Growing up there was a game my friends and I used to play called “king of the hill.” Looking back, this was a really stupid idea for a game: “Okay Jimmy, you’re going to stand at the top of that high elevation and then we’re going to run as fast as we can and try to tackle you and knock you off.” What could go wrong with that?
The goal of the game is to knock “the king” off the hill so you become the “new king.” The few times I’d manage to do that, I’d feel great…for about 2 seconds. Then I realized everyone was now gunning for me!
It is a similar feeling to what it’s like leading a ministry. You’re on the top of the hill, and for a few seconds you’re feeling great, but then you realize you have a dozen problems hurtling straight toward you: angry parents, events to plan, tough conversations with a student, explaining to the senior pastor just how someone created burn marks on the carpet of his office. You name it, something is coming at you to knock you off.
As a ministry leader for over 30 years, I can tell you that I have felt lonely many times. I have felt like I’m running behind in planning. I’ve lacked time. I’ve been attacked by criticism. I’ve felt unworthy, sometimes afraid, out of control, under-appreciated, and inadequate. I don’t have it all together, and I’ve never met a good leader who claimed he or she did.
I wrote this preface as a way of saying, if God has given someone the mantle of leadership in your ministry setting, then you need to support her or his leadership. You may not like all of her or his decisions, but that’s part of being a team player. No leader is perfect. Good leaders make decisions for the best of the ministry, and often those decisions make others angry. But as a long-time leader, I can tell you that the best gift you can give your leader is the assurance that you’re on his or her side.
This support doesn’t mean withdrawing feedback that might sting. Many times my volunteers gently and lovingly confronted me and helped me see areas within my leadership that weren’t healthy. And because we operate as a team, they confronted me with specific truth and a lot of grace. The grace part communicated, “Doug, we love you,” and the truth part was, “We need to talk about an area of your leadership that appears to be trouble (or struggling or failing).”
Encouraging and supporting your leader will make you a healthy and more effective team player. Here are 10 specific ways a volunteer can become a team player that leaders find invaluable:
1. Positive attitude. I’d much rather have an emotionally positive volunteer than a skilled volunteer with a negative attitude. Ministry skills are fairly easy to teach. A negative person is difficult to change.
2. Flexibility. Ministry is hard to predict. I like for volunteers to not act stressed-out when things don’t go as planned—because they rarely do.
3. The ability to laugh off mistakes. Similar to flexibility, but this quality is more directed at mistakes or failures that are sure to happen within ministry. I appreciate hearing a volunteer say, “It was no big deal. I actually thought it was funny when the students showed up and no one thought through transportation. No big deal.”
4. Speaking positive words to ministry participants about tough situations. Here’s an example: Every youth group has kids who complain. Some actually are varsity-level complainers. When an adult hears a kid complaining, it’s fairly easy to jump-in and join the chorus of complaints. But, a team-player will instead say, “This is nothing to complain about…we’re going to get there. So what? The van broke down. No big deal. We’re all alive.”
5. Servanthood. A team player regularly asks the point person, “Can I do anything for you?” Or, “How can I help you right now?” Or, “Put me to work… allow me to relieve some of your stress.” This attitude of servanthood and willingness to lighten the load of others is a major factor in being a strong team player.
6. “I’ve got your back!” A team player is someone who is willing to confront those who take verbal shots at the primary leader (the person in charge). I know students and other adults will occasionally talk negatively behind my back. But a committed volunteer, someone who is a team player, won’t listen to that verbal abuse. They’ll confront the person or they’ll walk away if they need to. You want to be a team leader? Support your leader.
7. Regular affirmation. Whether the primary leader hits a home run or strikes out, they need affirmation (especially when they’ve struggled). When you affirm others on your team, you’re a valuable team player.
8. Take initiative. Teamwork is about taking ownership and jumping in when needs arise. Don’t wait to be asked in order to serve. Any volunteer who takes initiative on my team is a blessed leader in our ministry.
9. Learn some new skills. Become a student. A team player will seek to learn and develop new skills that will make them more valuable and the team stronger.
10. Don’t compare yourself to other volunteers. You don’t have to be like others on your team. That’s one of the keys of a good team—variety. God loves variety, and he uses variety in His body to do great things. Allow God to strengthen the person He’s created you to be and don’t worry about being like someone else. The Message paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12 reads, “A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. A body is all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together.”
Teamwork isn’t easy. It’s not easy in sports, and it’s not easy in the church. It takes work on everyone’s part to create a healthy ministry. God will get the glory for the living example of love your ministry team becomes.