Three Reasons Why Empty Nesters Are the Best Youth Volunteers
“I’ve done my time. It’s someone else’s turn to volunteer!”
If you’re a parent involved in a church, you’ve probably heard these statements from other parents or church members, usually accompanied by a laugh and a wink. You may have even said it yourself. (Full disclosure: I have. And I wasn’t laughing when I said it.)
When our kids are part of the children’s ministry or youth group, we often feel an obligation to be involved as well, whether by teaching a class, chaperoning a retreat, or assisting with a mission project. When our kids age out and leave the nest, we might feel a sense of relief from those responsibilities. “It’s someone else’s turn,” we think.
But before you wash your hands for good of things like “underground church,” worship nights, and those silly but fun inside jokes that every youth group has, consider that the empty nest years might actually be the best time of all to volunteer with your church’s youth program.
As believers, we have an obligation to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). That obligation includes all children, and it doesn’t end when our own become adults. In the second chapter of Titus, Paul gives instructions for teaching in the church, presenting a model in which older men and women teach sound doctrine to younger believers. Paul makes it clear that teaching goes beyond mere academic lessons. He says, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good” (Titus 2:7). Our teens are in a much better position to learn by example when we invest ourselves in spending time with them.
With these commands in mind, we simply cannot afford to grow tired in investing in young people, reminding them of God’s love for them in Jesus. While we may feel tapped out, as though we have nothing to offer anymore, empty nesters are actually in a unique position to fill a needed place in youth ministry. We have three valuable benefits to offer that may be absent in younger youth workers.
- Empty Nesters Have Time
The first benefit we have to offer is time. When your own birdies leave the nest, it’s tempting to relax, kick back, and take a nap. There’s no doubt you deserve to do that, but don’t be surprised if you feel a bit of a void when your schedule is suddenly wide open and obligation-free. Believe it or not, it takes a while to adjust to your newly discovered freedom. With more time available, volunteering in some capacity with youth programs can be a valuable way to serve your church. Most youth ministers are overworked and underpaid, and they really appreciate responsible volunteers who already know the ropes and can help without needing constant instruction and supervision. Your experience with teenagers makes you an asset as a teacher, chaperone, small group facilitator, or mentor.
- Empty Nesters Have Perspective
Empty nesters offer a needed perspective. These empty nest years are a new season of life for sure, but they are not too far removed from the daily parenting grind. Because of that, we possess a perspective that is unique—reasonably knowledgeable about popular culture as well as the current situations in which teens may find themselves, but also seasoned enough through our own faith and life experiences that we can offer valuable insights and suggestions.
In certain situations, your presence might act as a necessary bridge between teens in the youth ministry and their parents. You will still know many of the kids and their families — a relationship that serves as a safe place for those students who don’t want their own parents involved, but who need a reliable parent figure. Your involvement might also be a comfort and encouragement for those parents who feel it best to give their child a little space. The teenage years can be turbulent – and paradoxically, both your proximity to and your distance from the fray can provide a clarity that helps support frazzled families.
- Empty Nesters Bring Students the Opportunity for Intergenerational Relationships
Finally, empty nesters offer an opportunity to demonstrate the beauty of intergenerational relationships. It’s easy and comfortable in most churches for members to segregate according to age or life stage, but our relationship with other believers is not defined according to these things. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter our age. My friend and Rooted Parent Editor Anna Meade Harris has shared about the difference it made in her relationship with her sons when she reminded them that while on earth, she may be their mother, in God’s kingdom she is their sister. This reframing of relationships removes accepted cultural barriers and opens up new possibilities for fellowship and growth. Teens are notoriously self-centered – concerned about finding out where and how they fit into the world in which they live. Having older believers invest their time and interest in them offers a concrete example of giving without expecting anything in return.
Of course, we old folks know better – the return on our investment in church youth activities can be immeasurable in its value. These teenage years are a final opportunity to strengthen young wings before they leave the nest. We cannot expect a younger generation to be ready to take the reins and be the voice crying out in the wilderness of the modern world if we have not poured into them the gospel message of God’s loving plan to redeem helpless sinners and begin the work of transforming them into the image of Jesus Christ. By giving our time and sharing our experiences with teens we give them a glimpse into what a growing faith can become and prepare them to proclaim the message of God’s love to a world that desperately needs to hear it.