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Teens Take the Lead

Stephanie Martin

Taking Charge

Teen involvement in children's ministry clearly benefits everyone, but what does it look like in action? Common areas where young volunteers excel include classrooms, children's worship services, and other duties throughout the church.

• Classrooms-At Oak Hills, a pair of teenagers, together with a mentor teacher, plan lessons for one month at a time. Teens are responsible for Bible lessons and all activities, arrival and pick-up times, and interacting with parents.

Kingdom Life's young assistants help with everything from crafts to cleanup. Once they're 16, kids can advance to "classroom facilitators" (lead teachers). In this role, they lead a team of two to three adults by making reminder calls, distributing curriculum, leading pre-class prayer, and setting the general course for the classroom.

"Some of our best classroom facilitators are teenagers who've grown up in our church and are now able to bring their knowledge to the children following them," Bulkley says.

• Worship Services-Children's services are packed with fun, meaningful volunteer opportunities. Teenagers can perform drama and puppet shows, run audio-visuals, and lead songs, games, and prayers.

At Eagle Brook, teenage apprentices "volunteer in virtually the same capacity as grown-ups, but with a few limitations," Wendt says. For example, kids under 18 don't do bathroom or diaper-changing duty, and safety rules limit who can hold or carry babies.

• Other Duties-Young people make great small group leaders, security personnel, and greeters. Some churches encourage kids to venture out and serve as ushers, parking lot guides, communion assistants, praise-and-worship leaders, nursing home visitors, and more. Some roles require minimal or no preparation time, making them ideal for busy kids who want to get their feet wet as volunteers.

Taking Care

Behind the scenes of successful programs, you'll find plenty of adult guidance. Like all volunteers, teenagers need to be trained and nurtured. In other words, if you want kids to take their participation seriously, you must do the same.

• Plan-Before launching your program, decide the areas in which teenagers will serve and what specific responsibilities they'll have. Then set clear expectations not only for young volunteers but also for the adults working with them.

• Recruit and Screen-Even if you're desperate for volunteers, you don't have to accept everyone who's interested. Most churches we spoke to make teenagers go through the same application and screening processes as adults.

Young volunteers at Christ's Church of the Valley fill out a three-page confidential application regarding their spiritual background and beliefs, lifestyle choices, and ministry preferences. Kids are asked point-blank if they drink alcohol, have been accused of sexual crimes, or have any painful childhood experiences that may affect their ministry with children. Applicants have the option of discussing these questions privately with a pastoral staff member.

All applicants must agree to a written list of qualifications ranging from having a "teachable" heart and faithfully attending church to dressing appropriately and not chewing gum or talking on cell phones while volunteering.

• Train-Rigorous training ensures that your ministry's children are well-served and that young volunteers will develop as leaders, too. And it guarantees that teenagers will stick with your program for the long-haul.

"If you train teenagers in a ministry where their heart is vested and they feel needed," says Rivas, "they'll always want to be part of it."

At Oak Hills, teenage apprentices work through a curriculum to discover how and what to teach, as well as how children learn.

Lakewood Church designed its own leadership-development curriculum to build teenagers as people. In J-Life, junior high kids take leadership classes and are mentored in a specific ministry area. Senior high kids who are accepted into the Teen-Life program then work in a children's ministry department, attend monthly leadership training, perform service projects, and go on mission trips.

At Timberline, the training process is purposefully tough to weed out some kids, Bullion says. Teenagers go through a six-month Foundations for Faith discipleship-training program, followed by six months of hands-on training.

"It's intense, and they must be committed," Bullion says. But after the yearlong program, kids have incredible knowledge about their faith, as well as practical knowledge needed for volunteering.

Bulkley recommends that the children's and youth ministers work together to coordinate all training. "As the children's pastor, I set the bar," he says, "and the youth pastor trains teenagers to reach it."

• Mentor-Building relationships and building people are key to any volunteer program, Johnson says. "Leaders need to build a team because team members will then become builders," he notes.

Mentoring ensures that young people keep growing in their faith and acquire the confidence to pass it on. Abigail Wells says her 10-year-old daughter, Ariana, has become a "bold, mighty warrior" through Lakewood's J-Life program. Ariana even shared her faith with her grandfather, who became a Christian as a result.

Teen-Life participant Jasmine Banks, 13, says, "I love to lead children so I can let them see God more."

Valuable relationships form among teenagers and children, among teenagers and adult teammates, and among teenagers themselves. Bullion meets weekly with 14 teenage "captains," or overseers, to touch base. "We train the captains to pour into team members' lives, which trickles down to all participants," he says.

• Evaluate and Follow-Up-Children's ministers must be aware of what's working and what isn't. Teenagers may need to be moved to a different area, may need to be disciplined, or may even need to leave the program.

At Kingdom Life, coordinators regularly check in with kids. In addition, a pastor visits each service to provide feedback, and lead teachers provide input about any teenagers who need more training or repositioning.

"We try to recognize every teenager's accomplishments and help them correct any negative patterns on a case-by-case basis," Bulkley says.
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