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The ever-accurate Wikipedia defines volunteerism as “The involvement of volunteers especially in community service or with a non-profit organization.” The U.S.A. has a history of volunteerism. The earliest Americans got together and helped each other build houses and plant (and share) crops. Benjamin Franklin developed the first volunteer firehouse in 1736–more than 70% of all firefighters today are volunteers.

It wasn’t until the Great Awakening in the 19th century that formal charitable organizations started cropping up. Inspired by religious revival, people became more aware of persons who were struggling socially or economically and the YMCA, Volunteers of America, American Red Cross and the United Way were all born in response. Volunteerism has gained even more traction in the 21st century. According to http://www.nationalservice.gov, one in four adults (26.5 percent) volunteered through an organization in 2012; 64.5 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.9 billion hours that year. Volunteerism rates are increasing in all age ranges. Volunteering among teenagers has trended upwards in the past decades. Senior adults had the highest number of volunteer hours in the nation.

So what does that have to do with our church? This is an article about professional growth–the idea is that I am supposed to give you some thoughts about how volunteerism helps you develop as a youth minister. I hear all the time that youth ministers and youth ministries do not have enough adults in the lives of teenagers. They are hard to find, they won’t commit, etc. I get that–it is difficult to mobilize volunteers in church.

But if we live in a culture of volunteerism and if adults are motivated in other areas, why not the church? What might prompt adults to step up? Let me give you two lists to chew on. First I will identify what volunteers should be able to expect from you. Then I will suggest what you should be able to expect from your volunteers.

What Volunteers Can Expect from You

  • An understanding that they are needed. Help them to know that the more adults are around teenagers, the more effective the ministry.
  • Communication. Recruit specifically for a position or need. Don’t just ask, “do you want to work with students?” Ask, “can you give me 10 hours per week as a volunteer who will study and teach a Bible lesson, contact students during the week, and attend training meetings when they are offered?”
  • A culture of teamwork. Nurture and support is vital for adults working in student ministry as they might not be involved in an adult Bible study group.
  • Organization. Adults are increasingly reluctant to connect to an organization that they perceive is wasting their time.
  • Accountability. If they do not show up when they are supposed to or if they do not follow through on a ministry assignment, we shouldn’t ignore it. Nor should we ignore lifestyle choices that might mean they shouldn’t be in a place of influence.
  • Resources/Training. Give them the tools to do their job.
  • Creativity. You are the one with all the idea books. Share.

What You Can Expect from a Volunteer

  • For them to see Student Work as a calling.
  • Honesty about their passion.
  • Loyalty to the team, the church staff, and the youth minister.
  • Ministry–adhere to ministry description
  • Attendance
  • Leadership meetings
  • Training opportunities
  • Youth meetings

Volunteers are what makes youth ministry happen. I like to envision a team of adults, working together and modeling what it is to engage with other adults in a way that is healthy. In fact, it is possible that some students do not see healthy interaction among adults any other place. Create a culture of volunteerism.

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