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Most of us youth workers assume we just need more help. We think that if we can just get more “helpers” in our ministries, we could get so much more done, be much less tired, and peace would return to Pride Rock.

But I’m beginning to realize that most youth workers have the exact opposite problem. It could be, in fact, that the last thing a youth pastor needs is more helpers.

Let me explain.

If your church is like mine, it’s full of helpers, people who walk out the door with a cheerful, “Just let me know how I can help!”

But there’s a reason why most helpers don’t, well, help:

  • Helpers always wait for someone else to initiate the assignment.
  • Helpers usually aren’t available when I (embarrassingly) need them most (at the last minute).

The simple solution (usually given by folks who have never done youth ministry) is simply “delegate.” But the work of delegating and coordinating the tiny tasks of 100+ helpers is enough like cat herding that most of us just give up and simply do it ourselves.

But what if there were another way?

What if, instead of helpers, our ministries had partners—folks who will own a little corner of the youth ministry, folks that we can help as they take responsibility for their part of the ministry. If you’ve ever had a death or a chronic illness in your family, you know the difference between partners and helpers. I helper says, “Call me if you need me to bring some food.” A partner says, “I’ll coordinate the group of us who will be bringing food for the next month.”

Here’s how it looks in youth ministry:

A dozen helpers may each bring 2 dozen cookies each for the cook-out, but if I have to coordinate with all of them, I wind up doing it myself.

But a single partner can coordinate the work of all the folks bringing food, the logistics of preparing and serving the food, and deal with the little last minute surprises that are certain to come up.

Of course, every youth ministry needs helpers. But if we are to access the incredible willingness of those helpers, we first need partners who can coordinate their work, encourage them along the way, and celebrate with them the victory of a job well done.

So stop recruiting people to help you. And start recruiting people who will partner with you. Then you help them be successful.

Mark DeVries serves as the youth pastor at his church in Nashville, Tennessee and is the founder of Youth Ministry Architects (www.ymarchitects.com), a consulting team that partners with church leaders, volunteers and youth staff to build sustainable, deep-impact youth ministries, one church at a time.

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