Toolbox: leading and managing volunteers and staff


“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

I love that quote! Helen Keller was an American author, disability rights advocate and political activist. When just a toddler, an illness meant she lost both her hearing and her sight. Undeterred, she achieved a huge amount – but this quote sums up her approach to life.

What is your approach to ministry?

We cannot do youth work (or any ministry) alone. We need to serve in teams, be accountable to each other and work in such a way that we spread the burden and the commitments so that much more can be achieved.

In youth work and children’s ministry there is also the requirement that we must not be working alone (our safeguarding policies should prohibit that!).

Starting right

‘Leader’ is a word which seems to have replaced priest, pastor or minister in the church – we are all church leaders now. Yet, the word ‘leader’ can be emotive and mean different things to different people.

If you look at the fivefold ministry template as explored by Paul (Ephesians 4), he doesn’t mention leadership and it’s hard to track it down in scripture – the nearest you might get is ‘overseer’.

The point I want to make is that we have incorporated the word ‘leader’ into most ministries in the Church – worship, children, youth, church – and suffixed them all with ‘leader’.

I love what John the Baptist says when he sees Jesus begin his ministry: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). If we are to start right, we need to remember that a leader is one who is called to serve.

Philippians 2 bears this out and, while it talks about Christ, the focus of Paul’s teaching is what we should be like: our attitude is the one that needs to be shaped like this, it isn’t a passage for us to read and just think: “Wow, Jesus was amazing.” We are all called to be servants – servant leaders.

Do people follow our lead because of what we say: “Follow me I am the leader!” or do they follow our lead because of who we are? 

Primary role

In looking at how we might raise up others to serve, we need to ask ourselves this important question: what is our primary role in ministry? What are we spending most of our time doing?

If, like me, you are working in youth and children’s ministry, it might feel like there is no primary role, just a whole bunch of stuff you have to be trying to do all the time – pastor, evangelist, teacher, craft expert, resource guru, administrator (running the rotas in some churches requires a degree!).

If you have a full-time job doing something else and you squeeze as much youth work in as you can, what you feel you ‘are’ might get very confusing.

If we are to raise up others effectively then we need to make doing this our primary role. Other things will have to be delegated or not done. This is so important, that we cannot just spin it like any other plate.

If we are raising servants, then we are raising people and our people deserve the best we can give them in terms of time, energy, commitment. I have honestly never seen people raised up effectively by others when it has been seen as ‘just one more thing I need to do’.


The tension

The key tension in getting this done then is that of people versus tasks. Many of the things you may have listed were jobs that need doing, but raising up others is not, first and foremost about a job that needs doing. Raising up people is about spending time investing in them. That can be hard for some of us if we are used to seeing instant results from our endeavours.

Jesus spent three years teaching, equipping and modelling to the same bunch of guys, who continued to struggle to get what he was doing. That’s the joy of working with people.

We can avoid this by focusing on jobs and moving people around like pawns to make things happen. But, in the end, they will not be developed and empowered people, and will leave disengaged and burnt out.

Create the environment

As a leader, are you a thermostat or a thermometer? The difference between the two may be obvious, so if you know this please forgive me!

A thermostat sets the temperature (and when the temperature in a room drops, on comes the heating to raise it again) whereas a thermometer just takes the temperature.

The question is are you proactive or reactive when it comes to the environment in which you lead? Do you make things happen, or do you wait and see what happens? This will also have an impact on the tension between people and jobs that need doing. If you are reactive, you may never feel free to focus on people and raise them up.

“If we are to start right, we need to remember that a leader is one who is called to serve”

Be enthusiastic

Are you passionate about what you do? This is a key question. If you want to raise others up to join in with what you are doing or take a lead in serving others, can they see your passion for ministry?

If we are enthusiastic about what we are doing it is attractive. If we loathe something and are trying to offload it this will also come across to others. Take the route from the word ‘enthusiasm’: entheos literally means ‘in God’. It is also where we get the word ‘infuse’ from (as in to infuse a pot of tea).

I used to make tea for my mum when I was little, the only problem was that I would forget to boil the kettle; it didn’t matter how much I stirred the teabag, not a lot happened. And it looked worse when I added milk. If you imagine the Holy Spirit to be the teabag, we only get a decent cup of tea with hot water!

It is the same with us – are we hot, passionate, enthusiastic for the things of God? If we are, then this will be obvious to those around us, the Holy Spirit in us will be free to work.

Have the right attitude

Is your attitude right? I get up some mornings, stub my toe and the day is a write off. It doesn’t take much. Our attitude has an impact on those around us, our ability to build and sustain team, our approach to our work and to those we work with.

An aeroplane has an altimeter, but it also has an attitude meter, which tells the pilot whether the nose of the plane is pointing up or down. How is your attitude? Philippians 2 is the litmus test for any leader: ultimately, what are you aiming for – fame and adulation or do you want all the glory to go to Jesus?


Recognise the needs of others

If we realise that we cannot do this on our own, we are already halfway to growing a team and raising leaders. It isn’t enough to prefer others as people, we need to prefer them with opportunities to do stuff. Half the battle is with us. We need others to be involved in the ministry to children and young people.

Jesus gathered disciples, but even within the twelve he had a special three. I believe these guys became two things: his best friends on earth, and those he chose to particularly invest in for the future of the Church.

Who is on your team? Who have you called to join you? Jesus didn’t leave it to chance. Yes we have to work with what we have got, but do we even know what (and who) we have got? The challenge sometimes for us is ‘what if they are better at stuff than me?’

The answer here should be ‘praise God!’ This will depend on whether our security as a servant leader is in our relationship with Christ or in the work we do for Christ.

While there might not be a template, there are some steps as we raise people up.

1. I do it

Yes, you do it. Make sure you really know how to do what it is you are going to raise someone else up in – if you don’t, get someone else to do the raising up.

2. I do it and you watch

Get the person who you are investing in to watch you when you do it (lead a small group, take an assembly etc). Debrief after, making sure to highlight the things you could have done better or hadn’t thought about. Don’t just say: “That is how to do it – watch and learn matey, watch and learn!”

3. You do it and I watch

Get them to do it, while you watch (or do it together as an interim) then debrief, focusing on the positive while gently mentioning the stuff that needs work.

4. You do it and someone else watches

The whole process can end with your input to someone unless you pass on this crucial message. When they have honed something and become really good at it, who are they going to raise up?

Continue to create a culture of raising leaders by making sure the leaders you raise up do the same thing.The key thing to remember is to be in the business of raising others up long term. Don’t experiment with people’s lives.

Rather, seriously invest and seriously pray. As we gain perspective that looks across years rather than weeks, we start to ask the question: where will those I am working with now be in a decade?

We might even get a glimpse of what God has in store, and nothing is more exciting than seeing something take root in another person’s life and seeing God begin to grow it, nurture it and use that person. As you step back and let them lead, it will thrill you!