Our confirmation program for this year is starting again, and during our informational meeting, I handed out a short questionnaire for students to fill out. It had questions like ‘What is your favorite memory of church’, and ‘What do you most want to learn about this year’ as well as ‘who are your role models at church?’. I thought that the questions would be helpful for our team to see what our youth most wanted to know and to learn a little bit more about them. The one set of answers from the youth and their parents that I thought was most exciting was the question about their role models. For most of our students, they saw their role models as their Sunday school teachers and confirmation leaders. As a youth minister that works in a team ministry, this was super-exciting for me, because it meant that our youth ministry team was making great connections with our students.
So at our next staff meeting, I raised this as a joy—that our congregation is blessed with great youth leaders both in Sunday school and confirmation and youth group. And an observation arose that of all of the folks teaching our youth during Sunday school and confirmation, only a couple of them are parents of current students, and it made me pause…
I’ve been reflecting on that fact this week—in most of the congregations that I’ve served in, it was either myself or other parents who had a majority of the responsibility for working with the youth, and yet for this congregation, it is so not the case. (And no, the majority of my youth leaders are not the 20 something young adult type with a red bull in one hand and a guitar in the other.) Actually, I am the youngest of the bunch (and I’m old enough to be a parent of some of them. :0 )
This interesting quality of our team reminds me of when we went to a Youth Specialties Team Training last year. One of the topics of the day was on Keeping Teens Safe. As a good United Methodist, I assumed we would be talking about Safe Sanctuaries policies, background checks, etc, etc… and yet, the conversation was centered more around how not to create crazy games that will end up injuring your students (or worse), and other issues around general safety. As we heard some of the stories my team and I looked at each other like: ‘These things happen?!?’ and as we discussed and reflected on the day, I realized that one of the things I love about our team and our youth is that I fully trust them to keep our students safe both physically, emotionally and theologically. And perhaps, one of the reasons that doing dangerous games or making iffy choices in working with the youth wasn’t an issue was because most of my volunteer team were more seasoned.
When we think about what makes up a ‘good’ youth leader or volunteer, I hope that more youth ministers and churches consider a wider range of people. There really is no specific type of person who works best with youth, except for someone who truly cares about students and has a desire to help them grow and mature in their faith. This is why I love our leaders—they are parents and grandparents, older adults and middle aged, business leaders and organists and yogis, people who value their faith and see and understand God in their own unique ways, and most importantly aren’t afraid to share that with our students and learn right alongside them.
So if you are looking for volunteers for your youth group—don’t just stop with the parents of the youth—look to the grandparents, look to the older adults who don’t have kids in the program, look to the people in the congregations who’s faith you admire and who YOU see as a role model for your faith and the faith of others.