Tackling Your 5 Hardest Challenges
group magazine: November-December, 2004
Your ministry is built on the backs—and the skills—of your adult leaders. Here are savvy ways to build a great team, from a longtime youth pastor and volunteering expert.
by Bob D’Ambrosio
I just knew our annual winter youth retreat would be a success—the kids who signed up were some of the best in the group, and all the planning had gone smoothly. So why did I leave the retreat with a big headache? Well, one of my adult volunteers decided to rope our kids into a late-night game of Truth or Dare. That’s why one of them snuck into our senior pastor’s room after midnight and piled shaving cream on his head!
The kids behaved; an adult leader did not.
Leading the adults who volunteer their time in your ministry can often be more challenging than leading the kids. Your job is to rise to that challenge. There are five hurdles standing in your way to building an effective adult volunteer team.
Earning Their Trust
No matter what your credentials, no one qualifies for automatic trust. Your teenagers, their parents, and your adult volunteers want proof that you’re a competent leader. That will take time, and the proof will show up in the small things—the margins of your ministry. Establish confidence in your ministry by paying attention to little things:
• Show up on time to meetings.
• Return phone calls within 24 hours.
• Do what you promise to do.
• Establish clear policies on basic youth ministry procedures and rules such as youth event drivers (see the box titled “Travel Smarts” on page 84), dress expectations, and confidentiality.
The mother of a high school youth once told me, “You’re known for being organized so I thought I’d volunteer to help plan the youth summer trip.” She didn’t think of herself as a very organized person, but she knew she’d be working with someone who had clear objectives and a plan to get from A to B. When you take care of the small things, people notice, and word gets around.
Developing Solid Relationships
Most youth workers focus primarily on building community with their teenagers and neglect their adult ministry partners. But your relationships with your adult staffers are the key to kids’ faith formation and your ministry’s long-term development.
Jesus demonstrated this truth when he visited the home of Mary and Martha. Martha busied herself with tasks while Mary sat listening to Jesus with rapt attention. Jesus told Martha, “Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). That “one thing” is a growing relationship with Jesus! (1)
So what are you doing to help your adult volunteers grow closer to Jesus? According to Christian pollster George Barna, seven out of 10 American adults say having a close, personal relationship with God is a top priority. As you find ways to help your volunteers develop their relationships with Jesus, you’ll also help them build deep, lasting friendships with each other.
Eric Rees, pastor of ministry at Saddleback Church in California, makes sure his staffers and ministry leaders spend quality time visiting with each adult volunteer prior to assigning them a ministry opportunity. “We challenge our staff specifically that projects can never get in the way of people,” he says. “It shows people we care about them and recognize they’re here and they’re important.”
Setting Healthy Boundaries
I served in my first congregation for 15 years—for the first 12 years, I was single. During that time my whole life revolved around youth work. I fell into the trap of thinking that the more time I spent at church, the more valuable I was to the people who were depending on me. Certainly nothing could exist without me!
So when I became engaged, my fiancee was shocked to learn that I got phone calls every day, all day long, from teenagers and adult leaders who “needed” my advice on every minor issue. “Do you really need to know that they’re out of toilet paper in the restroom?” she’d ask me. I learned, late in the game, that healthy boundaries create a thriving environment for relationships. Even Jesus spent time away from the crowds and his disciples.
In her book Beyond Codependency, Melody Beattie writes: “The goal of having and setting boundaries isn’t to build thick walls around ourselves. The purpose is to gain enough security and sense of self to get close to others without the threat of losing ourselves, smothering them, trespassing, or being invaded. Boundaries are the key to loving relationships.”
So guard your day off and make sure your adult leaders know which issues warrant calling you at home and which ones don’t. Delegate ministry responsibilities so you’re not involved with every minor issue. A phone call at night to inform you that one of your teenagers has been in a serious car accident is, of course, expected. But one to inform you that the toilet paper is low is not!
Squeezing Your Connection Time
Into Your Adult Volunteers’ Packed Schedules
An overpacked schedule is the new norm in our culture. Many adults just don’t have the time to get the kind of training they really need to impact kids in your ministry. The solution is to get creative when you plan your meetings.
Traditional meeting formats—evenings and weekends—no longer fit busy families. You’ll have better success if you plan breakfast or lunch meetings, or identify times when they’re already at church. Sunday morning is still prime time, so target it for adult leadership training and Bible study.
And make sure your meetings are concise, relevant, and end on time. Your adult leaders will trust you when they sense you respect their time. Many meetings and communications could more conveniently be conducted through email. Consider holding an occasional “virtual meeting” by posting the agenda or training documents for review on your church Web site. Ask your adult leaders to visit the site and post their comments at their convenience.(2)
Equipping Volunteers for Success
Your guidance, direction, and training will determine your volunteers’ effectiveness. Former president Ronald Reagan once said, “A great leader doesn’t do great things; he inspires others to do great things.” Rally your adults around your mission and give them the tools they need to accomplish great things for God.
You show that you value your adult leaders when you invest your time to equip them. Rees tells his church staffers, “No matter where someone serves, there should be some sense of training
proactively accomplished by the staff member or ministry leader so people feel they are able to succeed within the ministry opportunity.”
Adult leaders who are connecting directly with kids will need active listening and relationship-building skills. And those who are helping plan events might need training on software programs such as Microsoft’s Excel, Word, or Outlook calendar.
By the way, you don’t have to be the only, or even the primary, trainer. Recruit church members who are experts in specific areas to equip your volunteers. You can hold training classes online, via email, or in a Web chat room. You can get online training classes on a variety of topics from local community colleges, human resource companies, and Group’s Church Volunteer Central.(3)
Youth ministry is a team sport—you just can’t do it without skilled “position players.” So overcoming the challenges you’ll face in leading adults will be a key factor in your ministry success. The next time you plan a youth event, keep in mind that you’ll be leading the adults as well!
Bob D’Ambrosio is a veteran youth pastor who now works as a consultant for Church Volunteer Central at Group Publishing, Inc. He lives in Colorado.
Loading up the church van for a youth event? If your church doesn’t have a policy on volunteer drivers, create one! According to Jack Crabtree in Better Safe Than Sued, you should make sure your event drivers are over 21, have a clean driving record, have their personal insurance information on file, and have signed a “safe driving standards” agreement.
And speaking of vans, is yours a 15-passenger model? On June 1, 2004, Jeffrey Runge, head of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), issued a warning to users of 15-passenger vans because of an increased roll-over risk under certain conditions. The NHTSA issued similar warnings in 2001 and 2002.
The safety agency reported that 15-passenger vans handle similarly to large sport utility vehicles when lightly loaded. However, when filled to capacity or driven above 50 miles per hour, the vehicles are five times more likely to roll over than SUVs or pickup trucks. So what do you do if your church owns a 15-passenger van?
Option 1: Sell it and purchase a minivan or small school bus.
Option 2: Keep it for a “transitional” period, but comply strictly with all 10 NHTSA
recommendations found below.
1. Transport 10 or fewer occupants.
2. Load occupants from the front of the van.
3. Require each occupant to wear a seat belt
at all times.
4. Don’t load anything on the van roof.
5. Make sure the van driver is well rested.
6. Drive cautiously—maintain a speed that’s safe, and be especially careful on rural and curved roads.
7. Inspect tires monthly to check for wear and proper inflation.
8. If the van’s wheels drop off the road,
gradually reduce speed and steer back onto the road when it’s safe to do so.
9. Use only drivers who’ve received specific training on driving 15-passanger vans.
10. Keep the van’s gas tank as full as possible.
For more information on 15-passanger vans and other transportation safety issues, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Web site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
1. For more on “the one thing” Jesus was emphasizing, pick up a copy of Thom and Joani Schultz’s The 1 Thing (Group Publishing, Inc.). The book offers an idea-rich template for incorporating Jesus’ “one thing” into every aspect of your ministry. Check it out at www.group.com or call 800-447-1070.
2. Most states don’t recognize online board voting as legally binding (except in California and Texas), so if you’re setting a new policy on something that involves your legal responsibilities (such as your policy on youth drivers) save that item for an on-site meeting.
3. Church Volunteer Central is Group’s new service association that offers ideas, advice, and training for all your volunteer recruiting and equipping needs. When you join the association, you get online resources from top ministry experts, including articles and tips on volunteering, customizable forms and documents, online training, background checks, an online staff manager database, networking, and more. You can also talk to a volunteer expert over the phone who’ll guide you with any volunteer management issues you have. And you get discounts on services and products vital to managing your volunteer program, and a monthly e-newsletter packed with tips. To learn more, go to www.group.com/cvc or call 800-761-2095.