How to be an Adult Volunteer Worth Following
Building relationships with students is the key to speaking into their lives. I tell our staff all the time: “Be a leader worth following.” Leaders worth following build relationships based on one goal—seeing a student grow closer to the Lord. Relationships can be built with fun and crazy experiences but they can’t stay there. To see students grow, there has to be a time when the youth worker asks the student to make changes in his or her life based on God’s word. The student will be willing to if the youth worker has taken the time to invest in them.
At LeaderTreks, we make this kind of relational challenge the focus of our program. I notice that when our staff is engaged in relationships with students on our trips, students respond well to challenge. They see our staff as people worth trusting and following, rise to the occasion, and tend to be gung-ho and successful. On the other hand, when we challenge students outside our circle of relationship, students see challenge as an obstacle that can’t be overcome.
“Relationships can be built with fun and crazy experiences but they can’t stay there.”
Relationship is a powerful tool in the hands of a volunteer, and that’s why we spend time in churches across the country training adult volunteers to build relationships. Take a look at 101: Relationship Building.
For many full-time youth workers, relationship building comes easy—it’s why we got into youth ministry. We have a passion for students and we love to have challenging conversations with them. This is not the case for many adult volunteers. Many volunteers have a greater heart for service than building relationships with students. I know it sounds funny, but most adults don’t naturally build relationships with adolescents. They need to be equipped with relationship-building skills.
Here are some techniques for relationship building you can use to help your adult volunteers become leaders worth following:
Students have to get your time if you’re going to get their hearts. Find out what they like to do and do it with them. It’s best if you can find an activity that you both enjoy. Sit where students sit. Be around them. Hang out in their world and they will want to know why you are there.
“Students have to get your time if you’re going to get their hearts.”
Discover a Student
Students are waiting to be discovered. They want someone to unmask them and bring them out. If you discover them, you will then get their heart. At LeaderTreks, our staff play a game called “100 Questions.” When they are working next to a student—doing dishes or just hanging out—they ask students questions designed to discover who they are and build a relationship with them. The game is simple: you start by asking a question about their outfit and continue to ask questions based on their answers. The idea is to catch students off guard. Students are always willing to talk about clothes or school, but, before they know it, they are answering questions about their parents and their relationship with Jesus Christ.
This game—100 Questions—just plain works for me. It’s not a flashy idea, but it will help you discover a student.
Writing notes is the most powerful way to make a shallow relationship deeper. When I was a youth pastor, I would try to write six notes a day. That sounds like a lot, but I could do it in fifteen minutes by keeping the body of the note the same and changing a few words to fit each student. Every letter started with “I see God at work in your life when….” The power of the note is in how it’s delivered. Many times I would put notes in their cars or on their windshields. If I could, I would find a way to get the notes in their lockers. The best way to deliver a letter is to put where it is least expected. I have a youth pastor buddy who would take sick bags from planes, write notes on them, and put them in the mail. He would often write, “I was sick about you missing youth group.” The postman would always deliver them.
Have a Purpose for the Relationship
Once you develop a relationship with a student, never lose sight of the mission. Always use your conversations to challenge students to grow. Move the discussion to points of decisions. Ask students to make changes in their lives. Ask them if you can hold them accountable. Never lose your focus on growing the student.
The biggest mistake youth workers make is to think they know a student because they know the student’s other siblings or the student’s family. Don’t fall into this trap. Make sure you have spent the time to know each student you influence. When you do this, you will show students that the program is not about you but about them. Once you have their hearts, you will have shown them that you are a leader worth following. Then you will be able to challenge them with whatever God calls you to say.
About the Author
Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners who never leave their side. Doug grew up in… Read More