Shape Your Volunteers into Pastors

In our last post we wrote about that if you want to increase your ministry to students, you need to adopt a new mindset. A frame of thinking that understands that not only are other people in your church called to youth ministry, but they might be better at it than you! As pastors, we're called to EQUIP people for ministry, not STEAL the ministry God created them for. Changing your thinking on the matter is the first step to seeing a gospel-advancing shift in your youth ministry. But you can't just think right. You have to do right as well. In this post, I'll talk about some practical ways to start equipping your volunteers and stop stealing God-created ministry opportunities.

There is only one thing you have to do, but that one thing has 1000 to-do's attached to it. Do you want to see your youth group grow with new life in Christ? Do you want this growth to be sustainable? Do you want your youth ministry to thrive long after you're gone? Here's what you need to do: change your culture.

Changing your culture is the hardest and the most beneficial endeavor that a primary ministry leader can put their hands to. Culture is created by a focused action over time.

For example: if your leaders are sitting around at the back of the room and disengaging from what’s happening in youth group, chances are it’s been going on for a long time. It’s what your students see, and if and when they become leaders, they’ll do the same thing. It’s been practiced over time. It’s those non-written rules that everyone knows as to clue them into how to operate in a given environment.

When I set out on this mission to shape volunteers into pastors (an easier way to say it might be 'small group leaders'), it was a struggle. I had all these great ideas on how to move things forward in our ministry, but I was so frustrated when nothing seemed to be happening. Leaders didn’t immediately taken on this mantle of ‘pastorship’. They continued to see themselves as ‘the help’ because for as long as could be remembered, that’s what they were. Warm bodies that contributed to making youth group function.

But remember, culture is focused action over time. That means you got to do what you want to see. And you have to keep doing for a long time. In our circumstance, we persisted in doing four things (which we’ll talk about briefly) that over time, created a new culture of leadership and pastorship at our church. And it didn’t just stay with the youth ministry. It worked itself through the whole organization. Then eventually, everyone got it. Parents, volunteers in other ministries, custodians, even the cashier at our Starbucks.

This is no lie; we had adults from around the city switching churches to serve as small group leaders. In fact, we had someone who almost moved from their church IN A DIFFERENT CITY to serve in our youth group. When I tell people this story, often they don't believe me. But why not? If God made them in Christ Jesus to do good works, there's nothing but intense fulfillment when you're smack dab in the middle of those good works! And they wouldn't just come for a year. They’d stay for until their small group graduated high school.

You don’t have a sermon good enough, a building cool enough, or a budget big enough to disciple a teenager the way a committed, Jesus-loving adult can if they stay put and invest in a student's life over the course of Jr./Sr. high. But of course, that didn’t just happen. We had to take strategic steps over an extended period.

After we had done these four things over and over again, we created a new culture that served us. We went from ‘pastoring’ 25 students to 200 students in 5 years. Each one of those students had a pastor. And I wasn’t it.

Here are 4 things you can start doing to change your culture to help shape your volunteers into pastors.


1. Make it about them, not about you.

Make the decision that developing small group leaders was what our ministry did best. It’s what we were going to be known for. Typically, youth pastors feel this weight on their shoulders for the growth of the group. So our natural inclination is to make it about us. How good of a speaker we are, how creative we are, how well we can recruit volunteers…etc. In this scenario, the answer to every question about your youth ministry somehow leads back to you.

Here are some ideas on how to make it about them:

  • Instagram your leaders and tell they’re stories
  • Talk about them during your messages
  • Celebrate SGL stories online and in big church.
  • Have their small group leaders baptize them (not you)
  • When a student wants to make a decision to follow Christ, your small group leaders are the ones leading that conversation.
  • Re-arrange your budget to reflect leader development
  • Email your parents every week and include SGL stories
  • Cancel your Fall retreat next year and do a leader retreat to cast vision


2. Bring them into meaning.

With your current leaders and the ones that you’ve yet to recruit, you have to invite them into significance. My favorite line that I say to  “Will you strategically invest into the lives of a few students for a season of time to help them develop an authentic faith?” (stolen 100% from Lead Small, a book you have to read btw).

Don’t ask “will you stack chairs for me" or “Hey, if you have some time can you help out on Fridays when you’re not busy”. You have to realize that people want to be involved with something significant. I can’t think of something more meaningful than walking alongside a teenager and helping shape their eternity!

Sometimes we are nervous about asking big of our volunteers. We hate recruiting, right? Secretly, we hope that people will just step up or fall from heaven. You don’t want to ask big of current or future volunteers. Here’s my tip for you: get over it! We think volunteers are doing us a solid by helping serve in our youth ministries. You’re thinking about it all wrong. If you can get Ephesians 2:10 deep in your bones, you’ll realize that you are doing them a favor by engaging them in what they were created for…ministry!


3. Resource them to the nines.

You need to give them what they need in order to do the job that you’ve asked them to do.There’s nothing more frustrating for a volunteer when they don’t have what they need to do the job.

Remember, if what you are saying is that they’re going to be a part of something significant, you have to behave like what they are doing is significant. So do whatever it takes to make sure the have the knowledge and tools to do what it is you're asking of them.

Here are some ideas:

  • Over-communicate the 'why' of what you're asking them to be apart of
  • Take them to conference/training sessions
  • Don't overschedule them. Instead, create 3-4 spaces throughout the year where they can learn practical ministry skills
  • Create a shared Evernote notebook with links to great blog posts and podcasts. Remember, they have school and jobs. They aren't looking for this stuff. Look for them.


4. Fuel meaningful relationships.

Most volunteers want to be a part of something significant, but they want to find friendships as well. The tightest communities I’ve ever seen have been teams that serve together (missions, youth worship, student leader, SGL’s). If you want your volunteers to be shaped into pastors, if you want them to buy fully into what it is you’re doing, you have to buy fully into them, and allow them to buy into each other.

Party together. Rent out frozen yogurt joints and laugh together. Create spaces for friendships to be nurtured. The tighter your leaders are, the longer they will stay. The longer they stay, the more significant ministry can happen to your teens. You need to be constantly connecting and deepening friendships with your volunteers. People are more likely to buy into a person than an idea.

If you want to shape your volunteers to pastor teenagers, you have to pastor them. Do for them, what you want them to do for their few. That’s also the simplest and most powerful training advice I could give you.


I hope this post has been helpful for you! What are some other things you would add in order to change the leadership culture at your church?