Confessions of an Unqualified Youth Leader

If you had told me a few months ago that I’d be a youth leader leading the high school and junior high groups at my church, I’d say you were crazy.

Working with kids is something I’ve always told myself I wasn’t cut out for. I’m not patient, I’m not great with following up on things, and I can be a pretty awkward person.

Can you guess how this story ends though? Now I lead youth group every Wednesday night for both high school and junior high, and I prepare Sunday morning lessons with high school students.

God can use anyone to build his kingdom—even if we think we’re terrible candidates for the job. God knows where he wants to use us, we just have to accept the call (Jeremiah 1:6-9).

About three months ago, I prayed for an open mind and a heart to accept new challenges and opportunities. A week or two later, someone at church approached me to take on the youth director role for the current school year while we search for someone to fill the gap. So, with a newly open mind and heart, I said yes!

Youth ministry is fueled by volunteers. But like me, a lot of people don’t think they’re right for the job. What you may not know though, is that there are lots of ways to get involved, make a difference, and contribute to your church’s youth ministry.

Here are a few ways you can get involved:

1. Bring snacks

Just the other week, an elderly woman from my church asked me to put her down to bake treats for the youth group once a month. That may seem like a small contribution, but that’s one week every month now that I don’t have to think about treats for our events. It alleviates the budget once a month to contribute to other needs, and it allows Mrs. Polinder a way to be involved in our youth ministry.

Whether you make the treats yourself, or buy snacks at the bakery or grocery store on your way home, your thoughtfulness and generosity in bringing snacks will be greatly appreciated.

2. Get prizes

Occasionally at youth group events we’ll host a little competition: Minute to Win It, Bible trivia, bowling, you name it! If I showed up to host one of these competitions without some prizes, there would definitely be some screaming and gnashing of teeth. Prizes—even silly ones—make a big difference in how invested kids are in these competitions. Think about it—do you have access to goods or services that kids in your church would be interested in? Old gift cards? CDs? Candy? Movie tickets? Anything at all? Consider making a donation to the youth ministry at your church!

3. Host meals

At my church, one of our youth group traditions is having CRASH nights. CRASH stands for “Come Relax At Someone’s House.” About once or twice each school year, a family in our church offers to have the high school kids over to their home for a night of food and fun. The ones that stick out to me are the times that we get the whole group, including the hosts, playing a game together. The community that comes from nights like these is truly a blessing. Hosting a night like this is only a one-time commitment, and at the end of the night you’ll even have some new friends!

4. Mentor leaders

Maybe mentoring students is too overwhelming . . . but have you thought about mentoring the youth leaders? Many youth leaders don’t have teenagers of their own, so having the perspective of someone who does is a welcome resource. Youth leaders pour their lives into the kids they work with, which is exhausting if no one is pouring into them. Even a meeting once a month to talk about how things are going with the ministry or work-life balance or new activity ideas is a great way to invest in the kids. You’re investing in the people who invest in them.

5. Encourage leaders

When I show up to church on Sunday morning and find a nice, handwritten note in my mailbox it fires me up for the week. Knowing that someone has noticed and appreciates the work I’ve put in means the world to me. Writing a short note of encouragement to someone doesn’t take more than five or ten minutes out of your day, but will have a lasting effect on the person who receives it—and the people they work with. Some churches have teams designated to make sure people are being recognized and appreciated, but anyone can be an encouragement to others. Try choosing someone different to encourage every week.

6. Pray

Every ministry desperately needs prayer to be successful. It is easy to get caught up in making youth ministry a fun event or an entertaining place to be, but the root of youth ministry needs to be planted in the Word of God. If we are not preaching the gospel, then we are not truly a ministry to youth. Pray for spiritual guidance for the leaders of your youth ministry, for open minds and hearts for the youth that attend, and for resources and opportunities to bless the youth as well. No ministry can succeed without the power of prayer.

As this year is quickly coming to a close, think about making one of these a resolution to pursue next year. The need is out there, and many spiritual gifts are needed to make the ministry go round.

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