Toolbox: leading and managing volunteers and staff


Across the Toolbox articles, Nigel and I have sought to equip both churches and children’s and youth ministers to navigate the challenges of leadership, employment and doing ministry well through effective line management, supervision and professional development. As we complete the series, I want to finish by sharing something about my own work in this area, as it isn’t just something I’m interested in, it’s something I’m passionate about the Church getting right!

Children’s and youth ministers are incredible assets for the Church; more than that, they are often those with a vocational call to lifelong ministry with children and young people! This is such a gift to the Church – but one that can sometimes be wasted or abused.

In 2019, I carried out a survey on behalf of the Bishop of Leicester into the terms and conditions of salaried children’s, youth and families ministers across the UK. Over 630 took part to share their reflections and experiences. What I discovered was a huge disparity in pay, some examples of excellent practice but also many who felt they didn’t always have the support, training or resourcing they needed to flourish in ministry. For many, line management was a bit hit and miss, and opportunities for continuing professional development was a lottery with a very mixed picture of provision across the UK.

What I also discovered – and this is my favourite statistic ever – is that when asked: “Would you stay in children’s, youth or family ministry until retirement if you could?” a whopping 74 percent of those of who answered said yes. And yet, turnover is quite high. Half of our salaried workers have been in ministry for less than five years. There is a challenge for us right now, across the Church, in terms of retention, but also recruiting in the first place. It is now common to ‘repeat advertise’ for a post.

And, when we asked if their line managers had received any training in line management and supervision, 75 percent of our respondents said no. Clearly there was some excellent practice, but also those who felt under-supported, misunderstood and on their own. With this patchy picture, the Bishop of Leicester gathered a group of practitioners at the beginning of 2020 to explore how we might respond – then the pandemic happened.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve have had lots of conversations with specialists across the denominations, especially Church of England, Baptist, Methodist, URC and Elim, and gathered a small team of advisers to help shape something. I’ve received incredible support too from the likes of Youthscape, BRF, Children Worldwide, Thirtyone:eight and other agencies, and from an incredible 40 experienced children’s, youth and family ministry practitioners. Finally, in July 2022 I founded Paraklesis, the Association of Children’s, Youth and Families Ministers. This Greek word, paraklesis, encompasses so much of what we are aiming for. It’s a word that means ‘to be alongside’, ‘helper’ and ‘advocate’ and is often associated with the work of the Holy Spirit, especially in the New Testament.

Paraklesis aims to provide a professional support and development space for children’s, youth and families ministers. We are setting standards through our Charter for Churches and we are enabling and encouraging ministerial development and championing and advocating for quality children’s, youth and family ministry provision across the Church. The Association is open to anyone working with children, young people and families – whether they’re salaried, a volunteer or a student studying children’s, youth or family ministry.

A key finding of our research was that it remains quite rare for children’s, youth and families ministers to have a mentor (usually someone outside their parish they can occasionally meet with for support, coaching and development). Those who join Paraklesis will be able to receive a free mentoring session each year. We have a Mentoring Hub of over 40 experienced practitioners who have kindly offered their time to enable this.

Paraklesis also provides a forum for members to discuss the joys and challenges of ministry in a safe space with other members, as well as forum themed on areas of interest (eg finding funding; leading volunteers; managing your church leader). We have been given access to Guild for our community forum space, worth £160 a month but they have given it to us for free! 

“Children’s and youth ministers are incredible assets for the Church”

Paraklesis will also signpost members to additional support and the services of others that complement what we are doing. While this is an initiative being supported by the Bishop of Leicester, who is the lead Bishop for lay ministry in the Church of England, Paraklesis is ecumenical and collegiate. One of the greatest strengths of children’s and youth ministry is our ability to work alongside each other in partnership. Paraklesis aims to do that in every way we can, from denominational collaboration, to working with parachurch organisations and others who resource children’s and youth ministry in the UK.

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Paraklesis is not just an association for children’s, youth and families ministers. We are also offering Charter Membership. Some of you reading this might remember the ‘We love our youth worker’ charter of a few years ago. Youthscape have kindly given us all the material and content that went in to creating that charter and we have developed a Paraklesis Charter that churches can sign up to. We hope this new charter mark will be a mark of quality and an assurance to perspective applicants for children’s and youth ministry roles that when a church has the charter, they know they have done the work required to give that new employee the best chance to flourish.

What will it cost? Association membership costs £50 per year for those who are full time, £25 per year for those who are part-time or who lead as a volunteer. Ministry students can join for free.

Churches who would like the Paraklesis Charter will pay £100 – this fee covers the work we need to do in checking documents, policies and interviewing with staff and leadership. If the requirements are a challenge and churches don’t feel they are ready we will help them meet the charter requirements with bespoke additional support.

As readers of this article, you can join with a discount – ten percent off whether you are full time or part time, and the same for a church wanting the Paraklesis Charter. Just get in touch with me to request the discount (see my contact info below).

I’ve been involved in children’s and youth ministry for 36 years. I don’t think it has ever been more needed, while at the same time I don’t recall a more challenging environment for the Church – especially when it comes to employing quality practitioners and seeing that ambition of remaining in this ministry until retirement being realised. My personal hope for Paraklesis is that, along with other voices and organisations, we see the profile of this vital work we are involved in rise; that we see greater value placed on the support and training of amazing people like you. And that together we might continue to grow and flourish as we serve this generation of children, young people and families.

Will you join us? Check out our website.

Got questions? Drop me an email.