You feel like you just walked into a middle school dance. You see them lined up agains the back wall. They aren’t the tough eighth grade boys. They aren’t the shy girls afraid to dance. You just stepped into the youth room for youth group and there you see them, the chaperones.
Here is the mistake that happens often in student ministry: we recruit adult volunteers and don’t cast the vision or make the expectations clear. When adults view their role in the student ministry as chaperone they miss out on the whole point of investing into students lives, making spiritual impact. They don’t need us standing against the wall or in a small holy huddle. They need us sitting with them, mixing with them and setting the example of what worship looks like. They don’t need us serving them they need us to be serving along side of them.
I remember I once attended a youth group gathering at the youth pastor’s request. The room was packed, big crowd. Youth pastor couldn’t understand why it was hard to maintain some order during the worship time. I told him, “It’s because your adult leaders are all sitting on the back row together instead of sitting in and amongst your students.”
How do we move volunteers from chaperone to student minister?
Set clear expectations. What is expected from the adult leader? How do you want them to interact with the students? Do you want more than just a warm body in the room? Do want them texting, calling students during the week to check on them and encourage the students, pray for and with them? Do you want them sitting right in the chairs with them during the worship time? Do you want them to take the initiative to take the students they work without to eat or meet them somewhere for a fun activity?
Create a job description. If adults don’t know what’s expected and what their role is then they will just hang by the wall or in a little huddle. BUT if the job description is clear up front they will learn and grow in that position or say up front, “Doesn’t look like student ministry is my place to serve.” In fact most people who don’t know what their job description is they end up getting frustrated and won’t last.
Give them training. Once a year hold a team retreat. Pass on great articles or blog posts to them. Sign your team up for some great training like DYMU or watch LeaderTreks new training casts together. Pair the newbie up with a seasoned volunteer to shadow and learn for a couple of months. Just don’t throw them in with the lions right off the bat. We can’t force someone to learn but we can give them the opportunities.
Trust them to lead. When I hear my middle school girls group leader is taking the girls out to a restaurant or our high school guys leader is taking them to top golf I don’t feel threatened in my position. Repeat after me, “I don’t have to be at every student ministry event.” Yes, if it’s a total group wide event and you are the point person you need to be present but we need to trust our volunteers enough to allow them the space to branch out on their own and spend time with students outside of our weekly youth group gathering.
Have fun with your leaders. Make sure a few times throughout the year you have scheduled an opportunity to get together with your leaders and just have fun, no students, no talking shop. Laugh together, share with each other about your lives. Shepherd your adult leaders. Be your volunteers pastor and let them pastor/shepherd the students entrusted to you as a team, as a church. Pray for and with them. Invest in their lives.
When I hear people refer to adults volunteering in student ministry as chaperones I cringe. We need ministers not chaperones. Students need adults who are engaged and invested into their lives not a group who make sure the rules of the event or gathering are followed.