John was a beloved volunteer of the youth ministry I grew up in. I texted him last night to ask if he had a favorite memory from his time volunteering while I was in youth – and his response was, “Yes, but I’ll have to ponder a favorite.” For the rest of the night, John was texting me stories:
Do you remember the work site where we accidentally discovered a garden with some statues the community center didn’t know it had?
No I don’t, when did that happen?
We cleaned up behind their building. It was almost a jungle, so overgrown. We revealed an intricate brick walking path around what used to be a garden, with a big concrete hand statue in the middle of it. Pretty sure we took our big group picture in front of it.
And there was the time the bus got leaving the church parking lot at the start of that mission trip. Bottomed out on the curb with the rear tires just hanging in the air. You woke up like two hours later and wanted to know why we hadn’t left yet.
Yeah, we had gotten on the other bus and I had immediately gone to sleep on the floor. It was really early right? Like 6:00am or something.
Do you remember the traffic cones in the youth rooms? Didn’t you and someone else “acquire” them and put them in there?
Yeah I do, and it makes me laugh every time I see them that they’re still there. I’m sure at this point, no one really even knows where they came from.
Do you remember the time you chugged an entire soda and then spun around a bat for a game and ended up puking on a girls shoes?
I didn’t until right now. And now, unfortunately, I do.
There are countless more stories. He said he was going to look through his external hard drive soon, that’s where all the pictures from his time as a volunteer are, because in his words, “Too many blend together, I need to look at the pictures to remind this old head.”
John also happens to be my dad.
My dad was a volunteer in the youth ministry from before I was ever in youth until right up until he took the job as the youth pastor my senior year (bummer, right?). He was a confirmation volunteer, Sunday School teacher, small group leader, led music for the youth praise band and came on just about every trip I remember going on.
And let me tell you something: I am so grateful he was.
Don’t get me wrong, at the time I was probably so annoyed that he was always there, always in my space, always the first one to tell me off me when I very much had earned it.
Thinking back now, I don’t remember any of that (at least not the details of it). But here’s what I do remember: I remember that he was there. I remember he was one of the first ones there and one of the last ones to leave. I remember that he was one of the first ones to play games alongside us. I remember he always willing to talk to a kid that was having a hard time. I remember he was the one who said yes to everything, even the events that no one looks forward to (*cough cough* Middle School Lock-In). I remember he was always the one telling kids they could do it, could accomplish anything they set their mind to, encouraging them to be better people, pushing them to be kinder, more thoughtful, more generous, more compassionate.
I remember how much he loved being there, how much he loved getting to be part of our lives, how much he loved getting to be one of the people we knew we could count on.
And up until this last Monday, I don’t think I had ever told him thank you for it. Thank you for always showing up, no matter how grumpy I was about it, no matter how much I told you I didn’t want you there – you always showed up. And showing up always matters.
If your kid is one of the many, many teenagers that tells you they don’t want you there, here’s what I have learned from both personal experience of my parents volunteering in our my youth ministry experience and what I’ve learned from doing this for a while:
- Almost no teenager wants their parent to hang out with them, and to be honest, a lot of parents sometimes need a break from being around their teenager – don’t worry, we have ways you can volunteer where you won’t see much of your teenager from when you walk in the door until you’re leaving.
- The impact of having caring adults in the lives of teenagers cannot be overstated. Even if you’re not hanging out with your kid, it means the world to other teenagers that you’re willing to show up, to hang out with them, to play games with them, to listen to their dumb jokes, and hear about how things are going at school, with sports, with their family.
- Although they don’t realize it now, your kid will be so grateful that you were around during their years in youth ministry. They won’t remember that they were annoyed that one week (or even several weeks) because you were there, but what they will remember is that you played dodgeball with them, or that you went and did that service project with them, or that you took the time to get to know their friends, or that they learned something about who you were as a person that has nothing to do with you as a parent. They will remember that you showed up.
There is only one requirement for volunteering with youth ministry: that you’re willing to show up and care about the teenagers in front of you. No advanced degrees, spiritual expertise, or Bible Black Belts required. Most of your time will be spent getting to talk with teenagers and hear what they have to say (and I promise, they’ll say some things that will surprise you and maybe even teach you something).
Volunteering with teenagers is not a box you have to check or simply fulfilling your parental duty – we promise that is it not only impactful and worthwhile, but it can be life-changing. Teenagers can be hard to deal with and can drive you crazy, but they can also surprise you with their intelligence, their compassion, their willingness to try new things, and their ability to take on way more than you ever thought possible. Getting to be part of their life, part of their church community, and part of their world is the best part of our job – come let it be one of the best parts of your week.
And your kids will thank you for it. Maybe not today, maybe not until ten years after they’ve graduated. But it will mean the world to them, and they will be so grateful that you did.
If you want to volunteer for any of our programming, please reach out to Kat (email@example.com) or Matt (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will help you get plugged in. We hope you will, and we cannot wait to work alongside you.
Associate Director of Youth Ministries