How to Grow a Young Assistant

It’s not unusual for a church to choose a teenager as an assistant to the Sabbath School secretary, but it’s all too common for the position to be filled “in name only.” The young person may have the title and perhaps carry out one or two small tasks, but they’re never really taught to do the job or given any real responsibility. The result? The person may feel, “I’m not important in the church. There’s really nothing here for me to do.”

Mentoring is a modern buzzword. A mentor is part teacher, part role model. Your relationship with your assistant Sabbath School secretary is an excellent opportunity to become a mentor, especially to a young person. You can teach a youth in training to do your job by giving him or her the opportunity to actually do the work.

There is nothing in your job description that a teenager cannot do, with the proper training. However, you will want to supervise closely anything involving offerings or other church moneys, since you don’t want to put your young assistant in a position in which their inexperience might lead to an embarrassing mistake. It’s up to you to be there.

Training begins at the top. Take the time to show your assistant what you do. Take him or her around the church with you as you deliver Sabbath School materials and drop off record cards. Show them how to fill out the records. Invite your assistant to attend local church meetings and conference training sessions with you. Demonstrate how to take the minutes of a meeting—a skill that will stand a young person in good stead throughout life, as every business, committee, or volunteer organization requires someone to take the minutes of meetings.

Let the student shine. When you’ve explained your job and shown your assistant how you do it, step back and give that young person the chance to do it under your supervision. This can be the scary part for both of you—especially if you like to be in control. Yes, for some people it’s so much easier to live by the principle, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

You may be convinced that your records will never be kept in ideal order if anyone but you touches them—you may even be right. Newcomers to a job, especially inexperienced young people, often make mistakes. You have to believe that training a young person is more important than having the job done perfectly the first time.

Let the student express himself/herself. Making reports is another area in which you can let a young person step into the spotlight. True, some young people are nervous about speaking in front of a group—so are some adults! It’s better to help youth conquer this fear at a young age than to let it hold willing volunteers back later in life. So encourage your assistant to speak in front of a group. Practice with your protégé, then turn over command. Who knows—it may turn out that your teenage assistant suffers less from stage fright than you do! And that will be very good affirmation for both of you.

Thanks for sowing the seeds. It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea that youth ought to be more involved. Actually taking the time to teach a young person to do the job, being willing to sow and water and weed, is a much bigger commitment.

Take Paul and Barnabas as mentors. Paul met young Timothy in Lystra (Acts 16:1), and a few verses later we find Paul taking Timothy along as a partner on his missionary journey.

Earlier Paul’s former partner, Barnabas, had taken under his wing a young man named John Mark (Acts 15:37-39), who had already proven unreliable on a previous mission journey. Barnabas was willing to give a young person not only a chance, but a second chance. You may need to remember this story when your young assistant makes a major mistake or lets you down by being absent on the Sabbath you’d asked him or her to fill in for you. Training young people isn’t always easy, but sometimes the only way to get competent leaders is to grow them.

Trudy Morgan-Cole
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists