Dear  Volunteer,

It bothers me when you tell me, “I’m not a real youth worker.” Are you kidding? You set up and tear down, prepare small group lessons,  and pick up kids and drop them off. You take “vacation” time so that you can trek with us to camp or on a missions trip. You give up Saturdays and evenings all the while telling me that you are doing this for the Lord. Your service humbles me causing me to make sure that I am in ministry for all the right reasons. You give from your own resources, have the ability to be excited when I am tired and organize me when I am frazzled. You are absolutely every bit a youth worker, and central to the success of all that happens here.

So when you hang around and think, “Am I REALLY vital to this situation?” The answer is unabashedly yes.

I know I ask a lot of you. You feel inadequate and ill equipped. Can I tell you a secret? So do I. ALL THE TIME!  No matter how long I am in this, I don’t know all the answers. Many times you know more than I do! You are not too young or too old. I don’t have things in “common” with every student either. Our students need those of us who are willing to come in and allow them to know what Jesus looks like. Since you are his reflection, they need you too. They need to hear the story only YOU can tell.

I am sorry for the times that I don’t tell you that you are not an “option,” but a “necessity.” Not only am I unable to do everything, I’m just not good at it. I am sorry I don’t say thank you every time you walk in. I can be desperate for help, and can so easily take advantage of your presence. Too often I complain about you without leading you well.

Please don’t give up on us yet. The students and I need you, even when we act like we don’t.  Please tell us when you don’t feel “wanted” and tell me when I am too busy to help you.  When you don’t “show up,” it throws everything off. Not only do I have to readjust the leadership role I have given you, but we miss you. The students who act like they “hate” you are the ones that long for you when you aren’t there.

I promise to guide you, to be better at communicating, to bring training, and to remind you of the vision that the Lord has cast for this ministry. Most of all, I promise to care for you and get to know you. I will stop and remember you are my greatest asset.

I have decided I do not like this “title” at all. It simply doesn’t fit. In a day and age where “service” is a requirement to graduate High School or a job incentive, it connotes a deposit,  while you make and investment.

Therefore from this point forward I will call you,

 “Teammates “

You are the reason a generation of students is being transformed in Christ. Never forget that.

Jesus loves you.  Student’s love you.  I love you.

In Christ-

Your Youth Pastor

“I promise to do my duty to God and my country, to something-something-something, and to obey the Girl Scout laws.” This is the first oath/vow I can remember from my childhood days. I was in first grade and had just started Brownies. Good times.

FOR ALL YOU AMAZING YOUTH MINISTRY VOLUNTEERS: I’m not saying you should take an oath (though signing a covenant is a good idea) but if one was created towards being the kind of volunteer your church’s youth ministry needs, here are some of the things I might put in the vows:

*I promise that I will never back out of a youth trip with less than 7 days to go. No, make that a month! (Either way, its really hard on the balance of the trip because finding adults to go was hard enough for the leadership much less at the last minute.)

*I promise that I will not make the dress code harder to enforce by being one of the people the youth director has to enforce it with. (Come on, this is too simple, people! You’re not working with the youth ministry to find your spouse or become a teenager again, so why not just be comfortable and not a clothing problem. Simple rule of thumb: if you’re wondering if its OK, don’t wear it.)

*I promise that I will not try to get the kids to like me by breaking the rules and guidelines. (Again, this is simple. It doesn’t work, really, and just makes you more of an example of what NOT to do rather than a role model. If lights out is at 11:00p, flip the switch at 11pm. Simple enough.)

*I promise that I will not “wing my way” through a youth lesson or small group. I will not study it on my smartphone at each traffic light while on the way to teach said lesson. (Jesus himself said, “Could you not watch with Me for one hour?” Find an hour out of the week’s 168 and prep, ok?)

*I promise not to be a freak-out adult providing the uthmin with more drama that the HS girls usually dodownload. (This is characterized by the vols that over-emphasize everything, get a little too high-maintenance about stuff, and spend more time with the youth director than they do with the youth. Let it go! I don’t know what it is, but just let it go! Unless it involves someone missing out on their eternal salvation, chill out.)

What would you add, ministry peeps?




Not long ago in a conversation with my pastor he made this “passing” comment, “We are rarely contented by the vision the Lord has given us.  We listen to the “big names” in the Christian community and try to emulate them.  If we want our numbers to grow we believe we must BE them.  Then it fails and we wonder why.  The problem is it works for those pastors because it is their calling.  It doesn’t work for us because the Lord has a different plan for us.“

I have seen a trend in ministry,  all ministry,  we so desperately want to be “more”  we stop looking for the purpose God gave US and look to others.  The issue isn’t when we take wisdom and apply it,  the issue comes when we try to emulate who they are.  We play the “numbers” or the “comparison” game,  and feel empty.  If we don’t have “enough” students or aren’t as “noticed” as someone else,  we are doing it “wrong.”   There are times when we do have to track who is in the room,  however,  how do we keep a balance?


How do we stay true to our “special purpose?”


Are you an Evangelist or a Discipler? 

An evangelist’s heart breaks when there is one more student who hasn’t heard the Gospel of Christ.  A discipler’s heart breaks when one more student hasn’t gone deeper in their walk.  Evangelists care about discipleship and visa versa.  However, the approach is vastly different.  Know who you are.


Know What Being “You” Means.

What I would say is get to know your strengths and weaknesses. THEN read the books, listen to the sermons, and study what others are saying.  Learn to “chew on the meat and spit out the bones,” as they say.  What do you need to know & adapt?  What is a good idea, perhaps even a “God idea,” but NOT God’s idea for you?


Why are We In This?

When the Lord first called us to youth ministry all we cared about were students + Jesus = transformed lives.   Our creativity, our drive,  everything was wrapped in this truth.   It’s easy to get off track and focus more on “WHAT” we are doing than “WHO”   we are doing it for.  Get back to a zeal to simply see students grabbing hold of the GOOD NEWS and living it out.


I once heard Steven Furtick say,  “It’s easy to compare our daily ministry to someone else’s success reel.”    Track numbers when you have to.  Partner with other ministries that fill in the gaps of your weakness.   Most of all simply don’t forget Christ just wants you to do what he asked of YOU, no one else.


 As pictures of Oklahoma have crossed my screen, I realize we are just now digging out of the wake of Hurricane Sandy here in the Northeast.  Friends in  Massachusetts and Newtown, CT are still putting their lives back together.  There are times when “tragedy” doesn’t make the news.  A good friend of mine almost lost his life last week in a freak accident.  A pregnant wife at the end of our street lost her husband this past Fall to a stray bullet.  Bad things happen to good people.  Bad things happen.  We are left so often dealing through our own questions while simultaneously answering them for our students.

What Do We Say?

1.  There Are No Easy Answers

The “Why” questions come fast and furious.  It is important to let students wrestle through the “tough stuff.”  Let them know you struggle to understand as well.  However,  we live in a world with sin and evil.  There is a true adversary “seeking who he can devour.”  This isn’t “God’s fault.”   In the end we will never fully understand how this war for our souls works.  It is important that students understand this isn’t a grand punishment.  There are times when all we can do is listen to the hurt.  We must allow them to grieve and express their anger.  It isn’t helpful to tell them “not to feel something.”  What is vital is we don’t allow them to stay in this place.

2.  There Is Still Hope

In the midst of Sandy a good friend of mine reminded me,  “God is still good,  it’s circumstances that are bad.”   It is hard to imagine that  God  would “allow” tragedy to happen.  Our focus needs to be on the truth that He still loves us.  He is fighting for us.  It is a reminder that this broken world is not our “true home.”   Christ tells us while we are here there will always be hurt, trials, and sin.   Jesus is the answer in the midst of all that goes wrong.  It doesn’t mean we stop grieving.  However,  we must remember there is still hope even in the worst situations.  We must remind students He never leaves us or abandons us, even in the middle of the “bad.”

3. It’s Alright To Cry & Ask for Help

Comfort, prayer, and support are great ways to show the love of Christ in terrible situations.  When you are stunned in the midst of a tragedy you tend to think you “must be strong,”   or fall apart completely.   Let them talk it out.  Let them know strong emotion in the midst of this is normal. Hold them, and show them love.

I am not going to claim to understand  tornadoes, hurricanes,  bombs and gunmen. All  I know is when we made the choice to disobey the Lord in the garden and know the difference between good and evil, innocence was lost.  Christ came to redeem our souls,  but that doesn’t negate all sin in the world.  What I do know in the midst of the questions He remains Lord of all whose love is unfailing.   He is the one we have to look to for hope.  This is who I offer students.  Sometimes there are no words at all.   That’s alright too.


With Mother’s Day around the corner, there has been a lot of talk in our group about parents. 90% of the 200 students I serve do not live with both biological parents. One young woman has a great step-Mom, however she grapples as her “other” Mom consistently disappoints and hurts her. Another lost his Dad a few years ago and shared, “I love my Mom honestly, because she is all I have left, but it still isn’t great.”



Through the years my students and I have talked about their families often. There have been parents who are prostitutes, addicts, in jail, absent, & neglectful. I have seen anger, divorce and perfectionism tear families apart. Each time the tears well up. My heart hurts. I have told kids to endure just a little longer and eventually they will “get out.”

There is a problem with this tactic. I have also witnessed many of these same parents are torn apart by a cycle of shame from which they believe there is no hope of escaping. Telling a twelve year old to “wait it out,” is a long time. It can worsen the “survival” mentality.

So when we hear the tales of the horrible home life how do we react?

1. Believe.

We must honestly believe the Lord CAN and WILL change EVERY life. Not just the students, but the parents as well. It starts with us living in the hope that Christ offers for today. He knows how to resurrect the dead. If our attitude is just, “Well He could, make this different, BUT, probably won’t.” We have already lost this family.
2. Stop Judging.
There are two sides to every story and we often get all of our details from our students. Before we jump in and point fingers, we must hear both sides. Get to know the whole family. I have been humbled often, by parents who are trying their best. When I start to judge, I then stand above a family forgetting there is more going on than I might see. Pointing fingers is rarely helpful.

3. Pray

There are situations we don’t know how to handle. As I listen to home lives wrecked, I feel helpless and angry at times. What I have is prayer. This reminds me the Lord is at work, even when I don’t see it with my eyes.

Am I claiming every home life is a mess? No not at all. However, each of us carries baggage that wounds the ones we love. Our students are often telling us ways their parents hurt them. Too often in ministry we hear the “horrors” over the “triumphs.” The steps above may not have been revolutionary, however, in our “line of work,” they are vital. Remember the Lord wants the family whole more than we do.

How do you handle it when you hear the stories of broken homes>



From time to time I’ve done all of these things to my people – and had them done to me by supervisors, pastors and leaders as well. Pretty common leadership gaffes that take a toll on your people:

Poor Communication
Want to alienate people? Keep information from them. I understand that there is certain “top level information” and certainly important things that need to be kept discreet or even secret until a launch or big reveal – what frustrates people is keeping secret even the most basic information that should be disseminated to everyone. Don’t hide behind phrases like, “that’s just our culture” or “it has always been that way” – change the culture and don’t be OK with the dysfunctions of the past. Every email builds a culture.

Require them to be at things at the last minute
If something is required, it should be incredibly important and everyone should have advance notice if at all possible. If there is a better way of communicating information and avoiding the meeting, do it that way. Gather fewer times a year and make them more effective. I like thinking in terms of deposits and withdrawals, most leaders realize far too late that have long overdrawn from their team equity account. Rethink mandatory.

Make every decision in an ivory tower
A great way to alienate your volunteers is to completely uninvolve (that’s not a word, but I don’t care) them in any and all decision-making. Keep them guessing why you made the call you did, keep them in the dark about policies you announce that change everything. Summer calendar coming out? Forget collaboration and just do it yourself for a sure fire way to fail as a leader.

Believe the best person to do the job is you
If you are always the default solution to every problem, everything will soon become your problem. Stop bottle-necking authority and making everyone wait for your approval before they take action action. Let leaders lead!

Alienated people become former staff members at your church. Volunteers on the outside of your ministry soon start volunteering outside of your ministry! What would it look like if you worked hard on good communication,infrequent but potent mandatory gatherings, led from the middle and let your leaders actually lead. Could change your ministry and life!


I think we can all be a little frustrated with our volunteers from time to time. Sometimes we want them to be just a little more relational or just a little more supportive. Maybe during service, they just sit in the back and don’t spend time out engaging with students. As frustrating as that might be, you have to look at yourself and ask, what example am I setting for my volunteers?

The bottom line: you need to be doing the kind of ministry you want your volunteers to be doing. You are the one that is setting the values for your ministry and casting that vision to your team, which means you should be following that as well.

Did anyone else grow up hearing the phrase, do as I say, not as I do? As a kid, you are left feeling confused and frustrated. You think, well if what you say is so great, why aren’t you doing it? Your volunteers are thinking the same thing when your actions aren’t matching your words. And, just like the kids that hear that phrase, your volunteers will always copy actions, not words. You need to be setting the example for your team.

Casting the vision for how leaders should minister to students is only part of the battle. You can be an incredible visionary, but if there is no follow through, your vision is worthless. Ideas are never enough. Your team needs action. Your team needs YOUR action.

So the next time you see a bad habit spreading throughout your team, look to yourself. Are you the one spreading it?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

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=””>InformED</a>, one of Australia’s leading providers of Open Learning and <a href=””>distance education</a>.