Having Trust in Your Volunteers to Lead by Ben Lock


As youth pastors, we have the responsibility of helping our students grow in a closer relationship with Christ. One of the best ways that I have come up with, is to trust my volunteers to take the lead on activities, such as games, lessons, planning, etc. Many times, I feel that it can be easy just to do all the normal things myself instead of recruiting more volunteers or trying to find someone to take the place of another person on a Sunday morning. In the end, I know having volunteers take the lead is critical and substantial to our ministry and here is why:


Sometimes, as youth pastors, we can think that we need volunteers to control numbers instead of being pushed. The times that our leaders feel that they get the most out of a lesson is when they are the ones teaching and leading. For me, I don’t want to ruin what is helping them continue to grow and develop in their personal ministry at our church.


To me, this is very critical. I don’t want to be the only voice to teens because some teens relate better to a personality that is different than mine. One example I have is that I love sports, video games, superheroes and the great outdoors. Not every time can I relate to all the students in a lesson. On the other hand, we have a leader that has a different personality than mine. She teaches and relates her lessons differently than mine through current events, history, and school (she retired as a principal). We have other leaders that teach in a rotation because I don’t want to be the only voice that students learn when some would learn more from someone else.


The people who volunteer to be a leader are there because they want to see students grow in their relationship with Christ. You can hand over responsibility to them that will free time up for and give them something extra for their leadership in the ministry to make their own. I am not the best, per say, with being creative. A successful VBS usually has some creative aspect to it. Since I know I am not that creative, I have two leaders who voluntarily came up to me and say they would love to be a part of the planning of the VBS. It is nice for me to sit back and let them do what they’re passionate about, while I can work on other aspects of VBS that I am passionate about. They love it, I love it and VBS is going to be much better because of it. Volunteer leaders want to be challenged and not feel that they are just another body.


Successful youth ministry cannot be done alone. In Exodus 18, Jethro visits Moses and tells him pretty much that he is going to burn out quickly if he tries to do everything himself. I think that is very relevant for us today, as youth pastors. We can attempt to try and take on every leadership aspect in the ministry and eventually get tired and burned out, or, for our sanity and lasting for the long haul, we can pass on some leadership to our volunteer leaders who may be more passionate or skillful in an area that we are in a given area. This not only helps you but helps the overall ministry in general. There is nothing wrong with giving away leadership and in my opinion, it must happen if we expect to grow.

Volunteers taking over some aspect of leadership is a good thing. It is scary and can be nerve wrecking, but the fruit that can grow is tremendous! I love getting to see volunteers in our church take on leadership and seeing them grow through it.


The Fine Line Between Friendship & Mentoring by Doug Franklin


There is a fine line for youth ministry volunteers between being a friend or a mentor. Often times adult volunteers want to be liked by students, so they cross the line between friend and mentor. They tell students what they want to hear instead of hard truth they need to hear. We must consistently remember we are here for students, giving them what they need to grow.

Mentors want a lopsided relationship with their students. Knowing that students will never build into them, they pursue students at a deep level. Discover their hopes, fears and struggles. This is why mentors need solid relationships with other adults so they can get their emotional tanks filled through appropriate relationships.

Below is a list of a few of the finer qualities taken from a mentoring relationship. Think about what the student gains from having this kind of relationship with a leader.

        1. The Hard Truth 

Students get plenty of honesty from their friends, but they need a leader who tells them the truth out of love. They need someone who sees God’s best for them and will work with them to bring it out.

  1. Unconditional Love 

Love is one of the most confusing and often misunderstood words to students. Leaders need to model what it looks like to love unconditionally. Start by telling students that you love them and that you won’t leave them. I often tell them that I am not like other adults; I will not let them stay the same, I will push them to grow.

  1. Humble Honesty

Students will be blessed by having a leader who shares their life story with them, not someone who only preaches at them. Tell them the redemption story of your life. Allow them to see and understand your mistakes and let them know the peace you have from forgiveness.

  1. Challenge 

Paint a picture for students of what they can do for God. Let them see how God has used students to accomplish His goals. Help them understand what God wants to do in them and through them.

  1. Selflessness 

Students have one great love: themselves. It is a vital responsibility of the leaders to work at teaching their students the act of selflessness. By putting others’ needs first, leaders have the opportunity to consistently show students that life is about more than just themselves.

  1. Value

Students are bombarded daily from every direction about who they should be in the eyes of the world: smart, attractive, wealthy, funny, etc. A leader building intentional relationships challenges them in areas that reach deeper. Remind students of their potential in Christ, and show them what is important by how you spend your money and how you give your time.

  1. Consistent 

Empty promises are hard to forget. What if our students had a relationship with someone they knew they could always count on? Leaders who are consistent do what they say and they keep their promises.

Building Intentional Relationships Discussion Questions

  • How do you think it would impact small groups to have leaders that were too much like one or the other of the relationships we discussed?
  • How can you tell if you have become too of an authoritarian with your students and not compassionate?
  • How can you tell if you have become too much of a friend to your students and not enough of a mentor?
  • What is the one of the seven things we discussed earlier that you feel you need the most work on? What areas do you feel you are already doing well in?


Top 30 Articles for Leading Volunteers by Christine Yount Jones


From Children’s Ministry Magazine… here are our top 30 articles for leading volunteers, ranked by the millions of people who come to our site annually!

1. 10 Great Ways to Thank Volunteers Check out what children’s ministers are doing to tangibly thank their volunteers. And discover creative ways you can give your volunteers a positive thank you note.

2. 4 Easy Children’s Ministry Teacher Training Meetings Looking for teacher training meetings your teachers will enjoy and come back to? Use these 4 easy-to-prepare training meetings!

3. 3 Devotions to Encourage Your Volunteers Use these 3 devotions to encourage your volunteers in a brief team meeting or full training.

4. 11 Things NOT to Do With a New Volunteer Okay, so you’ve got a new children’s ministry volunteer, what do you do now? Here are 11 things NOT to do with a new volunteer.

5. Sunday School Teacher’s Survival Kit Let your Sunday school teachers know how much you value them with this easy Sunday School Teacher’s Survival Kit (with heart!).

6. Tried & True Recruiting Secrets for Children’s Ministry Veteran children’s ministers share what really works when it comes to recruiting a great volunteer team.

7. How to Be an Effective Volunteer Recruiter In a volunteer recruiting rut? Join our conversation with veteran recruiters to discover their secrets for effective recruiting that stands the test of time!

8. Volunteer Problems: Solved! As a leader, you’ve no doubt had your share of issues related to volunteer management. We tossed a few common issues to volunteer management experts and asked for help. They delivered! Read on for expert, practical advice.

9. 14 Ways to Affirm Volunteers on the Cheap Children’s Ministry Magazine decided to find fantastic ways to affirm volunteers–that don’t break the bank. We went on a special quest to find budget-friendly, unique affirmation gifts and then create ways to say a very special “Thanks!”

10. 10 Best Ways to Ask a Volunteer to Serve You can dramatically increase your chances of hearing the golden words: “Why yes, I’d be honored to serve in the children’s ministry!” — if you implement these “deal-closing” ideas drawn from the world of advertising sales.

11. The Three P’s of Volunteer Affirmation Ministry is a team effort. We’re called to affirm and encourage the volunteers we lead. So how do we make sure this happens? These three P’s can shape your volunteer appreciation efforts.

12. What You Need to Know About Casting Your Recruiting Net Recruitment can be the most difficult and discouraging area of volunteer management—if we try to do it in our time and by our plans. But in God’s time and by God’s plan, it will be done.

13. How to Build an Unstoppable Volunteer Team Almost every role in ministry involves working and interacting with others. Jesus is a great example; he spoke to his disciples through his actions: building connections, partners, success, and balance — and ultimately, value. You can do it yourself, too.

14. 9 Reasons to Fire a Volunteer–and How to Do It Ready! Aim! You’re Fired! Here are 9 reasons you must fire a volunteer—and how to do it.

15. 5 Reasons the Best VBS Teams Come Back Every Year You worked hard to recruit an amazing team of VBS volunteers! How can you ensure they’ll want to join your VBS team again next year (and even throughout the year)?

16. Mugs ‘n’ Muffins Volunteer Appreciation Instead of having one big year-end appreciation luncheon for our volunteers, we have several Mugs ‘n’ Muffins appreciation open houses during the school year. We schedule each Mugs ‘n’ Muffins on a Sunday morning.

17. The Powerful Solution to Your Biggest Volunteer Training Challenge When was the last time you had 100 percent turnout to your volunteer training? 50 percent? 25 percent?

18. How to Elevate Volunteers From “Helping” to Leading Want your volunteers to stay for the long-term? Stop acting like they’re your helpers.

19.  Good, Better, Best: 6 Creative Ways to Affirm Volunteers Use these 6 creative ways to affirm volunteers. You’ll find a good, better, and best option for all six!

20. 61 Ways to Say Thanks to Volunteers  Here are oodles of quick ideas that will help you celebrate and thank your volunteers—from Children’s Ministry Magazine.

21. Training? Are Your Volunteers Ill-Equipped? Are you missing the boat when it comes to volunteer training? Leadership expert Sue Mallory says probably so.

22. 6 Ways to Get More Men Serving in Children’s Ministry Historically, children’s ministry has been predominantly staffed by women. According to George Barna, “Women are almost twice as likely as men” to teach Sunday school. But in our church, we’re evening the odds. Currently, 45 percent of our children’s Sunday school staff is male.

23. Jesus-Style Volunteer Training and Leadership As we focus on relationships, as Christ did, we live out the discipleship approach to volunteer management. This focus on relationships has had long-lasting results in the lives of children, parents, and staff members at the author’s church.

24. The 6 Mistakes That’ll Cost You Volunteers Can’t recruit volunteers or keep the ones you have? You’re not alone. Here’s how to avoid 6 common mistakes that cost you volunteers.

25. Volunteer Training Events No Volunteer Can Resist Getting volunteers to attend volunteer training can be a challenge, but one you can overcome. Your volunteers will love attending training when you follow these tips!

26. 6 Secrets to Olympic-Style Volunteer Training Imagine how strong a children’s ministry volunteer team you could have if you prepared volunteers with an Olympic-style workout program.

27. Recruiting Volunteers as Jesus Did The best method is to look to the Master Recruiter. Jesus recruited a cadre of committed volunteers who in turn recruited others who recruited others-and, well, here we are. Not to belittle God’s grace or the miracle of his work in each of our callings, but there are seven steps we can look at that Jesus used to recruit. Christ’s approach can work for your ministry, too.

28. 6 Steps to Confront and Uncooperative Teacher Sometimes you’d rather put your head behind a pew and hide. But as a children’s minister your responsibility is to serve the needs of your kids…which just might involve rocking that pew a bit.

29. 98 Thank Yous for Volunteers Gracias! Dankeschon! In any language, these ideas will help you say thank you and express your gratitude to volunteers’ hearts!

30.Get Your FREE Complete Volunteer Training Plan: Connect the Dots Looking for a fantastic volunteer training and affirmation event people will actually attend? Why not do it with a Dynamic Outstanding Training event—DOT! Help your volunteers make connections with one another and hone their ministry skills with this DOT event.

And a Bonus Article! Why Do Your Volunteers Quit? Children’s ministry volunteers are loving, caring people who are…leaving? As much as we strive to recruit and keep them, volunteers all too often make the decision to leave their positions.


Evaluating Yourself Before The New Youth Ministry Year Begins by Andy Blanks


For many of us, the next few weeks signal the beginning of a new youth ministry year. For a lot of folks, August means the start of school. And hopefully, by this time, you’ve already started your Fall planning. (In fact many of you are already implementing your plans!) But as you plan and evaluate for your ministry, I wanted to challenge you to make sure that you give the same spirit of evaluation to yourself.

I want to briefly talk about taking some time to evaluate where you are personally.

How is your personal life going? How are you spiritually? How are you physically? What’s the status of the important relationships in your life? Are you growing in your relationship with God? Are you improving as a leader? In short, are things going well? Or are they going not-so-well? It’s important as Christ-followers that we are in the habit of taking stock of our lives to make sure we’re living the full life that Christ has enabled us to live. It’s much more vital, however, as leaders and teachers that we make sure we are growing in our faith and that there aren’t areas of our lives that are hindering this growth. So, how do we begin to address these concerns?

The key to taking stock of our lives, of knowing what we need to address and shore-up, is looking at our lives through the lens of a key word: discipline.

Now, there are many of you who will want to click off this post right now. Don’t! Discipline is a word that sends shivers up many of our spines. I have to admit myself that it is a concept I struggle with. I find myself, at times, very disciplined in some areas of my life and not disciplined in others. So, I am in this with you . . .

As we think about living effective, full lives, lives that make a Kingdom impact, we must consider how effective we are in certain areas. Our discipline in these areas is key to our effectiveness. So, what are these areas? Let’s take a look:


How is your discipline in your spiritual life? Are you studying your Bible regularly? Knowing God’s Word and applying it in your life is the key to growing in your spiritual maturity. Are you making time to read God’s Word? How is your prayer life? Prayer is the language of our relationship with God. Are you connecting with God daily in meaningful prayer time? Are you having meaningful conversations with people about your faith? Do you regularly make time to serve others in God’s name? All these are important aspects of your spiritual wellness. If you’re not disciplined in this area, the rest of these areas will suffer.


The importance of physical discipline is hard to overstate! If you are not taking care of yourself physically, it’s really hard to be focused on improving the other areas of your life. Do you need to change any habits regarding your sleep? Or how you eat? (Who among us couldn’t improve here?) Are you exercising enough? Remember, the goal is not to look like “Ahnold,” but to be healthy! What changes do you need to make to become more disciplined in your physical life?


This is one we don’t often think we need to apply concepts of discipline to. But failing to think about our relationships in this way is failing to give our relationships enough credit. Think about the important relationships in your life. They probably include:

  • Spouse
  • Parent(s)
  • Children
  • Friends
  • Students
  • Co-workers
  • Staff
  • Boss

There could be more added to the list. But this list is a good start. Look at this list and visualize the people represented there. Then, ask yourself: What do I need to do to be more intentional in growing and/or maintaining each one of these relationships? Being disciplined in our relationships is the key to killing selfishness. When we begin to intentionally and specifically put other’s needs above our own, we are being disciplined in our relationships.


Who do you lead? Because I bet you lead someone. Whether it’s a staff of youth ministry associates, a youth group, or a group of 7th graders, you are a leader. And we can always be improving on our leadership. Think about your time with those whom you lead: what can you improve on? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What can you do to have more of a godly influence on those you are blessed to lead? How can you advance their interests through your position as a leader? How can you make them better?


This one is the hardest for many of us to get real excited about, but our diligence in our work is very much a part of who we are as Christ-followers. Our attitude, faithfulness, and integrity in how we conduct our work is a testimony to Christ in our lives. So, where do you need to improve in this area? Are you as efficient as you need to be? Are you as proficient as you could be? What steps can you take to become more disciplined in your work-life?
Hebrews 12:11 says this:

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Our goal should be to live as people who have disciplined their lives in order to have the most impact in this world for Christ’s sake. It’s a matter of stewardship, really.

What steps can you take today to become more disciplined in the areas mentioned?


How to Develop a Great Ministry Team by Rick Warren


I first began to understand the importance of teams as a seminary student. I did a study of the 100 largest churches in the United States, and I asked them a series of questions related to staff and ministry. This may come as no surprise, but the study showed strong churches have a strong team spirit.

They do this by combining two things: a common goal with good communication.

Both of these elements have to be present. You can have people working on the same project but not communicating with each other, and they ARE NOT a team. You can have people who communicate well, but are not working toward the same goal, and that is NOT a team, even if you call them that.

Let me give you some foundation on why I think this is important: Continue reading


Your Students’ View Of The Bible Starts With You by Andy Blanks


In the course of teaching or writing about discipleship, I’ll often find myself turning to a familiar passage to talk about the outcome or the goal of discipleship. Whenever this comes up, I almost always go to Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:1. I believe the ultimate goal of our lives is to be “imitators of God.” Plain and simple. If we see that as the goal we’re leading students to, it’s serves as a pretty good measuring stick for all our efforts.

So here’s an interesting question: If your teenagers were to imitate your attitude toward the Bible, what would happen? Would you be OK with the outcome?

Continue reading


8 Values of Teamwork That Keep a Church Healthy by Rick Warren


The success of your ministry depends largely on developing a strong team with a deep sense of team spirit. I’ve witnessed the incredible power of a unified team to create growth and have counseled many churches who weren’t growing because their team members worked as individuals and not as a team.

A team spirit is never accidental; it is always intentional. Teamwork is built on three factors:

  • a compelling purpose,
  • crystal clear communication,
  • and a code of commonly held values.

At Saddleback Church, we express the eight values of teamwork in a simple acrostic, T.E.A.M.W.O.R.K.:

T – Trust

Trust among your team is the emotional glue that binds them together; it’s essential to producing true confidence in each other. There are three factors that create trust within a team:

  1. Consistency – People will trust you if, time after time, they see you responding in a consistent and reasonable manner. You also need to be readable, in the sense that they need to know where you are coming from in your decisions and responses.
  2. Loyalty – Defend members of your team when they’re criticized and then check the facts later in private, always assuming the best until there is concrete evidence to the contrary.
  3. Delegation – When you delegate to your team the power to make decisions, you’re essentially telling them: “I trust you!” People trust leaders who trust them.

E – Economy of Energy

Even a thoroughbred horse can’t run at a full gait all the time. The quickest way to burn-out a team is to never let them relax. The book of Proverbs teaches: “A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life.” (Proverbs 14:30, LB) If you want the people on your team to last, they must have some down time.

Here are some ways you can promote an economy of energy within your team:

  • Anticipate and compensate for personal and family energy drains, such as illnesses and new babies. Your team has a life outside of their area of ministry.
  • Allow people to work at different energy levels on different days. Some days, everyone must work fast and energetic. Other days, it is important to slow the pace a bit. In the long term, slow and steady always outlasts the fast and furious.
  • Plan your year in energy cycles. At Saddleback, we always build in rest periods for consolidation between major growth campaigns and initiatives.
  • Allow flexibility in schedules when possible.
  • Make the work fun!

A – Affirmation

Everybody is hungry for affirmation. When they don’t get it, they get cranky. It’s amazing how a smile and a simple word of encouragement can change a team member’s entire day. Four practical ways you can affirm your team would be:

  1. valuing their ideas
  2. appreciating their uniqueness
  3. commending their efforts
  4. praising their loyalty

M – Management of Mistakes

The Bible teaches: “Even though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16, NIV) I love that saying because it points out that even righteouspeople make mistakes and stumble occasionally. Mistakes are not failures, because you’re never a failure until you give up. Mistakes teach us what doesn’t work. If you’re not making any mistakes, it means you’re playing it safe and not trying anything new. I tell my staff that I want every one of them making at least one new mistake a week – as long as it isn’t the same old one! Mistakes are how we learn and get better.

W – Weekly Staff Meetings

For years, I asked my team to bring me a brief weekly report on a small 3-by-5 card. This kept the reports short and to the point. Then those cards became our weekly meeting agenda. Today we use email. Here are the four things you want to know as a leader:

  • “I’ve made progress in ______________________________________”
  • “I’m having difficulty with ___________________________________”
  • “I need a decision from you on ________________________________”
  • “I’m thankful for ___________________________________________”

O – Open Communication

Open communication is the cornerstone of great teamwork. Proverbs 13:17 (LB) says “Reliable communication permits progress.” There are three common barriers to great communication:

  1. Presumption – How many problems have been caused by the phrase “But I assumed…”? Here are some fatal assumptions: assuming that there’s only one way to see a problem; assuming that everyone else feels just like you; assuming that someone will never change (they do); assuming that you can know someone else’s motives (you can’t).
  2. Impatience ruins open communication because we are more interested in what we are going to say than listening to what others say. Impatience causes you to jump to conclusions.
  3. Pride – When you think you know it all, you are resistant to feedback, and you become defensive instead of really listening to others and learning.

R – Recognition and Reward

The more credit you give to others, the more you develop team spirit. It’s that simple. The Bible says, “Give honor and respect to all those to whom it is due.” (Romans 13:7, LB) 

K – Keep on Learning

All leaders are learners. The moment you stop learning, you stop being a leader. As I consult with churches, I’ve seen that growing churches require growing leaders.

Another proverb says “The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact, he looks for them.” (Proverbs 18:15, LB) Do you do that? Do you encourage your team members to keep on growing, developing, and learning? At Saddleback, our staff is constantly reading books and listening to tapes to sharpen their skills and develop their character.

If you practice these eight T.E.A.M.W.O.R.K. values with your team, you’ll experience a new level of teamwork in your church that will take your ministry to new heights.


5 Things Volunteers Need From You by Ron Powell


Here’s a list of 5 things I learned that my leaders need from me.


It’s not fair to ask volunteers to do something that they haven’t been trained for. If you want them to contact a group of 5 students every week, do a role-play, or leaders’ session teaching on exactly what that looks like. If you want leaders to pray with students, walk them through a process of listening to needs and praying with the student. Even if it’s just taking attendance, managing student behavior, or leading a small group, it’s unfair to put a volunteer in this situation without:

  • teaching them,
  • letting them observe it,
  • letting them assist you or another leader,
  • then you watching them do it.

 Clear Expectations Repeated Regularly.

I had a lead pastor who would tell me “check up on the kids, Check up! Check up!” Granted, English was not his first language but I couldn’t get him to specify what “check up” looked like. (Frankly I’m still not sure!) I never knew if I was living up to his expectations. If you are expecting leaders to “hang out with kids” be specific about what that looks like.

It could be,

  • stay with your students from start to finish of the youth program.
  • Have a conversation with each student each week.
  • Arrange to meet each of your students face to face outside of youth once a month.
  • Arrange one group activity for your students each term.

These standards need to be repeated regularly. You can share the standard in a leaders meeting, have leaders share what is going on with their students  in a leaders meeting, or call each of your leaders each week to get praise and prayer reports with what is going on with them.

 Consistent Communication and Feedback

I have mentioned this in another blogVolunteers often feel that they are not performing very well. They feel that they could be doing more. Sometimes they wonder if the work they do is appreciated. Some youth ministries have a debriefing meeting after the students have gone home. Some have a meeting an hour before the students arrive. Whenever you meet (and I think it should be each week) it is important to provide group feed back. Here is a chance to talk about how well the leaders are relating to students at the program.

Mention specifics that you want to be repeated like “I saw many of you go out of your way to include fringe kids and newcomers! Way to go!”

Meeting each week and encouraging your leaders is crucial. At the same time don’t neglect speaking to your leaders individually about the work that they are doing. Point out what you have observed and affirm every effort that they make. Never underestimate just how insecure they are!

Most of all, please communicate with them about what is going on and what is expected at your meeting. It’s terrible when the volunteers know less than the students. They will be very angry if they don’t get advance notice. This is going to require good planning and communicating information in written and verbal form. As Tyson Howells has shared you can never communicate enough.

 Opportunity to Be Heard

I love Steven Covey’s Principle –Seek first to Understand then to be Understood. It applies to youth ministry. Have you ever felt that your leaders “don’t get you?” It could be that you need to get them first. Asking your volunteers or sponsors for input even an evaluation of how the ministry is going, will provide you with necessary insights. Often they will see things that you miss. Value their input and wherever possible, act upon it.

In the same way that the volunteers serve the youth, I always felt it was my role to serve the leaders. This meant following up with them to find out how things are going; not just in their ministry to the students but other areas of their lives. I found that they would do the same thing for the students as I did for them.

 Shared Vision

I find that volunteers are inspired when they can see the big picture. Every volunteer should feel like an important part of the overall direction of the ministry. Too often the vision is fuzzy. Adult and student leaders aren’t able to see the connection between programs, activities and the overall goal of the ministry.

I heard a local youth pastor communicate his vision this way before their prayer time.

“I know that this may seem like just another youth night but I want you to know that there will be new community kids here who are going to hear the gospel. They will be assigned to one of you leaders. You will have the chance to build a relationship with them and help them to be part of a small group. Eventually this student, like many of you, will grow in the faith and be part of this team. You may not realize it when that new student steps on to the property but we are changing this community, one student at a time!

 Staying On Top of All This

It’s hard to stay on top of these five essential leadership functions. I don’t think that I ever did, at least not all five at the same time. I do know however that when I made conscious effort to recommit my time to making these a priority ever area of the youth ministry went better. The volunteers were happier and more effective in their ministry. Students were growing and each week we knew that our vision was becoming a reality.


5 Qualities of a Good Rule by Mark Gregston


Years ago, we had several boys living with us in our home. They were assigned their own bathroom, but based on the worsening condition of those facilities, I realized these guys needed some help exercising maturity and self-control. I told them, “Fellas, from now on, you need to clean your own toilet and keep this bathroom tidy. If not, you could lose it.” Unfortunately, they ignored the rule and the mess got even worse. So, one day, I just took the entire toilet out! The toilet needed to be replaced anyway, but the boys didn’t need to know that. I thought not having it for a while would be a good learning experience for them.

When the boys got home from school, there was nothing but a little hole in the floor where the messy toilet used to stand. In disbelief, they asked me, “Where are we supposed to go?” I said, “I’m sorry, the rule was that you needed to keep the bathroom clean, and if you didn’t, you couldn’t have it.” Well, after a few days of dealing with just a hole in the ground, the boys came back to me and asked, “What do we need to do to get our toilet back?” Once they experienced the consequences, they saw the value of the rule, and put in the work necessary to reclaim their bathroom.

Rules are not just about getting the chores done, cleaning the house (or making it smell better). Like the story of the boys’ toilet, rules give us the opportunity to teach our teens important life principles about responsibility. So how do you know that the rules of your house are helping your kids instead of hurting them? Let me offer five essential characteristics of a good rule.

1. Rules Should Be Relevant

Boundaries that were necessary and acceptable when your child was seven will likely be outdated when he is seventeen. Good rules flex and grow along with your child. I believe that nothing good happens for a teenager after midnight, so curfews are a good boundary to establish. But while a 9 o’clock curfew is great for a 13-year-old, it’s probably too early for a sixteen-year-old. Good rules help our teens learn to make good decisions for themselves and wean them from their dependency on mom and dad. This happens when our rules stay relevant and current with the age and maturity of our child.

2. Rules Should Be Attainable

As parents, we all want great things for our kids. Encouraging your son or daughter to succeed is good, but if reaching a particular expectation set up by mom and dad seems impossible, a teen will shut down, quit or rebel. Our rules should be about getting kids where they need to go, and keeping them from where they shouldn’t be. So the rules we set up should be realistic and reasonable, allowing teens to fulfill (or maybe even exceed) expectations. You could reasonably say, “If you get a ‘D’ in any class, then we have to take away your cell phone for a week.” That’s a logical goal to shoot for. But if you insist, “Get straight A’s or you lose your cellphone for a week!” that expectation may be too demanding for your teen. It would be unfair to make your 8-year-old mow the lawn every week. But it’s an attainable goal to have your 14-year-old do some landscaping on the weekend. A good rule is always within reach for your child.

3. Rules Should Be Beneficial

Think about some of the rules in your house and ask yourself, “Will this help build up my kids’ character and cause them to become more mature and responsible?” If the answer is “no”, then you probably need to rethink that rule and your motivation for wanting to make it a rule. Good boundaries grow out of a good relationship with your child. It’s not about exerting control, wielding authority, or keeping your teen under your thumb. You want to help your teen become a dependable and responsible adult, and the rules of your home should be designed to get your son or daughter to that place. If the rule is not helpful, it may be time to toss it aside.

4. Rules Should Make Sense

Mom and dad … rules need to make sense. We can all remember rules set down by our own parents that made no sense at all. I can remember being told I was not allowed to grow my hair past my earlobes. Even as a teen I asked, “Why not?” It wasn’t because I was rebellious or wanted to shock people—I just wanted to fit in with the guys at my school who had cool, long hair. We need to listen to our teens and honestly hear their objections to some of the long-standing rules we’ve put in place. It’s not enough to say, “Do it because I said so!” Your teen might not be able to understand how a rule is beneficial, but you should have a logical reason for every rule, and be able to explain that reason to your teenager. If not, the rule doesn’t make sense and should be scrapped.

5. Rules Should Come From a Place of Love

I said it before, but it’s so true—Rules without relationship lead to rebellion. If there is no love but a lot of boundaries, that’s legalism, and kids feel stifled and smothered. If there is plenty of love but no boundaries, then there’s no structure, and kids go out-of-control. Good rules grow out of a loving willingness to provide guidance.

We were playing paintball with some kids at Heartlight, and the teens love plastering me with paint. When we were finished, I was surprised to find one of the boys refusing to clean his equipment. I went up to him and said, “We had a good time, and you know the rule for the course—everybody cleans their own equipment.” With a verbal onslaught, the young man told me he simply wasn’t going to do that. I remained calm and said to him, “Now we have another problem. In addition to breaking the equipment cleaning rule, you are also being disrespectful.” Then I laid out the consequences for breaking the rules. After a couple of days raking pine needles, the teen came to me and apologized. I brought the lesson home and reaffirmed him by saying, “You are a good man, but the way you responded in these situations hurts your relationships with the people you’re closest to. I want something better for you. By the way, this lesson is not about cleaning the stupid paintball stuff. This is about helping you be successful in life.

It’s true that a bad rule can hurt a child. But a good rule, in the hands of a loving parent, can be the best thing in the life of a teen.


The Volunteer Cyce #1: It Never Ends! by Kurt Johnston


It seems that other than figuring out how One Direction is still so popular, few things weigh as heavily on the mind of the youth worker than volunteer leaders. The specifics vary from ministry to ministry, but the themes seem to be the same:

“How do I find more leaders to join our team?”

“How do I train them, and when, and on what subjects?”

“What roles should they play? What roles should they not be allowed to play?”

“How do I keep them around for the long haul?”

These four questions outline the four parts of what I call the “Volunteer Cycle,” the never-ending (repeat, NEVER-ENDING) process that leaders of a youth ministry need to be engaged in.  The Volunteer Cycle serves both as a state of mind you live in; meaning you are always thinking about the cycle when you think about your volunteers, as well as a formal mechanism or tool you implement into your volunteer strategy.

If you want to build and maintain a healthy, striving volunteer team you need to:

ENLIST: Continually invite new people to join.

EQUIP: Continually train your volunteers effectively and give them the skills and confidence they need.

EMPOWER: Continually give ministry away.

ENCOURAGE: Continually cheer them on.

Building a volunteer team is messy, important, stuff. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be the primary topic at conversation every time youth workers get together.

And while there’s no silver bullet….no guaranteed solution to the challenge, I think the Volunteer Cycle is as close as it gets.