Early on in my youth ministry years I had this perception that I had to be the guy. I had to be the guy to do all the setup and tear-down. I had to be the guy who led all the games. I had to be the guy to do all the teaching. I had to be the guy to do all the administration or social media work. So I was that guy. For many years I would grind and do all the things that involved student ministry. Over time I began to grow tired and frustrated. I asked why. I was doing all the things a youth pastor should be doing, right?
Looking back I realized I was working harder and accomplishing less. I’d guess there are a lot of youth pastors or youth workers out there who feel the same way. It wasn’t until I began to take a step back and ask the question, “Who’s behind me?” that change and effective ministry began to take place. If you have no team, if you are not empowering your leaders, I’d argue you are headed for burnout and you’re not operating at your best capacity. A good way to know if you are doing everything is to ask this simple question.
“If I were gone, would our midweek or weekend program run without me?”
This simple question has led to so much change in the ministry I’ve been entrusted to lead. I’ve seen our ministry grow. I’ve seen my leaders grow. I’ve seen more buy-in to our ministry and longevity of leaders. Students have invited more and more of their non-churched friends. This simple question has even helped me to lead at my full potential and do what I’m best at with minimal effort.
So here are some questions you can ask to begin building up and empowering a team. This will help you to answer who is coming up behind you.
WHO ON YOUR CURRENT TEAM SHOWS BUY-IN?
This is the starting point. Before you can ever start building a team to take ownership, you need to be able to pinpoint which leaders show buy-in. A good way to figure out who those leaders are is to begin paying attention. Do they show up on time? Do they actually respond to your emails? Is their group of students continually growing? Do you see these leaders going outside of a midweek or weekend to pour into students? If you can begin answering yes to these questions, odds are you have some bought-in leaders.
These are the leaders who are likely craving more, but are waiting for the ask. For the next month, begin to look at your team and make note of those who show buy-in. It can be 1 leader or 10 leaders. The number doesn’t matter, but we have to start discovering who is bought in.
WHAT AREAS NEED ATTENTION WHERE OTHERS CAN TAKE OWNERSHIP?
While you are figuring out who is bought in on your team, begin to make note of areas where you are spending too much time, and you can begin handing off responsibility. For me, I started with setup and tear-down. Before we moved into a permanent building we met at a middle school. So this called for lots of setup and tear-down. When I identified the leader with buy-in, I asked if they’d be open to taking over our setup and tear-down team. (I didn’t have a team. I made something up.) This leader loved the idea, so I fully handed this over to them and they took it to a level I never could. They began to recruit and schedule both leaders and students to be a part of this team.
So what are the things you are doing that you can begin to hand off? Is it setup and tear-down? Is it social media? Is it leading the games? (Let’s be real, not all of us are good at leading games.) Begin to take note and make a list so when you do identify the bought-in leaders, you know where you’re going to invite them to take responsibility.
DO YOU ANSWER FOR YOUR TEAM?
This was always a struggle for me. I would always answer on behalf of someone. I would have someone come to mind, but then I’d think, “They are too busy,” or, “They have a family, so I don’t want to add another thing to their plate.” When I did this, I just answered no for them. Don’t answer no for your leaders. Let them tell you no.
Worst case scenario is they say they can’t. Best case scenario is you have a new addition to your core team. Most leaders are waiting to be asked. They usually don’t just naturally come to you; it’s usually through invitation that we call them to something more. So once you’ve identified who those bought-in leaders are, don’t answer for them. Make the ask and let God do the stirring.
Ultimately, we should not be doing ministry alone. Paul in Ephesians 4 calls us to equip the saints for ministry. To empower them to use their giftedness that God has given them. We need a team. This ministry is not our own. This ministry will last long after we are gone, so we must be good stewards by developing a team and empowering the leaders we have. Don’t wait. Get out there and begin to empower.
Guest post by Scotty Keesee
Scotty has almost 10 years in the trenches in student ministry and is one of the youth leads at Sandals Church in Riverside, CA. He loves to lead leaders and talk culture, ministry, and strategy. He has a wonderful wife and two amazing boys.