I have had the privilege of traveling the country and even to Europe a few times to speak to different groups of people who have made youth ministry their life’s work. Often times, their core team members would join them. As people introduced themselves to me they would say, “I am a full-time youth minister.” Others would say, “I am a part-time youth minister,” while others would say, “I am just a volunteer.” My reaction was always the same: I looked them in the eye and said with all the conviction of my heart, “Never say you’re just a volunteer.”

Of the 30 years that I have been involved in Catholic youth ministry, 15 consisted of serving parishes as a full-time youth minister. The greatest gift that I received during that time was the people who came forward to share with me the mission of leading teens to Christ for no other reason than they felt called to serve. Yes, I am talking about the heroes of heaven! I am talking about youth ministry volunteers!

You are reading this email because this past summer you gave up a weekend (and lots of sleep and comfort) to help teens encounter the love of Christ at a Steubenville Conference. “Thank you” is not enough. I hope your Steubenville Conference experience was blessed.   Be assured that the Conference Team is lifting you up in prayer every week. In honor of you, the volunteer youth minister, I have assembled a list of ten reasons why you rock. Some are fun, some are serious; all of them are true. Here you go:

  1. You have the ability to confound the teens. I loved being a youth minister. But as the leader of the ministry and an employee of the Church, teens expected that I show up and say the right things. When volunteers show up, teens ask the question, “Why are they here?” It was always a blessing to have a team of people with me who could answer that they were there because they loved Jesus and teens.
  1. You have soooo many hidden talents. I loved discovering and fostering the God-given gifts of those who served with me. You may wonder what you bring to the table, but you are super gifted. Let God bring those gifts out!
  1. You are a martyr and you don’t even know it! Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs fertilizes the growth of the Church.” Your sacrifice of time and talent makes you a bloodless martyr and your presence fertilizes conversion in the teens.
  1. You reach the teens that youth ministers can’t. No youth minister can reach every teen. No youth minister can disciple every teen. Your personality and love touch the lives of teens because of who you are and the way you let Christ work through you.
  1. You are willing to listen to teens. This is huge. Not enough people are willing to do this – not even some parents.
  1. You are willing to risk your mental and physical health in order to share the Gospel with teens by eating junk food, losing sleep, and breathing the fumes when teenagers take off their shoes.
  1. You overcome your own awkwardness and fear just to say hello to a teen that may or may not even respond.
  1. You do not judge teens by the color of their hair, their facial piercings, the type of music they listen to, or their brokenness. You enter into their mess and bring hope, healing, and love.
  1. You allow yourself to be humiliated through goofy games, pranks, and fun in order to win teen’s openness and trust.
  1. You say yes. Often times, I feel like the Church is like a football game. You have 11 people out on the field working hard while everyone else is happy just to sit back and watch. But you are in the game. You take the hard hits. You lay down your life. And that makes all the difference.

You’re not “just a volunteer.” You are a youth minister. You are a hero. Thank you.