I have a dirty little secret: I’m not a full-time youth pastor. I’m one of these bi-vocational guys you hear about from time to time who attends a full-time day-job, then returns home for a brief snack before heading to my church office for another shift. (Not having children and copious amounts of coffee help.) In my day job, I am an aerospace engineer (literally a rocket scientist) responsible for projects ranging from $50k studies to multi-million dollar demonstrations with warships. Managing the bi-vocational lifestyle and my engineering tasks has proven to me the advantages of proper administration. Truthfully, this gets overlooked a lot by my peers in both the engineering and ministry fields and for good reason: it’s boring and it’s hard. People don’t realize that having a well-oiled machine isn’t something you can just throw together in an e-mail or a spreadsheet for an entire youth program. Maybe this is why one of the “gifts of the spirit” explicitly mentioned in 1 Corinthians is ‘administration’…
“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, various kinds of tongues.” (1 Cor. 12:28)
Because I know administration isn’t everyone’s favorite subject, I’ve decided to break down what I have found successful inside and outside of ministry into 10 easy steps. Because saying “10 easy steps” sounds a little too much like click-bait for the YouthSpecialties blog, I’ll go with the far more ministry oriented “10 Commandments of Proper Ministry Administration”.
Without further ado…
1. Thou shalt establish measurable ministry goals
The number one worst thing I see a project or ministry do is fail to establish a set of goals that can actually be measured at the end of the year. Having a clearly defined vision, purpose, and set of ministry goals ensures that the ministry is doing ‘good’ and gives you a standard against which to compare the program.
For example, say First Baptist of Metropolis has a vision statement like “Spreading Love Through Spreading Christ” and a purpose statement of “To reach the citizens of Metropolis for Christ and Spreads the Good News To All”. These are perfectly vanilla vision and purpose statements which can probably be improved through a deeper discussion we won’t have here. What I want to emphasize is the need to follow those statements up with a set of goals like: “Offer weekly services independent of normal Sunday morning activities to engage non-church members”. That is a ministry goal that can be measured at the end of the year. Are you having services each week? Are you taking a few off? How many weeks is your church taking off? More importantly, now you have a metric you can use to compare yourself from year-to-year to gauge the ebbs and flows of your program’s health. Bottom line: set measurable goals.
2. Thou shalt establish short-term, mid-term, and long-term ministry goals
When I was in high school, I took a class in old-school drafting techniques which get into how you draw, by hand, engineering drawings and architectural blueprints. The first lesson they taught you was how to draw a free-handed straight line. The key was to have an endpoint that you stared at while you moved your hand from the origin to the destination. It’s crazy how focus on the end-point improved the straightness of everyone’s lines almost instantly (please comment to this article somewhere if you instantly tried to draw a straight line as soon as you read this). Ministries are no different.
You have to know where you are going to determine if where you are is a good place. Without a long-term destination, your ministry is basically playing a spiritual game of whack-a-mole with current events and social whims. Have a road map of spiritual, functional, and programmatic goals and start using it to drive your yearly planning. You’d be amazed at how it focuses your resources and efforts.
3. Thou shalt document your goals in a ministry plan
As an engineer, I am keenly aware that ‘documentation’ is often not everyone’s strong suit. It is, however, essential. Once you’ve established your goals from the first and second commandments, document your goals and how you plan to achieve them. Obviously you won’t know everything about your long-term goals at this very moment, but having what you know documented gives you something to go back to when you’re juggling requests for a dozen different camps, mission trips, lock-ins (ugh), and other requests that we all face on a regular basis.
Having a plan also gives you the ability to clearly and concisely communicate to your volunteers, church staff, and church lay-leadership what you are doing with the next generation and why they should be behind it. That provides you with a lot of top-cover as you will see in the next commandment.
4. Thou shalt proactively get buy-in for your short-term, mid-term, and long-term ministry goals
In the engineering world, one of the first things you do with your project plan is to walk around getting buy-in from all your superiors and technical experts. Gaining “buy-in” doesn’t mean that they are 100% in agreement with you, but it does mean they agree to support the plan. This serves two purposes. First, it informs them of what you’re doing in your efforts. Second, it provides you with top-cover, as we call it, when conflicts arise. By “top-cover”, we’re talking about those moments when someone from the hospitality committee approaches you with complaints that the youth don’t do enough for the older women in the church. Having buy-in from the deacons, elders, pastors, and whoever else you can allows you to be able to point at the plan and show them where their concerns fit in the bigger scheme of things and gives you a launching point to have mature, informed conversations on how to meet people’s needs.
5. Thou shalt have a physical schedule with actual dates for events AND event milestones
In my experience, both in ministry and engineering, most people know about schedules but they are typically terrible at creating and keeping them. Part of the reason why schedules aren’t kept is because they are often like optional paperwork rather than powerful planning tools. Make no mistake about it: a schedule is a tool. Having the ability to plan your day, week, and month an entire fiscal quarter or year in advance helps you keep on task, avoid messy schedule “pile-ups” from waiting until the last minute to register for that camp or conference, and gives you that mental peace of mind that your program goals are manageable. It’s easy to think of the 30 different items on your to-do list and become overwhelmed. Sometimes simply having a schedule that physical shows that you are on track to achieving your programmatic and ministry goals is priceless.
6. Thou shalt have a communication plan
For the love of all that is holy, have a consistent and sustainable communication plan for both volunteers and parents/students. From my experiences with the Navy, you can see the operations on a ship come to a screeching halt as soon as people stop paying attention to the way that they communicate. Think about this: if someone doesn’t know how you’re going to give them information, how do they know when and how to listen? Avoid confusion on their part and frustration on your part by having a documented communication plan that you can give to all parties at the beginning of the year. Include how far in advanced of major or minor events parents can expect to receive reminders (if they get reminders) and over what mediums they can get information.
Will parents and students remember everything you tell them? Probably not, but at least you’re doing your part. Remember, a large part of proper administration is establishing a culture of consistency.
That is going to involve you creating and implementing some of these good administrative practices without seeing any pay-off in the short term. Keep hope! If you stick to your guns, the culture will take hold and parents/students will begin knowing what to expect.
7. Thou shalt have documented behavior/expectation policies
Remember, good administration helps establish good culture. Having a documented list or description of acceptable and unacceptable behavior or expectations helps establish firm boundaries. A lot of us may have these for our students, but what about parents? What about volunteers? What about other church staff? Having documented expectations for everyone involved in your ministry establishes a culture of objectivity where handling things ‘on the fly’ is the exception rather than the rule. That allows you, as the ministry leader, to quickly deal with conflicts between students, parents, or other individuals by showing them your policies.
To really make this work, you need to have buy-in from your church and your parents. Buy-in is something addressed in a previous commandment, but specific to church policies I have found it helpful to start the year with a copy of the ministry plan or a link to where parents can find our policies. Students are then given an endorsement (signature) sheet and told they will get some sort of prize or ‘perk’ for returning it within the first month. This works for me, but I’d love to hear what has worked for others.
8. Thou shalt not chase the good idea fairy
Good ideas implemented poorly become bad ideas. As we’ve established over the past few commandments, much of good administration is about establishing a culture. This process can take months or years of consistent application of your policies. Every so often, there is a new fad or trend within student leadership circles. It’s tempting to be on the cutting edge and try to implement every good idea that comes your way. The problem is that by constantly pivoting to new ideas, the established culture gets disturbed. Much like the seed cast on the stones versus the seed cast on fertile ground, we should always be mindful that a stable program implementing a ‘pretty good’ idea is probably much healthier than a constantly changing program implementing ‘awesome’ ideas. Sure, there might be initial success to implementing some hot trend, but will it result in long-term sustainable growth in quantity or quality? If not, maybe it’s better to let that hot trend pass by and just wait for the next one.
9. Thou shalt not take criticism of your policies too personally
One of the biggest lessons I had to learn in my engineering career was that the ideas I have don’t define me or who I am. When someone criticizes an idea, it’s not a direct attack on who I am as a person or a professional. The same is true of our administrative policies within youth ministry. As we create new ways to manage our resources, schedule special events, and set expectations for parents and students, it’s important not to get angry or discouraged when something doesn’t work. Failure is, as Yoda put it, life’s greatest teacher. Take things that don’t work and learn from them. Assess what about the idea didn’t work and come up with newer, better ideas. No matter what you do, keep your spirits up and realize that a policy failing is not the same as you failing at your calling.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy colleague’s program
There is an axiom in my day-time office that if someone claims to have all the answers, that’s probably the person who has no idea what they are doing. In ministry, everyone’s program is a little different. Some ministries are seeker based, others are discipleship based, and still others are community based. Depending on the calling for your ministry, you may or may not look like the ministries of your colleagues. In my own community, we have youth leaders pursuing all three of these ministry models and that results in our ministries looking very different.
One leader is more of an ‘evangelist’ and runs his program explicitly to attract the seeker. My program is more discipleship oriented where things are slanted more towards empowering each individual youth to reach the seekers out in the world. We can discuss the virtues of one model over the other, but at the end of the day they are just different and that’s perfectly okay.
God calls us all to minister to different people. What this means to the administration of our programs is that we must carefully guard against the temptation to mimic every “cool” aspect of the programs around us unless our mission field can actually benefit from what we are mimicking. Just because the ministry across town or down the road goes on big trips every month doesn’t mean your program is any less solid by focusing more on study and relationships. The important thing, in this “commandment of proper ministry administration” and others, is to seek God’s Will for your ministry.
Make sure that your policies and mechanisms support expanding God’s glory and not your own. If we let God’s glory drive how we preacher, teach, minister, and administrate, we should be in good shape of not losing focus of what we are really here to do as we pursue development of stronger ministry programs.
Hopefully you took something from this list of commandments. To reiterate, I know administration isn’t always fun and it certainly isn’t easy, but I am confident that by applying just a little effort towards pursuing more efficient ministry administration you seek to gain a lot in terms of better relationships with students, parents, church members, and staff. By making sure the administrative facets of our ministries are solid, we are freed up to focus on the people in our programs whom God has called us to touch.
Joseph Pack is the student ministry coordinator at Bowling Green Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Virginia. Joseph’s emphasis with students is drawing distinctions between faith as the world sees it versus faith as is taught through the Word. In his day-life, he is an aerospace engineer for the US Navy. Joseph’s messages, commentaries, and contact information can be found on his blog at SAVETHEGENERATION.COM.