Being on paid staff at a church is an amazing job. You are paid to study the Bible, walk with people, see growth happen, participate in wonderful moments, and you get to fulfill your calling. But often times we forget that the reason we get to do what we do is due, in large part, to our volunteers.
They are the people who show up after a long day of work. They are the ones who take vacation time or unpaid time to go on youth trips. They are the ones fielding late night calls and interrupting family time to care for “their students.” They are the ones who grieve and hurt even though it isn’t their job to do so. They are the ones who take time away from their loved ones to pour into the lives of students who others would write off.
I think our propensity as paid youth workers is to assume that our volunteers can give the way we do. We believe they can sacrifice time and money the way that we do. We forget that this isn’t what they are paid to do.
But we cannot forget our volunteers. They are the glue that keeps our ministry together. They are the self-sacrificing, servant-hearted, all-in people who make student ministry a reality. So how can we care for them well?
Get to know your people.
One of the things I have found to be beneficial in caring for leaders is getting to know what they like and don’t like, what encourages them, what discourages them, where they like to go out to eat, what they do for a date night, how you can be praying for them, and what snacks they enjoy. I get all this information at our fall leader training when I ask my volunteers to fill out a quick two-minute survey. In that survey I get to know a lot about them in a simple format, and I find new ways to bless them.
Bless leaders throughout the year.
This can look different depending on the size of your ministry, your budget, and your space. But we shouldn’t let those things keep us from acting or put us in a box. Instead we should leverage what we have to bless our leaders. We use our Leader Christmas Party as our big gift time of year and a bunch of our parents cater the event for our leaders. They cook dinner, serve the meal, prepare desserts, and pray over them. I also love to meet up with leaders throughout the year and see how they are doing. I take them out for lunch or breakfast and do my best to pay for the meal and say thank you. I also pay attention to big days (Facebook helps with this a lot) and reach out to celebrate and honor them.
Get parents involved.
I shared this briefly in the above tip, but the more you can rally parents to support and bless your leaders, the more dedicated your leaders will be. At Christmastime and the end of the academic year, we send out a letter to parents asking them and their students to consider blessing our leaders. Consistently our parents go above and beyond and our leaders are blessed with cards and notes, gift cards, snacks, candy, and so much more. Our leaders and families love this and it is an awesome opportunity to see Body of Christ care for one another. We also ask our parents to jump in and serve at big events to allow our leaders to be with their students. This helps parents see what is happening and has driven them to have more buy-in and care for our leaders.
Make a big deal out of trips.
When our leaders come on ministry trips we do leader gift bags. Based upon the trip length, style of trip, and funds on hand we offer a variety of gifts and blessings in the bags. For overnight trips we do paper gift bags and for trips of a week or longer we have done backpacks or drawstring bags. We fill these with some of the essentials like lip balm, sleep masks, ear plugs, hand sanitizer, gum, candy, salty snacks, protein bars, swag from our youth group, ibuprofen, pens, or a small notebook. Depending on the length of the trip and expectations for our leaders, we have gotten some nicer gifts as well like Yetis with our logo, full-size notebooks, or mugs.
Use your space.
We all have different spaces for programming and offices (if you’re blessed to have one). A great way to bless leaders is have a spot exclusively for them. I am not in my office much during youth nights so I have turned it into a relaxing area for my leaders. I have a seating area with a tea and coffee bar, along with bottled water and a few snacks. I get good coffee, a variety of teas, nice creamers, all types of sweeteners, and my leaders love it. They arrive after long days and to have something to get a little boost is a big deal. I also keep my office as a leaders-only space so they can have a place to collect themselves and breathe if they need to.
Utilize your leaders’ gifts.
One way to really value your leaders is to see their talents and allow them to utilize their gifts. If you have a leader who is a gifted communicator, get them in front of your group. Have a leader who loves to lead at their workplace? Ask them to help develop your leaders. Is there a leader who is can get anyone to do anything? There is your next game leader. If a leader is passionate about worship, allow them to develop your students into a worship team. Encouraging your leaders to utilize their gifts and strengths not only allows them to continue to grow, but it generates buy-in, creates a team mentality, and shows your leaders you see them as more than bodies.
Recognize and honor your leaders.
The corporate world does this well. When someone succeeds they get a raise, a bonus, employee of the month, or recognized in a staff newsletter. We should be doing this as well. If a leader does something well, recognize it. It doesn’t need to always be in front of the church or youth group, but maybe at a leader meeting. Consider implementing a “volunteer of the month” where you send them a handwritten note and a small gift card to their favorite restaurant. Or when you get that chance to preach, highlight your volunteer core. Let them know how awesome they are!
Be present in all moments.
As the shepherd of your ministry you must be present for your team in all moments. That means thinking past your program nights, and being present elsewhere. Take your leaders out. Celebrate their successes. Get to know their passions and their families. Also be there during the really hard moments. This is the part where your leaders see you actually care. I have sat in hospital rooms with leaders, I have held leaders after a loved one passed away, I have walked with leaders who have lost a student, and I have wept with leaders as they wept over their students walking away from what they believed. These moments weren’t the easiest or ones I was prepped for in “ministry school” but these are the moments we are called to as shepherds and ministers. To weep with those who weep and comfort those who mourn. Walk with your leaders in all moments; good, bad, and everything in between.
Part of what we should be doing as ministry leaders is generating high quality leaders who prayerfully will begin stepping up, which may lead to them pursuing ministry elsewhere as God calls them. This isn’t something to fear or be anxious about but something we should be excited for. That means our leaders are growing, being equipped, and following God’s leading. When this happens encourage your leaders, pray with them, and help them achieve the calling God has placed on their lives. But also celebrate and encourage your leaders both publicly and in private. Let them know you are here for them, honor them in front of the youth group, help them to grieve well as they leave, and celebrate them in front of the church.