Let’s face it. Youth ministry can be hard. Sometimes it seems like for every victory there are a dozen setbacks and crises. The unfortunate reality is that many of the students we shepherd won’t appreciate the time, love, truth, and effort that was poured into them until after they’ve graduated and moved on. We all know that feeling of riding high on the energy that comes from a college student with a vibrant relationship with Christ, who returns to say ‘thank you’ after the fact. That’s what we’re in it for; to see students develop that deep, meaningful relationship with the Lord and commit their lives to Him. Conversely, we all know too well the pain and frustration that comes from watching a student we’ve sought to pour life into making choices that lead them away from Christ. I don’t bring this up to illicit sympathy, rather I bring it up to be honest. I love the role that God has given me, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
If you’ve been doing this for a while, hopefully you’ve developed a coping system to help you handle the ups-and-downs of student ministry – one that is Christ-centered, and leads you to the only true Well of Living Water, where real hope and longevity is found. However, are we shepherding our volunteers to know how to do that as well? Most of my volunteer leaders are Christ-centered parents with a passion for the next generation who work fulltime jobs and have an inordinate amount of stress in their lives. I currently have a volunteer whose 1 year old granddaughter is going through chemotherapy, a volunteer struggling with a heart condition while taking medication that makes her incredibly ill, two volunteers in the first few months of marriage, and a college student who was dropped from school because of a clerical error on the part of the organization that funds his scholarship. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. If I delve further in, I could continue to show the pain and stress of everyday life that grips our volunteer leaders. And on top of all of that, they continue to show up and selflessly pour into our students, pointing them to the goodness of Christ from the midst of the storm. I’m constantly humbled and challenged by our volunteer leaders and their faithfulness to Christ and His Church.
Despite all of this, just as I need encouragement, so do they. And they need it from me. They need for me to shepherd them toward finding their encouragement in the truth of the Gospel, and in the One who will eventually make all things new.
So here’s my experience on how to encourage our volunteer leaders. It may be nothing new to you, and it’s certainly not blazing into new territory where no one has gone before. But I hope it helps.
1. Honor Them
They’re not in it for the recognition. Many times they don’t want it, and may even balk at it. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be offered. We need to recognize the effort that our volunteers put into our students. We need to honor them in front of our students, and tell our students how proud of them we are, how much we respect and love them, and publicly point to their lives as worth imitating as they pursue Christ. We need to honor them in front of the church as a whole, assuming our lead pastor is on board. If you have a leader who has gone above and beyond, call them up and give them a ‘service’ award or something. Point out their service as service to the Kingdom and speak on how their service can point us to the ultimate Servant – Christ. Honor them for honoring the King.
2. Write them a note
Handwritten notes can go a long way toward making a person feel loved and appreciated. Look for those moments when we you your volunteers being a picture of Christ. It could be something so simple as cleaning up after youth group, or staying after to talk to a group of students. Take these moments and tell them thank you for being a picture of the Savior, giving glory to God for what He’s doing through them.
3. Pray with them
Spontaneous moments of prayer can be among the most encouraging of things for our leaders. When they come and tell us about something that’s going on in their lives, we ought to stop and pray for them in that moment. Be it on the phone or in person, we can show them right then that they are a priority and that everything else can be put on hold so that we can bring them before the throne of Grace. Let them hear us thanking God for them and their faithfulness. We also need to make sure that we follow up with them on these things.
4. Listen to them
This is a no-brainer, but I miss it frequently. I can get so caught up in my vision for the youth group that I fail to take time to ask for the input of our leaders. Without fail, they have very valuable input for me to consider. They often have a better finger on the pulse of specific groups of students than I do, and showing them that I take their concerns seriously goes a long way toward making them feel as valued as they truly are. Regular meetings or get-togethers are a big help in this department. Every part of the body is a valued member of the body, and this goes a long way to demonstrate that truth.
5. Continually point them back to the Gospel
I don’t mean this in a lecturing way, and I don’t mean to simply regurgitate facts. I believe strongly that the Gospel is our primary source of encouragement and perseverance. As we are pointed to the extraordinary love of Christ we are reminded of one of the most encouraging facts in the midst of trials: God has not abandoned us. Encourage your leaders with this truth. They’re not alone, no matter what they’re facing they have a great high priest who walks with them in the midst of every suffering, who fully understands their sorrow, and whose presence brings rest and joy. Let this constant truth be the source of the drive to continue on.
There we are. Five simple, yet effective ways to offer Christ-centered encouragement to your leaders. What ways have you found to encourage your leaders?