Pay Your Leaders

We all have volunteers in our youth ministries that do such an amazing job and go above and beyond each and every week, we’d pay them if we could. Well, just because we can’t give our leaders a paycheck doesn’t mean we can’t pay them. Here are some ways you can “pay” your leaders:

Send thank you notes. After an event or program that requires a lot of effort from your leaders, send them a thank you note. A small sign of appreciation goes a long way in encouraging and keeping your best leaders.

Don’t make your leaders pay to go on trips. I know it can put a huge dent in the budget, but don’t make volunteers pay to serve on overnight trips. They take time away from their family and jobs, so it makes a world of difference when you can say, “We’re glad you’re coming, it’s on us!”

Give a small gift at least once a year.
This year, Chad (our junior high pastor) suggested we spend a bit more on our Christmas gifts to our leaders and send them a gift card for a movie (with their spouse, if they have one). Yes, it can add a bit to the budget, but your volunteers do a TON for free to love and serve the teenagers in your church and community. It’s worth it.

QUESTION: What are some things you do to “pay” your leaders?

Tensions in youth ministry

Credit: comedy_nose (Creative Commons)

Being a youth pastor means that my attention is pulled in several different directions. As a youth pastor, I lead and cast the vision for our high school ministry, I counsel teenagers and parents, recruit volunteers and lead our ministry team. And then there are my other pastoral duties: preaching when called upon, pastoral care, leading special projects and initiatives. If I’m not careful, then I’ll sign on to do too much, but I’ll be spread so thin that I can’t do any of it very well.

The same is true when it comes to deciding what our youth ministry should focus on. After all, every church and ministry has a finite amount of volunteers, time, and resources. We can’t focus on everything, and so we experience a certain amount of tension, knowing that if we give our attention to one thing, it means that something else won’t get as much attention. To some extent, this is a very good thing. We can’t do everything, and so we need to do what we feel God has led us to do. But it’s good to recognize those tensions. I’ll share a few that I’ve noticed in recent months, but I want to make myself clear: in each tension, I’m not suggesting that it has to be one or the other, or even that a 50/50 balance is desirable. I’m just pointing out the fact that there are tensions, because we believe that we have to be great at everything I list below, we’ll end up discouraged and burned out. With that in mind, here are a few of the tensions:

Deep discipleship vs. discipling many. I’ve heard and read this debated in countless seminary classes, books, blogs, and conference workshops: should a church or ministry focus inward on making solid disciples of those already in their church, or should they put all their eggs in evangelism and making new disciples? Of course, the answer isn’t either/or, and the ideal answer is “both.” But we all have limited time, people, and resources, so this becomes a difficult tension.

Discipling teenagers vs. discipling parents. Again, we all probably have an ideal in mind here. But in reality, we need to choose how much of our effort goes into each. Some will immediately say “parents,” but what about students who will never hear about Jesus from their family?

Shepherding leaders vs. shepherding families. No matter how small your church is, you should NOT be going at youth ministry alone without any leaders to serve with you. Whether your leadership team is a handful of parents or 100 volunteers, you need to spend time with your team. And that means less time with teenagers and their families. You only have so many hours in the week, and so there will always be tension in this area.

If I’ve raised more questions than answers here, it was intentional. There are no “cut and dry” or “one size fits all” answers here. How you approach each tension will depend on how God has gifted you, what he has called you to, and lots of discernment.

What other of these kinds of tensions you feel pulling you in different directions in youth ministry?

Video of the Week: Mykel Ramsey, Kidney Transplant Recipient

I don’t remember if I’ve shared this before, but this is a pretty cool video of one of our Junior High leaders and administrative assistant in our office:

Building a Team: Getting the Right Leaders in the Right Places

I used to say, “If you want to serve, we’ve got a place for you in youth ministry.” Now, I’m not sure that’s so true. It’s not that I’m swimming with volunteers so much that I need to turn people away. In fact, I feel as though the opposite is true; we’ve got some great people in place, but I wouldn’t mind having quite a few more.

Other than a few situations where I’ve had to remove a leader for disciplinary reasons, I don’t think I’ve ever turned away a leader. However, I have had my fair share serve for a season (a semester or a year), then quietly fade into the sunset by politely declining to continue to be a part of our team. Sometimes, that person has let me know why they are leaving.

I’ve finally come to a realization (it only took me about eight years!) that not everyone’s gifts match up with youth ministry. A big part of that realization is that it’s up to me to help people serve in ways that they are gifted, and that sometimes that means helping people come to the realization that they probably wouldn’t be a great fit in the youth ministry.

This isn’t a knock on the person that we might suggest explore other options when it comes to serving. Instead, it’s an affirmation that God has gifted that person to serve. When we view a person through the lens of “how can he or she fit in youth ministry,” we do not really serve that person. It takes a lot more time and maturity to help a person serve in a place that honors the fact that God has wired and gifted them to serve in a unique way. Sometimes that means recognizing that youth ministry wouldn’t be a great fit. And sometimes, it recognizes that though a potential volunteer might be a great asset in your youth ministry, God perhaps has something different in store for that person. Chad (our junior high pastor) and I have begun to think through some of these issues. We’ve even toyed with having all potential volunteers take a personality assessment to better understand who they are before we place them in a particular area of ministry.

QUESTIONS: How do you match up leaders with what they’re good at or how God has wired them to serve? What are some tough lessons you’ve learned or things that have really helped you along the way?

Broken Doors Part Deux: How To Fix a Broken Door

Earlier this week, I wrote about broken doors in ministry: things that are broken, but they’ve been broken so long, it doesn’t seem weird anymore that they’re broken. It’s easy enough to point out those broken doors, but how do we fix them? After all, the store by our church with the chronically broken door has tried to fix the door occasionally (in good faith, I assume), but that “out of order” sign always seems to be needed just a few days later.

I don’t have a clue how to fix doors. Or anything in my house for that matter. This week, we had a leak in our basement, and I sprung to action by frantically texting anyone I thought might be able to help. When help came, I watched the action unfold as a length of pipe was replaced. I tried my best to appear I had the slightest idea of what my friend was doing as he graciously fixed the problem, when in reality I didn’t. But I do know this about the grocery store’s broken automatic door: whatever they have tried to do to solve the problem hasn’t worked.

Something tells me the store management (or the door repairman they’ve hired for the job) doesn’t really know what’s causing the problem.

I’d say that the same is true of issues in our churches and ministries that can be qualified as “broken doors.” We don’t have a clue what the problem really is. We tweak, we modify, we move the night the program is on, we recruit a new leader, occasionally we’ll pray, but nothing seems to help solve the problem. Sure, we may see some improvement for a short time, but eventually, it’s clear the door is STILL broken.

Allow me to suggest a simple question we can ask in such situations: What problem needs to be fixed?

It seems like an obvious question that should have an obvious answer, but that’s not always the case. The first answer that comes to mind is probably “what needs to be fixed is whatever seems broken.” However, that’s not thinking deep enough. Let’s say you are frustrated by ineffective monthly volunteer meetings. You might say that the meetings need to be fixed, that they need to change. But that’s not your problem. Your problem is that what you hope to happen in those meetings isn’t happening. What do you want to accomplish in the meetings? Training? Vision casting? Instilling passion for teenagers in the hearts of your leaders? Then why are you droning on and on about next month’s lock-in or about what up front games you think should be a part of your large group gatherings? The key here is finding out the goals you are trying to accomplish. Once you know what those are, it will likely become clear about how to fix the broken door, or whether it just needs to be scrapped in favor of a better solution.

Or perhaps your problem is that your large group gathering or youth group isn’t helping your high school students experience Jesus in a way that results in noticeable transformation in their lives. Our gut reaction is to ask, “What’s the problem with youth group?” But that’s not the problem! The problem is that your high school students aren’t experiencing Jesus in a way that results in noticeable transformation in their lives.

Is the distinction clear?

The problem isn’t the particular program or tool you’re using; the problem is that the goals you have aren’t being accomplished.

When we finally make that distinction, it’s a lot easier for the solution to come into view, and it gives us permission to entertain any solution (within the bounds of Scripture) that will help us accomplish that purpose. Maybe it’s just that the current model isn’t working for your context or your stated purpose, and you need to scrap that particular weekly gathering altogether. Or maybe focusing on the purpose of that weekly gathering and what you are trying to accomplish will help you finally repair that broken door.

So, what are your broken doors that you’re ready to fix? Do you know what the problem really is? Oh, and if you figure out a solution quickly and you’ve got some extra time, I’ve got a good chunk of damaged drywall to replace in my basement where the leak was, and I don’t have a clue where to start.

A Process For Recruiting and Screening Volunteer Leaders

Last week, I posted on the simple requirements I have for leaders: that they love Jesus and love teenagers. Of course, our screening process is a bit more involved than this. I take my role as the leader of our adult volunteers very seriously, and a huge part of that is recruiting and screening our volunteers. I did not know much about the ins and outs of recruiting volunteers and how to screen them when I first started out in youth ministry, and I’d be willing to bet that others have felt the same way.

Here is a brief overview of our process for recruiting and screening leaders. If you’d like a bit more information on this topic, feel free to let me know, and I’ll be happy to make time for you.

1) Make contact with potential volunteer. There are several ways to find potential volunteers. I’ve always found that a personal touch is best. The vast majority of our volunteers are recruited by current volunteers or by me personally.

2) Potential volunteer fills out an application. We have an application we ask every volunteer to fill out. It asks questions regarding their background, why they want to work with students, and how they feel like God has gifted them to serve. It includes a background screening form in which they give us permission to check their background and contact references. In addition, we have each volunteer affirm our church’s statement of faith and agree to the guidelines of adult volunteers.

3) Check background and references. We use SecureSearch at our church. They are a great company that does fairly comprehensive online checks for a good price. When you choose a company to conduct your checks, make sure there are no holes. For instance, do they check nationally or only within your state? Do you check driving records of leaders who will be driving students? This can be a time-intensive step that requires a lot of diligence, and I’m sorry to say that most churches do not really include this step in their process. And yes, we do check references on volunteers in our ministry.

4) Personal interview with the potential volunteer. This step can come at any time in the process. Sometimes, it’s the first step; sometimes, I’m not able to meet with a potential volunteer until after he or she turns in the application. This isn’t a lengthy interview. I simply share the vision of high school ministry at Washington Heights, lay out the expectations of leaders in our ministry, and get to know the potential volunteer better. The idea is to connect more on a personal level and to discern how this new leader is best suited to

5) Ease the new leader into serving. Depending on where this new leader is serving in our ministry, I do my best to prepare them for the adventure. If he or she will be a small group leader, this involves a formal class. If the new volunteer will simply be hanging out with us at one of our large group gatherings, then it’s more of an informal process (although I hope to include a bit more formal training in the near future for all leaders). The idea is that we don’t throw new leaders into situations that they are not ready for.

Note: Sometimes this process ends with the potential leader deciding that the high school ministry is not a good fit for him or her. That’s okay, and that’s why the process is set up the way it is. It’s better to realize this up front than after two frustrating months of working with high school students.

That’s pretty much it. What process do you have for getting new volunteers on board? What suggestions do you have for our process?

Jesus and Teenagers–What’s in a Name?

This blog is named “Jesus and Teenagers,” and I thought I’d share a bit of the inspiration for that name:

I’m often asked by potential youth leaders what the expectations are for an adult volunteer in our youth ministry. My short answer? Love Jesus, and love teenagers. There’s also a conversation about gifts, calling, and passion. But my point is that you don’t have to feel like you have any special talent, that you need to listen to a particular kind of music, or that you have to be a fan of Glee. You just need to love God and love teenagers.

Of course, loving someone requires action.

Just like true faith in God will result in action (see James 2:14-26), to really love teenagers requires action. It requires time. And a little discomfort. And the belief that even when it doesn’t seem like it, every minute you invest in a teenager’s life is well worth it. A wise youth pastor once wrote me a note when I was a young college student discerning whether God was calling me to youth work: “Remember the first three rules of youth ministry: 1) Hang out with the kids; 2) Hang out with the kids; 3) Hang out with the kids. God will take care of the rest.” He was right on.

Oh, and “love” doesn’t always equal “like.” Yes, it does help if a leader actually likes teenagers. However, there will be times when teenagers are hard to love. But the same is true for us, too. Sometimes adults forget that. They see some teenagers being rude, disrespectful, and downright mean, and it ticks them off. But we forget that we do the very same things. We’re just better at hiding it.

So, are you wondering if you have what it takes to be a youth leader? Or maybe you’re discouraged because you aren’t sure you’re doing things right. Here’s a tip: just focus on the basics of loving God and loving teenagers, and you’ll be pretty close to being on the right track. The rest is just details.

Posts of 2010: What students need from their youth leaders

Note: During the week of Christmas, I’m reposting the most popular posts on Jesus and Teenagers from 2010, as well as some of my favorites. Enjoy!

July 5th: What students need from their youth leaders (Original Link)

Note: this post is inspired by item 29 on Tim Schmoyer’s “100 blog topics I hope YOU write.” If you haven’t already, make sure you check out his YM site, studentministry.org.

What do students need from their youth leaders? This is a question that is constantly on my mind, because I’m always on the lookout for people who can partner with us in youth ministry to love students well and point them towards Jesus. In the past year it’s become more important to me. I’m still relatively new to my church, and it’s a larger setting than I’m used to. In the past, I’ve been able to have a pretty good idea who will be an effective volunteer in our ministry because I was part of a small church. I could easily get to know just about everyone in the church just by being there every week. Now, I’ve found that I need to really articulate what I think the characteristics of a good youth leader are. This not only helps me identify and recruit leaders, but it also helps potential leaders know whether serving in our ministry will be a good fit for them. A large part of identifying these characteristics is simply asking the question: “What do students need from their youth leaders?”

My answer?

A passion for following Jesus. The best way to point students towards Jesus is to show them what a growing, passionate relationship with him looks like. Students need to see a relationship with Jesus lived out in the lives of their leaders. I’d take a handful of leaders who pursue Jesus as their “one thing” over a limitless budget, the coolest youth room ever, or all the youth ministry resources in the world.

Grace. Sometimes it’s easy to get very, very frustrated when we don’t think teenagers are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Whether it’s loudly carrying on a conversation in worship during our pastor’s sermon on Sunday morning (which happened last week at our church) or a teenager who continues to ask for prayer and help with a life situation but refuses to accept responsibility, teenagers—just like all of us—need grace. They especially need it from their leaders. They need leaders who will forgive as they’ve been forgiven, and who recognize that we’re all in the same boat: sinners who fall short of God’s glory and who are in need of a Savior.

Love. Teenagers need to be loved. No matter what. They need youth leaders who will visibly show what God’s unconditional love is like by loving them unconditionally. This means not only being present in their lives, but also being willing to encourage, exhort, and at times, call them to account.

What did I miss?

What students need from their youth leaders

Note: this post is inspired by item 29 on Tim Schmoyer’s “100 blog topics I hope YOU write.” If you haven’t already, make sure you check out his YM site, studentministry.org.

What do students need from their youth leaders? This is a question that is constantly on my mind, because I’m always on the lookout for people who can partner with us in youth ministry to love students well and point them towards Jesus. In the past year it’s become more important to me. I’m still relatively new to my church, and it’s a larger setting than I’m used to. In the past, I’ve been able to have a pretty good idea who will be an effective volunteer in our ministry because I was part of a small church. I could easily get to know just about everyone in the church just by being there every week. Now, I’ve found that I need to really articulate what I think the characteristics of a good youth leader are. This not only helps me identify and recruit leaders, but it also helps potential leaders know whether serving in our ministry will be a good fit for them. A large part of identifying these characteristics is simply asking the question: “What do students need from their youth leaders?”

My answer?

A passion for following Jesus. The best way to point students towards Jesus is to show them what a growing, passionate relationship with him looks like. Students need to see a relationship with Jesus lived out in the lives of their leaders. I’d take a handful of leaders who pursue Jesus as their “one thing” over a limitless budget, the coolest youth room ever, or all the youth ministry resources in the world.

Grace. Sometimes it’s easy to get very, very frustrated when we don’t think teenagers are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Whether it’s loudly carrying on a conversation in worship during our pastor’s sermon on Sunday morning (which happened last week at our church) or a teenager who continues to ask for prayer and help with a life situation but refuses to accept responsibility, teenagers—just like all of us—need grace. They especially need it from their leaders. They need leaders who will forgive as they’ve been forgiven, and who recognize that we’re all in the same boat: sinners who fall short of God’s glory and who are in need of a Savior.

Love. Teenagers need to be loved. No matter what. They need youth leaders who will visibly show what God’s unconditional love is like by loving them unconditionally. This means not only being present in their lives, but also being willing to encourage, exhort, and at times, call them to account.

What did I miss?