I love working with volunteers – its one of the best things about being a youth worker. Volunteers are there because they want to serve, and they usually come without the baggage of entitlement demands and complaints. Volunteers blow me away all the time because of the energy they give to projects while expecting so little in return.
I’m hugely blessed right now to have an awesome team. All of my volunteers are a total credit to themselves and to the God they serve. The young people love them, and they support me in more ways than they know.
It hasn’t always been this way though. I’ve managed teams of volunteers for over a decade, and I totally understand the pressures of constantly needing more help. There are, however, just some volunteers that you could do without.
I’m a big believer that your ministry should match your resources, and that you should steward what you have, before you try and do more than what you can manage. Youth workers, however, are under constant pressure to grow numerically. This means a bigger team. Then begins the desperate pleas for help in the notices, and the increasingly lax expectations and requirements from your volunteers before they serve.
My volunteers go through a process which includes an application form, interview, references, police check, and probation period. Here are some of the potential volunteers that I turn away
1. Just there to make up numbers
Occasional willing help to keep young people safe by bolstering ratios is an ok thing to do. Having a volunteer on team, however, that doesn’t want to be there, but are simply worried that the youth group might collapse without them is just not helpful. They ooze disinterest and will more than likely be a limp member of the team.
Better a smaller youth group with a devoted and committed team, than a big one with disinterested and unengaged leaders any day
2. No servant heart
One of the reasons that I love my team so much is that they get stuck into everything. They’ll commit prep time in the week, they’ll cleanup without being asked, or they’ll arrive early and move chairs.
Volunteers who only come just wanting to be the spiritual big shot are simply not worth your time. Starting with a Christlike servant heart should be the foundational basis for anyone wanting to serve in ministry.
3. Not teachable
When I look for a new volunteer, I keep my eye out for the people that display faithfulness, availability, and teachability. A teachable person asks more questions than they give answers. They listen carefully before making judgemental statements, they respond well to ideas and corrections, and they respect the authority of the leader.
An unteachable person is often cynical, loudly opinionated, vocally dominant and undermining. They can be argumentative and they can foster gossip. If a volunteer cannot demonstrate teachability, then they will do little to help the wise development of your young people
4. Empire builders
We’ve all heard that we shouldn’t build empires we should build kingdom, and it’s true. A kingdom-building volunteer comes on to a team to serve Jesus in that ministry and to see how they can fit within it uniquely. An empire-building volunteer comes on expecting the ministry to serve their own aspirations.
An empire builder often talks about how they would do better, and how they started because they could fix what you were doing wrong. Even if they’re right about areas that need to change, their attitude will sink the ministry long before you can make any healthy changes
I have a busy team of people who lead full lives with jobs and family. For that reason I do my best to set realistic expectations and develop rotas that work for them individually. Leaders who often don’t show up when they say they will, or are consistently late are quickly taken off our rosters.
An unreliable team means an unreliable youth ministry; meaning the young people can’t trust it. It’s important that each volunteer signs a contract of expectations at the beginning of their time, and are then held accountable to it. Just because volunteers are not staff, does not mean they don’t have to keep to agreed expectations – especially when it affects the security of vulnerable young people
6. Called to other ministries
Sometimes brilliant volunteers show up with fantastic attitudes, but it becomes clear that really they are called to a different ministry. Although it may be heartbreaking and gut-wrenching to let them go, you too are called to build the kingdom and not your empire.
Making sure that you have regular supervision sessions with your volunteers should help you understand if there is a better fit for them elsewhere. If you release them, God will honour and provide
7. Haven’t earned it
One of the most obvious places to get new team members from is graduating young people when they become legal adults. I love this life cycle and believe it’s essential to develop young people eventually into adult team members. However, if they did not demonstrate a servant heart, if they were not teachable, and if they were constantly disrespectful towards the acting team – then I will not allow them to volunteer without some clear evidence of change.
We should set realistic, but high standards for our team. We’re not looking for perfect people (look at the disciples!), but faithful, available, and teachable people who are properly committed, servant-hearted and know where to place their priorities.
I’m totally blessed by my team today after a long time of cultivation and development. It was really worth the effort and the hard conversations. Does your team need some work?