This past summer we took 23 middle school students on a weekend mission trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I say “we” because five committed volunteer leaders helped me lead the trip.
The weekend was a smashing success on multiple fronts: We experienced laughter, challenges, bonding, group learning, deep conversations, and silly late-night antics. The night after we returned I reflected on the trip and was struck by how much those five volunteers contributed to the weekend’s success.
It got me thinking about all of the volunteer leaders who regularly serve in my ministry. This fall there will be 32 of them, to be exact, between Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. Those 32 people represent a wide variety of ages, personalities, family backgrounds, and job experiences. Following the Sioux Falls trip I realized that you need lots of different kinds of people in order to have a successful middle school ministry.
Here are some of the people who make up an awesome middle school ministry, in no particular order:
- The Workhorse: This person who always shows up early and stays late. They do the extra physical labor—the dirty work. They’re not afraid to sweat, get their hands dirty, and make things happen. They’ll even spend 20 minutes cleaning up a game at 8 am after they just finished serving at a 12-hour all-night event.
- The Teacher: This person is often a teacher for their day job. The Teacher is a good disciplinarian. They can bust out their “teacher voice” or their “teacher glare” at a moment’s notice when students start to get out of hand. They can quickly restore order, which is required on a regular basis in middle school ministry.
- The Instigator: This is a male leader who always stirs the pot. When he walks into the room you know the intensity and volume will instantly increase. They are the ones who run around and tackle boys, provoke them into wrestling matches, and do whatever else they can to rile up the boys. I have a special place in my heart for The Instigator because that was my role when I was a youth ministry volunteer during college.
- The Planner: This person loves logistics. The Planner is usually a Type-A individual who makes sure all the details are buckled down. This person doesn’t like surprises. They like lists, spreadsheets, and agendas. They make sure we have enough money, that we get places on time, and that we have transportation to get us where we need to be. This is not a glamorous position, but it’s absolutely necessary.
- The Mom: This person is a female volunteer who is a mom herself. Usually her own kids are middle school-aged or older. She easily steps in when students are physically sick or nervous. She can talk girls off the cliff when they’re having emotional breakdowns. Homesick 7th grade boys seek her out because they feel comfortable crying in front of her.
- The Unpaid Staff Member: This person is the most dedicated among the dedicated. They show up to almost every ministry event. They are incredibly reliable. They are so involved that some people wonder if they are on paid staff. Not every volunteer can fill this role, but this person is incredibly valuable in a ministry. Treat them with great care.
- The Wise Sage: This person has been in youth ministry for 10, 15, or 20 years or more. They’ve seen everything during their time as a youth ministry volunteer. Their own kids graduated from middle school years ago, but they stick around because they believe in the value of investing in middle school students. These people are inspiring but often fly under the radar.
- The Prayer Warrior: This person is passionate about prayer. They randomly tell students and other volunteer leaders, “I prayed for you this morning.” Amidst all the chaos, energy, and silliness of middle school ministry, their clam soul helps ensure we all stay focused on spiritual matters. They jump at the chance to pray for students and they love to teach students about prayer.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start. The one thing that all of these people have in common is that they love middle school students. The stark reality is I can’t fill all of these roles by myself. There’s a reason we are called the body of Christ.
I would not have survived our mission trip to Sioux Falls without our volunteer leaders. Me vs. 23 middle school students would have equaled disaster. Volunteer leaders make the “ministry” part of middle school ministry possible. If it was just me and a room full of middle school students every week, I would only be able to focus on crowd control and making sure no one died.
I praise God for the volunteers he has called to serve in my ministry. Some people think we’re crazy for wanting to work with middle school students. Maybe we are, but at least we know there are other crazy people like us! It’s a great joy to be able to serve alongside them.