Chat with us, powered by LiveChat My Campference Soapbox on Empowering Volunteers

Yesterday I gave you some of my favorite snippets and takeaways from the 2013 Middle School Ministry Campference. I hope you checked it out because, seriously, there was a heck of a lot of goodness in those notes.

Now, to keep the Campference conversation going, I want to tell you about a little Campference tradition that I got to be a part of this year: the Soapbox Sessions. Apparently, every year, Marko asks a handful of Campference people to give quick little 5-minute “soapbox rants” in response to this question:

“What is one thing you wish every middle school youth worker would stop doing, or start doing, or understand?”

And, this year, he asked me to get in on it.

So here’s my response, inspired by my 5-minute Campference Soapbox Rant.

When I was in middle school, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what it meant to be an awesome youth pastor.

An awesome youth pastor, I thought, would be super cool and funny. Kids would love him, and parents would, too. He’d be good at all the things youth pastors were supposed to be good at, like putting together crazy games… planning great events… leading worship… and teaching great messages.

He’d be awesome outside of church, too. He’d be someone we could turn to whenever we needed him. He’d always be able to answer our trickiest questions about God and faith and the Bible. He’d give us great advice. He’d be involved in all of our “big moments” of faith over the years.

That, I thought, was what it meant to be a great youth pastor.

I knew youth pastors like this. They were amazing. God used them. They did incredible things for the kids they pastored and for the ministries they led. They seemed like they could do it all – and they did do it all.

To the teenagers in their youth groups, they were like spiritual rockstars.

But, you know what?

Eventually, those youth pastors moved on.

And when they did, the ministries they once led… fell apart. 

I’ve seen it happen over and over again. I’m guessing you have, too.

A church hires a new youth pastor. The new guy comes in and does an incredible job. Everyone loves him. He sticks around for a while and does his rockstar-youth-pastor thing. But, eventually, he leaves. And, when he does, the ministry crumbles.


Because that youth pastor created a system that needed him in order to survive.

I think this is a temptation we all face, to some degree, in youth ministry. We want to be “the guy” or “the girl” in the spiritual lives of our students. We want to be the one who loves them, influences them, guides them, counsels them. We want to answer their hard questions. We want to be the one they call when they’re confused or hurting or need someone to talk to. We want to be there for all of their big spiritual moments.

But I’m convinced that being a great youth pastor isn’t about the number of big spiritual moments we experience with our students. I think it’s about the number of moments we give away to our volunteers.

As youth pastors, it’s not our job to do everything.

Not all the teaching. Not all the planning. Not all the worship leading. Not even all the pastoring and discipling of kids.

It’s our job to give ministry away.

We’ve got to give big moments of ministry away to our volunteers, instead of hoarding them for ourselves.
We’ve got to empower our volunteers.
We’ve got to mobilize the Church.

And, by the way, when I talk about “empowering volunteers,” I’m not talking about letting them push buttons on the soundboard or pick up the trash.

I’m talking about giving them serious ministry opportunities. Serious influence. And serious authority.

I’m talking about giving away so much meaningful ministry to our volunteers that it actually puts a strain on our egos.

We might be the most incredible youth pastors in the world.
But someday, we’re going to move on.
Or get fired.
Or die.

And when we do, what will happen to our ministries?

If we want our ministries to outlive us, they can’t depend on us. We’ve got to give away big ministry to our volunteers. 

We can’t fail at this. Three reasons.


We have a limited capacity. Most research agrees that we can only invest in five to ten people at any given time. If our youth ministries are seeing more than ten kids in attendance, we’ve already reached our capacity. If we don’t multiply our influence by empowering and releasing volunteers to share in meaningful ministry, we can’t grow in a way that is healthy.


Maybe we can pull off that rockstar-youth-pastor thing for a while. Maybe it even seems to be going pretty well. But, eventually, one of three things will happen: we’ll burn ourselves out… we’ll grow to the point where kids are no longer receiving quality ministry… or we’ll leave, and the ministry we’ll leave behind will crumble.


If we refuse to give away meaningful ministry to our volunteers and, instead, hoard it all for ourselves, we perpetuate the idea that ministry is best left in the hands of the “professionals.” And that is not what Jesus intended.

So if there’s one thing I wish every youth minister would do, it would be to give away big, meaningful, ministry opportunities to their volunteers. 

Because the Church is bigger than us.

And our ministries need to outlive us.

In your ministry, what kind of big ministry moments are you giving away? If you had 5 minutes to rant about something in youth ministry, what would you rant about?

If you like this topic of empowering volunteers in ministry, my friend Tom Shefchunas also wrote about it recently.