Create A Deep Bench

By Rodney Shaw

Winning sports teams do not win only with first-string superstars. Difficult games and long seasons demand production from second- and third-string players who make up the bench. The bench is all those players who are not starters or superstars, but who sit on the bench waiting for their opportunity to con-tribute to the games. Many of these players would be starters on lesser teams, but they are willing to share the glamour in order to play for a winning team.

Although everyone on the team cannot play at the same time or in the same ways, good players who start out on the bench inevitably get playing time because they are an asset to the team. They relieve the starters when the starters are fatigued, committing too many fouls or errors, injured, unable to attend, or simply having a bad day. In some cases, players from the bench may be called upon because of a unique skill that will pull the team out of a tough situation. In short, the bench allows a winning team to keep winning, even when their best players are not performing.

Ministry teams also need a bench. We should not think of ministry teams in terms of stars and non-stars; how-ever, we do need to create teams where success is not based on a single person’s performance. Further, ministry should not be reserved only for the most polished or most experienced. A few weeks ago I noticed we had four or five key-board players who played during the Sunday evening service, and they all were good! That same week I noticed we had several capable emcees leading our services. Frankly, I was stunned! Where did all these people come from? They came from many years of inviting people to join us in ministry, even when they were not superstars.

From the beginning of our church plant we made a conscious decision not to limit involvement to superstars. We regularly invite others alongside our most talented. We do not want to create an elitist culture where only superstars can be involved. By allowing others to participate, we sometimes lower our standards of excellence, but not so low that it cripples our programs. In many cases we are willing to have less than perfection in order to develop others. Over the long haul this has served us well.

In many of the ministries of our church the first-string can be absent with no substantial loss of quality. This means the church is not built around personalities; the church is built around a vision, and anyone can catch the vision! The downside is obvious: we continually run the risk of having sub-standard performance. This is where leadership in the various ministries comes into play. We must be careful to recruit and to coach.

Have you built a deep bench in your ministry? Who could take over if you were absent for a prolonged period? Have you invited anyone to share in ministry lately? Are there any new faces in your ministry? Here are some pointers that will help you establish a deep bench.

1 Get rid of the superstar mentality. There are no superstars in the church. Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone. The rest of us are forgiven sinners striving to be faithful. There are certainly gifted top performers, but don’t try to build your ministry around a single person, including yourself.

2 Emphasize ministry. Hierarchies don’t mean much when our goal is servitude; when the goal is to go down, moving up the ladder does little good. As you recruit and train newcomers, emphasize that what we do is minister to others. As they feel the weight of this responsibility, it will shape their perspective and expectations.

3 Create a ministry schedule with a rotation for frequent tasks. Rotate people when possible, allowing others to share in the responsibilities of ministry. Job descriptions should still be honored, but seek ways to involve new people.

4 Pair-up experience with inexperience. This places experienced staff in a mentoring role, which will cause them to grow, and it allows those with less experience to feel the security that comes from a seasoned partner. This also minimizes the risk of failure because tasks are not given to newcomers without adequate training and supervision.

5 Create a well-defined path to involvement. Newcomers need to know how to enter your ministry. This means that you need a plan for recruiting and training volunteers. They need to know which opportunities are avail-able and which are not. Each ministry needs access points for newcomers.

6 Define, assign, and refine. Leaders must define the tasks that need to be done. This should be done long before the right volunteer comes along. Leaders shouldbe continually evaluating tasks they need to delegate in order to relieve their work load, but they also need to evaluate to see what tasks are currently going undone. Once a leader defines the tasks, he then must assign those tasks to volunteers, matching the right jobs with the right volunteers. After the assignments are made, the ongoing process of refining begins. This includes refining the tasks as well as refining the volunteers.

In the sports world a good bench costs a lot of money. In volunteer organizations it costs a lot of time, energy, and patience. But the payoff is worth it! Build your bench, and you’ll start winning more.

This article “Create A Deep Bench” written by Rodney Shaw is excerpted from Forward Magazine a July/August 2007 edition.