Grace in Relationships: The Youth Minister and the Volunteer

If you can remember back to the day you signed up for Facebook, you were given the choice of letting the world know your relationship status. All the usual suspects were provided for you, ‘Married’, ‘Single’ and the like. One of the options was (and still is) ‘It’s complicated.’

It’s certainly one of the things Facebook got right.

Relationships, whether between a parent and child, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, employee and boss, pastor and parishioner, can be complicated. The relationship between a Youth Minister and his or her volunteers is no exception.

Let me give you some personal context. I am the Pastor to a Youth Leadership Team, all who volunteer their time in serving the church and the youth ministry. Some are experienced in youth ministry, some are still working out what being a leader means, and others are just beginning to see that this role might be something they can grow into.

With each of these volunteers, I seek to see them grow more in their relationship with Jesus, develop as leaders and servers within our youth ministry, and to offer them pastoral concern and care as they deal with the struggles and pressures of everyday life.

But as you can imagine, there are times when these relationships are challenged, stretched, and complicated. It might be the case that a particular volunteer makes choices that don’t reflect what it means to be a youth leader. Or perhaps a volunteer goes off the grid for a few weeks, missing in action without letting anyone know. Or, the issue could be as small as a leader consistently turning up late to meetings.

While studying at theological college, I had a terrific lecturer who taught the Gospel of John. In the first chapter of this gospel, we examined verse 17 where we are told Jesus came with grace and truth. I will never forget this lecturer telling us that as disciples – whether in the local church, in missions, or some other ministry – when faced with the choice of offering grace or delivering truth, he recommended erring on the side of grace.

I believe he was right.

For whatever complication there might be in my relationships with youth ministry volunteers, I’ve found grace provides better opportunity for growth and relationship.

By no means am I suggesting to shirk an issue or avoid making a volunteer understand they can do better. But grace inherently brings with it an attitude of openness, forgiveness, and kindness.

You see, grace recognises your youth ministry volunteers are God’s creation, just as you are.

Grace recognises your youth ministry volunteers are dealing with their own brokenness and sin, just as you are.

Grace recognises your youth ministry volunteers are trying to understand how the Gospel of Christ impacts their everyday life and faith, just as you are.

Grace recognises that your youth ministry volunteers are following Jesus as best they can, just as you are.

And, grace recognises that your youth ministry volunteers are serving out of their love for Jesus and wanting to make an impact on students, just as you are.

Often, relationships can be made complicated in unhealthy ways. However, when grace is the marker in a relationship – youth ministry volunteer or otherwise – that which seems complicated becomes easier. Truth is eventually able to be spoken, forgiveness is able to be given and received, and love and kindness shines through. If you’re sceptical, look no further than the grace given to us through Christ Jesus. I encourage you to seek to make grace the center of your relationship with your volunteers, as I believe it will not only transform the culture of your youth ministry to another level, but also transform your own heart.

Jon Coombs is the Associate Pastor for Youth & Young Adults at Rowville Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia. For over 15 years he has been working with youth and young adults in churches, schools, mission agencies and not-for-profit organisations. He holds an MDiv from the Melbourne School of Theology and writes regularly at You can find and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

More From This Author