This is a guest post by my good friend Marv Penner. Marv is a global youth ministry leader, the author of several books, a professor, leader of Youth Specialties Canada, and prayer warrior. You can follow Marv on Twitter at @marvpenner. If you’re interested in writing a guest post, go here for details.

Many of us who head up youth ministries know that this can be one of the most stressful times of our year. The fall program is about to launch (or has already kicked off) and we simply don’t have enough volunteers to make it happen.

  • We did our recruitment right by starting early and making one-on-one personal appeals to individuals we knew would make great volunteers.
  • We talked to some of our key student leaders to get their input on who they perceived to be potentially awesome (i.e. wicked, amped, off-the-hook, phat, sweet, epic, etc) new leaders.
  • We presented the ministry opportunity with clarity and even gave people a sample role description and a volunteer staff manual to look over before deciding.
  • We invited them to a youth ministry event way back in the spring just to give them a taste of what a volunteer role might look like.
  • We told them about the training, resources and support they’d receive as part of the volunteer staff.
  • We even allowed our recruits plenty of time to think and pray about it before we got back to them for their decision.

OK, so maybe we didn’t do ALL those things, but we did some of them, and we meant to do all of them (and next year we’ll do better)… but in the meantime our volunteer train is about to leave the station with way too many empty seats.

When we get to this point it’s easy to start feeling frantic, desperate and afraid. After all, building a team is one of our primary tasks. But here’s where a lot of us make the mistake of lowering the bar and forever living to regret it.

Let me introduce you to a few last minute volunteers I’ve pulled onto my team train over the years. They not only became the bane of my ministry existence, but they turned out to be toxic to the team and destructive to our community of students.

1. Larry-Let-Me-Show-You-How-To-REALLY-Do-Youth-Ministry: Larry was a dad who just didn’t like the way we were doing youth ministry. Our relational approach that relied on small leader-to-student ratios, shared experiences, life-on-life mentoring, and authentic, emotionally intelligent volunteers was “new-age and unbiblical” as far as he was concerned. I had resisted his volunteering because it just didn’t feel right, but in the end when I needed someone… anyone… I caved. Of course I hadn’t anticipated how destructive he’d be until he was already on the team and undermining my leadership at every turn in the road. He wanted a “big room” ministry with “solid preaching that’ll show these spoiled self-serving kids what the Bible really says to young people.” He was passionate, persuasive and divisive. And getting him off the team was a whole lot harder than getting him on. Sadly, when he and his family left our church they took two or three other families with them.

2. Monica-My-Kid-Won’t-Survive-Without-Me: Monica was the classic helicopter parent–hovering around her only daughter like a pesky wasp at a bowl of church picnic potato salad. When she found out we were still a few volunteers short she jumped at the opportunity. “I’d love to help out,” she gushed. I had some legitimate concerns because her codependent relationship with her kid was pretty obvious, but I needed another female staffer, so against my better judgment I welcomed her to the team. Don’t get me wrong… I like small ratio youth ministry, but her “one-to-one” relationship with her daughter was the worst thing that could have possibly happened to that poor kid. Parents can become fabulous volunteers, but when they join the team with only their child in mind they weaken the ministry and spoil the experience for their own kids. Rescue them from themselves by saying a firm, gentle “no thanks.”

Part 2 is coming tomorrow (3 more volunteers to be wary of).

Question for today: Can you guess the other 3 volunteers that have bothered Marv? What types of volunteers frustrate you?