Thankfully, it’s not often that someone walks into the youth office with a desire to do damage. Unfortunately, we often miss red flags in volunteers who have a great desire to do good, but end up causing harm. We’re going to tackle some common misconceptions about youth ministry volunteers and then discuss how to say no to the wrong people so that we can say yes to the right people.
*One note: By “wrong” people for the job, I am referring to volunteers who do not have the capacity to do the job well. I do not mean people who could cause serious damage by criminal behavior or otherwise scandalous actions.
Even the best youth ministers can make mistakes about who we let have influence over our teens. Because of this, I think the best way to start is by looking at a couple common misconceptions we may have.
“I don’t get enough volunteers to be picky about what they do.”
This does make sense when resources are limited. However, the stakes are too high to be anything but discerning and picky about who we allow to influence our youth. If we see someone isn’t a good fit, we could steer them toward a volunteer opportunity or task that is more appropriate. For example, the wrong person for chaperoning a trip might be a great snack provider or intercessor.
“They want to do it! Why should I stop them?”
Not everyone who has the desire to do youth ministry should be doing youth ministry. The same can be said as above – if they have the desire, direct them toward a more fitting ministry.
What can we do to spot red flags in volunteers?
The best and more effective thing to do is have a one-on-one meeting with anyone who expresses serious interest in volunteering. This informal interview is a chance for you to get to know them, but also for you to share your vision and plan for youth ministry. I have often done this with prospective volunteers who have expectations of volunteering that do not fit well with my expectations, and they choose to opt out on their own. So you sit down with them; what do you ask them?
- “What is your living relationship with Jesus like at this point in your life?”
- “Why do you want to volunteer at our parish? With the youth specifically?”
- “If you could change anything about the Catholic Church, what would it be?
- “Are there any Church teachings that you don’t believe in?”
Ask these questions, and the wrong volunteers will become very obvious in your eyes. Remind yourself of this: “You can’t give what you don’t have.” Does this person have the love of Jesus that I am hoping my volunteers can help guide my youth toward? Do they commit themselves fully to the faith or is there hesitancy? Could my youth come to this person with tough questions and could they respond well and truthfully to them?
What if this person is a bad fit – now what?
Thank them for their time, pray with them, and see the evangelization opportunity before you. This is a perfect time to care for their soul. Invite this person to Alpha or to a small group. Invite them to Theology on Tap or an upcoming retreat. While they have shown themselves to not be a good fit for youth ministry, Jesus still has plans for them. Their desire to serve may just be the open door that gets them to walk more closely with Jesus.
My last encouragement: set the bar high.
By bringing in volunteers who are lukewarm, tepid, unsure, or just looking for any random service opportunity, we risk losing an opportunity to show our teens the love of Christ. We believe what Jesus said, “This is how they will know you are My disciples, if you love one another” (Jn. 14:35) If our core team members are filled with the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, that will naturally influence our teens to love Him more. Set the bar high for your volunteers. The fruit will be seen, and it will be worth the patience and time it takes to find the right team of volunteers.