Talent vs. Volunteers

I’m growing wary of the “volunteer” label for the men and women who work with youth in our congregation. Technically correct, the designation feels limited to showing up, chaperoning, making sure nobody runs with scissors. Further, calling some adults “volunteers” creates a distinction between those folks and “staff,” a distinction that can easily perpetuate a practice of youth ministry that is dictated by professionals and fails to take full advantage of all the talent in the congregation.

That’s the term I’ve been employing more and more in place of “volunteer”: talent.

Teenagers in churches are surrounded by writers, video producers, actors, physicians, teachers, counselors, social workers, bankers, and a broad range of professionals (and retirees) in other fields. They’re swimming in a sea of talent. I want them to know that, and I want the talent to believe that the things they know and are interested in matter to the church’s teens. This is the desire behind our Summer Youth Bizarre idea–surfacing talent.

Maybe supplanting “volunteer” with “talent” is a tactical mistake though. Maybe supplement?

Volunteering is valuable. People have jobs. People have aging parents, kids, and sick friends. Showing up ain’t nothing.

Maybe a church needs multiple circles or tiers of adults who are working with youth: a talent tier, a volunteer tier, a staff tier, and even a governance tier.