When I was in college, I was young and dumb. Anyone relate? I thought I knew everything that had to do with the Bible and ministry. Am I preaching to the choir yet?
I was volunteering at a church for about a year in the junior high ministry when the pastor left. I was put in charge as the “interim junior high pastor” until they found the guy they actually wanted but in my mind I was the only guy that they needed. Here I am, 20 years old (remember I knew everything) and I had a good sized group of students with volunteers who now were being lead my me. Four of those volunteers had been serving in that ministry for 10+ years. Within a week of the pastor leaving and putting me in charge, I begin to go hog wild in changing everything. I have been wanting to change things for a while and now I had the power to do so. There was no dipping in of the toe to see how the water felt, I cannonballed into the situation.
I remember one Wednesday night this group of veteran volunteers came early to have a conversation with me about what had been going on. I never have been more humbled in my entire life. They let me know in a very loving and correcting way, what I was doing was not okay and they corrected me, nudged me, and loved me into a great learning experience. Looking back now, I was a little embarrassed but it was such a great moment for me as I got my first crash course into leading a group of people who have been around the ministry a lot longer than I have. They had a ton of wisdom, information and history of the past that was vital for us to move into the future.
One of the biggest questions asked when taking over a youth ministry is:
How do you lead volunteers you’ve inherited when you begin at a new church?
I do have to say, it’s tough. I’m living through it right now. Yes, it’s a lot of work but when done right it has its rewards.
When it comes to the inherited volunteers, there needs to be a ton of relational groundwork. Coming in, you don’t know them and they don’t know you. I joke now, years later, it’s like the old show “Wife Swap”. Remember that show? It was a show where two wives, who were usually completely opposite, would switch families for the week and the familes would have to live under the new rules of the new wife. They would get a “new mom”. That’s what stepping into a new youth ministry is like. There is a new set of rules. There is now a new way the program looked, the series done, what the follow up looked like, etc. There is tension. Can we just call it what it is? It’s awkward.
There needs to be come relational groundwork. We needed to get used to each other. We needed to feel each other out. So we started doing once a month leader hang outs. I had them over to my house for a BBQ, we took over a banquet room in a local pizza place, we had a Christmas party (ugly sweaters and all) at a volunteer’s house, food was involved as it should be. There was lots of coffee and food in my first few months of this new position because if leaders get to know you they begin to trust you. When they trust you they will follow you. When they follow you, man, things start to happen.
When it comes to the inherited volunteers, don’t change anything up front. I made this mistake as you already read. If you are anything like me, you want to just get rolling right away. You have already seen what needs to happen, you have the plan, you’re ready! Here is something we need to understand. Many of our inherited leaders are not ready. Sometimes the leader they need is one who can sit back and watch to see how things are done. Sometimes the best leader are the ones that get a feel for why certain things are done certain ways. Mature leaders understand that current systems are in place because they once fixed a problem. A great leader tries to know why things the way they are first, take notes, have conversations, and then slowly begin to tweak things.
When it comes to the inherited volunteers, change the things you know everyone wants to change. When I first took my leadership position, I began to only changed easy, program stuff. Stuff everyone wanted to get better. I took leaders out to coffee and asked them what they thought could better and the things in which was the majority, I focused on those. I became the champion of those things. I worked on the cosmetics of the ministry, not the bone structure. There will come a time where the major surgery will be needed but not right when you get there.
Have you taken over for a ministry and inherited volunteers? What did you do?