Let’s be honest. There were no organized children’s or youth ministries in the first century. As far as we know, they didn’t sponsor activities just for children or have Fall Festivals or Lock-ins. There is no explicit mention in scripture of God’s expectations for a ministry leader or even a team that manages a ministry to young people. Nor does the Bible contain a specific training manual for how to treat ministry volunteers.
So people have just kinda muddled through. They made up org charts and developed policies. Usually the personalities of ministry leaders and volunteers impacted how smoothly the ministry ran (or didn’t). Most churches probably assume their ministries to children and teens are just as good – if not better – than those of comparable churches – unless the parents scream so loudly someone gets fired.
Would an objective assessment show that your ministry teams are actually healthy? Are they structured in such a way that they are as effective as possible and any issues are found and addressed quickly? Not surprisingly, lots of studies have been done in the worlds of sports and business to determine what makes any sort of team truly effective. Since ministry teams are still a team of sorts (or should be), then many of the same principles should apply – albeit with an additional spiritual twist to them.
So what did these experts find were present in effective, productive teams?
- Everyone knows the core values of the team and any decisions or programs are regularly filtered through those core values so they are truly the driving force. Of course, in the ministry arena, these core values should be not only spiritual, but also biblical. Studies have found that when core values aren’t discussed and reviewed regularly in a ministry, that ministry gradually becomes secular over time – albeit with a coating of spiritual words to make it seem as if the core values still influence it.
- Roles on the team are assigned based on giftedness, rather than filled with any “warm body” who can be convinced or coerced into volunteering. Turn over and poor performance are often because people are asked to perform roles for which they are neither gifted nor interested. Every ministry has a few chores that can be done by almost anyone, but the vast majority of roles should be tied to giftedness.
- All ministry leaders view themselves as humble servants, not entitled bosses. Attitude is everything. If ministry leaders view themselves as visionaries and can’t be bothered to do some of the ”chores” of their ministry, they will ultimately lose the respect of others – even of the volunteers who do have servant hearts.
- Does everyone involved in the ministry feel comfortable, connected, valued and valuable to the team or just certain favored volunteers and staff? Cliques may seem natural, but they will eventually stunt the progress of any team on which they exist. Everyone should feel and be treated as an “insider” in your ministry.
- Do volunteers, parents and even young Bible students feel safe and heard voicing concerns or when sharing new ideas? Not every concern is necessarily valid, nor will you necessarily use every idea given. Everyone, however, should feel safe to speak their mind and should feel heard. No one should feel that others were immediately dismissive of what they had to say or that there may be repercussions when sharing concerns or issues.
- Are things done to strengthen interpersonal relationships between and amongst every constituency of the ministry, including volunteers, parents and students? Just like love covers a multitude of sins, strong interpersonal relationships can minimize misunderstandings and conflict.
- Are team members encouraged to work as a team, even though it may seem as if their roles are independent of one another? A teacher of infants may feel independent from the teacher of fifth graders, but to have a truly effective ministry, they need to view themselves as one team working together to provide a spiritual education from birth through adulthood (which also means teams should be cross ministry teams as well).
- Are team members sharing knowledge, resources, ideas, etc. with each other freely, naturally and regularly? If someone finds a great resource, chances are other volunteers may find value in it as well. There needs to be an easy way for teams members to share this type of helpful information with one another.
- Are all team members supported spiritually, emotionally and physically? One team member shouldn’t be covered up in casseroles for a stubbed toe, while another is virtually ignored during a crisis. Of course, this also means team members know and trust each other well enough to feel comfortable sharing their personal struggles – in part because they know they will receive love, prayers and any additional needed support in return.
How did your team do on this informal quiz? If the members of your team took this anonymously, would the results be the same? What if parents or students took it? If even one person would give your team bad marks, there is work that needs to be done. If we truly want our ministries to be as effective as humanly possible, we have to be willing to do the sometimes difficult work of creating a strong ministry team.