Working With A Team
When the writer of the Book of Proverbs observed “many counselors bring success” (Prov. 15:22, TLB ), he made a very important observation for effective, long-term youth ministry. We can’t do it alone. The diversity of our students, the demands of leadership, and the need for quality one-on-one ministry forces us to build a team of associates who will lead the youth ministry with us.
Scripture exhorts us to realize the importance of teamwork. Consider the Old Testament example of Moses. With all of his responsibilities related to leading the people of Israel, he was overwhelmed. When his pagan father-in-law, Jethro, observed his counseling from sunup to sundown, Jethro made one basic observation: “You can’t do it alone. The thing you are doing isn’t good” (Exod. 18:18). Jethro knew that Moses was headed on a fast track to burnout. The remedy that Jethro taught was basic delegation—leadership through a group of associate leaders.
The New Testament’s most powerful example of team leadership is Jesus with his twelve disciples. By spending a good portion of his active ministry training these men (most scholars estimate that he spent over fifty percent of his active ministry with just his chosen twelve), Jesus prepared them for the future preaching of the gospel. His example of discipleship was simple: I am going to train you so that you can carry out a broader and more extensive ministry than I could alone.
The model of Jesus overlaps the biblical teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.
The body has many different members, all of whom are equipped with a variety of spiritual abilities so that the whole body can benefit. If we understand and believe in the body of Christ, we must acknowledge that there is no room for the “Lone-Ranger” mentality that kills leaders in youth ministry. We must work alongside others for the building up of the whole body of Christ.
When I first assumed youth ministry leadership, I entered with a self-centered and haughty attitude: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” My attitude was quickly changed as I got into the mainstream of the youth ministry. The teaching of Scripture changed my perspective theologically, but my personal helplessness changed my thinking practically. I realized that Jethro was right: I couldn’t do it alone. The quantity and diversity of our students required me to recruit others to work alongside me. I needed other members of the body of Christ to complement and supplement my gifts and leadership.
The result was a team-oriented philosophy of ministry that has since undergirded everything that we have undertaken in the youth ministry. Simply stated, we arrived at the conclusion that the work of Christ must be done by a team of interdependent people. Such a team frees everyone to do a particular job to his or her fullest capability. We didn’t need superstars; we needed each other.
CHOOSING A TEAM
The nature of youth work—diverse students, multiple needs, and broad-ranging responsibilities demands a team, but whom do we recruit? A frequent frustration of many leaders is that those who are willing are often ill-equipped or wrongly motivated (like suspicious parents who want to join the staff team to keep an eye on their own children). On the other hand, the most capable people are people in demand; we may not be able to get them to join our ministry because they already are serving in a dozen other locations.
Nevertheless, we need a team. And we need to match volunteer leaders with the needs and opportunities of our ministries; the junior high staff leader may need more patience or different gifts from the leader of the college-age group. When matching people to needs, however, we must look for at least six basic qualities:
1. Love for Christ. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that a student, after he is fully trained, will become like his teacher (Luke 6:40). Our students will become like those whom we recruit to lead them. If we desire to produce students who love Jesus Christ, we had better recruit leaders with that same quality.
When I first met Ted, I said to myself, “Now here is a guy that I would like to recruit for our youth team.” He was tall, handsome, successful, and popular. He had a solid testimony, and I would dream about the number of students he could influence for Christ. I recruited Ted, but I made a big mistake. He did have a great conversion testimony, but that was all. Ted loved Ted much more than he loved Jesus Christ, and he wanted the youth group members to love Ted almost as much as he did. He attracted students—the egocentric, the insecure, and the idol-worshipers—and I found myself wishing I knew how to fire him. I realized that I went after the wrong qualities, and I got burned in the process.
On the other hand, Betty was a wise recruit. She didn’t have an overwhelming personality, but her primary strength was her love for the Lord. Her example enabled her to be one of the strongest disciples in our ministry.
2. Love for students. Each of us will meet people who will be open to joining the youth team, but they will express their hesitancy after they start spending time with students. One person put it this way to me: “Paul, I love the Lord, and I know that he wants to reach these students, but these gum-smacking, hair-twisting, loud-mouthed ninth-grade girls are simply too much for me.”
What she was saying was not a confession of some great sinful attitude. She was simply admitting that she was not quite ready to work with these students. She had a hard time loving them, and she knew that her performance would be affected.
Although “love for teenagers” isn’t listed in any of the biblical lists of spiritual gifts, I do believe that it is a God-given ability. Actually, I believe that the desire to love teenagers is God-given, and when this desire is cultivated, we are able to pour ourselves L to students who might drive other people crazy.
Love for students has made Walt a very effective member of our youth team. He isn’t outspoken or necessarily good-looking, athletic, or popular. He just loves students. He goes out of his way t sit with them. He knows how to draw them out and get them to trust him. And Walt is a happily married father of two, so I know isn’t reaching out to teens because of some psychological need in himself. He genuinely loves teenagers, and he is a great example to the rest of our team.
3. Willingness to grow. The first two qualities might lead us to wonder if there is anyone who can qualify for the volunteer leadership team. Actually we can find many qualified people if we are willing to accept those who haven’t arrived yet but are willing to grow.
In practical terms, I would rather recruit a young Christian who says “I want to grow in the Lord by serving others” than an older, more mature Christian who acts as if he or she has it all together. I would rather recruit someone who says, “I am not sure that I can love teenagers, but I am willing to work at it” than a person who acts as if he or she has all the answers for youth ministry.
We were approached once by a young couple who came to “offer their expertise in youth ministry.” As we talked with them, they bragged about their years of involvement as youth sponsors at another church, their intense knowledge of youth culture, and their desire to help us in our ministry. I never found out whether or not they were experts. I thanked them and said, in effect, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Even if they were experts, their attitudes told me that they were not the type who would condescend to the rest of us so that we could grow alongside them.
4. Willingness to make a commitment. Although the longevity and endurance of the youth leader is important to the success of the youth ministry, the commitment of the lay leaders is likewise critical. Students take a long time to open up and to trust the adults who work with them, so high turnover in the volunteer team will hinder the ministry.
It’s not unreasonable to require volunteers to commit at least one year to the youth ministry team. Those who commit themselves for a longer period will experience deeper and more significant results in the students they are working with.
People often are hesitant to make a commitment, especially to such an unknown commodity as youth. How can we help them? In our ministry, we recommend that people join the youth team for one month before making a full commitment. We have found that this enables people to observe the youth ministry without the pressure of a commitment.
Over the course of this month, our new recruits are placed with some seasoned veterans. This lets the new person see effectiveness in action, and it gives the new person the time to find out if he or she is qualified to work with teenagers. It also gives us the chance to see if the person falls into the “willing-but-not-able” category. At the end of the month, we decide. We have been blessed by God’s leading. Each person who has made the commitment has met with the approval of the other staff. Each person who was considered unqualified for youth work has come to that conclusion before the staff has had to refuse him or her.
5. Flexibility. If people want us to predict exactly how teenagers will behave, perhaps they shouldn’t join the youth team. People must be willing to understand that teenagers defy generalization, and as a result, teenagers are an enigma even to those who call themselves youth experts.
A healthy volunteer team is also flexible about the tasks assigned to them. A Sunday school teacher must at times be willing to take a pie in the face. The music leader must be willing to help with the administration of the retreat weekend or the formation of the youth budget. Recognizing our various spiritual gifts doesn’t mean that we become such specialists that we refuse to serve where needed.
6. A sense of humor. If someone is going to join the youth team, he or she must be able to laugh, especially at himself or herself. Issues like baldness, fat stomachs, or physical shortcomings will cause joking among our image-conscious teenagers, and if we don’t learn to laugh at ourselves, we surely will be hurt.
The dynamic of being able to laugh at oneself also will be needed in the process of growth on the team. When we work with other members of the volunteer team, we will learn much about ourselves. Our selfishness or stubbornness or pride will surface, and in healthy team situations, these weaknesses will be confronted. To achieve maximum growth, we must be willing to laugh at ourselves and say, “You are right; I am that way. Please help me change.”
Laughter is also important because it provides an important bridge to our students. Laughter disarms people, and it relaxes us to relate to each other with greater openness. My friend Scott is a Hell’s-Angels-type biker. One day he came into the church office with his all-black outfit and his bulging muscles rippling out of his sleeveless T-shirt, revealing his many tattoos. One of the secretaries stared quite conspicuously at him. The moment was tense until little four-year-old Aaron, the son of another minister, quipped, “Hey mister, why do you use crayons on your arms?” Everyone laughed. The tension was broken through humor.
BUILDING THE TEAM
Our youth ministry staff has adopted a motto about the growth on our volunteer junior high and senior high teams; we say, “A healthy staff team begets a healthy youth ministry.” Leadership experts would call this the “trickle down” theory. If the leaders are growing and feel competent, the whole organization benefits.
This growth of the leadership team, however, doesn’t come accidentally or automatically. It occurs when we as team leaders commit ourselves to building the team qualitatively and quantitatively.
Qualitative growth requires us to become trainers. Whatever we know about youth work must be imparted to others. We may not feel like experts, but we can at least stay one step ahead of our volunteer partners in ministry. Our co-workers will look to us for spiritual and ministry direction, and we must be ready to offer it.
Qualitative growth requires us to become disciples. Time with our volunteer staff to insure their spiritual health or to encourage them in their ministry is time well spent for the benefit of the whole youth group.
Qualitative growth requires us to become nurturers. Like us, the volunteer team needs to grow as adults; they need to be wrestling with God at work in their own lives so that they can feel like healthy adults. If they feel content that they are growing, they will feel more equipped to give themselves away to the youth.
As leaders, we also must work for quantitative growth. Although the members on the team can help in contacting others, we still have the greater responsibility to act as recruiters. We have to work to see the team size increase. One leader for every six or eight students is ideal, although many youth groups are forced to get by with one leader to every ten or twelve.
Such quantitative growth will require us to plan ahead, get visibility at church or in other church groups from which volunteers may come, and share with others how they may be used in the ministry. Quantitative growth becomes simpler, however, if the qualitative growth is of a consistently high caliber. If the staff team is growing and dynamic, others will want to join in the effort for their own growth as well as for the ministry to the students.
PROBLEMS WITH TEAM MINISTRY
You often may feel that it is easier to do the work all alone rather than deal with the problems of working with a team.
1. Conflicts within the teams. One thing we can be sure of: every person who joins the youth leadership team will be a sinner, including us. As a result, we must carefully maintain relationships if the team is to stay healthy. If we are not careful, we may find that
* one staff member is particularly successful with his or her students and others who are struggling with their own small groups or in their leadership get jealous.
* romantic relationships arise between various members of the team, and those who are left out feel left out.
* staff members disagree with standards of discipline or they feel uncomfortable with the youth group’s stance on issues like rock music or drinking or dancing.
* some staff members disagree with the group’s goals; they may complain, “Why do we have to deal with all this `caring-for-each-other’ stuff; why can’t we just get on with ministry to the kids?”
* staff members may pull practical jokes on each other and hurt one of the participants.
* Conflicts do occur, and the only guaranteed way to avoid them is to dismantle the team. However, the better solution is to anticipate these conflicts before they occur. Talk to the volunteers about the conflicts, addressing them as a positive challenge for growth rather than a trap to avoid. When the conflicts do occur, address them directly with the team members involved. In my earliest youth ministry days, I used to think that problems would go away or that time would heal wounds. I learned that time infects wounds, and it is better to dress the wound early than to let it fester.
2. Conflicts over use of time. As soon as we recruit a team, we have two groups of people needing our time and attention: the youth and the leadership team. We will find ourselves faced with the perpetual question, “With whom do I spend my time? Which group is my priority?”
The answer is both. We need to invest ourselves in leaders so that they, in turn, can invest themselves in students, but we also need to spend good time with students so that we can develop our abilities to work with teenagers. Set aside regular time to invest in each group. Let your leadership team know that youth activities and youth retreats are student times; during these activities your priority is to minister to students. But also schedule staff retreats, monthly staff training days, and occasional staff socials to devote your full attention to the needs of your staff.
3. Conflicts over authority. When people join the leadership team, they automatically will be called upon to exercise some authority. It could be disciplining a student or answering questions related to a tough Scripture passage. Their age and position give them natural authority.
Conflicts emerge when co-workers differ over how the author ity should be used. Some will want to give dogmatic answers to every tough question, while others may want to leave these questions unanswered. When discipline issues arise, staff—like parents can differ on the degree or severity of the punishment.
As leaders, we must intervene in these situations, taking authority even over co-leaders. As team leaders, we will need to make the ultimate decisions, even when the team members don’t agree with us unanimously.
4. Conflicts about our perceived role. As other team members assume visible roles, people from the church may question our leadership, wondering why we aren’t up front all of the time. It’s always easiest to be a one-person show, but visibility isn’t our priority. We perhaps can avert some criticism by explaining the team ministry philosophy to the leaders to whom we report; if they understand what we are doing, they can defend us against criticism. (If they disagree with the team ministry concept, we may need to consider looking for a new job.)
A TALE OF YOUTH MINISTRY
Once upon a time, a talented young man came to the youth ministry of Amalgamated Community Church. He could sing, teach, lead games, and win students to Jesus Christ. The youth group at Amalgamated grew and grew, and the talented young man just kept on giving himself to his youth group. From morning to night he would counsel, plan, meet with students on campus, and call kids just to let them know he cared. (No one was quite sure if he was single or married, but most assumed that he was single because he never seemed to go home except to sleep.)
The young man’s talents carried him for a long time, but he soon grew lonely. He spent all his time caring for students, but he began to wonder if anyone cared about him. But although he was discouraged, he kept on meeting with students, planning meetings, and scheduling activities.
Then one day a bratty junior high boy came to the talented young man. The talented young man knew that this bratty boy was not a Christian, but the boy came to youth activities and listened.
The bratty boy said to the talented young man, “In my advanced managerial training symposium for eighth graders, we are studying the principles of delegation, and it is statistically proven that executives who refuse to delegate dramatically increase the likelihood of their own attrition.”
The talented young man didn’t understand all these big words, so the bratty boy explained them to the young man: “You can’t do it alone. If you teach mutual interdependence of the parts of the body of Christ, then why do you act alone all of the time? Are you the returned Christ? Or are you just ignorant of your need for others?”
The talented young man started to understand, but his face revealed that the bratty boy’s ideas were still too complex. The bratty boy grew impatient: “In short . . . before you plan one more day in youth ministry, get some people to help you!”
Finally the talented young man understood, and he began to recruit a team. The team included an intelligent man who reached out to the bratty boy. As the relationship between the intelligent man and the bratty boy grew, the bratty boy became a Christian. When he was a man, he became the executive director of the Amalgamated Community Church Management Workshop.
The talented young man became a talented old man, but he served the youth ministry at Amalgamated Community Church for forty years because of the effective team that worked with him. He even worked with the bratty young son of the executive director of the Church Management Workshop, but he did it through his youth leadership team.
And they all lived happily ever after.
The above article, “Working With A Team” was written by Paul Borthwick. The article was excerpted from chapter eight in Borthwick’s book, Organizing Your Youth Ministry.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
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.”