Lessons Learned as a Volunteer
By Amy Green
Admit it: we all secretly miss being in youth group. Okay, so maybe we could do without the drama, the awkwardness, or the hormonal-charged confusion of how to interact with the opposite gender. But there’s something special about singing to worship songs with simple chords, sharing testimonies at summer camp, starting to ask questions about faith, and eating insane amounts of pizza without worrying about the calorie count.
Maybe that’s why college students tend to volunteer as leaders in youth groups. As a newly graduated college student, I don’t have deep theological musings to share. But I do know the six most important lessons I learned as a college student volunteer. Here they are.
- Being there long-term matters.
I put this first because it’s the single most important thing I could say to college students considering working with a youth group. If you know you can only help out for one semester, that’s fine. But make sure the students in your group know that.
And, if you can, stay. When you’re invested in a ministry long-term, you develop better relationships. The students know they can trust you and talk to you, because you’ll be there for them.
2. It’s important to learn names.
To be honest, I am terrible with names. It took me two months and lots of mistakes to get everyone’s names, but I was determined to do it, and that made a big difference. When you use students’ names, they know you care about them. They are people, not just anonymous sugar-crazed packages of hormones. Learn those names and use them. It matters.
3. You’re not always going to feel like going to youth group.
No, seriously, you’re not. Some days, you will be stressed and tired and have a million things to get done before tomorrow. Some days, you think you just cannot handle being around people even more immature that the obnoxious sophomore down the hall. Some days you will just feel burnt out.
Because part of becoming an adult is doing things that you don’t really feel like doing. You won’t always feel like going to work or dealing with a discipline problem with your child, or even loving your spouse. But you do it regardless. That’s discipline, and starting to develop it now is going to make the rest of your life a whole lot easier.
4. There is not a “youth leader” stereotype you need to fit.
Listen, if anyone should be labeled, “not cool enough to be a youth group leader,” it would be me. My athletic ability is nonexistent—I can’t even throw a Frisbee. I hate public speaking. I’m not an education or Bible major. I’ve never had a boyfriend and absolutely hate Justin Bieber and One Direction (if you don’t know why those are anti-qualifications for being a youth group leader, you’ve clearly never been around jr. high girls).
But guess what? I love God, and I love teens. There you go.
There is no one way to serve and get to know the students in your group. I’m a writer. I wrote each of them a note of four or five line every week on scrapbook paper. Sometimes it was a favorite verse, sometimes something I appreciated about them, sometimes just what I did that weekend. Most never wrote back, but I heard from several parents who told me that their girls kept every note and put them in a folder or arranged them in a pattern on their wall.
Show love in whatever way you know how. It makes a difference.
5. Watch what you do during the week.
I write a blog, and let me tell you, there’s nothing for accountability like knowing the students in your small group are reading every post (and sometimes their parents). Same thing with Facebook posts and pictures. Every once in a while, I go through my closet and ask, “Would I wear this in front of my jr. high guys?” If the answer is no, I get rid of it. More than one short-ish dresses and skits have found their way to Goodwill through this process.
I’m not saying you should become paranoid about how every action could be perceived. But if you’d be ashamed if one of your students grabbed your Ipod to listen to on the bus, or if you blush when you find out that they saw that dance routine you put on YouTube, then maybe something’s wrong.
6. Set the example.
Trash is full? Go empty it. Someone needs to get snacks ready instead of playing soccer? Volunteer. Really shy kid always sits by himself? Talk to him. Do the stuff that no one else wants to do. Trust me, your students notice. When I was in high school, I still remember when my leader collected everyone’s empty plates after lunch. Now, that’s what I do, because I learned what it meant to be a servant from her.
Sure, as a college student, it’s easy to help with youth group to get that sense of being a teenager again. But what made that a great experience for you? Probably the people who cared about you and took the time to invest in your life. So be that person for someone else.
Amy Green is an amazing “all-in” volunteer and just graduated last month from Taylor University. She has worked with one group of Junior-high students her whole career in college. You can check out Amy’s blog here: http://justthefiction.blogspot.com/