FINDING MAGNET VOLUNTEERS: Adult Volunteers

2180506499_b80bc6e97f_o1I was 14 years old and leading the youth ministry for a church of 1,500 people. At least, that’s how it looked to the parents and youth staff. In reality I was 22, but it didn’t make much difference. I looked young, I had no “real” experience, and they weren’t sure I knew what I was doing. Have you been there?

I was especially puzzled by how to lead the team of 30 volunteer youth staff. They didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know who I was or what I believed. I was just a baby-faced, 22-year-old kid trying to lead their youth ministry. Many were more than twice my age. Some had raised kids older than me. How was I supposed to earn their respect and allegiance?

Just last month, I was sitting in a small group of youth leaders. One of them asked, “How do I get more commitment from my volunteer staff?” It made me think back a decade to those early years of youth ministry. How do you, as a young youth leader, gain the allegiance of your youth staff? My problem wasn’t a lack of quality people—my youth staff was loaded with them. But I needed to know how to lead them, how to win their trust. That included lots of things, but none was more important than the advice of a close friend (and veteran youth leader).

“You need a magnet couple,” he said. “A what?” I asked. “A magnet couple. A couple that naturally recruits others. A couple that sets the tone and culture of your youth staff. A couple that leads from within.”

So that’s what I began to pray for. God soon provided, and it made an incalculable impact on our youth ministry. Along the way, I learned a few things about magnet volunteers:

1) Sometimes, magnet volunteers have to be asked. We had more than 30 adult volunteer youth leaders on our staff, and most of them came to us. This couple, I had to go get. I had to ask them to join, and they didn’t commit right away. But it was worth it.

2) Magnet volunteers champion God’s vision for the youth ministry. It’s super important that you know and speak vision into your ministry. But it’s equally important that someone else speaks the same vision, again and again. Having a volunteer that understands and gives voice to your mission and values is crucial.

magnet_quote3) Magnet volunteers set a culture that everyone else learns to follow. As our youth staff culture formed around key values and convictions, our staff began to own each piece of what we did. In fact, if someone joined the staff who didn’t share those key convictions, they’d either be transformed, or they’d leave—not because of my efforts, but because of the shared vision and values of the staff.

4) Magnet volunteers recruit other volunteers. People are drawn to volunteer in student ministry for a lot of reasons, but they often stay because of the community they find as they work alongside other people toward a common vision. Magnet couples naturally recruit other workers—making your job of recruitment much easier.

5) Magnet volunteers aren’t always who you expect them to be. By this point, you might be thinking, “These people sound like superheroes! Too bad I don’t have anyone like that in my church!” And you’re right—they are superheroes! To this day, they remain some of my favorite people in the whole world. But not for the reasons you might imagine. They’re superheroes because they love well. They’re superheroes because they serve students. They’re superheroes because they care for other volunteers—and for me.

But like Clark Kent, you’d never guess they’re superheroes. They’re as down-to-earth as you can imagine. He owns a cabinet-making business; she worked at the local vet clinic. Both of their children already graduated from high school, so they’re not the stereotypical young and trendy youth leaders. But offering real love to hurting people never goes out of style. That’s why students and staff love them. And that’s why God used them to help set a culture that permeated our entire student ministry. God loves to use unlikely people—and that’s good for you and me, isn’t it?

As I think back to those early years of leading a youth staff, I’m thankful for the dozens of incredible volunteers God gave us—men and women of all ages who served students with deep love and deep sacrifice. They remain among my dearest friends to this day. And I’m also thankful that God provided leaders from within—a magnet couple who cared and led. Is it time to start praying for a magnet couple?

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