By Kimberly MacNeill
Being a team leader for a ministry is a great privilege.
You set the stage for people to serve God and others in a meaningful way.
Ministry teams are most often made up of volunteers who have a conviction and commitment to be the hands and feet of Jesus. They have discovered God has gifted them in a certain way, they have seen a need they are passionate to meet, and they have stepped up to serve.
As the leader, members have been placed under your authority and in your care. A strong, cohesive team needs a vision and mission, a strategy and plan, effective alignment of action and tasks, and motivation and passion. But more than that, a strong, effective team needs nurturing, encouragement and personal spiritual direction. One could assemble a team for the sake of a task only, but serving is a spiritual practice: a ministry team that serves sees Jesus work through them and experiences Him working within them.
As the ministry leader, you are the overseer to both parts of this equation. When you assembled the team, you probably asked the question, “How can this person best serve the team?” You considered their gifting, personality and passions, and then spent time figuring out how all the members fit together, then you planned how to accomplish the task.
Now it’s time for the second question: “How can I best serve this person?” As the shepherd of the team, it is for you to prayerfully consider what God is doing in the lives of each individual team member. While the team is ministering to others, how will God use you to minister to the team?
Taking your leadership to the next level means looking beyond the task at hand and making a more thoughtful, deeper commitment to those you are leading. Here are eight ways you can do that.
Commit to their spiritual growth. More important than the doing of the volunteer is the being of the volunteer. Pray for your team members. Ask God to give you spiritual insight into what they may need for their personal spiritual growth. More than that, talk to them about their faith and how it’s going.
Initiate a spiritual check-up. Have a sit-down conversation every quarter to see how they are doing in life and in their relationship with God. You might also consider using a tool such as the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (tda.lifeway.com) to see the specifc strengths and weaknesses of your team.
Implement a personal development plan. Use a tool that provides a simple assessment of life and faith, revealing current strengths and weaknesses so that a direction can be set based on the needs of the individual. Then use a tool like Ministry Grid to develop a personal training plan based on the results. This can be done every semester. Both you and the team member can keep track of the goals and progress so you can provide encouragement, any resources needed, plus accountability.
Acknowledge them as a whole person. Volunteers have joined your team because they have a certain gift, talent or skill to offer. But this one thing is not the total of who they are. Every person is a unique combination of gifts, talents, passions and personality.
Great leaders recognize their team members as multi-dimensional. For example, the members of the worship team are more than musically gifted. Some of them also have the gifts of mercy, hospitality, intercession, etc. How can those gifts also be employed within the team? Are there other ministry contributions outside of the team you could connect them with for further engagement in God’s work?
Provide a spiritual gifts assessment. When you meet someone, their talents and skills often present themselves more tangibly than spiritual gifts. Leading your team through a spiritual gifts inventory to discover more about how God has made them will both strengthen them and the team, and the results will give you the wisdom you need to create more fulfilling opportunities for them in ministry.
Recognize unique contributions. Recognizing others affirms and inspires the individual and the team; a spirit of encouragement and enthusiasm is contagious. When the team leader demonstrates they know their members well and they honor what they do, team appreciation begins to embed itself as a value. Being specific in what we notice about others and speaking this to them from our heart is invaluable.
Give private recognition. A personal thank you note goes a long way. Special words from a leader provide inner satisfaction for a job well-done, as well as energy and motivation for whatever is next for that team member.
Plan for public recognition. Host a yearly celebration for your ministry team, including a meal or dessert. Allow them to be served rather than serving. Invite their families and make a short presentation that tells of the team’s accomplishments from the year, as well as providing vision for the future. Consider having a small gift for each volunteer.
Present awards recognizing years of service or those who have gone “above and beyond the call of duty.” Hopefully, you’re not given to favoritism and you understand that public recognition needs to be spread among the team; you shouldn’t recognize the same people every year. Your team knows there are standout people and to recognize them is fun and inspiring. The Apostle Paul recognized the unique and significant contributions of others all the time, while teaching that all the glory went to God. You can do the same.
As a leader, Jesus cared for the person first. The heart of an individual mattered most to Him. If we are to emulate His priority, then discipleship practices need to carry over onto our ministry teams. If you are committed to those on your team as whole people who are changing and growing in their faith, you will find that a strong, stable, “able to do much” ministry team will result.
Kimberly MacNeill (@KimberlyKMac) lives in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. She’s led volunteer ministry teams for more than a decade.