Why You Should Volunteer With Your Church’s Youth Ministry While Your Child Is In It
We went straight to the source(s) on this one, talking with parents who have worked with the youth ministry in their local churches even as their child participates. To a person, these parents want to encourage you to participate alongside your children. Let’s hear from them:
Meg and Price: Working with the youth helped us understand our own kids better.
My husband and I quickly realized that in order to be effective working with teens, we were going to have to be transparent and honest about our own struggles during our teen years. While that was hard (and often embarrassing), being transparent opened up the opportunity to have real relationships with the students. They responded with their own honesty, with the concerns they had about their faith, relationships, and lives. The deep relationships we formed continued through college and into their working and married lives and have enriched our own lives.
We also found the conversations we had in youth group helped us better understand our own children and the struggles they were facing. We were able to be more relevant to our own children, to speak to their issues with more empathy and see through their lens of their world a little better. Many people fear that working in the youth group will cramp their children’s lives or their children will be embarrassed. We found just the opposite. Sure, we looked goofy at times, but sharing the faith experience as a family every week was a benefit to us all.
When you serve, you always get more out of it than the people you serve do. The opportunity for us to revisit our own teen lives allowed us to see God’s grace and mercy as he led us through those times. God never wastes experiences. God wants us to use our own experiences to help teens and young adults traverse the uncertain roads they are on.
Dawson: I wasn’t there to parent my child, but to minister to the group.
I have helped lead a youth small group in the past, but I was embarking on something new when I agreed to lead one while my son was in the youth group. In talking with our church staff, I told them that if my son and I overlapped at a youth event, I did not desire to “parent” him there. Youth group is his safe space to be himself, out from under the thumb of Mom. It helped me to set out some boundaries for when he and I do overlap at youth ministry events. I think it helps the staff to know what to expect from me as well. I don’t feel like it was an abdication of duty because I will step in if I really need to, but more a “y’all take the lead” and let me step back from his space. We have since survived a co-ed Christmas party together where I joined the teens and played White Elephant with, I believe, very little embarrassment from him!
One positive of being involved with my son’s youth group is getting to know the staff as well as his friends. But even more so, it is a gift to serve the church in this way. It is, in a way, fulfilling the vows we take when babies are baptized—to encourage them in and walk along beside them in their faith. As with many things we start out doing for others, teaching a small group blesses me far more than I ever could imagine—I am the one changed and encouraged.
Al: The best part is the kids—and experiencing God’s grace.
Kids with a heart for Jesus are truly amazing. On mission trips I have seen their commitment, hard work, and willingness to serve with all their heart. These trips are always physically and sometimes socially demanding, but students rise to the challenge: using sling blades in hundred- degree heat, holding block parties in the toughest neighborhoods, speaking with adults they don’t know, or praying and giving testimony publicly.
When I was their age, I could not have done those things, but God pursued me. Watching the kids, I have learned how much I have always needed and always will need God’s amazing grace.
All three of my kids are different. My middle son liked to speak up, my daughter never did. It was great to be with my oldest son in Sunday school as a young junior high guy. I could help him play to his strengths in the group; he needed some help socially then. It was nice to be a part of his confidence building.
Before I started, I worried that I wasn’t cool and fun enough to work, teach, or serve with youth. Over the years I’ve had many great relationships that have developed and lasted for years, so I think that this concern was not an issue. Teenagers are old enough to be challenged, and they appreciate the time and commitment of adult volunteers. In this they also realize how much their entire church community cares about their spiritual formation.
Katherine: Lessons learned from a week with the youth in the Dominican Republic.
On that trip I learned that the teenagers really long to connect with adults, and I am blessed when they trust me enough to let me into their lives.
One of my responsibilities was to plan and prepare the week’s meals for our team of fifteen. I made a schedule and assigned three youth to help me with the prep and clean up of each meal. We bonded while measuring, chopping, boiling, and baking in that hot, open air kitchen, sharing laughter, song, and conversation. Cooking for a group in a kitchen with somewhat limited equipment and ingredients calls for some improvising, and I was amazed at these teens’ creativity! Our young “cooks” delighted in showcasing their handiwork from the kitchen.
Also, as I was the keeper of the first aid bag, every stomachache, bee sting, and scraped shin came directly to me. I realized what I already knew to be true: despite their fierce desire to be independent, most teens really enjoy motherly nurturing. The treatment of ailments most always opened the door to fascinating conversation.
On that trip God pulled me out of my comfort zone and gave me a glimpse into the souls of some of His loveliest creations, who as teens are hungry to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.
Mary: I got involved with youth group because my own parents did the same for me.
To be honest, there were times when the thought of sending our children away on a retreat so that we could get some adult alone time was very tempting, but the reward of being present to watch the Holy Spirit move on teenage lives was MUCH more rewarding. Now that our kids are in college, I realize that I can never get those times back.
We were involved in teaching children on Sundays from the time that our children were very young, so it was not difficult for us to move into the youth years with them. They always kind of “expected” us to be there. They didn’t seem to mind and maybe actually enjoyed having us experience retreats with them as long as we kept our distance. It is a rare opportunity to watch kids pray and worship together while disconnecting from the outside world. Our youth leaders have a policy that cell phones stay home, and they don’t even miss them! To see that alone is worth being involved!
I do think that it is important to realize that you are there to lead all of the kids and not your own child. The minute you start to hover or parent them, you are compromising their experience. I tried to make sure that I never led a group that my child was in.
Being involved in youth ministry is a vital way to know the theology that is being shared with your teens and be able to discuss it at home. It is easier to discuss at the dinner table when you have been there to experience it yourself.
I grew up in a home with parents who were involved in hosting or helping with youth activities. The example that they set effected my desire to be involved with my own children and I hope the cycle continues.
Laura: Working With Youth Nurtures My Own Faith.
I thought I was at youth group for my children, to assist and support them growing in their faith. But ultimately what happened was I grew in mine.
When my oldest was in elementary school, I started volunteering at our church. I wanted to understand youth before she was one. I found a place where I could ask really hard questions and hear kids ask hard questions too. I immediately connected with them. Those kids were real and their answers were real answers, not a lot of glossy fancy words but vulnerable reaction. I had always loved the Lord, but if you are an adult there is an expectation at church that you should have certain things “figured out.” I found that intimidating and stifling until I started volunteering in youth group. What I found surprised me. It wasn’t about being there for my kids, it was about being there for my God.
Did my kids want me there? I never asked. It really wasn’t about them. I do think that they saw the beginning of a transformation that ultimately affected their lives, my life, and our family beyond measure. Youth group opened up questions and discussions at home. It also allowed me to grow close to other kids and love them and not judge them. I saw truly hurt families and youth. It broke my heart and I wanted to keep volunteering so that I could love on them.
Now that my kids are older, if you ask them about me being there, they smile. They are so blessed that we have a connection through those times and moments. Youth group was not about the catchy lesson, the fun game, the great retreat or the fun food, although that made it easy to attend. It was about the relationships made, the time spent together and the quest for understanding God’s word together as followers of Christ.
Meredith: Volunteering with the youth is a place to use our gifts in the local church.
Once we have been saved, the Bible clearly calls us to share our testimony and spiritual gifts with our family, church, community, and world. (Ephesians 4:11-16) Just as God uniquely made each of us, He has also given us spiritual gifts. God has always blessed me when sharing my gift of writing with the youth of our church.
My biggest challenge was volunteering with our high School camp four years ago. I was stretched physically and mentally while leading a group for five days. I gained so much insight to the trials and tribulations of our youth, which strengthened my writing and my relationships with my children. God never wastes the work we are called to do in His name.