Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Untapped Resource of the Absentee Youth Worker

Finding good volunteers seems to be a struggle in many, if not most churches. It has definitely been the focus of most of my recent visioning for the future of our Youth Ministry. We've made some progress getting people to help out and gaining consistency from them but we're still some distance from where we want to be. The whle goal is to get adults in the lives of students so they can speak good news into their lives. In all of my reading, thinking, and working on this issue, I've made an observation--well, one among a few--that is more like an hypothesis: the people who are needed most in ministry are the people who aren't doing it.

Of course this is true on one level; their absence from the ministry is congruent with the church's need for them in ministry. But the people I'm talking about are specifically the people who understand Youth Ministry... you thought I was gonna say parents, didn't you? It's true we need parents in Youth Ministry (more importantly, we need to leverage their influence and empower them to do ministry at home) but the people who really understand the key ingredients of Youth Ministry, even if they don't know it, are young adults (I'm thinking 20-27 year olds). The Young Adult generation is keenly sensitive to authenticity and relationality--two of the most important ingredients in any good Youth Ministry. The Youth Ministry pendulum is swinging away from program-driven ministries to ministries built around authentic relationships. Youth Pastors know this, but Youth Pastors aren't actually the ones who do most of the Youth Ministry--the whole church does Youth Ministry and the DNA of the ministry is made up of all the people who invest their time and their presence to the lives of the students (which is why Youth Pastors are right to be selective about who they enlist as youth workers). Therefore, if ministries are going to be authentically relational, then we need authentically relational volunteers... in general, I think this comes naturally to 20-27 year olds.

These are rough thoughts, I know. I am sure you can leave this blog and quickly find another article arguing that we need more mature leaders in Youth Ministry. Perhaps there's a good argument that we've got enough young adults on the scene. Of course all people are relational and of course anyone who invests their presence in the lives of students is vitally important. But I've just noticed that along with the absence of Young Adults from church in general is their absence from Youth Ministry. The majority of youth workers I know who are under the age of 30 are vocational ministers, they're getting paid for it. But when I think about other people my age, other young adults and friends from college, many of those who really understand youth ministry and would make awesome youth workers aren't even going to church on a regular basis and of the few who are involved in their churches, even fewer are involved in their Youth Ministries. Many who are fit to make good theological and practical observations based on their experience are essentially just sitting on the sidelines. I think of people from other churches who I'd pay (if I could) to help me in my ministry but aren't even volunteering in their own churches. There are so many skilled individuals who are essentially sitting the sidelines.

If it hasn't already become apparent to you, this observation is still developing. Perhaps we shouldn't single out any demographic... perhaps the plight of the church is not the absence of young adult youth workers but of youth workers in general. Whatever the case, we need to get more youth workers in the game. Whatever the demographic, we need to tap-in to the untapped resources of the absentee youth worker.

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." -Matthew 9:37

3 comments:

Danny said...

I know this might sound like just an excuse, but the only time that Sarah and I have together is wednesday night and the weekends. Between my school, sarah going to school, and me going to school, we are just too busy to be involved in one more thing in life. We would simply be burned out.

WES ELLIS said...

Haha. This post wasn't directed at you, Danny. You're already in youth ministry. Teachers are more influential than Youth Pastors in more ways than one... But, yeah... Dumb excuse ;)

David T. said...

Working in the church is more than just being willing. It is about being credentialed and trusted. There are a lot of things I might LIKE to do but since I don't have a college degree or experience or connections in the church, I am not seen as fit for it. Crazy how much placement in the church sounds like the secular job market. Every church I have been to, the people who got opportunities to work directly with people were connected or educated specifically for the ministry. Otherwise you can clean the church or participate in a work day or fold Sunday bulletins...