She doesn’t look like brown hair and green eyes.
He could have blonde or black or blue hair. Her eyes could be hazel, blue, yellow, or purple.
They don’t sound like a girl.
They may sound like one sometimes but not always.
He doesn’t come from wealth.
Although she might.
She doesn’t speak English.
But sometimes he does.
They aren’t married yet.
And often they are.
He doesn’t have 1 youth ministry conference lanyard.
She might have 37.
What does a youth minister look like?
Over the years I’ve had the tendency to lean in a specific direction when looking for youth ministry leaders. I outwardly denied such a habit but it existed.
I was misguided as I narrowed my focus. Looking for college age students and young adults who looked like me to help me run the ministry.
What I want now are people of differing ages who don’t always look like me and I want to support them as they share the ministry.
I’m a believer that youth ministry leadership should seek to be as diverse as those we seek to reach with the love of Jesus.
As a mosaic of ministry leaders comes together, the ministry gains depth and perspective, color and value, mutuality and equality. We encompass the investment with owndership and care. Each of them, whether they are experienced educated extroverted esteemed…or not…are deeply vested. ALL are interested.
When leaders like this are interested in our ministry. We give them a short application to fill out and then we meet up. We get to know each other. We run a background check but we rely more on relational intelligence and cultural IQ to help guide our assessments. We pray a lot over each other.
We look for the part of the mosaic that would be strengthened by the addition. We look for the place in the ministry where the leader would shine most vividly. We look at their personality and their abilities, their heart and their habits and we do our best to create places where these things can grow.
When asked what our leaders do, I’d answer:
They…pray, listen, cry, laugh, snort, entertain, experience, invest, mourn, celebrate, transmit, teach, overnight, caffeinate, serve, ask questions, lead, imagine, create, animate, step us, take risks, try new things…and more.
In youth ministry, some leaders have multiple roles (and multiple personalities). Some are very specific in their time investment and roles. Still others are free spirits and change roles as they grow and change.
That’s why we don’t give leaders labels. We give them goals and as they work on those goals, roles tend to rise to the top.
Here are some of the roles that we identify as leaders begin to serve in our youth ministry. Many leaders serve in multiple roles.
Most serve on Sunday mornings or on Wednesday nights.
Many journey with us on events or for one time program opportunities.
Some are with us always, they never stop thinking about how we can get better, connect more often, support parents, cheer for healthy friendships, and how teenagers can developing a lasting faith in God, and have more fun.
The level of involvement is leader led. They decide when to shift into another gear. Even when we advise that it’s time to shift up or shift down, they have a big say in that.
This is the greeter team. This is the curbside. This is the new student registration station. This is the one sitting in the room with the teens. This is the one connecting with other leaders as they arrive, giving them the low down, cheering them on at the starting line. This is the one that has no problem playing four square or talking to parents. Many times the connectors are high school students who begin to feel a passion to love middle school students!
This is the round up crew. The people movers. The ones who watch out for things I’ve asked them to watch out for. Their eyes are wide open. They are resourceful. They are trouble shooters. They are value givers and assimilators. Motivators can amplify messages, stories, announcements. They are contagious.
Most of our leaders are commuters. They are adults with an ability to drive a car. If they have a car and they are willing to put teengaers in it, they do that. Commuters are people who help get teens to church. We can’t have a middle school youth group without a carline.
They bring the fun. They join the fun. They facilitate the fun. Sometimes our gamers are teachers because they’re so great at commanding attention, giving instructions, and participating with students. Sometimes our players are more free spirited, wild and “all-in”. We need all types of players on our team.
Communicators are bringing us together, give us instruction, lead us. They are pastors, they are worship leaders, they are artists and writers. They are the support who sends emails and texts. Another layer are the students themselves who share, post, tag, like, and tweet the message we are trying to send.
Our teachers are adults who care about and like teenagers. They lead our small group ministry. They ask great questions. They make a weekly commitment to be mindful of a few. They follow up. They recall truth. They observe needs. The are the first responders.
Our brains. Our friends who find strategic planning pleasurable. They have ideas. They bring thoughts to the table. They are implementers. They ask questions. They give advice. They do something more than talking. They are volunteers in action. They can’t let things sit for too long. They bring healthy change.
Men and women who provide a lawn, a home, a paintball gun. They might bring breakfast on Sunday or set up pizza on Wednesday. They are always looking for ways to make others feel like guests.
They are sensitive to needs and respond in prayer. They work together with connectors to gauge the temperature of groups and meeting spaces. They are make sure spiritual formation practices are being implemented often. A former will notice when we are out of balance. They’ll push for intergenerational ministry. They look for ways for teens to grow into healthy and whole adults. They make lists. They share them with others. They feel valued when they instill spiritual value.
They know you better than you know yourself. They can almost read your mind. They know what you’re going to ask for before you ask it and why. If they don’t know why they will know quickly and they will help you off the ledge or help you achieve your goal. The support role is my favorite because they are close enough to see my boogers and don’t mind it so much. Because of great support we are able to go far together (boogers and all).
We spend time working on things together. We prepare them to take our place or take their own place. We pour in and we also receive from a few who have been called into similar ministries. We do life. We become. We play. We serve. We give what we used to hold onto so tightly….away.
I may be missing a few roles and I have a lot to add to each description, but it’s a good start! Each role is different yet simultaneously communal in purpose. Your role may be making sure the game leader has a trash can. It may not seem like much. But it’s perfect and worth it. Your role may be in the quiet spaces, listening. It’s perfect and worth it. Your role may be on the floor hashing out the Bible with teenagers who smell like beef jerky and five different levels of fruity goodness. It’s perfect and it’s worth it.
After reading this, maybe you’ll feel inspired to talk to your youth leader at your church and dive in–somewhere, doing something. Maybe you’ll see your youth ministry differently. Or you’ll reorganize. Some will say, yay, right on and keep on!
What do you say? How do volunteer leaders develop and grow in your ministry?