Confessions of a Lousy Parent Volunteer


By Kevin Alton

As someone with over 2 decades of local church ministry experience and countless contributions to youth and children’s ministry curriculum and literature, I feel I am uniquely qualified to make this statement:

I am a terrible youth ministry volunteer and an even worse youth parent. In a certain way of looking at it, you could say I excel at being terrible.

What’s really weird about it is that I remember putting up with people like me when I was the youth minister. I couldn’t stand me, back then. How could I be so inattentive and forgetful? Didn’t I care?

I left full-time church ministry about 4 years ago. My own children have now reached youth ministry age and I, at least in my head and heart, have every intention of being a faithful and dedicated youth ministry volunteer. Yet despite my relative expertise in youth ministry, I’ve noticed that some odd things have crept in to my behavior. See if you recognize any of these classics:

  • I don’t know the dates for the mission trip next month, nor what it costs, even though I’m going.
  • I’m not going to be at youth group Sunday night, but I’m going to forget to tell our youth minister until at least Sunday afternoon.
  • I would like for my son to be allowed to attend the trip he is a year too young to attend.
  • The youth leadership meeting was when?

I share this because whether you’re organizing a 30 Hour Famine event or just an average youth gathering, you’re almost certainly going to run into at least one of me among your adults. There are a few things that I wish me then had understood more clearly about me now:

Our church’s youth ministry isn’t my first priority.

That sounds cold and awful, but it’s a logical reality. I work full-time, I am a full-time student, and I work an additional 20 hours a week for my school as a graduate assistant. I am a parent, which trumps all of that. I am a spouse. All of those things necessarily come before I spend any mental energy on anything beyond our home and daily life. This doesn’t mean I don’t care, but if I seem unfocused it’s probably because something else has required my focus.

I’m tired.

This one I think I managed to keep an eye on pretty well as a youth leader, but it’s easy to forget that life has worn out your volunteers before the first minute they spend helping you. You’re at work. They’ve been to work already, checked in with the fam, and are now spending precious free time with you. It’s impossible to over-convey your gratitude for that gift.

I’m going to let you down.

I really don’t know when the mission trip is. I tried to find it yesterday when scheduling a dentist appointment. I am committed to go. I’m not looking forward to asking again because of the number of times I’ve already asked. It should be on my calendar. I thought it was on my calendar. Granted, none of that technically lets my youth minister down, but it certainly helps her feel like the letdown is just around the corner. It’s not on purpose. Just being human over here.

I really do care.

Really. It’s going to be imperfect, but my heart is with you. You’re looking out for my children. Don’t give up on me.