3 Reasons Why Former Students Make Great Volunteers in Your Ministry

elijah-henderson-48573Some of my best student ministry volunteers are former students. For many years I overlooked former students and never recruited them to come back and be volunteers in our ministry. However, in the past few years I’ve leaned into this group and seen more and more of my former students come back to serve as volunteers.

We do have a policy that former students must be a year removed from high school before they can serve in our high school ministry. Because of this many of my former students start out serving in our middle school ministry.

I’m convinced that former students have the potential to be your best volunteers. Here are three simple reasons why I believe that.

1. You know them. One of the great things about using former students as volunteers is the simple fact that you know them. You have probably spent a few years getting to know them, pouring into them, and seeing them grow. You have a decent grip on their strengths and weaknesses. You know their personality and how they operate. Usually when you recruit a new volunteer you know next to nothing about them. All you know is what they shared in their application or when you met with them a few times. However, former students you know and this will help you put them in the right spot within your ministry.

2. They know you and your ministry. Not only do you know them but they know you. In addition to knowing you they also know your ministry. They probably have a good understanding of what you want your ministry to look like and be about. They know the culture and vibe of your ministry. This will save them much time and energy as they set out to be volunteers in your ministry. Sure there will be some things they don’t know. It will be new for them to be on the “leader side” of the ministry. However, they will know more than the normal new volunteer so that’s a plus.

3. They want to give back. The reason most former students come back to be volunteers is so they can give back to the ministry. Usually these are students who God impacted in huge ways through your ministry. Because of this they want to come back and be a part of God doing that for other students. This is the main reason they make great volunteers – they have experienced God through your ministry and they now want to help other students experience the same thing. That’s awesome!

Don’t overlook your former students when you think about volunteers for your ministry. Reach out to them and get them plugged in. They will make great volunteers in your ministry.

Recruiting Student Ministry Volunteers

For a church to have a healthy student ministry it needs more than just a student pastor or director. A good student ministry should certainly be led by a gifted, passionate pastor or director but that person will need a solid team of volunteers working alongside them. It’s important student pastors understand this and make recruiting volunteers a priority in their ministry.

Recruiting volunteers seems like a never ending task in student ministry. One of the big things I do every summer is recruit new volunteers. It’s part of the job of being in charge of a student ministry. I want to suggest a few tips that have helped me in regards to recruiting volunteers.

Don’t make a desperate call, instead, personally recruit volunteers. The easiest way to recruit volunteers for your ministry is to put something in the bulletin or say something from upfront during announcements. This isn’t the worst thing you can do but it certainly makes it difficult as you will have many people “sign up” and you may have to turn some of them down because they are not a good fit. However, if you’re willing to just let anyone serve in your student ministry you can go this route. I’d caution anyone on this and encourage them instead to personally recruit volunteers rather than just make a massive call. This will allow you to find the right people for your ministry. This takes much more time and energy but I believe it’s the best way to recruit volunteers for your ministry. Before moving on, let me just add this – if you are going to make a call for volunteers (whether that’s online, in the bulletin, or from upfront) be sure to have a application process so you can find the right volunteers. More on this process next.

Have a process. Don’t just let people sign up and become a volunteer without you having them go through a short process. This doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Our process for bringing new volunteers on board is pretty simple. First, I meet with them one on one to share with them what our ministry looks like and explain to them the areas they can serve. During this meeting I usually try and find out where they best fit within our ministry based on their passions and gifts. Second, they fill out a short application. This allows me to get to know them a bit more and gives them the opportunity to share their faith story. Sometimes people will fill the application out before I meet with them. Third, we background check the potential volunteer. Everyone that serves in our ministry must have a background check. Whatever your process is, please don’t skip this! This is important for your church and for the safety of your students. Once these three steps have happened I bring the volunteer on board and they start to serve.

Look for young and old. Strive to not have a volunteer team that is made up of people of the same age. It’s easy for student pastors to fall into the trap of thinking the best volunteers are college students and young adults. There are many valuable things this age group brings to the table so by all means recruit them! However, realize some of the best student ministry volunteers in your church may be older individuals. Strive to build your volunteer team with people from all age groups and seasons of life. This will bring excitement, balance, and maturity to your team.

This is just a few tips to help you recruit volunteers for your student ministry. Here are a few resources that may help you in this area: Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry by Darren Sutton, The New Breed by Jonathan McKee and Thomas McKee, and Youth Pastor (chapter 9) by Houston Heflin.

Guest Post: Love. Preach. Pray. Go.

brian-post-picPastoral Ministry is hard.

For those of us who’ve been called to such a responsibility, such a task, such a race, we understand the calling of “Pastor” is a glorious calling, but difficult; rewarding, but inconvenient; sweet, yet sometimes sour; smooth seas, but sometimes rough currents. Yes, the calling of Pastor is hard, but is glorious.

I have been asked to share a few thoughts on ministry. For Starters, I’m Brian Hancock, and I have had the privilege to serve the Lord as a youth director, Bible teacher, and now Student pastor at Neel Road Baptist Church in Salisbury, NC. For nearly 11 years now, I’ve worked with the younger generation (from kindergarteners to college level students) to help them know Christ, and to grow in their walk with Him. It has been an incredible journey. Throughout ministry, I have seen agnostics find truth in Christ, drug addicts find hope in Christ, the depressed and lonely and outcast find identity in Christ. I’ve seen parents weep with joy as their son or daughter is baptized, thinking to themselves “I never thought this day would come.” Yes, God has done great things in these 10+ years, to Him be the Glory. Amen.

My current Pastorate, as I mentioned previously, is at Neel Road in NC. God has certainly moved here on Neel Road’s campus. To borrow a quote from our soon to be president, God has blessed “Big League.” I began ministry at Neel Road some 2 ½ years ago, In June 2014. As the months began to pass, our attendance began to increase from an average of 3 to 10 to 15 to an average of 30, present day. Not only did our numbers increase, but God began saving people. In 2016 alone, our student ministry saw 19 salvations, and 9 baptisms. God truly has done something special here, and I couldn’t be more humbled and honored to have been able to see it.

How did this happen? What strategies of ministry were put in place that God has chosen to honor? Well, I’m going to try and share them below. I want to provide a preface before we continue, however. It is my heart’s desire that God get full glory from what he has done here. Brian Hancock didn’t do this: God did. Read and use these few truths below if you would like, but please understand these aren’t intended to take away from his Glorious grace and mercy. Now with that said, here are some thoughts.

It is my belief that the following truths must be present in order for any student ministry to grow and flourish:

Love. You have to love your kids. Now, I’m not talking merely vocalizing your love for them. Loving your students takes action. It takes sacrifice, of your time and energy. Its answering the phone at 2am instead of putting it on silent. It’s meeting that boy or girl who is suffering from a broken heart at the office on your day off. It’s telling your students the sometimes inconvenient truths from Gods word when you see they are slipping in their walk. Its loving them with action, not just words. At Neel Road Student Ministry, there is a true since of family. We have pushed and pushed and pushed this since day one. With that since of family, comes love: for each other, and for their God. As pastors, we must model what it means to love, regardless of how convenient or inconvenient it sometimes can be. If you resolve to do this, you will see your students respect you, respect each other, and pursue their God on such a deeper, more intimate level. Learn to exemplify your love for them beyond your words.

Preach. I have never met a pastor that disliked preaching. The problem, however, is pastors aren’t preaching anymore. Instead, pastors have traded the pulpit for a soap box OR have used the 20 minutes they have to speak as a self help session or college lecture. Many youth pastors, out of fear of offending or hurting a student’s feelings, will water down messages and avoid certain passages of scripture. DON’T BE THAT GUY. Students don’t need to hear how good they are, because for anyone who has an ounce of Bible education knows that humans are totally depraved. Students need to hear that. They need to hear that we are sinners, and how a loving God came and died for their sin. They need to hear messages that are brought with passion, and boldness. Students need Pastors who aren’t afraid to be REAL. They need to hear that REPENTANCE is still important. Don’t be the pastor who preaches “ear candy” every time you have your students together. Give your students meat from God’s Word. Give them what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. If you preach soft, you’ll produce soft sheep, and no pastor wants that. They want students that are bold, and live with conviction. Preach hard and boldly. Preach the Bible fully. Preach with conviction and tears, and watch God work.

Pray. John Piper once said that “Until you know that life is war, you’ll never know what prayer is for.” Prayer is KEY. If you aren’t praying for God to send students and for God to work and bless and keep your ministry established on his Word and truth, your ministry will fall like a house of cards. Ministry is too hard for any man to do it alone, and only through the blessing of God will any effort prosper. Ministry is a war, and the war is life and death. We all want to produce students who are prayer warriors, but don’t expect that if we aren’t constantly hitting our knees. Pray, pray, and pray some more. The more you seek him, not only will your confidence grow through him, but he will honor your prayers. Pray more, and watch what happens.

Go. Any healthy student ministry involves itself in missions and ministry outside of the church building. Local, national, and international missions and ministry opportunities are ways to expose them to practical ways of fulfilling the great commission. I tell my students constantly that we aren’t saved to “sit, saturate and sulk, but to serve, sacrifice, and suffer.” What better way to serve than through missions and ministry. Our students volunteer once a month at the local soup kitchen, we participate in non profit efforts around town throughout the year. On a national level, our students travel to Washington DC for a week of on street evangelism during the summer. Training is throughout the year, and students are required to meet certain criteria to participate. Foreign missions is something we are still working toward. We are giving faithfully to the IMB (International missions board) that goes to support foreign missionaries. Get your students involved in missions and ministries, challenging them to reach a world outside the convenience of the four walls of your church, and watch them grow exponentially for the kingdom.

How are you doing with loving your students? Is your preaching passionate? Do you make prayer time a priority? Is missions and ministry outside of the church building a focus for you in 2017? Take these truths, and consider them. These past 11 years have been great, and I look forward to the next 50. God bless you, may he keep you and your ministry, and may he always seek to serve him for HIS GLORY, and for the JOY of others.

Brian Hancock is the student pastor at Neel Road Baptist Church in Salisbury, NC. He is a graduate of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, NC. Brian has written a book called “Disciplined: Foundations of a Disciplined Disciple” which are available free of charge. Brian has spoken at several local churches, youth conferences, Bible colleges and Christian schools. Brian may be reached at bhancock@neelroad.org.

The Healthy Student Pastor

z8bka7hqa3i-jordan-mcqueenStudent ministry can be a very demanding and challenging thing (especially if you’re doing in a full-time role). The constant demand of students and parents who need your attention never ends. The hours can be odd with most of your events happening at night or on weekends. It can become draining as you try to keep your mid-week program fresh and attractive week in and week out. On top of your weekly program it seems like there is always another event right around the corner.

But don’t get me wrong, student ministry is an absolute joy. I am honored God has called me to full-time student ministry and He has given me an amazing church to do it in. However, I have come to realize that student ministry is often a very demanding area of ministry that requires you to be healthy. I’m talking spiritual, relational, physical, and emotional health. Being healthy in all areas of life is a must for student pastors.

Spiritual. The spiritual health of the student pastor is of utmost importance. It’s important to themselves, their families, their church, and their students. If a student pastor is not spiritually healthy the students and the ministry, along with many other things, will suffer. A student pastor must keep their relationship with God as their first priority. This means walking with God daily and growing closer to Him. This means consistently getting into God’s Word on a daily basis for spiritual nourishment and strength. One pastor shares some wise words in regards to this area – “Don’t neglect your heart. Spend time in the Word, pray, and let God speak to you. Carve out time each day for this” (from the book Growing Young, page 62).

Relational. Student pastors must also be healthy relationally. I think this first includes their families. Student pastors must never sacrifice their families on the altar of their ministry. Far too often I see student pastors who are giving everything they got to their ministries while their family suffers the consequences. Loving and leading your family should always comes first. This also includes friendships. Student pastors must strive to have solid friendships outside the walls of their ministries. This provides an outlet for the student pastor to hangout with friends with no ministry agenda attached.

Emotional. The emotional health of the student pastor is also very important. It’s easy for a student pastor to be focused on the emotional needs of others (students, parents, volunteers, etc.) while neglecting their own emotional health. The crazy hours and demands of student ministry can cause the student pastor to experience burnout or even depression in some cases. The demands of student ministry can also cause stress and anxiety. It’s important the student pastor takes these things seriously and seeks help when they need it. This is where having some solid friends outside of the student ministry can help. They can be a safe place to go for healing. Also, student pastors should never be ashamed of seeking professional counseling or even pastoral counseling from another pastor. These are avenues God can use to strengthen you and get you emotionally healthy. It’s also important the student pastor has a hobby outside of ministry that serves as an outlet for them to refresh and relax. This will help them maintain emotional health.

Physical. This is often the area of health student pastors neglect the most. In the midst of eating way too much terrible food with students, student pastors must strive to keep themselves in good shape. This goes beyond just eating right, which is important, but also includes things like regularly working out and getting rest. This also includes making sure the student pastor takes a day off. We all need a sabbath (a day to rest from work). Student pastors must not neglect taking a day off to rest, which is closely tied to their physical health.

As you can see, student pastors need to be healthy in multiple areas. A student pastor that is healthy in these areas will be a blessing to their families, church, ministry, and students.

Book Review: Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry

gospelcenteredym_205_316_90There are a few books I consider “must reads” for people in student ministry (if you want to know what they are ask me). Recently I read a book I would add to that list and it’s called Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry. It’s one of the most theological and practical books I have ever read in regards to student ministry.

One of the strengths of this book is the variety of voices. Every chapter focuses on a different area of student ministry and each chapter is written by someone who has a passion and gifting in that area. Each chapter is written pretty much in the same way – a section on how the Gospel informs and shapes that area of student ministry and a section on how to practically grow in that area of student ministry. Also, at the end of each chapter there is a list of recommended books on the subject of the chapter.

Two of my favorite chapters were Eric McKiddie’s chapter on expositional teaching and Tom Olson’s chapter on singing. All the chapters in this book were excellent but these two were the ones that impacted me the most.

In McKiddie’s chapter, he argues that teaching the Bible is the main task of anyone in student ministry. He says, “While fun is an indispensable part of youth ministry, your main task is to convince your students, week after week, why they need Jesus and to show how the Gospel profoundly after every area of life” (page 55). He believes expositional teaching is the best method for this. After giving his reasons for expositional teaching in student ministry he gives some practical steps in how to craft a Biblical expositional sermon for students. His steps serve as great reminders for people newer to writing sermons as well as to seasoned veterans. Olson’s chapter on singing was another one that I really enjoyed. He argues that corporate worship should be vital a part of student ministry. He says, “It’s not just a warm-up for the message or a means to corral hyperactive teenagers. God has made singing important. Singing is vital for the health of our students and the strength of our ministries and, in harmony with strong teaching, singing will get the word of Christ dwelling richly in their lives” (page 142).

I could say more about these two chapters and the rest of the book but I’d rather you grab a copy and read it for yourself. If you’re in student ministry I’d highly suggest this book for you and your team.