders.


The Best Place for Parents to Serve

Where can parents best volunteer? Some would argue against extensive parental involvement on the following grounds:

1. Their presence can inhibit the independent spiritual growth of their children.

2. Sometimes a conflict of authority develops when parents allow their children to do things on retreats (skip a session to go out to eat, for example) that have been forbidden by the youth worker.

3. College students are closer to the age of teens and can thus relate to them better.

Fans of parental involvement try to offset the problems just described by emphasizing the following benefits:

1. They often understand youth culture well, having viewed it through their children's friendship clusters.

2. They often have many contacts with unchurched youth through school and other venues.

3. They often want to chaperon and are willing to put in some effort for all you do for their children.

4. They are often great friends to other youth and can pick up valuable insights on emerging problems or opportunities in the group that the youth minister would be the last to discern.

5. Their presence on trips assures other parents that their children will be well-chaperoned.

Terminating Ineffective Leaders

How can we terminate (ask for the resignation of) ineffective leaders? First, try to help the leader succeed. He or she may simply need clarification of the job description or may need additional training.

Moral failure requires a one-on-one confrontation, in a spirit of love (Galatians 6:1). Certain sins, such as sexual immorality, may disqualify the person from a teaching position (1 Timothy 3:2-7). Such terminations must be done respectfully, with love, and in consultation with the leadership of the church or organization. But don't lose contact with the person or give up on him. The purpose of all our dealings with such volunteers is to see their complete restoration.

If it becomes apparent that a faithful volunteer is working outside his or her area of giftedness, help the volunteer to find another niche in the ministry. Faithful workers will be relieved to be free from a frustrating ministry, and eager to find a more effective way to serve.


If Clyde, our friendly do-it-all youth pastor, is to survive and have an effective ministry, he will have to learn the words we and our. Just as mom needs the help and support of dad (and vice versa), if she is to be an effective parent, so youth pastors need to be complemented by volunteer workers. Although some single parents do an outstanding job of being both mom and dad, the norm God designed is for cooperation in the parenting task. Clyde may be a "single parent," but the chances are he would be far more effective "married" to some volunteers.


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.