In most professions there is a level of supervision that is required to ensure fidelity to certain expectations and to make sure that the company’s employees are “hitting the mark”. At best, in many churches, there is the annual performance review but the one performing the review is either way too removed to be helpful or too involved to remain objective.
Another problem we run into in youth ministry is that youth ministry and their staff often operate on an island. They are just out there, separate from the rest of the “real church” and are just making it up as they go along, not identifying best practices or even gauging if what they are doing is actually producing the fruit they were hoping for or in alignment with the overall mission and vision of the church.
The following are suggestions for providing supervision in youth ministry. These ideas will help whether it’s your Sr. Pastor doing your review or you performing reviews on your volunteers. It is not meant to be a corporate exercise but is intended to provide a system of ongoing feedback that measures how well we are stewarding our privilege of pouring into the lives of youths.
- Care about their spiritual life first - This goes without saying but it often takes a back seat to other “important” ministry stuff. Make sure your team is serving from a cup that runs over not a cup that is nearly empty. Spend time communicating with them the importance of their own spiritual health. The principle “You cannot transmit something you don’t have” applies here. If our volunteers are operating out of a deficiency then they will likely burnout and be ineffective. Make this a priority.
- Review all curriculums used – Most volunteers are not trained in theology. Most volunteers are not even aware of the doctrinal positions of their church yet they are given free reign to teach. This is not a mandate to micro-manage but it is a strong encouragement to know what is being taught in your ministry. Countless problems can be attributed to well-intended, untrained volunteers teaching conflicting material to their youth. The number of call from parents or elders concerned about non-biblical teaching can be reduced by training your volunteers on how to use the curriculum. More importantly it will allow you the opportunity to teach your volunteers how to “handle the word of God” appropriately.
- Develop training opportunities – Time-pressured volunteers do not have the luxury of escaping for a weeklong conference on youth ministry. Most can barely squeeze in their kid’s softball games into their already busy week. Use technology to share relevant information such as webinars, articles, and self-study courses. Pick up the tab on these if your budget allows. And schedule regular one-on-one time at least monthly. Let them know up front that this is an expectation for all volunteers so they can make an informed decision from the get-go.
- Direct observation – There is no better way to provide feedback to your volunteers than by observing them in action firsthand. When was the last time you were able to sit in on their small group? When was the last time you were able to give them immediate feedback on their leadership? There are multiple ways to do this if you can’t be present. You can Skype into a group meeting, have them video record group meetings for training purposes. How cool would that be if you happen to have a “star” volunteer and you can capture them on video and use that to train other volunteers with?
- Develop policies and procedures – This seems very corporate but it has saved our butts on more that one occasion. Do your volunteers know what to do if a student discloses that they are being abused at home? Is there a reporting structure in place that they are aware of? Do they know they expectations and safety guidelines in place to protect them and the students? If not it would be wise to invest in developing these. You could even do it with your team.
- Develop a resource bank – This could be a library with hard copies available, it could be a list on Amazon.com, names of others in the community that specialize in certain areas of need. This should include other youth workers in the area for collaboration. Is there a Youth Ministry Network that your volunteer can access? Are there professionals that work with youth in other arenas that can sharpen you and your volunteers? (i.e., teachers, social workers, counselors, legal professionals, health care professionals, etc.)
- Collaborate with others to equip your team – You do not have to be an expert on all things. There are plenty of others who can contribute to the training of your team. Several years ago we had a rash of teenage girls engaged in self-injurious behaviors (cutting). At the time we knew nothing about this behavior. But, we did know a few others that did so we invited them to work with our team. They provided an understanding of cutting that removed some of the shock for us and we were able to better engage the girls in ways that made a difference. Identify the assets in your congregation and community and invite them to share with your team.
This is not an exhaustive list but maybe a good start. As we still struggle to be taken seriously in the ministry world, orchestrating systems of supervision will definitely increase the potential of our ministries. What are other ways can we provide support to those who serve alongside us?