In church work, particularly in youth ministry, ministry teams are prevalent. Whether they are short term or long term, professional or volunteer, there is an opportunity for youth workers to continually be working on or in ministry teams.
There are many factors that contribute to the success or failure of ministry teams. The first is that we are imperfect people in an imperfect world. Sometimes our own egos and agendas get in the way of what could be a truly successful ministry team. Peoples’ personal goals, leadership abilities (or lack thereof), time commitments, and their passion and dedication to youth ministry can all lead to a workable or unbearable ministry team.
Such are ministry teams: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
First Story: Last year, the adult chaperones who went to youth quake with our middle school group were some of the best that I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. With the exception of me and another adult, the other three adults were all “newbies” to chaperoning middle school events. There was some anxiety from them, but it also meant that they were willing and open to taking advice and didn’t have the mentality of “well, that’s not how we did it with so and so.”
We met one week beforehand and were able to talk about the youth going, what the adults would be doing, and the potential “problems” that might arise over the weekend. The adults, youth, and their parents were all attending the information meeting on that Wednesday, so we were able to clearly lay out all the rules and expectations of the youth, as well as consequences. The result was that at Youth Quake, I was able to relax (a little). I knew the kids were where they were supposed to be, I knew I had adults who knew what to do. When bad behavior happens (because it always does), we were able to handle it effectively and in a way that didn’t taint the entire event.
Second Story: The National Youth Gathering requires a big commitment of both money and time from the churches and their youth groups. In preparation for the 2007 National Youth Gathering, there were many, many good things that happened. The planning team helped make sure that everyone was able to raise most of their money by fundraising, and our congregation was more than supportive of our efforts. We felt well prepared.
However, once arriving in Orlando, we quickly realized that we had spent so much time preparing to GO to the National Youth Gathering, that we weren’t ready FOR the gathering itself. Two youth had all of their money stolen because they didn’t turn it into the adults and we had several bus problems. We hadn’t researched speakers or bands, or come up with a plan for how to do time management at the Gathering. While the youth had a good time, for the most part, we adults were stressed and anxious much of the time. One of the adult leaders felt so out of control and out of place, that she nearly went home on the third day of our trip. Luckily, she didn’t and the rest of the trip was enjoyable, but there were many issues that could have been solved had we been more focused on the event itself instead of how to get there.
Third Story: Two Youth Quakes ago, weather prevented our group from having its information meeting. In the flurry of kids arriving and loading the vans, we didn’t spend a lot of time going over the expectations of the weekend. Because the adults didn’t feel comfortable “calling” kids on bad behavior, they would report to me, and then I would have to do the crisis management based on what I was told, not what I had actually observed. Because the kids didn’t know what was expected of them, some of our youth were running amuck on floors closed for construction without our knowledge and our entire weekend was spent (it seemed) trying to control bad behavior. On Sunday morning, one of our other adult leaders snapped and lectured his van all the way to lunch. The weekend was, as the title suggests, very, very ugly.
While these three stories are event specific ministry teams, there are a lot of things that worked and didnt work that can be applied to more long term ministry teams as well.
What Works and What Doesn’t:
1. Communication, communication, communication: When working in ministry teams, there is no such thing as too much information (as long as it pertains to the subject at hand). The more you can keep your teams in the loop about what is going on, the more they’ll feel like they have a handle on what it is they are volunteering for. In the case of the good youth quake, the adults were ready to handle whatever came up because they had a good idea of what to expect because of the communication prior to the weekend. The opposite is true in the cases of the National Youth Gathering and the “Ugly” Youth Quake. Communication was lacking and the adults didn’t feel comfortable in the roles that they were given because there was not enough communication to prepare them beforehand.
2. Clarity: Volunteers on ministry teams appreciate a clear sense of direction. They like to know what is going on when and why they’re doing it. The clearer you can be, the more consistent you can be. One of the reasons that there was so much stress amongst our National Youth Gathering team was that there was a lack of clarity from me, the head leader. I had hoped that if we just got into the flow of the gathering, that we would be fine, however that didn’t work because there were unanswered questions and unsolved problems blocking the flow. By the second full day of the Gathering, everyone was fine, but we could have avoided a lot of stress and tears if I had taken the time to be a little clearer.
3. Learn from Experience: Failure can be productive but only if you take the time to learn from it. At the end of each event, I take some time and write down the highs and the lows as well as ask other team members for their input on what worked and didn’t work. Then, when planning the event (if it’s a yearly event), I can look back on my notes. After looking at my notes from Youth Quake 2007, I was able to make changes that helped everyone on the ministry team for Youth Quake 2008. For the next National Youth Gathering, I know what things I’ll need to do to help prepare our group and our chaperones.
4. Flexibility: Flexibility is crucial for ministry teams, whether that means having email meetings instead of face to face meetings because time restraints or changing plans spur of the moment because of uncontrollable circumstances. However, when you have set up clear parameters through open communication, it’s a lot easier for teams to be flexible. If you haven’t taken the time to do this, asking others on your team to be “flexible” can lead to (more) anxiety and uncertainty.
5. Develop a Sense of Community: Everyone craves connection and purpose for what they are doing. When working with a ministry team, it is important to see those you work with as more than just a body to fill a space. Take the time to listen to what’s going on in their lives. Remind them that what they are doing is an important function of the church and (in the case of event ministry) a chance for them to show Christ to those they work with.
One of my favorite memories is the trip to and from Wichita. I had an excellent time in conversation with the other female chaperone. The youth were sleeping, or singing to music in the back, so we were able to just talk to each other. This has built a strong foundation for friendship that has continued in the months following the event. This year, she was one of the first parents I asked to chaperone again because I know and trust her. Because of that weekend, she is also one of my top supporters in my ministry because she sees the value of the things that we do.
Whether it is a youth ministry planning team, or a middle school lock-in, the basics for good ministry are the same. Communication and clarity help prepare your team. Flexibility and learning from experience help your team handle the present ministry and improve for future ministry events. May God bless your ministry teams so that you can have more of the “good” and learn from the “bad” and the “ugly.”