Leading Your Sunday School As A Team
By Ray Haferman
As a volunteer director of children’s ministry, your goal is to develop an effective ministry to children through volunteers. And it’s a reciprocal venture. The way you recruit and manage volunteers has a direct influence on the way volunteers minister to children. If you invite volunteers into a relational ministry, they in turn will enter into a relational ministry with children. If you treat volunteers as projects to fill holes in a task-oriented ministry, they’ll likely treat the children in your church the same way.
The shepherding approach to volunteer management is structured for such relational ties. No more are teachers handed their curriculum, led to their room, and left to their own devices until the next recruiting phase. Instead, volunteers are nurtured, motivated, encouraged and equipped as fully-functioning, valued team members.
Several years ago, I was on the staff of a Christian organization that worked with college students. Thinking that I needed a change of pace on Sunday mornings, I volunteered to teach the junior high class at my church. The class consisted of only four boys—three from the same home schooled family. The Sunday school superintendent gave me my curriculum, pointed me to the room, and disappeared. I never saw another adult again during Sunday school hour.
When it was time to sign up again, what do you think I did? That’s right. I ran screaming into the night! OK, maybe teaching those junior high boys wasn’t quite that bad, but I didn’t understand that it was the lack of teamwork, training, and support that made me not want to teach that class again. I thought I had a problem with commitment.
When I walked away from that class, I had no connections in the Sunday school program apart from the students in my class. Had I been part of a team that provided me with friendship, support, encouragement, and accountability, I might’ve had a more enjoyable—and long term—experience.
Churches of all sizes understand this and are structuring their ministries into shepherding teams. The children’s minister directly shepherds team leaders, or “undershepherds,” who then shepherd the volunteers on their teams. For example, Debbie Neufield, children’s minister at Grant Memorial Baptist Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, oversees 150 volunteers. She says, “I recruit team leaders for each age group and hour. They oversee their departments that include our core group leaders who work directly with the children.”
Debbie Wiesen, the children’s minister at Spokane Valley Nazarene Church in Spokane, Washington, oversees sixty volunteers. She too has developed an undershepherd team structure in her ministry.
“I have three coordinators who oversee 2-4, k-3, and 4-6,” Debbie says.
“They help recruit teachers and find all the substitutes. I continue to train and nurture because all the coordinators work full-time.”
Judy Basye, children’s pastor at First Baptist of San Mateo, California, oversees 263 volunteers in a church with four hundred members. (Wow! Judy has over 50 percent of her church volunteering in children’s ministry!) Like Debbie Neufield and Debbie Wiesen, Judy uses an undershepherd approach to volunteer management.
In fact, most of the ministries highlighted or mentioned in this book have implemented Jesus’ shepherding approach to volunteer management-and report tremendous results! The “Organize Your Team!” box illustrates how two dynamic children’s ministries manage their volunteers.
Dwight Mix, children’s pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Lowell, Arkansas, manages 250 volunteers who minister to seven hundred kids. They’ve also organized according to an undershepherd approach. “This schematic fits us pretty closely,” says Dwight. “However, we’re constantly evaluating how we can improve and no doubt this structure will change. We’re structured so we can focus more on meeting the needs of our volunteers-not just the teaching needs either.”
“This year we changed two of our staff members’ job descriptions to cause them to primarily focus on people,” Dwight continues. “One person’s job title is Leadership Relations Director and all she does is spend time relating to volunteers on a personal level. The other person is our Personnel Director, and her primary focus is training and equipping volunteers.
Having specialized paid staff members is usually a big church luxury, but there’s no reason any size church can’t structure its volunteer teams in the same ways that these churches have. But before you rush out to implement an undershepherd approach in your church you’ll need to consider these six components of team management: motivation, communication, empowerment, support, accountability, and celebration.
In the area of motivation, let Barnabas be your example. The name Barnabas means “encourager.” Barnabas was a mentor, encourager, and shepherd for many of the leaders in the young Christian church. Barnabas consistently had to meet needs (Acts 4:36-37), believed in others (Acts 9:26-31). And built up the church (Acts 11:22-26).
People thrive on encouragement, so it’s generally best to interact with volunteers using a 90/10 rule: Give 90 percent encouragement and 10 percent correction. Sometimes it’s hard to encourage when you really feel like correcting. Just ask Robbie Joshua, children’s pastor at Faith Community Church in West Covina, California. Robbie says, “I’ve had to train myself to be an encourager, even when I don’t feel like it. From my perspective, the glass has to be ‘half full rather than half empty.”
As you look for ways to encourage your volunteers in ministry, ask God to show you their spiritual gifts. Your volunteers find great fulfillment in using their God-given gifts, so motivate and encourage them by pointing out ways you see God using their gifts to bless others. Then have them pray for one another.
“Leading Your Sunday School As A Team”. By Ray Haferman
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”