In my experience, unclear expectations are a major source of conflict within youth ministry, especially between youth leaders and the pastor or the board, but also between voluntees and the youth pastor. When both parties have different opinions on what’s expected of the youth leader, things can go south real fast. The frustrating thing for most youth leaders is that they don’t understand what’s causing the friction, because they don’t realize their own expectations don’t match with what others expect of them.
It is crucial when you start somewhere as youth leader, whether as volunteer or on staff, that you ask specifically what is expected of you. Managing expectations from both sides can prevent a lot of problems and it will help you to make better, more informed decisions.
Salary and benefits
It’s the most obvious one, but be very clear about expectations here. How much will you make, when can you expect a raise, if you’re on a temporary contract when can you expect a permanent contract, what benefits are included, etc. Make sure you have a clear picture of what your salary and benefits will look like. If possible, get ‘promises’ in writing, for instance of permanent contracts.
This is a crucial one and one which has caused many misunderstandings over the years. The key question is this: how many hours are they paying you for and how many hours do they expect you to work? In my experience, there’s often a difference between these two. Part time youth leaders especially have to be very clear about this, I’ve heard of churches paying for 12 hours and in fact expecting 24 or so. If necessary, agree on time tracking so they can see what you spend your time on. For volunteers it’s important to get a good picture of the time investment that’s asked and expected of you.
Are you expected to attend all youth events? This is often an important one for volunteers with a specific task, for instance youth small group leader. Make sure you’re clear about this, because this can add up time wise. Maybe you could agree on attending all youth services and small groups, but other events just once a month or so.
What meetings are you required to attend and how much time will this cost you? Have they calculated this in your hours or will that be extra?
When working (almost) full time, this is an important one. When can you take your weekly day off, your Sabbath. Be very clear about your own expectations here so as to protect your day off from the start and to keep it from getting interrupted by work.
This one may take some time. If you reed the ‘wanted ads’ for youth workers or the job descriptions, you get the feeling that youth workers are expected to be at every youth event and organize it too, visit schools weekly, hang out with youth regularly, keep a perfect admin, keep in touch with the parents/board/senior pastor/other ministry leaders and lead and equip their volunteers…sounds like an impossible job, anyone? You have to understand what’s really expected of you because you can’t do it all. Which tasks have priority? What is the core mission and vision for the youth ministry?
If you’re a volunteer: what’s your key activity? Say you’re a youth small group leader, is anything expected of you besides preparing the small group studies, leading small group and taking care of ‘your’ students? Do you have to be present and/or help out at events?
Are there any written or unwritten rules you’re expected to stick to? If you’re from another denomination or another area/country, it’s probably a good idea to ask about specific customs about alcohol, going to the movies, working on Sunday, etc. It’s always better to have the expectations clear in this area, so you can decide if you’re willing to agree or not.
What are the expectations with regards to communications from your part? Does anyone expect a monthly newsletter, a weekly report? How often do you need to update the senior pastor, the board or the parents?
This is another time that may take some time and it’s one you’ll have to discuss with your ‘leader’, the person to whom you answer in the church or the organization where you work. What are things you can decide for yourself and when do you need someone else’s permission? To what amount can you spend freely and when do you need to confer with the senior pastor or the treasurer? On other words: what are the limits, the boundaries of your authority and autonomy?
What do you expect from those who lead you? Be clear about how often you’d like to meet, what your expectations are concerning coaching and leadership in general and other expectations you have of your leaders. Do you want them to attend youth ministry events every now and then or do other things for you or the youth ministry? What decisions would you like to be involved in?
Have I forgotten any items that you feel are important to discuss expectations about? How do you go about managing expectations?