Toolbox: leading and managing volunteers and staff


One of my favourite quotes comes from American business guru Peter Drucker, who famously said: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” So this month we are particularly focusing on ‘doing things right’.

This is not about the big-picture aims and objectives that we discussed at the start of this series, but much more about the nuts and bolts of doing work well on a weekly basis. Specifically, who is managing the youth or children’s work team, overseeing what they do and helping to make sure things get done ‘right’?

Have a think about these two comments from a vicar to the leader of the youth team:

“I’ve had a complaint from one of the parents – they are furious about that session you did on gifts of the Holy Spirit, it was way too charismatic. It’s caused a lot of aggravation and they are bending my ear incessantly!”

“As we thought, some of the parents didn’t like your approach to gifts of the Spirit. I’ve tried to placate the more conservative ones and say we need to have a range of views.”

What’s the difference? Well in the second case, the vicar has clearly been having management meetings with the youth team, knew something of the teaching programme and was warned that something controversial was coming up. Forewarned, they were able to defend the youth team and didn’t feel caught out or the need to be defensive.

I’ve picked the issue of a specific teaching here, but the complaint could have been about anything, the principle remains the same: the manager needs to know what is going on, be able to input into the process and keep lines of communication open.

Incidentally, I am talking here about the overall leader of your church or project relating to the team. If you are the team leader, you will need to do a lower-key version of the same processes with individual team members. I am also assuming that youth and children’s work needs to be managed well regardless of whether it is done by a paid person or volunteers. So, what is required? Let’s look at a series of issue:

Who is the manager?

Well, somebody needs to be and everyone needs to know clearly who that is! It might be obvious to say in a church context: “Well it’s the vicar / pastor / minister.” In a small or medium-sized church, this is the traditional model and can work well but actually may not be the best choice.

First, some churches really are wonderfully large. In this case, does the overall leader have the time to do the job properly? If not, someone else from the leadership team might be a better choice. Secondly, however big, a church leader often has a conflict of interest. They are responsible for the pastoral care of their members but, in this case, are also trying to manage them professionally. It doesn’t require much imagination to see the potential conflicts here. Suppose a youth worker is off work with depression or illness. The ‘pastor’ wants to care for them but the ‘manager’ needs them back at work.

Some church leaders are genuinely wonderful pastors but really don’t have much management skills. In this case, utilising a lay person who does this professionally might be a better choice. At worst, some managers need to performance manage or process a disciplinary with a worker. It is impossible to combine this with the normal processes of pastoral care. Another option is for the church leader to manage, but someone else to provide the pastoral care and support.

Another, but less common issue, is when a team seems to have more than one manager. Perhaps a member of the leadership team is delegated to manage the youth team but somehow the vicar also keeps interfering and requesting tasks, without reference to the other manager. I once had a ‘support group’ who were lovely, but seemed to actually create more work for me every time they met.

A good version of this is where a youth or children’s ministry is big enough to justify a ‘management committee’ or group where a number of people bring skills, insights and support. This is a smaller version of the idea of a charity having a group of trustees who have oversight of a work, but also bring insights, skills, wisdom and support. In this case, it still needs to be clear who the overall manager is, a youth team needs one main point of contact with management structures.

What needs to be managed?

In a word, ‘everything’ but to be more helpful, a range of tasks. On a week-to-week basis, the main areas a manager would be checking are:

  • The team: issues, problems, recruitment, conflicts.
  • Organisational values and aims: The children’s team might work fairly independently, so occasionally check they are still doing what the church wants and thinks they are doing! Is the work still consistent with the values and theology of the church? The manager may well have a part to play here in helping the worker(s) evaluate and monitor their work.
  • The programme: What is happening and how is it going? How does the worker or team feel about it? Motivated or under pressure? What outside factors are impacting them? Is it working or are there big problems? What is going well or badly? How does the future look and what is coming up (see again the conversation we started with). Is the budget OK? Is the management relationship working as well as it could?

What should be obvious from this is that it is a two-way process. It is not about the manager ‘checking up’ on the team, it is about open communication, celebrating the good, anticipating any problems and trying to keep the team happy and motivated. It is quite possible that the manager might go away with a longer to-do list than the worker.

The relationship also needs to have boundaries – is it specifically professional, just talking about work or do pastoral and personal issue get discussed?


It also makes sense to have some sort of agreed agenda. This may be the same at each meeting (based on the issues listed above) and remember, no one wants to be ambushed! Discussions nearly always go better when we have a chance to think about them beforehand.


“An appraisal is an annual chance to stand back from the detail and take a big-picture look at how things are going”

How often?

This is a tricky one. Meetings can get cancelled so management can happen less often than planned. Equally, volunteers are already giving up precious time to fulfil their ministry, if we burden them with a pedantic and bureaucratic series of management meetings, we risk demotivating them.

Not having meetings at all makes them feel we don’t care. A paid worker should probably be having some sort of robust management meeting each week; for volunteers, once a term might be much more appropriate. Incidentally, management meetings also need to be in an appropriate setting: private, undisturbed and without distractions. It is also vital that some sort of record (notes, minutes) are taken. This shows what was discussed, what was agreed and a review of this may well form the start of the next meeting.

What else?

There will be other occasional tasks that a manager needs to monitor. Ali’s article last month looked at the whole process of induction. Managers will need to be much more available and ‘hands on’ at the start. Once a worker or team is established, it will be able to work autonomously most of the time. Judging where you are on this spectrum is a management skill in itself.

All workers should also have some sort of annual appraisal. For paid workers, this is a really important part of their work. An appraisal is an annual chance to stand back from the detail and take a big-picture look at how things are going. This is a formal process in itself and matters because at worst, it may be about the worker proving that they are fulfilling their contract and at best, it may show that they’re doing so well, they deserve a pay rise!

In addition to appraisals, there will also be other ad-hoc times when the manager needs to specifically work with the team. This might include managing major problems, accidents or breakdowns in relationship. We mentioned a disciplinary process above but a worker may themselves start a grievance process with their employer. In all these cases, the manager will be the first point of contact and the first part of the process. Managers may also have to intervene on specific technical issues such as ensuring the safeguarding policy is working, bringing in new organisational policies, making sure the team understand the insurance policy etc.

Many of you will be thinking ‘we already do that’ and in that case well done! If you are not doing all this, as always, don’t be overwhelmed. Start simply and work through what is already working, but also what is being left undone.

And finally…

I spent five years working as a travelling youth and children’s advisor for a large Anglican diocese. An interesting (though not enjoyable) part of the job was being called in to churches as a mediator where the relationship between the youth worker and manager had broken down. I noted that nearly always, the start of these disputes was not a big issue – it wasn’t about theology or some difference in ideology.

Nearly always, it was because some aspect of the employment contract and expectations had never been clarified. Different assumptions had been made on each side and this had grown into a major conflict. Management may not be exciting, at times it may even seem dull but trust me, it is absolutely vital. If you see a good ministry that seems really fruitful and successful, I can guarantee that someone somewhere is managing it well.