About 80 percent of churches in the United States do not have the luxury of a paid youth pastor. And once you step outside of America, finding a paid church youth worker is about as common as finding someone listening to an ABBA eight track tape. (I’m not saying they don’t exist, just that they are extremely rare.)
Think about the ramifications of this for a moment.
The overwhelming majority of youth ministry here and around the world is quietly being done on the backs of volunteers in volunteer-led youth ministries.
If you think that’s news, as BTO once sang: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” What’s really amazing to me is this:
Despite often being ignored and minimized in the current youth ministry dialogue, I contend that many of these under-resourced volunteer youth workers from volunteer-led youth ministries are literally changing the world for Jesus Christ a few students at a time.
The Paul Cone Factor
I heard about Paul Cone long before I met him. As I come alongside church leaders in Central Illinois, I often ask folks, “How did you become a Christian?” That’s when I started hearing about Paul. I’m still regularly running into people—young and old—whom Paul has introduced to Jesus AND discipled. You see, Paul has strategically invested his entire adult life volunteering in youth ministry. Get this: Now the people Paul has discipled... are discipling others.
Who does that remind you of?
The first person that comes to my mind is... Jesus.
The first person that comes to my mind is... Jesus.
Ironically, Paul will probably never be asked to speak at a national youth ministry conference—or even a local one for that matter (their loss). He’ll probably never write a book—or even an article—about youth ministry (I’d buy it, read it, apply it, and give it to others if he did). With no formal eduction in youth ministry, no goatee-cool-factor, no fanfare, and no hifalutin youth ministry facilities or program, Paul Cone has humbly invested his life volunteering in youth ministries in regular-size churches.
His ministry strategy? He simply loves God and students. Paul is a disciple of Jesus who is quietly investing his life in making disciples... who are now actively making more disciples. And God is getting the glory—not Paul. When I tell Paul about all the different people I consistently meet who indicate that his influence in their lives was a turning point for them spiritually... he turns a slightly deeper shade of red and puts his head down. End of conversation. But it’s not the end of the conversation because—while Paul doesn’t talk a big youth ministry game or toot his own horn—he speaks very clearly, consistently, and cogently with his life. And God is using him to do nothing less than change the world a few volunteers and students at a time.
Paul is 53 years old at the time of this writing. (He just told me his age three days ago when we were talking youth ministry with a friend of ours who is a paid youth pastor—all while eating a fabulous Mexican lunch together. That’s him with the hat on next to me in the picture.) Guess what Paul is up to these days? Surprise: He’s STILL a volunteer youth worker in a church without a paid youth pastor—doing his best to make disciples who will make more disciples. I’m not ashamed to say that I love Paul Cone and I want to be like him because the legacy he is leaving is amazingly like Jesus’.... consistently multiplying disciples... who are multiplying disciples... ad infinitum (i.e., again and again in the same way forever).
Celebrating Volunteer-Led Youth Ministry
The fact is that God has a lot of Paul Cones out there. But because they tend to be so unassuming, you have to look for them to find them. Where are they? Tucked away—often under the radar of professional youth ministry—in the 80 percent of churches who don’t have a paid youth worker.
One would think that the sheer numbers of these volunteer youth ministry leaders would warrant a whole host of training resources, conferences, and attention. But the truth is that, when it comes to youth ministry, the 20 percent in professional youth ministry tend to get the spotlight while God’s largest army of youth workers—volunteers—are politely ignored, often minimized, and woefully under-resourced.
This inequity bothered us so much, we started Cadre Ministries.
Please don’t get me wrong. Cadre LOVES paid youth workers. We’ve trained and certified many vocational pastors and youth pastors to take Cadre training to the volunteers in their ministries. But here’s the thing for us: We love volunteers in church ministry with the same level of intensity that we love the people in professional ministry.
After all, if I understand the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, then every Christian is a full-time minister. Some of us full-time ministers are paid by a ministry and others of us are volunteers, but we’re all full-time ministers. That means the Paul Cones of the world are to be celebrated as real full-time ministers and never viewed as“just volunteers.”
What’s Your Next Step?
1. Who is one ministry volunteer you need to celebrate? Why? How will you celebrate this person as a full-time minister? What is your next step?
2. Find the volunteer-led youth ministry closest to you geographically. How can you build a trusting relationship with these volunteers? After you build a relationship of trust, what training, resources and encouragement can you share with them? What is your next step?
3. With whom do you need to share this post? Why not do it right now?
Subscribe to Cup O' Joe with Bill by Email.