When I started as a new youth pastor, I new I couldn’t do it all. I inherited a group of leaders when I started at my first church and began to recruit more. As the new school year approached, I planned a leader meeting so we could all get on the same page and so that the leaders knew what was expected of them. I tried to be as prepared as possible. I even made a booklet with pages of information on ways to help them be the best youth leader ever.
The leader meeting happened, I handed out the booklets and went through it all. No one had any questions at the end of the meeting. I left pumped about how awesome I was at leading leaders. I could barely fit my head out the door that night, as pride was oozing from my ears. A few weeks later we had our kickoff and it went ok. However, I noticed the majority of them didn’t really know what to do and weren’t engaged with what was happening. Instead of meeting after the kickoff to debrief, I assumed that my leadership musk would rub off on them and they would just figure it out at the next event.
After an entire semester of this type “musk approach” to volunteer training and maintenance, I finally asked some of the leaders if they felt like they were doing a good job. They said, “No!” They said the booklet that I gave out at the beginning of the year gave them so much information, tasks and stuff to do that they didn’t know where to begin or what to do each night. I realized quickly that what’s clear to me, the youth pastor, wasn’t always going to be clear for my volunteer leaders. I wasn’t clear, I wasn’t leading them well and I did not make the “win” (how they knew they were doing a good job) obvious. (insert deflated head emoji)
I learned a valuable lesson and continued to grow and learn in those first few years of youth ministry. Your volunteers need simple to understand expectations, clear roles and obvious ways they can “win” with students. Anyone who gives up their personal time or time with their family needs to know what they are doing to be valuable and that they are doing it well.
Try giving your leaders one focus for a semester of ministry that is easy to see, evaluate and measure. Be strategic with those focuses when you get your leaders together. Help them understand the reason behind the focus and how they can be effective within that focus. What do I mean by “focuses”? For example, small group leaders. Small group leaders building community within the group is a big deal. So, give them a focus of getting together with their small group, outside of their usual meeting time, 2 extra times that first semester. Another focus could be asking your leaders to be more consistent and in getting to know each student in their group on a deeper level. The idea of providing focus for your volunteer team takes a little concentrated time. Spend time thinking about your volunteer team and areas in which you could ask them to focus on in order to add exponential value to the ministry. Be strategic!
Give them feedback and help them grow. Your leaders need to know if the job they are doing is good enough. This means that you have to meet with them on a somewhat consistent basis so they can hear feedback from you. Be specific and do not shy away from the hard conversations when they aren’t doing the job you need them to do. They will be better leaders in the long run when you lovingly and gracefully help them see how they can improve.
Celebrate with them when they are absolutely killing it! Have an award for rockstar leaders so they know if they are doing a good job. Every student ministry should have a traveling trophy, championship belt or a gold spray painted bobble-head of a mediocre baseball player on hand to give to amazing leaders who are making the ministry a better place to be.
I had to learn the hard way to keep things simple, to give good feedback and to allow them opportunities to try and succeed! Don’t wait until the middle of a school semester to give your leaders clarity, do it NOW!