Service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture of life. – Carrie Chapman Catt

It is absolutely true that oftentimes the people volunteering feel like they are getting as much out of it if not more than those they are supposedly helping. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons I’ve heard:

Knowledge. Volunteering can teach you things about the world that you didn’t even know you didn’t know, whether the experience happens on another continent or right in your backyard. You might discover something about a particular group of people that makes you rethink the previous views that you held, or learn how the ostensibly helpful systems we have in place are actually keeping certain problems from getting better. And I can’t tell you how many people say they feel like the experience of volunteering taught them a lot of things about themselves good and bad and showed them how to be better.

Skills. When you volunteer, you might come away from the experience knowing how to do just about anything it really just depends on the kind of volunteer work you’re doing. Builders for Habitat for Humanity learn a number of skills related to house-building, including carpentry and teamwork, but those who volunteer in other departments might learn transferable skills in administration, marketing, leadership, and more. Chances are, if you can think of a skill you might need in the workforce, it’s something that you might be expected to do somewhere as a volunteer.

Experience. Knowledge and skills are great, but what’s especially powerful about volunteer work is that, depending on the kind of activities you were engaged in, many employers look at almost as another type of job experience. Cooking in a soup kitchen for a year is great experience for someone looking to make meals in the food industry, especially if you can add to it some formal training in the classroom. In fact, this kind of experience can be incredibly important in times like this where jobs are scarce and it’s difficult to get an entry level position to get the work experience you need.

Joy. How can you beat the smiles of an entire village in Africa after you dig a well that will provide them with drinkable water for the next three generations? Or the tears of happiness shed by a family after you fix their home that was ravaged by a storm? Or the look of relief on the face of a mother as you hand her Christmas gifts so that she doesn’t have to tell her children that they won’t be getting anything that year?

Perspective. No one has an easy life, but if you ever start feeling like the world is out to get you and sabotage your success or happiness, I recommend volunteering. Nothing puts things in perspective quite like seeing families dig through dumpsters together or be thankful that they have a roof over their heads even though they live in a shantytown in Brazil where each family’s house is little more than a metal box. Most volunteers end up heading for home happier than when they arrive if for no other reason than they are thankful for all that they now realize they have.

Aileen Pablo is part of the team behind Open Colleges and <a href=”http://newsroom.opencolleges.edu.au/”>InformED</a>, one of Australia’s leading providers of Open Learning and <a href=”http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/distance-education.aspx”>distance education</a>.

When you are faced with struggles in your ministry, are you motivated and encouraged to find a solution? Does the struggle you are facing renew your creativity and drive you to make a greater impact than before? Then you are engaging yourself in lifelong learning and opening yourself to growth; to being the best you, you can be!

Open to growth:

  • Eagerness to respond to God’s guidance- He is guiding each of us. Are you listening?
  • Network with others in the same line of ministry- We are all in this together. We are meant to learn from each other. Through the downfalls and victories, share them!
  • Accountability- Who are you accountable to? Share with someone you trust your deepest concerns, your weaknesses and strengths, and let them hold you accountable. Let them help you up when you fall down and celebrate with you when you are up.
  • Attend conferences/training courses- They enrich you and your ministry. You will leave refreshed, with new ideas, and creativity to bring into your ministry.
  • Reading- You can do this on blogs like morethandodgeball.com, in books, magazines, the Bible. Reading enriches the mind and helps you gain helpful insight.
  • Experiment- Step out! Don’t be afraid to try new things. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a way to growth.
  • Keep your focus on Jesus- If it is not in line with God’s word, it does not deserve your focus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

Apply these daily long after your ministry days begin and you will see growth not only in areas of your ministry but in your personal life, your career, your spiritual life and the list goes on. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6).

Ashley Fordinal is the Children’s Church volunteer at Family Life Church in Sulphur Springs, TX.



As my high school group of guys have grown older I’ve noticed the amount or responsibilities and conflicts in schedule have grown.  Because our groups meet every Thursday night it’s easy for them to miss a week here and there.  However, as the obstacles and alternate opportunities grow their attendance starts to falter.  They tell me they love being their; however, they are just so bogged down with:

  • School Work
  • Sports Practice
  • Responsibilities At Home

I’m sure this list could continuously go on for many of you and that your groups face similar challenges.  The key to keeping the group strong is to enable it to grow outside of your allotted time.  That means connecting with teens multiple times during the week in a variety of ways.

That might seem fine to you; however, overwhelming to your volunteers. If you introduce that idea to them there might be push back or reluctance, and that’s okay.  You just need to help and show them how to grow outside the designated time.  To do that:

  • Give Leaders An Out – From time to time give your small group leaders permission to do something outside of the usual time or agenda.  Because time is so valuable allow them to sacrifice a night of the “usual youth ministry” to do something different.  Challenge them to embark in a service project instead of discussing service.  Encourage them to do something social that will build camaraderie.  Give them permission “to play”.
  • Extend An Invitation - Many leaders might not know where to start when it comes to investing in their group outside the weekend.  Invite them to join you when you are heading out to a game (Where their teens might be present) or on an outing your group might be planning.  By extending an invitation you are leading by example. 
  • Set Them Up For Success - On top of extending an invitation to join you equip them with resources that will help them connect with teens outside the group.  That might mean training them on social media etiquette, or giving them the tools for planning a night of laser tag.  As the youth minister of your church you have a wealth of resources and knowledge that your volunteers need access.  

The more a group can grow outside of the weekend or it’s usual time the stronger it will become.  It will teach the teens how to build relationships outside of a youth ministry setting.  It will also build confidence in your leaders because they’ll feel like they have ownership.  When your leaders are motivated to lead outside the group it extends your capacity to be present in the community.

How do you help your volunteers connect with teens outside the designated time?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

It’s hard to recruit an adult into youth ministry; however, to keep them for the long haul is another story.  I would like to say that everyone that served with me in my first year is still with me today; but, that would be a lie.  In fact there is only one person that has stuck around for the last 9 years.  Fortunately, that trend has changed and the turnover is much lower today.  THE PROBLEM is that ministers were leaving because they did not feel value.  They felt like they were treated like doers and not leaders.

If you want your ministry to grow, you need to take the volunteers you have and give them the opportunities to lead.  You can’t just wait around for the perfect leaders because they may never come.  Instead you have to look at opportunities to build your ministry depth.  That’s done when you:

  • Take A Risk: Doesn’t matter if you ask them to hand in a resume or if you pick them out of a hat, when choosing a leader you are taking a risk.  To take a calculated risk it’s important for you to develop parameters and steps that will allow them to grow as a leader.  That means giving them room to fail.
  • Give Over Control:  In order for a leader to grow, they need opportunities to lead.  Give them a project, an activity or event to run.  Not only will it give them confidence as a leader but the understanding to what you feel as the youth pastor.  This will allow them to understand the work that goes into reaching the vision for your ministry.
  • Equip Them With Resources: You need to set your leaders up for success.  To make that happen you need to give your leaders resources to educate them on ministry and materials that they need to perform certain tasks.  This means understanding how and where they need to grow.
  • Step Away: You can be the biggest obstacle to your leader’s development.  While you think you are giving them control you could still be micromanaging.  Encourage your leaders to come to you with any questions and then trust that they will follow through on the invitation.  This means allowing them to fail.  It means giving them permission to run the ministry in “their” way.  By stepping away and allowing them to lead you give them the most important gift as a leader, trust.

To build your ministry depth you need to equip, motivate and empower leaders.  They will extend your reach and influence.  They’ll help you create more capacity in your schedule.  When you grow leaders you build momentum behind your movement.

How are you empowering and growing leaders?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)



Disciples of Who?

Chris Wesley —  January 8, 2013 — 2 Comments

You thrive on life change.  That’s what makes you a youth minister.  When life is tough, all you need is that one story of a teen finding Christ.  Living out the Gospel and showing you that all the pain, hurt and junk you’ve been through is worth it.  As youth ministers it’s not always about the energy, the numbers or the accolades, it’s about connecting the teens to Christ.

But, is that what’s really happening in your ministry?  Are you seeing stories of life change for Christ or something else?  Stories of life change can happen for many reason.  As youth ministers your hope is that they happen because of a personal and public relationship with Christ.  That might be happening in your ministry, but then again you might be raising up the next generation of disciples of YOUR CHURCH or YOUR MINISTRY.

It’s a mistake that’s easy to make.  It’s a trick the evil one plays on us all.  He’ll make the ministry about you, about a program or even an activity.  With those things and people comes hype, comes excitement and again life change.  But, if the life change doesn’t point to Christ you are creating a group of disciples with shallow faith.  That means a higher chance that your teens will  walk away when they move away.

So, how do you know if you are pointing teens in the right direction?  You can start by:

  • Observing The Fruit: What path are former teens taking as they graduate high school?  Are you finding teens becoming more public and aggressive with their faith?  What you need to do is sit down with your team and determine what it looks like when a teen is truly living out his or her faith.  This comes from creating a vision for your teens and coming up with signs that indicate you are fulfilling it.
  • Getting Their Story: Have a teen write out their life story.  How is God a part of it?  Or is their life change due to people and programs?  Help them see that God is writing their story and encourage them to give Him credit.  Sometimes the reason you are creating disciples of your ministry is because of a misalignment, correct it before it goes bad.
  • Ask Them Who They Want To Be:  If you ask them “Who do you want to be?” you’ll see how their faith is influencing the vision they have for themselves.  Are they describing someone who has been shaped by the world or someone who is being shaped by their faith?  Again you can have a conversation with them that will help them see how God is shaping their future.
  • Get An Outside Perspective: Talk to parents, coaches or teachers about the life journey they’ve seen in their students.  Make sure you are connected in the community to determine the true impact your ministry is having on their growth.  Are they only “Christian” inside your ministry or are they displaying Christ everywhere they go?

In the end each of your student has a decision whether or not they are going to follow Christ.  You need to guide, influence and encourage them to focus on Christ.  While you may never have a perfect success rate, you can increase Christ’ influence by pointing them towards Him.

How do you determine who a student is following?  

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

Why Small Groups Last

Chris Wesley —  December 20, 2012 — 1 Comment

As my small group of high school guys entered into their junior year of high school I remember feeling a little anxiety.  Typically this is the year that small groups are tested because of the amount of distractions and obstacles the students face.  Teens are beginning to think about college, and classes are more intense.  For many of them they are making the varsity team which means a different commitment.  Some of them are looking to get their driver’s license, which means they have a little more freedom and a little less accountability to show up from their parents.  As the teens get older, their commitment to the group is tested.

But, there are those groups that last.  There are those groups that not only stay strong; but, withstand the transitions of seasons.  Why is that?  Is it the leader? The teens?  While those are huge factors there are a few steps every leader should take to ensure their small groups last through the years.  Those steps are:

Communicating Consistently – Your group needs to hear your voice more than just at the weekly gatherings.  Check-in with them during the week.  Talk with their parents.  Make your relationship with them consistent.  Communicating consistently helps you become a regular voice in their life.  Whether it’s an invitation to join group each week or a shout out on Twitter, letting them know you’re invested will go far.

Meeting Outside The Usual – On top of your weekly gatherings try to get together for a mission project or fellowship gathering.  It’s easy to forget how hard it is for these teens to find healthy social opportunities.  By getting them together outside of the small group you turn it from a “church” thing into a life group.

Connecting One On One – It might be a challenge, but when you can meet one on one with your teens you begin to understand the dynamics of the group.  This helps you lead discussions in your group in a way that promotes depth.  The teens will feel like you know them personally because of your private conversations.  It will encourage them to open up in ways they couldn’t have before.

Setting Goals And Vision – Every church needs goals and vision.  Doesn’t matter if it’s thousands of people or half a dozen, without vision the people will perish.  Your small group needs goals and vision to grow and go deeper.  It allows the group to go from a social hour into something lasting.

Leading a small group is an investment.  It will be tested; however, by getting to know each individual and challenging them with different opportunities, the group will strengthen.

How do you strengthen your small groups?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)



A youth worker sent me an email with a question about preparing for growth in their ministry as they were seeing larger classes in their children’s ministry heading their way – it looks like their ministry is on a path to double soon. Here’s part of how I replied to him, thought it may be helpful to you as well:

Infrastructure is absolutely key. I would definitely start building a team of leaders with all your energy. You might be tempted to think adding more programs but I think people and systems are the best choice.

Adding a position
Getting another staff person, even part-time, is a crap shoot. Flirt with it in your mind, but in my experience that is usually where it stays. Typically leadership waits to see results and staffs late, or staffs intentionall what is hurting instead of what is building. Ironic, but want to be real with you so you don’t get your hopes up. I do think it is time to ask for help before it is too late. And either way, start pouring in to your leaders and building a team of people, paid or not.

Core Leaders
Start a core team of people who are totally on board with the vision of your ministry and love and follow you. These are the people you’ll do life with and know the best. You need to trust them. They will trust you. You need to eat together, laugh together and develop some inside jokes and memories as soon as possible.

More Leaders
Next, I’d work on developing as many additional leaders as I could. Get your small groups/life groups super small next year, so they can scale and grow with more students as they start entering the ministry. If each group has 4 students, you could easily give them 6 the next year and 8 the year after. So make them all super small right now and get the rookies some experience and get ready with an infrastructure for growth.

Systems
This is where you can prepare for growth as well – make sure that all of your systems are ready to scale as well.  Take a look at your communications tools, your curriculum, your web presence, your parent ministry – all of these systems need to be able to scale up to double/triple their size. If not, you need to ditch the tool now before it dies under the strain of growth. Take care of these things now and adding students is a breeze.Wait and it will crush you and slow your momentum to a crawl.

Other random stuff/links to consider:

JG

There are a lot of different hats that we wear when leading students, from bus driver to fundraising champion, to cook,to first aid attendant, to counselor. But the two hats I find I wear most often are Pastor and Advocate. Stay with me here, because I strongly believe these are two roles that we have to perform, but require different skill sets and both are needed to lead effectively.

Pastor: Although the word only appears in the New Testament one time (Ephesians 4:11) it in many ways is the primary function of what we do. We lead and shepherd our students, leaders and parents week in and week out.  This is such a rewarding and meaningful part of my role in the Church as we get to experience people encountering God is such a real way. I am called to be a Youth Pastor, to invest in our students and champion their cause in the Church. I cheer them on, intentionally pastor their leaders to foster spiritual growth of our students as well. The challenge is that sometimes making decisions that affect people, potentially negatively is difficult with my Pastor hat on because the pastor in me loves harmony and values shepherding, so its then I have to go into advocate mode.

Advocate: When I am in advocate mode, things are different and here is why. My role at the Church is to be the Pastor of High School Students and that means advocating for the needs of each student. The question I am constantly asking is, what do these students need from me, from their leader, from our youth group in order to grow in their relationship with God? I met with one of our leaders recently who had been slipping in his commitment to his small group and the results were obvious. When we sat down, the conversation quickly got to reminding this leader what it is that his students need from him:

-       A leader that calls them each week and checks in and invites.

-       A leader that engages them at youth and takes an interest in their life

-       A leader that commits to praying for them

-       A leader that shows up EVERY week.

I was firm, not harsh but reminded him that I am looking out for the needs of the students entrusted to me, and asked simply, “can you be the leader that these students need you to be?” Its was an honest question, and framed this way that leader could say yes, or no. Had they said no it would be understandable why we would need to find someone else to fill that role.

The same is true with events, retreats and camps as well when we ask, is this event the best things for the spiritual development of our students? Sure its fun, and well attended, but is there something that could be more effective.

When it comes to making tough decisions, its always with my advocate hat on, because when I am in that mode, I am more willing to take on challenges and situations that when I am in Pastor mode I might let linger. We owe it to our students to provide for them what they need, which is not always what they want at the time.  My experience has been that leaders respond well to the challenge and as a team are more understanding of changes when framed within the cause of growth of our students.

GS – (TWITTER)