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Secrets of a Seasoned Volunteer

By Cheryl Franklin Baertschi July 26, 2016

The year was 2010 and the last of our 4 boys headed off to college and suddenly the house became quiet—too quiet! I did not realize how much I would miss the sound of high school kids in the basement playing pool and ping pong, chaperoning trips to Washington DC and Disneyland, and preparing our kids for mission trips. I never thought I would hear myself say it, but I missed being with students! So, I decided to volunteer with the Student Ministry at our church. The past six years have flown by. I have been to New Orleans twice, Spain, Kansas City, various retreats, and hosted a number of events in our home. This past few weeks, my social media has reminded me of these experiences. I decided it was a good time to reflect back and think about what I have learned over the years.

  • Never leave your cell phone unattended. You will have 250 selfies in a matter of seconds
  • Always have ibuprofen and Band-Aids within arm’s reach
  • Girls have a lot of words
  • Girls open their hearts and share more while coloring
  • If you open your door and bake some cookies, students will come
  • It is my job to say the same thing as parents, I just have a different voice
  • Communication with parents is essential
  • Praying for my students is just as important as being with my students
  • On an 18 hour van ride, choose someone to sit behind you who does not crack their gum and if a video is made of that interaction, keep in mind it should not be used as a promo for volunteer behavior
  • If you take photos at an event, it is expected you have those photos up within an hour
  • If you have a real camera, keep in mind #1
  • Planning ahead is absolutely crucial and YES, the details are important
  • You can tell the students how long their shorts have to be for a mission trip, but they will ask you the same question about it 20 times, in hopes that it might change (Just go to Kohls, girls)
  • Doug Franklin and LeaderTreks is an invaluable resource in helping youth leaders
  • NO cell phones on mission trips or conferences. I will repeat this, NO cell phones on mission trips or conferences….enough said!
  • If you made a rule about those cell phones, stand firm in the consequences
  • Don’t be afraid to go into the mess
  • Take time to listen. Just listen, don’t solve
  • Love students where they are at
  • If a student needs help beyond what you can give, advocate for them to get that help
  • Laugh with students
  • Cry with students
  • If there is a sparkly jeweled pillow in the room you are staying, just make the best of it—you are making memories
  • The REAL youth ministry happens outside of Sundays and Wednesdays
  • The real bonding with students happens in the one-on-one interaction
  • There is a difference between mentoring and discipleship
  • Go to where the students are: their games, their concerts, their school
  • Cancel the dinner reservations and stay at hospice. You don’t want to miss the blessing of joining a family in singing praises to the Lord in the midst of the pain of losing their mom
  • Take a girl who didn’t get asked to Prom out for a fancy dinner with your husband on Prom night. Tell her how special she is and remind her of God’s plans for her
  • Give lots of hugs
  • Send written notes of encouragement—beyond texts, beyond a Facebook message—actual written notes
  • Create a safe place for open sharing and listening
  • Girls can braid hair like I have never seen before
  • After a week-long mission trip in the summer, students stink. Embrace the stink
  • Ideas and plans must be followed by implementation
  • Students are smarter than you give them credit for. They will know if you are truly wholeheartedly engaged or not. You better not fake it
  • The student acting out the most or being the most annoying is probably the one who needs love the most
  • A youth leader can only serve through the power of Jesus Christ
  • One-on-one follow up is critical, particularly after retreats and mission trips
  • Take the names of all students in group, write them on pieces of paper, and pray for them, by name, daily
  • If they don’t have a Bible, get them a Bible
  • It’s ok, not to know the answer, look for answers together with the student
  • Do NOT stop communicating with students after they graduate high school
  • You do not have to be in a specific role in your church’s youth ministry in order to serve students. In fact, sometimes you can make a bigger difference outside of that
  • A youth ministry program with a lack of student leadership is missing vital opportunities
  • Personal invitations work best when trying to encourage students’ participation. It lets them know they are wanted and needed.
  • Keep in mind that students want you to spend time with them. Discover them, connect with them, and pursue them
  • There will be times of weariness and discouragement.
  • More and more young Christian young people are walking away from their faith in their early 20’s. Now is not the time to abandon them
  • It is critically important to prepare our high school students for heading off to college and how to find a church and get involved in a Christian ministry

After my kids moved out, I found myself needing to add some more “noise” to my life. During the years that my kids were in Jr. High and High School age, I loved being a part of the youth ministry. Now that they have moved on, I still love being in the trenches! I hope you will use this list as an encouragement and as a guidepost for your own ministry or for adult volunteers in your church. The students that I have had the privilege of working with have taught me so much these past six years and I look forward to the new lessons they will teach me in the future! What does your youth ministry list look like?

duct tape water bottle mission trip hack

About the Author

Cheryl Franklin Baertschi

Cheryl Franklin Baertschi and her husband live in Carmel, Indiana and have raised 4 boys. After their youngest left the nest 6 years ago, she decided to fill the quiet house with high school and college age girls that she could encourage, mentor and disciple. She continues to learn daily from them.