November 25, 2014
by Mark DeVries
Show me a struggling youth ministry, and I’ll show you a volunteer problem. You may be surprised to know that in many churches the problem begins with delegation.
That’s right, delegation.
If you’re a typical youth worker, you’ve probably heard the frequent (and unhelpful) advice to “Just delegate!” But youth workers who just delegate often wind up with volunteers who say things like
Here’s the shift we need: Stop delegating tasks and start developing leaders.
Make sure that leadership development is always near the top of your daily task list. In our phone coaching, we almost always ask clients for a recruiting update. The typical response? “Have I told you about how great the weather is around here?”
Let’s face it. Recruiting and developing leaders is the hardest part of the typical youth worker’s job. As a result, the average youth worker puts off recruitment until less important but more urgent tasks have been completed. If you wait to recruit volunteers until the need is urgent, you’ll always have a volunteer crisis.
Don’t ask volunteers to do your job. If you are a paid youth worker, recruiting and developing volunteers is a core piece of your job. You can find someone else to take care of the ketchup for the cookout or make the reservations for the van rental, but you must take responsibility for recruiting.
Giving away responsibility for recruitment to a committee or to a single volunteer almost always produces the same result: You will be recruiting volunteers at the last minute anyway!
Recruit early for the best volunteers. The best, most responsible leaders often make their volunteer commitments as much as a year ahead of time (that’s right). Try filling your ten key volunteer roles an entire year before you need them and see what happens. Even those who say “This is too early to decide” will be primed for your call a few months later.
Walk with volunteers, not away from them. The word delegate literally means “to send from.” Unfortunately, most youth pastors delegate tasks and then essentially abandon volunteers to sink or swim on their own. Leaders who develop leaders walk alongside their volunteers, regularly checking in with support and clarity. Effective youth worker know how easily discouragement, misdirection and fuzzy vision can prevent volunteers from completing the tasks they originally agreed to do.
Most mired youth ministries repeat the tired mantra “We need to depend more on volunteers.” But churches that attempt to depend on volunteers more without a staff person who ultimately takes responsibility for developing those leaders find themselves in the same pickle: Key priorities fall through the cracks, resulting in a climate of criticism, blame and burnout.
Jesus did not simply delegate his work. When he called his disciples, he wasn’t just filling volunteer slots. Jesus developed leaders. And so should we.