When I was in college, I played intramural basketball. I never expected to be the star, but I enjoyed playing with the team. One year, the intramural league decided to do a draft instead of allowing us to handpick our teams. I was put on a team that, I discovered very quickly, wasn’t created to play as a team. The team captain designed the games around himself, so that he would get the majority of the shots and the handling of the ball. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant experience.
As youth ministers, if we are not careful, we can design our youth ministry volunteer team the same way. We put people around us who do not intimidate us and allow us to continue to be the dominant presence in the room. Upon evaluation, will that give us the most effective strategy to reach students and develop them to be godly men and women? Jon R. Katzenback and Douglas K. Smith in The Wisdom of Teams define a team as a
“small number of people with(p. 87)
complimentaryskills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”
Good teams develop together to produce wins and achieve goals. It is not about enhancing one person on the team, but about working in tandem for a common purpose. Let’s break this definition down and reflect upon it as it relates to youth ministry teams.
As convenient and enjoyable as it is to have people on the team like us, the best teams are made up of people who complement each other’s strengths. Ask yourself in what areas you need improvement. Then, find people who are strong in those areas to become part of the youth ministry team.
For me, I need someone who doesn’t mind doing the little things. I like big projects that require big brains and brawn. However, I pull my hair out when it comes to the little details like making sure names are spelled correctly on youth retreat name tags. I even had one lady in my ministry who helped me keep the money in our snack money box organized. I was just glad it is in there somewhere.
At times, the “complimentary skills” may create tension and possible conflicts. I was fortunate to have a very artistic lady in my church who helped with set designs and art work. Artsy people have a tendency to keep odd hours, and, because of their creativity, beat to their own drum. My youth workers who were very logical, organized, and schedule oriented failed to see the value in “Ms. Artsy’s'” freedom and perceived her as rebellious and questioned her group loyalty. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. I had to help the other workers not only see the value that this volunteer provided to the group, but also that not all volunteers are the same. As a youth minister, help your team see that their differences provide strength to the ministry.
One way to work through situations that create tension is to help volunteers focus on the common purpose. While we have differences, we share in the purpose of assisting students to grow more in the likeness of Jesus Christ. In youth ministry, the Sunday school teachers may fail to see how their work relates to youth camp or Wednesday night Bible Study. Thus, as youth
As a youth minister, my favorite part of the week was our Wednesday Worship Service. I put so much energy into preparing the sermon, tying in the worship to the theme, creating the small group questions, and planning the game. Currently, I’m teaching an eighth grade small group in my church. It would be very easy for me to sit back and enjoy this fun group. I could show up every week, do my thing, and go home. However, in either case, if I focused only on that one event, then I am isolating myself from the rest of the ministry and the other volunteers who are ministering to students.
Our common purpose is accomplishing a common goal.
For those leading small groups, the goal is often to survive the week. I recognize life is hectic, and we barely have time to see what is right in front of us. But as youth leaders, we have to move our team and ourselves beyond the micro-level. We need time to think the big picture. Do we even know what the big picture is? What do we want these young men and women to think and act like when they are in college?
If youth ministry is only a hamster in a wheel, our workers will become ineffective, not because they don’t get along, but because they will lose heart that what they are doing even matters. My biggest struggle in this area was Wednesday night worship services. Many of us have a worship service designed for students. My frustration was that all the students were upfront worshipping and all the adults were typically in the back talking. I always struggled with purpose and intentionality with adults during this time. I lost adults because they didn’t see the point in being there.
The purpose of the adult volunteers was to build relationships and minister to students. Yet they looked at the 20-50 students and wondered who they were supposed to be relating to. It wasn’t until I narrowed their focus by assigning specific age groups to target and explained what they were to do with their group that the adult volunteers’ purpose became meaningful and their micro-goals began to relate to the bigger picture of our youth ministry.
No one likes to be told “you aren’t doing your job right.” In our individualistic and “personal relationship” Christianity, we attempt to forget that the idea of church is “body of believers.” The church was designed to be a community of faith. As a community, we are to support and encourage one another. We are supposed to admonish one another. In other words, love one another enough to give helpful advice and challenges. Our teams should be more than just volunteers; they need to be family. If one of my daughters is sick or not doing well in school, I’m going to do everything in my power to help her.
Accountability for our leadership team is similar. I have worked a few jobs that had very little accountability. While the freedom was nice, the frustration was that I had no idea whether or not I was doing the job right. I would have preferred to know that I was doing the job well and creating wins for the organization. In youth ministry, many of our small groups leaders need the assistance in knowing how to do their role better, and that they are achieving better results in student knowledge and action.
In other jobs, I have found myself micromanaged. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t need the supervision, it was the feedback I was getting. The constant negative feedback was not helpful; in fact, it was demoralizing. I’m not suggesting that negative feedback is wrong. If someone isn’t doing the job right, they need to know. The problem is when we don’t guide them through the steps toward correcting it. Again, they are left guessing. If we have volunteers who are not meeting the standards we have for the ministry, it may not be that they need to be removed. They may simply need more time and attention to walk them towards success.
Our effectiveness as youth leaders is based on our ability to communicate a vision bigger than “do this specific task”, so that students enjoy youth ministry. The gospel is more than task. It is relationship and kingdom growth. As a result, our purpose in working together needs to continue to be greater. Can you imagine the impact our youth ministries could have if our volunteers were able to raise the level of expectation they had for themselves in serving?