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I don’t know how I thought I’d drive everyone to our events, or be everywhere at once, or find the time in my already crammed schedule.  But then it happened–I needed adults for the mission trip.  I couldn’t drive all the vans and do all the chaperone details, so I put out the word to the congregation: HELP!!

I got a few parents, a couple mature college kids, a regular chaperone or two, but I still needed one more adult–and I was desperate.

 I wish I’d learned earlier in my youth ministry experience the value of good adults on the team.  Back in my beginner days I had visions of being a super-youth-leader and doing it all, rushing into youth meetings in a single bound, rescuing troubled teens single-handedly, and being the hero of the whole church.  (I can almost hear the Superman soundtrack.)

I don’t know how I thought I’d drive everyone to our events, or be everywhere at once, or find the time in my already crammed schedule.  But then it happened–I needed adults for the mission trip.  I couldn’t drive all the vans and do all the chaperone details, so I put out the word to the congregation: HELP!!

I got a few parents, a couple mature college kids, a regular chaperone or two, but I still needed one more adult–and I was desperate.  So when Gus told me he’d like to go, I was thrilled.  He was retired and had the time, PLUS he had a van he’d drive!  Thank you, God, I thought. 

That’s not what I was saying once the trip started.

To put it mildly, Gus was a disaster.  Despite the training meetings, he didn’t seem to understand what the trip was all about.  He was going to work on people’s homes, not help teenagers grow in their faith.  (It’s a big deal to make that clear to your adults on mission trips.)  He criticized kids and the job they did, yelled at them for messing up his van, openly dissed me and other adults in front of the entire group, refused to participate in our spiritual programs, and was judgmental of the people we served.  I ended up spending more time on the trip dealing with him than ministering with my students. 

Because I was willing to take a warm body, I paid the price–and so did my youth.
Yet it still took me awhile to appreciate the impact of great adults.    
Tell you the truth, it was difficult to hand off some of the best stuff (working with the kids) and spend more time training adult leaders to do it.  But the more I worked on adult training and selection, the more enjoyable and impactful my ministry became.  I eventually came to really enjoy working with the adults–in fact those adults became some of my closest friends.

Gus never should have gone on any youth trip, especially a mission trip.  Youth mission trips are about spiritual growth of the kids first and serving others in mission second.  Once I figured that out, I selected adults who loved kids and wanted to work with them over adults who had skills for whatever it was we’d be doing.  Some great construction people came to me wanting to go on our home repair trips.  But when I started talking to them about caring for our youth first and foremost, they usually self-selected themselves out.  And I’d encourage those people to look into our adult mission opportunities.

But you need more than adults who can work with kids.  You need adults who support the vision and mission of the youth ministry. 

Craig was an adult who was great with kids having worked with the scouts.  But he was openly disappointed that we spent so much time on our mission trip connecting the service to the spiritual growth of our kids.  He wanted the focus to be strictly on serving.  Period.  I gently encouraged Craig to continue with scouting trips, because growing in our friendship with Jesus was a big deal for us as a church.

So be very selective of the adults you recruit for your youth ministry.   
And build in plenty of time to train them. 
And also find time to celebrate their service to teenagers.  In my experience adults who work with the youth group are some of the least-appreciated servants in the church.  So take them out to dinner, print their names in the church newsletter and bulletin, send them gifts and notes of appreciation, and encourage the teens to say thank you to them.  Trust me, you’ll get a lot more wanting to stick around.  And it’s easier when you can keep good adults than continually having to recruit and train new ones. 

Your ministry to the adult leaders is at least as important as your ministry to teenagers.

 (NOTE: for information on background checks of adult volunteers and staff, check out Group’s Church Volunteer Central, an online subscription service with all sorts of volunteer management tools and tips, as well as background check information.  Visit https://shop.grouppublishing.com/cvc/.)

Got any stories of adults who never should have been on your youth ministry team?  Let me know by emailing me at dnewcomb@grouppublishing.com.  I might post them so more people can learn from our mistakes.  Thanks!

Doc Newcomb is a pastor, youth pastor, and Program Manager for Group Workcamps Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides a variety of short-term mission opportunities for church youth groups.  www.groupworkcamps.com.    

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