Four Ways to Start off Right in a New Leadership Role

TracksLast month I began a new job. However, this transition is different than new positions I’ve had in the past, because I’m still serving at the same church but in a different capacity. The biggest change might be the fact that when I meet with the teams I now find myself leading, I don’t know all the faces, and I certainly don’t know all the names. The four and a half years I’ve spent as a pastor in our church means that I’m not starting from scratch when it comes to building relational capital, but I’ll still need to invest a significant amount of time in the people on my (new) teams to gain their trust and earn the right to influence them. If you’re in the same boat and find yourself leading in a new role, here are four things that can help you get started on the right foot:

Listen. You’ve got experience, you’ve got fresh eyes, and you’ve got a pretty good idea what needs to change to make the teams or organization you’re leading more effective. Make sure you take the time to first listen to the folks who have been around for more than a few minutes. Even if you know you’ll make changes that many of those people will disagree with, by genuinely listening to them you’ll communicate that you value and care for them.
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What Kind of Guests Are You Expecting?

ChairThis month, our church is completing an overhaul of our assimilation system. We are evaluating and improving everything that first-time guests experience from the moment they drive their car onto our parking lot to the point when they call our church “home.” To be honest, I didn’t think it would be this hard–although the hardest part isn’t what you’d expect. The hardest part hasn’t been the large numbers of volunteers we need to recruit and train, asking for a substantial budget increase, or moving where the offering is in our service (gasp!) in order to give people a better chance to fill out their connection card.

The hardest part has been learning to view a first-time visit to our church through the eyes of someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus and isn’t familiar with church.

As we thought about how we’ve welcomed and tried to connect with first-time guests, it became clear that we’ve looked at our assimilation process only through our own eyes: the eyes of Christ-followers who have been around church awhile. The result was a process that was confusing and even intimidating to people who perhaps haven’t ever been a part of a church. We were expecting guests at our church, but our assimilation system communicated that the guests we were expecting were those who were familiar with church, rather than unchurched folks who might not have a relationship with Jesus.

When our churches are confusing or hard-to-figure-out, we aren’t being good stewards of the first-time guests that God sends us. It doesn’t matter how friendly your church is (or how friendly you think you are); without a simple system for helping unchurched first-time guests get connected, most of the unchurched individuals and families who walk into your church probably won’t come back for a return visit. So, how can our churches be prepared for first-time guests who aren’t familiar with church?

Lose the insider lingo. Church signs that have ministry names only church veterans could figure out communicate to unchurched guests that they are definitely not part of the in-crowd. In addition, anyone speaking from up-front in the auditorium–whether during the welcome, announcements, or the sermon–need to assume they are talking to people who aren’t familiar with their church, the service, or even the Bible.
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Transitions: New Position, New Blog (Just in Time for the New Year)

TransitionsThe past few weeks have brought some changes for our family–which is part of the reason the blog has a new look. I’m recovering from knee surgery, and my recovery time has provided some time to make the switch from Blogger to a hosted WordPress site. Here’s the reason for the change:

A few weeks ago, I accepted a new position at our church. By the first of the year, I’ll have transitioned to being the pastor of small groups and assimilation. Essentially, my job is to help our church be a church of small groups as well as to build systems and teams to make sure every first-time guest at any of our church’s campuses has an incredible experience so that they can hear about the amazing grace and love found only in Jesus. Continue Reading

10 Ideas for Developing Student Leaders

Last week, I posted 10 ideas for developing leaders on your youth ministry team. The list was focused on developing adult leaders on our teams, but you and I know it’s important to develop student leaders, too. Here are 10 ideas for developing student leaders in your youth ministry:

Ask a student to share their story. Have a student share in front of the group how they came to know Jesus or how they were impacted by a recent service project or retreat.

Make a list of things at youth group that adults don’t have to do. You’d be surprised at how many things you do each week that you can ask some students to do, whether it’s running the computer or greeting students as they arrive. Have students do those things instead; they’ll be honored that you asked them to help.

Ask students to serve in small ways. Whether it’s stacking chairs after youth group or vacuuming up a mess, students will learn that leading means serving.
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10 Ideas For Developing Leaders on Your Youth Ministry Team

Developing-LeadersStarting in January, we’re going to try an experiment that will give a few people on our youth ministry team an opportunity to gain some additional training and experience in speaking “up front” to teenagers. The books our teaching team will read together arrived in the mail this week, and it got me thinking about what other small things we could do in our youth ministry that could have a big impact on developing the adult volunteers on our team. Here are ten ideas for developing leaders on your youth ministry team:

Ask others to speak/teach once a month. Whether you put together a teaching team like we’re doing or you simply make sure someone besides you is “up front” once a month, handing over the teaching time to others will give them the opportunity to grow in the area of speaking.

Have a volunteer lead a game. You might be the youth pastor, but you don’t have the corner on games. Ask a volunteer to lead a game or activity at your next event or youth group.

Take a leader to school. If you visit a high school campus or go to an athletic event at a school, take a leader with you.

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Lead So They Won’t Miss You

A couple of circumstances in the past few weeks prevented me from doing some things in ministry that I had been looking forward to. The first one was at our annual fall retreat, which might be my favorite event we do all year. A few days before the retreat, I got sick with a bad cold. I wasn’t going to allow a cold to keep me from the retreat, but by the end of the first night, my voice was gone and I was not feeling well at all. Thankfully, we had hired a guest speaker, but I couldn’t run our team meetings well, lead any of the up-front games, or really even talk much with students. Thankfully, we have a great youth ministry team, and a youth director at one of our campuses stepped in and handled my responsibilities for the retreat. I spent most of the weekend in the back of the room with a cup of tea to nurse my throat.

The second circumstance was the start of a six-week series in our high school large group. Every fall, we plan a series that digs into some difficult topics for teenagers, and I had been planning the first week’s message in my head for about four months. When we finalized the dates for the series, the kick-off Sunday for the series I was so excited to speak at fell on a Sunday when I was already scheduled to preach in our main services. Another pastor wasn’t readily available to switch dates with me, so someone else got to give the message to our high school students.

On the other side of both of those events, I realized something: My presence wasn’t really missed. At the retreat, all of our sessions ran smoothly without me holding a microphone. And every student I’ve talked to raved about the woman who spoke to our high school students on the Sunday while I was preaching.

I also realized this: the fact that I wasn’t missed is a really, really good thing.

That might sound counter-intuitive to you. Shouldn’t the people you serve with and lead care when you’re not there? Not necessarily. If you take a year-long vacation, it might be a bad sign if no one really cares that you’re gone. But if you lead your ministry, church or organization in a way that it all falls apart when you’re not at the helm for a short time, that might be just as bad. A good leader leads in such a way that things keep clicking along when you’re not there. Here are some reasons why:

If everything falls apart when you’re not there, then you’ve made it all about you. If every youth group, every event, every week of ministry hinges on your presence, then maybe you’re at the center of your youth ministry instead of Jesus. You should lead your ministry so that things can go on when you’re on vacation or if you get sick. Our junior high pastor taught me this. A few years ago, he got sick right before our summer trip and was unable to come with us. His junior high leadership team didn’t miss a beat. His leaders loved the students, an intern stepped into the role of point person for the junior high ministry, and everyone had a great week.

A leader’s job is to cast vision, not handle every little detail. A fun part about leading a team of youth ministry volunteers is that most volunteers actually like to be put to work. Don’t take away the joy of your team by doing everything that needs to be done. Yes, leaders should be willing to serve and get their hands dirty, but leaders also need to do what they have been gifted by God to do: to serve by setting the course of the ministry as God directs.

People learn by failing. You might be worried that if you let others have responsibility over part of your youth ministry, they might mess up sometimes. You’re right; they will. Whenever I’m tempted to be a control freak because I think something has to be done a certain way, I remember that the first time I was asked as a high school volunteer to speak at youth group, my message was a train wreck. I’m thankful that the youth pastor I served with helped me see it as a learning experience and gave me another shot, and another shot, and another shot. We don’t want to put people into roles that they are totally unprepared or unqualified for, but sometimes, things won’t go the way they would have if you were doing it. That’s okay. If you’re a good leader and a good friend to your volunteers, they’ll learn from the experience.

Someone else will eventually take over your role. Chances are, you won’t always be in your youth ministry role, and someone is going to take your place. The question is this: What are you doing now that will set whoever follows you up for success, whether it’s one year from now or ten years from now? If you lead so they won’t miss you when you’re gone, then they won’t miss you when you’re gone. And that’s a really good thing, because it’s not about you–it’s about Jesus, who was changing lives long before you came on the scene, and who will still be changing lives long after you’re gone.

Video of the Week: Bill Hybels on the Work Habits of a Leader

I’d say that a lot of youth workers struggle with how to manage their time and prioritize the things that are the most important. Bill Hybels has an interesting take on how to do that, and I’m trying it out as I head into a really busy season in my personal and ministry life. Check it out:

Five People You Want On Your Youth Ministry Team

One of the most fun parts of my job as a youth pastor is getting to work with an amazing team of adult leaders. If you’re trying to do youth ministry on your own without a team around you, you’re making youth ministry way too hard on yourself. Here are five people you want to have on your youth ministry team. If you don’t have them, keep searching, looking, and asking until you do:

The constant encourager
Ministry can be tough, and you need someone who will support and encourage you as a leader through the difficult times. This person isn’t a blind follower who compliments you no matter what, but rather a solid friend who cheers you on and constantly reminds you that God is still in the business of transforming lives, even when things don’t seem to be going well.

The emergency go-to guy/gal
Hopefully it never happens, but eventually, an illness or family emergency is likely going to keep you from a sermon, youth group, or event at the last minute. It’s always nice to have someone that you know can confidently step in for you should the need arise.

The opposite gender mentor
As a male youth pastor, it’s not uncommon for a high school girl to let me know about a pretty intense issue going on in her life that she really needs to process through with a female mentor. When that happens, there are a few women on our team I know I can connect that high school girl with quickly. Make sure you have at least one leader of the opposite gender that you can send a student of the opposite gender to when needed.

The “I need you to occupy the group for 20 minutes” person
Things don’t always happen as planned in youth ministry, and it’s not uncommon during an event or a trip to have a change in schedule that leaves your group milling around a deserted parking lot with nothing to do. During these moments, you need someone you can tell, “Could you come up with something for them to do while I go figure this out?”

The prayer warrior
Leading can be difficult, and you need someone who’s constantly praying for your leadership and the ministry you lead. In addition, it’s great to have someone you can text before a tough meeting with a student and ask if they would pray for you during the meeting.

What other people do you really want on your youth ministry team?

Video of the Week: "Don’t Rob the Youth" from the Gospel Coalition

I love this conversation about the role of youth ministry in the local church, especially the question of how to integrate students into the broader church. Well worth five minutes of your time:

Don’t Rob the Youth from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.