The following post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Student Ministry
Sometimes volunteers leave your ministry. Sometimes you are thankful they made this choice on their own, while at other times you are left stunned that they’re no longer serving with you. It’s those times when we are left stunned that I want to focus on here. This second situation has happened to me more times than I’d like to admit, and it has usually been through mistakes that I’ve made. Great volunteer leaders are hard enough to find already and it’s painful when they walk away because of a fault in leadership.
So, why do these leaders decide to leave? Here are some common leadership mistakes that cause solid leaders to walk away from serving in your student ministry:
1. Lack of clear communication – It takes a great deal of effort to communicate clearly with your volunteer team. In fact, clearly communicating vision, responsibilities, and how those two things fit together is a constant process.
a. The FIX – Yep, you guessed it: continually communicate with your leaders. One meeting at the time of recruitment to explain the ministry and their role in it isn’t enough. Use small conversations with your leaders to reinforce vision. Talk about what God is doing with specific students and connect it to the vision language. Help them solve problems using this same language. Get creative with this: give door prizes at training meetings to leaders who can articulate the vision or have an award ceremony where you lift up specific values within the leaders that you are trying to reinforce.
2. Lack of training – Your leaders need to be trained to be able to do what you’ve asked them to do. Even all-star leaders, the ones that are in your head right now that you don’t think need training, need to be trained. When you put time into an excellent training experience for them it reveals the value that you’ve placed on their role in the ministry.
a. The FIX – Plan your training experiences far in advance and give these dates to your leaders. Know what you are going to cover leaving enough flexibility to hit topics that come up randomly (they always do). Ask other leaders from your church staff, a volunteer, or a local business person to train on a specific topic. When you put time and effort into these meetings the leaders will see the value and will encourage other leaders to be there. I’ll say it one more time: these meetings need to add value to your people.
3. Lack of listening – Your leaders want you to listen to their feedback. They have a lot of contact with students and their parents which means they get a lot of information, and many times this information comes from different pockets of people. By listening to them you can get quality feedback on the ministry as well as maintain the pulse of what is really happening. Unfortunately, there are times as the student pastor when you can become disconnected from real-time feedback. Seek it out. Your leaders want to give it.
a. The FIX – Make the most of lunch and coffee meetings. Get leaders in one-on-one situations or smaller groups to have a focused time of feedback. Take a lot of notes without trying to defend every statement that they give. If you jump to defend each point people will eventually stop giving you feedback because it shows that you aren’t really listening.
4. Lack of direction – Your leaders can tell when you are leading from a strategic place, or from a lack thereof. This is different than clearly communicating a vision. There are some who can have a crystal clear vision, yet fail in strategically connecting the parts of the ministry to that vision. Here, your leaders want to see how the components fit together in order to accomplish the vision.
a. The FIX – Use a portion of your ongoing training (you are training your people, right?) to help your leaders see how their specific role helps accomplish the vision of the ministry. Do this for every event and every volunteer in the ministry whether they cook a meal, lead a small group, or greet students before a service.
As a side note: we’ve also all had those volunteers that we wish would just stop serving. If you are in that spot in this moment, don’t wait. It’s time for you to have a difficult conversation with that leader. And in case you are about to stop reading and make a phone call right now, you need to make sure your pastor / education pastor / direct supervisor is aware of your desire to remove that leader and why.
Sometimes volunteers leave your ministry. When they do it’s important to ask them why. It may be painful, or it may be an affirmation of the direction that you’re headed. Either way, don’t miss an opportunity to learn and become a better leader.