Using Teenagers in Children’s Ministry

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Beyond their ability to double as playground equipment,
a familiar teenage face can ease separation anxiety for young
children…

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When you think of teenagers in your church, what comes to mind:
a. rebellious, pizza-gobbling, soft-drink-slurping rabble-rousers,
b. older kids who’ve (thankfully) outgrown your ministry and are
now the youth minister’s responsibility, or c. mature young adults
who have a unique opportunity to minister to your kids?

Believe it or not, teenagers have a lot to offer your kids, your
ministry, and even your church. Here’s how veteran children’s
workers have included teenagers successfully in their
ministries.

Teens Train Too

For 13 years, Sue Lennartson provided an intensive
all-summer-long daily children’s program-with the help of 50 or 60
teenagers at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi,
Minnesota.

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“We couldn’t have done the program without them,” says
Lennartson, who is now a children’s ministry consultant. “We hired
many as part-time staff while they were still in high school, and
they returned later as college interns.” According to Lennartson,
training is a key component for a successful ministry with
teenagers. Over the years, she developed a training program dubbed
“20/20 Vision.” The program, designed to help teenagers see clearly
into ministry, helps teenagers develop a repertoire of 20
activities they can pull out at a moment’s notice. In the 20/20
Vision program, each teenager is prepared to lead five songs,
games, crafts, and devotions.

Bob Shaw, a church school director at the First Congregational
Church in Greeley, Colorado, trains the 25 teenagers who volunteer
in his children’s ministry.

“If the teens are doing any teaching, they participate in
ongoing teacher training alongside adult teachers,” explains Shaw.
Shaw conducts a couple of two-hour training sessions each August.
In addition, teenagers attend monthly teacher-enrichment meetings
that focus on theme-related topics. This year’s topic is
“Recognizing and Helping Hurting Children.”

Great Expectations

Requiring accountability is another key factor for success.
Carolyn Reed, a children’s pastor at First Baptist Church in
Oxnard, California, requires her teen workers to provide references
and to complete an application with standard volunteer screening
questions. They also provide a statement describing their Christian
faith, including important faith lessons they’ve learned recently.
Reed consults with her church’s youth ministry staff before
accepting applications.

If accepted, these teenagers commit to a one-year rotation of
one month on, two months off. During their months off, they’re
expected to participate in church services or youth activities.

“We have a regular list of what’s expected,” says Reed. “Teens
are required to call if they’ll be gone. They have to help clean up
and check with the teacher before leaving for the day.”

Some adult teachers even enlist teenagers to help with weekly
lesson preparation. Reed says these teachers become mentors who
positively impact teens’ faith development.

Mary Ann Bethea, a children’s ministries coordinator at St.
Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, has
seen her teenagers rise beyond her expectations. “It’s given me a
new perspective on teenagers,” says Bethea. “Before, teenagers
really weren’t my thing.”

Bethea used her church’s youth group to staff a vacation Bible
school outreach to inner city kids last summer. It went so well
that next year she plans to invite inner city teenagers to join her
church’s teenagers for training.

What’s The Catch?

“Teenagers are living, walking jungle gyms,” Lennartson says.
Beyond their ability to double as playground equipment, a familiar
teenage face can ease separation anxiety for young children.
Teenagers can also aid in classroom management by providing
important one-on-one attention for distractible children. And since
teenagers can still remember what it was like to be kids, they may
be able to relate better to what kids are going through.

Teenagers can do a lot, but don’t expect them to take over and
run all your programs. Remember, teenagers are young adults, but
they’re also grown-up kids. From time to time, they may need to be
reminded why they’re there. “Help teenagers learn how to
participate appropriately,” says Lennartson. “Make regular
evaluation a part of your program, but remember to evaluate
kindly-these aren’t just teenagers, they’re your partners in
ministry.”

Getting Started

If your church isn’t already using teenagers in your ministry,
start by identifying ministry tasks teenagers can do. Tasks can
range from walking preschoolers to the drinking fountain to
assisting adult leaders with lesson activities-or even teaching
entire lessons. Lennartson suggests three levels of teen ministry
involvement. When you’re ready to plug teenagers in, discuss your
plans with your church’s youth director. Then announce ministry
opportunities to the youth group.

Teenagers who are actively involved in church youth activities
are likely candidates for ministry. “We typically use our
confirmation class for this ministry,” says Shaw. “But we don’t
leave out teens who may be uninvolved in the formal youth ministry
program. Ministering to kids is a great way to involve teens who
might otherwise find themselves on the periphery of the life of the
church.” Once you’ve got kids involved, remember: training, trust,
and accountability will help ensure a faith-growing experience for
you, your teen partners in ministry, and the kids in your care.
“Young children respond very well to teenagers,” Shaw says. “I
don’t know all the reasons why, but I’m just glad for the
blessing.”

Are My Teenagers Level 3 Leaders?

Plug teenagers into one of the following levels of
involvement.

  • Level 1– Helper-Helpers work behind the
    scenes doing tasks such as registration or snack preparation. They
    may pass out supplies, help kids complete craft projects, or
    participate in activities alongside the kids.
  • Level 2 — Teaching Assistant-These kids are
    beginning to get involved in actual teaching. They may lead one or
    more simple activities, such as games. Or they may act out a Bible
    story. Teaching assistants always have an adult teacher present,
    but when they lead an activity, they do it on their own.
  • Level 3 — Teacher-Teenagers who serve as
    teachers often have their own classes. They’re responsible for
    planning lessons and directing kids in activities. They may have
    adult or other teen helpers, and they’re often paired with adult
    teachers or staff members for mentoring and accountability. Fill
    teen teacher positions with senior high youth.

Jennifer Root Wilger is a free-lance author in Lafayette,
Colorado. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.

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