“What makes a great volunteer youth worker?” I often meet potential volunteers at my church or at conferences who ask me questions similar to this. However, the thought behind the question often seems to be something like,
“I don’t have what it takes…” Or, ”I’m not young enough. Or, “I don’t understand students enough.” Or, “I never worked with students before.” You fill in the blank, but you get the idea. So many existing and potential youth workers often match themselves up with some impossible and inaccurate standard of what it takes to be a great youth worker. In my experience, I have seen quite different traits as being the most effective. The following traits might not be what you expected?
You can add your own thoughts to this post, but for now here are my top five traits of a great volunteer youth worker:
They have an authentic and growing relationship with God. In the short span of time we have students in our ministry, what is it we hope they will see in us? While volunteers will not always be the youngest, trendiest, or great at leading games, it is their faith walk that will leave a lasting impression. In our world today, students need to see adults who are deeply committed to God and spiritual growth in Him.
They are good listeners. It used to be with Generation X that a volunteer youth worker needed to be a student immersed in the culture of students. Today’s Millennial students don’t expect or want adults to be like them or act like them, they simply want to be heard… In our crazy busy world today, our students are starved of people who truly listen to them. It’s amazing how much students will pour out their heart to you when you listen well.
They are consistent. It’s hard to find consistent adults in the lives of students these days. Students will share their lives with us when they know that we are likely to be a constant in their lives. I often hear from new volunteers that the first six months are extremely hard as so many students are ‘closed’ to them. After six months, there seems to be a breakthrough as students begin to open up to them. In addition to it being normal for relationships to take time, I often see this as time where students are waiting to see if an adult volunteer is going to be around for the long haul.
They are team players. This should be a given shouldn’t it? However, I have met so many unhealthy volunteers who have their own agenda and treat a youth ministry as their own personal ministry. They don’t want to follow the vision of the leader of the ministry, and they are often fueled in an unhealthy way, by the attention of students. Other volunteers around them sense competition and become frustrated by their agenda. As a volunteer, it’s imperative you follow the vision and implementation of the youth ministry, and make every effort to support the work of other volunteers.
They have a healthy home life. In our world of broken marriages and unhealthy families, students are desperate to find a better way for their future. So many of our students have come from broken families and have experienced great hurt. They are in desperate need to find answers through your example and need to see how you make your family a priority. What kind of example are you giving them? What opportunities do students have to gain an insight into your family? Of course, you need healthy boundaries for your family and youth ministry, but at the same time, your family could be the example our students begin to follow as they move into adulthood.
What would you add to this list? Feel free to agree or disagree too. I would love to create a comprehensive list from your comments that we could pass on to volunteers.