Volunteers: What’s Your Calling?

Got Volunteers?

We’ve all been there. Sitting in a classroom with the teacher getting ready to call on people. Everyone darts their eyes away quietly whispering, “Don’t call on me, please, don’t call on me.”

Volunteers - What's your calling?

It can feel the same way in the church when the refrain goes out through the halls of churches across the nation, “We need more volunteers!” Can you feel all of the eyes darting away?

The request comes from understanding the truth that one person can’t do it all when it comes to caring for our youth. That’s of course, hoping you’ve even found that one person.

Every church is a different setting and scenario. Some churches are able to hire full-time staff and are working on building a thriving ministry. While these churches can do excellent ministry, they can also fall into the trap of putting on a professional show instead of loving young people.

Other churches have far fewer resources, but they are seeking to respond to the needs of families who are asking for someone to minister to their youth. They are desperately looking for a volunteer who will do “something” with the three kids that attend the church. Both situations, and the ones that fall in between, are repeated far too often throughout the church and the ones who are losing out are our youth.

Having Volunteers Isn’t Enough

A widely taught axiom of youth ministry suggests that a good ratio for youth leaders to youth is five to one. The axiom means that a leader can effectively pour into and truly know five youth and what is happening in their lives. Some stretch the ratio to six or seven (Mark DeVries, Sustainable Youth Ministry).

Almost every faithful youth ministry has used this axiom to make sure there are enough leaders who are there, loving youth, connecting into their lives, and being one of the tangible expressions of Jesus in the lives of kids. Praise God! But if these leaders only pour into both and fail to connect them to God’s larger church, we still have a big problem.

But if leaders fail to connect youth to God’s larger church, we still have a big problem.

Most recently, Sticky Faith has done a great job of picking up the banner of helping us understand we have been failing youth in connecting them to the larger church. As a result, a high percentage of youth and their faith have fallen by the wayside as they move into the college years. Youth have not been helped to build long-term faith relationships within the body of Christ, and, all too frequently, their faith has therefore died on the vine with no one there to nurture it.

As youth leaders, we are often powerless and heartbroken as we watch young people who have graduated slowly walk away from the faith we wanted to instill in them. We have new young people in our programs with their own needs, and we lack the time and energy to care for both current youth and graduated youth.

Volunteer As Calling

My challenge to all of us in youth ministry is to re-evaluate our understanding of who our volunteers are. All too often, we have been so desperate to fill holes, we have taken any “warm body” who seems to be willing. The problem is “warm bodies” hang around for six to twelve months and then move on to wherever the next desperate need is. Rather than having people who are stable in the lives of our youth, our youth often experience a revolving door of adults, who would seem to leave just like the world does.

I could be wrong on this one, but I’m pretty sure the word “volunteer” never shows up in the New Testament. Sure, you could probably volunteer to be in David’s army to go up to Jerusalem, but when it comes to the New Testament and ministry, Jesus called the twelve to himself. Paul was called as an apostle. Jude says we have all been given this calling. Jesus didn’t go around looking for volunteers. The Apostle Paul turned down Mark who volunteered to go with him. Over and over again, God looks for those He has called to ministry to respond to Him. And God equips each of those called for the work of ministry. Maybe the greatest example of this is God calling Moses to be His person to lead Israel out of Egypt and His promise to equip him fully.

Purpose-Filled Volunteers

How does this play out in ministry? Rather than having volunteers who fill holes, a ministry that is built upon helping people to discover their callings ends up with people who are equipped for the long haul. More than that, when people discover a call that is connected to their passion, they begin to see it as “their” ministry. They aren’t just putting in time. They are living out their life purpose.

Rather than having volunteers who fill holes, a ministry that is built upon helping people to discover their callings ends up with people who are equipped for the long haul.

Let me give you some examples of people who discovered their calling and are living it out still today.

Jerry’s Care

Jerry is a very successful tech hardware systems salesman. What makes him successful is the care he gives to his clients. Jerry started working in our ministry in 1990. He wasn’t sure if he had anything to offer, but he was willing to step in and start loving kids. He has been loving kids since for 25 years as they sense in him a genuine concern and compassion for their lives. He is the one who meets them for coffee, counsels them through challenges, teaches them how to make a budget, and helps them move hay bales for their wedding. That’s because they know he is there for the long haul with them.

Susie’s Notes

Susie wasn’t sure what she had to offer, but she was willing to come and learn. Her gentle demeanor made her incredibly approachable for even the shiest high school student. What we didn’t know was that Susie discovered her gift as an encourager through letter writing. Hundreds of youth have received a “Susie Note.” It’s not just a signed card, but a letter written from the heart—often filled with glitter—received by kids for over 15 years.

Cullen’s Projects

Cullen was a pretty new Christian, married with no children. When he was baptized there were also high school students baptized that day and he saw something that caught his heart. An electrical engineer with strong relational gifts, Cullen thrived when we was turned loose with projects that allowed him to engage kids in making a difference. Whether it was planning out service projects, helping with Eagle Scout projects, going on mission trips, Cullen encouraged kids by walking with them. Now, 10 years later, he is still there and has started his own STEM program as a way to minister to homeschool students.

Calling and Passion

Each of these adults are examples of people who discovered their calling to ministry, which, coupled with their passion with youth, have made them lifetime ministers, not temporary volunteers. As a result, youth have people who are connected into their lives for the long haul. Youth are connected to the Body of Christ because the Body of Christ is committed to them.

Youth are connected to the Body of Christ because the Body of Christ is committed to them.

As leaders, our job is not just to look for volunteers—although I totally understand the desperation of the moment. It is to help people find their calling to ministry. That means, if they aren’t called to youth ministry, turn them loose and encourage them to discover where they are called.  I believe this is what Paul meant in Ephesians 4:16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” 

Come and See

One of the methods I use is the “come and see” approach. I invite people to just come and see, hang out for a month and see if God is putting this ministry on their heart. Rather than just throwing people into the fire, I want to allow them to discern where God is calling them. I find this gives people great freedom to explore and discover.

God calls us a royal priesthood and a holy nation in 1 Peter 2:9. This isn’t just the lead youth worker or the pastor, but all believers! Think about how you discovered your call to ministry. How qualified were you the first time someone gave you the reins?

While it may be scary to give away parts of a ministry you understand to be yours, it is necessary, both for youth and the larger church. When we do an effective job of recruiting leaders who are called and give them space to live into that calling, two amazing things happen: 1) Youth receive love and care for the long haul, and 2) Youth get connected to Christ and His community for a lifetime.

How would your youth ministry look differently if your leaders had permission to live out their calls among your students? If you don’t know, why don’t you come and see? This week, watch what happens when your volunteers are set free to love and serve—to pursue their calling.

About the Author: Drew Hulse

Drew Hulse

Drew is a youth ministry veteran with almost 40 years of experience. His last two calls were for 21 years as Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry in Vancouver, WA and 8 years as Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry in Honolulu, HI. Drew has had the opportunity to train over 100 interns, while mentoring new youth workers across the West Coast. He has M. Div. and a D. Min. in Youth and Family, both from Fuller Theological Seminary. Drew and his wife, Cathy, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They recently moved from Kailua, HI to Tucson, AZ, in order to be close to their two grandkids.



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