About a month ago, the church where I volunteer for youth ministry work opened up their brand new wing, complete with new auditorium, foyer, classroom space, and every youth ministry’s dream: an unfinished basement exclusively for the youth. No windows to break, no carpet to spill on, and an unintentional industrial-looking design.
The very first week the wing was open, we moved the whole operation into the basement. One of the immediate benefits of our newfound space was the dedicated area for the ga-ga ball court. I don’t know why, but our students are obsessed with ga-ga ball. It’s not uncommon to have 25 people starting off each game. And with the energy that our new space brought to the night, these games were especially intense.
In the middle of one of these games, one of our junior high guys came up to me to tell me his bottle of rootbeer had “exploded.” He pointed out a growing puddle of rootbeer underneath the foosball table where he had just been playing. I told him I’d take care of it, and immediately went to look for Josh, the youth pastor.
I found him five minutes later upstairs engaged in conversation with some students. I stood off to the side, waiting politely but wondering what the state of the rootbeer on the ground was now, especially with all those feet wandering around the foosball table. He noticed me, ended the conversation, and asked me what was up. When I explained the rootbeer spill, he asked me a simple question.
“Did you get paper towels?”
It was one of those “duh” moments we all need every once in a while to keep us humble. In my mind, with a new building and everything, I was sure there was some sort of process or cleaning solution that was in place that I didn’t know about. And as I reflected on this later, I began to see a side of volunteer youth ministry I hadn’t experienced.
I grew up in student ministry. I was a student leader and regular attender from middle school on, and now I serve as a volunteer leader and teacher while I’m taking classes and getting a degree in it. But for those who can’t say this, who don’t have these experiences, the youth pastor is the “expert,” the one who knows the process and the solution to clean up the spills that keep happening in students’ lives. So volunteers become crippled in their ministry to their students, assuming they don’t have the right answers for the problems at hand.
My role, then, as youth pastor can take on one of two roles: I can play the expert, connect with students everywhere and carry the bulk of their burdens. DeVries likes to call this guy the “superstar youth pastor.” Or, I can see my role less as a pastor to students and more as a pastor to volunteers, empowering and equipping them to do a far greater work than I ever could on my own.
Over the next few posts, I will be working through my own experiences as a volunteer in student ministry now, as someone who wants to lead and pastor a youth ministry of my own in the near future. It’s a strange place to be in – having worked as a full-time pastor of students this summer, and now finding myself back to a volunteer with a whole separate life of college and work. But my hope is that these reflections will solidify a volunteer-centered mindset in my own perspective on student ministry, and maybe in yours as well.