Four Steps to Intentionally Develop Volunteer Leaders

Youth Specialties
October 21st, 2014

Jared Kirkwood taught a great seminar at NYWC Sacramento called “The Farm League: Intentionally Developing Leaders” (check out the audio for it HERE) and he wrote the following post as a quick-look at some of the ideas he covered.

We are grateful for the original pic from Drew Herron.

I spent my high school years in Las Vegas. One of the unique things about that city is that it doesn’t have a professional sports team. So, being the avid baseball fans that my friends and I were, we were forced to root for the Las Vegas Stars (now the 51s). While the minor league’s level of play was not nearly that of MLB, the games taught me a lot about the intentional development of people because the Stars were a feeder team to the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. At every game, my friends and I felt like we were on the front edge of someone’s career!

The kind of development that I observed from the Stars has stuck with me, and in my current youth ministry calling, I wonder: When we consider the great vision and mission of the church, why would we consider our opportunity to develop volunteers any different?

Volunteer leader development does not happen by accident. We must intentionally develop the key leaders that God has placed in our midst to give ourselves the best chance at making an impact in our cities, local schools, or neighborhoods in the name of Jesus. We must coach, mentor, and develop our volunteer “teammates” in a strategic way.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a way to think about building our teams, in 4 simple steps: identify, discover, equip and empower.


The battle is won or lost in the selection process. This means if you identify the best people, the rest of the journey is an absolute joy to watch as volunteers step into the calling God has placed on their lives. If you’re less tuned in to the people you choose, there is a good chance that you will be exhausted and the rest of your team will be dragged down with them.

But who are the “right” volunteers for you? They’re called by God, fit your church and team, and will live out your church’s values.


There is nothing greater than serving God out of our gifts and passion. When you’re looking for the best volunteers for your ministry, take time in the interview to ask them, “When you wake up in the morning, what gets you excited? When you lie awake at night, what are you dissatisfied with? And what life experiences have made you who you are today?”

Great leaders call others to serve from their identity in Christ, one that has been formed from their gifts, passion, and life experience. When we pause to look for this kind of self-awareness, we not only gain lifelong volunteers, but we also create a ministry where exponential life change is taking place.


In order for your volunteers to do what you need them to do, what do they need to know and who do you need them to be? Clearly there is a skill and task conversation that needs to take place, but I am more interested in equipping our volunteers to be core contributors to the culture we’re creating in student ministries. Leadership is doing and being, so we must teach our teams to live out our cultural values on a daily basis.

Simply put: The culture you create with your volunteer team will overflow into your student’s lives.


The difficult task of releasing ministry to key volunteers brings out our greatest fear: If I let go, I won’t be needed anymore. This scarcity mindset will drastically limit the amount of life change your ministry will see. If you have adequately walked the long, relational road of volunteer leader development, releasing the ministry to your team is the greatest gift you could ever give them.


Here are some practical steps to help you in each component.

Identify: Memorize your vision, mission, and values so that you know a key volunteer when you see them. Create a recruitment strategy to reach new people beyond your network.

Discover: Sit down with each of your current volunteer team members and ask the questions listed above. Watch how they light up at the interest you are taking in them. Now, how can you tap into that passion for the ministry?

Equip: List out the skills necessary for a leader to be on your team and then the culture you hope to create in your ministry. What culture are you creating and allowing?

Empower: Who are the 1 or 2 people on your team who you could hand over significant pieces of the ministry to right now? What’s stopping you?

The healthiest version of your youth ministry is one that can thrive beyond you. This process of leader development about recognizing that our ministry is not built on us, but on the team Jesus has called for such a time as this. Leadership is people development. When we choose to intentionally develop our volunteers, we will see significant impact in the people we serve.

What are you doing to ensure life-changing ministry is taking place through your volunteers long after you are gone?

Jared Kirkwood has been in full-time youth ministry for 10 years and is the high school pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA. He holds a Master’s of the Arts in Global Leadership from Fuller Seminary, teaches about leadership wherever he can, and oversees the program development of the Mariners Church Leadership Pipeline. Check out more of his blog posts at JaredKirkwood.com and download the audio from his NYWC Seminar, “The Farm League: Intentionally Developing Leaders” HERE.


 Hear more speakers just like Jared at the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta! There's still time to join us!



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