How to deposit the right kind of motivation into these vital ministers
Growing up, I’d often see my mom the scout leader wearing a crazy hat. It had two bills pointing in different directions, and the caption above them read: “I’m their leader. Which way did they go?” While this was a funny message as a kid, for an adult leader this poses an important question. The key to leading scouts—and volunteer youth workers—is the same: Give them motivating reasons to want to follow.
Begin with the end in mind. Developing adolescent disciples is a worthy endeavor and a wild ride. Helping youth workers remember that the goal is always to build into teens and their families the tools to be lifelong followers of Jesus is critical. Tip: Keep the goal of what the youth ministry is about short and memorable. Talk about it often. Put it in easy view
everywhere—on shirts, banners, even pop quizzes on the ceiling. Whatever it takes.
Appreciate their contribution and investment. Caring for teens and their families has a way of sneaking into every area of a youth worker’s life. This is not just a-couple-of-hours-a-week gig for them. Honor this investment. Tip: Handwritten notes of encouragement and thanks are not only timely but also special. Anybody can write an e-mail or Facebook post, but hardly anyone gets snail mail these days; so go “old school” and use the post office.
Turbo-boost their influence. Youth workers are regularly leaving their fingerprints on the lives of students. They are often on the front lines of fighting for the future of kids who swim in a culture that is contrary to the life Jesus calls His followers to. From the beginning, recruit youth workers for more than crowd control or chaperoning. Tip: Equip youth workers to be confident investors in teens through well-done, strategic-training opportunities.
Identify specific wins and victories. The road of discipleship is long. But travel it daily. It’s easy to miss moments that mark the trail in significant ways. The youth worker who faithfully cares for and leads the “extra grace required” group of kids on a retreat or in small groups deserves a shout out. Tip: Brag like crazy on your volunteer team regularly. A good brag is specific and character-focused. For
example, for the leader who has the extra-grace-required teens, say: “You really showed your group what it is to love like Jesus. They were really giving you a hard time tonight, and you kept your sense of humor as well as your focus. They will remember you loving them even when they weren’t very lovable. That was awesome!”
Invest in their spiritual journey. It’s hard to give away what you don’t have yourself. Create a discipleship DNA throughout the youth ministry. Invest in helping your youth workers grow in their relationship with Jesus. Be intentional about discipling them so that they can disciple others. Tip: Study together the same book and use Facebook or other technologies to communicate learning. Go half-and-half on buying the book. The youth ministry is investing in them, and they are investing in growing.
Relationships are everything. Deep discipleship always occurs within profound relationships. Remember, while these are people you lead, these are also many of the people you do life with on a regular basis. They get why you love kids and why you care so much about families. Tip: Once a month call each youth worker just to check in on them. This isn’t a “business” call; it’s a call of caring for them as a friend.
At the end of the day, the reason we lead and desire so strongly for youth workers and kids to follow is because our work is to lead them into the presence of God and to guide them toward becoming lifelong followers of Jesus.
Kerry Loescher is an instructor at Oral Roberts University who teaches youth ministry, outreach and leadership. Loescher’s passion is training leaders to help families connect the dots between Jesus and their everyday lives. She and her husband, Randy, are the proud parents of six kids and four crazy dogs.
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