Being the Worst Best Volunteer Leader

Does this Wednesday night sound familiar to you?

I get home after leading small group around 10:45pm.  I kick off my shoes.  My brain glitches, and my thoughts begin to spin. I drift between Netflix and randomly scrolling Instagram pictures of other people’s pets.

Then, in the middle of decompressing, my phone screen lights up.

My thoughts?

Shoot, I was just getting to the good pug pictures. I haven’t slowed down all day. In the name of Chick-fil-A sauce, I refuse to look at my phone right now. But really . . . I should look because what if it’s one of our students?”

I unlock my phone.

A voice message from another Small Group Leader plays. Something was shared in their group tonight that, on one hand was good; it’s amazing how the student opened up and shared how they’re trusting Jesus. But on the other hand, it was also really hard because now we know some things that are tough to process. Now we know there’s even more stuff that’s out of our control: broken families, broken hearts, broken lives.

And on top of that, this Small Group Leader said that there’s an actual grass roots campaign forming in our ministry. Yes, that’s right… the people really want to have a lock-in.

Seriously? What else can be piled on top of me tonight? I just wanted to catch up on my Netflix show! I’m not sure if I need ten hugs, an extra large coffee, a cross fit workout, a sugar coma, or an escape to the islands of Thailand (or maybe all of the above).

Now, a never-ending to-do list begins to grow in my mind. And along with it, a burden grows, too.

Maybe you know what that feels like as a leader. When you experience the good, the bad, the fun, and the stress all at the same time. When you get calls like the one I got tonight, you feel uplifted and encouraged because a student opened up and is growing in their faith, but heartbroken for what they’re going through right now.

You think: How could something I love so much hurt this bad? Why does youth ministry sometimes feel like surgery? Is it possible that being a volunteer can literally be the best and worst feeling at the same time?

I’ve been in full time youth ministry since 2001. Last year, I became a full time youth ministry volunteer.  And seventeen years into this thing, I’m finding out that I’m the world’s worst best youth ministry volunteer.

I am both of these things at once.

I am the best, and I am the worst.

Right now, I’m helping a youth ministry that’s barely three months old, and I regularly think to myself, Shouldn’t I be better at this by now? Shouldn’t I know how to do this already?

I need more resources, more relationships, and more help than I’ve ever needed before. But reaching out for help feels like even more work. All of the stress can be overwhelming. And sometimes, I just feel like the world’s worst volunteer.

But I’m starting to believe that it’s okay to feel this way. Maybe it’s actually a good thing to be both the worst and best volunteer.

Imagine what kind of volunteers we’d be if we actually believed we were the best. What if we actually thought there wasn’t any room to grow? How would we experience trust and faith in this process?

So the question for me isn’t about being better; it’s about staying in this sweet, beautiful spot somewhere between the best and worst—this space of humility and hunger for better.

Humble and hungry. That’s where I want to live.

I’m certainly feeling it in my new, growing church where we don’t have a budget for youth ministry. I have to daily let my guard down and learn to trust Jesus.

I pray: “Jesus, I’m down here in the mess. I’m humbled by it. I’m hungry for more.”

Jesus assures me: “I’ve got you.”

The reality is, most of us can probably relate to feeling that we want to do more, but doubt it can actually happen with our limited time, support and resources. So we feel like while we may not be the world’s worst volunteer, we certainly aren’t the best either. We’re kind of stuck being the world’s worst best.

And in that in-between, I’m reminded of this truth: God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.

So I guess I’ve come to accept that it’s okay to feel like I’m not quite the perfect volunteer that I’ve always and strived to be. God will use me anyway.

Maybe you feel the same way. To you, I say, embrace it! See the mess. Acknowledge the mess. And for a few moments, do nothing to fix it. (Because honestly, there’s a lot we really can’t fix.)

Instead, sit down in the middle of the mess and look around. Declare that there’s something you can do down here to make a difference.

As the world’s worst best volunteers, we’re humans. And that means we experience the broken, weird, out of control, random things and people in our lives.

We throw our hands up . . . and sometimes they stay there.

We’re humble.

We’re hungry.

We’re winning because we’re here.

We give each other our best when we admit our humanity at our worst.

And when you experience things like I did tonight—feeling like you’re the best volunteer because your students trust you enough to open up, but also the worst because you’re still trying to navigate this whole being-a-leader thing—remember that this in-between feeling is the best place to be.

Cheers to the mess. We see value in the mess. It becomes our own beautiful and special place to celebrate the cool stuff that happens when we jump into everything that’s bigger than us.

So, welcome! Here, we are the worst. Here, we are the best.