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 I possibly could be, I made a booklet with pages of information for them, 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 and I left pumped about how awesome I was at leading leaders. I could barely fit my head out the door that night, the pride was oozing from my ears. A few weeks later we had our kickoff and it went ok but 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 that they would just figure it out. After an entire semester of this type of thing happening, I finally asked some of the leaders if they feel like they are doing a good job. They said that they didn’t because 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 evening that whats clear to me, the youth pastor, wasn’t going to be clear for my volunteer leaders that are giving only a few hours of their time to youth ministry. I wasn’t clear, I wasn’t leading them well and it wasn’t obvious to them how they could do a good job in their current role. (insert deflated head emoji)
I was learning a valuable lesson and continued growing and learning for the first number of years in 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 find what they are doing to be valuable and that they are doing it well.
Give 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 to help them understand the reason behind the focus and how they can be effective within that focus. For your 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 church time 2 times that first semester. A focus could be just being consistent and getting to know each student in their group on a deeper level. What I can your volunteer team focus on that will 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, the leader. Be specific and do not shy away from the hard conversations if they aren’t doing the job you need them to do. They will be better leaders in the long run if 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 that you give out frequently 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!