Earlier this year, Vineyard USA released a conceptual framework for spiritual formation that is applicable to all stages of life and levels of ministry called the Vineyard Pilgrimage. This journey provides a strategic framework for guiding and mentoring the people we are called to serve that allows us to celebrate milestones and mark progress as they grow closer to Jesus.
This Vineyard Pilgrimage also allows us as youth folks to look at youth ministry in a multi-dimensional way. The first dimension is the students, and this dimension logically gets the bulk of our strategic attention. Developing trail markers and milestones for individual students and the collective group is important, but also can detract from the other two dimensions.
The second dimension of youth ministry is the volunteers; this group is an interesting one in that it is the backbone of youth ministry but also easy to overlook when it comes to pastoral care and Pilgrimage tracking. This likely occurs due to time restraints on the part of youth ministry leaders. In the Big Sky Region, the vast majority of our youth pastors are volunteers that also work full time jobs elsewhere. With the balance of life, family and ministry, setting apart time to partner with and guide other volunteers through the Pilgrimage is difficult at best.
When mapping out ministry priorities, it is an easy argument that students come first. I would submit, however, that volunteer pastoral care is all about students coming first. When our volunteers are healthy and have goals toward future development, excitement increases and burnout and compassion fatigue can be held at bay. Additionally, this allows the youth pastor to hold one very important Vineyard truth: that we should all be working ourselves out of a job. By developing these leaders we are ensuring healthy ministry in our local churches but also cultivating a pool for youth works to support church plants or be church planters themselves.
Also, everybody needs a paycheck, and for volunteers that often can come in the way of one on one time pouring into their personal development and helping to track the journey they are on. To do this, I would recommend adopting some outcomes for your volunteers like the Fifth Grade Frankie outcomes created by Vineyard Kids in 2015. These outcomes provide a tool for self-evaluation and reflection that can point towards goals and ministry that would lead volunteers closer to Jesus and closer to the students of the ministry. When outcomes are created, placing milestones for our volunteers to reach gives us something to celebrate as a community. Imagine if a youth volunteer milestone were to coincide with a student milestone. A great example of this could be guiding a volunteer as they grow in relationship with students, gain the ability to lead discussions, teach, evangelize and disciple, then baptize one of the students they fostered a relationship with during that process. Imagine the emotion of that moment!
As a youth ministry grows, the youth pastor will find that their pastoral time shifts from pastoring students to pastoring the volunteers that pastor the students. This makes the volunteers’ pilgrimage essential to the ministry. With that in mind, volunteer development is essential to strategic vision. Further, identifying volunteers to be placed on a leader track creates an opportunity to bring Vineyard Institute and other national level resources to support the task. As your volunteers travel through the Pilgrimage and expand their ministry role the entire community will be blessed with the enhanced service they provide and the example that they set.
Fitting volunteer development into a robust ministry and life schedule is daunting, and because we cannot add more hours to the day, adding something means giving something else up. Providing counsel on which to give up of the many amazing things youth pastors are doing is not something that can be done generally. The question must be asked, however, if you don’t have time to meet with your volunteers, are you really leading them?
Finally, youth pastors and leaders make up a third dimension of the ministry that is on the Pilgrimage journey. It is important to take the time to self-evaluate, measure ourselves against the spiritual formation outcomes and track our own trail markers and milestones.
If it has been awhile since you have passed a milestone, or if you don’t see any on the horizon, it is time for some self-care, reflection and a talk with your lead pastor. It is easy to fall into the trap of spiritual stagnation, and the path to that trap is often one of being busy. The truth is, if we are not moving forward we are becoming stagnant and in danger of hitting barriers to effective ministry and burnout.
As the Vineyard Pilgrimage continues to develop from our national team, and more resources become available, we will have more to add to the depth of what we offer in our local churches. Remembering to apply these resources not just to our students, but to the volunteers that carry the ministry load, and to ourselves as fellow sojourners, will add to the strategic potential of student ministry in our movement!