Blessed are the youth workers who are trained before they begin their service, but the rest of you must learn the job on the job, making—and recovering from—your mistakes. The problem is, some mistakes can have serious consequences for you or the students with whom you work. Here are 10 tips that might spare you some hard knocks, heartaches, discomfort or confusion. And yes, I’ve learned some of these the hard way.
10. Children of your own not required.
Having no children can help you as a youth worker, for a number of reasons. You have more freedom to help with spur-of-the-moment activities. You can chaperone retreats and lock-ins without the guilt of having left your spouse at home with the children. But the biggest advantage is to the students, who benefit from exposure to youth workers of all ages and phases of life.
9. If you have children in the youth program, don’t be only their youth worker.
If your main reason for volunteering is to keep watch over your children, have a serious talk with the youth pastor about your situation.
Otherwise, make sure you spread your attention around to all students in the program. Most of all, take care to treat all students with an even hand, being neither too strict nor too lenient. Being too strict with your children alienates them. Being too lenient with your children alienates the other students.
8. Remember, your students are regular people.
Your students may use foul language, send text messages they shouldn’t, trash-talk each other and treat adults—including you—with disrespect. In short, they don’t wear halos yet, so don’t expect them to. Love your imperfect students even when they aren’t so loveable, as God loves us all.
7. Get active.
If you’ve come so far as to volunteer and arrive at the youth program’s meeting venue, then don’t just observe. Participate. Play the games when it’s appropriate and when you’re able. Laugh with students, cry with them, sing with them even if you can’t carry a tune. Risk looking foolish to get involved with them. You’ll build friendships with them faster, you’ll have more fun and you won’t look like a guard standing off against the wall. What student wants a guard?