Letter From a Leader

One of my favorite parts of working with youth is getting to work with a team of adult leaders. Overall, I would consider myself pretty good at leading a team of leaders. However, I sometimes fall short. A leader in our ministry has decided not to return next fall as a leader, and he wrote a detailed list of reasons why. Before sharing that list, it’s important for me to say that this leader and I get along well on a personal level, and that he is very supportive of what we’re trying to do as a church in general when it comes to youth ministry. I am thankful that he took the time to delineate in writing why he was disappointed in what happened this school year (my first year at this church), especially related to my leadership. Though the letter contained criticism, it was delivered in a gentle, loving tone that exemplified how to disagree with someone in a way that upholds the demands of discipleship. He was kind enough to give me permission to share his letter with others, although I have changed some names and other identifying information. Here’s the portion of the letter that was specifically related to my leadership:

My small group never really showed any real interest in learning about God or the Bible. By the end of year they seemed less interested. There were a few good nights here and there, but no evidence of directional change or growth in the boys. At the beginning of the year you told me that you gave me this particular group because they are curious and want to learn. That does not seem to be the case at all.

Things seemed disorganized and chaotic with regard to getting our lesson materials, and us knowing what was happening on any given night. The lessons often did not engage the boys and I ran out of questions way too soon. It is okay to punt once in a while, but it seemed like I was punting almost every week.

I am really worn out by the level of disrespect in the high school group as a whole. It seems to be a culture of disrespect. I have a higher threshold than my co-leader had, but not as high as yours. I am not sure if your approach with the kids will ultimately work. I hope it does, but I don’t think I can take it that long. You need people with a similar threshold and I think they will all be a lot younger than me.

I think that I am too old for you to relate to, as well as the kids. You call me Mr. XXXX instead of XXXX, which just makes me feel old instead of feeling like I am your friend. When we met for lunch you didn’t have any interest in my life beyond my small group other than [talking about mutual acquaintances we both know]. That makes me feel like a worker bee instead of a family member. Maybe I was spoiled by serving with [a previous pastor] and expect too much. [My place of work] ranks almost last out of 200 federal agencies in employee morale. Anytime our church feels more like my workplace and less like family I don’t like it. (You not answering my e-mail last week confirmed this feeling.)

I’ve had some time to digest what he had to say. Essentially, in his mind I fell short in the following ways:

  • Where I asked him to serve did not end up being a good fit, nor did it live up to what I said it would be like;
  • I did not create a culture where our leaders were respected and appreciated by the students;
  • I did not make him feel like we were teammates in that I didn’t support him by helping him be prepared to lead and I didn’t relate to him much outside of his role as a small group leader. Beyond small talk and discussing issues related to our ministry, I never really engaged with him on a personal level. In fact, at one point in time I did not reply to an email he had sent.

You know what? He’s right. I don’t think this is how I’ve been leading across the board, but in his case, I really dropped the ball. He was one of my most consistent leaders, and in some ways, I took him for granted because I never had to follow up with him, I never had to worry whether he was committed. To his credit, he served for the entire school year, which was his commitment, and came prepared each and every Wednesday, even though he had decided at some point not to continue on as a leader in the ministry. As for the lessons not being organized, I do feel like we did a pretty good job (mostly because our youth ministry administrator was on top of things and created a leader’s guide for each series we did so that leaders had all the lessons at the start of every series), but he did not feel like they adequately helped him be prepared as a leader.

I think this letter will help me grow a whole lot as a leader of leaders. This leader could have just faded into the night by saying it just wasn’t his thing, but he helped me by being honest in a loving way. I’m thankful that our church has created an environment where honest, loving criticism is welcome. I hope that God continues to help me grow by showing me–sometimes through people–where I am in need of improvement as a pastor.

North Point Church: I Love My Church (Volunteer Video)

Pretty cool video. And if you’ve never seen the Discovery Channel video this is based on, you should check that one out, too.

Dug Down Deep Video

I’ve not yet read the book Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris yet, but I am ordering the book today from Amazon. I am encouraged by any serious theological thinking from younger Evangelicals, so I am looking forward to it and hope that it truly will be “deep.” Here’s a great video to promote the book:

DugDownDeep_Carnahan.mov from Covenant Life Church on Vimeo.

Hat Tip: Standfirm

Encouragement for the New Year

Hat Tip: Life in Student Ministry

Believing in Teenagers

Scott Staal, a sixteen-year-old, wrote an article for Christianity Today that says a lot about how we really can influence the lives of students in really simple ways that don’t take a lot of time.

Let’s be real. I know that people believe in me because they take time to tell me. Doesn’t take money. Doesn’t take training. Doesn’t take much. Just someone who knows me. Think about this: one of the biggest challenges for millions of kids in our country is something that can be solved for free.

So what can I do? And what can you do?

I started thinking about what could happen to help reach these kids. Hey, they’re in every local elementary school. They’re in every neighborhood. Down the block, up the street, right over there. I imagined how many kids’ lives would change if someone, anyone, took the time to do something. But that won’t happen unless people care. And people won’t care if they don’t know that this is a giant problem. And how will they know unless someone tells them? (sounds familiar; check out Romans 10:14

In the article, he references how he’s furthering his goal by getting people to watch the following video on YouTube:

It’s just a good reminder to me that one of the reasons I started working with youth as a volunteer almost ten years ago was because I wanted to make a difference in the same way many great adults made a difference in my life.

Thoughts on Recruiting Volunteers

Well, this won’t be a full-fledged set of thoughts. However, I had an experience these past couple of weeks that made me think of how we treat volunteers in our student ministries.

As a youth pastor, I try to be involved in some way in a local high school. I decided to volunteer as a tutor in a local high school’s AVID program since I had done so at the local high school near my last church. I contacted the teacher in charge of AVID, and thought I was on my way. I knew I would have to complete a few tasks before I could be eligible to volunteer, such as going in for fingerprinting. However, I had a very difficult experience getting everything done. Here’s a summary of what happened:

  • After talking with the teacher, I went in for a required interview with the AVID coordinator at the local college (because the local college in part sponsors the program at the high school through a federal grant) to take care of some logistics. It went quickly, and the coordinator told me someone from the school would be in touch with me shortly to discuss the schedule.
  • In the mean time, the teacher told me that I could get my background check at the school district’s main office. I went in one day when I had some time. Here’s what happened during that visit: 1) I filled out a piece of paper; 2) paid $15 to the district (for the background check); was told that I needed to take that piece of paper back to the college to be fingerprinted on a Tuesday between 2pm and 4pm or a Wednesday between 3pm and 5pm (which would cost an additional $10 there). Note that I did not actually get anything processed at that time, besides my $15 payment. I thought this was curious, but was encouraged that I would be done after one more stop, especially since it happened to be Tuesday that day.
  • I went to the college that day at 2:30pm. I could not find a place to park because seemingly all the lots within 1/4 mile of the building required a permit. Thankfully, I was able to find an information booth, who gave me a temporary parking pass near the building I needed to visit. The employee at the school district office had told me how to get to the building, but not how to park.
  • Unfortunately, the wait when I finally arrived at the fingerprinting office at the college, the wait was over an hour, and I needed to get back to the church before then. I called the school district to inquire if perhaps there were other ways to be fingerprinted (such as at a local police station, which is permitted in Colorado). The only way to be fingerprinted was at the college during the two scheduled times, Tuesday between 2pm and 4pm or Wednesday between 3pm and 5pm.
  • Since it’s December, the fingerprinting office would be closed during Christmas break. So, the next day, Wednesday, was my last chance to be fingerprinted before I was to start volunteering in January. I took a book and arrived 45 minutes early. After waiting a few minutes, the gal who was preparing the fingerprinting made sure I had all my paperwork. I had prepared to pay the $10 with a debit card, following the recommendation of the school district office. Thankfully, the gal at the fingerprinting office let me know that if I was using a debit or credit card, I would need to pay across campus in the cashier’s office first, then come and get in line. Since I was early, it was not an issue and I went to the office to take care of the payment. When they opened the office, I was first in line, was fingerprinted, and went on my merry way.

Now, each person that I worked with along the way was nice and as helpful as they knew how to be. However, my total experience–from the time that I contacted the school to inquire how to volunteer to finally getting my fingerprinting done–didn’t make me feel like anyone really cared whether I volunteered at the school or not. The reason I’ve gone through the trouble to list the details of my experience is this: it caused me, for the first time, to wonder about the experience of those who volunteer in our high school ministry. Do they feel valued as volunteers, from the first time they ask about how to get involved or the first time I contact them to recruit them? Sure, the process makes sense to me, but how do they feel about the packet of information we have them fill out? Do they feel supported? Do they feel like the trainings we provide are a good use of their time? When I give them a book as a gift, do they see it as an additional obligation instead?

One of the biggest things I needed to learn when I was a young 23-year-old youth minister with minimal youth ministry experience and no formal training in my first position running a ministry was how to build a great team of volunteers. When I first began in youth ministry, I saw volunteers only as people who helped me do ministry. Yes, I valued them in a way, but I wanted volunteers who were already great at doing ministry, and I did not see myself as someone who was supposed to help develop leaders. Thankfully, the two youth ministers I volunteered under while I was in college invested a lot in me, so I had some idea how to do the same. However, I’ve come to realize that a large part of my job is getting people on board who love Jesus, love teenagers, and are excited about the mission and vision of our church and youth ministry, and helping them to become great volunteers. Without a great team of volunteers, our ministry does not do what it does. Period.

I’m excited about tutoring in our local high school. From what I know about the school, not a lot of people volunteer there. I don’t know a whole lot about education, but I do know that schools that tend to do a great job educating kids have a lot of volunteers investing their time, whether those people are parents, volunteer coaches, or retirees who just want to spend their time helping kids do well in school. I wonder how the school would change if the administration put a greater emphasis on recruiting people to volunteer and making it easy to do. I wonder how our high school ministry would change if I did a better job doing the same. In my ministry plan for 2010, I placed it as a high priority. I suppose it’s time to put my money where my mouth is.

As I continue to work through these issues, here are some links that might be of interest:

Cadre Ministries
– a great website for volunteer training resources that are really practical.
Why Volunteers Won’t Show Up For Your Training, a post on Life In Student Ministry by Bill Allison from Cadre Ministries
YS One Day” – a one-day youth ministry training that’s probably coming to a city near you. I’m not sure about the form it will take given Youth Specialties’ recent sale to YouthWorks!, but it’s always been a great experience for my volunteers in the past.