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The Power of Team Leadership

By Scotty Gibbons

Video from Scotty Gibbons [Stream] [Download]

I still remember the service when I looked around a room packed with teenagers and thought, If they wanted to, they could take over this place. I was outnumbered. The group had been growing quickly, and I soon realized I could not handle it on my own anymore. I could not preach, receive the offering, lead worship, be an altar worker, encourage students, get permission slips to parents, plan an event, and. … It was too much.

I was forced by my situation to discover team leadership. Now, years later, I can see how teams have revolutionized every aspect of our student ministry.

Team leadership is powerful, biblical, and effective. So why is it such a rare practice in student ministry? There may be several reasons.

  1. Some youth pastors cannot admit their need for help.
  2. Some are insecure and afraid of surrounding themselves with people who might be more talented than they are.
  3. Some believe it is easier to do ministry than to put up with the frustrations and confrontations that come from delegation.
  4. Others do not know how to do team ministry.

The only thing more exciting than doing student ministry is bringing a group of leaders with you on the journey. Embracing leadership as a team builder will lighten a youth pastor’s load, increase his effectiveness, help him accomplish more exponentially, and have much more fun in the process.

Here are some practical thoughts to help youth pastors transition toward team leadership in student ministry.

Recruiting A Leadership Team

Prayer

Before a youth pastor does anything else, he needs to spend time praying for his leadership team. (If he does not have a leadership team, he needs to pray that God will give him one.) A youth pastor may be tempted to view this step as the Sunday School starting point. But if youth pastors fail at this point, their entire effort is in vain.

Perspective

Watch for potential leaders. There may be many potential leaders in the church; but a youth pastor needs to learn to recognize them. Potential leaders can come from many different age groups, and have different interests, giftings, and personalities. Potential leaders may be student leaders, senior citizens, or any age in between. Be careful not to discount Clark Kent when looking for Superman. Learn to see a diamond in the rough. Many of our most effective youth leaders did not necessarily come shooting out of the gate. But they have been committed over the long haul and, as a result, have grown into their leadership role.

Early in my ministry I looked for talent. I have since realized that, while talent is desirable, it is not a priority. A youth pastor must learn to recognize potential and be willing to work to bring it out.

Parents can make excellent youth leaders. Before recruiting a parent, check with the student to make sure he is comfortable with the arrangement. Do not alienate a teenager to gain a worker. If the student is uncomfortable with the situation, see if the parent can be utilized in a behind-the-scenes capacity.

Characteristics

When recruiting youth leaders it is important to know what to look for. Do not put someone on the team and entrust him with responsibility only because he is breathing. Remember, it is easier to hire than to fire. Look for these characteristics:

Love for God. Look for leaders who have a heart for God that is evident by their lifestyle. Understand that when a youth pastor brings someone on the team, he is endorsing that person as a model his students can follow.

Servant’s Heart. A servant is willing to help where he is needed, even if it means staying after service to stack chairs. Be careful about recruiting someone who is eager to be in the limelight.

Teachable Spirit. Select individuals who will be committed to personal growth once they are part of the team. At some point a youth pastor may need to correct the leader or direct him to do something differently. When correction is given, how will he respond?

Team Player. Look for leaders who work well with others. If the team is made up of self-centered players, a youth pastor will not experience the power of team leadership.

Some youth pastors may be in a position where it seems no one has these qualifications. In that situation, a decision must be made. Will he let someone lead the group in worship only because he can (even though his walk with Christ is questionable, and he is unwilling to serve)? A youth pastor needs to determine his convictions and set standards for involvement in leadership, and then stick to them. It is better to use a CD for worship than to give influence to a leader who will compromise the spiritual climate of the group. A youth pastor should not be afraid to set high standards for his leadership team.

The pitch

Opportunity. Once a potential leader has been identified, the youth pastor needs to recruit him as a member of the team. Youth pastors will be more effective in recruiting leaders if their appeal is based on opportunity rather than need. Signing up to be a crewmember on a sinking ship is not appealing. When recruiting, appeal to the significant opportunity the potential leader has for impacting a student for eternity. Do not say to a potential leader, “I really need you to help me with security. These kids are rowdy, and I cannot get them under control. It is so distracting when I am trying to preach. Would you be willing to help me?”

Instead, say: “I want to talk with you about an opportunity to make a significant impact in our Wednesday night services. We want to develop a security team to maintain order in the service so students can focus on the message without distraction. When students are not distracted during the altar call, they are significantly more likely to respond positively to the message. This directly results in changed lives. Would you pray about this opportunity?” Leaders (especially those selected for the team) will respond much more readily to opportunity than to crisis.

Expectation. When recruiting a leader, a youth pastor must provide the potential leader with clearly written general expectations up front (attendance at service, personal accountability, and length of commitment). He should also provide specific expectations regarding his role on the team (how to lead a small group or how to effectively greet a student).

Placement. When placing someone in a specific ministry area, a youth pastor needs to consider how he can help that person fulfill God’s plan for his life in that ministry context. People are more important than projects. To do this, a youth pastor needs to know the potential leader’s life, dreams, interests, and gifts. If a potential leader tells the youth pastor that he feels called to build relationships with students, the youth pastor needs to provide him with an opportunity to fulfill his calling in the youth structure (maybe as a greeter, an altar worker, or small-group leader). Take the potential leader out for lunch or coffee and talk with him and hear his heart.

Developing A Leadership Team

When a youth pastor recruits his team, he must have a plan to develop it. A good team needs a good coach who can train the team to win. Youth leaders are responsible for coaching their teams so they can win. This may mean taking extra time to encourage them, pushing them to do more than they think they can possibly do, and caring enough to confront them. As a youth pastor develops his team, he needs to keep these two principles in mind:

Invest

A youth pastor needs to invest in his leaders. He needs to care more about them individually than about what they can do or produce as a team. He can show them he cares by investing in their lives relationally and spiritually. He can teach them principles that will help them become more effective in life and ministry.

A youth pastor can be strategic and plan to make a significant investment in one of his youth leaders each week. One week he can take a leader to lunch. Another week he can invite a few leaders to attend a student’s game. He might attend a leader’s small group or ministry team and encourage them. He can write notes of encouragement.

Whatever else a youth pastor does, he needs to be intentional about investing in his leadership team. Small, but meaningful investments go a long way and pay great returns.

Equip

A youth pastor needs to give team members the information and tools they need to win. He must communicate clearly and consistently with the team. Most of the challenges any team faces will be directly related to their communication (or lack of it). When assigning a responsibility to a leader, communicate what the goal looks like, and then give him what he needs to achieve it. A youth pastor can be creative in his approach to equipping leaders. He can experiment to find out what works best for him and his team.

At Realife, we meet with ministry team leaders (leaders of leaders) for weekly training sessions during Sunday School. In these meetings, upcoming youth events are discussed, leaders’ responsibilities are assigned, questions are answered, training is provided, and leaders are given time to work on their responsibilities for the upcoming week. Leaders who miss a meeting can receive updates and audio recordings of the session on our leadership Web site.

Sustaining A Leadership Team

As a youth pastor develops his team, he needs to structure it to win long-term. The longer his team stays together the greater his chances are of building an environment of trust with students and developing healthy chemistry on his leadership team. The mark of a great youth leader is building a ministry that can be sustained even in his absence. A youth pastor may not be in his current position forever. He must develop a solid ministry team so, when he leaves, a team is in place to sustain the ministry during the transition and beyond. The following principles will help youth pastors build teams that last.

Personal longevity

Youth pastors must commit to long-term plans for youth ministry. They must not be quick to leave a ministry position, but stay where they are and be faithful. When a situation gets difficult (and some will), stay planted, and grow through it. Do not run. Youth pastors make a destructive mistake when they leave their position or responsibility prematurely. Does God call a leader to a position and then call him out of it 6 months later when the situation becomes difficult? Stick with it. A youth pastor will not reach his potential until he has been in a ministry position at least a few years. It is natural to have seasons that are more difficult than others. As a youth pastor sticks with it year after year, his influence will increase exponentially.

Put the right people in the right places

If a youth pastor wants a potential leader to thrive long-term on his team, he must place him where he will fit best. A poor ministry fit minimizes a leader’s effectiveness, frustrates him, and increases the likelihood he will burn out or give up. Obviously, every leader will occasionally need to do something he does not enjoy. When it comes to long-term responsibilities, place leaders in positions where they will thrive. Your leaders’ passions may change occasionally. In those times be flexible and help them transition to another ministry area if necessary, or talk with them about the importance of perseverance.

Build confidence

A youth pastor needs to give his team members easy tasks and early wins so their confidence will grow. As team members show themselves faithful and competent, he can increase their responsibilities. Be careful about giving a leader too much too soon.

Provide accountability

Team members need consistent accountability. After a youth pastor has given a leader a responsibility and explained his expectations, he needs to follow up with him. A lack of accountability weakens a youth pastor’s influence and creates an inconsistent culture that is unproductive and ineffective. Following up with a leader to make sure he feels supported is different from micromanaging him. A leader needs to know the youth pastor is counting on him. He needs to know the youth pastor will follow up because he cares about him and the project. If a leader does not sense the project or goal is important to the youth pastor, it will not be important to him.

Affirm continually

Give public appreciation to leaders and credit where credit is due. Write thank you notes often. Do not be generic and use clichés, but provide specific compliments and sincere encouragement. If a leader is going through a difficult time, the youth pastor needs to be there to offer support and prayer. Showing appreciation makes a statement to one’s leaders and in turn impacts one’s students.

Conclusion

I have not figured it all out. But when I look around the room during a service, I am no longer frightened. I see something much different. I see a greeter showing a visitor around the facility. I see a small-group leader following up with a student who has not been around in awhile. I see the audio/visual team leader training students to mix sound. I see many teams impacting hundreds of students who in turn will impact thousands. I am glad I am not running this race alone.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).

That is the power of team leadership.

Archibald D. Hart

SCOTTY GIBBONS is Realife Student Ministries director, James River Assembly of God, Ozark, Missouri.

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